Digital marketing in the building world is the easiest way to gain leads, but it’s not a field of dreams. You can’t simply build a website and will prospective buyers to come. In the age of COVID-19, walk-in traffic is waning and nearly 100% of homebuyers begin their search online. Savvy home builders know the importance of digital marketing and have been investing in these marketing strategies for over a decade.
The key word is strategy
You need branding and a plan. You wouldn’t build a house without a solid blueprint. The same goes for digital marketing. From a simple lead generation form on your website to slick marketing campaigns, the internet gives builders a broad field to peddle their wares. But without a strategy in mind and implementing it with intention, your marketing can quickly turn into a yard sale online.
Most people think a brand is a logo, a set of colors, or design. But it’s much more than that. It’s who you are, the feeling you create, and how you wish to be perceived. The first steps in creating your brand are knowing who you are, what you stand for, and who you are targeting as you sell. Who is your audience? What are your principles?
Once you define your brand and know who you are, you can bring your brand to life and begin to target the right people and generate leads. But where do you place your messaging?
It starts with your online model home
There are a variety of marketing channels across the internet, but ultimately you need to drive traffic back to your website. Just as a model home is where we used to drive our buyers when walk-in traffic was king, now our website is our digital model and needs to be as clean and easy to navigate as walking through an actual model home.
After years of working with builders across the country and auditing their lead generation process, there are two major pitfalls that I see. Some home builders sacrifice usability for design. Others put the wrong person in charge of their website.
In the first scenario, a builder may pay top dollar for a slick professional website that looks great on the surface but misses the mark in providing the information a homebuyer needs. New-home buyers know what they are looking for and if they can’t find it quickly, they will leave your site and never return.
In the second scenario, many smaller builders delegate their website design and marketing to someone in-house who is not a marketing professional. Joey may have built his grandmother’s homemade cookie website and Jenny may use Instagram all the time for her foodie pictures, but putting them in charge of website design and social media marketing is a recipe for disaster.
Your website is the central hub for all your digital marketing needs. This radiates outward to all your lead generation channels and drives traffic back to your website. There needs to be a cohesive and user-friendly experience. You need to have a marketing strategy that starts at the beginning with strong branding and identity that you weave through all your marketing channels.
What channels should you use?
There are a wide variety of marketing channels out there to generate leads. Many builders utilize third-party lead generation sites such as Zillow, Realtor.com, or BDX/New Home Source for generating leads. Others create Google pay-per-click and Facebook ads.
New home builders often make mistakes when trying to create lead magnets. As Carol Morgan, founder and president of Denim Marketing, said, “For digital lead generation you need two things: a fun, creative campaign that entices clicks, and a website landing page designed to easily capture information.” Morgan says that if either of these things are missing, you are likely to fail.
The strongest leads are those that are coming straight to your website. Encourage phone calls. It may seem old school, but phone leads are still some of the highest performing lead conversions you will find, followed closely by website form fills. This is why calls-to-action on your website are so important.
No matter what you do, it’s important to understand the end goal in lead generation: conversion. You can have great marketing spend and a cohesive digital plan, but if you aren’t following through with proper lead nurturing, all the marketing in the world won’t create conversions.
The do’s and don’ts of lead generation
We tend to think in the lead generation arena that it’s about quantity. We know metrics will show conversion, and the more leads we have, the more conversions we will have. But, just as marketing requires strategy, so too does lead development and nurturing.
In many cases the digital leads are being sent to the wrong people. That’s where online sales counselors come in for new home builders. The role of the online sales counselor (OSC) has emerged along with the genesis of digital leads. While OSCs have been around for almost 20 years, it’s only as they ramp up their digital marketing that builders become more keenly aware of the importance of proper lead management.
“One of the biggest marketing mistakes we see builders making,” said Anya Chrisanthon, a technology consultant and content creator for the home building industry, “is what happens to the lead once it comes in. We continue to see that follow-up is a major area for improvement for most home builders.” She explains that if you don’t engage with that lead right away in a personalized manner, they’ll move on to the next builder.
This is why lead nurturing specialists are so important. Builders can generate so many leads with their marketing efforts, but only a certain percentage will convert to an appointment. On average, we see 25% to 35% of leads convert to appointments. Of those appointments, 85% or more should show up. Of those appointments that show, at least one in five should convert to a sale. When lead development is done correctly, directed to the right place, and handled with a personalized yet systematic approach, you can maximize your marketing efforts.
When should you utilize an outside marketing agency?
As Rob Krohn, vice president of marketing with Epcon Communities Corporate, said, it’s important to have an experienced marketing professional on staff. “Builders wouldn’t try to have an intern build their homes; why do they think that’s the right path to take with their marketing?” You always need someone in-house who can coordinate the marketing efforts, but one person isn’t usually an expert in everything. From paid-per-click advertising, third-party lead sites, SEO and social media, to geofencing, retargeting, and brand awareness and campaign creation—it’s difficult for one or two people in house to do it all and be the experts in every area. It’s important to understand that there is a difference between using an in-house marketing person and the experience that comes with bringing on experts for various aspects of your digital marketing and lead generation. There is room for both.
In an age where so many companies are trying to be a one-stop-shop for all things marketing, it’s essential to look for the experts and not the easy button. When trying to find a marketing company to help with some aspect of your lead generation process, it’s important to find the experts. “I always seek out a vendor and first ask, ‘what is your sweet spot? Don’t give me a list of what you do well, but what was your foundation for starting your agency and where do you feel you really succeed and compete?’” said Jennifer Cooper, fractional CMO and founder of Evolution Marketing.
A one-size-fits-all-approach in the world of new home building can be detrimental. All builders are different, and marketing approaches need to vary. A variety of metrics and measurements are available to gauge results. Cooper said, “Make potential marketing service providers show how they have made progress for another brand and explain how they will work through a discovery plan and adjust their strategy.”
Inside and outside marketing departments working together
As your inside marketing department utilizes outside vendors and marketing partners, it’s important to build a cohesive team. Cooper notes that it’s important to include outside marketing partners in your goals and share big picture vision from the leadership team. “The partners I have used not only produce great results, but they are long-lasting relationships,” she said.
Krohn emphasized that “frequent and open communication is important along with understanding who is leading the strategy and the creative, and make sure that is followed.”
Never should a push-push be set up between inside and outside marketing teams. There needs to be someone on the inside to maintain the company voice and vision, and to have boots on the ground to understand what is happening in the daily life of the builder. Outside marketing partners help actualize that vision through skills and tools from interactive floor plans, virtual tours, high-quality videos, chat bots and more. Outside marketing partners also can be utilized to create that cohesive company identity, and implement and grow the creative ideas side-by-side with the inside team.
Ideas to ramp up your digital marketing
Audits are invaluable. As Morgan said, “Conduct an audit of all assets, especially social media where sites change things all the time. Click through everything and make sure it is updated and cohesive.”
“Make sure you have the right people in the right seats to do the job that needs to be done,” said Cooper. It’s important to make sure that the people you are tasking with marketing duties, whether in-house or outside, have the skill sets to follow it through to success.
Don’t fall into analysis paralysis and overthink where to begin. “Start now and make changes and improvements along the way,” said Chrisanthon. “And always invest in good content.”
That content can be anything from the written word to your digital assets. You want the quality of your content to reflect the quality of your homes and your dedication to your buyers. Cutting corners will only fall flat and tank your marketing efforts and your reputation.
In the end, no matter how much you put out to create awareness and generate leads, you are only as good as your responses to those prospective homebuyers. Make sure not only to give buyers the content they want, but the personalized service that is the natural next step after that prospective homebuyer entrusts you with their information.