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Refocus  Your Marketing Budget
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Our expert shows this broker how to track her marketing to get more buck for her bang.

Carol Stewart and her partners at Gasparilla Properties know it takes money to make money. Their six-figure marketing budget is pretty sizable for their small operation, and is spent mostly on print ads. They buy the inside cover of a local weekly called the Boca Beacon that also publishes annual island maps and visitors guides. Every month they run a full-page ad in a local magazine called Pirate Coast, and nine times a year they print their own listing magazine, Premium Properties. They also buy a page in the Boca Grande Chamber Visitors Guide every year, and they advertise in Who’s Who Luxury real estate magazine each quarter. To showcase their off-island listings on the Cape Haze Peninsula, they regularly bought a full-page page ad in the mainland newspaper (Sarasota Herald-Tribune), but recently stopped it.

“We’re updating our Web site, and I’m looking into SEOs [search engine optimization], although we come up on the first page of most search engines now,” says Stewart. “We’re on Trulia.com and a bunch of other portals, and we pay extra to have our listings enhanced on Realtor.com.”

About 3 percent of the company’s budget goes for Internet marketing, and about 6 percent is allocated for sponsorships, including chamber events, a local theater group, school, etc. 

Business is flourishing, and the company can support this marketing budget, but Stewart is concerned that “lots of money is going out” without a precise plan. “I wonder how much local advertising really does for us,” she says. “I know sellers like to see their property [promoted], but we’re not getting calls from a lot of what we do.” 

Bring in the Expert
Stewart consulted real estate marketing and lead-management guru Dan Gooder Richard, who assessed her company’s situation and made the following recommendations.

1. Cut Back, Not Out
First, Richard recommends that Stewart cut her print marketing by 40 percent. “Consider reducing your full-page ad in the Boca Beacon to 26 times a year instead of 52, which is costing you $1,000 weekly,” he says. “And publish six issues a year of Premium Properties instead of nine—or send it to fewer people if you don’t want to reduce the number of times you publish.”

Gasparilla’s print marketing should be used to drive prospects to the company’s Web site (gasparillaproperties.com), Richard says. “The Web is where you’re going to capture your leads. Apply the one-third, two-thirds rule to every printed piece and e-mail: The top third of every ad will promote the Web site, and the remainder will be for properties.”
 
2. Maximize Direct Mail, E-Mail
Thanks to its top ranking in the search engines, Gasparilla Properties is already in an ideal position to build relationships with long-distance prospects. Richard recommends that they reinvest 20 percent of the amount they cut from print advertising back into direct mail and Internet.

At least 70 percent of Gasparilla’s customers are repeats, referrals or former vacation rentals, and yet the company spends 90 percent of its marketing budget on unmet prospects. “There is an imbalance there,” says Richard. “Your money is working too hard, and your relationships aren’t working hard enough.”

To foster one-on-one relationships with existing customers and referral sources, Richard suggests ramping up direct mail and e-mail. Sixty-five percent of the company’s first-time buyers were vacation renters (through their rental side) before buying. “There’s a very clear pipeline that goes from vacation renter to first-time buyer to move-up seller/buyer/repeat customer. There’s a gold mine there.”

3. Make Your Site a Lead-Capture Machine
Next, Richard recommends that Gasparilla add more lead-capture forms to its Web site. “Create a minimum of 10 to 15 forms and specifically link them to your listing pages. For example, in the details section of a listing’s property description, you could have a form they could request to learn more about the property or schedule a visit. You could also tailor your reports to fit your market, with topics like ‘Things you need to know about buying Gasparilla Island real estate’ or ‘Renting on Gasparilla Island.’ Provide answers to prospects’ questions, like ‘How far is the airport?’ and ‘What are the beaches like?’”
Each report could be a PDF with an auto-responder, Richard says. “Become [your area’s] No. 1 online source for vacation rentals for both renters and owners by publishing market sales statistics
called ‘We know where island buyers come from’ or ‘We know who will buy your home; we just don’t know his name.’”

4. Ramp Up Your Web Presence
“Why not make sellers happy online, with a single property Web site for every listing for sale or rent?” asks Richard. “A company called Agency Logic [agencylogic.com] offers ‘PowerSites’ that are [each] dedicated to one listing, for as little as $35 each. ‘You could also syndicate all your listings through postlets [i.e., embedded objects] to Trulia.com, HGTV Frontdoor.com and Realtor.com and score more listing Web sites,” says Richard. [FAR members receive a free Web page on the Florida Living Network site. Go to fl.living.net.]

As more people receive a company’s new listing updates, the company will build a database of “influencers,” such as co-op brokers, referral brokers, former vacation renters, owner/landlords, international brokers, buyer prospects and so forth.

5. Track Results
Finally, Richard advises Gasparilla to build an ironclad source-of-business tracking system. “Keep records of what every marketing effort generates and the source of all sales,” he says. “Then, rebalance your efforts year after year to do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t.”

Having e-mail addresses that route to specific Outlook inboxes is an easy way to start tabulating results. “All e-mails from the Boca Beacon, for example, could come to boca@gasparillaproperties.com,” Richard says. “Direct-mail response could come to direct@gasparillaproperties.com. Use response offers and codes in all your ads, and require everyone on desk duty to ask callers how they heard about you.”  

Using Web analytics (i.e., traffic-measuring tools) is another way to learn how marketing measures up. “Google Analytics (google.com) and Hitbox (hitbox.com) are two options,” Richard says. 

This column provides advice from industry experts concerning marketing, technology and business issues. It won the Silver Award in the 2008 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.