A Marketing Innovator Readies Real Estate for Its Close-Up

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CMO Matthew Leone discusses Terra Holdings approach to video


The real estate industry has quickly emerged as hotbed of marketing-technology innovation, and Terra Holdings CMO Matthew Leone is leading the charge. Leone, who frequently speaks on concepts shaping the future of real estate marketing, overseas a 26-member marketing function that serves parent company Terra Holdings two companies: Halstead Property, a residential brokerage company and residential management company serving high-net-worth areas in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey; and the Brown Harris Stevens companies, one of the oldest and largest residential and commercial real estate service providers in New York City. Here, Leone discusses the value video marketing delivers to his organization and the independent real estate agent who operate under its brands.

Q: What is your marketing passion?

A: I love to innovate and democratize the marketing process. I'm passionate about reaching the target market by getting messages out that are easy for consumers to absorb and to embrace on an emotional level.  

Q: What's an example of an innovative, democratic marketing approach?
A: Video is central to what I've been doing for the past seven years, and it's probably the facet of marketing that I'm most passionate about. With video, you can reach an incredibly large audience with a highly emotional message. People tend to embrace moving images more than words or static visuals. We're in the business of providing value to our consumers, and that value consists of information – information about them, the listing, the market, the neighborhood, or our company. Video is just one way to open up the process of sharing information, and it's incredibly effective because it holds stories. 

Q: When did the video's potential as a marketing tool first occur to you?
A: It was probably about six years ago. I was getting married, I felt fully committed to marketing as a career, and I found myself constantly thinking how I could help the company in new ways and take my career to the next level. I came up with an idea related to LeBron James' decision about which team to join as a free agent. The New York Knicks were one of the teams he was considering, so I worked with the marketing staff and our executive team to develop a video in which Halstead Property CEO Diane Ramirez announced that the company would help LeBron find a home in New York and donate the commission to the charity of his choice if he selected the Knicks. We also created a companion website, EveryKingNeedsACastle.com. LeBron ultimately signed with Miami, but our video was covered by ESPN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, Jim Lehrer, NPR, and thousands of other media outlets. In three days, the video attracted close to six figures of views. That was the moment that I realized that our business could use video to forge emotional connections with large audiences.

Q: How does video fit into your marketing mix today?
A: My personal opinion is that video works for just about anything. It works when communicating with clients, selling homes, and communicating to our real estate agents. Our agents put testimonials on compelling, two-minute videos that explain why you should work with them and how they're different from the tens of thousands of other agents out there. We produce five-minute market-report spots that feature our chief economist talking about the state of the market. We do interviews with newly hired executives to help introduce them to our workforce and our agents. We do expert pieces featuring interior designers, floral specialists, and other home experts who share guidance on making improvements in and around the home.

Q: What parameters help determine what videos are made and how they are produced?
A:  I'm a believer in video, but only in high-quality video. As a luxury brand we shouldn't do any unprofessional editing or Blair-Witch-style clips. That's not going to help anything that we do. You have to be mindful of your brand when you produce each video because you can't afford to get that wrong eve once. You have to be perfect in terms of quality and content. We invest a significant sum on in-house support and production staff, hosting, and content curation to make our video products successful.

Q: How do you keep pace with other forms of marketing technology, and how do you decide which ones are worthy of investment?
A: It starts with research. That means keeping your ear to the ground. That means networking with thought leaders and technology leaders in the industry so you cultivate a relationship with them. You want them to come to you with something new first so you can test-drive it. If you build a reputation in the industry that you're willing to try new initiatives, the people with new ideas and new technology want to come to you first, because it's going to be an easier sell. If you're successful with those initiatives, you tend to get more free rein in your company to try new things. But you have to pick your investment battles carefully, and that requires research. If your research tells you that a new technology is risky, it makes sense to do a smaller test case rather than going all in.

Q: Tell me about a recent marketing-technology investment that paid off.
A: We worked in conjunction with a company called Spacio to develop a branded, paperless open-house app for an iPad. It made the process of collecting information from open-house attendees so much easier for agents. Having the attendee's digital contact information made it easier for our agents to generate reports for their clients, and to provide immediate, branded responses to everyone who attended the open house. At a macro-level this information will show us how many people are attending open houses month-to-month and year-to-year, and how those figures correlate with sales. We're at a point in marketing and in business that analyzing large amounts of data is vital. We rolled out the app recently, and within a month we had 65 percent of our agents using it. We view anything above 50 percent adoption as an enormous success. 

Q: What other marketing technology are you evaluating right now?
A: We're extremely interested in interactive and immersive products. We plan to have virtual reality (VR) headsets at offices with viewing rooms later this year. When you're trying to find your next home, you have to emotionally attach yourself to it. The best way to do that is by being in the space. VR immerses you in that space. If you like that experience, you can go visit the home in person. When my wife and I were buying a home a few years ago, it annoyed me that we were working from a few a photos and a small description and had to visit something like 60 homes before we found ours. Why do we have to spend seven or eight weekends trying to find our next home when technology allows me to virtually kick the tires in my own home doing it on my time? Virtual reality gives us another opportunity to open up the process. But putting on VR glasses, you get access to every inch of a home. The technology is not quite scalable or perfected, but it's close. And we think Google Cardboard is a great, low-cost way to scale. We're working on scanning properties and then having agents share the Google Cardboard glasses with their clients so they can use their phones to virtually walk through properties at home.

Q: You're frequently cited in news articles and appear in televised interviews regularly. How did you develop your media skills?
A: I actually love doing it, but I wasn't at all good at it initially. I took media training and I kept at it. The only way to improve is to throw yourself into the fire. When you do something like The Today Show or a New York Times video, you need to focus on conveying your passion in snack-able talking points. That's crucial. I also love speaking at conferences, training agents, and presenting to large audiences, but I used to be afraid of those experiences. You just keep throwing yourself at those opportunities. And then once you've succeeded at talking in front of a large group or a national audience, everything else seems easy.  

Numerology

Data is an ever-present component of marketing decision-making. Here is a recent figure that inspired Terra Holdings CMO Matthew Leone and his team to take action.

Number: 10x

An analysis of Web data revealed that users spend 10 times more time on a listing equipped with 3D virtual walkthrough software compared to a listing that only offers floor plans and other static content. The virtual software creates engagement. “That's major,” Leone explains, “because we know the more time they are on our property, the less time they are on someone else's property.”

Action: In response, Leone and his team are looking for new ways to equip more listings with the 3D software and other forms of rich content, including videos of neighborhood attractions, room-painting apps that let shoppers change room colors and more.

 

Video Marketing Essentials

Halstead Property CMO Matthew Leone says the following components are essential to developing high-quality video-marketing capabilities:

  • Cost Management: Technology advancements have greatly reduced production costs in the past decade, but high-quality videos still require a significant investment. Leone says that a dedicated in-house staff and exclusive arrangements with external production companies help keep costs lower.
  • Production and Post-Production Talent:  “You need a good producer who can storyboard and keep everyone on point,” Leone says. “You're going to need a good director to be on-site with people who are probably not professional actors but who need to look like they are on camera. The post-production crew and your graphics crew are incredibly important for putting the final touches on a polished product.”
  • Marketing Leone has staffers dedicated to syndicating video content. They ensure that videos are syndicated on relevant platforms, correctly tagged on YouTube, placed on appropriate aggregator sites and more. “You've got to invest the time and money in the syndication strategies,” he adds. “And then you have to coach your staff and agents on how to get the video in front of their spheres of influence through email marketing and social media. You can create the best video content ever, but it's useless if it doesn't get in front of the right eyeballs.”

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