Coldwell Banker Holds a Mirror Up to Its Customers

Coldwell Banker’s TV Spot: “The Value of a Home”

The best types of marketing always reframe conversations around brands and ideas. They shift discussions away from products that fail to serve the customer, inspire behavioral market shifts, and perhaps, most importantly, encourage us to achieve the things we really want in life. From Volkswagen’s Think Smallto Apple’s classic “1984“, right through the current viral sensations we see today, such as Dollar Shave Club or Old Spice, they connect with us on a level that goes beyond the product, beyond selling, and beyond features and benefits.

This is where national brokerage Coldwell Banker started with the launch of its recent “The Value of a Home” campaign, which currently exists as a series of television spots, and is being rolled out across the organization to agents, listings and online platforms over the coming months.

The premise behind the creative, as the company describes it, is to get customers back to thinking about the real reasons why they buy homes. The campaign offers the answer that it’s for lifestyle choices, and portrays that beautifully by showing aspects of a home that are driven by memories. The ads talk showcase backyards, dinners, hugs, babies, sprinklers on a summer’s afternoon, pets, and other meaningful, nostalgic ideals surrounding how we perceive the memory or aspiration of our special place to be.

In many ways, reframing the conversation back onto why the customer buys a home is redundant. The customer has always thought about homeownership this way, the difference being that it’s simply never been visualized by the industry in such an innovative way. The customer has always experienced homeownership through the hazy lens of nostalgia, but the disruptive aspect of this campaign is that Coldwell Banker is simply holding a mirror up to what the customers already do.

As such, it’s a more accurate reflection of why people buy homes, rather than the synthetic, soulless, data-driven experiences that have dominated online real estate over the past five years.

Importantly, there is no mention of Coldwell Banker’s agents here, either. The customer’s experience of home search is much more about finding homes than searching listings, and through a skillful reframing of the word “value,” Coldwell Banker is able to shift the conversation away from data and push it more toward memories.

It’s an important difference in the mind of the customer, and one that the real estate industry has struggled with in its recent adoption of digital media.

The spots frame home valuation as personal, emotional and nostalgic. They go beyond charts, data and market reports, and speak more to the critical issue that homes are about people, not numbers. They speak about the idea of connecting. The premise of transparency in online real estate has been a noble and successful cause, but overwhelming the customers with information is not the same thing as holding their hand with insight. There’s a huge difference between these two things, and in many ways the Coldwell Banker campaign is a return to the traditional values of how people genuinely feel about looking for homes.

The past five years, through the rise of syndication portals, greater volume of accessible information, mobile technology and simply more and more data (not to mention a global economic crisis with housing in its epicenter), have demonstrated an aggressive focus on data. Many have embraced the idea that presenting the customer with as much data as possible is of value.

Coldwell Banker argues that the value does not come from the data, it comes from the memories of what it feels like to live there, and that’s an important shot across the fronts of online sites predicated on searching, not finding. In many ways, Coldwell Banker is selling the “why” of homeownership, not the “how” or even the “what.”

Rob Hahn explores this idea in some depth, and cites Jeff Turner’s excellent recent work on the idea of home as an example of what the customer actually does, rather than what the presentation of data online has forced the customer to do.

And while Rob spins the idea off into a discussion about shifts in homeownership, based on a demographic exploration of the uncertain meaning of “family,” there’s an important aspect of this campaign that presents a potential tipping point for online real estate, and it’s an opportunity that will resonate with many real estate professionals.

Visualizing the DNA of what it feels like to own a home isn’t a new idea. It’s something we have all felt at some point in our lives. It’s memories, stories, families and communities. As Coldwell Banker show us, it’s pets, backyards and kids. But where it’s new is in how it reframes the customer discussion away from conversations about estimates, data and syndicated (often incorrect) information.

The backlash against syndicated content has been a very present discussion within the real estate marketing and brokerage community so far this year. With much back and forth between not only brokerages and the syndicators, but also in-fighting between the syndicators themselves, many are arguing for who is actually serving the customer best.

It’s clear to many that there’s a big difference between Web visitors and buyers, for example. It’s a fascinating thing to watch unfold, as the digital manifestation of our industry begins to mature and face the consequences of its recent actions. However, instead of chattering endlessly in the online echo chamber about who’s right and who’s wrong, Coldwell Banker has simply executed on an idea. Beautifully.

Instead of talking about doing something, Coldwell Banker has actually gone out and done something. It has taken a stand and presented a position that’s customer-centric. It has returned to a core idea that runs deep in the DNA of how the customer feels, and in many ways has shown how to truly counter those concerns about syndication. It’s an interesting reframing of the discussion away from information, and one that I believe is long overdue. Coldwell Banker’s answer? Stop talking, start doing. Share how the customer feels.

Many argue that the commoditization of listings information, for good or bad, has already happened, and happened aggressively and swiftly. However, the commoditization of emotive storytelling, the memories of homeownership, and the moments in people’s lives surrounding their place in the world is a much harder thing to disrupt at scale. This is the key strategy that counters the growing sense of disintermediation that agents and brokerages have experienced at the hands of syndicators evangelizing increased transparency.

Data has value, but data is nothing without insight, and the real value is in memories.

It’s not about Walk Scores. It’s about whom you walked with, whom you held hands with, and whom you stopped to kiss for the first time on that walk.

It’s not about where the nearest deli is. It’s about the friendly face that always smiles and says hello when you pop in for milk.

And it’s not about the endless regurgitation of recent home sales. It’s about the friends you grew up with moving away, and the exciting uncertainty of new neighbors.

What the campaign aspires to do is reframe the conversation away from search — something many brokerages and agents will welcome. It focuses on the end result, not the process, and as Rob Hahn accurately points out, it’s a visualization of the ideal of home — something that remains true for all people. As an old marketing phrase suggests, when people buy drills, it’s not because they need a drill. It’s because they need holes.

It’s the difference between searching listings (what syndicators do) and finding homes (what customers do). Too often the discussion has centered around overloading the customer with information, and in an era where that sense of digital overload has reached a critical turning point, what the customer is screaming for is insight and faith. Faith in the real estate industry’s services, faith in its people, and most of all, faith in being able to help them find a place where they’ll experience the most incredible memories they may ever have in their lives.

The idea and execution behind Coldwell Banker’s ads are flawless, and there’s no question that the ads are incredibly polished and beautifully produced. Tom Selleck’s voiceover provides a rich, warm narrative, made deeper by the fact that his own father was a Coldwell Banker agent. It’s being well-placed inside of shows such as “Modern Family” and other shows that resonate well with the spots’ target audience.

But how does an idea and execution like this exist outside of a television campaign?

The narrative of the spots frames the description of memories as an equation. It’s kisses multiplied by smiles, minus stress, divided by memories, for example. Coldwell Banker has taken the inspired step to capitalize on the recent popularity of online infographics, to deepen the campaign, begin to bring it online, and take the idea and premise of the spots in a new direction. The series of infographics are well-designed and provide an interesting cross-platform translation of the core idea.

As Coldwell Banker begins to roll out the campaign’s ideas across its interactive platforms, it will be interesting to see how the idea travels. How does it reframe a discussion about search? If it’s about finding, not searching, then how do you design a “find engine”?

It poses a fascinating set of problems for user experience teams, one I hope we see some beautiful real estate solutions for in the future. For example, Coldwell Banker’s site still essentially works like a search portal, but the potential to inject rich, deep, meaningful storytelling into the content, and also the user interface, is a huge opportunity.

An approach that holds a mirror up to the customer is, of course, the perfect vehicle for adapting the idea across social platforms, especially with the premise of shared memories around homes. It goes beyond the spots, and makes it more about personalized experiences that will resonate far beyond what the brokerage is executing on. It has the potential to create an idea so infectious that it might grow beyond Coldwell Banker’s control. I hope so.

These are exciting times for Coldwell Banker, and it will be interesting to see if this is approached as a campaign or something more reflective of a fundamental shift in brand direction for the company. It’s an idea that’s certainly applicable across many geographies, demographics and creative executions. In creating this campaign, Coldwell Banker is moving into a fertile, wide-open space of innovation, which is why this feels like such a welcome breath of fresh air in the stagnant world of data-driven online search. I wish the company luck.

Your move, syndication portals. Your move.

Further reading:

Heather Elias:The House That Built Me.”

Stuart Elliott:Coldwell Banker Sings Home Sweet Home.”

Mike Fischer:The Value of a Home.”

Rob Hahn:Something Positive for a Change: Coldwell Banker Hits a Home Run.”

David Marine: “2012 Coldwell Banker TV Campaign.”

David Marine:Here’s To Backyards.”

Jeff Turner:The House as Beloved: Sex and Real Estate.”

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