Consider the changing consumer types, as described by Suzanne Shelton, principal of Shelton Group Inc., a market research and advertising firm based in Knoxville, TN that specializes in sustainability insights.
There are the “actives,” about a quarter of the population, who are “on the green train and have been exhibiting greener behaviors, have some brand preferences, and in some respects, we can talk to about green, but they respond best to an energy independence message—lower utility bills, a self-sustaining home, the idea of not wasting or not using too much.” Next, the “seeker” audience is your average consumer, younger, has kids, is just dipping a toe in the water, and is really confused. This segment also responds to energy independence, but also to the “don’t waste” message, Shelton says. Next, the “skeptic” audience—“who would not buy a green home, but would buy an energy efficient home—is interested in cost containment, feeling smart and in control,” Shelton explains.
While the home-buying market is down, among those who are in the market, “for the past three years in a row, all audiences are more interested in an energy-efficient home and NOT a green home. That message doesn’t work,” Shelton asserts.
“Energy efficiency clobbers green when it comes to home.”
She added, however, that consumers aren’t willing to sacrifice comfort for the environment; that they want it all: comfort, an easy purchase, and affordability. This is the challenge for builders and brokers, to offer all this at the same price point of an energy hog.
Locally, Sullivan County builder Charles Petersheim discovered the same thing—the buyers of his small-scale, artfully-designed second homes couldn’t care less about ‘green,’ so much as the location, design, and affordability, he relates. Even though many of the homes would qualify for EnergyStar or LEED certification, Petersheim doesn’t bother doing the documentation and paying for it, because it’s not important to the buyer.
Recognizing what’s important to the buyer—or decision maker—is a science, and requires extensive research and tools to determine probable outcomes, says Marshall Mermell, president of MKTworks, Inc., of Cold Spring. MKTworks takes a holistic approach and embeds itself in clients’ companies, coaching them into new business segments, trying new tactics, and sharing in the risk. “We’ll mitigate risk by tying a portion of our fee, up to 30 percent, to the successful outcome,” of the promotion or campaign, Mermell relates. This allows clients to be more aggressive and ambitious, most often with tremendous success, he relates.
“Our strategy is to become deeply involved with a client from conceptual stage, during the ready-to-go-to-market stage and through their growth,” he says, particularly with the many start-up high-tech and sustainability firms the agency works with. But coaching comes into play with long-term clients, as well. Thanks to his agency’s tactical involvement with long-term client B&B Pools and Spas, they saw an opportunity in commercial pools at a time when the core pool business had softened and competitors were closing. MKTworks helped negotiate deals, identify customers, and position B&B in this segment, Mermell related. Now this very profitable business is buoying the company, he relates.
A pair of Hudson Valley companies, A.J. Ross Creative Media, a marketing and advertising firm in Blooming Grove, and New Home Sales & Marketing, a sales agency and consultancy in Croton-on-Hudson, teamed up on successful campaigns for two developments. After several months of disappointing sales at Parkview Station Condominium II, a 27-unit simplex and duplex townhome building in Mamaroneck, the development’s sponsor hired the pair to spur interest and sales. They collaborated on production of targeted marketing materials including “a modest advertising schedule, a handsome brochure and enhanced website, an outreach program to the local brokerage community, and some inexpensive but tasteful improvements to the model home,” says Allan Ross, president of A.J. Ross Creative Media. In addition, an intensive sales training program was instituted. All of this “paid immediate dividends—in one year, 18 sales were recorded and although weekly traffic averaged only four to five prospects, the conversion rate exceeded 20 percent, several times the national average,” Ross relates.
For another project, Ross and Dr. Perry Goldman, president of New Home Sales & Marketing, teamed up to market The Views at Pomona, an active adult condominium community in Rockland County, featuring 58 single-level residences with seven different model types priced from $279,000 to $419,000. Recognizing that potential buyers, empty nesters, were having difficulty selling their homes and adjusting to the idea of leaving their comfort zones and downsizing, Ross and Goldman developed a targeted marketing approach with collaborative realtor effort, special programs to assist home sellers, and a sales training program designed to work successfully with active adults.
The result: “The first of The Views’ two buildings is nearly sold out and will welcome its new residents in November while the second will be ready for occupancy in the summer of 2011,” Ross says.
Ross and Goldman suggest several tips for a successful sales program, from making sure the project first is needed, and then designed and priced right; assembling a top-notch team; planning, coordinating, and tweaking the sales and marketing effort so that you’re “getting the right message to the right target market(s) through the right media.”
Creative approaches require a keen understanding of the market and the client.
“We don’t have a magic bullet,” says Pat Thompson, of Clarke Thompson, an ad agency in Kingston and New York, whose clients include top developers and brokers, among others. Clarke Thompson represents developments that have been open for a year or longer and aren’t completely sold, which requires different tactics than in the boom years when sell-outs were common before construction was complete.
“What we’re doing to help our clients is listening very carefully to the whole realm of what’s going on, listening to brokers, listening to the end consumer, and changing our market to pivot right to them,” Thompson says. She’s still a big believer in the value of print advertising, even though most campaigns rely more heavily on digital media. Messages must carry across platforms, and be deliverable to any sort of phone, iPad, reader, or device. Simple, direct, easy-to-read messages are best, she says.
While everyone says social media is the way to reach customers, Thompson says her agency is still “trying to figure out how to maximize” that. “We’re talking to different people who are experts on how to link Facebook, Twitter, and others with regular marketing activities,” but advertising has always been about total number of impressions.
“It’s hard to say exactly where a customer will find you—signage, ads, websites, PR, social media. Our brokers always ask, ‘how did you hear about us,’ but the answer might not be complete,” Thompson says. “Every stream of advertising helps support the overall sale.”