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Why the Internet will never disintermediate Realtors — Part 2: It builds, not erodes, the relationship

Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. ()

November 18th, 2006 · 14 Comments

In my previous post on Internet disintermediation, I argued that real estate is primarily a relationship business, and that the only real estate professionals who should fear the Internet are those who really, really suck at the whole client relationship thing.  For the rest of us, the Internet represents a big challenge, yes, but also a huge opportunity.

The Internet, in fact, is arguably the best relationship-building tool to enter the business in a long time, far better than carting pumpkins around at Thanksgiving, sending out fridge magnets, plastering our high school prom mugshots on shopping carts, or buying full-color ads in the local paper.  The only better relationship-building tools I can think of than the Internet are the really personal, high-touch ones, such as taking clients out for a meal, calling them on the phone, or sending them birthday cards.

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The Internet excels as a relationship-building tool for at least four reasons, which — tadah! — all begin with the letter “T”!

  1. Target
  2. Tracking
  3. Tweaking
  4. Timing

The main purpose of much of our advertising efforts in this industry is to lay the groundwork for potential client relationships.  We want our prospective customers to see us in different contexts, to get to know us, to recognize our names and faces.  When they drop by our open house, we want them to say, “Oh!  You’re the dude that mails those helpful cards!” or, “Hey — I thought I recognized you.  Aren’t you the Realtor that’s always advertising in the paper?”  If we can establish at least an ephemeral relationship, we stand a better chance of getting the business.  Consistent advertising in numerous settings increases our brand awareness.

And that’s precisely why the Internet is such a great tool.  Let’s look at the three points above.

  1. Target:  Advertising in the local newspaper reaches primarily a local audience — and that’s a good thing, because real estate is primarily a local business.  But there are prospective clients out there who happen not to get or read the local paper.  Perhaps they live across the country and are planning on moving.  They’re not going to find you in the local paper, but they may well do so on the Internet.  And if they do find you on the Internet, it’s often because they were specifically looking for real estate content.  My logs show that though there are occasional visitors who randomly stumble on my site (such as a recent one who was searching on MSN for “how to balance your checkbook powerpoint“), most of them come by to learn more about real estate, for example “Alan Dalton Zillow NAR” and “November 2006 real estate market values Silicon Valley.”  My presence on the Internet simultaneously reaches a broader, and yet a more focussed audience.
  2. Tracking:  Quick!  Tell me how many people read your ad in last Sunday’s paper!  How long did they look at it?  30 seconds? 2 seconds?  Was there a part of the ad that attracted their attention more than another?  In the offline world, we have only very rough estimates of these metrics, like the circulation figures of the paper in which you advertised.  With the right tools, on the Internet you can slice and dice your audience’s interest nearly any way you like.  You’re getting a lot of readership for the articles you write on current market conditions?  Keep cranking them out! Nobody’s reading your regular recipe contributions?  Ditch ‘em!
  3. Tweaking:  Do people respond better to an ad which describes your listing as, “Magnificent” or “Splendid?”  Do they seem to prefer from-the-street photos, or inside ones?  Even if you could easily get this information in the offline world, it would take you at least one advertising cycle to tweak the message accordingly.  Online, once you get audience feedback, you can change your message in minutes.
  4. Timing:  Once your ad has run in the local paper, that’s it!  You’re not going to get much more exposure from that particular run.  That’s probably a big reason for the enduring popularity of real estate advertising gimmicks like putting pictures on buses and sending out fridge magnets:  these tools have a longer shelf life than newspaper advertising.  The same is true on the Internet:  unless you get sandboxed, search engines archive your content long after you’ve forgotten about it.  An article you wrote 18 months ago might pop up as a top entry on somebody’s Google search today.

So there ya have it…the Internet is our friend, not our enemy.  Far from cutting us out of the action, the Internet enables us to become better at building the relationships that are so critical to becoming successful.

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