In October 2009 Dave deBruyn was invited to speak at the Vancouver Real Estate Technology Meetup on the subject of marketing your Real Estate business online. The premise of the presentation was niche marketing – something we feel very strongly about, and a strategy we recommend to clients in order to maximize their marketing dollars.

The folks at Ubertor were kind enough to videotape the event, and also have provided a transcription of the video below. A word of warning – the video is over 30 minutes long, but there are some gems in there. Any questions, comments or feedback? Feel free to get in touch, we would love to hear from you.


Video Transcription

Dave: In the back if you can’t hear me just let me know. I’ve got this big speaker behind my head, so it sounds loud up here. So, basically we do marketing for realtors and developers and over the past years, we’ve developed a good relationship with Ubertor and we’ve built a lot of real estate sites on their platform. Tonight isn’t a platform specific speech. It’s just a bit of a talk about what I think the big benefit is to niche marketing and for realtors to take a bit of a different approach when they try to market themselves.

Quick little obligatory slide here – I know going to have an American audience on the video side of things so I should probably explain that niche is a “Nitch”. So if your anywhere in the south of the Canadian border tonight’s speech is on “Nitch” marketing. I prefer niche.

A niche is defined as a distinct segment of a market, a situation or activity specially suited to a persons interests, abilities or nature or a special area of demand for a product or service. My favorite definition is the second one. I think that the best fit for a niche in the marketing sense is a situation or activity that’s related to you, your core values, your love, the things that you like to do. I will talk a bit more about that later but as long as your values align with your business you’ll actually go really far.

The beginning of this presentation is essentially that the mass media is dead. So, once upon a time (specially in the real estate business) it was often thought that he who advertises the most wins. Essentially he who throws the most money at it, will win. For many years that was true in this business. Each & every one of us gets a stack of real estate flyers every week saying they’re the best in this area or the top realtor in Vancouver… and they all go straight to the recycling bin. Unfortunately the general public has grown immune to that system and we are essentially flushing our money down the toilet. For all intents and purposes, mass media is dead.

The same thing goes for big business in advertising in television. The general public has started to filter out advertising and there’s a good slide showing of where all your realtor post cards and just old flyers are ending up. We have built castles, we’ve built walls around us and we’ve try to block out the outside world and the general consensus is that it’s very tough to actually reach in and reach people.

The marketing world has changed fundamentally over the last few years. The big thing that’s had this impact is of course, the internet. This is kind of a lame slide when you look at it big but basically, this is somebody’s little visual map of all the internet pathways and connections that are going on. So, there you go, the info highway and that’s what’s changing the world as we know it today. So, the big question is. How do I market to these consumers? We’re all hiding beyond these walls – apparently immune to mass media, or immune to print marketing, television marketing and that kind of thing. What it really comes down to is now, the way to market people is by referral.

People are social in nature and everybody would now prefer to ask for a referral, and that word of mouth advertising is truly pushing businesses forward today. In the absence of a referral. People seek out Mike Myers (aka love guru) or they seek out the advice of an expert. It’s sort of evolving into a world where people ask for advice from their peers first, and in the absence of that referral they look for an expert. What it boils down to is this: if you want to succeed in standing out in your market and want to realize the benefit from your marketing dollars, you have to figure out how to become a leader. You have to figure out how to make people follow you [consensually]. This is where we get into the theory of a niche. Niche marketing means that you are focusing your energy on a very small, specific segment of your market. By focusing your energy, it truly allows you to succeed – allows you to be the best at something. (Even if that something is something small).

There was a good quote I read about niche marketing from Seth Godin…the quote was that the secret to being the best in the world is to make the world smaller. In the real estate business specially, the vast majority people are marketing themselves as a jack of all trades. There is no way any one person can stand up and say, I am the best realtor in Vancouver – I’m sorry it’s just not true. There are now thousands, over 4500 realtors in Vancouver. It is pretty hard to stand up and say, I am the best realtor in Vancouver and how many flyers a week do you get, I am the best realtor in Vancouver or Vancouver’s west side or which will have you but essentially, what your saying is I am a jack of all trades I’m the best in everything, please send me your business.

The other issue that’s facing realtors today is what sets you apart? I know some of the brokers might not like me for saying it but, the reality is there’s how many Remax agents out there? (And I’m not trying to pick on Remax, it’s just the logo I had handy. There’s how many Sutton agents? There’s how many Dexter agents? If all that you are relying on for your advertising is your sign or the simply fact that you’re a Remax agent, then you are out of luck. Reality check – you are just one of a number (and take a number). You personally are not going to derive any benefit or get any business from that [sorry!]. It adds credibility it adds a system and procedures behind you an that sort of thing which is wonderful but it’s not going to be bringing in any business, like it used to in the past.

This is a slide that comes from my Seth Godin presentation. Seth Godin’s basic point was that when your drive past a field of cows, everything you see is a cow and nothing is remarkable. BUT if you were to drive past a field of cows and you happen to see a purple cow, that’s remarkable, that stands out. In many ways in the real estate business, it’s all about becoming the purple cow.

So todays talk is about niche marketing. So I wanted to give a few examples, realtors that I’ve dealt with recently and some of them I told they we’re going to be talked about tonight some of them I didn’t, so I hope they don’t mind. But basically, these are real examples of people that I see, that are succeeding within the niches that they’ve created.

First one: this is a website from Chicago that we recently completed. Robert Darrow is the agent behind it and he actually has a number of niches (and a number of sites and a number of blogs). He’s really embraced internet marketing and social media. He decided earlier in the year, that he wanted to be the town home king in Chicago and he wanted to build a website that was the ultimate resource for townhouses in Chicago. Chicago, because it’s an old city, it’s actually a large percentage of their home sales are actually attached, so the town home is really a good niche. What was funny, was that, he didn’t realize how untapped the potential of that niche was. Anecdotally, after we built this site he started using the blog on the Ubertor platform that’s attached to this site. We call it news, but it’s just a blog. And he’s gone, and I think he’s number 2 and number 3 for Chicago townhouse when you search for it on Google. Wasn’t the objective, he was trying to build a resource first but already, the sites only been live for about a month and he’s already shooting up the ranks. He’s found a niche and he’s nailed it. Big component to this site is community information. There’s probably 40 or 50 pages hidden on this site that you don’t see, the goal is to, as people start to explore, read the information there’s more and more, they’re deeper and deeper, reading about the communities about the benefits, about the townhouse neighborhoods I guess in Chicago it’s sort of grouped by neighborhoods. Benefits of townhouse ownership the pluses the minuses and the legalities of townhouse ownership in Chicago. He’s got polls, he’s got all of this. All of this is possible on Ubertor, which is nice. But he is really making a difference with that niche. Side-note on this one, he’s also in the process on building what’s a very sale-able business. If Robert ever wanted to retire, he can very easily trot somebody else in, and they become the realtor behind townhomeshopchicago.com. So if your going to invest a lot of money into something, if your going to take the time to build this thing properly. He hired a copyrighter, he spent about a year preparing for this and he’s done a really good job of it. But he has now built a sale-able business entity that brings in leads and brings in dollars and it’s been a wonderful addition to his business. So that’s one that I wanted to highlight.

Another one I wanted to highlight is in Florida, Inga Wilson is a, I guess you can call her a high-end realtor in Florida. She sells properties on the 1 – 15 million dollar range. A range that many of us would like to be in if we ever had that opportunity. She came upon a need earlier in the year that, she was continually hearing from her high-end customers that they we’re very frustrated by how difficult it was to find actual waterfront property. Remember that Florida is sort of half-water. So, we have swamp-front, creek-front, bog-front, we’ve got pond-front and then we’ve got canal and we’ve got actual ocean and it, runs the whole gamut. And if you search the standard MLS, you get sort of waterfront as a click-able, option and that’s it. So here’s somebody that’s searching for place to park their yacht. That’s her clientele, they’re trying to park their yacht and their having a sift through all these bog-front listings, actually look at it on the map and se is there really space for my yacht. So she said, can we build this site, send it around this demographic which is high-end 1 to 12 million and we want to make sure that every listing that appears on this site, they can park their yacht at this site. So when you go to search, through this site on Florida waterfront. We actually use the third party IDX and we programmed it and it filters out anything that is not marina, It’s got marina access, canal access or basically anything that you can drive sort of a 35 and up foot boat to, is the only the listing that will appear on this site. It’s worked wonderful for her and it helps reinforce to people that she is the expert and she’s gone and she’s found sort of a need that the people we’re frustrated with. Which, was finding a property to park their boat at and she’s sort of bridging a gap and it’s really had a big impact about their business.

Another one I wanted to talk about, this is a local example. Telf Maynard is here tonight, Telf and Cheryl Dewson approached me and they were interested in building an equestrian website. I guess you could say that the equestrian property search has some of the same problems that the multi-millionaire yacht property search has, which is, only certain properties are suitable for horses. And there isn’t the appropriate categories available on the MLX or the MLS to search for that type of property. So, what they struck out to do was build the website in western Canada for equestrian property. They hand select every listing and make sure that it actually meets their standards for becoming a suitable horse property. Is that a good way to put it? Telf and Cheryl, this is sort of the key that I think is really cool. They’re both horse people, so they both go way back in that field, in that industry. They’re well known already within that community and they saw this need within the community they were already involved in and thought they would build a tool. And that tool, they’ve been advertising in that community and it’s kind of a wonderful little relationship. And so, that’s another good one.

So the question I’m faced with is that a lot of my clients are new realtors, and they’re all asking the same question: how can I use the internet to expand my business? I don’t want to just put up a website about me, but I actually want to bring in leads, bring in business. My answer to each is pretty much the same. Unless you are an Andrew Hasman or you’ve got a long track record behind you – pick a niche. The possibilities are endless. And when we start down the (I guess we’ll call it niche finding) path with people, we ask them some exploratory questions.

My primary question is, what problem are you going to try and solve? Each of the three examples that I outlined, not only were a niche site, but they also solved a problem. So they weren’t a general condo in Vancouver website. They were trying to solve a problem of something that was difficult for people to search for, and by doing that. You then become a resource, and that will give you credibility and bring you business. Who is the target audience demographic and then what we look at is, is that demographic currently responsible for your income or are we trying to sort of, break new ground and get into a new business.

The other thing I want to know is who are you, what are your credentials and what gives you the experience to be best at what you do. The example I gave with Telf Maynard is that they have a lot of experience within the horse industry, within the equestrian industry. They have a lot of credibility within that industry. That experience combined with their real estate experience equals a very wonderful niche for them to work within and I think that’s a great fit. The other thing is what do you do differently than your competition. So everybody always asks me why I don’t have an idea. You know, somebody’s got  ”kits condos”, somebody’s got “downtown condos”, somebody’s got Vancouverhomes.com and your pretty much right. The good domain names and the broad niches are all taken.

That said, there are a ton of niches out there are not taken. I always loved the mobile home, a lot of people laugh, but you know how many mobile homes there are in the lower mainland? I have never seen anyone advertising themselves as the mobile home specialist. <<Audience laughs>> There will be, starting tomorrow. You know what? 2 grand, 3 grand a transaction, turn key, bang them out. It’s totally doable. It might not be the perfect fit for your business but you never know, its a niche that is out there.

So knowing that I would be standing up here, I tried to brainstorm some more niches that I think are important and under-serviced at this point. Adult-oriented 55 plus, to me that one is like this big beating beacon here that’s somebody’s got to serve this niche. I don’t know the stats, I don’t have them handy , but the vast majority of our population is aging and a huge percentage of those people are going to be 55+. They have special requirements, specific needs, theres specific property for them. Somebody needs to emerge, in my opinion, to lead that charge and be the best at that. i live in White Rock. In White Rock it’s huge, and even in White Rock, there is still nobody that is leading the charge for adult oriented. Pet-friendly, you know, like there’s a guy in Toronto, who I think the guy and his dog Kong. That’s his branding, that’s his niche and you know what. He does a phenomenal business by it. Co-ops, I didn’t think there was a specific realtor that was just marketing to Co-ops in Vancouver, I was wrong, there actually is a couple. I still think theres huge room. A lot of people don’t want to deal with Co-ops. There are a lot of Co-ops in the west end and I say, hey go for it, be an expert in it, deal with it and embrace it, then people with come out of the wood-work. Lease-hold land, there’s a few people that have done it, few people that haven’t. I don’t think anybody has done it right. Cities other than Vancouver, houses with suites, thats a big niche. In Vancouver everybody has a suite, its just kind of been the de-facto here but in other cities, there’s a lot of realtors, could make a lot of money by being the granny suite expert, something like that. Country club, absentee owners. Absentee owners is a big one. If you were to align yourself with property management companies and cleaning services and all of these services that an absentee owner would need in order to be comfortable, you would do well. So, homes with pools, farms with barns, agricultural land, green properties. I’ve seen a couple of guys emerged as trying to do the green thing this year. I still don’t think anybody’s nailed it. There are a ton of green developments in Vancouver right now and I can’t think of a single resource that has them all listed in one place. Simple, all that stuff is out there. Walk-able, cycle-able, golf-course, ski chalets, on-hill. Why not partner with somebody from Alberta and be the on-hill expert, like it doesn’t exist. There are people that are looking for on-hill accommodation and it’s really hard to find actually, because on-hill off-hill it’s kind of hard to search for on the MLS. Airstrip property, kind of funny, but it does exists, not in Okotoks Alberta but right around that area there’s one. Just came out, there’s this airport property in Florida, airport property in Australia. New niche that’s coming is basically they build this homes in a culdesac around the airport.

Marina access we already talked about, but how about homes with helipad? Homes with offices? As the population ages a lot of people are starting to look for homes with proper offices. You know how hard that is to search for? So, there’s opportunity there.

The guts of what I’m saying is that, the only way your niche is going to work for you is that if you actually add value to your buyers. So these are just a few examples, walkscore.com if you want to be the the green guy or you want to talk about walk-able property. Walkscore is a little company that embeds little maps that rates your property based on the walkability of that property. very cool little tool and it’s free, so you could actually come up with an algorithm where you only ever display properties on your website that display properties on your website that have an 85 or more walkscore score and people would actually comment and appreciate that. It’s really getting big in Seattle. Nobody in Vancouver is really doing it that way. Activities and events calendar, that’s great if your a community based niche. There’s a million communities out there, they all have activities. A lot of people are lacking some sort of a central place to post those kind of activities. It’s all doable, Google makes a calendar that’s embed-able to anybody’s website.

As you establish a niche you can contribute to Wiki. There is an article in Wikipedia about every community in Vancouver. Most of them suck, they’re about 1 paragraph long. They’re just waiting for anybody to contribute to that. If your the expert, write it. Attend your relevant council meetings, that should be standard practice in anybody’s niche or farm area. The key here though is find challenges and provide solutions, there are many many challenges when your finding property. He who provide the solutions, in my mind, will get the income. Google is in the business of making everybody’s life easier but essentially, they keep bringing in all these tools and you never know. Google is on a path where one day they can prove MLS listings for all we know. As realtors, you will only survive, if you can analyze the data, process the data, advise on the data and add extra information to the mix.

We don’t know where the world is going. We will never sort of, control all of the listings forever, that’s not just going to happen. So it would be ice to think of challenges and solutions that a human sort of has to be involved in. Another one that Ubertor is pretty big on and I agree. Publish a blog on your website, update it. The blog should be relevant to your niche, if the blog is relevant to your niche. Guess what happens to your search engine rankings. Google loves real content on a website. If you talk about what you know and what your website is about, you raise your ranking. It’s kind of this big wonderful circle. Participate, engage, meet others, for a community and meetup a tribe. That’s essentially what we are doing here tonight . There is no reason that anyone of you couldn’t pick a niche and then form a little, I guess tribe around that niche and you’d be amazed of the business that would come.

Some helpful tools when I’m working with a client and they’re bouncing ideas off as we’re trying to refine their niche. I love the Google add-words tool, not just for add-words, and I’ll just do a sidebar, for anybody that’s interested in add-words training or wants to go down the search engine optimization path talk to Steve after, he has a company called Reachd. They teach you how to do that. I’m not going to get into that except that I use the Google add-words tool for lots of things. The beautiful part is you can type in a tool or type in a term, this one says house for sale, sorry. It ranks your term and similar terms based on the search volume which actually tells you how many people locally, searched for houses for sale in September. 5 million people or 5 million times did somebody search for houses for sale in the Vancouver area, that’s huge. The other interesting category is the second one here, which is advertiser competition. So, the greener that bar means you’ve got more competition if you we’re to advertise for that term and even if your not paying for advertising. That tells you how many people your competing with. So if I wanted to be the guy that’s best at houses for sale in Vancouver, your pretty much not going to get there. But as you look further down that list I highlighted one, see farmhouses for sale? Still has a decent search volume 5,400 people searched for that in the vancouver area in September. Yet you have pretty much no advertiser competition. So if you play with the Google add-words tool. Type your ideas, think about your niches, you’ll see how many people searched for what your talking about and how many people advertise for what your talking about. It gives you a huge idea of where there’s room to sort of, enter the market or enter the frame.

Another thing you can do is pick a great domain name. A great domain name is pretty much a key to your niche’s success. You want to be memorable, easy to, remember and it’s got to relate really well. I used go-daddy with a lot of our clients, when your typing in the domain name your thinking about, it gives you a list of suggestions and just roll with it. Have a glass of wine and like, sit there for a couple of hours. And you’ll be amazed on what you come up with but basically, I thought you’ll be able to read this better but I typed in condoking.com. I know that ones taken, but it says condo king store, free condo king, condo king now, condo king blog, condos sovereign. condo king today. So it starts making these suggestions and I wanted to pick sort of a, odd ball result, but if you really pay attention to that and start working with that. It’s going to come up with some good suggestions. There are paid tools on the internet that do this and do even better, they’ll provide you with 250 related terms, they try to imply some intelligence to it. I don’t know if you really need to do it, you can get it for free.

Once you’ve determined what your brand is. I think it’s of critical importance that you brand yourself and brand your niche. A strong brand will give you credibility. It becomes easy to advertise and easy for you to, makes you easily recognizable as you start your advertising out in the world. The other beautiful part about picking a niche, specially a tight niche is it allows you to target your advertising. So if I wanted to do dog-friendly property, where would I advertise? Would I spend $25,000 and mail a postcard to everybody in Vancouver saying that I was the best Vancouver realtor? or Would I take a couple thousand dollars and place ads in the dog publications that might have a circulation in my area. Much smarter approach, and if you followed through on their expectations meaning that you had a website that showed why certain properties were pet-friendly, dog-friendly. These people would actually go to your website, find what they were looking for, and your starting to build your business, build your tribe, build your following. The other thing is embrace social media, and i really don’t want to go down that path tonight because that’s sort of a 2, 3, 4 speeches away. Based on common interest, a niche lands itself well to social media because your talking about what your interested in and people with sort of, surround you to talk about that thing. The nice part is the you become the expert and then everybody wants to hear from you. Successful companies within the new business context within social media, provide content and add value. It’s a different model than the, sort of , one direction of advertising in people. New company BRITISH BAY INTERACT?, they help others solve problems. If you take that approach to market your niche and take that approach in social media, you will be successful.

The last big question we get is that a lot of people are concerned that they will be limiting the potential of their business if they focus on a very small niche. All I can do is really say that no, your not. We took that step a few years ago I guess, my back ground is in advertising and marketing. It’s obviously, I didn’t go to school to real estate advertising and marketing. We just decided along the lines, that real estate is what we’re interested in and thats going to be our focus. The phone still rings, with people that are not in real estate, but they have heard through somebody else that your an expert on what you do therefore you must be good at what they want you to do. We try not to go down that road, we still do work with several armed real estate clients, but it’s funny. That was my biggest fear, when we specialized and sort of made that public, but it hasn’t had a harmful impact on our business. In fact, it was really just open doors that we never even thought were possible. So no, it won’t limit your potential clientele. So, the one though I leave you with is basically, what are you going to do to stick out, if you want to stick out yourself as a realtor in this city. You face fierce competition, a lot of people that have been doing it for a great long time.

Put some serious thought to what your doing that’s going to make you stick out. That for me, essentially wraps it out and I don’t know if Steve wants to say anything else to call it up but.

Steve: Does anybody have any questions? at all?

Questions: Do you use the Google add-words to get the niche market ideas like that research that you have the what people are looking at, what people are actually paying for advertising, do you use those as a reference to do the niche market?

Dave: Google add-words, research tools are great because they’re free. I use Google add-words paid or not paid for a number of different things but I use the research tool just to give me stats on how many people are looking for a certain thing. So if I wanted to be Orlando Waterfront Property. I don’t think Orlando has waterfront, but if I wanted to be Orlando Waterfront Property. I could type that into the Google add-words tools and it tells me how many times each month somebody searches for that tool and then with that little chart, well, its not scientific but it shows you. If that bar is green, you’ve got a hundred other people that are spending a lot of money advertising that. You probably want to pick another niche or try a few other words. Maybe not Orlando Waterfront maybe something else. Maybe Orlando Beachfront, type in Orlando Beachfront, wait a minute, nobody is advertising that term but it still gets a lot of searches. So that’s how I use that one. The other half of the story is that if you want to start using add-words to actually improve your business and pay for advertising and increase your web traffic, very doable. That’s again, a science on to itself, I’ll refer you back to Steve not that one they teach classes on how to do that but the tool itself I use for all kinds of research it’s just valuable and free.

Steve: Anybody else?

Question: Yeah, with social media, it’s such a vast field of players. Does it make sense to focus on a social media group that is talking real estate or does it make sense to put it out there and see what happens?

Dave: In my business, its probably good to focus on a group of realtors that are talking about real estate. In your business it’s probably not. If you picked a niche and talked about your niche I’ll pick on Telf because he’s standing right there but if Telf wants to use twitter and facebook to talk about equist’s estates, be involved, be sponsoring horse competitions, be active in the community as people are getting on twitter they want to know, whose talking about horse stuff, they are going to find him, and he’s talking about that stuff and they’re interested in the community that develops around him that’s not real estate related, but horse related. He builds up credibility, he sorts of, part of, part of the team, part of the tribe, they’re all interested in the same thing. When they go to look for property, who are they going to look for it’s just kind of, that’s probably what I’d do, I’d probably take the non realtor approach. Getting to know other realtors online is great, but at the end of the day you might get referrals from it, but that’s about it. That’s the rest of the world, that’s the rest of the public you want to.

Question: I’m thinking of a satellite trulia for example, which is talking about homeowners and they’re asking questions and they want to get experts to answer their questions. Dave: Not a bad idea, always good to be an expert. I’m a big fan of the giving freely theory, if somebody asks you a question answer it. Like, we don’t have anything to hide at this point. Any information that any of you ever want in this world is available on there, right? You type it in Google and it’ll tell you. So, why hide information? Give information people will get to see if you, i guess, know what your talking about or don’t or If you develop a relationship, specially a relationship where your giving to people without asking for something back. that’s going to go pretty far.

Question: Yeah, I just want to get an understanding of the limitations, I guess, of being able to create a niche online. Have you encountered a problem or has it ever been impossible for you to say, generate a specific criteria set for a particular client? does it ever had, ask for anything or have you had experience where, the infrastructure just isn’t there to do what it is anymore, because that’s always been a concern to me.

Dave: With this problem, I thinks that people usually go too wide. So, they want to be a commercial drive realtor and unfortunately, people like yourself have been doing that for a long time and you’ve got a bit of a track record but they could focus that a bit more, I think they could narrow their focus and then it becomes doable. At the end of the day I don’t think it’s wise to try and chase a big category where somebody’s been doing it and doing it well for years. I think that maybe, commercial drive fixer-uppers if that’s your specialty, or homes with 6 bedrooms, or something, but you can hyper-focus. Narrow it down a little bit and find your own little chunk.

Question: So if someone wanted to do something, as an example, some little suites, pet-friendly, dogs, cats you can do your stuff? (not sure)

Dave: Well it becomes what you do with it right? If you truly add value to that category just like I don’t think commercial drives locked down. Somebody could get in there, if they truly embrace the community and the community aspect and got to know the businesses and really pushed the community side and were involved in that sort of thing, they’d make their way, but for a new realtor, the tighter your focus, the easier it is, the tighter your focus, the easier it is to be an expert, the shorter amount of time is, I guess, that you have to spend on being the expert because your only trying to focus on something tiny, but.

Anybody else? Thank you.

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