For years, Westridge Builders in Waukesha, Wisc., has showcased its homes, communities and company on television. It started out as a participant in a local show that featured several builders; that was so successful that the builder began producing its own weekly, 30-minute program, “Westridge Lifestyles,” on its local Fox Network affiliate.
“We felt it was our best advertising,” says Westridge Builders president Carl Tomich. “It’s worked really well.”
In August, that comes to an end. Ratings have been falling over the last three years for the Saturday morning show. Plus, Tomich, who describes himself as a “big techie type guy,” saw his own TV viewing habits changing. “I rarely watch live TV anymore,” he says. “I know more and more stuff is online, and it’s more than just YouTube. The networks are putting whole episodes of shows online that you can watch whenever you want. We’ll all be watching TV through the Internet soon enough.”
That’s why Tomich is moving his show onto his Web site. He’s breaking it into dozens of short videos covering everything from home tours and contractor interviews to construction details and information on warranties. And he’s not the only builder who’s taking advantage of online media.
Builders putting video content on their Web sites “is huge,” says Tim Costello, chairman and CEO of the builder marketing firm Builder Home Site. It’s in its infancy now, but “five years from now, everyone will do that. Builders are just starting to figure it out; our whole Web site and direct marketing needs to change.”
It needs to change, he says, because consumers are being trained now by other industries that “all they have to do is watch a movie.”
The key to capturing consumers’ attention, Costello says, is the use of rich media. It sounds complicated, but it’s basically anything interactive that will engage the viewer, as opposed to a static image.
“We would have started the Web with moving pictures to begin with if it were capable then,” he says. “Now it is.”
Auto manufacturer Web sites are the perfect example, he says. Consumers can build their own vehicles, play videos of the cars, see third-party testimonials and schedule test drives. “That’s where the rest of the Web is going,” he says.
Streaming video is the year’s top technology for marketing, says Page Donovan, vice president of Interactivate, a San Diego-based marketing firm that specializes in online media. It responds well to the consumer’s desire to be in control of their media, watching it when they want and where they want.
“If you can serve it up in a menu that makes sense to them, they might watch all the different segments,” she says. ““We’re finding that when video is packaged with a nice call to action at the end, it’s outperforming any other mechanism for getting a response to that call to action.”
It’s also helping builders boost their name recognition in their markets. Since last October, Austin, Texas-based builder Alex Pettitt has been producer and host of MainstreamGreen.tv, which runs on the ON Networks. Each segment is four to six minutes long and can be viewed online or downloaded to an iPod or iPhone.
Pettitt decided to do the videos because he was frustrated that even well-educated family and friends “didn’t have a clue” about what green building really is. He talked to a high school buddy with a video production company, telling him that he needed to do a show about mainstream green building approaches and “green benefits that aren’t whacked out.” They next thing he knew, he was hosting it.
At the time, Pettitt was working with a partner, Matt Risinger, at Risinger Homes.
Risinger says the shows, which featured several of his projects, are great to send as links to potential clients. Plus, it’s helped with marketing.
“It gets a ton of Google hits,” he says. “It helps fill up that first page of results with just me instead of miscellaneous Matt Risingers out there. Even though we’re a young company, it’s helped us gain name recognition.”
Pettitt has since started his own company, Spring Builders. Since he doesn’t have a Web site yet, he links to the episodes in his email signature.
“It has made a difference,” he says. “I’m talking to a lot more people than I’d ever known.”