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Branding hits home

By Published on .

Jeff charney describes his approach to marketing Homestore.com as the same tack he would take if the online real-estate company were an offline brand. In fact, he plays down that Homestore is a dot-com.

"How we spend our money is key," he says. "We don't get caught up in the throw-money-at-the-market strategy."

Homestore acts as an umbrella for interlinked real-estate companies, which include HomeBuilder.com, a new-home site; iMove.com, a moving services site; real-estate listings site Realtor.com; and apartment rental site SpringStreet.com. Homestore has secured 95% of the home listings on the Internet, about 1.3 million listings through its exclusive arrangement with the National Association of Realtors. It's this lockup of listings that sparked a formal investigation earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Justice into possible anti-competitive business practices. While the investigation isn't resolved, it hasn't put a damper on any of its marketing alliances, promotional activities or traffic.

Homestore's competition includes marketers such as Microsoft Corp.'s HomeAdvisor and Yahoo!'s Yahoo! Real Estate. Last month it acquired rival Cendant Corp.'s Move.com. The deal gave Homestore's Realtor.com site exclusive 40-year access to listings from Cendant's Century 21, Coldwell Banker and ERA U.S. real estate franchises.


In September the Homestore network of sites continued to hold its lead with Realtor.com ranked as the No. 1 real-estate site, according to Media Metrix.

Homestore attributes its recent growth to many factors: a continued rise in advertising revenue, driven by an expansion of sponsorships and strategic alliances; an increase in the number of real-estate professionals subscribing to the Homestore.com network; as well as the increase in unique site visitors.

Homestore reported third-quarter revenue of $62.2 million, more than triple revenue from the same period a year earlier. Homestore lost $27.1 million in the third quarter.


Homestore.com was "waiting to get its site right, not rushing into things. It's so easy to turn people off of a weak site, and we wanted to make sure that people could come and they would stay and keep coming back for more."

Yet Mr. Charney says he believes Homestore more than holds its own by simply sticking to its own plan.

"Everyone wanted us to be in the Super Bowl and we resisted that. It wasn't what we needed or wanted to do," he says of the pressure he received from other dot-coms to advertise during the game. "We do what's best for the brand."

This year, Homestore deliberately waited until after the Super Bowl to unleash a $30 million campaign directed by Joe Pytka, themed "There's no place like home." The TV, print and radio effort, handled by TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., ran in top markets.

Homestore began shifting its marketing emphasis at midyear to online alliances and advertising, including a multimillion-dollar strategic alliance with America Online. That alliance led to the launch of a Homestore-supplied content site within AOL's House & Home Channel in early October.

Next January, Homestore will break a new branding campaign, one that involves producing and directing a movie, Mr. Charney says. TBWA/Chiat/Day handles.

"We are brand basics down with a wild edge," he says. "We're not your father's real estate company. We are an Internet company."

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