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Should you cut back on marketing when times are tough?

Should you cut back on marketing when times are tough?

Sounds like a no-brainer really, doesn’t it? There’s not so much business to be done, less instructions to be had, and estate agents are dropping their fees to win what little property there is. A smaller slice of a smaller cake is hardly a great foundation for increasing one’s property marketing budget. Well, maybe.

If you’re going to settle for that smaller slice of a smaller cake, then yes, cutting back on your marketing budget is probably best. But, if you rather fancy bucking the trend and maintaining or even increasing – yes, increasing! – your market share, or income, or profile, then maybe now is your chance.

I sometimes wonder whether a lot of estate agents operate under the impression that they actually SELL property. That, in some way, they convince people to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a house or apartment they don’t really like. They have magic powers or, at least, skills they’ve honed over the years through experience, training and solid hard graft. They have attained true enlightenment in the world of sales and have perfected the art of mind manipulation over unsuspecting potential purchasers. Hmm…

The thing is, without decent instructions (that doesn’t mean posh ones or expensive ones or even nice ones, it simply means property on at the right price with a motivated vendor), you ain’t gonna sell nothin’. So while you might be a superb talker, have unparalleled skills in conducting viewings, and possess the gift of the negotiating gab, none of it matters without having the property to sell or let.

Property marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, and imagination costs absolutely nothing. Fortunately it’s exactly what’s missing in a lot of examples, so you’re already onto a winner with even the smallest amount of creativity. The key is to get something out there that’s eye-catching, inviting, and contains a compelling offer, or something useful. What you want is for people to keep hold of it. So how do you do that?

Well, an invitation to a free valuation isn’t particularly keepsake material. And fee reductions aren’t the only compelling offer out there. More compelling, I’d say, is that you’ll definitely sell someone’s house for them. Or that you’ll treat them like a lady, or gentleman. Or… (insert your USP here).

Have you heard of Foxtons? They’re a controversial – and large – estate agency in London and Surrey. Estate agents don’t like Foxtons because they don’t play by the rules. They spend loads of money on marketing, charge more money than everybody else, have more boards than everybody else, more property than everybody else, and are really successful. Disgraceful behaviour. You quite often hear estate agents say, “Oh we don’t really encounter Foxtons that much. We operate in different markets.” Yes, they do. Foxtons operate in the big market, the other agent operates in the small one. Foxtons see more property than everybody else and, given that vendors and landlords invite an average of 3 agents in, if Foxtons are one of them, that only leaves 2 more places from a high street that probably contains at least 10. So doing the numbers, most agents won’t see most of what Foxtons see. Simple.

I don’t particularly love the Foxtons model, and not just because I don’t really like corporate estate agents. Their process is based on number crunching and high pressure – in my opinion at the expense of customer service, experience or knowledge – but Foxtons, you see, have accepted that their staff are not what sells property; it’s their marketing. It’s irresistible to sellers and landlords, and thus irresistible to buyers and tenants. He who has most property wins. Foxtons’ marketing is bold and brilliant. Their copywriting is professional and punchy: WE WILL SELL YOUR HOUSE. What more could anyone ask?

I’m sure buyers and tenants are well aware of Foxton’s aggressive reputation, as indeed are sellers and landlords. But the fact is, Foxtons sell and let A LOT of property, so, whatever their views, if someone’s aim is to sell or let or buy or rent, and if Foxtons have got what they want, they will go there. Every one of your customers has the same priority; to move. It exceeds even their desire to be treated nicely.

What I don’t understand is why no-one seems to play Foxtons at their own game, with a bit of customer service thrown in for good measure. They prove time and time and time again that property marketing – more than anything else – is what wins instructions and gets higher fees. What estate agent doesn’t want that for their business? Foxtons do it big and glossy – they can afford it – but you don’t have to do the same. Look at your market. What does it want? What do your vendors and landlords get up to when they’re not talking about which estate agent to pick? What would be useful to them, to have them keep hold of your flyer, or to remember your publicity? One agent I’ve seen puts a recipe on its flyers, and sends them out seasonally. A winter warmer casserole, a spring chicken salad, etc. I bet there are many fridges in their neighbourhood with those flyers blu-tacked on. You could steal this idea, or you could think of another one. Is there a particular image that defines your area? Or a particular activity? Or heritage?

If you can’t think of anything yourself, call in some help. If you can’t write or spell, do the same. Great marketing and great copywriting can and do make a world of difference to your business. Start small and take it from there.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they didn’t hang about either.

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