Reacting to Thursday’s announcement about the new “Freakish Depth” release of Redfin.com, Austin asset manager Lani Anglin-Rosales wrote an analysis of Redfin’s brand for national real estate magazine Agent Genius:
Redfin is actually designed to appeal to GenY by using hip vernacular like “Redfin’s goal is to delight our audience of hard-core real estate fanatics by offering Freakish Depth on major real estate markets.”
On the same day that Lani talks about our appeal to people born between 1980 and 1995, San Diego real estate blogger Kris Berg writes “you dudes, like, speak my language,” and Greg Swann wonders about the “gnomes who find Redfin appealing.” But it was Lani’s analysis that generated so many comments she had to close the post, concluding with:
As an insider, I can tell you that GenY
falls for wants jazzy words and being made to feel special, so all you really have to do to cater to GenY is tell them they’re special, that you’re stupid and they’re not, and give them shiny buttons on your website and offer them $100 at closing as a rebate.
Notwithstanding that our average refund is $10,000 at closing, Lani is correct that our brand appeals to younger people: 90% of our customers are under 45.
But this talk of “delight” was not a calculated attempt to appeal to GenY. The concept actually came to us years ago from P&G employee Dan Gerbus, when many Redfin employees worked for a startup that made software for companies like P&G. It was strange to hear a now-retired IT manager in Cincinnati talk so freely and passionately about the vaguely sensuous idea at the center of P&G’s strategy: “the first and second moments of consumer delight.”
And it had never occurred to us back then that the proper role of a new product is not simply to fill a need, but to delight its customers. Pre-Redfin, we had always focused on such dry selling points as return on investment and network security.
Dan explained that the first moment of delight is when the consumer first spies it on the grocery shelf. The second moment is when the consumer actually uses the product. We liked the idea that using the product is the real moment of truth precisely because, contrary to Lani’s point, this respects rather than dupes the consumer.
Coming to Redfin with no consumer products experience, we remembered what we learned from the best consumer-products company in the world about delight. Our first moment is our map-based real estate search, but the second is what really counts: when we deliver results as real estate brokers. If traditional agents teleported into a random Redfin meeting, I really think they would be surprised just how much we talk about this. And then they would be brainwashed, hogtied or sacrificed in a bizarre, sadistic ritual.*
But what about “Freakish Depth”?
Before Redfin, we had been used to pouring our guts out on software that half-interested people barely paid attention to. But a real estate application is one of the few web applications in the world where you can safely assume that people want all the information you can possibly give them. Few people browse Amazon, Orbitz or E-Trade until their eyeballs fall out, but that’s how they use real estate sites.
So in focus group after focus group, we tried to convince our customers that they didn’t actually want to see all the information about a property for sale, or that brief data quality burps didn’t matter. And we always failed.
Redfin’s happiest thought came at the end of one of these focus groups when someone said, “These people are as freaky as we are.” It’s a nerd’s dream: taking one of the most rich, public and structured data sets in the world, and getting free reign to shovel as much of that data as you can out onto the Web.
So after poking at inventory for a while, we’ve decided to go nuclear on data quantity and quality, because we found that consumers really freak out about differences that we had worried seemed arcane or even invisible. Freakish Depth is also probably the only strategy that Redfin, limited now to seven markets while others build national sites, can be good at: taking consumers the long hard way from previewing homes online, to touring, pricing and buying, owning.
So we use terms like “Freakish Depth” not to appeal to GenY but because that’s how we really think of our strategy, and saying what we really think is probably the only way we can be heard in this fake-weary, media-saturated world. But to our critics, sincerity just seems like the most cunning trick of all.
(Bonus to anyone who can identify the art work pictured above as an example of delight, and how it works. Credit to Business Week for Dan’s photo. Many thanks to Dan for all he taught the Plumtree-alum at Redfin and everywhere else.)
*The human-sacrifice comment was just a joke, about how traditional agents seem to think of us and what we do all day. We try to delight you, too. If we held an open house for traditional agents to meet Redfin agents and executives would you come?