One of the most amazing business events of 2015 took place in Orlando, Florida in mid-October. That’s when over 2,500 of the most creative minds and imaginations in North American commerce gathered for the annual Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference. The meeting was alive with new ideas, old relationships and new challenges. It was a good decision to be there.
Even more interesting was the meeting’s similarity to that held by REALTORS® in San Diego. The marketing culture and the REALTOR® culture find themselves in very similar situations. They both find themselves being violently disrupted by forces far beyond their control and influence.
If you heard the story in San Diego, then you also heard it in Orlando and vice versa. The consumer is now in control. They have elected to reject and be combative with respect to the thousands of unwanted, intrusive, arrogant, and wildly expensive advertising messages consumers hurtled at them each day.
Consumers are communicating in a load and clear voice that they do not want to hear the voice of the meaningless, irrelevant message. They are using every opportunity to “ad block” or “ad skip” to block the din. Regardless of how advertisers attempt to mask their brand message with emotions, humor or even patriotism, consumers have developed an almost sixth sense about who is attempting to fool them. Consumers are rejecting these messages and are increasingly punishing advertisers who assume such a childlike consumer response. Like Delta Airliness childlike, if not overwhelmingly naïve, belief that by adding humor to the pre-takeoff message, passengers will somehow become transfixed into suffering through its robot-like wording without recalling that the aircraft is dirty, the staff is nasty and punitive and the flight is going to be 30 minutes late for reasons that everyone understands were the direct result of arrogant management.
The real estate industry is going through the same experience. Consumers are rejecting the legacy service value proposition in favor of alternative information and service options. High performance agents are now rejecting the tired messages of “head count” centric real estate and the decisions of too many brokerages to cling to the business models of the past.
Unlike the real estate industry that some suggest denies both knowledge of and responsibility for its woes, the advertising industry understands that (1) it is living in a crisis of its own creation and (2) unless it resolves these, its immediate future is clearly in peril. The advertising industry has conducted the credible research necessary, not to justify its mistaken processes, but rather to resolve its disruptive issues. With this information in hand, it has come to grips with the fact that its first rehabilitative step must be to go back to its customers and clients and explain that the marketing environment has evolved in a manner that will require an immediate and significantly “different approach” to public relations, communications and advertising.
This different approach must shift the focus from “brand” marketing (the senseless messages that fill pages, signs and commercials decals) to what the industry will refer to as “content” marketing.
Content marketing isn’t new. It has been around for a long time in the form of advertorials and infomercials. What is new is that the marketing industry’s longstanding favoritism that suggested glitzy brand marketing with its clever slogans, flashy graphics and cool music was the highest and most manipulative form of the art. Content marketing was traditionally perceived as a lower form of expression better suited for senior and health care marketing.
The rationale behind the content marketing movement is common to every industry and/or business sector that deals directly with the consumer. The primary function of traditional marketing was to stimulate consumers into doing something that they probably didn’t want to do but would do if properly medicated. Then came the major economic events of the first decade of this century and suddenly everything was different.
Today’s consumer has no time, patience or resources for food without nutritional value, information without factual foundation or services that aren’t. Today’s consumer is demanding absolute transparency and integrity. They have seen their incomes and financial options decline. They are witnessing an alarming decay in the quality and value of almost every product they use. They are watching with increased awareness as their overall lifestyle and quality of life continued to demonstrate a precarious slide. More than anything else, they understand that the only way to survive and prosper within these trends is to gain the highest possible level of knowledge, experience and insight possible.
These then are the three components of what consumers will now demand from the business sectors and entities from which they seek goods, services and information. This will become the standard by which marketing, advertising and those who cause it to be placed will be judged.
The essence of content marketing is the art of telling a relevant and compelling story. There is an immense difference between glib messages and meaningful stories and that difference goes to the very core of the consumer’s present concerns. What knowledge, experience and insight all have in common is transparency. Transparency, in turn, requires intimacy and some level of caring or passion that, in turn, requires some level of meaningful relationship that, in turn, requires accountability. Most businesses have for decades avoided this simple but telling cycle in favor of the glib brand message.
When advertisers such as real estate brokerages use brand messages rather than content to stimulate consumers, they are essentially saying that they are not interested in having a relationship. The boomer consumers missed this connection because they didn’t want to have a relationship either. The X generation was intimidated out of relationships. The boss generation today is the Millennials and they are demanding a relationship.
The key message to real estate firms and agents is “start telling your story.” If you don’t have a story that can be shared, it is because you have been doing deals not creating relationships. If this is your mantra, then your fate is sealed relative to the largest consumer generation in history.
Nothing in any culture throughout history has created more stories than humans and their housing challenges. These stories and those who tell them are intense, intimate, interesting, challenging and often inspiring. They surpass hot air balloons, retrievers, champagne-colored signs, magazine references, illusions of wealth and certainly agent centricity every day of the week. Start telling your stories today.