Page Donovan's Editorial Archives
The events of Sept. 11 have given many Americans a deeper appreciation of the comfort of our own homes and personal communities of family and friends. Savvy Web marketers in the home building industry will capitalize on this trend by leveraging the Web's ability to connect people and make them feel part of a group, in spite of the medium's seemingly impersonal nature.
To understand what Web-based community means, consider the following statistics from a recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
- 84% of Internet users have contacted an online group.
- In the days after Sept. 11, 33% of American Internet users read or posted material in chat rooms, bulletin boards or other online forums.
Does this mean you should host chats for your prospects or establish a "Builder ABC Fan Club"? No. But it does point to Americans' desire to be heard, to feel connected and to build meaningful relationships by intensifying their connections with relevant groups.
Community in the case of home developers and the Web can be considered a network of relationships bound together to create a positive experience and lay the groundwork for lasting interaction. The key to building community is to identify, understand and nurture the commonalities of the group. The Web offers numerous opportunities to foster this relationship.
Appropriate E-Mail Outreach
Information is power and often serves as the foundation for community. To build solid relationships and make people feel a part of something, it is critical to keep them informed while not abusing their desire to hear from you. Home is where the heart is, and any communications you deliver to make people feel at home contribute to their sense of community - whether they've just begun shopping for a new home, are in the throes of the sales process or have settled in as homeowners in one of your neighborhoods. Consider the following possibilities:
- Invite prospects to join (opt-in to) an interest list that delivers periodic updates on community progress, including phase releases, grand openings and other milestones. But be cautious here. Internet prospects are savvy and expect e-mail communications to be meaningful. Save the sales fluff for your print brochures. Ladera Ranch in Orange County, Calif., has had an effective e-mail outreach program for several years, and the results speak for themselves: 19% of homes sold went to people who participated in the e-mail program, and 30% of homes currently in escrow are spoken for by e-mail participants as well.
- Create personalized e-mail communications to all audiences from senior company executives - a welcome reinforcement for prospects and homeowners alike.
- Notify buyers of building status, milestone dates, contractual issues, etc. Have your sales representatives forward periodic updates with digital photos to illustrate building progress.
Keep homeowners loyal to your brand. Deliver appropriate home maintenance tips (it's time to change the filters in your heating system, for example) and other relevant updates. Consider a community-based bulletin board or community intranet. Ladera Ranch's LaderaLife community intranet is accessible only to homeowners and gives them information on everything from homeowners association regulations to community events to classified listings for baby sitters and lawn-care services. The ultimate goal is to offer a completely wired community where every home has a computer and every activity, from scheduling dentist appointments to Web-based parent-teacher conferences, is available through the community intranet.
- Use homeowner relations as a marketing tool by featuring homeowner-oriented content and services on your Web site. Why not offer a Web-based warranty request form, letting homeowners easily submit punchlists 24/7? This will appeal to prospects as well, sending the message that you really take care of your homeowners.
- Offer lots of community-oriented information to make it easy for owners and prospects to find what they need:
- 43% of Internet users say they "often" or "sometimes" go online to seek information about local stores or merchants.
- 30% "often" or "sometimes" go online for information about local government.
- 24% go online for information about local schools.
Next month: Beware the Banner Ad - what to know before you sign on the dotted line.
Page Donovan is chief marketing strategist for Inter@ctivate Inc., an interactive consulting firm specializing in online solutions for the home building industry. Contact her with any questions at 619/814-1999 ext. 190 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Part 3: Once You've Built Your Web Site, Will They Come?