Guerrillas in the Marketplace

Real estate practitioners make a big marketing impact with imagination, not bucks.

October 1, 2004

Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. It doesn’t have to include big ads in the Sunday newspaper or your face and phone number on a high-profile billboard. As you examine your marketing strategy for 2005, consider an approach that’s easy on the wallet, but big on impact: guerilla marketing.

The concept isn’t new, but it is powerful and can give you an edge in today’s competitive marketplace. It’s all about building long-lasting relationships, targeting individuals rather than large groups, and using creativity to get your message out.

“Traditional marketing says in order to market, you must invest money,” says Jay Conrad Levinson, known as the father of guerrilla marketing and author of the Guerrilla Marketing series of business books. “But guerrilla marketing says you don’t need to spend money if you’re willing to invest time, energy, imagination, and knowledge.”

Be Creative, Quirky

Creative and often quirky guerrilla marketing techniques—from freebies that get the public’s attention to witty slogans that create instant brand recognition—can help you grow business and stand out from the crowd.

For the Houston Association of REALTORS®, a funny costume created the buzz it needed to accomplish its goal of driving traffic to its Web site. In 2001, the association had a unique mouse costume created, hired an actor, and created HARvey, the HAR mouse, to attract attention.

Like most famous mascots, HARvey started small—visiting homebuying seminars and local fairs at first. But before long, the kid-hugging fur ball was popping up at REALTOR® expos, in local newspapers, and on television.

“Eventually, those kids will become homebuyers, and they’re going to remember HAR.com and HARvey the mouse,” says Oscar Gonzales, a strategic consultant for HAR. Three years into the campaign, HARvey’s star couldn’t be brighter. The Web site now gets millions of hits each month.

Paul Campano also took an unconventional approach to reach his local market. In mid-2002, as a newly licensed sales associate with Prudential Prime Properties Buccelli Real Estate Inc. in Somerville, Mass., Campano approached the owner of a popular restaurant, SoundBites, to see about installing a 5-inch by 7-inch digital photo frame on an eye-level shelf.

Campano, a frequent visitor to the restaurant, explained how the CEIVA Digital Photo Receiver would display an ongoing slide show of pre-programmed real estate listing information and photos—along with sports scores, local news, and weather. The owner liked the idea because it would entertain waiting customers, and Campano’s CEIVA unit, which is updated nightly and costs $250 per year, went live the following January.

But Campano is a true guerrilla, so he didn’t stop there. The following month, he reduced his investment to zero by getting a mortgage company to sponsor a daily ad on the digital screen for one year for $250. The marketing tool has been so successful for Campano that he now plans to place four more ad-sponsored screens in public places by the end of the year.

Grand Guarantees, Enticing Incentives

Guerrilla guru Stuart J. O’Neill, an Australia-based property consultant and founder of a guerrilla-marketing Web site, says the ultimate marketing weapon is a head-turning guarantee. If you’re careful, it won’t cost a thing.

“For example, ‘If your home is not sold in 17 days, I will pay for the advertising. And if it’s not sold within 32 days, I’ll work for free or tear up the listing agreement,’” O’Neill says. “Any practitioner worth their salt and full of confidence should be comfortable to offer this.”

Tempting incentives also can be an effective road to new customers. In 1997, a major inventory shortage prompted a resourceful Nick Patsio, CRB, broker-owner with Century 21 West Realty Inc. of Watertown, Mass., to offer sellers a free three-hour maid service. “List your house with us and we’ll help you clean up—all the way to the bank,” the promotion read.

The strategy worked. That year his company saw a 20 percent jump in listings, got a feature spot on the local Fox News Channel, and made the front page of the Boston Globe Sunday real estate section. Patsio’s “clean up” incentive, which touts the marketing benefits of selling a tidy home, is still used, and costs the firm just $75 per house.

“Guerrilla marketing is all about giving,” Levinson says. “Guerrillas know that marketing is helping a person succeed in whatever their goal is—finding the right house, finding a mate, losing weight, or making more money.”

Lynne Rogers, a sales associate with ERA Classic Real Estate Co. in Fraser, Mich., gives prospects and clients a shot at winning $50,000 with her sweepstakes incentive. She lets clients opt-in to a quarterly online sweepstakes that has a call consent option that helps Rogers circumvent recent do-not-call laws.

Louisville-based PropertySource Network created the program, which costs about $79 a month and matches practitioners and consumers by ZIP code. Rogers started to use the cash incentive in December and says it provides two leads a day. “Even if you close one real estate deal a year through the sweepstakes, you’ve got your money back,” Rogers says.

Rewarding Relationships

Tapping into your creative side is key to guerilla marketing, but so is maintaining relationships and using all of your personal connections to grow business.

Sharon Hills learned the guerrilla secret two decades ago from her former broker-owner, Harold Sterling. “He said, ‘Don’t try to sell to strangers, Sharon,’” she recalls. “Take what you have and build upon it.’”

Hills—then a fledging real estate salesperson for the Memphis-based Sterling Co., but an accomplished soloist with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and president of the board of directors for the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization—already had name recognition.

So she took Sterling’s advice and started to build, calling her circle of contacts monthly to remind them about everything from birthdays to daylight savings time changes and places to see the local fireworks on the 4th of July. Before hanging up she would always remind her contacts that she was available to help them with their real estate needs.

Hills is now a top 1 percent sales associate with Prudential California Realty, John Aaroe Division, in Pasadena, Calif., and nets 60 percent of her business from her regular monthly contacts with potential clients and customers.

Open houses are another road to expanding your circle of contacts—albeit a road not always taken. A survey by Virginia-based research firm Borrell Associates found less than 1 percent of practitioners consider an open house an effective marketing tool.

Yet Sharon Hills’ associate David Booth—who closed $4.1 million in gross sales last year—gets 85 percent of his listings through people he meets at open houses.

Never seated and always impeccably dressed, down to his polished shoes, Booth requires visitors to sign-in, and then uses the information to contact leads or gain access to title details on potential clients. Prospects often ask about real estate issues or invite him to evaluate their homes. “It doesn’t cost anything but my effort,” he says. “But if people like you and trust you, they will use you.”

Keith Myers agrees. Since 1984, Myers, president and co-owner of RE/MAX Olson & Associates in Northridge, Calif., has sold more homes in Granada Hills than any other practitioner.

He advertises on shopping carts at the local supermarket, runs print ads on the side of phone booth kiosks, uses direct-mail and has a Web presence. But Myers says the most powerful tool in his guerrilla-marketing arsenal is a simple relationship-building gesture—a handshake.

Put Your Own Ideas to Work

So as you plot out your marketing strategy for the coming year, use these examples as inspiration for your very own guerilla-marketing touches. Whether that means giving away personalized Frisbees at the dog park on Sunday, distributing holiday calendars to past clients and prospects, or greeting every new neighbor with an apple pie, you’re heading in the right direction. Unlike traditional marketing, you’re limited only by your creativity.

Here’s a recap of the differences between traditional marketing and guerrilla marketing:

Traditional Marketing Guerrilla Marketing
  • Requires a financial investment
  • Geared to big business
  • Believes marketing ends with the sale
  • Aimed at large groups
  • Is a monologue

Source: Jay Conrad Levinson

  • Requires energy, imagination, knowledge
  • Geared toward small business
  • Values relationships over sales
  • Aimed at individuals
  • Is a dialogue

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