SAN FRANCISCO — Call it Marketing 2.0.

A home-based startup that is now a multimillion-dollar daily e-mail blast to 1.4 million subscribers.

A former “Messy Marvin” whose household cleaning products are now distributed through Target and Costco.

A former recording industry professional who now is rolling out a range of youth culture-targeted products through a global network of creative minds.

Their businesses represent a wild new wave of marketing that approaches consumers in unconventional ways. Rather than an overt sales pitch, these entrepreneurs are appealing to consumers’ sense of style, quest for hipness and a general thirst for something new.

During a presentation today at Inman News‘ Real Estate Connect conference, these outside-the-box executives shared their insight on marketing with an audience of real estate professionals who rely heavily on marketing to stay afloat in their industry.

Dany Levy, founder of Daily Candy, in 2000 began sending out daily e-mails from her home computer in New York about new fashions, restaurant openings and other items of interest to a small group of subscribers. “We’ve attracted an interesting demographic — primarily female, highly consumptive, affluent — and marketers really like this demographic,” said Levy. The subscribers are generally 24-35, with an average age of about 32.

Daily Candy is now published in 11 cities around the world. It has grown by word of mouth from an initial list of about 700 subscribers to 1.2 million subscriptions. “We’ve spent basically zero money on marketing,” Levy said, and the company is valued at about $130 million.

Levy said the key was hitting the right niche. “Basically there was no space online for that demographic.” And while some have accused the e-mail publication of offering little more than fluff, Levy said that doesn’t bother her a bit. “I’m not claiming it’s rocket science. I love the fact that I’ve created something so simple that it serves no other purpose other than to make people happy every day. It’s really simple. It’s like water-cooler conversations.”

David Gensler, president of Keystone Design Union, which manages brands that target global youth culture, said he is a strategist and designer who scouts for creative talent in a variety of fields — whether it is fashion, music, interior design, architecture or ideas. “We have kind of a virtual infrastructure,” he said. By the end of the year he expects the network will include about 500 people worldwide.

“We started from scratch and built a brand from the business model up,” he said. His company also has rolled out a publication, called “The Royal,” that is geared toward “the collision of various cultures: youth culture, design, fashion,” he said.

Eric Ryan had a big idea to compete head-on with some of the largest names in the cleaning-products business, such as Clorox. He co-founded Method, a company that produces household cleaning products that appeal to consumers’ senses with unique colors, fragrances and designs — and are also less toxic than traditional cleaning products.

“It was ironic that we started a cleaning company because I think we were the messiest guys in San Francisco. My nickname was Marvin for ‘Messy Marvin’ — I loved home design so I had a different attachment to the home than actually cleaning it.”

He teamed up with one of his roommates, a chemical engineer from Stanford University. “We were pretty surprised to find out how toxic this (cleaning) stuff is,” he said, adding that it seemed odd that popular products used to clean the home were actually polluting the home, too.

The company has a cause and a call to action: “People against dirty.” The company is embarking on an effort to disclose all of the chemical ingredients in its products “and hopefully encourage others to do the same,” Ryan said.

All of the panelists noted a growing consumer interest in products that are less harmful to the environment, and a general interest in transparency.

Ryan said that more “open, honest, direct” dealings in real estate could serve the industry well.

Gensler and Levy, meanwhile, said they’ve had some bad experiences with real estate professionals who insisted on showing them properties that they did not want to see.

Levy’s advice: “Our generation is extremely skeptical and sort of leery. We need to be spoken to extremely candidly. We are all so concerned about having the wool pulled over our eyes. Just tell it like it is. Be direct. Don’t waste my time.”


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