New Home for the Holidays?

Michael Fischer explains Coldwell Banker's marketing strategy
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Real estate giant Coldwell Banker recently launched a holiday-season TV campaign meant to convince viewers that despite a difficult housing market, it might be time to move to a new home. CMO Michael Fischer, who joined Coldwell Banker from Nissan North America in 2008, explains how the company uses TV and other media to help its agents get listings and sell houses.

Real estate has been pretty brutal for a couple of years. What's your message with the economy in the state it's in?

Instead of focusing on the number of people that aren't buying houses versus five or four years ago, we're focusing on the 5 million homes that [were] bought and sold this year. I think what we're finding is there are still homes to be bought and sold regardless of what we're [hearing]. And I think we constantly want to talk to the fence-sitters, the people that are confused and anxious, and have that conversation with them to let them know, if you have the right reasons to buy a home -- lifestyle, a great, secure job, you can afford to do what you're going to do -- either buy up or move, or get a second home or an investment property. Now can be a smart time to buy. We want to talk to those people that are a little anxious and nervous. Because we are the nation's oldest national real estate brand; we celebrated our 105th anniversary this year. We think we have the right and the opportunity to have that conversation with consumers.

Why a holiday campaign?

Spring is a big home buying and selling season. You look at all the data, people are researching online well before they make an offer to buy a home, or they contact an agent to list their home. This is actually the time when people are starting to get into that mode, so we thought doing something in and around the holidays would be a good time. We were approached with a great opportunity with NBC to be involved in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. The thought was, around the holidays is when you start figuring out, hey I might need a little more room. How many times did it happen this year where people invited their friends and family over for Thanksgiving and the dining room felt a little tight. Or when they went out and bought their Christmas tree, there really isn't a good place in the house to put it. We wanted a place in that conversation, and to do it in a way that can be funny, add a little levity and reframe the current discussion on real estate to something that's a little more positive.

You said NBC came to you. You usually do business with all the networks, right?

Yes, but we were trying to do something maybe a little earlier in the year, or earlier in our season, and our media agency, MediaCom, came to us with this opportunity. We also were involved with NBC on LXTV Open House, which is a great real estate program. It's in our sweet spot with the kind of real estate that they showcase. So it was a great package with MediaCom and NBC that really allowed us to have this different conversation in the marketplace.

Is TV a big part of your marketing mix?

Oh yeah. As with everybody, you have your online and offline spend, but for us, we think TV is still the best way to reach a large audience. A lot of home buying is emotion-based, and it's hard to deliver emotion through a display ad. So we feel TV is still a great way to get our message out there and help establish and continuously define who we are at Coldwell Banker. Cable is a big piece of what we do, it's the primary piece of what we do. And that's really where we are, although we are seeing online video as another extension of the offline campaign.

How do you use TV to target the appropriate people for your campaign?

Right now, we do a great job on the site and [search engine optimization] in getting people who are looking for properties online to look at Coldwell Banker and consider us. Plus it's really brought awareness. I think we were the largest advertiser in real estate on HGTV in 2011. HGTV is a great way for us to target potential home buyers or sellers-it's all about housing, it's all about what do I need to do to fix my house up in order to sell it if I'm looking to buy a house-so they have great programming and a great platform for us to tie our message in. And again, LXTV was another real good opportunity.

You were an early adopter in the real estate category for doing apps for iPhones and iPads. Why was that a good idea?

Obviously, we want to get our listings and our agents in front of people when they need the information. And it was just very clear to us early on that the phone and the smartphones were going to give consumers the opportunity to demand information. So we wanted to make sure that we would have the ability to get our listings and our agents out to people anytime anywhere, so having a full mobile platform was very important to us. And obviously, if one of our agents is sitting across from a potential listing client, that client wants to know that they're going to get as many eyeballs on their property as possible, and so for us, being on the iPhone and Droid and Blackberry was very important so that we could demonstrate that we were going to get the maximum amount of eyeballs on their listing. Which is also why we've been making such a big move over the last two or three years into video. Video is a great way to market a home as well.

You have a big YouTube presence where you put both your ads and your listings.

We put listings on there, we put agent profiles on there. We put community videos on there. I mean, a lot of times with a national real estate brand, you're going to get people coming to our site who may be moving beyond the area that they're comfortable with. So moving across the  country, they may not know about a particular area. Hey, I'm getting a job in Boston. Where in Boston should I live? Videos about the communities can really provide a great amount of detail and information to a consumer who is looking to figure out where they want to move, and putting our agents and our local offices in the forefront as the experts in those communities, we believe can help position them when the customer is looking out and reaching out to find a local agent. So, you take the video piece, you take the mobile piece, and for us when the iPad came out, we saw the screen on the iPad as a great delivery mechanism for video. We have a great amount of video content that we offer putting the two together. Making them available on an app was really a no-brainer for us.

Do traditional TV vendors make it easy to execute integrated campaigns?

Not as easy as you'd think. A lot of times they're independent groups within a particular network and they're all looking for their own revenue source, so a buy on one may not necessarily equate to a buy on another. I think what we look for is the partnerships that do provide as much of that synergy together [as possible]. That was one of the nice pieces of LXTV: There was a better synergy between what was happening offline and online. Again, a lot of what we get with LXTV is not just a media buy. We also have content inside the programming itself. And once you get that video content being able to use it ourselves as well as link back to the LXTV site and to be able to share it and work that content through multiple platforms for us is a real benefit.

So, what can the traditional media companies do to make life easier for you?

Tear down the walls. A lot of it is siloed revenue sources. We're a national player but we don't have the budget of what I was used to in the car business. And how they can help the next tier advertiser integrate across platforms I think is really what the networks need to do. And the networks that can achieve that are the ones that are going to win.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your various campaigns and media efforts?

Well, it's hard. Again, coming from the car business I could put a lease price out on TV and I could see the sales move within 10 days. I'm driving people to an online platform that might be eight months before they actually pull the trigger on buying and selling a home. It's very difficult for me to track in the traditional means. Obviously, we see Web traffic, we see traffic to landing pages that we might be directing people to, but we also use some online creative measurements that allow us to see how effective our creative is working. We use a company, Ace Metrix, that helps us define how well the spot is doing with consumers based on a bunch of different demographic information that allows us to see how well our message is resonating. And the beauty of Ace is that we also get to see what other spots within our industry or outside our industry are doing to help us gauge how a message is being utilized.

Has someone brought to you anything new and cool to use as a marketing tool?

When I look back over the last few years the biggest find, the biggest thing that someone brought to us was the opportunity to collaborate with Google and YouTube on that YouTube channel and start putting up video content, a large quantity of video content. As you know, most channels have a capacity for how many pieces of content you can load or upload. What was brought to us with YouTube and Google was really an opportunity to develop something from the ground up that could actually meet the needs of real estate. So just a couple of examples: We have a higher capacity to be able to search for real estate videos through one channel than anyone has had before. We created a proprietary mapping gadget on the home page which allows a consumer to search for videos based on location. We deliver a map of where you're coming from or you can search anywhere around the world. You can search based on beds and baths, price and LS number the way you normally used to search for properties. And you're able to do this from a YouTube channel. Our listing videos actually have contact forms built into them so that a consumer who might be interested in the property never has to leave the YouTube environment. It's an e-business site. It's not just a site to showcase videos and for us that was very important. And one of the things that we saw on the back-end side that we could really do was have an ability for our agents and brokers to upload the videos through our internal intranet site. And what that does is it allows the agent and broker to stick the video alongside a current listing on Coldwell Banker.com. This does a couple of things. Number one, we automatically on the video bring over the property detail and the pricing information. One of the biggest problems you see on videos right now on YouTube is they'll put the price in, and then when the price changes, they forget to change the price on the video. You know the agent put it up there. It was hard enough to put up there, hard enough to create the video. I don't want to have to go in and re-record a voice over or put a new super in. So you've got a lot of outdated content on YouTube where you have listings that are for sale with wrong prices. We kind of eliminated that by tying on the back end the video to the listings. But what we also did is that we have the ability when the listing is pulled off of Coldwell Banker.com, we actually take the video off of YouTube. Because the second big thing you see on YouTube with real estate videos is that they're two and three years old and many times these listings aren't for sale any more. Somebody uploaded it and then forgot it. So if you bought that house, the last thing you want to see is your home shown to sell. And it's a video of the inside of your home, and you bought it two years ago. Number one, it doesn't reflect well on the agent who did that or the company that they're associated with. So we wanted to make sure that we could bring some strong processes in place to ensure that the content that is online representing Coldwell Banker is really for sale, and I'm providing the most up-to-date information. And we couldn't have done that ourselves. We really needed help and work with Google and YouTube to be able to work the back end. So for me, I think what we did really kind of set the standard for what should be done in real estate.

Looking ahead to 2012, are you expecting marketing spending and TV spending in particular to be up or down?

We have kept it flat to slightly up. Don't ask me how. We have. Again we use the comment redefining the conversation out there and we think we really need to do that. We think that's something that will help in 2012. And again, there is no better mass awareness deliver medium than television.

Is there anything else about your business that you'd like the people in the TV business to know and understand to be able to help you and your company do better?

I don't know. I think again, for us and for real estate, it's the full total package integrations that really make sense. Housing is a very interesting subject for a lot of things on television, whether it's the news, whether it's channels that talk about it, how many channels have their own housing related program, whether it's Extreme Makeover, whether it's Designed to Sell, Sell this House, everyone has their home content. How do we integrate into it is the most important thing. and understanding that real estate is so local and when trying to paint the entire industry with one broad brush, it's a disservice to a lot of local markets and homeowners who are doing well, and their markets are doing well, but there's just this negative headwind that's blowing against them.

You've gone from the car business to an even bigger ticket purchase.

I always say, we were the No. 2 purchase in someone's life, and now I'm number one. I have moved up. And you know what, there are a lot of similarities with the industries but also maybe differences. It's been a lot of fun and very interesting for me to learn this new industry and the nuances of it.

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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