What a year 2020 has been! Sales & Marketing professionals experienced an unexpected hot market as well as new tech requirements for marketing and selling new homes. Given all that happened in 2020, we asked some of the top industry experts for their thoughts and advice on how to tackle 2021.
We hope you get inspired to try something new and start planning where to take your brand into the New Year!
For sales insight, check out the article, Top New Home Sales Tips for 2021.
Cheers to a successful year ahead!
Lucy Wohltman, Zillow Group
Is your digital strategy ready for 2021?
2020 threw many surprises our way, but builders who had done the work to blend their digital and physical worlds – the marketing tip I offered last year – were better poised to ride out the uncertainties of the housing market. We’re seeing virtual touring becoming less of a supplementary marketing tool and more of a requirement for home buyers. From the Zillow New Construction 2020 Consumer Housing Trends Report, we found that nearly 3 out of 4 NC buyers (71%) agree that 3D tours would help them get a better feel for the space than static photos — a 10-point increase over 2019. And 60% wish more listings included 3D tours, compared to the 51% who expressed that sentiment a year ago. If you haven’t perfected your digital strategy in 2020, what are you waiting for?”
Kevin Weitzel, Outhouse
Online Home Buyer Expectations – Don’t Get Left Behind
Want to hear something that’s going to keep you up at night? How do you imagine Amazon’s online experience will be if/when they start building homes? Let’s face it. One reason Amazon is killing your local retail brick-and-mortar businesses and specialty stores isn’t because they sell something better. They sell the exact same things. It’s because buyers’ expectations of how to research and purchase have changed. The reality is, the same is now true about how buyers research and purchase their next home.
With the expectations of today’s tech-savvy buyers, if a builder’s website doesn’t engage them with interactive tools and stunningly realistic visuals, they quickly move on to the next builder website that will. Successful builders are selling more homes because their websites have interactive floor plans with live pricing, adaptive site plans showing real-time availability and premiums, realistic renderings with color/material visualizers, virtual tours allowing buyers to walk through homes from anywhere in the world on any device, and so much more. Buyers don’t just want these technologies; they expect them.
Jon Sherman, VC Productions
Foster Brand Affinity with a VLOG
Repeat advertisements might get your audience to remember your brand, but it won’t necessarily make them care about your brand. A VLOG is a powerful tool that can help you connect with your audience on a personal level and go beyond brand recognition to start fostering brand affinity.
First, get the right gear. With a minimal investment, you can level up your audio and video quality at home and set yourself up to create ongoing content, consistently.
Second, identify an area of interest for your niche target audience. Imagine your sales team providing valuable tips on the home buying process and the value of “new” construction. Imagine how that will impact not only lead generation but the nurturing and conversion of those leads.
Third, create a simple process to regularly generate content. Keep the videos simple, short, and informative. Market them on your website, blog, and social media. Your internal marketing team or a third-party media firm can help with the creative and post-production to keep things moving along.
A VLOG is a great, low-cost strategy to show off your expertise and provide valuable content to your audience. Most importantly, great content is a great way to foster a meaningful connection with your audience and get them to not just recognize your brand but to care about it.
Bassam Salem, AtlasRTX
Embrace Technology, Don’t Fear It
I’m a technologist. I’ve never feared technology. I’ve always loved leveraging it to make work more efficient, and to minimize friction from the customer experience. My message for my home building friends in 2021 is not to fear progress but to harness it instead.
Over the past 15 years a lot has changed. In 2005, only progressive builders had adopted a sophisticated website as a storefront—by 2015 none could imagine doing business without a dynamic, engaging website. In 2020, only progressive builders allowed buyers to engage in automated, chatbot-powered live chat 24x7x365 – and traditional consultants told them it wasn’t relevant to home building. In the next decade, online sales professionals will learn to absolutely depend on “chatbot virtual assistants” who’ll take care of a lot of manual, time-consuming tasks for them!
While traditional wisdom may feel the industry is “not ready” for some technology advances, you need to ask yourself: What are you being told not to do today because “home building is different”? Read more.
Matt Riley, Group Two
Don’t Succumb to Good Market Syndrome
Great markets tend to cover up bad decisions and processes, and we typically only uncover these mistakes once the tide has gone back out. You need to make sure you’re focusing on these five areas in 2021 and beyond:
- Content – yes, it’s still king! Content creation is a living, breathing thing that is never “complete.” Make it a priority for your company.
- Customer experience – you have a huge opportunity to provide a great experience for a large number of customers. Make sure to take this chance to elevate your brand.
- Lead management – Having a process in place, along with a CRM and a dedicated online salesperson, is vital.
- Sales process – Bad habits form when things are easy. Don’t let your company get Good Market Syndrome (GMS) it’s highly contagious and only leads to frustration and missed sales later
- Make it easy to say “yes”- Look inward to see if you make it easy for your customers to buy—and for your sales team to sell.
Chris Ochs, Graphic Language, Inc
Consider UX a Fundamental Part of SEO
Not only is designing digital experiences and customer journeys from the user’s perspective – and for their benefit – a best practice, it’s now becoming a central search engine ranking factor. Per a Google Webmaster blog post from May 2020, Google Search will begin to factor so-called “user experience (UX) signals” into its rankings. This update, called Google Page Experience, will measure a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, ease of navigation, and visual stability called Core Web Vitals.
Simply put: if you want your pages to rank in 2021 and stay ahead of the competition, pay as much attention to UX as you do on and off-page SEO.
The Google Page Experience update is set to launch in May 2021, so there is plenty of time to adjust. However, don’t hesitate to start preparing now by using the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console to gain a sense of how your website is performing in these areas.
People expect speed, ease, and convenience wherever they are, on whatever device. If you can’t deliver that to them, they move on. And Google is adjusting its algorithm accordingly.
Andrew Peek, Do You Convert
Understand Your Advertising Channels’ Goals
Working alongside countless home builder marketers, I’ve found that those who are most successful have one thing in common—they all have a deeper understanding of their advertising and analytics platform. This year think past “what buttons” do I press to drive the most results, and instead think of how that advertising channel functions and what actions can you take to have better results. At the end of the day, regardless of the advertising channel that’s used, the platform wants to give the best experience for their users. By supporting the Advertising channel’s goal – you’ll reach a whole new level of results.
Steve Ormonde, Focus 360
You Can’t Oversell a Great Visual Experience!
In 2020 we learned a few important lessons, but one that stuck out: customers want to see more and now expect more from their buying experiences. The human mind likes to be entertained with vibrant colors and rich media that draws in our attention. We also know that a home buying journey requires a lot of visual stimulation to connect the dots in a buyer’s mind around what they want, what they need, and ultimately what they will choose to make a house a home.
Customers are served up more choice, more variety and more chances to try on and test drive experiences across products and industries. Consider how your customer wants to be dazzled in order to meet their expectations of your product and your brand experience. How you visually “delight and inform” them can also be a reflection of your attention to detail in how you build, how you serve your customers, and how you respect the choices they have to make in the process. Consider where you can improve your visual storytelling, transparency for information, and how tangible your resources are to the customer. If you don’t, somebody else will.
Meredith Oliver, Meredith Communications
Collect Meaningful Data and Respond Proactively
How well do you sense and respond to changes in buyer preferences, cultural shifts, and real estate market fluctuations in real-time? One of the lessons of 2020 is that home builders who use a flexible, on-demand approach to sales and marketing are much more successful than builders who wait and react.
Notice the difference between the terms respond versus react. To respond to something is to pay close attention and proactively make a decision. To react is to wait for circumstances to reveal themselves and then make a decision. You can no longer operate from a “make and sell” paradigm where an annual budget, reviewed once a year, dictates sales and marketing decisions
Make collecting meaningful data a continued priority in 2021 so you can sense, predict, and gain a first-mover advantage with your marketing campaigns and sales strategies. There are builders right now already revamping their website experience to sense and respond to the COVID Economy. Builders who have already increased digital ad spend for 2021 and doubling down on their Online Sales Counselor coaching and training efforts. The sales and marketing leaders who truly learned the number one lesson of 2020 are ready to sense and respond to the roller coaster of change that 2021 may or may not bring. Are you up the ride?
Kevin Oakley, Do You Convert
Algorithms Will Disrupt Your Marketing
A lot has been written about how consumer behavior has shifted, but very little about how A.I. has driven this shift. Algorithms will only become more central to how marketers connect with prospects and customers – and that has big implications to the structure of the modern marketing department. Over the next 3 to 5 years advertising’s ability to interrupt people with irrelevant messages will decline significantly. The algorithms tasked with creating the best possible user experiences will not let you ruin things by spending 42 cents on an ad. Those days are numbered. Content in context of what the user needs or wants will reign supreme.
Dennis O’Neil, O’Neil Interactive
Do. Not. Look. Back.
I’m incredibly proud of how quickly our industry adapted to the pandemic crisis. Builders and sales teams shifted to a mostly virtual sales process in a time frame I would’ve never thought possible. The most important advice I can offer is this… Do. Not. Look. Back.
The changes we’ve implemented have been what consumers have been dreaming about for years — online appointment scheduling, personal virtual model home tours, e-signatures, and online credit card reservations are among just a few.
Consumers now know this is all possible. You’ve proven we’re capable of it, and most would agree the process is easier for everyone involved. Make sure these new sales and marketing processes are in your policies and training manuals, and that whatever you have not yet been able to implement is part of your 2021 website roadmap.
Tom Nelson, UTour
PropTech Investment is Critical in 2021
When the nation was thrust into social distancing in early 2020, few homebuilders were prepared. The home shopping experience that consumers demand had already begun to shift, but COVID-19 and the necessity of social distancing accelerated the process.
Now more than ever before, home shoppers expect a fully immersive, on-demand homebuying experience that requires new tools, new technology and new skills. PropTech innovations such as iBuying services, on-demand self-guided tours, AI chatbots and smart home automation technologies have disrupted the “typical” new home sales and marketing process.
In the coming year, you need to be intentional about delivering interactive, customer-centric experiences supported by automation, artificial intelligence, and a deeper integration of technology across marketing and sales efforts if you want to meet the expectations of today’s homebuyer.
Melissa Morman, BDX
Push Yourself to New Digital Limits
For years, we have been talking about the digital customer experience, and 2020 has put all of this into warp speed. As 2021 approaches, it is time for builders to fine tune their strategies and focus on a consistent and innovative customer experience throughout the buyer journey.
Gone are the days where one-off, individual solutions are enough to satisfy shoppers – expectations are rising, and today’s buyers are demanding more. As you approach the new year, consider how you will up your game and weave together solutions to help guide shoppers through the home buying process. Are your interactive site plans, floor plans and visualizers working together to give a complete view of your homes? Are you giving shoppers the option to play with your design center tools even before they’ve signed their contract? Are you creating experiences that inspire and naturally lead the consumer to pick you, your plan, and ‘their’ home?
So let’s make 2021 about pushing ourselves to new digital limits, putting the customer journey first, and creating experiences that inspire. I know you did a lot in 2020, but we are never done—how are you going to up your digital ‘customer first’ game even more in 2021?
Carol Morgan, Denim Marketing
Focus on Earned Media
Daniel Martin, PSM Communication Arts
Discover Your Silver Lining
Despite the desire to bemoan the challenges of 2020, one key takeaway for me has been to invest the time, energy, and emotional capital in finding the silver lining that exists in the most challenging of situations.
Is working from home during a pandemic a nightmare? Undeniably yes. But as the demand to go into the garage, faux-office, and even the closet to take a meeting first took full control of my life, so too did the opportunity to care for, get to know, and connect with my 8-month-old daughter on a level never conceivable.
Has opening my office up to the demands of being a virtual workforce been frightening and at times painful? Undeniably yes. But as those speed bumps moved further into the rear view mirror, I discovered a team that was fully capable of being self-motivated—managing workloads independent of my daily oversight, and acting with a level of responsibility that proved to be a source of incredible pride.
Do I see less of my clients in person and does that make me nervous about preserving a solid relationship? Undeniably yes. But that time previously spent on planes or the freeway was miraculously re-invested into the “real” work of caring for their businesses through intensely thought-out communications programs that were previously nearly impossible due to travel demands.
This list could go on and on, as the challenges of 2020 most certainly go on and on. That said, it lets me know that whatever hurdles are in store in the new year, I will have a silver lining ready right behind it.
Chip Johnson, Builder Designs
Move to an E-Commerce Buying Experience
My prediction for 2021 is a move to a more e-commerce oriented buying experience. We know that the technology is there, the only issue is procedural. There is Beta testing currently underway that will determine whether this is a novelty or actually a game changer.
Beyond what we personally think about “Buy it Now” and the headaches that it could cause, consumers will be the ones that continue to expect better, smoother, easier buying experiences.
John Lee, Rendering House
Opposites Are Not Always Your Opposition
2020 was a tough year of conflicting choices from Republicans vs Democrats elections to COVID-19 lives vs livelihoods.
But paradoxically, big differences can often add-up to something much greater. The result is synergy, where the sum of your parts is greater than the simple whole.
The fusion of polar opposites is very difficult and requires tremendous energy. It takes leadership: being open to a diversity of opinions, balancing strengths and weaknesses, and making compromises. But if achieved, it’s a very powerful and formidable force.
Going into 2021, I encourage business leaders to seek synergistic opportunities not just within, but also beyond your organizations. Your opposites are not necessarily your opposition. In fact, they may actually be your best competitive ally.
Mollie Elkman, Group Two
As people we strive to be the best versions of ourselves. We work to be self-aware and know both our strengths and weaknesses. We know that we are not set in stone and are always evolving.
That very personal thought process should be applied to our companies.
Your company is a brand, whether you realize it or not, and that brand is how your customers think of you. You have the power to control your brand and set the narrative. The more clearly you define your brand, the more your customers will know and trust you. Who are you today and who will you be tomorrow? Establishing your 2021 brand will set you apart today and in the future.
Will Duderstadt, M/I Homes
Use the Good Times to Prepare
2020 was a year of breaking records for home builders. As the calendar turns to 2021, I cannot stress enough how important it is to use these “good times” to prepare for “not so good times”. Now is the time to test new marketing ideas, concepts, and campaigns. Invest in rich content like video and long form written content like testimonials. Ask hard questions of your vendors and get critical of marketing spend. You might stop doing things when sales are easy, but don’t discard those plans. Create a toolbox you can go back to, with tactics ready to deploy when you need them.
Lynne Davis, NterNow
Is Your Team Ready for Self-Touring?
With so many home buyers moving their purchasing timetable forward during the summer and fall pandemic sell-out, you’ll find every “drive-buyer”, every internet lead, every connection, every conversion will be precious in 2021.
While builders typically focus on online lead collection through their website, it’s important to develop an onsite lead collection strategy. Home buyers are searching the internet for new homes nearby which offer safety and convenience of touring homes in an independent way. Builders need to get the right technology in place to support self-touring access as well as provide the necessary processes to launch a successful onsite strategy. Read more.
Greg Bray, Blue Tangerine
A Great Website is Only the Beginning
In 2020, you reached a new comfort level in interacting with prospective home buyers virtually via your website and other related technologies. You discovered that customers were ready and willing to engage and buy without the traditional face-to-face interactions. 2021 will be the year to continue building on that momentum and keep moving towards the full “buy online” system. Many leading builders, such as CBH Homes, Century Communities, and Hubble Homes, to name a few, are already there in various forms.
Of course not every customer and every sale will transact via the website, but the builder who provides this option will enhance their customer experience and differentiate from their competitors. The good news is that setting up to sell homes online isn’t nearly as complicated and difficult as it first appears. You also don’t need to get there all in one step.
Start by ensuring that your website is modernized with an engaging design, contains a solid foundation of interactive content, and is easy to update with information about your latest available homes and communities. Then work on your efforts to provide more real-time support for your site visitors, via online chat and fast responses to email and text inquiries. Finally, strategize on how you can take your existing processes and add online transaction points to support them, which will allow your customers to take the next step in the buying process from the comfort of their own computer or mobile device when it’s convenient for them.
Even before you are fully selling homes online, these incremental improvements will have a positive impact on your overall customer experience, and you’ll be reaping the rewards of increased sales.
Embrace Attraction Marketing
I remember the first time I discovered just how specifically and accurately I could target someone on Facebook—by their income, education, profession, location and the so many other data-points that Facebook has about each one of us. It worked like gangbusters! I sold out my new construction community in half the expected time and blew my competition out of the water.
That was then. Now Facebook restricts certain targeting to comply with the fair housing rules and although the US is still behind the EU when it comes to consumer privacy laws, it’s starting to change. That means consumers get to decide what information they’re willing to share about themselves and how that information can be used by advertisers. Great for privacy, not so great for advertisers.
So is marketing dead in the age of new consumer privacy laws? Not at all. It just means that you’ll need to embrace attraction marketing. What is attraction marketing? It’s when a company provides valuable information or service to consumers, thus building the like and trust factor before they sell anything. It’s a powerful strategy that builds brand loyalty. So how to get started with it? Consider starting a blog and implement proactive outreach to your customer base to keep them engaged.
David Allison, Valuegraphics
Start Focusing on What People Value
Want to know what the values of your target audience are? A good thumbnail-back-of-the-napkin-rough-guesstimate way to start is to just ask them. Every time a company does a survey they ask the same two kinds of questions. First, they ask about demographics: what age are you? Do you have kids? How much money do you make? Not sure how you are supposed to do anything with that, but we seem to think it’s very important. And second, they ask questions about themselves: do you like my product/service brand? How much? Will you buy more? Will you tell a friend to buy some?
But what we never seem to ask is what our target audience or customer base actually cares about. What is on their mind? What do they think of the world right now? What are they worried about? Stop focusing on demographics and past behaviors/feelings/emotions. Start focusing on what people value. Read More.
Read Next: Top New Home Sales Tips for 2021