Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Great products first, marketing later...

Yesterday's loyalty marketing presentation at the iMedia Brand Summit went very well. It was a great chance to raise visibility for the HouseValues business, and HomePages in particular, among several major brands, plus share some of our learnings around what makes for successful, high lifetime value products.

My premise was that effective loyalty marketing starts with two things that aren't always thought of as marketing:

1. A great product, that emotionally connects with your customers and fulfills a basic need or desire
2. A deep understanding of your customer, an understanding that allows you to anticipate what they need better and sooner than they know themselves

Good brands and companies are marketing-centric, in that the above two vital elements don’t emerge independently from a product development and research team. The marketing plan starts with the consumer, then the product, then the marketing.

Allow me to use HouseValues as an example. HouseValues services millions of home buyers and sellers each year, giving them free access to the information they need when buying and selling homes. That information is available on several Web sites, such as and, with the follow-up for specific requests made by local real estate professionals, who are experts in each of more than 20,000 neighborhoods nationwide.

HouseValues began almost seven years ago with a product that met both consumer and real estate professional needs. Prior to selling their home, consumers need to have a better understanding of how much their home is worth. delivers on that promise.

Real estate professionals, on the flip side, are constantly seeking a better way to meet prospective home buyers and sellers. Newspapers, direct mail and cold calling are all expensive, inefficient and largely ineffective. By making introductions with home sellers who proactively request a service that real estate agents are uniquely positioned to deliver, both sides are happy.

And these products are built based on a deep understanding of both customers. HouseValues founder Mark Powell is a second-generation real estate agent, so he knew first-hand what his customers needed. Extensive research of home buyers and sellers validated not only that the majority of consumers seek the value of their home before selling, but they do so several months before selling – and well before they typically look for a real estate agent.

By connecting interested consumers with interested real estate professionals months before a possible transaction, consumers get exactly the information they want while the real estate agents get a critical competitive advantage that, if worked right, will win them the consumer’s business come selling time.

Based on the above customer insight, we know there may be a period of many months between the delivery of the home's market value, and when consumers will be ready to sell. Our loyalty marketing challenge, therefore, is to bridge that gap on behalf of our real estate agent customer, keeping them top of mind with the consumer, so that they’re the first call when the consumer is ready to sell.

It's exciting to see this strategy in action every day, as consumers and real estate agents connect across the country in mutually-beneficial ways.