Editorial policies aside. Costs aside. Are newspapers really a dead medium for real estate advertising?

If you think that print media — and in particular newspaper advertising — is a waste of money, think again. Considering all the honest-to-goodness garbage found in most papers, a well placed, well written, neatly conceptualized ad could do wonders for your brand, your business, your properties and your customers.

I know the Web is cheap. I know it’s easy. But let’s get down to the heart of the matter of real estate’s mass exodus from newspapers. I’m weeding through all the crying to mama about the media and the woe-is-me thinking to try to figure out why papers have fallen so out of fashion with real estate.

I think the conventional wisdom here is lacking, so I will offer my own: The newspaper format is waning, and the return on investment from newspaper advertising is being questioned, in large part because most in the industry have never figured out how to master it.

Think that’s off base? Take a stroll through your local paper’s real estate section in the shoes of your prospective customer. Does the advertising compel you to action? Does it elevate your consciousness? Does it inspire you to curiosity? Look at what you see in other sections of the paper. Chances are there are some ads that affect you in some manner. Why don’t you ever see such things in the real estate section?

If you are willing to acknowledge this, you are on your way toward seizing the down market to do something different, something smarter, something that captures the imagination of a jaded public.

And really you won’t be wasting money. While the numbers are down, a quick glance at newspaper circulation reveals a considerable opportunity to reach deep inside the average American household.

Advertising on the Internet, while cheap and relatively easy, has another side to it that makes any one advertisement seem like a tiny meteor floating around the vast expanse of space. Newspapers, on the other hand, are simple, sectional and delivered to the potential customer’s doorstep, a tangible element of information at the beginning of day filled with ephemera (there is still no widget or feed that can do that). Everyone who gets a paper at least scans it before placing it in their recycle pile.

For my money, that sort of connection with my customer still holds magnificent potential. Unless of course, I had no idea how to leverage it. This, I believe, is real estate’s bigger problem with newspapers.

As I travel the country speaking, I pick up the local paper in every city I visit and bring it with me for use as a prop during my speech. Sadly, I know what’s inside the paper before I land. I can count on this material more dependably than my flight arrival time. And that’s because every real estate section is a carbon copy of every other in America – 12 or so pages of mediocre, poorly written, poorly designed copycat ads. Image after image of tired, soft focused, unsettled and inescapably-consumed-with-themselves people saying and offering the reader little that is truly compelling.

Top producers, area specialists, several agents of the month – they allclamor for the attention of people looking for something fresh, real and useful. Claims of honesty, trustworthiness, sophistication and market expertise arise from agents posing with their kids or zipping along on a motorcycle with their monkey Bobo riding shotgun in the sidecar.

Leafing through these pages, I find myself thinking, “No wonder this medium doesn’t work. No one knows how to use it!”

So how do you break out? Start by doing the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing. Take your face out of your ads. You don’t matter anymore (it’s nothing personal). Your services do. Your technology does. You insight does. Your call to action does. Your properties, especially if they aren’t reduced to tiny thumbnails, matter most of all.

Draft a brand message that is unique. Write something profound. Describe services that are honestly distinctive.

Think smart.

Marc Davison is a founding partner of 1000watt Consulting. He can be reached at marc@1000wattconsulting.com.


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to opinion@inman.com.

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