September is Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. That means we’re talking to the chief marketing officers at major brokerages about how the pandemic is changing their jobs and what it means for agents. We’re publishing a suite of tactical Inman Handbooks for marketing on digital portals. And we’re looking at what pages of the traditional marketing playbook still work. Join us all month long.
Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
It was my first day at Zillow. I was sitting in a meeting, a little overwhelmed but super excited about the new career I was starting. There was so much to absorb — meeting so many people, thinking through the organizational structure, understanding the company brand, mission and objectives.
I’ve always been terrible with names, so I was very focused on trying to remember the names of the dozens of people I met that day. In that very first meeting, there were repeated references to “Alan,” “Beth” and “Susan.” I knew I’d met one person named Susan, but I wasn’t able to recall meeting an Alan or a Beth. So, I jotted in my notebook, “Find Beth and Alan. They seem really important.”
That was over nine years ago. Today, if you visit any Zillow office, you’ll find posters on the wall about Alan, Beth and Susan. On those posters, you’ll find their photos and a ton of information about them — demographic info, what motivates them, what scares them.
Weird, isn’t it? Posters of people on the wall. Research on their lives. Constant references to them in meetings and hallway discussions. These people are everywhere at Zillow.
Except they aren’t people. They are personas. Alan is an agent, Beth is a buyer, and Susan is a seller. There’s also Bruce the broker, Rachel the renter and a handful of other personas.
Personas are semifictional representations of your ideal customers based on data and research. They help you focus your time and effort when finding and serving your ideal customer. They help you understand your target market. They help everyone in your group — agents, admins and transaction coordinators — understand and focus on how to attract, serve and retain clients.
Even if you’re a solo agent doing everything yourself, personas are very helpful for defining your brand and staying on track. Having a good understanding of your consumer personas helps drive content creation, ad targeting and branding consistency.
As a real estate professional, you could have one and only one persona — your ideal client. Or you can have multiple personas, like buyers, sellers, investors, renters. You can get specific by narrowing them down to first-time buyers, downsizers, upsizers and luxury. There isn’t a single way to create or use persons, and that flexibility is very helpful.
So, how does one go about creating a persona? Honestly, the first thing I would do is Google, “How to create customer personas.” You will find a wealth of information, step-by-step guides and even templates to use.
As with anything on the internet, some of the information is incredibly useful, some is complete junk and most is in between. Look at multiple sources to gather insights and trends. Look for commonalities along with data collection methods and techniques.
Good sources include Hubspot and Buffer Library (click on the magnifying glass in the headers and type “personas”). Look at examples of personas for ideas of what to include and display. Here is a good example of a buyer persona developed by a car dealership:
It really boils down to how you obtain your market research and customer data, and how you compile and present that information in a way that’s easy to understand (and remember).
You don’t need fancy graphics or reams of data. You already have a lot of data from your previous clients. Like, why are they buying or selling, and what are they looking for in a home? What are their fears and concerns? Why did they select you or your company, and what did they like about your service? What did you do well, and what could you have done differently? What communication channels do they prefer? What messaging resonates with them, and what falls flat?
If you don’t have this information, build a survey and ask past clients to complete it. You won’t get a response from everyone, but many people are willing to help out a person or business they appreciate, and most of your past clients appreciate you and what you did for them.
While a formal survey is ideal, you can gather a lot of info simply by picking up your phone and calling past clients. You do contact past clients regularly, right? Use this as an opportunity to reach out and make contact.
You’ll find demographic info, relationship status, education level, job types, location, even whether people use an Apple or Android phone and if they visit via desktop or mobile. It’s downright frightening how much information Facebook collects on users — including you. Use it to your advantage.
Even if you don’t use this info to help build personas, you can use it to understand and improve your ad and page performance. Other platforms you advertise on likely offer similar use analysis. You’re looking at how your ads perform, right?
Building and implementing personas is a valuable exercise, but like anything else, they are not the all-knowing solution to developing your brand or business. A persona is a “semifictional representation of your ideal customer.”
In reality, people are complicated, messy and often-changing creatures. There are countless things that impact how they act and feel. You need to exercise caution against stereotyping — channeling all your clients into one bucket. Not every buyer is a Beth, and not every seller is a Susan.
Limitations aside, the proper development and use of personas can give you great insight into how your clients feel, think and act. They can allow you and your team to gain insight, focus and optimize their interaction with current, past and potential clients. Personas are just another tool in that expanding toolbox you use to help grow and develop your brand and business.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.