If Onboard is providing a Lifestyle Search Engine, we must have a clear set of lifestyles defined, right? A nice neat set of definitions to shoehorn buyers and sellers into? A concise categorization of neighborhoods with a pretty bow? Launching a lifestyle search product raises some interesting questions: What is a lifestyle? How can it be defined? How does the definition differ from person to person? When someone in New York says they live an "outdoors lifestyle" how does that translate to a Texan's vision of the great outdoors? An Alaskan’s?
That typed of canned definition seems doomed from the start.
Happily, those aren't questions that Onboard tries to answer. Instead, we set out to provide the toolset, the methods and implementation assistance needed by developers to empower end users and real estate professionals to create their own answers.
Sounds a bit like side-stepping the issue? I agree. But any attempt by me to define your lifestyle is bound to fail. This is an issue that defies universal solution and simple definitions. Do all young urban professionals in New York sip Starbucks by day (I do) and martinis by night (I’d rather have a craft beer) and take cabs everywhere (I like to walk)? Instead of imposing universal definitions, we've embraced the concept of empowering individualized definition. Rather than a closed, categorical solution, we work to deliver the maximum potential for the elegant solution.
The "elegant solution" is a phrase that has become popular as an ideal in manufacturing and process creation. In basic terms, elegant solutions take the complex and - without compromising quality, features or value - create downstream simplicity in implementation. We wrap the heavy lifting in easily understood packages and processes so that downstream implementations are straight forward and offer high user value.
The four part equation
We're looking to break this down to a simple, four part equation with all the values and their relationships defined by the users – not the builders - of the lifestyle engine. While we work with clients to package common search parameters, there is nearly limitless potential for individuals to mix, mingle and prioritize. The goal? Actually finding neighborhoods and listings that meet individual end-user lifestyles.
Imagine page one of the listings search results being spot on target with what the end user really wants.
Would you need page two? What about page ten? What value is there in the 1000th listing other than letting me know that the website really has no idea what my “best” matches are. Instead, I get to wade through pages of bad matches to try and find a handful of good ones. I’m guessing that the site’s designer doesn’t have the right equation for me…
So, what is this mysterious equation in four parts?
Content + Context + Differentiation + Control = potential definition.
OK - ambiguous and fuzzy. You're going to have to wait on the last three, but let’s talk a bit about content today.
Is content really king? If it's the right content, at the right moment, for the right person - yep, it sure is.
Let's use school content as an example. A typical home buyer will look for a property they can afford within a reasonable commute time from where they work where their kids will go to the best school system they can afford.
Or maybe not. What if the buyer is a senior? Or a single twentysomething? Or a couple with no intention of having kids? They may want an area with poor schools. Ok, that's not accurate either. They are likely thinking about cost of living, and good schools typically come with a high cost in property taxes. So, jettison the good schools and lower your tax burden.
But school performance is not the only angle on the relevance of education in the home search process. Picture the young writer or research assistant looking for a vibrant intellectual community. Is there a connection between community intellect and school performance? Educational attainment levels of residents and a measure of the climate that supports intellectual pursuit might be far more indicative of this than actual K - 12 school performance. Do performance and educational climate correspond?
Sometimes not (think Santa Fe or NYC – neither of which have great public schools).
But Santa Fe and NYC both have vibrant arts communities, writer’s communities, art and cultural organizations. New York - never the poster child for public school performance - is a tremendous university center with incredible resources on hand. The perfect Sunday in NYC has often been described as brunch and the Sunday paper.
So are we talking about content or context?
The point here is that data out of context doesn't really provide good insight to the end user. Yes, you need great data to provide an accurate results – it’s a prerequisite. Providing proper context is one area in which nearly every search systems fall flat. The context needed includes not just how local areas relate to their surroundings (for most people, Real Estate search is local, not national), but also the critical context of how the data points relate to the specific end user's focus, intent and perspective.
The beauty of a neighborhood or property really is in the eye of the individual buyer.
- I love tree lined streets. You have allergies.
- I want to grill outside. You never would.
- I want to watch the game at the corner bar. You want your own living room and couch.
Delivering the flexibility, context and toolset to developers that provides for personalized lifestyle search is what our product platform is all about. When brands begin to deliver this multi-dimensional, contextual lifestyle search paired with outstanding property detail information, they will simultaneously reap the benefits of a new class of qualified prospects – whose needs have already been gathered through the search platform.
At this point you may be thinking, “okay, Pete, when can we see this?” We have been working over the past months with a few companies that understand how visitors want to search. These clients are in development and are ready to launch with the first iteration of Lifestyle Search, right around the corner.
Image Credit: Horia Varlan on Flickr.com