People are strange: How one small company got schizo about their content marketing plans

I went to a client’s office yesterday to help them think through some online and offline content development projects. We bounced around some ideas about what kinds articles, videos, animations and audio might better engage their clients and help them build up interest (and leads) for their company.

For the first hour or so, we agreed on several things. One, their audience needs to know specific information about what’s true and what’s myth online with respect to their industry. Not everything that turns up with a Google search is necessarily true or useful for their potential customers.

This is a real estate company that’s underexposed in the community. They’re targeting older empty nesters. The empty nesters may have houses they want to sell as they grow older.  

Bragging is fine. . later.

They insisted on discussing old, staid marketing approaches, however. They wanted to produce the same old “me first” content. After some lively discussion, I got them to agree that it’s not useful to brag about your company and keep putting out photos of deals you did and so forth. Those kinds of testimonials are fine on web sites and in meetings where they already have a lead and a meeting. But generally, you’re not going get leads and develop engagement by telling people how great you are and immediately showing them all the great things you did (especially in social media channels).

Do you mind if we dance with your dates?

The way to get people interested in your company is to be interested in them. This is a lot like dating. When you date someone, you don't tell them that your net worth is $50 million on the first date. You're just not going to get a second date with that kind of approach. At a bar, you're not going to get a second look if you come out with that kind of game.

A better approach is to show interest in the other person. You want to ask them about what's going on in their life, what's not going well, what they're afraid of what they aspire to and so forth.

Going for digits instead of wedding rings.

If you can help them with advice and insight about things they're interested in and offer up genuine, thoughtful responses (including humor), then you’ve got a captive audience - at least for a few minutes. That's how you date. You talk to someone about their interests, then you integrate your interests with their interests until you start to develop a communications partnership. That will get you to a phone number or a date.

The same goes for business and the content development game. You don’t use your first utterances to close for an invitation to their bed . . or worse, marriage. You need to create content that is unlike what everyone else in the real estate business is doing.

Here’s the state of real estate content development that I see around town and on blogs. (Although here’s one guy that gets it: How to Negotiate a a Real Estate Home Inspection ). People send out photos of the property they listed and photos of the properties they sold. They send out pads and brag-book brochures that endlessly describe how great they are and how great their properties are. The latter is usually in elaborate, overly-written descriptive language.

We can all get on Redfin and Zillow. Duh.

That's all good and well, but these days people have access to everything they want online. If I'm looking for a house, I'm spending 2 to 3 hours on the web every night. I've seen every picture (from every agent and broker in the area) that could possibly be laid out and printed in a handsome glossy piece that's going to be dropped on my doorstep. I've already seen what's out there, I know what the prices are, I know the comps and what sold in the neighborhood.

People know how to do basic research, especially about real estate. They go to Redfin and Zillow. They zoom around Google Earth. They research sites that rank the neighborhood schools. They get it.

When a real estate broker puts ‘listed and sold’ stuff on doorsteps, it signals that the company hasn’t caught up with how the world currently works.


So what happened at the end of my meeting? We had this talk about how we need to put original content in front of people that helps them make decisions about properties.

They agreed, we spitballed a bunch of ideas, then (here’s the kicker and the reason why the article title includes People are Strange) . . they circled back to the idea that they wanted to produce a piece that tells everyone what the comps are in the neighborhood. Ugh!

I had to get them off of that obsession and re-affirm that they don’t want to do what everyone does.

Playing it safe is dangerous.

The problem is that conservative businesses almost always want to do what everyone does. They think it’s safe. They want to emulate the other guy real estate agent that’s winning with his spiffy pads and pretty brochure.

Eventually, I got them thinking about giving out information that describes:

  • What the common drawbacks are when searching for properties online

  • What information is out there and what information is WRONG

  • What numbers are inflated

We talked about targeted information that could be sent via direct email or direct mail to specific neighborhoods - really custom stuff. We want to avoid wasting their time with information on areas their audiences don’t care about. We talked about producing content for sharing social networks, content related to the fears and misinformation inherent to the real estate market.

Focus Potsy.

Another area where the real estate company was straying a bit off course was with their brochure. They wanted to combine multiple lines of business - including their residential real estate, commercial lending and property management businesses - into one brochure in order to save money on printing.

Yet, combining too much information in one small marketing piece is not a good idea. You’ll save money, but you’ll lose credibility and fragment the brand. People won't know what to think of you. What they needed was an approach that stays on topic, on target - with one message, one take-away, one call to action and that’s it. Busy readers have a hard enough time trying to makes sense of the the noisy media world. If you’re not highly entertaining or highly valuable with respect to a specific need they have, they’re going to tune you out really quickly.

They don’t want companies to open up a huge trench coat and show them 20 different products. They’ll stare back at you and say, “Ok, which one of these businesses are you good at?”

Bring it home.

Summary time: Businesses and people are unreasonably tied to the old ways. It’s very hard to convince them to create different, original content. We tend to want to copy everyone else and not stand out. However, the company that's the oddball is the one that's going to steal market share.

Think about the bigger stage. Who in the entertainment industry stood out? Who flipped the game on its head and stole business from entrenched stalwarts?


Netflix re-imagined production contracts. They revolutionized how content is delivered to peoples homes. They completely shattered old notions about how TV shows and movies are produced. They shook up pay scale and creativity incentives for the studios. Think about House of Cards and Kevin Spacey’s whole rant.

That’s who you want to be like. Be more like a Netflix and less like a Blockbuster. Stick around. Change up your game. And see how much attention you get.