Promoting Product Benefits

Marketing Strategies and Tools

Marketing strategies and tools are the way you deliver your marketing messages to your target markets. No one does all of the following, but it’s a comprehensive list from which to choose the strategies that best match your target markets and your capacity. Click on any item in the list below for details.

How do you choose the best strategies for your marketing plan? The best marketing strategy is the one that matches your target markets’ habits, location, and interests. To continue with your plan, go back to the worksheet you completed in Chapter 6 identifying your target markets, their preferences, and places they could be reached with marketing messages. Review everything you know about each target market and then choose the strategies that you think will best find them and get their attention.

Click here for a worksheet to help you with this step.
Click here for a sample marketing strategy plan.

Listing with a Licensed REALTOR® on the MLS

In Chapter 3, we discussed how to choose a real estate agent that is a good match for your program. Listing with an experienced, licensed REALTOR® should give you access to a number of basic marketing tools. First, your property will be included in your community’s online Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Because all REALTORS® list all their properties on the MLS, it is one of the first places prospective buyers look for a home to buy. Your REALTOR® should also be willing to:

  • Take professional, web-appropriate photographs of your home’s interior and exterior
  • Create a customized flyer/listing sheet on your property
  • Customize a webpage for your property on their own site
  • Possibly create a customized Google map showing your home’s location and nearby amenities such as shopping, entertainment, schools, parks, etc., which can be used on the property webpage and listing sheet
  • Stage the home for sale
  • Hold open houses for other agents and potential buyers
  • Use their existing social media channels to promote your home
  • Customize a front yard sign with a flyer box that is regularly restocked

Internet Media

According the National Association of REALTORS®, 88 percent of homebuyers used the Internet as one of the information sources in their home search process. First-time homebuyers and buyers under age 44 were most likely of all the buyers surveyed to use the Internet at some point during their home search. Nonprofit sellers of affordable homes are finding that old assumptions about low-income households not having access to the Internet are no longer true: one nonprofit surveyed an apartment complex in which all households earned less than 50 percent of area median income, and found that 90 percent of them had computers in their homes. The rest accessed the Internet at a library, work, school or a friend’s home.

One of the great things about Internet marketing is that it’s usually free. That means you can create new messages as often as you like and get them to a lot of people very quickly at no cost. However, consumers have very high expectations for the graphic design and user-friendliness of websites, electronic newsletters, social media and e-mail. The days when a nonprofit developer could get by with a basic website with static content and poor graphic design are gone – if that nonprofit wants to attract qualified buyers in a buyers’ market.

Some Internet tools include:

  • Websites: Your own website, your real estate agent’s site and a state or regional site featuring affordable homes – all of these may be options for you. Click here for tips and examples. Look also at free real estate listing websites trulia.com and zillow.com. It is important that you learn about the best ways to put a home listing online. There are specific ways to photograph a home that work best for a website, and best-practice techniques for video or virtual home tours. Your REALTOR® should be able to advise you on this. Also, www.realtor.org has thousands of tips and articles on every topic related to selling a house. For example, click here for a blog on staging a home for online curb appeal.
  • YouTube: As it becomes easier to make short videos, YouTube.com has become a popular place for video home tours. They can be as simple as a silent sweep of different rooms or a hosted tour of the home with the host pointing out key selling features. Click here for examples from the nonprofit LiveCleveland.org.
  • Craigslist: Craigslist.com is a network of free online classified advertisements, with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, items for sale, services, etc. Some real estate agents and FSBO (For Sale By Owner) sellers list homes for sale on Craigslist because the site is so popular for browsing.
  • Facebook: Facebook.com can be used successfully to spread the word about a listing among a well-established network of “friends.” Because you need an established network to be effective, your organization’s “friends” are more likely to refer someone they know than to be in the market for a home themselves.
  • If your organization does not already have a Facebook page, consider starting one and mounting a campaign to recruit past and current customers, real estate agents, board members, donors, other nonprofit colleagues and others to “like” you. Then, every time you post a new listing or announce an open house or other event, that posting will go to everyone who has signed up to follow you (by clicking the “Like” button on your page). Your real estate agent may also have their own Facebook page through which they can market your home.
  • Twitter: Twitter.com is another social networking site similar to Facebook, except that the length of your postings is limited to 140 characters (photos and videos can also be posted).
  • E-mail Blasts: You may have a well-developed e-mail list of contacts from people in your homebuyer education classes and/or various partners, funders, real estate agents, lenders and others that you can use to send e-mail “blasts” about new property listings, open houses and so forth. There are many e-mail marketing services that can help you manage and create professional-looking e-mail messages and newsletters, like constantcontact.com, verticalresponse.com and getresponse.com. Click here for an example of an email blast from 3EastTomorrow.
  • E-Newsletter: Many nonprofits now have electronic newsletters, often sent out monthly. These can be a great, free way to have a regular column devoted to properties for sale. Click here for an example from nonprofit Layton Boulevard West Neighbors.
  • E-mail Signature Links and Banners: Some organizations add a message to the signature at the bottom of the e-mails of all their staff so the thing they are promoting receives dozens or even hundreds of exposures every day. You can also create a “banner” that anyone can choose to add to their e-mail signature to help promote your homes or the website where you list them. There are many free services for creating banners online, such as bannersnack.com. Click here to see the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s email banner.
  • Blogs and E-Mail Lists: If your organization, neighborhood association, real estate agent, developer, local government or another partner has a blog, you might ask them to either write about your available homes or post a guest blog that you write. Many neighborhood associations send regular e-mails to their members, and getting the associations to send a message about your homes could be a great way to get neighbors talking about who they could refer.

Paid Advertising

Paid advertising is not quite yet a thing of the past. Some affordable housing developers buy advertising and get great results. Think about the cost as something spread out over all of your units. If you are producing many units, it may be worth the per-unit cost to buy advertising. Whichever kind of media you are considering, the salesperson will be able to give you data showing the demographics of their consumers, traffic counts, and other information to help you decide if it’s the right match for you. Some types of paid advertising to consider include:

  • Billboards: Private developers sometimes use billboards to promote housing developments. However, the National Association of REALTORS® reports that billboards were the least frequently used source of information for buyers in 2011. Billboards make most sense when you can use one that has high traffic counts with your target buyers. Click here for an example of a billboard used by nonprofit developer Homeport for their NoBo homes.
  • Transit Ads: These can include subway, bus and even taxi ads. You will have to decide whether you want your ads placed inside the vehicle or outside. An advantage to transit ads is that you get a lot of exposures with a captive audience.
  • Radio: Radio is widely understood to be the media that is easiest to finely target because of the number of stations that cater to different audiences. You could run ads on a gospel station, a Spanish-language station, a popular drive-time news station or stations that cater to specific age groups. Click here to listen to examples from Argenta CDC.
  • TV: As the number of cable television stations increases, television advertising is becoming a very targetable medium. Some groups choose to get free time on a cable access station to run a home tour show. They can then clip out the individual home segments and post them on YouTube as well. Click here for examples from LiveCleveland.org.
  • Print: This could include any number of local newspapers, magazines and newsletters. The most obvious print media for home sales might be the weekly real estate guides that are published by your local Board of REALTORS® and distributed free in grocery stores and other retail businesses. Click here for an example of a print ad from Homeport, promoting their NoBo development in Columbus, Ohio.  The ad was placed in an alternative weekly newspaper.

Free Publicity

Because you are offering affordable housing, you may be able to get free publicity such as a story and photos in the real estate section of your newspaper, a television news story reported from your open house, or a remote radio broadcast from a large open house of many homes. If you try for these free stories, be sure to give the person writing the story some key talking points or even a press release to get your core messages heard.

Events

Events can give you a more captive – and possibly more targeted – audience with whom to market your homes for sale. You could simply tag onto someone else’s event such as a homebuyer fair or farmers’ market, or one of your organization’s existing events such as a block party, paint or other volunteer day, etc. Or you can create an event specifically designed for your marketing goals.

In any case, if you are planning to use events as one of your marketing strategies, think carefully about any printed materials you’ll need as handouts, such as postcards, flyers, or specialty advertising items like a key chain with your website and phone number. You may also want to get a banner and a portable booth so you can easily set up at an event. Here are a few types of custom-designed events that affordable home developers have used to promote their homes’ benefits:

  • Traveling Presentations: A traveling presentation could be a PowerPoint or video presentation about your homes for sale, to be used for several special events that you line up with key target markets. For example, you might deliver the presentation to an optional session following homebuyer education classes, an invited audience of school parents and teachers, employees at nearby employers or in a meeting with your local Chamber of Commerce. Click here for an example of an NSP Home Purchase Orientation session by Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida.
  • Happy Hours: Some housing developers have had success with meeting and talking to potential buyers at special happy hours sponsored by local restaurants specifically for them. The restaurant or bar helps to market the event as a “Homeownership Happy Hour” and the developer makes a brief presentation, hands out a specialty advertising item or a flyer, and then mingles and chats with participants.
  • Open Houses: Open houses are a time-honored way of getting serious buyers (and a few “looky-loos”) into your home to see the features firsthand. During open houses, interested buyers can also get a customized tour from someone practiced at discovering their interests and presenting the benefits most relevant to them.

Affordable housing developers have been getting creative with the standard open house to get more people talking about the homes and referring others to them. Here are two examples:

Homewise of Santa Fe, New Mexico, held a 24-hour open house at one of its new developments so shift workers getting off work late at night and early in the morning could visit whenever it was convenient for them. Homewise’s target markets included people working in hospitals, law enforcement and other shift workers, so they marketed the event heavily to them. Because of the unusual timeframe, Homewise also got lots of free publicity in local media before and after the event. Hundreds of people toured the homes.

Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc. holds “Pick-Your-Neighbor-Parties” – open houses held on the night before a home goes on the market specifically for neighbors and their friends and families. Refreshments are served and the listing agent presents the home. The agent engages guests in conversations about who they might know in their circles of friends, family, coworkers, church members and others that might be interested in the home.

Click here for an example of an Open House Marketing Plan from Philadelphia.

  • Home Tours: If you have several homes ready at the same time, or can partner with other nonprofit developers in your area who have several homes ready, you could hold an affordable home tour event. Many cities sponsor mass open houses for all homes listed for sale in certain neighborhoods. The idea is to get more interest from buyers because they can see many homes on the same day. One nonprofit held what they called an “Affordable Homearama” and got a great story with photos and a map in the real estate section of their local paper the Sunday before their event.

Printed Materials

Printed materials are tools to be used as part of an outreach strategy – you need to have a plan for how you’ll use them so they don’t sit in your office collecting dust. Here are some of the most commonly used printed materials:

  • Flyer/Listing Sheet: Your real estate agent should create a customized listing sheet that is attractive, points out the home’s best features, and can be used by the agent and your team as a handout during marketing events. Look at these examples of listing sheets from Argenta CDC, HomeHub, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, 3EastTomorrow, and NHS of South Florida.
  • Postcards: Postcards have several advantages as a marketing tool: they can be mailed inexpensively; recipients see the content without opening an envelope; they can easily be left in racks or near a cash register at local businesses; and they can be handed out to neighbors, lenders and real estate agents so they can, in turn, hand them to their contacts and customers. There are a number of web-based postcard design and printing companies that make it very easy to create high-quality postcards with eye-catching design, such as modernpostcard.com and vistaprint.com. Look at examples of postcards from HomeHub, NHS South Florida and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, and a one-sheet brochure from Lake Worth, Florida.
  • Door Hangers: Door hangers can be useful for attracting potential buyers with existing ties to the neighborhood. Spread information in the few blocks around a house for sale, or at specific apartment complexes. Click here for an example from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
  • Newsletter: Despite the enormous shift to the Internet as an information source, you may still find that the people you want to communicate with are likely to read a printed neighborhood newsletter. If you already have a newsletter, it would be a good place to talk about homes for sale. When Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services was trying to attract homebuyers to downtown neighborhoods, the organization published a quarterly newsletter promoting the quality of life downtown, introducing new neighbors and listing properties for sale. The newsletter, “City Living, Ithaca-Style,” was delivered as an insert to the local daily newspaper; mailed to past customers, donors and partners; and placed in stands at downtown businesses. Click here to see the newsletter City Living, Ithaca-Style.
  • Banners: Large outdoor banners hung on the front of your homes for sale can draw attention to them. You can also use banners at events.
  • Posters: Attractive, eye-catching posters can be hung in the windows and bulletin boards of businesses where you think your target markets shop, as well as on public information bulletin boards and information kiosks.
  • Specialty Advertising Items: Also called “giveaways,” these items are meant to attract people to stop at your booth at an event, and to be a tiny billboard with your phone number, website or other message, that you think people will carry around or keep for awhile. Standard low-cost specialty items include pens, refrigerator magnets, rulers, tote bags and hundreds more. Just web-search “specialty advertising” and you’ll find more options than you can imagine. One website, for example, is specialtyadvertisingbb.com. A similar strategy was used by Homeport when they printed coffee sleeves with their logo and website for local coffee shops to use – click here to view.
  • Signs: Your real estate agent should put up at least a standard for-sale sign on your property. Some agents create custom signs. You might consider posting an additional sign in a bright color to draw attention to one or more of the home’s key selling points – click here for an example from HomeHub. If you are selling new construction, consider creating signage that includes an artist sketch of the housing to be built, plus contact information for prospective buyers. Click here for an example of new construction signage from the City of Trenton, New Jersey.

Direct Mail

Some organizations still use postal mail for direct mail marketing campaigns. Although it is more expensive and time consuming than e-mail, it remains a popular marketing strategy – just look in your own mailbox for confirmation. The U.S. Postal Service offers a free tutorial on direct mail marketing strategies at https://www.usps.com/business/send-mail-for-business.htm. Mailing a postcard to residents of the neighborhood in which your home is located, or renter households in a certain income range, could be a useful complement to other marketing techniques. The postcard could be eye-catching enough to get that person to visit your website or call your office for more information. You can buy targeted mailing lists from companies like Experian.com. Use a specific web search to find the right company for your needs, such as “renter mailing list.”


Partnerships

Partnerships with institutions that have direct access to people in your target markets are a great way to make your marketing efforts more efficient and productive. Think about where your target markets live, work, shop and play. Common partners include schools, churches and other faith institutions, employers and homebuyer education programs throughout the region. Partners may simply pass along a marketing flyer, give you an opportunity to make a presentation, or even offer special incentives for their constituents to buy one of your homes. For examples of partnerships like these, take a look at the NeighborWorks America publication Employer-Assisted Home Ownership: A Sourcebook for Nonprofits.


Program and Group Branding

If you are selling more than an occasional house, it may become more efficient to work on branding your whole housing development program so potential customers positively differentiate your homes from others on the market. This may be particularly useful if multiple private and nonprofit developers, and multiple local governments, are all working on homes in the same market. A common branding and marketing program can reduce duplicative efforts, spread marketing costs over many more properties, and make it easier for customers to find and acquire the home they want without having to navigate many different programs and sellers.

HomeHub is the new name and brand for a consortium of affordable home developers in the East Bay area of northern California. Click here to watch a video produced by HUD and the Enterprise Community Partners that describes the HomeHub branding project (starts at 17:05 in the video), and visit the website at homehub.org.

Limited-Time Promotions

The point of a limited-time-only promotion is to create a sense of urgency among potential buyers, giving them a reason to act now instead of later. It can be particularly useful to incentivize the first buyers in a neighborhood that is considered a little high-risk. Once you have the first buyers in, you can use testimonials from them to persuade the next set of buyers that the neighborhood and the house are good choices.

You might, for example, offer a free washer-dryer set or an extra downpayment grant to the first five buyers. One nonprofit offered flat-screen televisions for the first buyers. Consider these items part of your marketing budget. They may seem like a luxury, but as always, compare the cost to the possible carrying costs if the property doesn’t sell quickly.

Staging the House and the Block

  • The House: Your real estate agent should be willing to “stage” the house for sale, which means adding some decorative items to make it “show” more attractively. The difference between an unstaged and a staged home can be powerful. You can find a lot of advice on how to stage a vacant home on the web – here are two of many YouTube videos on home staging: http://youtu.be/n-zAz7cQN9Q and http://youtu.be/5cgRPajvPBI. Even if you don’t have the resources to furnish the home, you can make an impact by focusing on plants and flowers, and bathroom and kitchen treatments. Hanging a picture or framed mirror in a strategic spot can make a big difference as well. A number of staging resources are provided by the National Association of REALTORS® at http://realtormag.realtor.org/home-and-design/staging-tips.

    You will also want to think about landscaping, and putting a planter of flowers out by the front door during showings. You could invest in a nice planter that you move from house to house as they are completed.

  • The Block: Although it is counterintuitive to a developer to look beyond the property’s footprint, you should consider “staging” the block as well as the home you have for sale. NHS of South Florida has drafted a block outreach and improvement program for blocks where they have homes for sale. The plan is to use its community building and organizing staff to mobilize neighbors on those blocks with $500 grants to support beautification activities. Click here to view the program outline.

    You might also seek code enforcement support on some properties near yours and/or simply offer to correct some things about particularly egregious issues nearby. Although it is the owners’ responsibility, they may not be willing or able to in a short timeframe, and you need issues corrected quickly to sell your properties.

For a worksheet to help you organize your marketing messages, click here.
For a worksheet to help you plan marketing strategies, click here.
For a look at a sample schedule of marketing strategies from 3EastTomorrow, click here.

In the next chapter, we’ll discuss methods for evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing strategies.