Advice on how to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic is coming at us from all angles. However, as Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” So, what does that mean for housing at the moment?
The current landscape is rapidly changing. During a recent presentation, Ali Wolf, chief economist at Meyers Research, said that the national unemployment rate rapidly shot up from 3.5% to around 14.0% in a matter of weeks and home sales are slowing after a strong start to the year. Her data shows a 46% drop in new home contracts from February to March as stay-at-home orders slowed builder traffic.
Wolf expects that normalizing will not be seamless, actually extending to around 18 months, for a variety of factors, including low consumer confidence due to lack of job security and the risk of exposure to the virus. Builders also report receiving notices from suppliers telling them to anticipate delays in the coming months, further slowing down construction.
So, how do we seize the day? How do we turn these difficult times into opportunity? I spoke with a slew of marketing geniuses from every aspect of the housing community and here is our collective advice.
1. Before you do anything, survey and research to know exactly the head space of your customers.
2. Be Authentic. Intent can be felt, capitalize on integrity not crisis. Rebecca Horton, marketing director, RDL Architects.
3. Be positive and help clients understand this is not a time to stand still. The old adage, “if you aren’t growing, you are dying,” still rings true. They may need to pivot practices and reinvent the way they do business. Now is the time to help them plan and prepare. Online shopping used to be a nice-to-have, now it will become a necessity. Healthy products and personal well-being will likely become more and more important. Help clients think ahead and move ahead. Becoming their business partner is the goal. The sales will follow. Martha Capps, vice president of client experience, Hanley Wood Marketing
4. Think laterally and well ahead over the horizon. Not just about today. There will be at least three phases to this that marketers need to think about – now, recovery, new normal – and you need to be thinking about them all today. Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, founder and principal of tst ink., a branding agency in community and resort development.
5. Be available. Traditional office hours do not apply. Carol Morgan, founder and president of Denim Marketing, a woman-owned agency specializing in strategic marketing for companies related to the home building industry.
6. Don’t try to sell aggressively. Many supplier partners are being too aggressive with owner/operators who are currently distracted with all the changes affecting operations from the pandemic. Peter Jakel, vice-president of strategy at Linnell Taylor Marketing, a public relations and marketing firm operating in multifamily, student housing and hospitality.
7. Offer Zoom product training and demos. Mike Sims, senior vice-president, marketing and strategy at LP Building Solutions, a leading global manufacturer of high-performance products.
8. Now is the time to train or retrain sales, service and distribution teams, because you will likely have their undivided attention. Develop virtual training and deliver it to your teams to send better, more informed salespersons into the field when the economy recovers. David Sladack, president at BLD Marketing, an ROI-based, full-service marketing agency serving building material manufacturers.
9. Shift marketing dollars from events and print advertising to digital efforts. Our firm’s research shows that architects, designers and specifiers are using this time at home – away from meetings and travel – to research new products and ideas online. This is a strong opportunity for a hyper-targeted, cost-efficient digital ad campaign or a virtual seminar. Such initiatives are much more trackable. Sladack
10. During a time of anxiety and crisis, I think the biggest tip that I had to share with our sales teams and our consumers is messaging around: It’s okay to be considering a new home during a pandemic. Remind people what home means, especially during a time when we are all spending the vast majority of our lives in the spaces we call “home.” Char Kurhihara, vice-president of sales, marketing and branding at DRB Group, a real estate development group based in Maryland and building across the northeast.
11. Evaluate social media content. Audit what you have currently running, and any pre-scheduled content. Decide what should be paused and what content is appropriate at this time. Create helpful content. How can you educate, entertain, or inspire people stuck at home all day? Jamie Gorski, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at GID, a privately held developer, owner and operator of multifamily.
12. Be an inspiration. Deliver hope and positivity and highlight company values through storytelling. This is an opportunity to personalize your company, tastefully, by sharing the goodness in humanity. Showcase your partners, employees and customers who are doing good and pressing forward despite the current situation. Vicki Frye, managing director at Intersection 19, a B2B and B2C marketing communications firm.
13. Say thank you to your associates, customers, vendor partners and everyone on the front lines. We are all in this together. Regular communication via internal and external channels is vitally important during these times. Amy Smiley, vice-president of marketing, 84 Lumber Company, a privately-held building products distributor based in Pennsylvania and serving the nation, that did this video to tell their customers thank you.
14. Take this time to introduce/educate people about products they may want to purchase once normal life resumes. Most consumers are spending much more time than normal at home right now online. Stefanie Couch, regional millwork marketing manager, Boise Cascade, a manufacturer and distributor of building materials.
15. In some cases, forced “downtime” from the usual daily tasks and activities provides an opportunity for the client/prospect to focus on larger, more strategic projects, which, if what you are “selling” is strategic in nature, this is an opportunity and a possible “silver lining” of this current dramatic change. Jenny Simon, director of marketing communications at IBACOS, an innovation consultancy firm focused on the home building industry.
16. Utilize data to bring value to your client. Create maps on who is an essential worker, charts on economic modeling, or word clouds on social sentiment to show you are a partner for the long run. Capps
17. There has never been a better time for more, extremely high-quality, photography and video. Access to galleries online will become the new standard – while professional, easy-to-navigate galleries will put you ahead of the curve. Plus, VIDEO! Consumers are spending more time at home, in front of screens, which presents a unique opportunity for home builders to utilize video as a key strategy. Many builders are already using pre-roll video display advertising, but few realize how to translate the same creative onto streaming platforms like Hulu, Sling TV and others, known as OTT/CTV advertising, where consumers are spending the majority of their TV viewing time. David Miles, president, brand strategist at Milesbrand.
18. Offer ways to work remotely, even if it’s an initial consultation, video walk-through or e-design service. You want to build and nurture relationships at this time, and this is a great way to develop new business and keep existing business moving forward. Liza Hausman, vice-president of industry marketing at Houzz
19. When you know a resident or prospect has had a positive experience, don’t be afraid to say, “during these times where so much news is bad, please feel free to share some positive vibes on our social pages.” Everyone appreciates touching experiences during tough times. Gigi Giannoni, senior vice-president, of customer experience at Gables Residential, a national apartment owner and manager.
20. This isn’t a time to do anything alone. Be creative and open up to crowdsource solutions. Reach out to potential partners and create new collaborations.
Everyone who contributed to this list is leaning forward, charging ahead optimistically and seizing opportunities, knowing that this will not last forever.
As we are collectively stuck in our individual “Groundhog Day” moment, we can prepare for the day when the alarm sounds a little bit different.