House Money: 5 Lessons From Marketing During a Real Estate Crisis

What a wild year has taught us about the modern consumer mindset

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The real estate industry in 2021 has been unprecedented. There are more offers than ever on fewer homes. A higher proportion of the offers are all-cash. The racial ownership gap is at its highest since the final days of segregation.

Exacerbating this further is a global pandemic in which working from anywhere is now the rule, not the exception, and people are moving around the country simply because they can.

What’s more is that while the industry remains largely unchanged since the 20th century, Americans are fed up and clamoring for a revolution in how home buying works. Enter Zillow, Redfin, Opendoor, Homie, REX, Landis, Divvy Homes and dozens of other digitally native companies with new tech and updated models that tip the scale toward the consumer.

Having spent a year in real estate marketing, it’s been a heck of a ride with many lessons applicable to any booming industry.

Know your audience best

These days, research never stops. At least it shouldn’t.

In dynamic markets that require significant relationship nurturing and education, like real estate, it’s critical to stay on top of pain point evolution. Use what you’ve learned in ways that show buyers and sellers that you truly get what they’re going through. A shared mindset is more powerful than any single demographic.

Extensive social listening across platforms like Reddit and Twitter, issuing customer calls, commissioning first-party research studies and using qualitative research tools such as Hotjar and Remesh can help marketers better understand prevailing consumer sentiment and behavior in real time.

The only constant is change. By knowing our audience best, you can build the right products and content to keep your brand top-of-mind and improve conversion.

Choose thy enemy

When it comes to big ticket items, so much is on the line. Aversion of frustration or loss is more powerful than gain. People love to band together against a common enemy. In this country, when it comes to real estate, that enemy is the unfair and unchanged status quo.

At every step along the customer journey, ask yourself whether you’re making it drastically simpler for the user.

Being deliberate about taking on an enemy can work in any industry. Liquid Death takes on plastic. Ben & Jerry’s takes on social injustice. T-Mobile successfully positioned itself as the Un-carrier, in contrast to industry incumbents AT&T and Verizon.

The big caveat: You have to commit across all channels and go on the offensive like your business depends on it—because it just might. Have you considered an enemy strategy? If not, it can be a powerful means to help change consumer perceptions and compel them to join the movement or “fight.”

Think big, act small

Real estate is inherently local, even hyperlocal. While the majority of people dream of owning a home, what that looks like is different from market to market. Localization of content and solutions can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Ride-share companies understood this early, in that they recognized not one size fits all—San Francisco is not New York, which is not Nashville, and so on—and put boots on the ground in markets across the country. Real estate is no different. Getting in at the community level takes dedication, focus and more resources, but the payback can be massive if you’re truly “speaking their language.”

Ask yourself whether local investment makes sense for your brand. If so, revise your strategy and make changes accordingly. Word of mouth at the local level can be the first profound domino.

Progress over perfection

The American real estate industry is outdated, complex and expensive. It hasn’t changed much in a long time. That just means it’s time for evolution, with many tech-enabled business models disrupting the landscape.

If your industry sounds like that (and, even if it doesn’t), it’s imperative to view speed as your key competitive advantage. There is a saying: A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence. Build fast, put out MVPs, create a constant news cycle, test small, learn and invite feedback, optimize, repeat. Perfection is a villain. Every day, seek to make a little difference; eventually, the rock will shatter.

Keep it simple… sweetie

Industries that have a lot of pent-up consumer frustration also tend to be the ones people rely on the most: real estate, insurance, banking, healthcare.

In 1960, the Navy coined the design principle “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS). Inherently, people prefer when complex topics are distilled down to their simplest form. Newer insurtech, neobank and telehealth companies are breaking down the traditional barriers of complexity through simpler marketing communications, processes and business models.

At every step along the customer journey, ask yourself whether you’re making it drastically simpler for the user. In fact, you should consider whether each step is even necessary, whether steps can be consolidated, and so forth. Looking ahead, in real estate, the winning companies will make it shockingly easy and delightful to buy or sell a home, or get a loan, and do so quickly without the client having to sacrifice the quality of service.

Regardless if your industry’s maturity, culture or size, the tenets of marketing rarely change.

The principles of empathy, frustration aversion, localization, speed and simplicity are nothing new. Nevertheless, they have never been more important.

While it’s important to look within your industry for information, never underestimate the power of looking outside your field for inspiration. Maintain an open mind, and there are applicable lessons everywhere you look.