This April, one of Inman’s most popular recurring theme months returns: Back to Basics. All month, real estate professionals from across the country share what’s working for them, how they’ve evolved their systems and tools, and where they’re investing personally and professionally to drive growth in 2022. It’s always smart to go Back to Basics with Inman.
Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He’s also the co-founder of AgentLoop. He “selectively retired” in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column is published every Wednesday.
Marketing and building your brand are two of the most important things you can do to build your business. There are countless ways to do both, but one of the most basic is using direct mail. Yes, “snail mail.” Like with letters, postcards, stamps and mailboxes.
“Dude, it’s 2022. Snail mail? Really?”
Really! Sure, it’s “old school.” It’s not flashy, technical or trendy. The reason it’s called old school is that it has been around forever. And it has been around forever because it works. Well, it can work, if you do it right. Nothing is foolproof or guaranteed.
You have to apply yourself and work to get results from any branding or marketing effort — there is no magic wand to wave and receive business.
One of the most important things in any direct mail campaign is consistency. There’s agent commentary scattered all across the internet like, “I mailed out 300 postcards. Not one single response!”
Marketing and brand awareness through direct mail is a long-term play. Yeah, you may get lucky and get a call the first time you mail a piece, but no successful business is built on luck.
Prospecting, arguably the most important aspect of building any sales-related business, is all about “touches.” You’ve got to reach out and (metaphorically) touch people to gain their trust, and build your brand awareness.
Touches are things like:
- Speaking with a potential prospect.
- Leaving a voicemail (and following up).
- Sending an email, preferably one that’s opened and that results in an action like a response, clicking on a link, or downloading information.
- “Popping by” for a personal visit.
- Having coffee or lunch with a prospect or a past client.
- Connecting through social media.
- Sending a useful direct mail piece with a strong call to action or that provides value.
Depending on which sales and marketing maven you listen to, it takes six, or seven, or 12, or “13+” touches to convert a prospect to a client.
The number varies widely because the simple fact is that no one really knows and, importantly, not every touch or person is the same. What you won’t find anyone saying is that “one” is the sweet spot.
Consistency is key. If you are direct mailing once a month, plan on at least six months for your efforts to begin working. Twelve months would be better. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where the same agent mailed me monthly for the five years I lived there. She owned that neighborhood, and her direct mail newsletters and “just listed” and “just sold” postcards were a large reason why.
The right area makes a difference
I was speaking at a large local brokerage once and asked, “How many use direct mail as part of their marketing and brand awareness efforts?” About a third of the room, 10 agents, raised their hands. The follow-up question, “What is the housing turnover in your mailing area?” elicited zero responses. No one knew. We dug a little deeper.
One of the agents said they had been doing direct mail for two years, in a farm area of 75 homes. During those two years, the inventory turnover was zero. Not a single home bought or sold in that time period. Of course, the agent’s efforts were not being rewarded. No agent had sold or listed there.
Of the four agents who had success (as defined by generating listings in their farm area), every single one had a higher inventory turnover rate than the average rate for their metro area.
Every one of the successful agents was also mailing to anywhere from 100-400 homes, at least monthly. Every one of the agents who was not seeing success was mailing to fewer than 100 homes, and the answer to, “How often do you mail?” was along the lines of, “About monthly.”
“About” doesn’t cut it folks. You need to mail at least monthly, and you need to be mailing in an area where homes are being bought and sold with at least the same frequency as your market average.
Volume matters. The more mailings you send, the better your chances of conversion. This is not just a consistency play, it’s a numbers game, too.
Obviously, these numbers from my speaking to a brokerage represent a very small sample size, but similar themes and numbers have played out across the years. It is intuitively obvious that you’ll have more success farming an area with a higher inventory turnover, and that more mailings equal more touches. Seek out good territory, and know your numbers.
Messaging matters. A lot
What you send via direct mail matters. Many of us are bombarded with letters and postcards from agents. You need to be mailing something that stands out in a sea of sameness. Sending something of value. Sending something that provides info no one else shares.
Informative newsletters can be very successful. You need not write a multipage tome, but you do need to triple-check your grammar and spelling. Recipe cards and sports schedules, while occasionally useful, are a dime a dozen.
Pricing trends, interest rates, inventory levels, days on market — there is a lot of data out there that today’s consumer is hungry for. A newsletter can provide this data and even better, gives you an opportunity to analyze the data and educate prospects on what matters — and what doesn’t matter. A prime opportunity to demonstrate your value and expertise shouldn’t be passed up.
A personal example
Last week, in the pile of magazines, advertisements and assorted junk mail I found two marketing pieces sent from individuals.
One was from a local real estate agent, another was from someone who runs a YouTube channel about fishing that I follow. Yep, I’m about to compare a Realtor’s mailing to some guy in Florida with a (very successful) fishing channel. Bear with me.
“See Ya Dude” is a fishing channel with more than 40,000 subscribers. The name comes from the fisherman saying “See ya, dude” every time he releases a fish. That may sound corny, but it’s quite catchy, and his videos often get views numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Last week, I got an unsolicited personally addressed card from him. Inside was a handwritten note, with a “See Ya Dude” sticker.
I think he sent this because I linked to his channel from my (quite lame) fishing channel. Whatever the reason, he made the effort, will get a little free publicity when I post a pic of the sticker, and further cemented his brand into my mindset. That’s pretty brilliant.
The same day, I received a postcard from a local agent. It was addressed to “Current Resident,” immediately losing the personal touch battle with See Ya Dude. The front has a tiny thumbnail image of the agent, with her brokerage name, phone, email, and “keep it local” message. This was on the back:
The timing for landscaping makes sense, given that spring is springing. However, this tells me nothing about the agent and makes nothing about her brand memorable. In fact, it feels simply like an ad for the landscape company. Her brand is most certainly not cemented in my mindset.
I can assure you that I pay far more attention to agent marketing and branding efforts than the average consumer, and I’m almost certain this is the first time this agent has mailed me. Only time will tell if she’s aware of the rule of consistency, but I’d bet it’s a one-time shot, and not a very effective one at that.
I also live in a very small subdivision where two houses have been listed and sold in the two years I’ve lived here. This is not a good turnover ratio for direct mail marketing, though that doesn’t stop agents from wasting their money trying.
See Ya Dude’s branding in these examples is far superior to the agent’s. Handwritten notes will always have a greater impact than mass mailings to current residents.
Get back to basics with your direct mail campaigns
Direct mail still works. Personal touches will always work, no matter the delivery mechanism. You must mail (or use social media, the phone, and email) consistently, personally, for a long time, and with solid messaging and branding.
For education and ideas, look at how other people and companies are building their brands, even if they are wholly unrelated to real estate sales. Find a good farm area, create a good message, demonstrate your value, stand out from the crowd, do it all consistently over time and reap the rewards.
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Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and co-founder of AgentLoop living in the Texas Coastal Bend. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. Called “the hardest working retiree ever,” as the founder of Jay.Life, he writes, speaks and consults on all things real estate.