Last week I got a call from someone who was completely overwhelmed with all of the technologies that are seemingly "must do" for real estate. This isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s a really common call for me.

You see, there are so many bits of new and shiny technology out there to try. And there are so many voices pitching and testimonializing and "must-do-ing."

The end result: feeling swamped and not knowing where to begin, or what is most important in a digital communication strategy. I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard — probably more so since I began writing this column.

The person on the other end of the phone was an agent. She didn’t have a website but was paying for an email newsletter program — one of those cookie-cutter, regurgitated, national-real-estate-trends-content things. She wasn’t getting leads from it. This didn’t surprise me.

There were a couple of large problems with what she was doing and how she ended up where she was.

The email-newsletter-only conversion problem

The only method of conversion in the email newsletter was for the reader to send an email (to a nonbranded email address like, in this case) or to call. Granted, those are solid conversion points: a direct contact.

But as the only form of conversion in the newsletter, it left a wide variety of soft conversions on the table. With no way to track linkable content, there’s no way to figure out what is interesting enough for the readership to click. There’s no feedback on whether this content is any good or not.

Given that the service she is using is one of those turnkey solutions that you throw money at and then forget about, I suspect that learning whether the content is good or not may not be in the best short-term interests of the vendor. Also, I’m guessing that none of the vendor’s customers are likely asking that question. Instead, they are probably saying, "I’m not getting any leads."

The content problem

My real estate clients consistently tell me that the real estate story in their markets differs quite a bit from the national story about real estate. Often, there is a more upbeat story in their local markets. But sometimes it isn’t. There are always nuances to the kinds of properties that are moving, and the goals and needs of the people buying and selling.

In short, they remind me that real estate is, indeed, local.

The email newsletter service the agent on the phone with me had signed up for was using generic real estate news that was from a national perspective. The content being sent out to her list had little to no relationship to her market.

Sure, it was about real estate. But it wasn’t about real estate that she could help anyone buy or sell. It was close, but really not close enough.

Why would anyone get the generic content that wasn’t about real estate in their area and then think they should call the agent? I guess it could be a straight-ahead numbers game: Run as much meat through the sausage grinder until you can make a hot dog.

The real problem with all of this

The problem encountered by the agent who called me was the result of not working or thinking strategically. Instead, she happened upon a tactic ("Email newsletters!") and started doing it.

Then she read about a bunch of other things ("Social media!" "WordPress website!" "Pinterest!" "Facebook!") and was quickly overwhelmed.

This isn’t an issue of budget, either. As the budget — whether it’s the time budget or the money budget or both — decreases, the need for a clear strategy gets that much more important.

This is because, with fewer resources available, there is less room to recover or have a "learning moment." But excellent things can happen on a very small budget. Sometimes more excellent things can happen with fewer resources because fewer people will get in the way of doing them.

I could envision a digital strategy for real estate that, like the agent who called me last week, involved only email marketing — no website, no social media, no paid advertising.

But it would involve a lot of hands-on work. It would have to be focused entirely on excellent content. It would have to work from a consistent plan and be informed by an exceptionally clear strategy.

The good news is that it wouldn’t be that hard, overall, considering the time and money saved on websites, social media stuff and paid advertising.

But it wouldn’t be turnkey. It would probably cost more than $50 per month to get the content made if, like the agent who called me, the marketer didn’t like to write.

It would require involvement and care on the part of the marketer. It would require being very concerned with delivering the absolute most worthwhile, relevant content to a list of people who are viewed as people and not leads. It would probably look more like community management than direct-sales marketing.

The same activity — sending an email newsletter — can be dramatically different in terms of look, feel and results. It just depends on whether it’s another tactic bolted on to a list of things you do, or whether it’s part of a strategy for serving your market.

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