Key Executive: Darrin Davis, product manager, MyAgentAds.com
Technology partner: Wave2Media
Objective: Darrin Davis joined the real estate classified department in 2012 with the goal of turning around the declining self-serve advertising division.
Strategy: Darren created two main strategic approaches to growing self-serve ads: Re-evaluating products and packages that utilized the self-serve platform and creating an e-mail marketing plan to continually engage realtors and convert sales.
Self serve advertising platforms typically have built in promotional widgets; in this case a call-to-action widget stays on a bottom left position on the real estate home page:
These online promotions link to the self-entry portal:
This promotion in turn, leads to a simple form that captures contact information and an email, and lets users build and pay for their ads.
While one of the lessons learned from this initiative is that self-serve needs external marketing, the initial focus was on products and packaging.
Products and packaging
A basic assessment of the original self-serve packages showed that many of them were not actually transacted self-serve at all. So the first step was to evaluate the product list with two goals:
a. Eliminate products that still need support. Premium high-end print and online buys were eliminated from the options.
"Some packages intended for agents that handled $2 million properties were never truly self-serve - and never would be," Davis said.
"These realtors always required extra service and hand-holding."
b. Create a less expensive DIY package for smaller brokers that do not need a high a level of service
To create a lower-priced print option geared to smaller brokerages, Davis designed a set of three print ad sizes, 1/4, 1/2 and a full page,with a set number of listings that fit in each size. Once a company's logos are added to the ads, realtors or agents can populate the ads with new listings via the self-serve platform.
There is a small ammount of visual "tweeking" on the back-end, Davis said, but otherwise, the brokerages "do it themselves" after some in-office and webinar training sessions.
As with other ads in the production cycle, the self-serve ads are turned into a PDF and booked like any other print ad. There are no digital services in these packages as yet.
Each listing inside the ads started out selling at a $75 price point, although that price has gone up to $108, and is the only price the agent pays for the ads.
The two other basic self-serve online products are featured open-houses and featured agents, which alternate on the online home page of the real estate section.
The combined affect was to make self-serve lower-priced and more affordable to a broader group of brokers and agents, while maintaining higher rates for print andonline ads that still need a higher level of customer service.
The Houston Chronicle's real estate emails are designed as real estate newsletters, with the offers added on. Content includes market-related news regurgitated from the Chron.com; newsletter editors look for news that han as impact on the real estate market, from oil and gas prices to commercial transactions.
“The lead part of the e-mail is keeping people abreast of the market,” Davis said.
The e-mails are branded with myagentsads and include a promotional offer and reminder of ad deadlines.
While the team has experimented with some creative offers - for Valentine’s Day they offered the price of a dozen roses back - the gimmicky promotions don't work as well as a simple percentage off, Davis said. The most effective offers are 25% to 30% off the price of a listing.
Results and lessons learned
So far, Davis' approach has been successful; first year sales increased by 25%, then last year by 42% increase-and revenues are still on the rise.
The biggest lesson learned is that self-serve does not work on its own, some kind of regular email marketing is needed.
Tactically, the time of day to market - at night the day before deadline - and kinds of offers that work - 25 to 30% off are good tips to know.
So far, no products have addressed needs of individual agents. So, the next initiative will be a product aimed at that part of the franchise. “It’s all part of the grand scheme.”
Darrin Davis, Product Manager - My Agent Ads