This piece was originally featured in the Summer 2018 edition of Terra Firma Magazine.
Five years ago, I was a hobby farmer in Western Ohio, on the prowl for a new career. After 19 years in the automotive industry, working my way up from lot porter to salesman to GM and president of a dealer group, I was ready for a change.
I was eager to apply my background and experience in consumer marketing to a new line of work, one that preferably highlighted my passion for land. Should I get a broker’s license or go to work for a management company or call up a trust department to see if they had any openings? I honestly had no idea how to proceed. Fortunately, my wife, Jessica, made a brilliant suggestion: Call the publisher of that magazine I was always raving about, and see what he had to say. You probably already have an inkling of how things turned out.
I lobbed an email to The Land Report publisher Eddie Lee Rider, and that very day I got a call back. The sales guy in me immediately liked this. Not five minutes into our initial conversation, we both sensed an opportunity. My gut told me to sign on with the Magazine of the American Landowner. After a heart-to-heart with Jessica, that’s exactly what I did.
Almost immediately, I recognized that the tenets of marketing and branding that build successful dealer groups also applied to the successful marketing of land. I guarantee the lessons I learned as I worked my way up from the mailroom to the showroom and finally the boardroom can better your book of business.
Consistency is Key
One of the principle tenets of automotive marketing is that reach without frequency equals wasted money. Eddie Lee hammered home this very same point to me. “If someone wants to buy a one-time ad, tell them not to waste their money,” he says. “Selling land isn’t about when a broker is ready to market a listing. It’s about when a buyer or a seller is ready to pull the trigger.”
“Consistency is key” is especially true when marketing land and your services. A well-crafted branding message, delivered consistently, creates top-of-mind name recall. In my humble opinion, this could well be the factor that generates that all-important phone call from a potential buyer or a motivated seller.
There is No Off-Season
Many industries target a certain time frame to ramp up marketing. Car sales is not one of them. It may seem as though dealers are doubling down when they do a “year-end clearance,” but that’s just one of many arrows in their quiver. How many times a year do you see ads about factory incentives? Or special dealer financing? By the time you factor in all the limited-time offers that are pitched – President’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Back to School, Black Friday, New Year’s Eve – a far more sophisticated strategy emerges. Automotive dealers market 24/7/365.
So if investors who buy and sell land have no off-season, why should you?
Yes, we both know that as the calendar year wraps up, so does deal pace. I equate this to an auto dealership’s year-end clearance. But if your own marketing slacks off during the off-season while your competitors are busy reinforcing their branding, guess who gets the cold call in the middle of winter? Guess who hits the ground running when the snow melts or school lets out? Not you.
As entrepreneurs, our instinct is to keep our powder dry when things slow down.
Yet the decision to buy or sell a legacy property is often a family decision that is discussed and debated during the off-season, a.k.a. the holidays. Does it really make sense to pull back your marketing at the exact moment you need to be building your business?
Like countless brokerages coast to coast, The Land Report shifts into high gear as spring turns into summer. Yet we consciously produce our biggest issue of the year, which features The Land Report 100, so it comes out in December. Why? Because we practice what I’m preaching. Our must-read content is on coffee tables and in private jets precisely when families gather for the holidays.
Effective marketing is a full-time, year-round commitment. The consistent marketing message that you deliver, even during spells of lower activity, builds brand equity and name recall. These are priceless.
Marketing is Not an Expense. It is an Investment. Treat it as Such.
Best practice dictates you establish a marketing budget and commit fully to it. Budgets create limits; you can’t have a presence everywhere. So, do your research, negotiate well, and pick your platforms based on their position within the industry. Only invest in favorable brand association. Demand added value for your marketing dollars. Above all, challenge your marketing partners to deliver your message effectively and specifically to the right audience. Trust but verify.
Please note that I said “platforms.” Do not put all your eggs in one basket, be it print, online, or direct mail. And that includes my own title, The Land Report. Do you go to the trade shows your target buyer attends? You’d be surprised how many of those events take place during the so-called off-season. How about hosting your own event, even if it’s just a cast-and-blast for a handful of key clients. Again, money well spent.
Fish where the fish are. By that, I mean make sure you connect with your target market in person, online, via direct mail, and in print. That’s a sound investment.
Branding is Not A Slogan. It’s the Truth.
I’ve always been a big fan of Ford’s slogan: Built Ford Tough. It’s confident. It’s catchy. And it hammers home the fact that more than a century after Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, Ford is very much an industry leader. I know that for a fact because I spent the majority of my career with the blue oval.
Let’s apply that marketing savvy to your business. If your brokerage has been around for a while, what are you best known for? A specific land use? A certain market? A specialized expertise? Spell it out in an honest, straightforward manner. At The Land Report, we call ourselves The Magazine of the American Landowner. It’s confident. It’s catchy. And it hammers home the fact that we share the stories of America’s leading landowners.
But what if you’re new to the business and just starting out? What drives you? What inspired you to launch your business? Are you a longtime local? Then put those deep roots and your local ties to work for you. Maybe you relocated to the land of your dreams. If so, doesn’t your trailblazing decision make you the ideal candidate to pave the way for others who might want to do so? Do you love to hunt? Is life better on the back of a horse?
Consider these questions and write down your answers. Look at it closely. Refine it. Hone it. Buff it. THAT is your brand.
There’s Never Been a Better Time to Market Your Brand
The landscape of marketing choices for land professionals has never been more diverse. Traditional advertising is gone. Kaput. Once upon a time, advertising featured an “offer” that was deliverable through standardized channels. Today, it’s all about experience marketing. When I got my first paycheck in the automotive industry, Facebook, Google, and YouTube didn’t even exist. By the time I left, key influencers were creating billions of impressions with blogs and podcasts that reached consumers via their iPhones, a product that debuted in 2007. This avalanche of new technology has created exciting opportunities for small business owners to create and control marketing and branding. Use it to your advantage.
I’m a big fan of Instagram. The visual-forward nature of this rapidly growing platform and its ability to integrate video and drone footage gives a broker the unique opportunity to conduct virtual showings on multiple listings from a handheld device. If you are a land broker in 2018, an active Instagram account is a must, not an option.
Finally: hashtags, hashtags, hashtags. Marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuck insists that for real estate professionals, the most effective way to grow your Instagram following is through the use of strategic hashtags. This means the use of a minimum of 10 hashtags per post. I recommend including hashtags featuring the state where your listing is located as well as the type of property – i.e., #farm, #ranch, #timberland, #hunting. Keep the hashtags relevant and watch the interactions with your posts build.
Thanks to Jessica’s suggestion, I’ve been on board with The Land Report going on five years now. Even better, I’m applying insights and ideas that I gained in one of the most competitive industries to my new career. I sincerely hope that one of these kernels of truth helps you take your book of business to the next level in 2018 and beyond.
P.S. If you want me to share more, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll even help you set up that Instagram account you’ve been putting off. 😉
About the Author: David Zawalich lives in west central Ohio with his wife, two kids and a Wire Haired Pointing Griffon named Zeke. His love of land and the outdoors was sparked as a child in the wilds of northeast Pennsylvania. He is former Associate Publisher of The Land Report.