Like most real estate marketers, Bob Bach, Owner of Century 21 Timeshare Resales, has invested heavily in offline advertising for years. His ads appear on more than 30 billboards in the Orlando area, he mailed postcards to rented lists, and his team conducted aggressive outbound telemarketing campaigns. However, by 1996 he began to wonder if Web marketing could be powerful as offline campaigns.
Customer acquisition is the heart of Bach’s business. With 80 salespeople in five offices in Florida, he needed fresh qualified leads daily. He did not expect the Internet to replace salespeople because timeshares start at around $1500 and go up from there, so the human touch is needed to close most sales. Was there a way to generate qualified leads online?
Soon Bach found that, just like the rest of the real estate business, timeshare resales is a competitive business on the Internet. “There's 500 resale people and 50 to 100 Web sites in the search engines -- plenty of them.” CAMPAIGN
Bach decided to create a Web site that would be a lead-generating machine, as opposed to just pretty-looking "brochureware".
He launched his first site in 1996 and has worked to make it more effective on an ongoing basis since then. Unlike other real estate sites at the time (and in fact unlike most today) instead of showing glossy pictures, he designed the site specifically to generate leads.
Therefore, Bach's site is designed entirely around directing the visitor’s experience, so they enter their data if they are a qualified timeshare seller or buyer prospect. Features of the site include:
-> Image-light quickly downloading pages.
Real estate sites are infamous for being so graphic and image-loaded that they are very slow to download. However, research shows Web surfers are an impatient group who tend to leave sites if downloads take longer than 8-10 seconds. Bach consciously decided against including many photos, large logos and other images on his site. As a result it loads unusually quickly.
-> Single Goal-oriented site.
Every single page drives towards the seller or buyer forms. There are no links to other resources on timeshares. This site is designed as a lead collection device, period.
-> Intentionally 3-click shallow site.
Research shows that most Web surfers will only spend two-three clicks on a particular site. So Bach decided against including any content or information that would be extraneous to getting a qualified lead. Therefore this is not a content-rich site, but Bach is not in the business of selling customers on the virtues of timeshares. He is looking to display his inventory and collect information from sellers. From home page through the detailed results listing, the site is four pages (three clicks) deep.
-> Contact information for email, phone, fax, and walk-in traffic is available on every single page.
Bach decided against relegating contact information to a single contact page. Instead, interested buyers and sellers can see clear contact instructions on almost every single page of the site. This is particularly important because many people print search results to discuss with spouses later.
-> Highly searchable classified listings for buyers.
Unlike most real estate sites that classify listings by one or two criteria, such as price and location. Bach’s classifieds are searchable on many criteria. Visitors can search by city, country, number of bedrooms, price, and week (since timeshares are sold by the week). Each property has an ID number associated with it. Each page also implores visitors to include the ID number of their choice when they contact Bach so his sales reps can serve them more effectively.
-> Unusually detailed property listing form for sellers.
The site heavily promotes Bach's key selling point to owners wishing to sell property: the fact that unlike classified sites, being listed in Bach's site is free (except for any resulting sales commissions).
Then the site asks property-owners to fill out a listing form that asks for so much information that anyone who is not seriously interested in selling is likely to be discouraged. From Bach’s perspective, all this information is required to list and sell the property, and he does not want his agents wasting time on sellers who are not ready to sell. Due to the fact some people do not have all the information available (or do not want to reveal all at once), sellers can submit an incomplete form, although to encourage as many completed forms as possible this fact is not advertised.
-> Spanish and Portuguese language pages.
Because many South Americans own timeshares in the Orlando area, Bach offers most pages of his site in multiple languages to make it easier for them. He hands over all leads to native-language speaking agents.
-> Weekly specials.
In late 2001, Bach started testing a new Weekly Specials feature. A link on the home page takes visitors to a list of 30 to 40 hot new listings. “If they see something they like they can email or call, ‘I'm interested in one in Cancun,’ and it goes from there.”
To drive targeted traffic to his site, Bach initially focused on search engine optimization (the art of making sure search engines notice your site and place it high up in their free rankings).
He also sent email campaigns to one of his best sources of leads – other Century 21 agents around the world. As a franchise owner, he had access to the list from Century 21 and permission to email them. In these emailed notes, he tells agents about his services, and reminds them that he pays a referral fee of $400 to agents who bring him business. He also includes a copy of a referral form for them to complete.
After a while these no-cost marketing tactics returned such good results that Bach decided to invest more aggressively in online marketing to drive site traffic, by hiring a specialist ad agency. It was tougher than he'd expected to pick the right agency; and in fact, Bach went through three different agencies until he chose his current one, .Com Marketing.
“I’ve had a number of ad agencies. I hired .Com Marketing last summer.” explains Bach. “They had been doing some work. They called me. They're local. The others I have used are out there on web somewhere. .Com had been involved in business with another company, and they already had some idea of what I was looking for.”
The traffic he saw from their initial targeted banner campaigns was enough to encourage him to invest more in their services.
In late 2001, he decided to test email marketing for acquisition to a rented list. “He came to us knowing exactly what he wanted from direct response email marketing. It was up to us to tell him what was possible,” recalls Hillary Bressler, President and CEO of .Com Marketing.
Bach wanted to limit his investment to a highly qualified list of timeshare owners. “Some companies want to send 3 million messages. I only wanted to reach timeshare owners,” he explains. Therefore, .Com Marketing rented a 60,000-address sample of a 300,000 name list from eDirect. Because Bressler wanted to make sure the test went as well as possible, she specifically sought out a double opt-in list, as opposed to a single opt-in list.
The email copy reminded timeshare owners that annual maintenance fees would soon be due, and the time to sell was now. This duplicated a highly effective offer Bach’s made in direct mail in the past. The creative even looked like a postcard.
“We worked with Bob to develop this creative. Don’t fall off your chair. It’s not that beautiful. We’re not going to win any Addys for it, but Bob knew what he wanted, and we wanted to meet his needs,” confesses Bressler. It sprung out of Bach’s online philosophy: do not make it pretty, make it generate leads.
“We included a form to get people to opt into Bob’s own list. At the last minute we decided to add a button for people who wanted to buy a timeshare.”
Research shows that about 1/2 of all email recipients make a read or delete decision based each email's FROM line. So, Bach chose the highest impact FROM line he could: the brand name "Century 21". “Century 21 gets the ball rolling,” explains Bach.
Bach’s site currently generates an astonishing 400-500 email messages a day from qualified buyers and sellers. 60% come from sellers, 40% from prospective buyers. Bach's sales reps love Web leads because these prospects are ready to act.
Many of these leads are ones he never would have gotten otherwise because these prospects never would have seen his billboards or gotten his direct mail. “The buyer may be in Saudi and the seller in Saskatchewan. This morning someone called from Brisbane,” reported Bach. “We wouldn’t have gotten them any other way.”
-> The pages in Spanish and Portuguese are definitely proving effective. “We’ve been seeing a lot of interest in sales from Argentineans who want to unload timeshares because of the financial situation there,” reports Bach.
-> Since adding Weekly Specials to the site just two months ago, Century 21 Timeshare Resales has sold 20-30 properties because of them.
-> Bach has learned that he has continually to update his search engine optimization tactics. “It used to be you could include ‘timeshare’ 10 million times on your page in invisible text, and you’d be ranked above someone who had ‘timeshare’ 8 million times. That’s all changed.” But he has learned that it is worth it because it brings him so much traffic, “If you can't keep up with it you’re at the bottom of barrel. You can go top to bottom in a week. I can tell from the amount of leads I get. All of a sudden leads go way down. I know something is going on.”
-> Email marketing to other Century 21 agents produces results. “I got a referral today from an agent in Ontario.”
-> The open rate for the test email marketing campaign 30%. 10% of the list actually responded (one-third of opens), and in the end, Bach's sales team closed on 200 sales -- a .33% conversion rate or 1.1% of opens. The cost of acquisition was a remarkably low $31.
“Judging by the results, Bob knew exactly what would work with his target audience,” explains Bressler. “.Com Marketing have been doing an awesome job,” adds Bach. And he plans to continue this email marketing experiment again in 2002.Useful links related to this article:
Email campaign sample:
Century 21 Timeshare Resales