Try as they may, broad market forecasts and demographic profiles don’t deliver the formula for successful sales. That secret sauce is found in the efforts of creative, innovative, and yes, brave builders and developers that go beyond the numbers and tried-and-true (and often tired) practices to capture the imagination, provoke action, and underpin the buyer experience and overall sales process.
We’ve chosen eight winners from The Nationals (NAHB’s annual National Sales & Marketing Awards) that cleverly cut through the typical advertising and marketing clutter with humor and warmth, authenticity, personal approaches, and spot-on branding to increase homebuyer interest, traffic, and sales in homes and communities.
And not only that, all of them took cost-efficient roads to success, leveraging assets and technology across print, digital, and in-person opportunities to maintain a consistent message and brand within budget.
Best Print Campaign – Series of Ads
William Lyon Homes, Denver
William Lyon Homes / Milesbrand
The company needed a unique identity to differentiate it from other area builders. “In general, consumers view home builders as generic because of the purchase cycle,” says Dave Miles, president of Milesbrand, which produced William Lyon’s print advertising campaign (see lead image, above). “They don’t have enough repeat purchases to know one builder from another, until they decide where they want to live.”
Milesbrand was tasked with changing that attitude and breaking through what it saw as the clutter of cookie-cutter home builder ads—and doing it in a cost-effective way.
Rather than spending money on new photography and expensive execution, the creative team paired existing William Lyon images with cheeky puns and taglines such as, “You make my shingles tingle,” “Just wait til you peek through my curtains,” and “I’ll never break your hearth,” to create what Miles calls “a personality and tone unlike any builder in the marketplace.” He says, “The fun factor elevates the homebuying experience, and people value that.”
The judges agreed, noting the campaign’s “smart copy [and] eye-catching layout to grab the attention of the consumer and real estate agents.”
The builder has received tremendous feedback from consumers and sales staff, Miles adds. The campaign helped to produce 354 sales through August 2018, exceeding projections.
Best Design Center
EDGEhomes, Draper, Utah
EDGEhomes / Success Strategies / HRI Design
EDGEhomes is one of the fastest-growing builders in Utah, with 15 communities of townhouse and single-family homes and cottages in the Wasatch Front, the state’s most populous north-central section. “With a thriving economy that’s attracting digital and tech industries, there’s an influx of Millennial homebuyers to the state,” says Madison Swapp, EDGEhomes’ project manager.
When the company moved its headquarters from Orem to Draper, it also moved and expanded its design studio. EDGE worked with Jane Meagher, studio designer and company president of Success Strategies, to create a 3,396-square-foot space that’s consistent with the company’s branding; that is, “upscale industrial style complemented by clean lines, natural elements, and muted tones,” Swapp says.
The judges echoed that sentiment, describing the studio as a “simple, clean, upscale, thoughtful design that resonates with the Millennial tech buyers heading to this market.”
A visit to the EDGEhomes studio begins in the usual way: Buyers under contract make an appointment to consider (and ideally purchase) selections that are over and above the standard builder options that come with their home. But once there, the customer experience kicks in, with buyers enjoying snacks and drinks in front of the fireplace. They are given a gallery tour of curated finishes and hands-on settings, such as a fully functional gourmet kitchen. There are built-in digital displays that showcase kitchen and bathroom vignettes and help homebuyers create a custom home environment.
The studio layout is carefully curated—much like a retail store, with products such as lighting, carpeting, and flooring arranged at particular heights to encourage purchases. The buying process is organized, streamlined, and personalized, Swapp says, and the immersive ambience appeals to buyers—Millennials, in particular—who have come to expect this kind of shopping experience. The result, Swapp says, has been a 30.2 percent uptick in option sales since opening the new showroom.
Best Website for a Builder
The New Home Company
The New Home Company / Paolucci Salling & Martin
According to the National Association of Realtors, 83 percent of all homebuyers use the internet to search for homes and about 72 percent of them use their mobile phone, tablet, or an app to do so. But The New Home Company’s website wasn’t optimized to grab those homebuyers, says Megan Eltringham, the builder’s VP of marketing. “It wasn’t consumer friendly.”
One example: The site had no online sales concierge. “If someone was interested in a home, they’d have to go through tabs of web pages to find an address and reach out to an on-site sales team,” Eltringham says. “We wanted to streamline the process.”
The builder brought in marketing agency Paolucci Salling & Martin (PS&M) to ensure the builder’s new site would be easily searchable and offer access to a direct text, chat, or call feature. PS&M also focused on “mobile-first design,” which means the site is built for mobile devices first and then adapted for (or responsive to) a desktop or laptop computer screen instead of the other way around.
Now, if a consumer views one of The New Home Company’s 30 neighborhoods online, “They can get in touch with someone who will speak with them immediately,” Eltringham says. They’re also connected to Google Maps to get driving directions straight to the community or lot address.
The website offers both virtual tours and home renderings. If they’re using an iPad, visitors have access to augmented-reality features that provide a physical feel to the homes. There is also direct integration with the Zillow real estate information website, as well as Lasso customer relationship management software.
Since the site launched, The New Home Company has seen average page views jump by 0.45 pages, with users spending 29 seconds longer per visit, and a 15 percent reduction in bounce rate—all impressive gains.
It took PS&M about a year to build out the site’s 700-plus pages, relying heavily on compelling images that tug on buyers’ emotions. “If we can sell the emotion, the home can come second,” Eltringham says.
Best Brochure – Community
Vivant, Parker, Colo.
Joyce Homes / TRIO / KGA Studio Architects / Milesbrand
“You could argue that in today’s digital world, there’s no need to do a physical brochure,” says Dave Miles, president of Milesbrand, which crafted the marketing collateral for the 81-unit Vivant community by Joyce Homes. “But because of the way this community came about, we wanted a strong takeaway piece regarding that experience.”
It all started when Joyce Homes purchased land from a failed master planned community in a relatively out-of-the way location in Parker, Colo., southeast of Denver. The company engaged TRIO, a full-service interior design and merchandising firm, to help it design and brand a new community—Vivant—encompassing 81 homes on 1.5-acre lots.
TRIO’s concept of four plans and three elevations—Modern, Prairie, and Farmhouse—applied both floor plan flexibility and a wellness aspect to differentiate Vivant from the competition.
Specifically, TRIO brought in Wellness Within Your Walls, an organization that educates consumers and the design industry about sustainability and designing and building healthier environments. Program tenets include expansive glass for natural light, open floor plans, filtered water, and products lower in toxins. Vivant’s plans also suggest a guest room as an art studio and an optional Zen garden. “We’re the first prototype community in Colorado for Wellness Within Your Walls,” says Angela Harris, TRIO’s CEO.
Milesbrand brought the vision to life in August 2018 with a dramatic brochure that complements the website and tells the story of how the community’s birth was a team collaboration between builder, designer, and the architect, Denver’s KGA Studio Architects. The judges described it as, “Visually compelling and memorable, and true to the overall marketing approach for continuity of message and branding.”
A supplemental print campaign appeared in shelter and lifestyle magazines. “We pushed the envelope with the black-and-white color scheme,” Miles says of the ads. “Rather than renderings with fake blue skies, we brought in black to make the stark contrast part of the brand’s identity and differentiate it from what people are used to seeing.”
Results have been positive: According to the builder, seven homes are under contract and the prospect list stands at 305 since a soft launch in early August 2018.
Best Realtor / Broker Program
The Tribute, The Colony, Texas
Matthews Southwest / Anderson Hanson Blanton
The Tribute, a 1,600-acre master planned golf and resort community, sits on Lake Lewisville in North Texas. It includes a pool, nature reserve, and hiking and bike trails. “It’s very natural and outdoorsy,” says Kelly Hanson, account manager at Anderson Hanson Blanton (AHB), a marketing agency specializing in residential real estate and director of Realtor relations for The Tribute. “And Lake Lewisville makes it unique in what is [pretty much] a landlocked area.” For its most recent agent engagement campaign, Hanson and her team focused on those natural amenities.
In the past, developer Matthews Southwest, which started The Tribute in 2007, then waited out the recession before ramping up again in 2011, did a great job of engaging local real estate agents, Hanson says. But those programs, including excursions, dinners, and event promotions, had become prohibitively expensive. “And they didn’t reach enough people because only the top 10 agents—those who sold the most homes in The Tribute—were eligible,” she says.
For the new campaign, which began in the fall of 2017, AHB and its creative team focused on the community’s unique aspects—a 29,000-acre lake, two on-site golf courses, and two clubhouses (one of which employs a well-known local chef) to entice and engage more agents. “We decided to do smaller [so-called pop-up] events that tie into the lifestyle of the community,” Hanson says, such as canoeing and kayaking lessons or a bike ride through the community, among other activities.
Now, AHB emails its database of 5,000 agents a few days before each event. “We’ll have a local bike shop bring out bikes [for agents to ride], and we’ve done ‘chardonnay and play’ for people wanting to learn golf with a pro,” Hanson says. One invitation included a bobblehead for those selected to participate.
AHB often creates an event to make a particular point. For example, to highlight a new condominium community coming to the property, they offered hot-air balloon rides that rose to the height of the new condos so agents could see and appreciate the broader view. They also offered pedicures at a nearby spa to highlight the community’s walkability.
The judges praised the campaign’s ability to engage and keep the market interested. “This program created buzz and competition, keeping [the community] fresh and top of mind [among the target audience].”
Unlike its predecessor, the new program engages more agents and provides more opportunities for them to get to know the community, Hanson says. “There are 60 agents who are already living in the community, and we were at 80 percent of real estate agent–driven sales.” That figure bumped up to 85 percent after initiating the pop-up event program, and Hanson points to an impressive 15 percent open rate on its event emails. “Registration for these events is typically full within 10 minutes,” she says. “Sometimes there are waiting lists of up to 50 real estate agents,” and more are asking to be put into the database to receive future invitations.
Best Lifestyle Annual Program
The Howard Hughes Corp. / MMI Agency
Bridgeland, opened in 2006, is an 11,400-acre master planned community in northwest Houston. Now home to approximately 3,300 families, there are 20,000 homes projected upon completion. The community includes 900 acres of lakes, 250 miles of trails, 400 acres of parks, as well as Lakeland Village Center, a shopping area with restaurants and retail and service options.
The Howard Hughes Corp. wanted to implement a program that encourages neighbors and friends to get together, build a sense of community, and offers guests an opportunity to experience Bridgeland. To that end, it created “Friday Night Bites” in February 2017.
“Food trucks are a big draw,” says Lona Shipp, Bridgeland’s director of residential marketing. For the second Friday of every month, Shipp invites different trucks to offer a variety of options to keep guests coming back. Each event is seasonally themed and provides family-friendly entertainment and activities such as live music, a beer garden, cooking demonstrations, lip-sync contests, an arts/crafts station, a rock-climbing wall, and a car show, she says. The events also raise awareness of Lakeland Village Center’s retail tenants.
The program has played a major role in Bridgeland’s community outreach. The average attendance is 1,000 people per month, about 30 percent of whom are nonresidents. An on-site register-to-win lottery entices prospective buyers to provide their email addresses, enabling future communication opportunities. Judges were impressed by the results, in particular the number of outside guests, which, they said, provides a great opportunity to “create an aspirational desire to move to the community and be a part of a place that connects neighbors with one another in a special way.”
“In addition to our overall marketing initiatives, Friday Night Bites contributes to Bridgeland’s positive sales growth,” Shipp says, noting that home sales increased by 30 percent in 2017 and 14 percent in 2018. “We look forward to seeing the event grow in 2019 and expect sales velocity to do the same.”
Best Direct Mail Program
The Woodlands Hills, Houston
The Howard Hughes Corp.
Opened this past July, The Woodlands Hills is The Howard Hughes Corp.’s newest master planned community in the Greater Houston area. It sits on 2,000 acres just 13 miles north of the company’s The Woodlands in Conroe and Willis, Texas.
As part of its grand-opening festivities, the company deployed a direct-mail campaign to underscore the wholesome and neighborly feel of its new community with a flag-raising dedication event, followed by a community picnic over two weekends with tours of the model homes, lunch, live music, and fun activities. “The direct-mail dedication invitation offered us a great opportunity to reach our geographic target to create awareness of the new community and what it represents,” says Kim Phillips, Howard Hughes’ VP of marketing.
The exclusive invitation, with simple, colorful illustrations of a family—a man walking a dog, a woman pushing a stroller, a child riding a bicycle—was sealed in a transparent sleeve. The judges found it to be “charming, relatable, lifestyle marketing.”
The direct-mail piece maintained the community’s branding by using the colors New-Growth Green and Fresh Fuchsia, and delivering the message of “wholesome lifestyle.” According to Phillips, the direct-mail piece was a success, and more than 200 people attended this exclusive event. The judges felt it was a “great example of solid marketing driving traffic and sales.”
Best Email Marketing / Web Banners / Rich Media Advertising
The Park, Bankers Hill, San Diego
Zephyr Partners / Blufish Design Studio
The Park, Bankers Hill, across from Balboa Park in San Diego, is billed as offering “unrivaled luxury.” The challenge: How to communicate the details of a 14-story, 60-unit tower and six townhomes to prospective customers three years before the project would be ready for occupancy?
Developer Zephyr Partners retained Blufish Design Studio to brand the project and keep the momentum and interest going during construction. “We developed a voice and a persona for the email copy, a cheeky play on luxury and what it meant to live in Bankers Hill,” which had been home to the affluent in the 19th century, says Blufish art director Natasha Lyons.
Blufish got leads from those responding to builder signage, flyers, website forms, and an off-site sales center, which was branded with an elegant black, gold, and white scheme. The firm also sent out a monthly email newsletter to a growing prospect list featuring upcoming local activities, as well as weekly targeted emails to the project’s desired demographic. The judges noted the “impressive” 25 percent open rate and 5.5 click-through rate for those emails.
The targeted e-blasts featured particular units and gave prospects a sense of the floor plans, specs, square footage, views, and price points. “No floor in this building is really the same,” Lyons says. “This was a real effort to describe it in detail.” There were also construction updates, information on the architect and the team, and details about The Park brand and style. Judges appreciated how the creative team was able to “rephrase similar messages, without sounding repetitive, to sell a product when there was nothing to physically see.”
Zephyr Partners finished the project in September 2018, selling 32 of 60 units by the end of the year.
See all 2019 Nationals winners at thenationals.com
Stacey Freed writes about design from her home in Pittsford, N.Y.
2019 Nationals Judges
Christopher Brown, MIRM, CSP, principal, broker, and creative evangelist, NEXT New Homes Group, Roseville, Calif.
Kathy Browning, MIRM, CMP, CGP, owner/designer, Design Consultants, Virginia Beach, Va.
Denise Dersin, editorial director, Professional Builder / SGC Horizon, Arlington Heights, Ill.
Kelly Fink, MIRM, CAPS, VP of sales and marketing, The Providence Group, Atlanta
Johanna Gunther, principal, 2nd Avenue Sales & Marketing, Upland, Calif.
Gina Nixon, regional director of marketing, Meritage Homes, Newport Beach, Calif.
Ingrid Prince, director of online sales, Trendmaker Homes, Tampa, Fla.
Kelly Ann Zuccarelli, SVP, national builder and condominium program manager, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Red Bank, N.J.
Program Administrator: Lisa Parrish, Team PMP