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Top tips from tech-savvy real estate marketers

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According to the National Association of Realtors, at least 80% of homebuyers start their property searches on the Internet. With so many customers flocking to the Web, so too are real estate companies and agents—many of which are outpacing their counterparts in other industries in the adoption of emerging marketing media. What can direct marketers learn from their experiences with blogs, video and other online technologies? Following are five key lessons: 1) Make an emotional connection. Like many major investments, purchasing property can be as much an emotional as a rational decision. When catering to personal feelings, the restrictions of more traditional marketing media—one-dimensional photos, strict word counts, etc.—can be limiting, said Bruce Kink, COO at Kink Team, a Woodlands, Texas-based real estate agency. “We use video podcasting to enrich the online viewing experience, involving as many senses as possible,” he said. With traditional Web or print listings, he added, “you cannot do justice to features in luxury properties. But with video, you can use background music and a professional voice-over that very lavishly describes the property. It helps customers envision themselves living there.” 2) Improve search rankings. Search engine marketing has rapidly become a multibillion-dollar business. But paid placements aren’t the only way to go. Blogs, podcasting and RSS feeds help drive search traffic and boost organic rankings for a fraction of the cost. “Search engines love new, unique content on a regular basis,” said Sharon Housley, VP-marketing at NotePage Inc., which sells FeedForAll software for creating, publishing and editing RSS feeds. Plus, “you gain incoming links from all the RSS search engines and directories ... [which] helps with organic rankings in the large search engines.” Also, with RSS content and especially blogs, “you’re publishing a greater variety of words and topics than you would on a normal Web site,” said Andrew Maury, an agent at San Francisco-based Bay Valley Real Estate, who has been blogging since October. By making a site relevant to a greater number of search terms—even less common ones—marketers increase the likelihood of users finding their sites. 3) Build relationships. In the age of on-demand, consumer values are evolving. Self-service resources and content have become more important. Maury believes blogging is ideally suited to such changes. “My blog helps me find clients in a passive way,” he said. “You’re not going after them with a sales pitch; you can let someone get to know you without being intrusive.” This helps facilitate transactions—especially big-ticket purchases—because consumers enter into them having a sense of familiarity with the agent and the purchasing process. Johnson Cook, president-CEO of EducatedProspect.com, a provider of video and advertising services for the real estate industry, said relationship building is a key application for online video. “[Personal introduction and consumer education videos] offer tremendous value … they are more engaging than written articles and allow the realtor to show their personality and connect with the viewer.” 4) Lead the way. Many concerns with emerging media focus on their ability to generate quantifiable leads with trackable results—or the lack thereof. Indeed, online video, podcasting, RSS feeds and others stray from traditional direct media in significant ways. But that hasn’t stopped early adopters from finding effective ways to elicit responses through them. On his blog, Maury has added a live chat feature that allows readers to see when he’s online and to send queries or introductions in real time. “It’s another way people can reach me in a simple and really informal way,” he said. Kink Team allows prospects to e-mail the agency from its video podcast pages or to forward the link to a friend. The company is also considering adding an offer-driven Web banner to its podcasting page, similar to one being launched on its home page inviting visitors to register to win Houston Rodeo tickets. Importantly, tracking capabilities for many emerging media are rapidly becoming more robust. “We provide podcast traffic information in aggregate to clients, and some directories provide subscription statistics,” said Michael Price, president of MLPodcast.com, which helps Kink Team produce and distribute its video podcasts. “But we will be developing more advanced methods of tracking … RSS subscription feeds from various sources in the near future.” 5) Dare to dream. Success among early adopters is opening up new opportunities for continued innovation. In addition to blogging and podcasting, Mark Lesswing, senior VP-chief technology officer at the National Association of Realtors, said digital video and advanced mapping functions rank among his top trends for 2007. At Real Living, the nation’s No. 4 real estate firm and an avid emerging technologies user, the focus is on finding creative ways to deliver more “real-time” content. “For example, customers might be able to view a live open house or a live tour conducted with an agent via webcast,” said Alexandrea Green, VP-national initiatives, Real Living, Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, Kink envisions his marketing becoming more mobile. “One day someone will be driving through a neighborhood and they’ll see a sign with a podcast URL. A few minutes later they could be sitting in front of the property, watching a video tour on their cell phone. “We want to be ready for that … and make sure we’re adapting to accommodate it,” he said.
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