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.


A Builder’s Online Strategy: Emphasize Your Differences

Emphasize Your Differences - Home Builder Web Strategy

Quick 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

So now that a customer is on your site and devouring your relevant and helpful content, what bigger picture message are you sending them? When you follow up later (you’re going to follow… right??!), what key points about you do you want them to remember? Don’t spend time telling them “yes, we do that to.” You want to stand out and you want to be memorable… maybe even remarkable. You’re only going to accomplish this by highlighting your unique and honest differences.

Focus on no more than 2 or 3 main points so they can be easily remembered and repeated to other influencers in the decision making process.

Back up each point with 2 or 3 extremely specific examples.

This specificity does two things. The first is that it proves you aren’t lying or over generalizing. The second is that because it’s so specific, your prospects minds automatically will fill in the other gaps in information with the assumption that your company must address those things with a similar level of care.

Below are a few of the pitfalls I see builders fall into in their attempt to emphasize their differences. Unfortunately, they try to hang their hat on one of these four danger areas:

“Quality” is not a difference that’s believable a lot of the time

As a home builder, you are assumed to have good quality unless proven otherwise… because you’re a home builder. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s the way it is. We often do the same with doctors or dentists and do little background work on them because we assume they got the degree, so they must be good. Especially to uneducated buyers – the level of perceived quality difference will be extremely small unless heavily educated by a sales person they genuinely like and trust.

“Green” is not a difference that more than 14% of the population cares about.

I’ve done two separate surveys of over 800 consumers in my local area over the last two years. Only 10-14% say that a home being “green” would be a key part of their decision to purchase. Nearly two thirds said energy savings above and beyond other homes would be. A far distant second was indoor air quality. The generic term “green” doesn’t tell them “what’s in it for me.”

“Service” is something often promised and usually ignored in all forms of business.

Today’s consumer is jaded. Everyone tells them how much they care and will be there for them, and then they are disappointed time and time again. So even if this is a true point of differentiation – don’t say it yourself. You must use third party testimonials or awards to back it up.

“Affordability” is a difference, but one that raises questions as well – be careful with this one.

There are a lot of home builders out there – especially today – that have their prices set too low. Yep, I said it… too low. You don’t need to be $40,000 – $100,000 less than the competition on your base house. That just raises the question of how much you’ve cut out (it’s the fastest way to make an uneducated buyer doubt your quality… see above!). Small differences in price really matter. When my wife and I bought our first semi-custom home we ended up choosing the lot based on a $500 price difference on a $275,000 purchase. Not too rational, but then again your buyers aren’t rational either.

A Builder’s Online Strategy: Engage Those “Just Browsing”

Engage Those "Just Browsing"Quick 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

We all know that when people come to visit a model home today and they tell us that they are “just looking” that they aren’t being 100% truthful. Prospects who take the time, energy, and money to come see us in person are there for a bigger reason than just to look around.

However, when it comes to the internet – there are hundreds if not thousands of people every month that will come across your brand as they are “just browsing.” They didn’t set out to find you, but they clicked here… then found something interesting there… then somehow a piece of you (an ad, a blog post, or maybe your full site) managed onto their screen and they click over for a few precious seconds. Serendipity and a rabbit trail brought them to your door, but what will happen next?

If there is strong content (original or curated) that speaks to the user where they are now – then at a minimum you can begin to build a sense of trust and respect with them. What I’m really talking about is segmenting your messaging/content as much as you segment your market.

See the chart below for an example:
Engage Your Target Market

Beyond these segmented messages are additional topics that are almost universally heavily researched. Here are a few:

  • Interior design
  • Landscaping
  • Kitchen and bath renovation
  • Home repair / maintenance
  • Home mortgage / refinancing
  • Local housing market insights

The bottom line: The item that enticed someone to come visit your site has to be followed up with strong relative content that will build brand awareness and respect. As an added benefit, that same content will in turn lead to earning more trust from Google.

VidBit: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and PurposeWhat kind of person would offer new recruits $2,000 to quit before training classes were over? Or encourage his employees to help customers order a pizza at 2am? A successful entrepreneur and customer service and company culture visionary – Tony Hseih, the CEO of Zappos.com. In 2009, Zappos.com was sold to Amazon.com for $1.2 billion.

His insights are all valuable – and applicable – to your business. They may run contrary to the way most companies are run, but that probably only serves to prove that he’s on to something BIG.

“…we ultimately came to the realization that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand is just a lagging indicator of a company’s culture.”
- from Delivering Happiness

The Value of a Brand is NOT in the Ad

Brand equity is defined as the value – both tangible and intangible that a brand adds to a product/service.

There are three components of brand equity:
- Awareness (not valuable in and of itself)
- Perceived Quality (valuable, but just the beginning)
- The Unique Interaction (the most valuable, and the hardest thing to fake)

Awareness: The EASY part. Anyone can try to buy awareness by purchasing an ad… more likely LOTS of ads. Not too effective anymore because “all marketers are liars.” You simply can’t buy trust with an ad. The value of Apple’s brand is NOT the :30 spot with hip music – although it contributes to it.

Perceived Quality: When a prospect responds to the awareness and makes an initial interaction with your brand (ie: driving through one of your communities) does what they experience match the brand promise you made in the awareness phase? This is when the rubber meets the road… and trust begins to be built – or lost.

The Unique Interaction: When the prospect takes the time to interact intimately with your brand – what is the experience like? How are they treated? What tone of voice is used? How consistent is the experience across the board? This is the hardest to keep at a high level of excellence because it usually involves a lot of human beings on the front lines of your brand. It’s why those who don’t invest in training and development are doomed to stay mediocre.

With every move up the pyramid – value increases, but so does the level of excellence required.


So how does all of this work out in the real world? Here’s an example…

(Brand Awareness) Suzy and Jim are looking for a home. They hop on Google and search for “find a new home” and they see a paid search ad at the top saying “Best New Homes in Pittsburgh!” It takes them to the website of a home builder and they find a community named Autumn Run that appears to match their list of needs and wants.

(Perceived Quality) The couple hops in their car on a Saturday morning to visit Autumn Run. The entry monument looks ok, but has a few weeds growing in it… the roads are fairly muddy from all the construction workers who have been driving onto the home sites… and as they open up the door of the model they hear a slight cRrrEeeeeek sound. Suzy is already not so sure about this…


(Perceived Quality) The couple hops in their car on a Saturday morning to visit Autumn Run. The entry monument looks lush and well kept. The roads are clean and the home sites well kept (whether under construction or not). It’s obvious the builder takes pride in their work and in keeping things clean and organized. As the front door is opened they hear soft music playing and a smiling face greeting them. “Hi! It’s a GREAT day isn’t it?” Suzy’s emotions are already racing… could this be “the one?”

(Unique Interaction) As Suzy and Jim head home she reflects on the last 30 minutes. “I really liked April (the sales person)” she tells Jim. “She seemed like a straight shooter, but she had a good sense of humor and she gave us a lot of wonderful ideas. No one else we’ve talked to has shown so much interest in us and what we really need in a new place. Everyone else just kept showing us brochures and floor plans!”

To have a great brand, you have to have excellence in all three of these areas. If you’re a brand or marketing manager – then it is part of your job to get out of just being in the awareness business and start “sticking your nose” in the complete customer experience. People in other silos of the company might not enjoy it, but you owe it to your customers. Trust me – they will repay you with referrals.