As the housing market gets back on its feet, builders will be challenged to devise and execute marketing strategies that can attract new, more diverse groups of buyers who are likely to drive the industry’s future growth. Marketing expert Seth Godin says builders can separate from the pack and establish a brand if they’d stop thinking of themselves as providers “of me-too products,” and re-establish themselves as marketers, “showmen,” and relationship builders. Godin has written 10 books, including Permission Marketing and the e-book Unleashing the Ideavirus. Successful Meetings magazine has chosen Godin as one of its 21 Speakers for the Next Century, and Yahoo! acquired his interactive direct marketing firm, Yoyodyne, in 1998. Godin shared some of his thoughts with Builder last month.

Q. During the housing recession, builders have relied heavily on discounts and incentives to sell homes. What do you think of that strategy going forward, as buyers slowly return?

A. Builders and agents didn’t build relationships, they made sales, which made sense because that’s what the market wanted. Now, though, the rules are totally different. Prices aren’t guaranteed to go up, are they? And if houses are all the same I’m going to buy the cheap one. The answer is to make an amazing house and to market it, not sell it. Build a relationship, not a sale.

Q. New buyers say they place as much importance on their community as their house, which they see as a refuge or retreat. Is that a marketing angle builders should pursue more aggressively?

A. I don’t think [consumers] are being truthful.; Tthey’re not spending a lot of time in the clubhouse. What [builders] can do, though, is create communities where walking happens, where interactions happen. That’s the secret … a house is worth more because of the neighborhood.

Q. Immigrants are a growing customer base. But how can builders craft their marketing strategies to reach the greatest number of these buyers without ignoring cultural nuances?

A. Don’t underestimate the desire of groups to live with one another, to identify, to connect. The American Dream isn’t gone. It’s just changing.