While the housing market’s recovery is undoubtedly a welcome development for home builders, at an education session titled “50 Marketing Ideas in 90 Minutes,” held at this year’s International Builders’ Show, it was clear that the upswing is bringing on challenges of its own. After years of pared-down marketing efforts—during which time social media exploded into a major player on the marketing scene and shoppers increasingly took their searches online—many builders are facing a brave new world of new-home sales strategies.

To help ease the transition, a panel of sales and marketing specialists, including Robert Cowes, president at Smarttouch Interactive; Alan Daniel, CEO at Smarttouch Interactive; Jennifer Hurt, principal at Ingenuity Group; Lianne McOuat, vice president at Partnership Marketing; and David Miles, president at Miles BrandDNA, looked back on their own experiences and turned to the audience for best practices both old and new. Here are the takeaways:

Website Design
  • Think of your marketing plan as a solar system and your website as the sun, the panelists suggested. Your marketing efforts around the Web, including social media, email campaigns, and other venues, should all direct shoppers back to a well-planned site. 
  • Don’t offer site visitors the whole story, since that allows them to make a decision without you ever having the chance to contact them. Instead, hold some information back, such as pricing, and experiment with different calls to action to harvest email addresses or phone numbers to enable your sales team to follow-up with prospects.
  • For the same reason that most builders wouldn’t trust your average freelance writer to hang drywall, panelists suggested hiring professional writers to write website content; builders should also have their writers create content for blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, email blasts, and other outlets. 
  • Make sure your online ads are staying in front of prospective buyers by placing “cookies” on their computer when they visit your site. Those cookies will then track the next few sites they visit—which are likely to be sites they visit often—and place your ads on those sites when they visit them again. 
  • Incorporate a form into your website to garner information on what shoppers are looking for in a home. (How many beds and baths? Do they want a formal living room?) Then email them floor plans that fit their criteria. 
Branding
  • According to a study of new-home buyers, five years after Lennar customers purchased a home, they couldn’t identify who their builder was, “but they know what kind of car they drive,” one panelist pointed out, emphasizing that builders need to look to other industries for good examples of how to stay visible to customers to better establish a brand reputation.
  • Decide what message you want your brand to be most associated with, and then ensure that message is conveyed at every interaction a customer has with your company. 
  • Rather than fight the reality that people use model homes for decorating ideas, embrace it by redecorating one room in your model each month to keep people coming back while establishing your brand as a leader in design. Send out an email blast with a photo of a corner of the room, and then make people come into the model to see the rest. 
  • Don’t underestimate the power of philanthropy.
Video
  • “With the value of using video today, we as builders should do something cool,” one panelist noted, adding that last year, 456.6 million content videos were watched and 105.4 billion video ads were viewed. Viewers spent 2.5 times more time watching personally relevant short form videos compared with other videos.
Targeting
  • Tap into professional organizations such as young professionals groups, medical professional organizations, and teachers associations by offering a networking lunch at your model homes and collecting business cards for a raffle. “These are people who have a career and a paycheck,” making odds better that they will be in a position to buy, one panelist noted.
Working with Realtors
  • Stay top of mind with local Realtors by sending sales teams to the Realtor offices to be a part of their weekly meetings. 
  • Since Realtors are an excellent source of qualified leads, treat them as a customer and educate them on how you build and the value your homes offer. 
  • Don’t waste money targeting all Realtors, since “90% of the business comes from 10% of the Realtors,” one participant noted.
  • Consider hosting a monthly lunch group for the top Realtors in your area at your model homes to give them a chance to become familiar with your product and learn about any new communities or floor plans you offer.