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.
How do chief marketing officers typically strategize their marketing content? And how does that change during a pandemic?
During branding and marketing month at Inman, these are just a few of the questions we had for the real estate industry’s top marketing professionals.
Inman recently spoke with Redfin Chief Growth Officer Adam Wiener, who leads the brokerage’s marketing, new ventures and analytics teams. During the pandemic, Wiener said the brokerage has adopted an educational tone to try and increase public knowledge on the current state of the real estate market amidst uncertain times. Read on for more of what he had to share.
Inman News: What is it you do exactly?
Adam Wiener: The best way to answer that is to start by saying Redfin’s mission is to redefine real estate in the consumer’s favor. And the way I think about that is it means getting customers what they want. They want to sell their current place for top dollar, and they want to get the best deal on their new home. And as Redfin, we can help them achieve those goals, but we can also make the whole process faster, easier and cheaper.
My job is to bring our mission and brand to life in our advertising, what we put out externally, on our website. We get tens of millions of visitors to Redfin.com every single month, and it’s a unique advertising channel that only we have access to. And when we’re advertising, my goal is to raise awareness about what makes Redfin unique.
You’ll see a lot of our messaging, a lot of our campaigns revolve around how we get folks into homes faster so they have a leg up on other buyers, or how we charge a 1 percent listing fee when you buy and sell with a Redfin agent. And ultimately, I want to entice customers into meeting a Redfin agent.
While our first priority is to always put the customer first, we want Redfin to be one of the best places for agents to do what they do best, which is to help customers buy and sell homes and not have to worry about where the next customer is coming from.
Often, that’s how I judge my own success: Can I actually get customers to try our service? To reach out to a Redfin agent and schedule a meeting — that’s the ultimate measure of whether or not I’m doing a good job.
What go-to marketing strategies did you have before the pandemic, and have those changed in the wake of COVID-19?
One thing I’ve learned about marketing at Redfin over a long period of time is that buyers want to see photos of pretty houses and sellers want to know what their home is worth.
So some of our most effective marketing campaigns have been listing recommendations for buyers — so, sending out personalized matches about homes we think you would like — populated through technology that we built on our website. That drives a huge amount of traffic, and ultimately, a huge amount of business for our agents.
On the sell side, we’ve developed the Redfin estimate, which is our automated valuation for what we think your home is worth. We’ll send customers a monthly home report giving them an update on how that number has changed over time. Those are both features that drive a lot of engagement, and ultimately drive people through to contact an agent and try our service.
But if you take a step back from that, those are folks who have already gotten engaged with Redfin, who are already part of the homebuying process. We also want to help spread the world. Pre-pandemic, we were just kicking off our annual TV campaign for the year, which was about how we can use Redfin’s digital platform, Redfin.com, to help sellers attract more buyers. Building awareness through TV has been one of our strategies over the last few years.
Like many marketers, we also use the same sort of direct-response strategies where we’re advertising on Google and Facebook. We’re trying to get people who are in market but haven’t yet found the Redfin website to first come to the site, but hopefully to get them hooked on browsing Redfin.com, looking at homes, finding out what their place is worth. Then, ultimately, when they’re ready to take their search from online to the real world, contacting a Redfin agent for service.
Our first move when the pandemic hit was to stop advertising and batten down the hatches. We were definitely preparing for the worst. In the early days of the pandemic, our first priority was trying to figure out how to continue just to do business safely.
That really meant shifting a lot of our services to being virtual. When you started to look at a listing on Redfin that had a Matterport scan or that had a floor plan, we started making those elements much more prominent on our listing pages.
As we developed those virtual capabilities, we plastered that message across our homepage, and in email. The tag line in March and early April was “Tour homes without leaving yours.” At the peak, almost one in three home showings we did was by video.
We always have prided ourselves on being a truth-teller about what’s going on in the market in good times and in bad. So we also started publishing a weekly blog on what was going on with prices, what was going on with inventory, with buyer demand, with seller demand. It was a combination of research that came from our economics team, and it was also a lot of insight from what we were hearing from our agents on the ground.
At the same time, advertising rates, especially on TV, looked really attractive, just because so many companies outside of real estate — travel, hospitality — had all pulled back during the pandemic. So we launched a series of TV commercials in May, that were all put together during the pandemic from found footage, mostly shot from people’s iPhones, that we had sourced from our customers and our agents and then edited in-house for super cheap, just a few thousand bucks.
Has one specific channel worked better for you over another during this time? TV commercials versus Facebook ads, or anything else?
We’re always trying to pick apart the performance of every advertising channel to figure out where to invest our next dollar, and it all comes back to what your goals are.
If you’re looking to drive the best return on investment in the short run, you’re almost always going to shift your advertising allocation towards things like Google search, where you have people in market who are searching for things like “homes for sale in Boston” or “open houses in Dallas,” and that continued to be true during the pandemic.
But the thing that I would say was most unique about the pandemic is that advertising rates on TV, on Facebook, they all fell dramatically, compared to what we had been paying previously. That was the place where we saw the biggest change in performance over the short run during the pandemic.
We’ve seen a lot of heartwarming ads that have emphasized togetherness in order to get through the pandemic. Did Redfin make any sort of specific turn towards more sensitive advertising during this time?
We did want to make sure that all of the advertising that we put out during the pandemic was very sensitive to what was going on. One of the key decisions that we made was that we wanted our ads to be more optimistic and have more energy than what we were seeing from other brands.
If you look at the TV ads that we launched during the pandemic, the music is much more upbeat. People are wearing masks, and often gloves, because we’re in a pandemic, but they’re dancing in front of a yard sign, they’re putting the keys in the door to their new home, they’re cheering.
There’s an ability to triumph, to rise above, and we felt like that was really important. So that was one of the key decisions that we made: that we were going to focus on succeeding during the pandemic.
The second thing that we felt really strongly about was that we wanted to educate and inform. That was a very intentional decision that we made in our advertising when we launched it.
As we’re moving towards fall and out of the summer season, for real estate, it’s kind of an unusual time because the market is still very active and it seems like it will continue to be that way into the fall. Will this change how you shape your fall budget?
Normally the fall is the time of year when we advertise the least. It’s often people winding down their search or winding down their sales for the year, rather than starting something new.
To your point, we’ve seen a very atypical seasonal pattern this year where market activity has stayed very strong all the way up to today.
I think the big wild card that every marketer in every industry is going to have to deal with over the next few months is the election. This is something where we want to have our finger on the pulse. We’ll continue to be aggressive as long as we feel like we can buy the media for a fair price and that the consumer attention is still focused on real estate.