Real Estate Branding vs Direct Response: The Battle Of The Marketing Giants

When I first got into marketing, the big thing I learned was that “Madison Ave big brand” marketing (usually referred to as branding) was a complete waste of time & money.

Only big dumb corporations could afford to spend literally millions to run silly ads on tv, radio & in print to make sure people remembered their name, logo and cutesy – usually obnoxious – tagline (‘Because we care’ or “I’m feelin it!’ or some such crap!)

Instead, my mentors (Dan Kennedy, Perry Marshall, etc.) taught that using direct response marketing & advertising was where the “cool kids” hung out.

Direct response was advertising that focused on making an offer to generate an inbound enquiry (call, fax, email, etc.) which could be handled by a salesperson OR it actually made an offer that you could buy there and then.

The idea with good direct response was that – done right – you could spend $1 on ads and get $2, $5, $10, even $100 back.

In that kind of scenario, you could literally BUY money at a discount. Spend $1000 on ads, make $5K or $10K (or whatever). Who WOULDN’T want to do that right?

Essentially a license to print money! 🙂

Now of course, it’s usually not that simple. Direct response does rely on a good offer sent to the right audience and – ideally – with some sense of urgency behind it, so it didn’t take forever for the moolah to roll in.

You needed to be a decent copywriter, a good data analyst, a split testing aficionado AND make sure it was a good offer…

If it didn’t work the first time, you had to keep testing to find what did work.

And I can tell you that after personally managing probably somewhere in the region of $20 Million in ad spend on Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and some other ad platforms that this is often a much more difficult task than it sounds or appears.

BUT, if you nailed it and hit the mother load, the heavens opened and it rained money! 🙂

But usually that didn’t actually happen! 🙁

As for why, I could write a whole book on that subject, but I’ll give you the TL;DR version:

1) The offer sucks. Either it’s overpriced for the value (perceived and otherwise) OR no one actually wants to buy it (I have had a few clients like that!) OR people don’t believe it will do what it says it will do for the money required (ex: lose 25 lb in 1 week while eating cake 3 times a day!)

2) You got the audience wrong. Try selling meat to vegans or alcohol to teetotallers or cigars to non smokers… You might as well stand in the bathtub and burn $100 bills cos they aint buying.

And even when the audience is right, you often aren’t talking to the right sub-set of that audience, which is also a waste of time & money. (ex: selling running shoes to fitness fanatics, some of whom keep fit by working out in the gym, and others who do it by running!)

3) Your messaging (copywriting) is wrong. You’re trying to sell left handed widgets to people who are right handed and don’t speak the language of the leftie! 🙂 How you actually WORD your offer has a HUGE impact

Trust me when I say that getting all 3 of these elements right can be a HUGELY challenging task, even for the best marketers in the world, and in reality, most marketers are not up to the task because they just don’t have the skills, knowledge & real world experience to nail the winning combination!

Yet, I could always look at the branding side of the marketing world and laugh at them and their crazy mindset about BURNING money to get people to remember their logo, name & self indulgent tagline, cos I knew in my heart-of-hearts that they had it wrong, and I (and all the other direct response folks) had it right…

Well, I’m here to tell you – at least from my experience after 14 years in the marketing world – that maybe I got it slightly wrong… or perhaps was just sold a bill of goods that used slight of hand to confuse the issue enough to make me buy team direct response.

Now, I am NOT saying that pumping out a heap of stupid branding ads that just focus on the logo, tagline and name is better than good direct response.

However, that stuff DOES work for some businesses, so you can’t discount it out of hand as not ever working.

Rather, what I am advocating more & more to my clients & potential clients is the value of branding as a tool to get potential clients to know, like & trust you BEFORE they ever make a decision to buy something from you.

These days, I mostly work with real estate agents &/or agency teams (including the principal/broker/director, etc.) and the #1, #2 & #3 challenge facing people in real estate is that the general public (especially here in Australia) just does NOT trust them as an industry.

In multiple surveys of most trusted professions, real estate agents here in Australia actually rank BELOW politicians and used car sales people!!!

That’s a TOUGH position to be coming from when trying to get clients to buy something mega expensive (property) and what I have come to realise more & more over the last 2-4 years is that if agents were TRUSTED by their market, their job gets literally 100 times easier than with no trust.

And that’s where branding comes into the story again.

Instead of running ads promoting your agency name, logo and how good you are at selling real estate, start running ads that HELP your prospective customer.

HELP them BEFORE they need you by answering their questions, giving useful/valuable advice, by exposed the scams in their industry that cost buyers money needlessly, by giving them information that helps them make a WISE, INFORMED buying decision, etc.

I call this the “Give To Get Investment” (I think I should copyright that term! 🙂 ) because it essentially means give value long BEFORE asking for an investment.

It’s one of the easiest and most natural ways for human beings to create trust between 2 people. By HELPING them.

♦️ No pitch.
♦️ No pressure.
♦️ No expectation of something in return.
♦️ Answer their questions.
♦️ Share your expertise freely and willingly.

By doing this, you help relieve the ‘decision anxiety’ potential clients have, because they don’t know what the RIGHT purchase decision is for them.

Sometimes that decision is “don’t buy” It truly may not be the right choice to make for them.

Other times, it could be buy option A instead of B, because it better suits their needs & circumstances.

And SOMETIMES, the right decision is to spend a LOT more than they planned simply because the cheap or budget option truly wont give them what they want as an outcome (ex: hire an expensive heart surgeon to save your life at $500/hr OR hire a backroom Johnny at $20/hr but he has no qualifications or experience!)

And, the best way to create this branding marketing is to compile a big list of the most common questions prospective clients have when buying your product or service and jump in front of a smartphone and video yourself answering those questions.

Then take those videos and publish them on Facebook (and/or YouTube) and put some ad spend behind them to get to your target audience.

Reach enough people in the right audience with your message giving VALUE & HELPING first, will make you known, liked & trusted in their eyes, and when it finally comes time for them to want to buy something you sell, your job of getting the sale will be literally 10-100 times EASIER than for someone they don’t know, like & trust!

So, these days, branding (done right) for me is the lubricant that greases the wheels of commercial AND makes it SOOOOO much easier to sell to your ideal audience.

And you can still use direct response principles in your branding ads. They just don’t HAVE to go for the jugular on the first contact with a prospective client.

So, I’ll end this long post with an example that is suited to real estate agents (but any business person can apply the same concept to their own marketing).

The image at the top of this post is a word cloud generated from a survey I ran on Google some years ago, asking 1 question:

“What’s your single most important question about selling your home?”

The bigger the font size of the words, the more common that answer was. The smaller the font size, the less common the answer.

BUT, take a look at those answers. As a real estate agent, you might never have thought of some of those questions, but I bet you could shoot a 1-3 minute face-to-camera Q&A video on almost all of those questions and you’d have an IMPRESSIVE portfolio of powerful branding (helping) material to use for your marketing.

Then just get it out in front of your audience on a consistent basis and over time, your local market WILL grow to know, like & trust you.

For almost ALL of my clients now (new & existing), this is my #1 marketing strategy to help them get more sales.

I get them to compile a list of the top 10-20-30 or more questions potential clients ask them about real estate and then I interview them on camera (smart phone) and chop those answers up into multiple short Q&A videos which we then share with their market using Facebook ads.

Does it work? Hell yeh! My clients have literally 1000s or even 10s of 1000s of people who now know their name, their face, their agency brand AND that they can trust them. And that slowly and steadily is turning into leads, listings & sales.

My ultimate goal is to make them a mini-celebrity in their LOCAL real estate market, such that they can’t walk down the street without strangers coming up to them in the street and saying hello, shaking their hand, asking for a selfie with them and telling them how much they enjoy their videos…

And of course, referring their friends, family & work colleagues to them (when appropriate) and also calling my client in when they need a real estate agent themselves!

So, here endeth the lesson! 🙂

Drop me a comment below with your biggest take away, and any questions you have. And please share this blog post with anyone you think might find this helpful.

Peace out homo sapiens! 🙂

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