Hubbell Homes in West Des Moines, Iowa, recently saw just how powerful Facebook, paired with a blog, can be. It used the enormously popular social media Web site to drive an innovative—and inexpensive—marketing campaign for GreenWay Crossing, a brownstone, mixed-use community geared to young professionals.

A year ago, Hubbell Homes was having trouble creating interest in GreenWay. Marketing director Rachel Flint says that there’s significant competition in the townhome category in Des Moines and GreenWay Crossing “wasn’t even a blip” on the search term reports for Hubbell Homes’ Web site.

Flint, who says she’d been “getting harassed” by some friends because she didn’t have a profile on Facebook, came up with the idea for a ­character to represent GreenWay Crossing’s target buyer. The result was Hailey Brownstone, whose persona was a young professional who had moved from Chicago to Des Moines and was in the process of buying her first home.

“We got very deep with this—the type of food she likes, where she goes to socialize, what TV shows she watches, and put this all on her Facebook page and blog,” says Mollie Elkman, account executive with Hubbell Homes’ ad agency ­Philadelphia-based Group Two Advertising and Marketing, who served as the face and voice of Hailey for the campaign.

Both the blog at and the Facebook page made it clear that the character wasn’t a real person but a representation of the target buyer. The posts were written by 27-year-old Jarad Bernstein, a public relations specialist for Hubbell Realty.

“We wanted to make it believable,” Bernstein says, “but we also wanted to make sure people knew it wasn’t a real person.”

Still, the campaign drew some criticism from local bloggers, who debated whether it violated the unwritten rules of social media about pretending to be someone you’re not. The response from target buyers, however, was completely positive. “They totally got it,” Flint says.

Print and 15-second radio and TV ads—very targeted buys based on the favorite media of the prospective buyers at GreenWay Crossing—all drove traffic not to Hubbell Homes’ Web site but to and to her Facebook page.

That runs counter to traditional wisdom, which says that all a builder’s marketing efforts should drive traffic to its Web site. But the team at Hubbell Homes knew that the target buyers for GreenWay Crossing knew their way around Facebook and the blogosphere and would feel comfortable there. It also made tracking the effectiveness of the campaign a snap.

“Being able to track visitors to our Web site from gave us much more effective return on investment,” Flint says. “The people who left her site and clicked through to Hubbell Homes spent the most time on the site and looked at the most pages. They were serious.”

Another huge benefit of the campaign was affordability. It’s free to use Facebook, blogging, and YouTube, where viewers could watch a video of Hailey showing guests around her new home. Hubbell Homes also negotiated free production on its TV and radio ads.

The culmination of the four-week campaign was an on-site sales event promoted as Hailey’s housewarming party. Unlike the typical weekend open house, this was a Thursday night party with tapas, sangria, and a disc jockey. It drew more than 50 people on a snowy night during the busy holiday season.

“It was a good house party, that’s for sure,” Flint says. “It was geared to how that demographic parties. It didn’t feel like a huge sales push to them. It gave us a great opportunity to show off the community to people who might not have heard of it before. The homeowners were thrilled. They said, ‘You’re ­attracting the type of people we want to live here.’”

As a result, GreenWay Crossing went from being an unknown location to the fourth most popular search term on Hubbell Homes’ Web site. Site traffic went up 36 percent over the same time the previous year, and four brownstone sales—both at GreenWay Crossing and another community—were attributed to the campaign.

The campaign went so well that Hubbell Homes is considering a second phase, which will be a referral program for Hailey Brownstone’s friends. And the builder is getting requests from residents at its other communities. They want characters for their neighborhoods, too.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Des Moines, IA.