Craft Your Marketing Campaign Online

Effective print and online marketing materials help you grow your business — but don’t let it drain your valuable time.

April 1, 2006

Consistently using professional-looking, targeted marketing materials is an important lead generation tool for your business. Used effectively, online and print marketing materials can add substantially to the amount of business you do each year.

But, if you are not careful, creating these materials and executing their use can be very time consuming and expensive. Fortunately, there are some leading-edge solutions that take most of the guesswork out of the equation — and for a price that won’t make you wince.

In order to be successful and cost effective, any marketing campaign using print and/or online materials needs to be:

  • Targeted. Without specifically targeting your market with a message that is both congruent and highly valuable, it will land on deaf ears. Or worse, you will start annoying the very people you want to attract. This means that your marketing tool should give you the ability to customize your messages.
  • Flexible. Any marketing system or tool needs to be flexible in terms of customizing the look, feel, and copy of the message. Ideally, it also will provide a multi-modal approach to getting your message out (i.e., print, e-mail, video, multimedia, etc.)
  • Easy to Implement. If your marketing materials are difficult to set up, customize, or use on a regular basis, then you may as well not even get started. This is because all the other demands of your business will simply not allow a big portion of your time to be spent on figuring out your marketing solution.
  • Consistent. It is crucial that your message be received multiple times and consistently no matter how busy you get. One of the biggest mistakes that sales professionals make is that they allow new business to interrupt the consistent flow of sending out their marketing messages.
  • Easy to Track. If you can not track your marketing efforts, how do you know if they are working or cost effective? Ideally, marketing tools will give you the ability to track the who, what, and when of your marketing materials distribution. And, if at all possible, track whether it was viewed by the recipient.
  • Affordable. Direct marketing can become a bottomless money pit if you are not careful. Just the marketing piece design phase can cost thousands of dollars if you go the traditional route and hire a marketing or advertising firm.

There are several real estate marketing vendors that incorporate most, if not all, of the above principles within their marketing tools. And the best part is that you can use these tools to create and send outstanding marketing materials using just your Web browser.

Here, I’ll take a closer look at two online vendors that impress me: IMPREV and SharperAgent. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which I will do my best to objectively lay out so you can decide for yourself what best meets your marketing needs.

IMPREV Design Center

The best way to categorize IMPREV is as a Web-based marketing material design center. The company provides a vast array of original designs for every kind of marketing piece you can imagine, including:

Print Media (PDF)

  • Flyers — more than 150 designs (40 of which are two-sided)
  • Postcards — 755 unique designs
  • Tri-fold Brochures — 40 unique designs
  • 11-by-17-inch Showpiece Brochures — five unique designs
  • Property Cards — these are like business cards for the property; very cool!
  • CD/DVD Packaging — four unique designs

Multimedia (Flash)

  • Virtual Tours — four unique designs (Note: this includes unlimited use for unlimited properties during the one-year subscription)
  • Slideshow Tours — more than 20 unique designs
  • Web Commercials — 50 unique designs
  • eCards — Flash as well as static images

View all the design options at IMPREV’s Design Gallery.

The photos, text, and fonts can be customized for any of the above designs. Once you sign up for an annual subscription (currently $299 per year), your personal photo, contact information, and company logo are uploaded and stored on their servers. This means that they are automatically entered into all the marketing pieces for you.

The way each marketing piece is customized is very straightforward using Web forms. You simply fill out the Web form in their design center that corresponds to the piece you want to use. This includes changing the text, fonts, and uploading photos. Once the form is completed, a simple click of the mouse will generate a high-quality print-resolution PDF (for print materials) or Web-ready Flash file (for multimedia pieces). IMPREV does not allow you to modify the layout of its designs. This restriction was mainly to keep things simple for the users. Given that the large array of highly professional designs and that most sales professionals are not well known for their design skills, I don't see this as a big concern.

The IMPREV Design Center also offers several features that are rather unique:

  • Phrase Assistant. This exclusive technology writes ad copy for the real estate professional, stores all ad copy that the practitioner has ever used, allowing the practitioner to reuse text between virtual tours and flyers, or postcards and slideshows. Think of this as your virtual copywriter who not only helps you come up with great copy, but remembers it all, too!
  • Image Cropping. This an easy-to-use, Web-based tool for an image processing that can accept more than 100 file types, including jpg, gif, png, and PDF. It also allows you to easily manipulate photos for best results without having to really think about it.
  • Design Themes. Many of the designs are part of “themes” that run through the entire scope of brochures, flyers, cards, etc. This allows you to create many different types of marketing pieces that maintain a consistent look throughout.

IMPREV Design Center is an extremely rich and easy-to-use tool for creating a vast array of professional-looking marketing pieces for both print and multimedia. Quality and variety of the design materials are its strength. Distribution of these materials, however, is definitely its weakness. For individual users, IMPREV really offers no easy way to send or track their materials. You need to use other systems in order to do so effectively.

SharperAgent

With the possible exception of postcards, SharperAgent doesn’t have nearly the array or scope of unique designs as IMPREV. Despite that, SharperAgent does offer some unique content in the form of local sporting event schedules for most U.S. markets. It also offers some design flexibility that you won’t find elsewhere. For example, you can upload your own designs created by you or someone else you hired. Its unique Advanced Editor allows you to modify any of the designs of its postcards or greeting cards right from a Web browser. See a demonstration of this rather cool tool. It also has created a broad range of seasonal “keep in touch” pieces that do a great job of keeping you in the minds of your past clients and sphere of influence.

SharperAgent's main strength, however, is that it is really more of a marketing system, rather than a Web-based design center. Much of the value of what SharperAgent has to offer surrounds its well-designed and tested contact management system that tracks every message sent to your database, whether e-mail or direct mail. When sending e-mail through SharperAgent, you can tell if it was received and when it was opened by the recipient — all vital feedback to see if your message is hitting its mark. The built-in contact management system also allows you to segment your entire contact database into subgroups. This is extremely useful since it allows you to target and track your subgroups with messaging that will have the highest impact.

SharperAgent has gone one step further in that they incorporated their material into “campaigns” that are a series of timed messages that go out to recipients automatically. And, much to the company’s credit, it also offers the services of several virtual assistants (for an extra fee) who can run all of your SharperAgent marketing for you. This removes the burden of learning and using the system and allows you to start using the service almost immediately.

You can try SharperAgent for 30 days for free — after that, it is $323.46 per year (as of this writing). Not a bad price for a fair amount of design work, localized content, and a very powerful message delivery system that lets you easily track and measure your marketing efforts.

Which One?

Both IMPREV and SharperAgent do a great job of providing more marketing materials than you could ever hope to use. I give IMPREV the definite edge in quality, variety, and scope of marketing materials. SharperAgent easily dominates in the area of localized content, message delivery, and tracking capability.

Using either of these or any other vendors that do most of the work for you in creating and distributing print and online marketing materials frees you up to do what you do best — list, negotiate, and sell.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.

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