How to Build your Agency Brand: Go Social and Local

It’s common knowledge that millennials have become the biggest and most influential market as home buyers and sellers.  The real unanswered question for many is what does this mean for building business, relationships, and the thing driving both – the agent brand?

Millennials exhibit new technology behaviors that impact the home search and buying process. So not only do agents need to meet the Millennial market where they are, they also need to be prepared to build their brand and relationships with their millennial clients online, using new technology and social tools at their disposal.  The challenge is understanding how to use these tools effectively.  

The Millennial Affinity for Technology Cannot Be Ignored

According to the American Community and American Housing surveys, 66 million millennials in the U.S. currently represent 37% of the total national home buying market, making this generation the most significant home-buying demographic. 

Digital processes are taking over the real estate market, especially within this population segment.  The National Association of Realtors (NAR) cites that 99% of millennials search online to get general-purpose information about the housing market and home buying.  Over half of millennials (59%) said they would be at least somewhat confident making an offer on a home they toured virtually. Additionally, 39% reported they would be comfortable buying a home online. 

Why is this important? Quite simply, millennials approach homebuying differently than the baby boomer generation. Their preference for technology and a virtual experience redirects how they choose and interact with real estate agents.  Knowing this, as an agent, begs the question:  What can agents do to get the attention of the millennial market, keep it, and build their brand in a space where it will be seen?

Lead Generation Today Is Failing Agents (and their clients)

The lead generation methods of today are outdated. From finding leads, engaging in that initial fact-finding conversations, keeping those leads, and finally converting them, many agents rely on large lead generation companies such as Zillow and Redfin. These large lead generation companies offer buyers and sellers a standardized way to shop for every available house in the market. While technology has opened the gates for lead generation quantity, quality has suffered.  The perceived value of agent service and differentiation has suffered as well.  For instance,  since clients don’t need to register as a buyer, agents can never be sure where they are in the buying process, what features of their home list appeal the most to them, and what they can live without. In addition, as these potential buyers enter their home search parameters, they are given a very general list of potential houses in the area and agent references. This results in increased lead numbers being sent out to local agents but lacking engagement and conversion.  A typical conversion rate for Zillow and Redfin leads hovers around 4%. 

Lead Generation Tomorrow 

The key to staying relevant today and in the near future is through innovative technology and building a brand voice across social media platforms. As Millennials and even Generation Z age, their expectations for their home buying experience differ significantly from past generations. Their use of tech is reshaping the real estate industry, and staying relevant on the digital scene is mandatory.  Unfortunately, these new technologies are underutilized by most agents simply due to a lack of awareness or understanding of how they can apply them to their fullest.  

How can you use technology to ensure that millennials in your area work with you? Through: 

Building know, like, and trust factors via social channels, 

Creating a digital footprint in your local community, and

Personalized home search tools and targeting tools.

Social media can be daunting, and while many agents have profiles set up on various platforms, simply posting lead-gen ads with listing images isn’t going to cut it any longer. Think of social media as building your local network, or even your local community, on a digital platform. Your social profile should be an active area where you consistently post different forms of content to become a trusted authority in your local area and build on your know, like, and trust factor. How can you do this? Think of your social channels as a way to educate, inspire, inform and communicate with current and prospective clients. Your social platforms are also a way to build and hone your brand image, as often, this will be your market’s initial impression of your business.  

Our top tips for building know, like and trust within the social space are below:

Pick 1, 2, or 3 platforms to focus on. Contrary to popular belief, agents don’t need to be on every platform. Concentrating on just a few platforms allows you to keep your posting consistent and meaningful.

Create a content plan and calendar to maintain a consistent posting schedule that creates value for your followers. You can create categories such as:

Current Listings and Just Sold Homes

Market reports in your local area

Restaurant reviews (tagging the restaurant to increase your reach)

Local Business Shout-outs (tagging the local business to increase your reach)

Local happenings or events

Blogs that you create 

Informative posts such as:

What to expect as a first-time homebuyer

Top questions to ask your prospective agent

What does a buyer’s/seller’s market mean

Top tips to get your home ready to list

ROI on home renovations

The key is to post valuable content consistently while directing your followers to call, email, or contact you for questions or a consultation. 

Become a trusted voice in your community, offering a fair opinion on local restaurants, events, businesses, new neighborhoods, services, etc. 

Real estate marketing has not caught up with opportunities created by AI technology, especially in home search and targeting.   Innovative home search products will keep agents top of mind with the millennial market, personalize the home buying experience for buyers and sellers, and enable agents to create and develop a digital relationship with prospective clients.  AI can track behaviors and prioritize their search by design, home features, and even room preferences in the local markets they are searching.  Agents can personalize their communications using the tips mentioned above.  Even more sophisticated automated intelligence can combine local search parameters with clients’ behaviors and interests for social media targeting that drives more effective ad campaigns.

Purlin is a pioneer in this area

These search and targeting tools elevate the client experience, enhancing know,  like, and trust factors.  They also spread the social footprint, as engaged clients share boards of their favorite homes, features, and rooms while shopping and recommend agents when a great home match is made. 

The Return to Micro and Personal

Real estate is undergoing a massive transformation, and agents feel an urgency to be at the forefront of this change.  The reality and irony is that the most effective use of new technology means returning to old-fashioned values of getting to know clients personally and building brands in local markets by leveraging existing local resources.  Social media is simply a delivery mechanism.  Applying a local social media approach will go a long way to satisfying the needs and expectations of the in-market Millennials.  It also provides a direct connection from tech tools to the human touch that has been waning in the real estate industry.  

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MACHINE TRUST: The secret reason why AI will reinvent Real Estate

Opinions may differ on the ultimate impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on humankind, but there is little doubting that it will have a significant affect on real estate. Some may see it as part of the quiet but insidious take over by the Machines. First it was our music. Then our movies. Then what we buy, eat and drive. It’s over when they take control of our homes because we’ll be literally living in a Hollywood cliché of an AI apocalypse …  

A less dark scenario is that AI will be the thing that saves the real estate industry. Some companies already use AI as a financial vehicle to arbitrage housing inventory. Others are pursuing AI for process automation, to make the transaction cheaper or agent better or CRM more effective. But despite real estate tech advancement, 2/3 of today’s homebuyers report buyer’s remorse. That’s where the highest and best use of AI comes in:  finding the right home.  Ironically, it’s the Machines, through intelligent personalization, that will heal the home buying process by restoring to the home buying process a fundamentally human value: trust.   

Let’s step back. The below-scribbled chart, the inspiration for this piece, describes the inverse relationship of trust and remorse in the real estate industry, overlaid on our relationship with data over time.  It frames how we got here and where we could go.  Despite its rough and humble appearance, this chart is not water-cooler whimsy, but a working theory based on real data (much of it from National Association of Realtors surveys, 2015-2000). 

Trust, Remorse and our relationship with Data

Prior to and through the Data Access Era (which began with the advent of the WWW), trust in the real estate space was still placed in the real estate agent.  He or she proffered access to a proprietary database, knowledge of a confounding process and wisdom about neighborhoods and listings.  The agent would show the best options to the buyer who would ultimately be satisfied with picking the best of those options.  Trust was high, remorse low.  

When Zillow cracked open the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in mid-2000s, granting the world access to every listing, we entered the Data Transparency Era.  The old script was flipped, “the customer doesn’t know what they want, until you show them,” became, “the more you show the customer, the more likely they’ll know what they want.” More listings, more pictures, and more agents meant more control, a better experience, and a better home.  That’s still the lure, and over 90% of homebuyers use online search services like Zillow.  Others like Redfin have joined the conversation with promises of using technology to make the process cheaper and easier. Despite these promises and market penetration of these companies, buyer’s remorse is reaching new heights.  Trust is diving. What gives?  

Too much too soon

Transparency solutions have eroded the agent’s core value to consumers, which is still trust. Zillow’s old-school disintermediation model turned agent selection into referral bidding. The typical brokerage business model changed to one built on high lead volume and low closure rates. The agent role was commoditized, diminishing the relationship, experience and service levels provided to buyers.  

Buyers want their agents to “help find the right home to purchase,” four times (yes, 4x) as much as they want help with price negotiations or process.  This stat flies in the face of two decades of real estate marketing and tech innovation. Agents are now actually unsuccessful at meeting their clients’ top need, failing to find their homes over 2/3 of the time. Interestingly, when choosing an agent homebuyers care most about trust, five times (5x) whether the agent uses the latest technology. So it’s safe to say that over 2/3 of the time, none of the new fangled tech matters. Trust has been betrayed.  

The Transparency Era has left buyers on their own sorting through countless poorly-suited listings and images, at the mercy of the Paradox of Choice (see “Homebuyers have a lot of choices and that’s not a good thing”).  Technology’s gift: an average of 20 gigabytes of data and images, and mind-numbing trade-off analyses. Over 80% of buyers report having to compromise. Trust in the process is lost.

There’s no data like your own

The new Data Intelligence Era offers hope by way of trust through intelligent personalization. We’ve begun to trust AI in many areas of our daily lives implicitly. An AI’s recommendations are more than just convenient, they are comforting on another level because they allow us to let go of decision-making anxiety and the accompanying self-doubt that comes with too many options. Today’s convergence is not around a device or platform, but the individual. The perception, however real, that something was made or found for us specifically is unavoidably powerful. In fact, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase a brand if it’s personalized (Epsilon report, 2018).

What the smartest AI would do to find the “right” home

It would get to know everything about the home buyer first. Start with what styles and floor plans and furnishings they like and what features, windows, and neighborhoods catch their attention. Track of their interactions with images, uploaded photos and listings.  Learn where they are in life and expect from their lifestyle, where they like to spend time, where they need to be, and what they like to do. Use machine learning to constantly fine tune the relationship and make it stronger. Take all of memories from this shared experience and perform a ridiculous multivariate trade-off analysis that considers both needs and preferences. The smartest AI real estate solution would be the ultimate antidote to too many, ill-fitting, options, and try its hardest to prevent discontent. The buyer, having invested themselves at every interval will have no choice but to trust the end results — they would be the best reflection who the buyer is.

The way AI will re-invent the real estate industry not by magically cracking the code and fixing an antiquated and anxiety-ridden process. It will be by aligning technology’s priorities with those of the buyer, and first and foremost with a focus on finding the best possible home for the individual buyer. It will do this treating the process as a relationship rather than the transaction.

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