Commentary by Robert Cowes III, President of SmartTouch Interactive:
Probably the most common mistake we see with builder and developer websites these days is the reluctance to look at the investment in this channel equal if not more important than decorating a sales center. The majority of builders and developers look for a highly regarded staging company or decorator to deck out a model home or sales environment many times spending 25-50K per model, yet when it comes to websites those who have not experienced success find themselves not looking at that investment in the same realm. The fact is that your website if executed properly will have 100 times the number of visits than any model home. In order to taste and make it an effective sales tool, the production and maintenance needs to have a well thought out strategy. Quite often at SmartTouch we inherit poorly executed websites or projects that were based on strictly awarding the job to the lowest bid. Typically in this business you get what you pay for. We share this article as a third party testament that making a web provider and strategy decision is more than just putting something out there, its only the first step in really leveraging the online sales center as your most important sales tool
Sales and Marketing
Creating a Web Site Is Only the First Step in Building a Strong Brand Online
By Stephen Feltner, CSP, and Tyler Waite, CSP
When it comes to both traditional and online branding, home builders, along with most businesses, would do well to think about building brands of value rather than trying to create successful brands.
It’s All About Them
Successful branding is not about getting the right slogan, colors and messaging. It’s about understanding what expectations your customers have and then crafting satisfying solutions that subtlety draw in buyers.
This is in direct contrast to advertising, which blends into the background hype — the millions of words that are constantly shouting at us, but often ignored.
The goal of any branding is first and foremost a commitment to the process of reassuring current and potential customers that they are making the right decision by placing their trust — and their money — with your company.
Successful branding aligns a customer’s feelings with a decision to purchase — and then delivers the product or service that enhances those feelings.
In the pre-Internet world, building and maintaining a trusted brand was a long-term process for home builders. Today, your Web site should constantly deliver glowing testimonials from clients and showcase housing awards won and other distinctions to an audience of prospective buyers whose decision to explore your homes and communities may be based largely on what they see online — and how it makes them feel.
Meredith Oliver MIRM, CSP, of Meredith Communications, sees the Internet as “the great equalizer when it comes to branding.” A compelling Web site, she says, can level the playing field, “but it is the starting point, not the ending point.”
Expand Your Internet Presence With Sub-Domains
Many builders devote time and energy creating a Web site and, once finished, think their online presence is complete. According to Oliver, however, “Branding takes place when you can be found in a lot of places. The more sites that link to you, the better. Internet listing services, sponsored search, display ads, third-party referrers — all are important to putting a builder on the Internet map.”
Building a brand online is a multifaceted endeavor that encompasses much more than merely trying to attract more attention to your Web site.
The use of Web site sub-domains can be highly effective in building a brand online because it opens up new territory for site indexing, improves the consumer experience and increases the branding footprint in a given market.
For example, a builder named Elegant Homes could add several sub-domains that complement its corporate name — such as www.ElegantHomescastlepines.com, www.ElegantCustomHomes.com and www.ElegantHomeCommunities.com — to expand its Internet presence. This would provide the builder strategic local content and improve its online performance on Google and other search engines.
Creating a blog is a branding strategy that many builders haven’t quite embraced yet, though many tech-savvy ones have.
“Blogging is an important part of an SEO (search engine optimization) strategy,” says Oliver. “However, most builders do not have the staff or expertise to build and maintain their own blog.”
“Home builders usually have to hire a company to write the blogs and figure out where to post them. It takes at least one post per week to be effective,” she says
Strategies that builders develop for their blogs potentially can encompass all facets of their marketing, advertising and public reaction — both the good and the bad.
Blog strategies can include:
- Posting positive entries and customer testimonials on a builder-owned or sponsored blog
- Posts made to civic, community or nonprofit blogs
- Responses to negative posts and complaints, addressing grievances and voicing the builder’s viewpoint
Safeguard Your Brand in Cyberspace
The Internet has the ability to make or break a brand with startling speed — presenting home builders with a unique opportunity, their worst nightmare or simply a mediocre online presence somewhere in between.
To safeguard their brand, builders should consider developing strategies that address brand abuse, brand real estate and brand erosion. The vast unrelenting reach of the Internet almost demands it.
For instance, Web sites and blogs dedicated to airing home buyer grievances is an emerging trend that thrives on the viral and instantaneous nature of online communication — posting the latest builder blunders to bolster shrill rants. Many of these sites have undermined the advertising and marketing of their builder targets with subversive precision.
Builders have responded by buying the sites of these gripe-site operators and shutting them down; and they have taken the sites to court — with First Amendment supporters on one side and corporate libel lawyers on the other — with mixed results, oftentimes in the same case.
For example, when a builder sued one of its home buyers in Houston for creating a gripe site, the builder was initially awarded $80,000. The case was appealed and eventually overturned, with the appeals court ruling in favor of the grip-site operator and finding no “bad faith intent to profit” by the home buyer.
Tom Crandell, CEO of Ayohwahr Interactive, an online marketing agency that focuses on brand identity and brand protection, points to trademark protection provisions and the use of sub-domains in search engine marketing as a way to fight brand dilution and misrepresentation.
“Every search engine has a unique policy to mitigate trademark infringement,” Crandell says. “For example, Google will allow you to eliminate the ability for third parties to use your trademarks in the title and copy of ads.”
Five Points to Build Your Brand Upon
Building, maintaining and improving your brand online is an ongoing process. According to Paul Cardis, CEO of the Madison, Wis.-based Avid Ratings, a customer loyalty management firm specializing in the home building industry, builders who want to build brand loyalty need to:
- Focus on what their customers want and make sure their brand delivers it
- Simplify their brand by focusing on just a few key brand values
- Reinforce their brand by communicating it consistently in all their ads, business cards, brochures, Web sites, etc.
- Exceed what their brand promises — because failing, just once, can signal its demise
- Manage their brand by continually looking for ways to improve it
While Internet marketing and online branding may seem like a journey into uncharted territory, the good news is that with good planning, proper provisions and expert help, there can be great rewards for builders whose brands create trust and value.
Stephen Feltner, CSP, has held key management positions in the online real estate media industry since 1999. He has also served on the board of governors for the Builder Marketing Society and is an alternate associate director with the Building Industry Association of Southern California.
Tyler Waite, CSP, has been a regional new-home sales manager in Denver and Dallas and has won the prestigious Addy Award for marketing given by the American Advertising Federation.
This article originally appeared on the NAHB Sales and Marketing Channel.