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Written By: Hillary Stamas & Justin Ruby
You might find him in Foundry’s 8th floor ping-pong room getting trounced by fellow industrial broker James Baker (at time of publication, the 2018 running score is 16 to 51). Or, if you’re ambitious, you could catch him at his 6:00 AM hot yoga class. But if he’s not out on a tour or knocking on doors, you’ll likely find Justin Ruby in his office during the workday. Scattered around his desk are mementos of past marketing campaigns and creative events. A 12-foot metal post with a green directional street sign reading “Name Your Legacy” leans against a wall, and a single tennis shoe wrapped in plastic sits on a bookshelf next to a Tonka truck that has a succulent in its truck bed. Pinpointing unique selling propositions and creatively marketing them seems to be an art that Ruby is constantly refining.
Justin is known around the office as an out-of-the-box marketer. When everyone else is zigging he’s zagging. Some elements of the traditional marketing mix (product, price, place, promotion) are immovable for brokers. So, after a property is priced competitively and promoted in traditional channels like LoopNet and Costar, what differentiates one broker or firm from any other? And how do they communicate those advantages?
I think being memorable is way more important than being good. My dad is an artist; he did abstract, wild stuff; my mother is a businesswoman, so both sides are in my DNA. I studied marketing at the University of Florida, not because I wanted to go into the field of marketing but because I wanted to understand the art of business.
Weaving creative emotion into my personal business is what I believe ultimately drives decision-making. Emotion fills the space between a selling feature and a benefit of the feature, and that’s where deals happen. For example, a feature of a property might be that it has direct frontage to the Florida Turnpike. What we market is the benefit of that feature, which could be that over 67,000 people will see the client’s brand on their Turnpike-front building every day. We’ll mock up a rendering of the building with their branding, and provide examples of other businesses that are successful from the same benefit. Creating the story behind a benefit is where the art of marketing starts. Our team recently took this approach to an extreme by producing a short video spoof of the movie “Office Space” that we called “Warehouse Space”. The video poked fun at traffic issues in an Orlando submarket and drew attention to the fact that the property we are leasing had rare direct access to a primary thoroughfare. The goal was to create buzz around the property and specifically to increase email open rates and click rates. Industry average open and click rates are 20.8% and 1.91% respectively; this campaign saw a 37% open rate and 55% click-through rate… and generated lots of calls.
At an earlier point in my career I worked with second-home resort developments. Even though the volume in commercial is larger, it lags behind residential in creativity. A lot of commercial marketing is so linear, it ignores what’s most important to the client. Marketing through story-telling builds value with urgency by defining a unique benefit and then demonstrating how that benefit directly fits a client’s need. Marketing creatively is less about the stuff you give people or the specs of a building as much as it is about the language you use and quality of questions you ask with respect to the client’s needs. In my resort real estate days when someone would ask, “do you allow dogs here?” they weren’t looking for a yes or no answer as much as they were wondering how it would affect them personally. Layering questions, and replying “do you have a dog?” allowed me to understand whether they were asking because they loved dogs or because they were terrified of dogs, and how to tell the property story with that knowledge in mind.
In my experience, there are two key instances where operating creatively leads to winning deals: the first is in grabbing attention, and the second is in consistent, thoughtful relationship-building. The attention-getting step is usually the flashiest, but it’s just a tool to attain a face-to-face meeting and it’s useless without genuine and creative follow-up. It’s the consistency of communication touches, not the one-time wow marketing piece that matters.
One way that our team is constantly grabbing attention and fostering relationships is through unexpected gifts and personal notes. Thoughtful gifts usually have a high response rate because they’re unique and they’re typically sent at a time of year when no one else is sending marketing materials. Everybody bombards clients at holidays and a lot of those efforts become white noise. We try to send fun gifts and personal notes when the messages will be heard loudest. One unexpected gift that had a close to 100% response rate earlier this year was a Mardi Gras King Cake delivery from one of my favorite bakeries in New Orleans. Potential clients received a cake and Mardi Gras beads at their office with a personalized note about this special tradition in my family, and it wished them good fortune in their business pursuits for the year. Many sent me a picture of who in their office found “Baby Jesus” in their slice of cake. Hand delivering roses on Valentine’s Day was another huge win for our team, connecting with clients face-to-face for a quick but memorable visit. I’ve gone as far as mailing a single shrink-wrapped sneaker to someone I was trying to get a meeting with, and it worked. A friend of mine started a company called Complete the Pair that grabbed a prospect’s attention by merging the nonprofit and business worlds with a little creativity. The sneaker had a ransom note explaining that it could be donated to a charity that provides shoes to people in need. To donate and complete the pair of shoes, the prospect would have to meet with whoever had the other sneaker. This campaign had a great response rate, and with a little creativity this idea could be reproduced through other mediums easily.
Not everyone considers themselves to be creative, and making the initial move towards marketing creatively might seem a bit daunting. Start with a simple idea and brainstorm with a team. Drive people to their strengths. People often back away from creative ideas because they hit a wall and return to their default routine. Push a little more. And you don’t have to do it alone, I believe the best creative ideas come from a great team with balanced interests. Part of the reason I chose Foundry was that there wasn’t a template for how to market. You have the freedom to create your story and you have a talented team to help build it.