with John and Anya
Episode 5, January 18, 2022
Most buyers begin their new home search online. We spend so much time looking at what our competitors are doing, and we’re not really looking at other ideas and practices outside of home building industry. Today we’re exploring what other industries are doing well-particularly online.
Today we’re talking about MarTech lessons learned from other industries. We spend so much of our time as builders looking at what the other builders are doing, and we’re not really looking at other ideas and practices outside of our industry, particularly when you go online.
That’s where a lot of the shoppers are these days, and we need to look to where they’re looking. Before we get into all the practices from other industries, let’s talk about the state of our websites today. We’re actually in version 2.0 of our web with established tech giants like Google and Meta (Facebook parent company) and Amazon. All those tech giants in the marketing and sales space dominate a certain function. Google dominates search, Facebook dominates the social space, and Amazon obviously has conquered the e-commerce.
What we’re seeing with web 2.0 is you’re starting to see this great online sales and marketing convergence and emergence of social commerce. For example, you can buy products directly on Google, Facebook and Instagram now.
Since we don’t have a good leader or example in our industry to show the secret recipe, we have to look for great examples in other industries of how to take the best from them and apply it to us.
The first aspect of online shopping is to actually find your new home online. And that’s a lot harder than to find used homes. Used homes have a set address with a set house and it’s all together. New home search is much more complex, but we can do it with technology using AI.
What we really want in new home sales is a match and notify approach because manually it’s just too overwhelming of a process. Companies like Google, Pinterest, E-Harmony, Netflix, and Uber are all using AI technology.
So let’s go through the main ways we search for things. Over two thirds of people use Google as a search engine, but we think it’s time to search for something better. Google is a great search engine when it comes to general information. But when it comes to shopping for a complex visual product such as new homes, text searches don’t really do the job. Buyers can use only a few words to describe their dream home and Google only returns a website and text descriptions. Plus, you must search website by website one at a time.
The other part about Google, is you’re paying a lot as a home builder to rank on Google, you better have a lot money to be able to show up in the top ranking. And most of the smaller builders are never going to compete against the big builders with big budgets.
The other aspect about general Google search is they’re using third party data. Third party data makes a lot of associations. They use predictive AI, which is great, but it’s all anonymous. And Google is going cookie-less by 2023 so, much of this ability will be hindered. Let’s take a look at Pinterest as an example of a better alternative for visual searches.
Pinterest uses tagging technology. For example brick, three-story single family home, Victorian style, etc. There are so many things that we can tag on a picture and it visually appears. And the buyer doesn’t need to understand the definition of these tags. They just touch what they like, and they see more of it.
The other aspect of Pinterest is that it uses first party data.
When you first use Pinterest- you register as a user. It knows you; it knows how your tastes have changed. It knows what you like and don’t like. By registering-you volunteer this information, so it’s not a privacy issue. It allows for customization marketing, so Pinterest in one sense gives you a concierge service in that as you interact with it more, and you describe what you’re looking for, it delivers better services and products to you.
You’re giving a significant amount of data, but it’s providing you a great service. And so a perfect example of the zero party data is eHarmony. eHarmony offers a quiz to its users to save them time and find them a great match. And this is something we can incorporate for the new home industry, because finding that perfect house is just as important.
The quiz may ask what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it, your must haves, nice haves etc. It may even ask some of your demographic or psychographic information- things that you normally wouldn’t fill out in a little registration card. And this offers that element of customization marking. The buyer can go and specify as much as they want in this quiz-they they don’t have to answer everything, but it helps the AI to match and notify them of the perfect match.
The other industry example we can look to is Netflix. When people search for something as complex as a new home, they typically don’t purchase it on the first session. It could be many, many months across many, many channels involving many, many people. Netflix has solved that by allowing you to view their content on any channel, whether it’s your smartphone at the airport, your laptop at the hotel, or on your big screen at home. The beautiful thing is that you don’t start from scratch. You start where you left off.
Customers are expecting a seamless experience online. Not only do they want to start where they left off in whatever channel, they’re expecting that whoever picks up that conversation with them-already knows everything that they’ve been through, and exactly what they want. All this involves that zero party data. There is a consent when you watch Netflix or like certain shows. The AI gets smarter and smarter the more data you give it. And that involves these higher levels of marketing, which is customization marketing, personalization marketing, and even predictive marketing. It makes for a better experience as it gives you recommendations. And part of that, is not just your initial quiz that you filled out at the beginning, but you’re allowing them to track your user shopping, experience your history, and then your ratings and reviews. But it’s all for your benefit.
So what we all really want is that Uber experience and Uber really is about matching the rider with the driver, with the vehicle, with the destination. That’s the huge advantage over taxis. It’s not that they have a nicer car, but they’re winning because of the customer experience. Riders can set their preferences on what type of Uber they want when they want it and where. Customization helps Uber find the right match. Uber will now bring the car and service to you, notify you when it’s arrived and gives you an idea for when you’ll arrive at your destination. Just as home builders-we want to keep the buyer informed throughout the complex and lengthy shopping and construction journey.
We all think about Facebook as a social media platform, but if you look at it from a technology standpoint, it’s really personalization at a massive scale online. And when you’re buying your own new home, it really is doing the same thing. It’s trying to give a personalized experience to thousands of people simultaneously across tens of thousands of plans and options and home sites.
What else can we learn from Facebook? Well, buying a new home is not only a complex purchase, but also a collaborative purchase. It involves family and probably even some experts in real estate. So what Facebook can do is they bring in social influencers, the element of social shopping, and commerce. Because by having others help you, you’re less likely to make mistakes. It’s already a risky purchase as is, last thing you want to do is to buy something that’s going out of trend or is a bad investment.
Facebook in its bare essence is an advertising platform. It’s great for marketing and there’s great opportunities in viral marketing. So if you can get followers to your builders Facebook group, and you can showcase great videos and insights and tips and tricks about how to buy new and where to buy new, that is a great way to create a referral network. And the other thing about Facebook is it also gives the buyers control in that they can customize who they want to follow, who they like, etc. So if they like green homes or smart homes, we would show them builders and plans and options that relate to those interested items or liked items. Facebook versus say a search engine-they bring engagement to the table.
Tesla allows buyers to design and price their cars online. An aspect of buying online is you have immediate gratification. Tesla has showcased the convergence of marketing and sales for a complex product. They’re marketing that product, you can do 360 tours of it, change the colors, go inside, see video of it, and you can also transact. And it gives you a delivery date.
The next element that builders need to improve on is the customer experience and there are some technologies out there from other industries that can help encourage that. For example, using a game engine instead of just normal virtual tours.
Epic games is popular among the young people. This is where they play online with their own characters, but they have the freedom of navigation. They have the freedom of manipulation. So what we want to do is to let buyers customize their homes and then tour their homes as opposed to just touring a generic model virtually. And they’re even bringing in characters that they call metahumans that look ultra-photo real. We’re not just trying to put video game characters on there, these characters could narrate a guided tour uniquely to you, answer your questions and really provide that human touch in a virtual way.
And it becomes a collaborative experience and it’s a very experiential marketing and they can introduce in-app purchases. So, while you’re touring and you found this wonderful smart appliance package, why not go ahead and just purchase it while you’re at it? And the furniture, décor, etc.
Ikea’s experimenting with augmented reality. They have Ikea furniture that you can drop into your own living room and to see how it fits in terms of scale, and different color schemes. And you can transact on that. You can buy that chair if you want. And for builders, that’s an opportunity that they can use when augmented reality goes more mainstream -we’re just waiting some hardware from Apple and Facebook and Microsoft to make it a reality.
Once it goes mainstream, then you can tour an existing home, but then you can see it with appliances and the finishes that you want. And you can even take that to another level of gamification, along with virtual and augmented reality, where maybe it’s almost like a Willie Wonka-find the house with the red door. The first one that finds it gets $5,000 off their closing costs. The beautiful thing is not just to give promotions. The beautiful thing is that people are doing this, sharing it online, and it creates a free viral marketing campaign. It opens a lot of promotional ideas that have never been on the table before.
The other aspect, we can borrow from other industries, especially in this COVID environment is online collaboration. Buying a new home is a collaborative process and it’s not necessarily collaborating with one person sitting with you in the room. It could be somebody across the country, your real estate agent, or it could be a friend. So there’s this experiential marketing aspect to us. It’s not just that I can tour this myself, but just like in the video games, we can go on this journey together. And then you can record it and use that for marketing.
These new ideas open doors to great opportunities. There’s lots of lessons to learn from each of these industries. We hope that you take away at least something that you can currently implement in your business to improve overall customer experience.
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