Think People First

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Camilla Sullivan, SVP of Marketing at Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate (a client of ours), discusses the need to focus on the consumer:

Sitting down to work on our website content strategy for 2009, our discussion quickly dove to the core questions at the heart of things:

  • “What do home buyers and sellers want to know?”
  • “What information is useful enough for them to spend their time on?”
  • “How has the market changed most recently and how can we best adjust what we provide to reflect that?”

In a quickly changing market, consumers are even more powerful and have the ability to nimbly pick and choose across the world of information at their fingertips. They will only spend their time with information that addresses a specific need — generic, “one-size-fits–all” content just won’t do. That’s why I’ve been spending time planning content that will be relevant to home buyers and sellers in today’s market.

In a self-serving way, I'm glad that BHG is one of our clients, because that means they have the world of information that Onboard Informatics provides at their disposal in order to offer it to their consumers. :) /selfpromotion.

There is, however, a real point to be made here. While I totally appreciate the direction that BHG is taking with its consumer-first attitude, I want to urge them (and all of you) to go further.

When it comes to content, do NOT think consumers first; rather, think people first.

Long before a woman is a buyer looking for a starter home, she is a mother of two, married to a lawyer who works too many hours, with an elderly mom she looks after. Her concerns did not start with wanting to be a consumer of real estate; her concerns began with being a person with real human concerns. Are my kids safe enough in this neighborhood? The park is kind of far away; maybe they're going to want to play outside more? Do I really trust the school system here? But what do I do about my mom? Will Joe want to move? Does he still think I'm pretty?

(Okay, data probably can't answer that last question.)

Long before a man is a seller looking to get the best price, he is a father of three grown kids, with a grandchild on the way, with a wife who returned to work three years ago and is having a thriving second career as a paralegal, who loves to play golf with people from his church where he is a deacon. His concerns did not start with wanting to sell the house.

And so on and so forth.

The standard paradigms of consumers are actually driven by real, human concerns and real, human questions. Engaging them only when they have officially flipped to being a consumer is, I submit, too late.

This is especially the case when you are planning content. The details depend upon your particular business strategy, your particular brand positioning, but as a general matter, I am a big fan of continuous engagement at a human level at every stage.

Is there a law that says that big real estate brands can't provide interesting food for thought to a young mother who is busy packing diaper bags for the trip to the park? No. Why couldn't a realtor -- a human being like the "consumer" -- relate on a human level with someone who hasn't given a thought to selling his house, but his last child is about to graduate from high school next year? Why not provide content that might be interesting to that person?

We deal in data at Onboard Informatics. But in reality, we deal in the kinds of information that helps our clients relate to their customers in a real, human way. It isn't perfect -- and it likely never will be. But simply adding school information to a listing shows the consumer that the company understands at some level that the reason why she wants to move is to provide a better education for her children.

As a company, we're hard at work developing products and services that will continually help our clients get into this personal conversation with their customers. But this goes beyond Onboard. This goes beyond BHG, goes beyond just our clients.

As an industry, we all need to take things to the next step. Yes, by all means, let us resolve to be consumer-centric. But let us resolve to go further than simply thinking of consumers to thinking of human beings.

Image Credit: Michael Bently on Flickr.com