Standing out amid thousands of Realtors and developers in South Florida requires strong advertising. Miami Agent has consulted area master marketers to determine which tricks of the trade you need to translate advertising dollars into sales.
By Melissa Cantor
“How will people know your name if you don’t allocate resources to advertising?”
Not surprisingly, these are the words of Janis Ehlers, president of The Ehlers Group, a Ft. Lauderdale-based marketing and communications firm nationally recognized for its work in real estate and seniors housing.
“Real estate agents and developers work like attorneys,” Ehlers continues. “You want people to know you before you know they need you.”
In South Florida’s crowded market, with the number of developments and Realtors multiplying at impressive speeds, many industry professionals agree with Ehlers’ contention that the need for good advertising and marketing strategies is stronger now than ever.
“Proper branding of your brokerage firm or development is absolutely critical,” says Darren Seys, president of Peak Seven, an advertising agency with several years of experience in South Florida’s building industry.
Seys cites the changing real estate market as a primary reason for those in the real estate industry to strengthen their advertising efforts. “The expectation of a slowing investor base, already being seen in many forms, requires the need for quick and unique marketing solutions, especially for projects that preceded the slow down,” Seys says. “Rapid sellout is almost always the goal, but carrying costs make that goal even more urgent in a slowing market.”
Understanding the need for strong advertising, however, is only the first step of branding a business. Ehlers says businesses need an integrated marketing approach in order to drive sales.
“The investment on the part of the developer, no matter what the size of the project, is so large that no one can afford to have a project without sufficient marketing,” she says. “You can’t afford to build it and hope they’ll come. People have to be willing to build a relationship with the customer. They have to be ready to have their entire marketing [strategy] ready from the minute a project is announced. From the minute that sign’s put up, there has to be a Web site, and you have to have ways of capturing that interest and of responding to those people who are interested.”
Howard Miller, president of Howard Miller Communications, the Miami-based advertising agency that represents Carson Realty Group, also stresses the importance of an integrated marketing approach.
“The key to success in the real estate industry today is a good, cost-effective advertising campaign (in print and cable television) that’s integrated with all your public relations and marketing activities,” he says. “Find the best affordable advertising outlets, utilize all the public relations opportunities available free to real estate professionals, sponsor the right events and get involved in the community with civic and cultural groups.”
Seys advises real estate professionals seeking creative representation and assistance find a full-service firm that produces everything in-house. “The ad agency should have the creative skills that are matched to the specific marketing plan and have the ability to successfully synchronize the visuals of the intended campaign across the media,” Seys says. “Many agencies sub-contract the creative, production and Web development to other graphic firms, but the key is to find an agency that has a range of in-house talent, including an administration team that will ensure a high level of service and quality control across projects.”
Miller points out that even companies that cannot afford a comprehensive campaign can still adopt an integrated marketing approach. “Due to budget constraints, many firms feel they cannot afford a creative agency or marketing counsel,” he says. “If that is the case, find an individual creative consultant who you can hire on a short-term basis to work on a new look in advertising, and then find a public relations consultant who can organize something that could be done in-house after they train you and set up a campaign.”
Once a company has determined it has a need for a marketing strategy and has allocated the resources to invest in branding and advertising, the questions of how to choose an ad agency and what makes an effective ad arise.
As these experts note, a successful real estate ad is not necessarily created by the same formulas used in other kinds of advertising.
“In marketing you have the four Ps: product, place, promotion and price,” Ehlers explains. “Those criteria also apply to marketing real estate. However, in the real estate industry, there is also the fifth P: people. The people aspect is vital in this industry, and it does not just refer to the people who sell real estate. What it really pertains to are the customers – the people who buy it.”
Ehlers explains that both the large financial investment and the emotional attachment involved in purchasing a home are what set real estate aside from other industries.
“Real estate is one of the more costly investments that people make,” Ehlers says. “When it’s a home, and not just real estate purchased for pure investment, it’s an emotional purchase. It’s something that people give a lot to, there’s an emotion tied to it. It’s not just something that you go to Publix and take off the shelf. Consequently, the whole selling strategy has to be different.”
In order to adapt the sales strategy, Ehlers stresses the importance of understanding the customer.
“You need to understand your customer profile,” she says. “There can be someone who just relocated and whose timing is different than somebody who’s looking to buy something for investment, versus the active adult who isn’t necessarily in any rush, versus the first-time homebuyer.”
Marketing real estate also differs from marketing other industries, because there is little difference between many of the products on the market, which can pose a difficulty to advertisers.
“South Florida is an interesting market; there are a lot of great ad campaigns out there, and our job consistently entails coming up with a better message,” Seys says. “Often, market positioning is based on the competition that directly surrounds the property to be marketed. Finding the USP, the unique selling proposition, on a development is difficult, when you consider that many developments have nearly parallel feature sets.”
Seys also notes that advertising in real estate is all about timing, and that an aggressive advertising campaign might help you conquer more of the existing customer base, but will likely not create new customers.
“In a sense, marketing real estate with respect to ads is not all that different than selling cars,” he says. “We are bombarded by auto commercials in every form, from radio spots to newspaper ads. Most of us tune them out completely, at least until we are ready to purchase a car. Everything changes then, and we begin taking note of features, prices and so on.
“In essence, it all comes down to timing, and it is no different for real estate,” Seys continues. “Ads simply won’t mean much to someone not in the market. However, when an individual is looking for the product you offer, wouldn’t you rather they pick up the newspaper and see your ad first, and not your competitor’s?”
Given the set of challenges unique to real estate advertising, it is especially important to find the right advertising agency.
“Without question, real estate agents and companies should secure an ad agency that possesses a strong understanding of the real estate market,” Seys says. “It is also important to find an agency that offers individual solutions to problems or concerns. Getting the work done is important, but an agency that thinks on its feet and offers solutions is invaluable and can ultimately save money. An ad agency with a firm understanding of investment-driven and end-user campaigns, as well as the local real estate market, will successfully fashion an ad campaign that not only targets the proper demographic, but will generate the intended result as well.”
Regardless of the trust placed in the agency and its experts, it is important for any advertiser to be able to recognize a strong ad in order to accept or reject proposals. Often, what makes a good ad is not what one would generally expect. For example, both Seys and Miller stress that in today’s market, sex does not sell, and what you see most often is not necessarily what is most effective.“The days of putting a sexy girl in an erotic position to market real estate are long over,” Seys says. “In today’s market, and especially in the last three months, you will see significant changes in headlines and offers, leaning more towards clever and strategic positioning of ‘the basics.’”
“It just gets lost in the mix,” Miller explains. “Most real estate ads use sexy images to sell property, or simply have too many visuals and descriptions of properties, if it’s a listing ad. After a while, they all start to look similar.”
For a more in-depth examination of the strategy behind an individual advertisement, see samples of Seys’ and Miller’s work in our case studies. Ehlers is the author of “Marketing Senior Housing,” which is available at www.theehlersgroup.com.