Building a ‘Better’ Real Estate Brand23 Nov, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response
Sherry Chris and Camilla Sullivan use direct response methods to launch Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate to the top of the market.
Realogy and Meredith struck a deal allowing Realogy to license the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand name for 50 years, with a renewal option for another 50 years. “On October 8, 2007, we announced the launch of the brand, “ Chris says. “However, legally, we couldn’t use the trademark until July 2008. We had nine months to build the value proposition, create all the marketing tools — including a consumer-facing Web site — license ourselves in each state and 40 nations, and find franchisees. It was a lot of work in short time — especially considering this was turning into the worst market in the history of real estate.”
Though the building company had to be “very restrained in marketing for that nine-month period,” according to Chris, it did use social media to begin a bit of a guerilla campaign. “One vehicle we uncovered was through social media and social networking,” she says. “We launched an unbranded corporate blog that talked about the industry and its value propositions. It was then that we became very involved in social media, really.”
Chris’ blogging efforts garnered her a “Notable Blogger” honor in the 2008 Inman’s Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers listing. Inman’s also named Chris one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders and 100 Most Influential Women in Real Estate Leadership in the same year.
Creativity in the real estate market is nothing new to Chris. She’s worked in the business for nearly 30 years, including significant senior management positions in sales, marketing, new technologies and franchise management. She most recently served as chief operations officer for Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC.
The native Canadian (who still resides in Toronto, and commutes to New Jersey on a weekly basis) also spent 16 years with Royal LePage and had stints with Real Living (Ohio) and Prudential CA/NV/TX Realty. That experience told her that she needed a very strong marketing leader to compete in the space.
Enter Sullivan, who joined the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate cause as a consultant in early 2008. “I had no real estate experience,” she says. “I was the first person working on marketing for the brand, and we had a handful of others join after Sherry jumped to the brand.”
While Sullivan wasn’t familiar with the real estate space, the native Australian had held a number of high profile marketing jobs with Fortune 500 companies during the previous 15 years, including BearingPoint, EDS, Toshiba and Compaq. As a consultant, Sullivan oversaw the initial launch of the brand, which occurred on July 23, 2008, before joining the company full time. She says, “I’m a card-carrying member of the team, handling all marketing and communications in both the B-to-B and B-to-C spaces.”
DR Fills Varied Needs
The fact that Sullivan has to market in both of those spaces is what makes her role at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate unique in its use of direct response concepts. To build a brand that, according to a statement from Chris at the time of its launch, would “enable brokers and sales associates to deliver a caliber of service to the customers expected under the Better Homes and Gardens name,” Sullivan has had to leverage all of her marketing acumen.
“DR’s most significant role is in the way we’ve built our proprietary tool that accesses Meredith’s subscriber database, allowing brokers/agents to do significant DR marketing to consumers,” Sullivan says. “A pilot program is currently running and working. It encapsulated the best of breed in terms of data mining and segmentation, allowing for matching of buyers and sellers.”
Meredith has more than 85 million subscribers to its various properties, including Better Homes and Gardens, which makes the tool extremely powerful for agents working with the real estate brand. “Sophisticated DR marketing is crucial to our business,” Sullivan says. “Handing a turnkey solution to brokers to access this breadth of people is a key to our growth.”
Sullivan calls the database solution “a first in the industry.” Testing closed in the summer and the tool is now available to all 75 offices and 2,300 agents in 10 states. At the same time, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate launched a second version of its consumer- and broker-facing Web site this past summer, which incorporates an extension of the company’s use of social media DR marketing.
“We are using social media in the B-to-B space,” Sullivan says. “Facebook and Twitter are great direct response channels, not only to potential buyers and decision makers, but also to the agencies we want to work with. Our Facebook and Twitter bases are built. Sherry’s efforts through these spaces had drawn so much attention that upon the launch of the new Web site, we received hundreds of responses from the industry.”
Chris adds, “We have direct access to thousands of people through social media. With our Web re-launch, in the old world, we’d use E-mails, direct mail pieces to prospects and people who weren’t interested, and so on. With social media, the people interested in you are connected with you. It offers incredible ease of use and is a huge time saver to connect with truly interested targets.”