The last newly created position in new-home sales and marketing occurred when the internet changed consumer behavior in the 2000s. Home builders created the online sales counselor (OSC) role and—according to Do You Convert’s own data—last year was the first year in which the majority (51%) of new-home sales filtered through an OSC position.
Our industry has celebrated its role in navigating the pandemic, but another challenge is brewing for home builders that requires similarly creative thinking: artificial intelligence (AI). A lot has been written about how digital advertising has shifted consumer behavior, but very little about how AI has driven this shift. Algorithms will only become more central to how marketers connect with prospects and customers, and that has big implications for the structure of the modern marketing department.
Another challenge is brewing for home builders that requires creative thinking: artificial intelligence. And that's where the marketing technologist can help.
I believe two new positions will become commonplace for builders selling more than 200 homes a year: marketing technologist and content creator.
The marketing technologist (MT) role, in particular, sparked tremendous curiosity when I first mentioned it early last year. I think that’s because people instinctively realize something is holding back their companies from adopting and improving technological advances to make things easier for both internal and external customers.
Failed Innovation Is All Around Us
It isn’t just a feeling; the signs of failed innovation are not difficult to see. When new products or systems are rolled out, they seem to be intentionally dense and impossible to use. And while management may understand the concept of why a particular tech tool is needed, they are hopelessly unable to even log in themselves, let alone lead the rest of the company in adopting it.
Then there’s Bright Shiny Object Syndrome, where a technology is implemented because someone thinks it would be “cool,” but it doesn’t solve a problem for customers or employees and it actually adds unnecessary complexity. Each year, millions of dollars are wasted chasing the latest tech fad by managers who don’t really understand marketing or technology but fall victim to the marketing-hype cycle.
Last, but not least, we have Home Run Fixation, where leadership pushes a “swing for the fences” approach to innovation instead of taking smaller, meaningful steps toward a larger goal. I spoke with one VP of marketing in mid-April who was tasked with developing a “design, add-to-cart, and complete-the-purchase” of a new home system in 90 days. Nearly 270 days later, no meaningful progress has been made; in fact, the builder still doesn’t display its included features online because “they change too often and vary too much by community to keep them accurate.” Oops.
Insights can get stuck in silos, but someone who speaks multiple languages can break down barriers.
All of this leaves us with a laughably small amount of real progress using technology to simplify the customer experience or our sales and marketing programs. Using cardboard VR viewers from 2014, doing virtual walk-throughs, using furniture planning tools, and showing homesite availability isn’t enough, and deep down we all know it.
Having managers in charge of things they don’t fully understand is often appropriate. Construction managers usually have never framed a house themselves, but they are tasked with making sure the framers have done their job correctly. However, when it comes to technology meant to improve the consumer journey, this is a recipe for disaster.
Learning how websites function, what databases are, how prospects shop for new homes, and what the term “user interface” means as you are leading the development of your website has a 90% chance of ending in a dumpster fire. If the fire doesn’t happen now, it will two years from now when you’re trying to implement the next upgrade and realize it can’t be done without building yet another new site.
A New Hero: the Marketing Technologist
Marketing technologists are a unique kind of hero because of the four distinct roles they play within an organization: interpreter, BS detector, pollinator, and visionary. As someone who speaks the language of the IT folks, as well as that of marketing, sales, and operations, marketing technologists are able to make sure each department clearly understands the others. As a BS detector, they’re able to push back when someone says something can’t be done or is cost-prohibitive just because that person doesn’t want to do it.
They also can sniff out when someone is overpromising or oversimplifying a task to get budgetary approvals or buy-in. These are the largest pitfalls for most builders: being too ambitious without the right expectations on timing and budget so the project ultimately gets canceled, or not even taking the first steps because someone claims it can’t be done, even though they haven’t fully vetted the idea.
- The Uberization of New-Home Sales
- No In-Person Crowds? Use Tech to Produce Virtual Events
- Online Leads Account for 51% of Home Builder Sales
As a pollinator, the MT is able to share insights mined from data and technology and help all departments understand their ability to tap into similar systems or tools and what role those tools can play in helping achieve even greater results. Too often, insights garnered by one team remain stuck in distinct silos, but someone who can speak multiple languages and has a singular focus on the customer can break down those barriers.
Finally, as a visionary leader, the MT is able to take far-out plans and break them up into smaller parts. This skill allows for inevitable course-corrections while maintaining the original vision or purpose. The vision doesn’t have to be the MT’s own or one they thought of; they bring to life the vision of other leaders as well, all while maintaining focus on the customer and putting the right tools (technology, data, and resources) to work on the problem at hand.
Breadth and Depth: a Rare Combination
David Epstein wrote a wonderful book titled Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Many of the ideas I’ve written about here are from this book, which I read in 2019 and highly recommend if the ideas here strike a chord with you.
In a world that keeps driving people toward more intense specialization and focus on small portions of the business, the marketing technologist role can potentially have such a great impact precisely because of the range of understanding MTs have in marketing, technology, sales psychology, and operations. It won’t be easy to find someone with all of these skills, but those builders that succeed in finding them and giving them the authority to get to work will run laps around those who continue to keep innovation and digitization in silos.