This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the February 2020 issue of Pro Builder.
Best Community Welcome Center
San Marcos, Texas
At Kissing Tree, the design of the welcome center (shown in the lead image, above) is as dynamic as the community. Rectangular and square panes of glass and streamlined timbers create an almost transparent elevation that’s inviting and syncs perfectly with the 55+ active adult community’s Texas Hill Country setting.
Inside, a 26-foot-tall abstract wood sculpture of a tree reaches up to the ceiling and “grows” out from a bar at the center of the space, which also includes iconic reminders of the ’60s and ’70s, such as 8-track tapes, and muscle cars cut in half to provide seating for a video wall showcasing community activities. There are also interactive information kiosks about the residences and an architect’s studio to select and customize homes.
“The playfulness and interactive nature of the displays invite potential buyers to engage,” says Claudia Gerster, founder and owner of Creative License International, the agency behind the center’s design. She says the firm’s goal was “to exceed the expectations of visitors and create a desire to be a part of the active, engaging, fun, and healthy lifestyle at Kissing Tree.”
Despite some lessons learned along the way (namely, adding a greeting stand at the entry to welcome visitors during busy times), sales at Kissing Tree have increased since the center opened and are expected to continue to exceed expectations, Gerster says.
At Kissing Tree, the Welcome Center features generous glazing for maximum light and openness.
Best Social Media Campaign
As part of a broader brand awareness campaign, Toll Brothers turned to social media to reach luxury move-up and move-down homebuyers. The objective was to spark aspirational interest in its brand beyond a specific product or market by focusing on the emotional investment in a new home, which was an innovative strategy for Toll. “At the heart of every homebuying experience is a personal, emotional journey, and we wanted to recreate some of those experiences familiar to so many homebuyers,” says Wendy Marlett, the company’s chief marketing officer.
To underscore the passion new homeowners often experience, Obsession was chosen as the theme for the campaign, with a specialized landing page on Toll’s website centered on that theme, followed by a succession of images of rooms, homes, and outdoor spaces geared to spark interest and evoke an emotional response.
Posts on Twitter and Instagram focused on obsession-worthy touchpoints of new homes, such as indulgent baths and to-die-for kitchens. Facebook posts highlighted a range of spaces and elevations designed to dazzle. A set of videos and a hashtag were created, as well as an Instagram Story bracket challenge where the public could vote for their favorite home images. Vendors and internal sales team members also used the hashtag to create additional traction.
From February through May of 2019, the campaign’s 74 posts led to 29,000 social media engagements, 6,300 video views, and 15,800 blog page views, the latter with an impressive on-page average of 5:49 minutes.
OBSESSION shook up the luxury production market with a creative and engaging social media campaign targeting well-heeled buyers, resulting in greater brand awareness.
Building Industry Community Spirit Award
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Recognizing good works among employees and giving attaboys to one another is a practice that began 14 years ago at Schell Brothers and is now standard. But the company wanted to also spread that culture of happiness and gratitude to the communities in which it builds. The result—Project Kudos—encourages and facilitates ways for members of the community to say thank you to anyone who makes their day awesome and to express gratitude for things they appreciate. “It really resonates with people,” says Alyssa Titus, the builder’s director of marketing.
Launched in September 2018, Project Kudos is now fully branded, with a decked-out old-school bus covered in thousands of Project Kudos stickers (shown, below), bringing those messages (and the opportunity to add more) to schools, businesses, and festivals. It also has a following on social media. After the bus visits a school, it provides a Project Kudos board to continue the practice there. Currently there are 85 “Kudos boards” throughout Virginia and Delaware, with plans in 2020 that include visiting a local charity each month.
The biggest challenge in making the concept a reality, Titus says, has been manpower, as the bus is out and about almost every week. “The company has embraced giving back to the community, and this is a great way to talk about our culture and our brand,” she says. “We’re authentic with our mission, so communicating the message is easy.”
PROJECT KUDOS originated as an internal program at Schell Brothers. Today, it’s a valued and ongoing community asset that fosters happiness and gratitude.
Best Digital Marketing Campaign
Santa Clarita, Calif.
Selling a new development before having much to show on-site is a perennial quandary for developers. For Skyline, having another TRI Pointe Group master planned community 10 minutes away further complicated premarketing. The solution: a digital campaign to entice local Millennials to consider a place historically viewed as a suburban family location. “We had to get a little edgy with our videos,” says Lyndsay Fuller, director of marketing for Pardee Homes’ Los Angeles and Ventura markets. “It was all about evoking lifestyle and really being able to segment the brand in a fun, playful way.”
The campaign included publicity, e-blasts, progress updates, invitations to special events, and social media posts, including a community blog. Video was critical to highlighting lifestyle and aspects of the community. As a result, Pardee began drawing a completely different buyer profile at Skyline, and TRI Pointe saw sales boom at both community locations.
Fuller attributes this success to proper planning, proper segmenting, great creative partners in Wick Marketing, and shared intelligence from TRI Pointe divisions around the country. “That definitely gave us a competitive edge,” she says.
Launched in July 2018 and geared to a November grand opening, the campaign helped drive 2,500 new registrants to a VIP list of prequalified buyers, and one of the four neighborhoods within Skyline was one of the fastest-absorbing communities in Southern California.
SKYLINE used multiple digital media tools, such as HTML email blasts (above), to differentiate itself from other communities nearby.
Best Lifestyle Program – Community
Live Smart at Harvest
Hillwood Communities debuted its new “Live Smart” lifestyle program at Harvest, a 1,200-acre master planned community that combines agrarian heritage and country living with contemporary lifestyles. Concepts of connection, well-being, enrichment, stewardship, and convenience play out among a rich menu of 300-plus one-time and ongoing events geared toward every age group and interest, providing residents with multiple opportunities to interact and forge connections.
Central to the program is a working commercial farm operated by a professional farmer. Private garden plots and community demonstration gardens resulted in more than 1,100 pounds of produce for a local food pantry last year, while donations from events translated into 21,500 meals in 2019.
Key to the success of the program is a partnership with residential property management company FirstService Residential, based in Dania Beach, Fla., which provided lifestyle management services. “They shared our vision, established what we wanted, and got the right people into the community to put it into action,” says Taylor Negron-Campbell, Hillwood’s marketing manager. In addition to orchestrating events, the on-site lifestyle manager connects future residents with existing residents who share similar lifestyle interests.
The plan also ensures the program’s sustainability by enlisting the support of local businesses to supplement an allocation of HOA fees. When Hillwood moves on from Harvest, “the program is going to be just as good, if not better, than it is now,” Negron-Campbell says.
LIVE SMART AT HARVEST (images, above) offers residents a wealth of one-time and ongoing events geared to forge connections, sustain interest, and contribute to the greater community.
Best Website, Best Realtor Program, Best Community Amenity, Marketing Professional of the Year
Palm Beach County, Fla.
Arden, a master planned development by Freehold Communities, benefited from (and earned Nationals recognition for) the company’s Vital Communities Core principles, which guide the creation of community identity, amenities design, and the overall aesthetics of the homes—a program spearheaded by Suzanne Maddalon, Freehold’s VP of marketing and the Marketing Director of the Year recipient.
Arguably her most influential creation is the agrihood that serves as Arden’s central amenity. Not only does it invite resident engagement, but it also enhances the sense of a lifestyle that promotes healthy living—another value important to Maddalon. In fact, Arden is South Florida’s first agrihood, and it immediately ensured a unique identity for this new community. “When we introduced the ‘Welcome to the Agrihood’ campaign, it totally changed everything in terms of traffic and sales,” she says. “People were so interested in the activity created by the agrihood.”
In concert, Arden’s winning website show-cases lifestyle and amenities that include 20 miles of trails, a mile-long centerpiece lake, and the 5-acre organic farm. The landing page features an image of a happy young boy reaping the rewards of a recent farm harvest, and the page devoted to the agrihood received 100% more page views than any other.
“The website really sets the stage for our story, and we continually update it with new information to show what’s going on in the community,” Maddalon says.
Arden’s Realtor program also earned kudos. Marketing director Susan Moguel designed a series of on-site lunch-and-learn events called “Arden 101,” offering exclusive information from each builder and Freehold about the community, amenities, product lines, sales incentives, and lifestyle.
After completing Arden 101, Realtors are considered an official expert and receive a custom USB with digital marketing materials and photos. More than 250 agents have graduated from the program, increasing Realtor participation from 50% to 55% in just one year.
Finally, the Lakehouse, Arden’s two-story clubhouse, received the Best Community Amenity Award. The design and amenities are comparable to a first-rate resort, with pools on two levels and a dramatic waterfall linking the two, a casual café with free Wi-Fi providing a place for residents to connect, and private cabanas bordering the tranquil upper-level pool and spa, among a host of other features.
ARDEN applied core identity principles and leveraged its agrihood concept across multiple platforms to drive traffic and sales.
Best Print Campaign – Series of Ads
Summerlin—Be Part of Something Beautiful
Entering its 30th year of development, Summerlin continues to be a vibrant master planned community with a diversity of residents and a range of lifestyle opportunities and amenities.
Recognizing that homebuying is no longer just about price or location or product, Howard Hughes’ marketing team sought to design a campaign to appeal to deeper values. “An overarching brand positioning should always communicate a unifying position based on values shared by our target audiences,” says Danielle Bisterfeldt, VP of marketing.
Central to the “Be Part of Something Beautiful” campaign is a series of print ads highlighting meaningful moments, from a baby’s first steps and Little League close-ups to inspiring high desert terrain and intimate dinners at a Summerlin restaurant. The individual components of the campaign further break that idea down into relevant audience-segmented examples of people enjoying life, Bisterfeldt says. “Life is not made up of huge, transformative experiences, but is a collection of small, simple, beautiful moments.”
She adds, “People don’t relate to things or companies or products. Any truly successful brand must behave as an authentic, fully actualized human being. Only then will people relate to, interact with, and embrace your brand like a trusted friend.”
SUMMERLIN went beyond price and location by appealing to the universal and unifying human values of its target market.
Best Brochure – Builder
Thomas James Homes
Aliso Viejo, Calif.
The largest single lot home replacement builder in the country, Thomas James Homes (TJH) relied on typical sales methods to market its new products, typically bringing homes to market through local real estate agents approximately 60 days from move-in.
Looking internally for growth opportunities, TJH recognized the advantage in bringing buyers into the process early on, also allowing for more customization. Rather than a single new-home buyer profile, the builder identified three different buyers and reimagined the sales process to cater to all three. All of which called for a complete marketing refresh, beginning with an innovative brand promise to “deliver exactly what people want but don’t know exists.”
Under the paradigm “the right home, right where you want it,” a buyer can build on their own home site, selecting from a library of plans and working with the in-house design team. Another option includes a similar design experience but, on a TJH site with a plan preselected for the site. The third follows the traditional new-home sales path.
These innovative solutions were marketed directly to consumers as well as real estate agents in a comprehensive marketing effort via website, digital assets, and a 14-page brochure designed to familiarize consumers with Thomas James Homes. “Realtors love the brochure, whether they are a buyer’s agent or a listing agent. And consumers seem to love it as well," says Gina Nixon, director of marketing. "It provides a look at who’s standing behind the homes being built. It clearly states our solutions-based homebuying process, shows photography of some of our actual homes, and shares our purpose and commitment to the buyer as they consider becoming part of Thomas James Homes by selecting us as their home builder.” It also demonstrates the builder's competence and integrity, which makes them stand out among competitors, says Dave Miles, president and brand strategist for Milesbrand.
The comprehensive branding and marketing strategy produced 91 sales through Oct. 9, 2019, generating more than $350 million in revenue, with $500 million expected by year's end in Los Angeles alone. Nixon believes the success stems from the entire program being solutions-based for the consumer, but also completely supportive of real estate agents.
Best Website – Builder
The Blackpine Communities' website opens with big, colorful imagery in a cinemagraph video showcasing the grand sweep of Sacramento, Calif. Splashes of animation highlighting people, places, and experiences throughout the site call attention to various aspects of the lifestyle. Like a city insider's blog, the website features three "Blackbooks" that serve as travel guides to entertainment, commuting, outdoor activities, neighborhoods, and famous local people such as Tom Hanks and Pat Morita.
Rather than feeling like it's a promotion for a builder, the site seems more like a travelogue. Blackpine is a builder focused on creating and restoring single-family and townhome neighborhoods in Sacramento. “The goal was to create an experience that would tempt viewers as distant as the Bay Area to check out the city and this builder," says Vance Carmel, managing partner at Joey Ai. "And it was important to spell out the lifestyle outside of the individual communities." Video vignettes of the lifestyle in seven Sacramento neighborhoods are woven into the site. Each Blackpine neighborhood has a dedicated section featuring videos, rich imagery, floor plans, and descriptive copy.
Content may be the driver, but the website is also the engine that runs everything online, Carmel says. Registration links and opportunities are woven in in several places, without interrupting the flow of information. The cohesive nature of the site is integral to its success in feeling like it provides information rather than focusing on selling.
Carmel says people often comment on Blackpine's choice of a company from Toronto to create a site in Sacramento, but he says having an outside lens was key to the site's success. Also important was the exceptional quality of the video. “Every shot is ours. Every video is ours. Everything is done under one roof,” with six creative directors, he explains.
Best Computer-Generated Sales Tool
When visitors and prospective buyers enter the Hub, which is also the sales office and welcome center for Tesoro Viejo, a new community in Madera, Calif., they're greeted with a giant screen showing the overall plan for the community and surrounding terrain. Unlike traditional videos, this tool is interactive, enabling users to investigate various aspects, features, and amenities from neighborhoods, parks, and lifestyle hubs, such as the Ranch House to individual streets and home sites, all using a simple touch screen. Interactive screens throughout the center also play the video and provide opportunities to learn more about the community.
The biggest challenge in marketing a new community and gaining approvals is getting people to understand what’s not there yet. “They’re basically looking at giant empty fields and they have to try to visualize the swimming pools or the club house,” says Steve Ormonde, founder of architectural visualization firm Focus 360. Developers often resort to 3D renderings for a solution, but he says “most renderings can’t really evoke the necessary emotion to get people to feel like they are there. Our job is to make it look as real and inviting as possible.”
There is basically no training required, and use is as simple as touching part of the screen or one of the tabs along the bottom that list neighborhoods and products, along with available homes, amenities, and builders. The process invites individual exploration and allows users to investigate and explore at their own pace following their own interests.
In addition to this flawless interface, what makes this tool a standout is its quality. Ormonde says the level of realism in the video makes it compelling. And, he says, “we also added some fun using special effects.” Viewers can easily grasp the concept of the entire development with the big-picture view and then home in on lifestyle, amenities, neighborhoods, and individual home sites.
Another benefit of the interactivity and realism of the video was expediting the approval process because the developer was able to showcase the community and bring the vision to life for the planning commission and regulatory agencies.
Sales + Marketing: Two to Watch
Mollie Elkman and Will Duderstadt
We won’t say we told you so, but it came as no surprise to us that two of Pro Builder’s 40 Under 40 recipients, Mollie Elkman (class of 2012) and Will Duderstadt (2017), pop up on the Nationals radar as Ones to Watch in sales and marketing.
Elkman, owner and president of Group Two Advertising, in Philadelphia, leads the full-service new-home marketing agency, which specializes in connecting builders with buyers and has been recognized three times as a Best Place to Work by the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Duderstadt, VP of digital marketing for M/I Homes, in Columbus, Ohio, oversees all online content and marketing campaigns, lead generation, PPC, search engine marketing and optimization, social media, and content strategy for the builder’s 15 divisions in 11 states.
2020 Nationals Judges
VP of Brand
David Weekley Homes, Houston
Pro Builder/SGC-Horizon, Arlington Heights, Ill.
VP of Sales and Marketing
Trendmaker Homes, Dallas
Diversified Marketing Solutions, Pleasanton, Calif.
Marketing, Newport Beach, Calif.
VP of Sales and Marketing
Ideal Homes, Oklahoma City
Principal and Head Designer
Five Star Interiors, Austin, Texas
Kelly Ann Zuccarelli
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Red Bank, N.J.
More Nationals Winners: