Did you go into real estate because you loved marketing? Chances are, you didn’t. And that explains why marketing is one of the top challenges for real estate agents today and the subject of so many of these articles.

Did you go into real estate because you loved marketing?

Chances are, you didn’t. And that explains why marketing is one of the top challenges for real estate agents today and the subject of so many of these articles.

Most agents don’t come from a marketing background, and so they are learning skills, from the very basic to the very advanced, in addition to running their real estate business.

In the world of marketing technology, shiny new objects come out every month. Trends come and go, attracting agents for their ease of use and “silver bullet” appeal. They’re tempting with their brand promises, but they don’t always deliver.

So let’s look at five trends in real estate marketing worth learning about and integrating into your 2018 growth strategy.

1. Efforts and investment shift from lead generation to relationships

Often times the marketing conversion starts at the top of the sales funnel, and the focus is on generating as many leads as possible.

That’s why, year after year, real estate agents spend more and more money on lead generation. But to hear Brian Boero of 1000watt tell it, this is not a pleasant experience for your prospects. To them, getting dumped into your funnel is like getting pushed into the gates of hell.

So you generate all these leads. Well, now you need to pay to convert the leads you already paid to generate.

But even as investment in lead generation goes up, the number of buyers and sellers won through lead-focused marketing hasn’t changed. In short, more and more money is being spent on the same, relatively small share of the market.

As a data-driven marketer, I do invest in lead gen, but when I look at the numbers I can easily see that the ROI on my relational marketing always outperforms the ROI on Google/Facebook ads and Zillow/realtor.com leads.

Real estate is a relationship business, so I prefer to invest my marketing dollars on the tools that will help me get more business from the network I already have.

We have over 2,000 contacts in our database, so we can’t follow-up with all of them every month. I use First to identify the people in my network most likely to list in the next six to nine months. All of my contacts are valuable, but some are more valuable today.

First’s algorithms look at my contact list and assign each contact a score based on the person’s likelihood of selling, which allows me to prioritize and make the best use of my time for the relationship building part of marketing.

We use Contactually to organize our contacts and store email templates and send them out at scale via its ScaleMail feature. Contactually also boasts an extensive template library that you can pick and choose from to boost your own ideas.

First and Contactually have a nice integration so they work extremely well together.

My advice is to find solutions that will help you relationship market your database to the best of your ability.

2. Look who’s talking: Chatbots rise up

I’m not the only one talking about talking machines. And the real estate sector is talking about chatbots —  an automated program that can hold a basic conversation with prospects either on your website or a text thread.

Homebuyers and sellers want access, and they want it instantly. A 2016 survey of 6,000 consumers (spread across North America, Europe and Asia) found that nine out of 10 wanted to be able to use real-time messaging to have conversations with businesses.

But the window of opportunity for converting a prospect is smaller than ever. Research shows that responding to a new lead within five minutes of when they first reach out is crucial. Respond any later than that, and there’s a tenfold decrease in your odds of actually getting in touch with that lead.

More and more real estate business is happening in Facebook Messenger. To that end, Facebook recently announced a new Messenger chat plugin, bringing the Messenger function to your website. When a customer starts a chat session with your business, he or she will see the same sort of Messenger chat window they’re used to from using the mobile app.

But this brings me back to the first trend — the relationship is where the real investment is made. So the value of chatbots is in speeding up those relationships, not in replacing them.

3. Follow the money: Agents get better at measuring ROI

It’s disturbingly easy to spend money on real estate marketing technology. It’s not easy, however, to understand what you’re getting out of it: your ROI.

Often, you want to calculate what your marketing spend earns you. That’s your return on investment. So if you spend $1 and earn $10, you would say that’s a great ROI. But there is a missing factor — time. How much of your time is spent chasing leads versus building relationships?

Furthermore, many agents don’t even know where their business is coming from; they’ll spend countless hours learning and attempting to implement the latest and greatest technology when in reality 60 percent to 80 percent of their business is from people they already know.

Website/CRM provider Firepoint offers a backend solution that helps agents track their spending and returning revenue on every lead source in detail.

Agents are able to set custom time frames so that they can know the true return on investment and determine their cash conversion cycle. This allows them to make well-informed business decisions without needing sophisticated business training.

Other companies such as MoreGCI and Commitment To Excellence offer software that helps agents track their expenses, contacts, appointments and sales.

Next year will be the year that agents start holding their marketing dollars accountable and remember that marketing is an investment, not an expense.

4. Realties and reality get augmented with AR and VR

In the real estate sector, augmented reality and virtual reality take video tours to a whole new level.

Helping both agents and customers save time, and considerably speeding up the buying process, this technology is only expected to grow further, as indicated by a recent Goldman Sachs report. The study predicts that the VR and AR market in real estate will reach at least $80 billion by 2025.

Brokerages such as Engel & Volkers are setting up VR studios in their offices as headsets become more mainstream. Zillow has even gotten onboard with an iPhone app for 3D-Tours.

Just recently Magic Leap finally unveiled a preview of the product its been working on, which will open up a whole new world of opportunity.

Although the majority of digital showing usage is being viewed on computers, tablets and mobile devices, it is exciting to see the direction the technology is headed.

Most of the current digital showing providers have VR capability, both Rooomy and now Amazon offer augmented reality solutions for home staging, which helps potential buyers get a feel for how furniture might look in a space prior to purchasing.

5. Video continues its reign and expand its dominance

Video has gone from something agents should consider adding to their marketing mix to something agents have no excuse for not using. It’s too easy to create and distribution is easier than ever, with Facebook taking a video-first approach to content.

With data from HouseLens, the numbers are clear: 85 percent of buyers and sellers want to work with an agent who uses video. Homes listed with video get four times the inquiries of homes listed without video. And including video in emails doubles the click-through rate and reduces opt-outs by 75 percent.

At the very least, video is the primary media for personal branding. “Authenticity” isn’t just a buzzword. It’s at the heart of the relationship marketing in the first trend.

There is nothing more authentic than turning a camera on yourself and talking one-to-one, sharing who you are and giving prospects a preview of what it’s like to work with you.

If you want a winning marketing plan next year, focus on these elements.

Brandon Doyle is a Realtor at Doyle Real Estate Team — Re/Max Results in Minneapolis and co-author of  Mindset, Methods & Metrics – Winning as a Modern Real Estate Agent. You can follow him on Twitter.

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