Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Should Your Marketing Feature Your Clients?
Whether you’re selling a property or promoting your skills as a real estate professional, you need to convey a message that resonates with consumers. Your customers may have more convincing words.
January - February
The most compelling marketing goes beyond presenting listings as products consumers should invest in. It tells a story about a home in a way that connects with buyers.
But who is the best person to tell that story? In some cases, it’s someone who has lived in and loved the home. That’s why some agents are using the power of video to capture first-person accounts from sellers. If your clients are game for the task, consider putting them on camera so they can speak directly to prospective buyers about their experience.
Customer videos are also a great way to market yourself as a local real estate expert. Instead of a self-promotional video ticking off your annual sales volume, industry accolades, and years of experience, try filming clients who can tell relatable tales about how you helped them with one of the biggest milestones of their lives.
However you decide to employ this technique, make sure your clients’ stories have teeth, says Ray Ellen, broker-owner of Pixel Properties Realty in Little Rock, Ark. Telling stories that have emotional resonance will stick with your prospects. “It’s difficult to generate any excitement or intrigue about a home when the sellers’ story is, ‘We got promoted at work, and we want more space, so we’re moving.’ That’s not a great story,” says Ellen, who has featured select sellers in video home tours.
How do you determine whether the seller’s story should be part of your marketing? Ask questions. Learn as much as you can about your customers and their time living in their home. If you find they talk more about their experiences as homeowners than the properties themselves, Ellen suggests, that’s an indication you have clients who are good storytellers.
Getting Clients Involved
Last July, Ellen was doing a listing presentation to sellers who revealed a powerful story about their two-acre property and 2,800-square-foot, six--bedroom home. The sellers, Mike and Kaye Rutter, built the house 30 years earlier to move their family of eight to a healthier environment outside of town. Their daughter Elisabeth, then 7, was chronically ill with allergies, and they thought she would fare better at the new home. The Rutters focused on building a home that would make Elisabeth comfortable, installing a clean electric heating system and special air filters. They planted a garden for organic vegetables and raised goats on the property for fresh milk that was safe for Elisabeth to drink. By the time Elisabeth was a teenager, her allergies had largely subsided, and she was able to attend public school for the first time.
Ellen, recognizing the potential for buyers to connect with such an emotional story, asked his clients if they would retell it on camera as part of a video home tour of their property. The Rutters were excited about finding a buyer who would appreciate the property as they had. “We were head-over-heels excited about this possibility,” Kaye Rutter says. “Our home was a place of healing not only for our sick child but for the rest of us, too. Our home ended up forming us way more than we thought it would. We wanted to pass the baton to another family, so it was important that it go to the right person.”
Ellen brought in a videographer for a half-day shoot at the Rutters’ home. The finished product was a six-minute documentary-style property tour featuring interviews with the Rutters and old family photos of their lives in the home. “Everyone says videos should be one to two minutes—and then they go and sit for two hours in a movie theater,” says Ellen, who also hosts an online video series called “Home Sweet Arkansas,” in which he interviews local restaurateurs and foodies. “If the story is worth the time, people will watch. For this property—just a great, regular house—if we had shown a typical two-minute home tour, it would have lingered on the market.” Instead, within 14 days of hitting the market, it sold for $309,000, just below asking price. Meanwhile, the video garnered nearly 18,000 views on Facebook.
Authenticate Your Brand
Even if clients don’t have an emotional narrative to share about their home, they may have a moving story about what it’s like to work with you. You may feel awkward at first asking clients “review you” on camera, but letting them speak in their own words about your skills, knowledge, and service could help make strengthen your brand, giving authenticity to your own marketing messages.
Getting written testimonials from past clients is another way to approach the goal. But Jackie Soto, broker-owner of Divergent Realty in Chino, Calif., says written testimonials don’t have as the meaning or transparency that consumers expect today. “How do you know the agent didn’t edit the testimonial to say what they want it to say?” Soto says.
To boost her own credibility, Soto began a Facebook Live series at the start of 2018 that she calls “Wait, Can I Record You?” The spur-of-the-moment social media broadcasts capture her clients’ unvarnished endorsements in real time while out in the field. In one video, Soto recorded one of her sellers outside his home during a prelisting appointment who thanked her on camera for her advice to boost his home’s curb appeal by removing trees that obscured the property. “To see someone’s reaction and the emotion in their eyes—that’s better than putting a review in writing,” she says.
The point is to make genuine interactions with clients a part of her marketing toolbox, says Soto, who does at least one testimonial video per month. She stresses the live element as integral to building trust with customers because “when it’s live, you can’t manipulate it.” She says she’s gained three new clients in the last year who were drawn to the authentic nature of the video series. Having a track record with live video encourages more of her customers to share their own stories publicly about working with her. After the live broadcasts, when she posts the testimonial videos to her Facebook page, other clients often comment with their own reviews of her service, reinforcing and increasing the marketing impact, Soto says.
Build Closer Bonds
Aside from the potential marketing boost, making clients a central part of your advertising helps educate them about what you do as a pro and inspires a deeper connection on both a business and personal level, says Shannon Milligan, associate broker at eXp Realty in Ashburn, Va.
Milligan has created a handful of videos that put past clients in role-playing situations. In one video, which focuses on the three qualities buyers and sellers should look for when hiring an agent, real-life clients pose as potential sellers and call on Milligan to set up a listing appointment. In the video, Milligan responds by explaining what she’d do to help the family sell. How did she cast the right sellers for the role? “I remembered they were really fun to work with as clients,” she says. “I knew they’d be open to doing a video with me.”
Garnering that level of client involvement in your marketing is a great way to encourage clients to be strong stewards of your brand. “We participated in the videos because we believe in Shannon’s abilities—and also because it was just fun,” says Veronica Chornodolsky, a buyer client who has appeared in two of the videos. It was also a great way to thank Milligan for her real estate service, Chornodolsky says. “She did such an outstanding job for me and my family when we bought our home.”
Milligan says creating the videos has drawn her closer to customers. She sends them a link to the video they appear in and encourages them to post it within their own circles. “They can share it and say, ‘We actually did work with Shannon,’ ” Milligan says. “You can’t pay for that kind of social goodwill.” The word of mouth has helped Milligan become known in her market. Her videos typically receive more than 10,000 views, she says.
Keep It Positive
When using clients in your marketing, be sure their story is a positive one that will reverberate widely, Ellen says. Death and divorce are perfectly good reasons for selling, but they may not make the best video stories. “Look for a scenario in which there isn’t any sad news,” Ellen says. “Create a story people want to buy into. It will better serve your clients, your properties, and yourself.”