Your Last Action Speaks The Loudest

Your Last ActionIt is SUCH a great feeling isn’t it? When you complete a huge project successfully, or hit that major goal it feels like nothing can stop you – and there certainly is no reason to hold back on the celebration. In fact, celebrating big achievements properly can encourage us to tackle the next assignment with the same energy as the last. Time marches on though, and those who allow the celebration to last for weeks… months… years… (I knew someone who celebrated for decades!) may be brought back to the present with a rude awakening.

Please don’t confuse what I am trying to describe for mere “remember the good old days” talk. No, that is nostalgia and a different (if not equally unhelpful – in business) feeling altogether. Nostalgia wishes for different circumstances around a person, while what I am describing is someone wishing to be a different person to be the person they felt like during a past win, even though they are now facing a new and different challenge.

To avoid the trap described above, always remember that your last (most recent) action speaks the loudest. It is the most true depiction of who you are as a person, and more importantly how finely tuned your skill set is to meet current challenges.

I’ll prove it to you in just two words. Lance Armstrong. Ok, maybe that was a cheap shot. How about… General Petraeus. Ok, ok… imagine instead for me the BEST new home marketer in the world… in 1995. Lets say he stopped learning and interacting with the outside world until we dropped him in 2013. Would he still be the best marketer in the world? His skills have not kept up – he is no longer competitive. He’s never even heard the words “online lead” before. Yet, if you called him to a meeting he would likely reference his domination of the marketing world… back when news print was king. No one would care… and they shouldn’t! Past successes more than three years ago do not indicate any better chance of future success than someone who is unproven but well prepared. Yes, the world is changing that fast. The answers for the test back then will not work on today’s final exam.

What to do then? Focus on continually increasing your skills, and not on telling others how you’ve “done this before” or “did that once.” Always be analyzing the surrounding landscape and asking “do I have the skills to appropriately tackle this challenge should it arise?” Again, if you succeeded at the same task more than three years ago, you are likely to be blindsided without careful self evaluation.

True experts will focus on skills that will serve them well forever. Can you learn quickly? Can you teach yourself? Are you disciplined? Can you interact well with other people? Can you lead them? Motivate them? Motive yourself? Can you analyze? Strategize? Take action? Are you self aware? Those will serve you much better than becoming a MySpace expert (even if it seemed important in 2006), or an expert App developer (in 2012).

So today take some positive action, and don’t coast – because tomorrow your new boss won’t have anything else to judge you on. He certainly won’t care what you did 3+ years ago.

PS. Your resume is not a piece of paper in today’s world. It is the connections you’ve made, how you’ve treated them over time, and your last few actions. That’s it. (this goes for companies too! Mind your brand.)

“Traffic Units”: A Poem for New Home Salespeople

(Based on “Traffic Light” by Shel Silverstein – adapted by Kevin Oakley)

 

The traffic units did not come

So the sales rep stopped to wait

As competitors rolled and the wind blew cold

And the hour grew dark and late.

 

Signage, meetings, EMAIL!!

Specs and model homes,

(but no phones)

Prospects’ drive on by!

Won’t that traffic come?

 

But the days turned weeks, and the weeks turned months

And there in the model he sits

Twiddlin’ his thumbs till the traffic comes

His managers losing their wits

 

And if you walk by that model now,

You may think it’s rather strange

To see him there with a hopefully gaze

With the very same smile on his very same face

As he patiently wonders if he’ll be replaced

And waits for the traffic to come.

Case Study: Home Builder Billboard Part 2

Schumacher Homes BillboardThe message on this billboard is not a new one in any industry. It attempts to gain awareness by saying your product is the most affordable and deserves consideration. Let me start off by saying that it is a legitimate strategy – IF you are dedicated to it no matter the cost (pun not intended – but I’ll take it). Once you lead with low price it is more likely that your business will no longer be in business than to later successfully change that strategy.

There is always someone hungrier and less risk averse than your company who will offer something cheaper. I once had someone tell me, “Yeah, but no one will trust those cheaper guys. Look at the Chinese drywall scandal – you get what you pay for.” He didn’t see the irony in his own statement, but that is your prospects mindset too.

What about resale? What about foreclosures? Might they offer a cheaper price per square foot? If they do, then the sales person will have to backtrack and explain why value – not price – is what they really need to be thinking about. While I’m thinking about it – do people really purchase by square feet? As they walk through your model home can you see their lips move as they silently count off their steps? When I showed a photo of this billboard to a friend of mine he asked “Is he a home builder or a shoe cobbler?”

Sure – everyone starts out with a desired threshold number. 2,000 square feet for example. It’s a nice round number… why not? The reality is that it is just like a mortgage amount to them. Ask someone how they came up with their square footage threshold and they’ll tell you the same way they came up with their mortgage limit. “I don’t really know – it is what we’re comfortable with.” Let me suggest that when a prospect brings up price per square foot to you that you should only internalize it as this – they have been to a low price competitor already. They are only asking you to defend your value (not your price!). Remember that they are in front of you because they love your home (or else they would have just bought what was cheapest).

So that this post doesn’t go on forever let me list three quick downsides to this message in terms of buyer psychology:

1. Which Side of the Brain Are You On?

Focusing on price takes people to the analytical left-brain and away from their emotional right brain. You are trying to prime the sales pump – but you are more likely to stall out the engine. We all feel long before we think. A recent IPA database study of hundreds of advertising campaigns found that emotionally oriented ads generated twice as much profitability as hard-sell ones.

2. You Get What You…

Price and quality are linked incredibly close during the initial exploration and information gathering part of shopping. Everyone wants the highest quality – however they are not sure they can afford it (or if it would be wise even if they could). However in the United States today there are more people who will rule out the cheapest right from the beginning than will rule out the most expensive. Stories of recalls, safety notices, and worse have all caused the consumer – especially the female consumer – to look for safety in quality. Those who keep the lowest price in their consideration set will be more skeptical and potentially harder to convert. They will keep the more expensive options open longer when searching for a home because it is what they aspire to, and are hopeful they can find a way to make it affordable.

This brings up an interesting side topic of surprise. Let’s say your company was committed to being affordable, but you didn’t lead with it. Instead you started with how beautiful your homes are, national quality awards that you have won, and an innovative home design process that is fun and pain free? After all that, then you proved that you were also extremely affordable. How would your prospects be likely to react? Never discount the emotions of surprise and delight. Timing matters – a lot.

3. Is That All?

Leading with a low price leads consumers to believe you have nothing better to talk about, and without experiencing or researching your product – price has no meaning. I’ll prove it to you. Do you want to buy this really cool thing from me? It’s in my pocket and you can have it – and it’s only $50. The skeptics out there are saying “that’s not the same at all. At least in the billboard people know you’re talking about a house. I have no idea what is in your pocket.” Touché. Ok, I have a ring in my pocket and it’s only $50… no do you want it or not? I could have a 2ct. diamond ring or a my two year old’s costume ring but because you don’t know enough about it you can’t even begin to determine if you are getting more or less for your money.

The words I don’t care for in the message on this billboard are “price per square foot.” I do like the word “best,” but that alone wouldn’t make a very good… wait a minute.

Billboard Redesign

(If you missed the other post discussing the use of billboards as a medium and the creative design of this particular one, you can read about it here.)

 

Case Study: Home Builder Billboard Part 1

Schumacher Homes BillboardAs I was driving yesterday I had an opportunity to safely take this photo of a home builder’s billboard that caught my attention. It originally caught my attention because of how simple the ad was (a good thing!) and how prominent the website was. However what really surprised me was that it was done by Schumacher Homes.

I grew up in Ohio and worked for a home builder there for several years, and so I’ve been very aware of Schumacher Homes and their brand. They build a good home at a fair price on your own home site. Their advertising was always well executed and thoughtful. I even had a moment to meet Paul Schumacher and one or two of his executives at this year’s International Builders Show and they all were really sharp and engaging people. So before I begin my analysis let me say that the actual builder here is coincidental – and I wish Schumacher continued success!

I have actually seen similar billboards for Schumacher in several states recently (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia). I have a hunch they they may have partnered with either a national billboard company (a Lamar board is pictured here) or several regional ones to place one large buy of inventory at a greatly reduced price. I have purchased billboards at up to 90% off of their retail price using similar tactics. To be clear I’m not anti-billboard at all if they are purchased smartly. I think in the right locations for the right price they can be very effective. As a medium though, they can suck cash out of your budget quickly if done improperly – so be careful.

Let’s continue on to the creative design of the board. It is very clear and straightforward in its main message (best price per square foot) and its call to action (the website). The “on your lot” banner and energy star logo are nearly lost completely and probably should have been dropped or repositioned. The image I’m also hoping they have changed per market to appeal to those who are most likely to pass by, but I can’t confirm that is the case.

Lets talk for a moment about the large and clear website on the bottom. I’m becoming convinced that website names in certain forms of advertising are become less important every day based upon how people interact with the web. IF you have an SEO strategy and execute it properly then you don’t have to try and brand the website as much as your company. When the prospect sits down at the computer they will type your name into Google and find you quickly and easily. I tried typing in Schumacher Homes with about 15 different spellings and each one brought me right where I was trying to get to. Perhaps they were concerned that their traditional logo would be unreadable at higher speeds, I’m not sure. In any case how likely is it for a prospect to go to that website the moment they see it while driving 70 MPH down the freeway?  Or will they wait until a later moment in time and attempt to recall what they saw – most likely by typing it into a search engine. Something to think about – especially if you’re not confident in your SEO strategy.

The last item I want to discuss on the creative design is the selection of color. While it is true that black and white are a high contrast combination, they also tend to feel a bit lifeless and bland. If you’ve seen ads of theirs in other mediums, or you’ve visited their website then you know what a great job they generally do with color. In this case though, it subconsciously tells consumers that the way they achieve the best price is by potentially cutting quality. Which is a shame because using color would not have cost any more – however that is still what is inferred.

We’ve covered the medium and creative design, but there is much so more to discuss. Come back and we’ll look deeply at the message and the psychology behind it in part two.

What do YOU think about billboards as an advertising medium? What about their design for this one?

A Builder’s Online Strategy: Employ Your Home Owners

Get it straight from the horse's mouthFinal review – the 7 E’s are:

1. EARN Google’s trust
2. ENTICE people to visit your site
3. ENGAGE those “just browsing”
4. EMPHASIZE your differences
5. ENSURE you’re part of the short list
6. ELICIT a response – generate a lead and convert it
7. EMPLOY your happy home owners to earn more trust

You’ve done all the “hard” work of getting people to come to visit your website and convert to a lead, but it isn’t time to call it quits yet. You have one very important step left – capture your happy customer’s feelings on paper, in photos, or better yet – on video. They don’t have to be long. They don’t have to be professionally shot. They don’t even need to be 100% positive. (ie: stop making excuses)

Customer testimonials fall into a category that is known as the “wonderful and magical third party endorsement.” No, really. There is perhaps no more important or valuable asset for your marketing team to have on its side than a load of third party endorsements. Why? Because as Seth Godin says, and all consumers believe: all marketers are liars! (Don’t confuse this with the equally famous all husbands are clueless – although third party endorsements are key there too right? Just get the mother-in-law on your side and your viewpoint is sure to be accepted)

How to use them

We’ll talk later about best practices on how to capture testimonials, but assuming that you’ve got them – how should you use them on your website? The only thing I can tell you for certain is not to put them in only one place. This is true with all important content on your site – give the browser multiple points of entry on multiple pages. It’s too important to bury in one small corner of your website. Also keep in mind that many of the people who visit your site may never see the homepage because they will click on a link from Google that takes them deep within your site from the beginning.

Below are two examples from my builder’s website. The first one shows the homepage with two pieces of content highlighting customer testimonials – on the left is a video ready to play instantly, and on the right is a promotional button that will take the browser to the testimonial page. The second image shows how in a subtle and non-obtrusive way you can get this great content on every page of your site.

testimonial use on homepage testimonial use on interior page

The final piece of advice is to use this content beyond just on your own site. Think YouTube, email blasts (opt-in only of course!), Realtor presentations, and more.