FloorPop  - Interactive Marketing Best Practices, April 6, 2005

Vol. 5, Issue 1: Copyright (C) 2005 Blair Kuhnen.  All rights reserved.

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Permission Marketing Re-mix: I re-read this article the other day. It's worth a first read or re-read in your quest for marketing results without trying too hard.

Drive Leads with Permission Marketing - 8 ways to drive more leads from your current website visitor traffic.

A New Twist in Mapping for Homebuilders

Maps are nothing new for homebuilders. Consumers make home buying decisions primarily based on location, product and price. So, maps are a natural. However, dynamic mapping is less common among homebuilders. With dynamic mapping, websites can integrate 3rd party data (e.g. points of interest) and interact with consumers. Leading the way in dynamic mapping was Builder Homesite (BHI) and their NewHomesource website (http://www.newhomesource.com).

BHI uses MapQuest to provide dynamic mapping positioning thousands of communities found on their website. According to Tim Costello, CEO for BuilderHomesite, "We pursued dynamic mapping in response consumer behaviors and desires that we uncovered through user research. Many web based home shoppers think in spatial and geographic terms as opposed to the traditional query/search format. They inherently know the layout of the metropolitan area and they want to "see" what is available and where it is located in a single encapsulated view. Mapping satisfies this need." Manually updating graphic files was not an option, "With over 7,500 communities throughout the U.S., manually updating static artwork was not a sustainable business process," said Costello.

Ask consumers about their primary criteria for choosing a home and they are likely to tell you "location, product, and price." Nearly all builders provide some sense of all three on their websites. Price is the easiest to communicate, though sites may be out of date. Product can look good with just a small investment in graphics and layouts. However, location is often problematic. Maps are often out of date and drive maps not available. Dynamic mapping applications can help fix both issues.

One of the first builders to take the leap into dynamic mapping is Pulte Homes. I spoke with Melissa Davis, Pulte's National E-Commerce Manager, who implemented dynamic maps last month. "We want to be seen as forerunners when it comes to Web technologies." And they are taking it up a notch. I expect to see their implementation improve over time, but it's worth looking at now (http://www.pulte.com).

Much like BHI, Pulte manages many communities. "We wanted to get it [map updates] out of the hands of our graphics folks to make it as real-time as possible." said Davis. Several factors drove the decision to implement dynamic mapping. While timely changes were very important, Pulte also needed to work within the confines of the space available in layouts. They were simply running out of space in several major markets.

A Few Mapping Guidelines

You need a good metro area map to display the location of communities in each of your metro areas and information tables can be a great benefit for consumers. If you have many communities, you may want to break up your maps into consumer friendly logical submarkets as D.R. Horton (http://dfw.drhorton.com) does in Dallas. Among the leading 10 builders in the U.S., 9 use metro area maps to display community locations and most support their maps with information tables depicting product and price information. With one page you can give consumers a good sense of location, product and price.

Do you need database-driven, dynamic maps? That's a choice you will have to make on your own. A good sign it's worth looking into is you have trouble keeping the information current. According to Davis, "We thought this would be the best solution for our needs. Because of the large number of communities being added and deleted, we needed it to be dynamic." Once you determine geo-codes (the latitude and longitude for a location) for your communities a range of new options become available for integration and proximity searching.

What it Takes

Dynamic mapping in no small endeavor. While you may be able to license a mapping engine and geo-coder for $10,000, the human effort is more substantial. It took Pulte 4 or 5 man-months of effort stretched over about 8 months to implement their solution. It seems to be a smart direction for a large builder, but it must be a builder with scale needs or those with a vision to take it farther than the simple plotting of locations on a map.

The Future

We still have a long way to go. Proximity searching has been a mainstay in retail websites for years, yet few builders let consumers find communities close to their points of interest. From a consumer experience standpoint, builders will want to go in this direction when the combination of competitive pressure, economics, and product offerings become more widely available.

Is it the future? "We have seen a trend toward proving information to consumers in a more visual or native/natural form of communication. Mapping along with rich media are two such resulting outcomes. I expect this trend to continue and new technologies will play a role in satisfying these needs." Said Costello.

Where to Learn More

There are a number of vendors with retail products. Alternatively, you could work with Builder Homesite or a knowledgeable system integrator to get your approach up and running. If you would like to discuss your plans, feel free to contact me directly at the number below. Here is a sampling of vendors available to builders:

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    FloorPop is published on the first Wednesday of each month. We welcome your comments, thoughts, and questions. Please write or call anytime. kuhnen@earthlink.net.

    Blair Kuhnen is the publisher of FloorPop and can be reached at 817-658-7698 or via email at kuhnen@earthlink.net.