Developers who rely solely on social media to bring would-be buyers through their doors could be waiting a long time. There’s nothing wrong with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and all the rest. They are, however, communication tools at best. So, if you want to drive business to your communities, you still have to rely on good old-fashioned marketing, according to two experts who specialize in resort properties.
Social media are an ideal way to support branding and awareness, says Chris Hill, head of sales strategy at Hill Mullikin Marketing in Greenville, South Carolina, and a member of ULI’s Recreational Development Council (Silver Flight). That’s especially so when it comes to second-home communities and resort developments. But “it takes much more than that to get people engaged,” says Hill, who recently started another venture to market and sell bank-owned resort and destination properties in the Southeast.
In that social media bring eyeballs to a property and motivate inquiries, one thing Hill encourages his clients to do is create a “good Facebook fan page with a lot of lifestyle text.” After all, vacation property developers are not selling anything if they’re not selling lifestyle. And a fan page, he explains, allows buyers to tell their friends to “go look what I’ve done. But it’s not there as a lead generator.”
Wayne Cunningham, another longtime real estate marketing specialist who has worked on more successful communities over the last 40 years than perhaps anyone else in the business, tends to agree. The notion that you can sell without spending any marketing and advertising dollars is absolutely ludicrous, he suggests.
Indeed, Cunningham, the founder and president of Cunningham, Tallman & Pennington in Savannah, Georgia, believes the very same “clutter” that destroyed direct mail and call centers as solid marketing tools could eventually render LinkedIn, Yelp, Digg, Mixx, Reddit, Stumble, and the other popular sites all but impotent. “We used to drop a million-plus direct-mail pieces a year because it was inexpensive. But when everyone started doing it, there was too much of it. And when printing and postage costs went up, it was no longer cost effective,” he says.
Direct calling suffered the same fate. Back in the day, practically every sales program included a call center. Some even made the infamous call center in the critically acclaimed 1992 David Mamet film Glengarry Glen Ross seem tame. Clutter. So, when “call blocking” and “do not call lists” came into being, bombarded consumers embraced them with a vengeance and cold calling went limp.
Too much of a good thing has even hurt the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) as an advertising medium, according to Cunningham, who has worked on more than 80 developments, resorts, and hotels over his four decades in the business. At one time, WSJ was the ideal buy. The paper’s cost-per-lead may not have been the lowest, but it generated the quickest inquiry. In fact, WSJ leads were more qualified than those from, say, Golf Weekly, the advertising and marketing veteran says. But when the real estate section hit 26 pages, prospects couldn’t find the tree because of the forest, and the numbers plummeted.
“Clutter killed that, too,” Cunningham says. “And clutter is probably going to kill the Internet as well.”
If Hill and Cunningham are on target about the shortcomings of—and the overreliance on—social media, that puts the spotlight once again on tried-and-true marketing. Of course, no one’s spending much money right now to promote properties. And given the current state of the economy, who can blame them? Even the two real estate advertising pros concede that all bets are off until the economy improves.
“In the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, you could always see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Cunningham says. “But this one is different. We’re now in—what, our third or fourth year—and there’s still no light.”
“We’re in a weird spot right now because of the confidence issue,” Hill agrees. “People aren’t buying because they are afraid of becoming just another victim. So you can spend all the money you want, but you will be throwing it against the wall and hoping some of it will stick.”
Just as other recessions have passed, though, so too shall this one, and one day—someday—all will be well again in the resort real estate world. And when that day comes, it once again will be business as usual, but with social media being but one facet of a strong marketing and advertising platform.