FloorPop FloorPop (Flôr-pop) n. 1. The homebuyer who visits a Builder's community and writes a contract for sale the same day. 2. The sound made by a salesperson clicking their heels high in the air and returning to the floor after a prospect signs a contract the day they first meet.
Marketing Best Practices for Homebuilders, November 1, 2006 Vol. 7, Issue 8

Selling lifestyle - When the structure is secondary

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Selling lifestyle - When the structure is secondary

Is lifestyle the rage or is it a buzzword? According to Phyliss DeWitt of DeWitt Marketing, the Dallas-based marketing firm for several successful Huffine's master planned communities, it's what they [consumers] are buying. It used to be, and still is for many builders, that if you bought decent land and built an fair house, people would buy it. It a hot market, this has always been true. In a normal market, consumer expectations are higher.

Most homebuyers are buying much more than sticks and bricks. Yet when you visit most homebuilder websites, you see little more than floorplans and elevations. The community level content is a paragraph, a few bullet points, and maybe a few photos. The photos are often stock photos that tell you nothing about the specific community or its lifestyle.

If you want to stay on the consumer's short list, it's time to upgrade the lifestyle components of your website. Your site has to show the lifestyle you want to receive value for. In some market segments (e.g., active adult), the house is the consumer's third or forth priority. So, how do you demonstrate lifestyle online?

  1. Compelling photography - The St. Joe Company has some of the most compelling new home photography I have seen online (see Artisan Park) http://www.joe.com/web/TownsAndHomes/artisanpark. "We believe in the power of pictures." Says Jerry Ray, Senior Vice President for the St. Joe Company. To Ray, the key is bringing the location into focus, "You have to give people a sense of place, not a sense of house." Keep in mind, Ray and the St. Joe Company has about 800,000 acres mostly in North Florida to bring forward. Ray believes production builders can do much the same thing in any community. "How will they live in these places? It [the source of your pictures] may be assets that you can borrow. There are probably amenities all around that if you pool them together, you can communicate a package of amenities that call out to people." For example, if a major park or attraction is nearby, bring attention to it. When Ray speaks of bringing a community into focus, he is not talking about zooming in, rather, he is talking about zooming out. According to Ray, "The further you can zoom it out, the better." What's around your community that completes the picture?
  2. Active content - this includes newsletter materials you post online and blogs that you may keep about a community. I am a believer in using blogs (see Homebuilders and Blogs) to enhance your marketing. St. Joe also believes in this type of active content, "We call it town talk." Says Ray. For many builders it can be newsletter content you are already producing for a community. For others, a blog can be an easy, inexpensive, and effective means of communicating what it is like to live in your community.
  3. Lifestyle videos - to me nothing demonstrates lifestyle more effectively than video. You can show people what it might be like to live in your community. I spoke with DeWitt because of her extensive and effective use of video to market Huffine's Providence and Savannah communities. I wanted to know how she decided to use this medium. As DeWitt see it, "Our product is a visual medium. People buy what they see. They are buying the entry monument, the pool, the clubhouse, the parks, the streetscape, the schools. It's a visual medium. So, we use video to sell our prospects on the overall community. How else could they see it?"

    Still photos can be extremely effective for planting an ideal vision, but some things are too massive to capture adequately in a photo or two. "It can't capture a water park in its entirety. It can't capture a clubhouse. It can't capture people using them. It becomes real when they [consumers] can see someone living there and using it." Says DeWitt.

    The big difference to me when I look at great photography vs. great video is that photography can plant a vision. Video gives you the opportunity to show people, in a very authentic and sincere way, how the community would be lived by them. "When you see a kid go down a slide and scream, now there is an emotional tug at your heart." Says DeWitt. She sees it as a process of connective people to a community, "People are desperate for a connection. They are looking for a place that says they are home. This is where I live and there are people like me here that I can be friends with."

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Streaming Video: Viewers are in Control - Give Them Exactly What They Need

Don't make the mistake of confusing streaming website video with television. The two are as different as, well, baseball and softball. On the surface things may look similar, but in reality they are very different games, played at different speeds on different fields using different tools. What separates streaming website video from television is who has the control of the content and how they use it.

Simply put, television is passive where viewers watch programming and accept the advertising that is interspersed throughout the program. Viewers have no control over the content or the advertising. Advertisers are betting that most of us will stay on the couch and watch the 4-6 minutes of commercials. The manner in which people watch TV is also different than the Internet. People watch TV in a comparatively public environment (living room, kitchen, bar) and watch television for entertainment purposes and accept the commercials as part of the bargain.

Internet streaming video different because Internet viewers are active and motivated. With an infinite number of Internet web addresses, Internet video viewers must first actively search and locate the video content. In the internet world, especially in product research endeavors such as home buying, or cars, there are no accidental Internet video viewers. The consumer may take several clicks to get to the content and is total control of their viewing. The balance of power shifts from the content provider to the content consumer.

Don't Bring a Baseball to a Softball Game

In a practical sense this means that Internet video consumers get to choose their advertisers and that's the ultimate control. When an Internet viewer goes to a BMW, pharmaceutical or homebuilder website they're not going for the entertainment content of the streaming video. They're going to the website for the information in the video because they what to use it to make a decision. The mistake that most companies make is that they don't acknowledge the different set of expectations and behaviors that Internet viewers have that distinguish them from television watchers.

More often than not, the videos on websites are just smaller, grainer versions of the same stuff broadcast on television, or a moving version of their latest print ad. That's why it doesn't work. Too much camera motion may be entertaining on television, but it's distracting over the web. Fine lined text and flashy graphics may enhance TV viewer excitement, but on the web they take up precious viewer time and often look pixilated and distracting. Web viewers who are looking at product-based video don't want to be entertained as much as they need to be informed. If the video attempts to entertain them instead of inform them, a company actually runs the risk of alienating a potential customer. It's like bringing a baseball to a softball game. Sure, you can play, but it's not really baseball and it's not really softball and the game doesn't count in the official standings.

Who's Watching Streaming Video?

In order to meet a web visitor's video expectations, we need to understand something about their habits. Currently, 60% of Internet users have broadband connections. A recent Online Publishers Association study indicated that the median age of online video viewers was a not so young 40, with 28 percent being 50 plus years of age and mostly male who view some type of video content containing information such as news and sports. Nearly 70% of online video viewers are upper to middle class. Advertisers have responded to these numbers by spending 251 million in streaming video marketing last year and increasing that to 344 million in 2006 and nearly one billion dollars by 2010. The reason that they are spending so much money on the medium is because it works. Video viewers are responsive to ads.

Online video viewers have longer attention spans than was originally thought, watching nearly 22 seconds of video per online video ad. Online video viewers are motivated, action oriented product researchers who expect to be presented with enough information to make a decision in the first 20-22 seconds of a streaming video. Contrast this with the above profile of a television viewer and the differences between internet video and television really emerges.

Opportunity for Builders

If builders understand how to properly create video for the web, they are tapping into a huge growth opportunity. To do this they must follow some critical steps.

  1. Builders need to create video specifically optimized for the web. Web video should look and feel different from television. Complex graphics, intricate music beds and complex, fast moving camera work, elaborate transitions between shots and severe contrasting images may work great on television but are often distracting on the web. People giving interviews or testimonials must be shot in head and shoulders positing to get a clear view of facial expressions. Cameramen should always use a tripod. Unsteady artsy camera work is great for music videos and Law and Order on TV, but it doesn't translate well on the web.
  2. Builders need to create video information specifically optimized for the web viewer. Internet video watchers are going to give you just under 22 seconds to make your pitch. You have to decide what you want them to do and everything in those first 20 seconds needs to be directed towards that goal. Often the real goal of an Internet video is to get the viewer to initiate some type of contact. The video should quickly indicate what you'd like the viewer to do, contain the information and instructions on how to do it and quickly indicate the benefits of the action.
  3. The video player must facilitate the action you'd like the viewer to take. The player must incorporate more than standard "player buttons" such as pause, play and stop. Effective video player that meet the needs of the Internet video viewer will allow easy and quick contact points such as links to the community page, request information, and others that encourage contact between the viewer and the builder.

Internet video viewers are motivated. They want their information and they want it now. If builders make the mistake of just re-airing television or print ads on the Internet they will miss the next exciting growth opportunity in the industry because they are not addressing the needs of their prospective customers. Those that create content specific web based streaming video will have a distinct competitive advantage.

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


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