"Family to appeal historic designation," the headline in my local newspaper read — the newspaper that has been right-sized to the point where I can mail it to a friend with a single first-class stamp.
"Can you do that?" I thought. With the AARP letters now arriving at my home at the rate of 47 a day and the Denny’s Senior Menu clearly in my sights, there may be hope for me yet.
The details of the appeals process remain a mystery to me as the article itself appeared below the fold, a place we know few venture. So I was left to only ponder the possibilities. If a whole family can file for the antiquation exclusion, what about a single real estate agent? Can we file separately? And what about our clients?
Recently, my family was guilty of an evolutionary infraction. We spent money on a print advertisement. I will be pursuing a personal variance on grounds of temporary insanity. In my defense, even for a girl who fancies herself slightly right of the median on the progressive curve, it is hard to take the old paradigm off life support. This is particularly true when your age is sometimes mistaken for the interstate speed limit.
It started with a simple phone call, and ended with my husband on the verge of insufferable. That is because he was given the great news that he is a newly anointed "Five Star Real Estate Agent." To make matters worse, he assures me this is on a scale of five.
It seems that there is a company out there that surveys homebuyers each year in a dozen or so metropolitan areas and asks them to rate their agents. The survey itself is quite legitimate, and even important one could argue, given all of the talk about transparency and the need for agent-rating systems. Someone apparently thought Steve did a very good job and, in his defense, I am most certain he did. I am a big fan of his work. But everything comes with a catch.
It’s like a "Who’s Who" scheme, really. Soon we were told that his new crown came with certain rights and privileges. We were offered the opportunity to promote his knighthood in our local San Diego Magazine — for a not-so modest fee, of course. Yes, it is a commercial venture, a very clever one at that, and yes, we shelled out.
As an aside, I will admit that I resent my little five-star general just a little. Over the years, we have found this comfortable division of labor. I generally take the lead on listings while he usually, though not always, finds himself in the buyer front-man position. While he is standing in the spacious living room marveling with clients at all the glory that is the custom pot rack, I am back at the office with his contracts scanning my fingers bloody. I deserve a few stars myself, but my role in many of our buyer-side transactions is just not as sexy.
To his credit, he insisted that I be included in the promotional photo. And when we received our issue, he was amused with the photo caption, which might as well have read "Steve Berg, Five Star Real Estate Agent, and some other person." Now I know how Brad Pitt’s bodyguard must feel.
So we have our big, glossy print ad. Soon, we will have 100 copies at our doorstep that we can beat future would-be clients over the head with as a testament to our (OK, Steve’s) customer-service prowess. It sounds pretty silly, really, and you haven’t even seen my charge-card statement.
But we rationalized that as much as our own left brains know that print marketing is in critical condition, many customers still have fully functioning right brains. How and where to promote has become a constant shell game, and we justified our latest old-school transgression with our notion that it is still too soon to turn our backs entirely on more traditional marketing methods.
At my daughter’s journalism school they call it "convergence journalism," an approach designed to address the whole conundrum of transition — transition in the ways we deliver and receive messages. It is no different in real estate; we are in a convergence marketing phase. We need to have the ability to work across old and new media platforms whether it is our clients’ homes or our own services we are promoting.
I am reminded of this daily. Locally, we have seen a couple of agents pulling all-out television marketing blitzes. One goes by "Short Sale Sam" (not his name), and we are starting to see his yard signs multiply like bunnies as a result. I suspect few of his clients know or care about search-engine optimization, viral marketing, pull vs. push marketing, or long-tail marketing. All they know is that he is on the television — a lot — and TV is something they can get their heads around.
I was meeting with a seller last week as she was marveling at the godlike stature of the man on the shopping carts. She had never seen his Web site, didn’t even know if he had one in fact, and had not spoken with one past client about his services. But she just knew he must be amazing. For years, he had been where she was, and where she was just happened to be the dairy aisle. Perception is reality. The punch line is that she is one of the "techiest" people I know.
Those of us who spend any time online tend to start believing that our way is the only way. Someday very soon, I think that notion will be mostly correct. But for now we remain at a marketing crossroads.
I was chatting with a broker recently who was contemplating opening a virtual office, and I shared some of my personal experiences. Namely, I am finding that few agents are really ready to embrace the idea that broker handouts and corner offices are yesterday’s newspaper.
They haven’t been privy to our conversations here about the sledgehammer coming to a brick-and-mortar office near you. It has never occurred to them that there is a technological revolution at hand. Their past clients are loyal, they have a formidable local reputation, and those things are enough. …CONTINUED
It is no different with the consumer. When you spend your days around a feed-reader watercooler it may not feel like people still select their agents from bus benches or billboards, but many do. We are still very much in transition. At some point, traditional practices will go the way of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The key is in knowing when it is safe to pull the plug for good.
Fish didn’t grow gills overnight, and that is the problem with diving headfirst into an "all Internet, all day" approach. Remember the "Monty Python" bit where they delivered the Trojan horse (in their case, a rabbit) to the gates of the castle only to realize too late that they forgot to climb inside? They skipped an important step.
It’s kind of like that, this convergence marketing. Unless you are the darling of Google, you can’t just turn off the spigot on traditional advertising and expect the entire world to follow. It’s a process.
Last year in our enlightened exuberance to deliver the Internet baby, we found ourselves cutting the cord before the actual delivery. Our brainchild was to "go green." Our yard signs announced that all of the information you would expect to find on a brochure and more was available online. We still provided the familiar, high-gloss bifolds, on recycled paper, of course, but we also provided smaller, business card-sized "Web cards" containing just the vitals including the Web address.
We challenged, even dared, the inquiring minds to take advantage of this more efficient and eco-friendly alternative. The brochures continued to fly off the shelf while the clever little Web cards languished with curled corners from prolonged exposure to the elements. The result was that we found ourselves taking daily calls from people gazing at our sign (including the sellers themselves) complaining that the flier box was empty.
Now, you may call this "a lead," but I call it an annoyed customer who wasn’t being given what they wanted where and when they wanted it — a "lead" who when it came time to sell his own home would remember us as the agents who didn’t keep the brochures stocked.
In a meeting with our agents last week, I stole a line from Seth Godin and suggested that our continued success in these difficult times would come from our ability to "tell a story" — our story. Yours will be different. We believe that our story involves our passion, our commitment to real excellence (not just the rhetorical kind), and a marriage of tradition and technology.
This week, we shared our story in a traditional way that is on its way out, but it’s not gone yet. And, for the record, several clients mentioned having seen the ad, although I confess I am unable to draw a straight line from that picture of Steve and some other person to the bottom line of my tax return. Migration is a process. Until we all get there — every single one of us and each of our customers — the process won’t be complete.
I’m putting that in my appeal.
Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.
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