There’s always something to howl about

God Save Me From Another Real Estate Flyer

Over the past couple weeks I have been reading every real estate flyer I could find.  I am sure many of you are asking why I would submit myself to such torture… and you would be right to ask.  If I had to guess, eight out of every ten flyers I read were sheer torture.  How familiar does this sound:

Just look at all the room in this lovely 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom ranch style single family residence with attached garage.  Enjoy 1742 square feet of flowing space with enough room for parties or quiet solitude overlooking your own private backyard.  Hurry, this one won’t last long!

Did you just call that home a “single family residence?”  Why are you repeating the bedrooms and baths?  Is that information not available somewhere more appropriate?   Who are you talking to when you look up over your slide rule and say 1742 square feet?  Appraisers?  Contractors?  How many people do you think know the difference between 1742 square feet and 1648?  Or even 1700?  “Honey, stop the car!  This house has that extra 42 square feet we have been dreaming about.”  Please STOP… or you won’t last long.

Most of the real estate marketing I see starts like this and goes downhill from there.  The reason is simple: this is not real estate marketing.  Unfortunately, most agents do not know the difference.  I attribute some of this to the poor copy writing we are inundated with via the television and a lot of it to the fact that marketing is just not taught, or at least not taught well.

Over the next few posts I am going to discuss real estate marketing.  The list of potentially innovative ways to market a home are never-ending.  Many new ideas are shared right here on BloodhoundBlog.  I do not hold any illusions of being so creative myself.  But I do understand the basics of marketing and I am quite adept at borrowing great ideas from other people.  With that being said, in the next couple of posts I am going to discuss the five basics everyone should be doing:

  1. MLS – Usually viewed as a data sheet rather than the opportunity it really is
  2. Flyer – Reread the example… enough said
  3. For Sale Sign – Nine times out of ten it fails at the only two purposes it has
    1. Market the property that is for sale
    2. Differentiate the agent selling the property
  4. Brokers’ Caravan – For those who still have access, this is often a missed chance at very effective direct marketing
  5. Single Site – Normally a static web site regurgitating the same boring data found in the MLS… with the added benefit of poorly taken pictures

Before any further posts discussing the Big Five, I just have to share with you… the SECRET.

No, not a movie about attracting wealth by thinking (as much as I strive to join the ranks of nationally known success coaches, the answer to life’s problems is not found in a yoga pose).  I am talking about the secret to successful marketing.  Ready?  Drumroll please… the secret to every successful marketing campaign is realizing that it is a campaign.  You are no different than a politician planning a fund-raising campaign or a general planning a military campaign.  There is an objective and there are various methods (volunteers / military branches) that must be coordinated.  If they are not coordinated the campaign fails, homes are not sold, elections are lost and good men die.  Too dramatic?  So how do we go about creating a campaign?  A true, coordinated marketing campaign.  It all begins with three simple questions.

Before you start any marketing campaign you must answer these three questions:

  1. What is the message or theme?
  2. What is the medium?
  3. Who is the audience?

What is the message – Most agents fail at step one.  A marketing campaign starts with a theme or a unique selling proposition.  Something that makes the house “sticky.”  Sometimes it may jump right out at you.  (I recently saw an Open House with an eight foot tall miniature of the Eiffel Tower in the front yard.  Now that is a hook you can build a campaign around.)  But most of the time you have to tease it out; this is a creative process!  Start by asking yourself

  • Is there anything unique about this home?
  • Is there anything special about the sellers?
  • Is there a compelling story in this house or even behind why the owners are selling?
  • Who is the IDEAL buyer for this home?
  • Is the neighborhood special or unique in some way?

The answers to these questions will allow you to create a narrative – a story.  This is the compelling, sticky motivation that moves people through your various marketing pieces and leads to that all important “call to action.”

What is the medium – Most often we use words, but pictures, videos, sounds and numbers are all at our disposal.  Look at the theme you have developed and choose a primary way to construct it.  How can you best tell the story?  Remember that spoken words communicate more than written words.  Pictures communicate more than both.  Videos can incorporate words, sounds and pictures.  But don’t forget that a good story holds attention better than a poor story no matter what method is used.  A mix of mediums, so long as it is not distracting, may often work the best.

Who is the audience – This question merits a lot more thought than it is usually given.  Your primary audience is normally potential buyers, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes you are marketing to other agents, other times the audience is homeowners who may or may not list their home with you.  Sometimes you are talking to an audience that is not in the market to buy or sell, but with whom a relationship is desired.  Not only do the audiences differ, but so too does their attention.  Are you showing, sharing or telling?  Is your audience live, on the street, on the internet or simply reading?  These all affect the length of your narrative and the message you are getting across.  In the end, all of your marketing campaign methods should be driving the audience member further down the information chain.  Ultimately, you want them to arrive at a single site or web site (you do have those, right?) where they can really get caught up in your message.  It is here that your most powerful “call to action” occurs, but how they get here depends a lot on who they are.  Think about the focus of each medium you use.

Now that you have a theme and you understand your story, you have decided on the medium and made a list of potential audiences, you are ready for Step 1. (No, it is not the MLS.)  Step 1 is the Single Site for your new listing.

Next, we will go over single sites and signs.  Upcoming: MLS, flyers and the Brokers’ Open pitch.


18 Comments so far

  1. Cheryl Johnson October 28th, 2008 6:43 pm

    Your big five overview is spot on. Looking forward to it.

    However I will respectfully disagree with your assessment of the sample flyer description. The writer managed to embed a few useful factoids in a couple mildly interesting sentences. I didn’t feel it was torturous.

    Maybe I have an unusually short attention span, but to me torture is spending precious minutes reading stuff that turns out to be pure over-the-top marketing fluff. No matter how lovely the picture it paints.

    Tell me the MPG, tell me the price. Stuff the facts in a couple of grammatically correct sentences if you feel so compelled. Then leave it alone.

    If I want to read beautiful poetry, I’ll go to the library. Am I in the minority?

  2. Cheryl Johnson October 28th, 2008 6:45 pm

    On the other hand, I absolutely detest the phrase “Won’t Last Long” !!

  3. Craig Klein October 28th, 2008 7:39 pm

    Excellent advice! This is the kind of stuff that I can use next time!

  4. Greg Swann October 28th, 2008 8:51 pm

    Here’s a copy-writer’s itinerary, from less- to more-effective:

    1. Features
    2. Benefits
    3. Lifestyle Story
    4. Mindstyle Experience

    The last is something I’m trying to snag onto, and the term is my own. What I want to do is this:

    Working backwards — which I’ve talked about before — I want to understand what the buyer will have experienced in her own mind in the the progression of thoughts and emotions leading up to the decision to buy. Then I want to build my copy, images and on-line and multi-media tools to make it as easy as possible for her to experience that progression. If I ever get this right, I will have done everything necessary fro the property to “sell itself,” strictly by passive marketing. At a minimum, I want to make sure that nothing we do frustrates this process.

    This is a rockin’ topic. I can’t wait to see the rest.

  5. Wayne Long October 29th, 2008 3:37 am

    Great topic! Most of us just go thru the motions of putting a home on the market without thinking thru the process of what will make a buyer buy this particular home and developing a marketing strategy for that home.

  6. David Sherfey October 29th, 2008 6:23 am

    Sean says “it is a campaign”
    Greg Says “the progression of thoughts and emotions”
    Wayne says “the process of what will make a buyer buy”

    Marketing is a process, with many valid approaches, and I look forward to what we will learn here.

  7. Sean Purcell October 29th, 2008 8:49 am

    Leon – Thank you. Pictures are the language of real estate.

    Craig – Much appreciated. I am glad I can help.

  8. Sean Purcell October 29th, 2008 9:10 am


    I take your disagreement as a bit of a compliment. In the example flyer I was trying to synthesize a number of bad flyers I had read, but I did not do a good enough job writing poorly. 🙂

    Your point is well taken. I am not in any way suggesting that agents should make use of the old-school philosophy (keep the important info to yourself -make the clients call to discover price, number of bedrooms, etc.) It can easily be put on the flyer in a little info section. Or it can be in the narrative itself, IF it can be worked into the flow rather than counted off as if the whole thing were a grocery list.

    Marketing fluff is exactly what I want to banish. But keep in mind that I want to appeal to the broadest cross-section of my target audience and an engaging narrative is going to do that more often than not.

    Cheryl, with your experience I imagine a few facts are all you need. But most people say they want just the facts because they don’t know what they want and they don’t want to get “trapped” into actually making a decision. My job is to entice, intrigue and engage them to the point that they will actually entertain all the benefits of the home I am marketing. So I will respectfully say: Yes, I believe you are in the minority. Now… how do we support our libraries from internet obsolescence?

  9. Sean Purcell October 29th, 2008 9:30 am


    As I said in my post, I am not so much creative as I am adept at “borrowing” others’ ideas. Much of it is borrowed from you, yet I make no headway because you keep coming up with new and even more innovative ideas.

    4. Mindstyle Experience

    That is exactly what we are trying to create. A compelling journey that mimics the journey they take in reaching the buying decision. Not a form of manipulation but rather an assist through the natural barriers we all create. Barriers that can often keep us from our own best interests. Great concept.

  10. Sean Purcell October 29th, 2008 9:35 am

    Wayne – Most of us just go thru the motions You have just summed up the very philosophy behind a Life That POPs. Well said.

    David – I agree with you that there are a number of valid approaches. As our friend Jeff Brown is fond of saying: “There are alot of ways to skin the cat.”

  11. Tom at the Real Estate Bloggers October 29th, 2008 1:26 pm


    Excellent post. This is a battle that I have with agents that I work with constantly. The thought that writing in MLS Speak is actually sales copy baffles me.

    We will create a great site and then it is pulling teeth to get an idea of the potential buyer. It is as if the agent never thought of who would buy the home when they took the listing. Once you have a buyer in mind, creating marketing material is pretty easy.

    As Steven Covey says, Begin with the end in mind.

  12. Brad Coy October 30th, 2008 12:48 am

    Very happy to see you writing on ‘The Big Five’.
    With a new listing coming up next week, I’m all ears.

  13. Ryan Ward October 30th, 2008 5:31 am

    What about value? None of those five things matter unless there is value. Outside of price, what do you think is the best thing that we can do using any available marketing techniques to convey that THIS home has more value than THAT home? More and more, people are looking at value – actually, I’m not sure if that it is more and more. People always want value…in the end, people are buying something so you have to create value so if not in price, then how do you do it? Initially, my thoughts are that the best way to do so is to work on the idea of emotions. If you can create a connection emotionally, you add value. So, how do you best get someone intrigued with a home enought to visualize living there?

    I suppose this is sort of where Greg is going with with “mindstyle experience”, but, what would you do here to seperate this experience from the home for sale down the street? Photos are a great place to start, but, where from there? A story?

  14. Greg Swann October 30th, 2008 7:09 am

    > What about value?

    It’s all about value, but most often not directly about value. We always build a PDF file of comp listings, active and sold, to take comparative value head on. But everything else is about establishing the value of our home with respect to others our visitors might buy: Pricing, repairs, cleaning, staging, photos and videos, a very rich web site with elaborate, interactive tools, etc. Things like good copywriting, the coffee table book and docent cards do this, too: We can build the arguments conceptually and viscerally — eliciting the emotional response we want and then supplying the rational argument to buttress it.

  15. Bridget Magnus » Odds and Ends 11 October 30th, 2008 10:33 pm

    […] Tips on real estate listings and fliers are really aimed more at Realtors, but I think Joe and Jane Average can learn from these tips too. […]

  16. David Sherfey November 1st, 2008 3:59 am

    >Photos are a great place to start, but, where from there? A story?

    I use a long ad photo-story approach where the reader is toured through the home in text with photos justified left and right down the page. I try to write in low-key- conversational style so the reader can read it in their own voice and hopefully make a connection.

    Along the way benefits and values are mentioned as well as drawbacks. Get it all on the table for consideration and then sweep it off or pocket-it when they commit to continue with the story. The story takes care of the touchy-feelies, and for the just-the-facts-and-fast crowd, the text is highlighted for scanning, the details are listed down the side of every page, and a high-res slide show they can fill their screen with can run as quick as they like.

    I do this because on average 88% of the properties in my market are sold by another Realtor, and I do not want to rely on their “skills” to sell my client’s property. I want to be there first with my message and at least get the buyer pre-sold (and drawbacks dealt with) before they even come for a showing.

    None of this cool stuff we will be talking about here on this thread of topics will work without a pricing strategy fit to the market of the day. Pricing is the first step in any effective marketing plan.

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  18. Joe Lane January 20th, 2009 11:47 am

    Spot on Sean. We’ve been guilty of some on the marketing miscues you’ve listed. But no more! With the down economy Colleen and I have been retooling the way we do things. I remember going through this in Southern California during the recession of the 1990s. We revamped a construction business and as a result did very well for many years once the economy turned around.