About a week after Redfin showed up on 60 Minutes, Century 21 started running an ad challenging the idea that you could buy a home online (video of ad no longer available on YouTube due the account being suspended).
“Some people think they can do it all on the computer,” the actor says. “Find a home, sell a home. Except the computer can’t do what I do at Century 21. Understand your needs. The subtleties of the market, the neighborhood… the schools… the process! To watch your eyes when you walk into a home and know right away that you’re in love with it. No computer can do that.”
I like the music, and the shy way she never quite stands in the center of the screen, or how she scrunches down as she talks about understanding your needs, even while the background darkens. The ad seems to be a self-conscious departure from the sinister tone of Century 21′s earlier efforts, which like most real estate marketing, oscillate between corn-pone dreams of home-ownership and scaring you to death.
But, since we still are one of the only online brokerages, it feels like a blunder for Century 21 to take us so seriously. Watching it, I was overcome with the elation of a high-school nerd after the prom queen noticed him enough for a put-down.
And the ad falls into the same old trap, arguing that customers need help picking out a home. Most don’t.
According to the market research we conducted before launching Redfin Direct, people value a broker for putting together a winning deal over helping them pick out a place, by a margin of about four to one. Buyers’ big anxiety is that their agent, because he’s paid by the seller, isn’t completely on their side. Negotiations, contingencies, legalities are of course where Redfin salaried real estate agents focus all their efforts. The ad doesn’t really speak to any of that; it acts as if online brokerages don’t even have any agents.
Our CTO, Michael Young, disagrees. He thinks the ad is bad news for Redfin. In an e-mail, he worries that traditional brokerages “have a lot of money to spend… there’s a consistent FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt] attack against us that we’re just a bunch of low-touch clerks that we don’t combat well in our current marketing.”
Redfin spent peanuts on marketing last year vs. the traditional industry’s $12 billion. Mike suggested all sorts of guerilla tactics for getting the word out that we offer better service from offer to close than a traditional agent. Somebody suggested providing complete real-time access to customer survey results. My favorite was cinema verite of Redfin customers and agents working together. Our founder, David Eraker, once proposed picketing traditional real estate brokerages. (“What would we put on our signs?” I said.)
And so we’ve started to think about how we should change up our marketing, and could use a few suggestions. We’ve already got some raw material: Redfin customers have shown up on TV in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and nationwide. We’ve got heaps of real estate agent and customer photos and testimonials buried somewhere in our site. We’ve also written an exhaustive overview of the home-buying process, more than I thought anyone would ever read, except we know from all the questions we get in our real estate classes that occasionally they do.
If you know someone handy with home-movies, or you have an idea about what we should do to spread the word, let us know.