Check Your Marketing Motives

How far are you willing to go to persuade prospects to buy a home or to sell their home with your help?

June 1, 2002

There’s a fine line you should be wary about crossing. Take the use of patriotic symbols. Draping your services in the flag may stem from a genuine feeling of pride in the country and in the American Dream of homeownership. But, depending on your approach, your efforts may backfire with some consumers.

Americans’ sense of patriotism soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Flags dotted residential and business streets. Even today, many businesses display pictures of the U.S. flag along with messages about the country’s fortitude.

So why were some automakers criticized last fall for appealing to our post 9/11 patriotism? The car companies, it seems, crossed the line, subtly suggesting that buying a car would keep the American economy strong. Whether or not those charges were valid, there’s a lesson for you: Consumers are turned off when they perceive a company is exploiting a tragedy or weakness.

This July 4, many real estate companies will give out flags for residents’ yards (“Compliments of ABC Realty”) and sponsor floats in community parades. Those efforts are perfectly appropriate on a day when we celebrate American ideals, including private property ownership.

But taking those efforts one step further, invoking national symbols to sell more real estate, is crossing the line.

Patriotism is only one arena in which you can inadvertently jump from marketing to exploitation in consumers’ minds. To avoid sending the wrong message:

Focus on positives, not negatives.

Marketing messages that deal with potentially negative situations—foreclosure, seniors’ inability to handle their home’s upkeep, the suggestion that home prices have peaked—will be viewed by some as exploiting a bad situation for personal gain.

Instead, find a positive message. If you want to target seniors, research the issues that are important to them. For instance, some seniors stay in their homes longer than they’d like, because they have misconceptions about the tax ramifications of selling. If your marketing materials show seniors that you understand tax law and can address their concerns, you appeal to their business sense rather than their fears. After you’ve established trust, you can broach sensitive subjects, such as upkeep.

Distinguish between being self-serving and service-oriented.

Of course you’re proud of your success. But be careful about tooting your horn too loudly. A marketing campaign that boasts how much money you make or how you out-produce other salespeople in the area serves only you. Instead, focus your message on the consumer. Emphasize all the satisfied customers who have testified to the great services you’ve rendered.

When in doubt, don’t go there.

If your intuition tells you a marketing idea is likely to offend, appeal to people’s fears rather than their dreams, or label you as self-serving, move your campaign in another direction.

If you’re marketing yourself well and providing good service, you’re very visible in your community. But being a public figure leaves you vulnerable to public scrutiny. Be sure your messages reflect proudly on who you are and what you stand for.

Danielle Kennedy is a consultant and speaker on real estate sales and marketing topics. She is the author of three books, How to List and Sell Real Estate,Seven Figure Selling,and Workingmoms.calm: How Smart Women Balance Career and Family.

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