Wednesday, January 25, 2006

77% of Home Buyers Use The Internet to Search

Here's the link to the latest National Association of Realtors survey results reported in eMarketer:

Friday, January 13, 2006

Builder and Buyer Behavior Revealed

Myers Barnes, Myers Barnes Consulting

Allan Merrill, President of Homestore

According to Allan:

Four questions you should say to every visitor to your model:

1) Our research shows us that ¾ of our customers have visited our neighborhoods online. Did you tour any our neighborhoods online?

2) I guess you could say that this is your second visit to this neighborhood, isn’t it? Wonderful

3) Did you happen to see any floor plans or models your were especially interested in?

4) Did you happen to use our mortgage calculator?

Daniel Levitan, Levitan Associates – Daniel shared a teaser campaign he was proud of. It was a series of three simple ads:


Patience is

Patience is Passe

He shared a website where they can put a reservation down on a lot to reserve it. 160 people registered and 20 people bought without any spending on advertising.

A debate over how much data to put out there on your website. I like Allan Merrill’s answer, “I believe if you put all the information up there, you will drive more and better qualified people to your website.”

A good session, I wish I had been there for all of it.

Branding Your Company the New Fashioned Way

Tom Richey – the Moderator

David Miles – Miles Brand

Jean Neumann – CMO of Neumann Homes

Phil Gribbons – TOUSA

David Miles – the smaller you are the easier it is to brand your company.

David Miles highly recommends reading “Built to Last” to get a better handle on branding. If you have a core set of values and adhere to them, you will build your

A brand is an emotional bond that connects people with products and services. Persuade with logic, motivate with emotion.

Your reputation. A promise, a trust. “Branding is the practices of building trust.” Trust is produced by fulfilling on promises.

So, what does your brand promise and how clearly is it communicated. How does it differentiate you from your competitors?

Neumann Homes – Value, Choice, Trust

In 1992 – 28 homes and about 1,907 in 2005

Jean Neumann is in the process of re-branding her company.

If you do not brand your company, someone else will do it for you. It must be supported by top management.

Your Company * Your Customers * Your Competition

How will you stand out from the clutter? The brand is what your customers buy.

Are You Famous Yet?

“Developing a Public Relations Campaign that will Increase Sales.” Jerry Rouleau shares his tips for Public Relations. There is a solution, if you think out of the box.

  • What is the value of Public Relations
  • How Does it compare to Advertising
  • What should it cost.

“A comprehensive public relations program educates, informs, and persuades.”

“It’s not so much as who sees the article as it is, it is how you use it.”

Getting set up:

First, you need a photo file. Have a camera with you. If you have photos taken, make sure you own them. Make sure you own all your content.

Make sure your photos look into the booth or ad. Don’t make them point out of the booth or ad.

Next, set up a media file. Who are the building editors, business editors, hoe editors, local news editors, feature editors, and real estate editors? Also the other media and specialty publications. Also, the industry publications for credibility. Bacon’s has all of these, but you need a subscription ($2,800)

$1 PR is worth $10 worth of advertising.

Always use the cover of the publication and the article. It adds credibility.

Include your testimonial letters throughout the “Brag Book” Underline one key sentence in each letter. We know people will not read the whole thing.

What makes a story?

  • An award – it’s not a lot of money
  • Participation in Local, State, or National housing activities
  • New personnel, new building/office
  • Sales Person of the year

There was more, but I was off to the HBA Texas Delegation reception.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Internet Advertising

Barry Lynn (CEO, American Home Guides) did his presentation on Internet Advertising. It was a message I have heard before, but it is still compelling. The gist of his message is the Internet Advertising is more effective and lower cost than print media. Consumers are moving away form the newspapers. It’s time to shift more of your advertising dollars online. I have used his service, American Home Guides for years as a builder. The other major builder portals are and All these services had proved effective for me. The key, as always, is having an effective follow-up process.

The other part of the discussion was all about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and advertising tactics. Key take-away points:

  • Pay attention to your content and creative
  • It’s a local business. You need to do your planning locally
  • With SEO, pay attention to your “title” tags and add a site map to your

This turned out to be among the best sessions due to the interactive discussion around the topic. Unfortunately I can not relay all of it here. Plan on coming next year.

Affordable Market Research

Maxine McBride, President of Clockwork Marketing Services delivered her expertise on market research. How much money should a homebuilder allocate to market research? You need to assess it market by market, builder by builder. No easy answer here. Expect to pay $15,000 - $20,000. Focus Groups on your product are necessary. You need at least 3-4 focus groups with 12 participants each. One should be for Realtors.

The biggest part of the cost will be the recruiting, moderating, and organizing. You need a lot of people involved. The architect and lender needs to be involved. They can share the cost.

They do a bunch of direct mail to an appropriate set of zip codes. They tell people they are doing a focus group. They ask people to call them if they are interested. The per diem is $50 per participants. Once the potential participant calls, it is time to qualify the buyers.

It is also valuable to recruit from recent homebuyers.

Here are some standard focus group inclusions and rates:




The moderator (Get someone who understands the industry so they can answer basic questions)

Scripts that are written

Surveys before detailed discussion

Video tapes


In McBride’s case the rate they charge is $15,200.

They have found that they usually find at least one buyer in their focus group. So, it’s a nice offset to the cost.

Email Marketing Secrets & Strategies

Okay, so you really did not have to go to the International Builders Show (IBS), you can just read this blog. Actually, while I am at the show, I am making an attempt to attend the best of the Sales and Marketing seminars here. If you are not making this year’s show, try to make it next year. Of course, I can not be in two places at the same time and there are simply too many good seminars to learn from.

The session is:

You’ve Got Mail: Email Marketing Secrets & Strategies - Meredith Oliver & Robert Jackson

Oliver believes 15% to 25% of sales should be from Internet related sources. She thinks the first question you should be asking when a customer comes into your model is “Have You Visited Our Website.” Why?

Her keys for Success:

  • Respond quickly
  • Articulate your message
  • Pay attention to spam laws
  • Instill urgency and one of a kind
  • Don’t forget to follow-up


  • Proof Read
  • Specific From
  • Specific Subject Line
  • Keep it Short
  • Include Complete Contact Information

What you build, where you build it and why they would want to buy it from you.

She recommends an Instant email, a day 3 email, a hand written note on day 5, email #3 on day 7, email #4 on day 14, and email #5 at 21 days. I’m not sure I would take this one, but it’s not a bad start.

You have to sell the community. ¾ buyers buy community first. How are you going to sell lifestyle?

C.S.I. Orlando (Case Study in Orlando)

C.S.I. Orlando (Case Study in Orlando) tells the story of how Weiss Homes transformed their company and profits.

Rita Weiss, CEO of Weiss Homes tells her story. They are a South Bend builder/developer. They wanted to grow into a regional builder. In 1995 they became a production homebuilder. Pat Sargent helped them put their back office into place and they also brought in Bob Schultz and Richard Elkman to help grow the business.

“An ad agency is only as good as the information you give to them.”

They focused on sales and advertising. Bob Schultz – “The entire company is the sales team.”

Here are the principles they held to transform their sales results:

  • The company is the sales team
  • It’s about retail, not about real estate.
  • Open for the convenience of our customers (they used to be open on 4 hours each week with onsite agents)
  • Top-Graded Recruiting (They were looking for eagles and would reward well the top performers)
  • Targeted Compensation Model tied to profitability and rewards (Big pay – stellar performance, poor pay – mediocre performance)
  • Curriculum Based (new training, lots of training)
  • Benchmarking & Evaluation (video shopping on an ongoing basis)
  • Take Command of the Transformation (you can not waiver)
  • Don’t be held hostage (by your sales organization)

Kim Baker, Director of Sales – She led the charge

The sales team quit when the hours were shifted and then the went looking for eagles.

Their 10 Step Process for Hiring

  • Identify the needs
  • Find the Candidates
  • Start with the resume
  • Pre-interview package
  • Initial Telephone Interview
  • Face-to-face interview
  • Reference checks and behavioral Style
  • Second face-to-face
  • Group interview
  • Offer the position

The conversion ratio is now 1:7. Now can the time for advertising:

Richard Elkman supported them in this effort.

Two tips form Richard:

  1. Turn your ad upside down, squint, and the main call the action should still be the most noticeable element on the page.
  2. Take your ad, cut out the graphic physically place it on a newspaper to assess how it will really look to consumers

“Quality and Value at No Additional Charge”

“Develop a position that no one else can earn.

David vs. Goliath

Well this is my first educational session at the International Builders Show (IBS) for 2006. I will share with you my impressions as close to real-time as I can.

How do you compete with the big builders? You need one single idea can make your business grow. He used example of great businesses that grew centered around a single idea in the beginning. Home Depot, Starbucks, Apple, Google, etc.

Pulte – Homeowner for Life

Toll Brothers – America’s Luxury Home Builder

D.R. Horton Homes – America’s Builder

Richard Elkman’s Keys to Effective Advertising

  • Know Your Target Market
  • Establish a Position
  • Dare to be Different
  • Inform
  • Entertain
  • Motivate

6 case studies of builders spending less than 1% of sales yet driving remarkable results.

The Website needs to be the foundation of your marketing plan. Outsmart, don’t outspend. Think retail. Look toward retail for ideas. Don’t just read the real estate section, look at retail for inspiration. Keep in mind that you are in the retail business not the real estate business.

Mayberry Homes – Doing innovative things, with a small budget

Lansing Michigan, We Builder the Perfect Place to Call Home

I need to get to a client meeting, but here are a few last thoughts. You have to look around and make it innovative if it is going to get attention and reinforce your positioning. More to come…

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hottest Builder Online Promotions

Homebuilders have always invested in promotions and advertising. Just open your local Friday or Saturday Real Estate section and you can see all the great current print advertising and print promotions of homebuilders in your area. One of the ways good marketing departments and advertising agencies keep their work fresh is by constant exposure to ads. They don’t look at just the local newspaper, they also look at out-of-market papers for inspiration.

For the cost of a weekend subscription to newspapers in the top 10 markets ad agencies and larger marketing departments can keep abreast of current advertising and promotional trends. This can dramatically reduce the time and effort involved in developing “New” material. I’m not suggesting that they rip-off ideas and designs. However, this careful perusal of out-of-market advertising provides inspiration many advertising professionals. What it can’t do is tell you which ideas are effective as ads or as promotions.

What if there were a newspaper that was available in dozens of homebuilder markets that gave you strong clues about the relative effectiveness of advertising and promotions based upon the frequency with which homebuilders used the promotion. Guess what? It does exist. The top 4 out of the top 5 U.S. homebuilders operate in more than 40 markets, they all have good websites, and all manage promotions locally to some extent. So, if a homebuilder is running the same promotion in 25 or their 45 markets it stands to reason that either the promotion is highly effective or they just really like it. I would give them the benefit of the doubt.

So, if you want to find out what seems to be an effective promotion for homebuilders, all you have to do is spend a little time digging around on their websites. After you come up with a list of suspect promotions, go test them. Test the creative direction. Test email campaigns. Look at your own results. There’s no guarantee that what works for Pulte in 30 of their markets will work in yours, but it might be that you dramatically reduce the cost of finding out what will work in your own market. Let me help you get started:

Let me know what you think. Send me an email if you would like a copy of our own hottest promotions analysis:

Monday, January 02, 2006

$1 Trillion in E-Commerce by 2008

So, here we are.  I have been searching today for examples illustrating usability principles, permission marketing concepts, and email marketing.   I am looking for something fresh to go with a new presentation at the International Builder’s Show (IBS). 

The session is “$1 Trillion in E-Commerce by 2008.  Will You Get Your Share?”  If you are a builder who wants to dramatically improve interactive marketing results, this is a must attend.  Yes, I will speak and share some of the newest and most effective strategies for online success, but there is much more. 
Stan Kates, will show you how his marketing company is selling real estate online today.  He will share numerous success stories from his 30 years of implementing effective hi-rise condominium pre-sale strategies.  Also, Frank Guido, President of Aareas Interactive, will show you how builders are using virtual reality to support these strategies.  This could mean millions in profits to many builders in 2006.  Come and help it grow your profits in 2006 too.  I hope to see you there.  Regards, Blair



Sunday, January 01, 2006

Online Direct Response Form Guidelines and Exceptions

What is it that we say, ‘for every rule there is the exception that makes the rule’? Well, let us talk about a few guidelines (rules) for online registration forms and then I will demonstrate an exception that seems to blow away the rule, but still leaves it valid. First the guidelines:

1) When asking people for permission online, give visitors something in return for their permission. I work with homebuilders. This could be a simple as a free brochure. What would be even more compelling is an exclusive offer. You might give priority in lot selection, discounts, or upgrades just to the first shoppers to join the interest group or make some sort of commitment. It could be as simple as receiving advance notification of sales events as D.R. Horton in South Florida does so here.

2) Embed value in your form. Your visitor should feel that by filling out the form you are not just sucking up marketing data. Do this by asking questions that can only be of value if you intend to treat them differently based on their preferences. Knowing that at visitor has children or pets helps you to market to them. However, it is not offensive. Consider more typical qualifying questions such as “What is your Income?” Such questions are not consumer centered and can destroy your completion rates. I believe John Laing Homes does a great job with this in their “The John Laing Handshake” registration page.

3) Make it easy for visitors to sign up. This means asking for only a limited amount of information. You absolutely need to ask for email address, first and last name. However, some forms ask for much more what can be disastrous to your Online Form Conversion Rates. When you request a free, customized e-Brochure from Brown Family Communities in Phoenix Arizona, little is required. Would it be nice to know how they learned about Brown? Or would it be beneficial to know their income? Yes, but these Builder needs must be balanced against consumer fears about giving up personal information.

4) Reassure visitors that you will treat their personal information with care. It really does not matter what you are selling. Right by your submission button you can make your intentions clear. For example, here’s what Buescher Homes says on their new community advance notification page: “Buescher Respects your privacy. We will never sell or share your personal information with unaffiliated third parties. Privacy Policy.”

Easy enough? Now the exception. Here is the Priority Preview registration form for Langston Development’s Las Vegas Beach Club. More than 30 questions are asked and most are required. I am told that they secured tens of thousands of registrations early in the campaign. How can that be? They appear to egregiously violate rule #3 and #4.

Two factors seem to have offset these violations. First, Las Vegas was a super hot market when the campaign was introduced. Second, the offer was incredible. Here’s the current home page for the registration site. As I remember this page the first time I saw it, the pricing was under $150,000 for a hi-rise condominium in the hot Las Vegas market. Perhaps Langston should have asked for social security numbers and bank routing numbers so the whole transaction could go faster?

So what does this mean for our guidelines? If you have a killer offer in a hot market, don’t worry about asking for too much personal information. For the rest of us, mind the guidelines until your demand dramatically outstrips your supply.