Peter Drucker said that the purpose of marketing is to make sales superfluous. That should come as welcome wisdom to the real estate industry that is comprised of so many reluctant salespeople who won’t telemarket, interact at open houses or even join Facebook (latest numbers show less than 35% of REALTORS with a social networking presence). So what can be done to improve the pathetic listing sheets, the photo-less listings or sea-sick virtual tours that are undermining so many sales? Perhaps a quick art lesson could help.
Imagine for a moment that your career had taken a different path.
Instead of spending twenty-four grueling hours getting your real estate license, you spent years getting your masters degree in fine arts. Yet your inner desire to sell remained, and rather than become a museum curator or historian, you pursued the path of art representative. Your job would be to identify unique pieces of fine art – paintings, sculptures, even historical buildings – and find that one, special buyer who had an emotional response to the property. And wanted it, at any price.
Not too unlike the real estate industry, you say? Let’s see…
How would you go about establishing a marketing presence for your art for sale? Perhaps you’d build a marketing brochure or a website. You would use words, photos, maybe even video clips to describe the unique, rare and wonderful opportunity that one buyer would personally enjoy owning the piece of art you represented. Your marketing efforts would try to convey a memorable message, in the hopes of catching the eye – and heart – of the one true client for your exceptional piece.
As an art graduate, new to marketing, you might look around for an example of how others market unique objects. Perhaps you had a listing sheet lying around from an open house you visited recently. You might copy its approach to marketing homes to your fine art. Say, for example, you were selling a painting:
- Oil paint
- Style: Portrait
- Blacks, browns and tans
- Original poplar wood frame with
newly renovated oak supports
- 2 total arms
- 2 total hands
- 1 full face, 2 eyes, nose
- Special eyebrows
- Wooded area / setting
- Fabulous view(s)
- Custom features throughout
- 30 in × 21 in
Not too exciting, you say? You didn’t feel the connection? Not quite sure how this marketing approach would attract that “special” person for your painting?
Perhaps, then, you’d make a better real estate professional than art representative.
Of course, I’m being obtuse, but you see my point, don’t you? Then why does so much real estate marketing look just like this? Nobody would dream of marketing the Mona Lisa as a collection of dimensions, paint colors and wood types. Enumerating the “custom” features of the painting – or even the basic ones like hands and arms – would be meaningless. Just what is an inventory of the physical characteristics supposed to convey – that the character in the painting is just like any other person, with similar appendages?
Now go look up some of your listings, and ask yourself if you’re doing the very same thing? Have some fun – look up some multi-million dollar listings on REALTOR.COM and you’ll find similar and sometimes worse laundry-lists of room sizes, flooring types, appliances and exteriors.
Can you see why today’s real estate marketing isn’t making sales superfluous; and maybe making it impossible?
Every home in every market is unique, much like art. And while not every home is a priceless Mona Lisa, there’s a buyer for every one, if you can market it like a masterpiece. Not with the half-baths, but with its story. Telling that something special about each home, that makes something priceless reachable within an affordable price, but cannot be conveyed by a measurements-and-machinery marketing.
Marketing masterpieces of art requires telling the story of the piece.
Who created it, who owned it before, how it affected people’s lives, the pleasure and status of owning it, and so on. Owning art – and selling it – requires conveying the invisible but tangible benefits of the piece. It’s unique value.
Consider the current check-list approach to marketing listings these days. Has there ever been a buyer in history who shouted to his wife in the other room, “Honey! I’ve found the third bedroom(s) and granite counters we’ve been looking for!” Worse, when so many “special” features are about as non-unique as a stainless-steel-sale-item at HomeDepot, calling attention isn’t a strategy for conveying value.
Look: Two sinks in the master bathroom. We can spit toothpaste together every morning! How valuable!
Thinking like an art representative can help real estate professionals move their marketing from the physical to emotional level. The Mona Lisa isn’t valuable because it’s an oil-on-wood painting. Buyers desire her because they feel connected to her, somehow sharing her enigmatic smile, sitting larger than the landscape of life behind her. They will pay any price – even steal her – because possessing her means owning every special part of her mysterious history, her creator, and the greater “neighborhood” of art collectors.
The same connection explains why buyers desire a certain home. They connect to something – the movement of light, the feeling sitting in certain rooms, the sounds of the neighborhood. They can always replace the tile or the tub; they might have a harder time fining the same sfumato sunsets in the landscape. They desire the intangibles of the home – the enjoyment of play, the restfulness of retiring there each day – that can attract their attention if you tell the home’s story, not list its specifications.
And today a home’s story can be told – with words, photographs, video and podcasts. But not bullet points. Not comma separated lists. Not abbreviation(s) or (parentheses). The value of a great masterpiece isn’t rattled off with tick-tock precision, nor weighed down in cozy cliches.
Not unless you’re selling art deco. Which, from the looks of some of the real estate marketing out there, may not be too far from the truth. And the commission.
(Matthew Ferrara is CEO of Matthew Ferrara & Company, a technology organization that delivers training, consulting and technical support to real estate companies worldwide, including their new "Support on Demand" REALTOR help desk service available at 866-316-4209.)
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