As I'm writing this post I'm looking up at a photograph of a Bi-State Bus (the St. Louis area's local bus company) that has a giant banner on the side of it with my company's logo. I actually had two buses that were supposed to travel a certain route (though an area of St. Louis real estate that I was focusing on). I honestly don't remember how much that ad campaign cost me, but I do remember how many calls I got off of it. That answer is ZERO!
The same thing when I advertised on the two St. Louis radio stations. The first lesson that I learned was not to listen to the sales person, especially if you don't have a lot of money to spend. Their motivations and yours are not the same. They are looking to sell vacant air and you're looking to generate telephone calls. The two don't always jibe.
Newspaper ads? Not any more. The only time that I've found them useful at all is when I was advertising an open house. Otherwise, they too were pretty useless.
I did have luck with advertising on one of the local cable networks real estate ad program. You know, the ones that scroll from ad to ad with a voice-over some static pictures. It looked pretty "home-tv", but for a while it did generate some telephone calls. Then "poof" they stopped working.
Broadcast TV was always out of my reach, so I can't express an opinion there, but I would imagine that the same rule that I learned regarding the other forms of media would hold true here as well. Go big or go home!
I talked to a friend of mine, a guy name Paul Macfarlane who owns an advertising agency called the Experiment http://www.the1101experiment.org/. Paul does a lot of really creative ad work and has worked for some of the biggest and most successful companies out there. He has done quite a bit to help companies utilize advertising to grow their businesses. Anyway, Paul told me that it's a matter of identifying your target audience and then putting a message in front of them with enough frequency so that the message takes root. Sometimes that message is a specific one such as, "Call NOW! 314-231-5478!" and sometimes it's more directed at establishing name recognition. That you have to know what your shooting for to be able to measure your results.
Well, when I looked back on my previous advertising ventures through that prism, I could clearly see some of my mistakes. The buses? Well, I was wanting and needing my phones to ring and that medium was probably better suited for creating name recognition. Also, if I was going to go for that medium, I probably should have held off until I was able to afford 20 or 30 buses. With my two, not enough people saw the ad often enough for the message to take root. i.e. I didn't have enough frequency. It didn't help that the buses ended up running all over town and not in the area that they were supposed to!
Radio did better getting people to pick up the phone and call us, but no where near to often enough to justify the cost. Again, if I was going to do radio again, I wouldn't do it until I had enough money to put my ads on to the point of irritation. My other lesson in this regard was to NOT listen to the sales person. Especially if you don't have a bunch of money to spend. If you're going to do radio, do the same specific time period over and over. That's the only way that you can get your message in front of the listeners with enough FREQUENCY!
So Bob, what has worked for you? Well, the answer to that question has been direct mail. Highly targeted to specific groups with enough frequency to where they get our postcards on a weekly basis for some groups and on a quarterly basis for other groups. The response rate isn't that high with the first mailing, but gets better and better with each subsequent mailing to that group.
So, how about you? What has worked for you and what hasn't? Comment back to me or drop me a line and let me know.
R.B. "Bob" Mitchell
St. Louis Discount/Full-Service Real Estate Company