Create good publicity for your home building company

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Check out these tips to get the media and your community talking about your homes

January 01, 2009
Sidebars:
What Worked: Show the Media What You've Got
What Worked: Taking The Market to Market
Buzz Tip: Have Great Photography Available
What Worked: Mining Metaphors for Your Marketing
Buzz Tip: Be Ethical
Buzz Tip: Stick to the Basics
Should I Contact the Professionals?

There's no better time for you to draw attention and enthusiasm to your home building business, but you likely need alternatives to direct advertising, which gets pricey. We've culled some useful tips and examples from successful marketers on how to get the media and the community talking about you in the marketplace so when home buyers are ready to buy a house, your company is top of mind.

 

What Worked: Show the Media What You've Got

Windemere — a 2,300-acre, 5,200-home master-planned community in San Ramon, Calif. — has been open for about five years and had about 400 homes left to sell when its marketing firm, Danville, Calif.-based EMC Creative, rented a helicopter and took some Bay Area reporters up for a bird's eye view of the community.

An aerial view of Windmere.
An aerial view of Windmere. An overview of amenities such as the new $150 million Dougherty Valley High School (upper right) can draw potential home buyers.

No doubt the reporters were a buzz at the prospect of taking a breathtaking afternoon excursion, but it wasn't all spectacle. “This was the best perspective at which to view this community, for journalists to understand the scope and scale of the project,” says Scott Tiernan, senior director of marketing communications at EMC.

The timing was right, because during this final phase of build out, most amenities — including a $150 million dollar high school, four other schools, hundreds of acres of open space and more than 20 parks — were complete and primed for viewing.

Not only was a vivid picture planted in reporters' minds, it was reinforced by photography taken by a professional aerial photographer and provided to the media afterward to be published or broadcast at their respective outlets.

“This has generated some very positive news coverage, with more to follow,” says Tiernan. “Windemere's sales pace is impressive, especially in a market impacted by foreclosures, mortgage meltdowns and credit crunches.” 

What Worked: Taking The Market to Market

Because of the scarcity of grocery stores in the region, the developers of The Pinehills, a master-planned community just off Route 3 in Plymouth, Mass., figured that opening one at the community was sure to generate traffic and buzz.

The Market at Pinehills
The Market at Pinehills, created by the developers of the master-planned community in Plymouth, Mass., stirred quite a bit of buzz because of the need for a grocery store in the area and the effort to create a unique shopping experience that drew in people.
Photo courtesy The Pinehills

“Once we embarked on a decision that we would do it on our own, we set up a group of meetings that were more like conversations than focus groups,” says Pinehills Marketing Director Donna Tefft. “We invited residents and solicited interest from the surrounding areas and communities. We asked them what they liked about shopping and what they didn't like about shopping, and if they could create their ideal store, what would it be like?”

Based on the responses, they came up with something Sandra Kulli of Kulli Marketing in Folsom, Calif., who facilitated the focus groups, calls a cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joe's — a shop with a great selection of food, unique items as well as staples, sold at competitive prices. They hired former bakery owners, local seafood purveyors and the like to provide expertise and personalized customer service. The Market doesn't just sell groceries; it creates an experience.

“We have had thousands of people come into the community during the month of September and October due to the market opening,” says Tefft. “We are out reaching all the people who said, 'Gosh, when you get a grocery store here, that is going to be the decision for us.'”

As of this publication date, no one has claimed to purchase a home at The Pinehills for that reason, per se. But word-of-mouth is definitely spreading.

The Market at The Pinehills
The grand opening of The Market drew interested and curious crowds, coverage in the local press, and additional traffic to The Pinehills.

“We've had write-ups in the Boston Globe South region edition” adds Tefft. “We've had coverage in the local newspaper. We had mentions in some of the community newspaper groups that publish local newspapers in the region as well. We've done quite well with coverage.”

You are more likely to get news coverage if the story lends itself to great photography. A big block of text in print or a talking head on screen isn't that compelling without something interesting to see. You want to “see” the story; even the best radio coverage has to paint a picture with words. Think about what images can come from your story or event that will look good and make a statement.

“We might have a really neat person giving a lecture, but what is our picture going to be? A whole lot of backs of heads looking up at a podium?” says Janis Ehlers, principal and partner of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based The Ehlers Group, a strategic marketing, sales and communications company. “You come back to, 'Is there really a picture here and is it really worth getting the media out?'”

Buzz Tip: Have Great Photography Available
Have great photography available

You are more likely to get news coverage if the story lends itself to great photography. A big block of text in print or a talking head on screen isn't that compelling without something interesting to see. You want to “see” the story; even the best radio coverage has to paint a picture with words. Think about what images can come from your story or event that will look good and make a statement. “We might have a really neat person giving a lecture, but what is our picture going to be? A whole lot of backs of heads looking up at a podium?” says Janis Ehlers, principal and partner of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based The Ehlers Group, a strategic marketing, sales and communications company. “You come back to, 'Is there really a picture here and is it really worth getting the media out?'”

What Worked: Mining Metaphors for Your Marketing

Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman wrote a book called, “Marketing Metaphoria.” Their premise is that people unconsciously subscribe to deep metaphors, and if a brand or product represents a positive fulfillment of that metaphor, they will want to buy it.

“Marketers are always looking to carve out the differences,” says Sandra Kulli of Kulli Marketing. “But if you can embrace the deep metaphors of why people do things and you can use a disciplined imagination to market to them, you'll have phenomenal results.”

She says this process was at work in the success a Standard Pacific promotion for its Playa Vista loft community. An e-mail invitation was sent to a prospect list regarding a loft design seminar to be held at the community — a great promotion in and of itself. To measure traffic generated from the e-mail, they offered a $5 gift certificate for either The Coffee Bean or Pinkberry — two popular shops in Concert Park where Playa Vista is located. Kulli says there's a tie-in to dream fulfillment: “'Oh, I could make this place mine, and I can walk over from my loft and get a Pinkberry,' which is the coolest hippest yogurt shop in L.A.,” says Kulli.

She says The Market at Pinehills does much the same thing.

“Most things have two deep metaphors,” she says. “Shopping is, 'Oh, I hate shopping. It's so horrible,' and on the other hand, 'Oh, I could cook something really amazing for dinner and run into my friends and get the best strawberries that just came off the farm.'

“So you look for lifestyle connections to other things, where you can tap into something that is fundamentally happy and have it spill over into sales. 

Buzz Tip: Be Ethical

Marketing and creating buzz is about creating a positive perception of your company or brand. But it matters how this perception is created. Strategically planting customers who are coached and possibly paid to say good things about your company is not only ethically questionable, but if found out could create a public relations nightmare. The bad buzz may spread exponentially. 

Buzz Tip: Stick to the Basics

While it's tempting to think you have to stage some new event or publicity stunt to create buzz, Janis Ehler, principal and partner of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based The Ehlers Group, says builders can create buzz by extracting newsworthy activity from what they are already doing.

“I was with a small builder in Michigan,” explains Ehlers. “He was having a fall festival of homes. He also does a food drive where he gets his employees and homeowners to give cans of food. Well, you can tie these things together. You can have this open house for models with great refreshments, and you can invite people to bring their cans for a charity food drive. You are getting your existing homeowners involved. They can tell their friends, 'Come and see the models; they're having refreshments.' It starts mushrooming. He has something for his newsletter and his Web site. He has taken what he was already going to do, but he can now come up with a more creative name for his festival, make it more relevant, and in his small town he will probably generate press coverage.”

Should I Contact the Professionals?

Rochelle Barcelona, president and creative director of Barcellona Inc.
Rochelle Barcelona, president and creative director of Barcellona Inc.

One instance where builders too readily embrace DIY is the decision to do your own marketing. And the truth is, this has worked for many companies, particularly those with experienced marketing folks on staff. We spoke to Rochelle Barcellona, president and creative director of Barcellona Inc. — an integrated marketing communications firm specializing in real-estate, green and social marketing — about her perspective on the role a professional marketing services firm can play in creating a successful word-of-mouth campaign.

Q. Does a builder need a publicity campaign if it's already providing great customer service and builds great homes? Shouldn't the fact that a company is doing great work motivate people to say good things about it?

A. I look at providing good costumer service and a great product as the cost of doing business. That's why when so many home builders say, “We stand for quality,” I say, “Well, I'd hope so.” Everyone should be providing quality.

You need to toot your own horn so that people can get to know who you are. These days people are making buying decision based not just on want and need but on corporate values. You'll find that especially with the millennial generation. They check [companies] out to see if people are giving back to the community: Are their values in line with what they say? Are they ethical? When you consider that these kids make food choices just based upon that, for something as important as a home, they are going to make that choice as well.

Q. How do you come up with a strategy for a publicity campaign that will create buzz?

A. We always look for some really specific goals in terms of how many homes they need to move per month. Then you take a look at all the tactics within that [goal]. There might be graphic design tactics (logos and branding), advertising tactics and PR tactics. And within PR it's broken down even further. There's a whole social marketing component of it, the more traditional PR in terms of print and broadcast coverage, and then event-type PR. And you want to take a look at target audience. Just within the Internet itself, the technology today really lets you geo target, even down to specific zip codes.

Q. What are some key things a builder ought to address before launching a buzz marketing campaign?

A. Know what type of reputation you have. Is there some deficit you need to overcome? Have you had terrible homeowner surveys because of your warranty follow-up? Get that in shape beforehand, because you don't want to go out there saying you're the best, and all of a sudden you've got some loud mouth, grumpy homeowner saying they are going to picket you.

Q. Can you give some examples of ways to shape public opinion through the social networking tactic?

A. I think by having blogs from the builder's point of view ... a blog about the real-estate industry, green and sustainability, or whatever is important or passionate to that builder — just being an informational, thought-provoking source. The blog posts can be simple: “Oh, I read this article, and it said this. Isn't it interesting?” And you link to it. People start to look to this blog as a reliable source of information. It's also having Facebook pages and MySpace pages.

I recommend that every couple of weeks you Google yourself as a builder and see what comes up. You may find on a blog that someone has said something nasty. … You can contact that person and say, “I had no idea that you were having this issue. How can we make this up to you?” You can diffuse the situation.

Q. I would imagine getting a builder to host a blog or set up a Facebook page might be a hard sell.

A. This is where having a good marketing partner comes in handy. They can be the ones doing that dirty work, so to speak. Anything that's posted would have to run through the client to be approved. Or if the client says, “Hey, I really want to say something on this and these are my ideas,” it can be crafted into language that would be appropriate for a blog.

Lennar has a contest going on here where they want people to videotape what they feel is representative of their life in their Lennar home, become a fan on their Facebook page and post the video. It's simple. It costs absolutely zero to set up a Facebook page or post things on You Tube.

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