The world’s most broken marketing process

Here’s my vote for the most clueless group of marketers in the world: real estate agents.I’ve had the misfortune of buying and selling a number of homes in the past five years and have also done some consulting/research for local real estate professionals, so I’ve received a big dose of some of the dumbest marketing practices I have ever seen.

Marketing is all about the consumer. Realtors make it all about themselves. What other industry routinely plasters their faces on business cards, billboards and print advertising to sell a product? This is like marketing a new Internet service by publicizing the computer. Instead of ads and messages that promote truly helpful services and information, realtors proclaim “I’m a “million dollar seller” or “who’s who in Paducah real estate for 2005.” Is this going to sell a home? Serve a customer? WHO CARES?

Where are most of their ad dollars spent? Print. Where are most customers? Internet. In fact, 90 percent of all real estate searches begin there. One local real estate conglomerate just started a new full-color glossy magazine for home sales. What marketing genius is making these decisions?

And social media? Blank stares.

Here’s another marketing anomaly. The open house. Who comes to an open house? Nosey people who have nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon and people scouting for a robbery. Success rate of this activity? Near zero. One realtor said in 10 years she had never sold a home through an open house.

Of course there are exceptions, but here is the marketing strategy of most realtors: “Do what everybody else is doing — which is what has always been done. And then collect a 6 percent commission.

The process of enlisting an agent, dealing with a lender and closing on a home is enveloped by mountains of paperwork and waste. Money is thrown at inspectors, appraisers and a host of other paper pushers who have no incentive to provide true value or improve their services. This is an enormous business opportunity for an enterprising person. Here’s a free “new real estate” business plan:

>> Re-focus marketing efforts on differentiated products and services that matter to people.
>> Provide value so extraordinary that nobody would even think about trying to sell their home themselves.
>> Use technology to drastically reduce overhead and non-value-adding costs to be able to make a profit on commissions of 1% or less.
>> Put 90% of the marketing effort into Internet and social media marketing, further reducing costs and improving service.
>> Re-create the role of realtors for the digital age by hiring people with business degrees, a familiarity with technology and marketing acumen.
>> Align yourself with partners, banks, appraisers, etc. who are willing to share in your vision of driving new value through technological efficiency and passing savings on to the consumer.

Now wouldn’t you sell your home through a company like that?

Illustration: Daniel Kurtzman

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  • Sheldon (Marketing Consultant, Tauranga NZ)

    By gum, that is so true. It's all print print print with them. Madness!

  • Laura

    I do think this problem is a lot worse in the US than it is here. But yes is a really strange approach they seem to take for selling – but sales of property is like no other business.

  • Lil Miss

    This is so true. I do know some realtors using Twitter but not very well. All about sell, sell, sell.

  • The Big Orange Press} Knoxville TN Real Estate Broker

    Mark GREAT post!! So true I cut print out of my marketing plan 10 months ago. I have moved everything over to promoting my sites on the web. I have found seller love the fresh approach to marketing their homes.


    @Orange — Nice blog/site We should meet to compare notes some time.

  • David Pylyp

    I could not agree with you more.
    I have top google keyword ranking sites and none are based on searching my name.

    Realtors need to provide the information people are seeking for where they wish to buy or sell, not with whom they will list.

    This is a real paradox for agents who need to get "found" and be recognized.

    It has taken me years to develop the web content to generically rank within those keywords I want.

    I cannot stress the importance of embracing youtube video's and Vblogging (embed) into the blog.

    I would be please to compare notes with you anytime.

    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto

  • The Writers For Hire

    Oh my.. you hit on one of my soap boxes: Real estate marketing!

    Why are real estate agents SO against putting the prices on the houses? I mean, it just irritates me to no end, when I look at those real estate magazines and there are NO prices. What is up with that?

    As a consumer, I want to be able to narrow my search to something within my price range. I don't want to be calling 50 bazillion houses to get a bizzillion sales pitches I can't afford.

    Most real estate agents do the same thing on their websites and on their front-of-home fliers: no prices. I've talked to several of them before, and they all tell me "Well they tell us in the seminars that we aren't supposed to tell people the price, because a lot of people can afford more home than they think they can — so we just need to get them into the home, so we can show them how wonderful it is." Seriously?

    I mean is it just me, or is this ridiculous? I can't tell you how many house ads I haven't called because there was no price.

    The other thing that drives me nuts is realtor websites…but that's a whole other soap box. What's up with all realtors being sold on these "marketing package template plug-in do-it-yourself recycled-content put-a-weather-ticker-up-in-the-right-hand-corner" websites — they're awful!

  • Jen McClurg Roth

    Mark – very well said. As you know, we believe there is an important paradigm shift in the near term for the folks in real estate that want to stay there.

    All the new tools in the world won't help agents if they do not adjust their core understanding of their value proposition and learn to offer what clients really want.

    I'll be sharing this great article with all my real estate subscribers at, and anyone else that will listen!

  • Once again, @Mark, you’ve placed your finger squarely on the marketing effort’s pulse. Incredible that an industry that is likely one of the richest is only now moving bravely into the 1980’s. Well said.

  • Mark

    Thanks Greg!

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  • Rob

    great post. I’ve been saying the same things for a couple of years. Realtors are too provincial and defensive in their approach. And you’re so right about the glamour shots on their cards. I wrote about real estate for five years for daily newspaper, so I met all the big producers. Rarely did I meet a realtor who even understood how a house works (in any detail). Had a couple realtors insist on having their dog included in the picture that accompanied my article. One caption said: “I should be your Realtor because I’m doggone good!”

  • Mark

    @Rob You’ve got me laughing! Thanks so much for commenting!

  • James91007-eforms

    So Mark, can you help me?

  • I can try! : )

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