Online Lead Generation: Pipe Dream or Full Pipeline?

By Sharon Scott Wilson, RRP

What do marketers of a retirement community and a timeshare resort have in common? Much in every way: Their prospective customers have no sense of urgency to purchase, for one. Unlike a typical real estate transaction, buyers aren’t going to face homelessness if they don’t make a decision immediately…or, even this year.

Of course, there are other barriers to overcome, including pricing, location, and product quality. With the understanding that these issues have been addressed agreeably, there remains the looming issue of a client that’s just not in any big hurry.

Using the Internet to attract this type of buyer is viewed as a viable and powerful opportunity by the developer of a niche retirement community in Tennessee Tim Wilson, of The Gardens RV Village. (Wilson also launched and is CEO of The Trades Publishing Company, which publishes Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades magazines.) A unique project catering exclusively to RV enthusiasts, the subdivision is located on the 2,200-foot-high Cumberland Plateau, west of Knoxville. Wilson took over development of the Gardens – GardensRV.com – in 2002 and, today, the project has more than 200 luxury homes, each with a huge, attached RV garage.

Wilson’s marketing experience began in the early ‘80s working for a timeshare resort development company. As a numbers guy, he had a fail-safe direct mail system based on a 21-day offer. “We gave a response deadline for prospects to call and reserve your proverbial three-day/two-night vacation.” He could pretty well predict the resort’s expected tour flow based on his system of percentages.

In the ‘80s when social media came on the scene, Wilson had created his publishing company and was an early adopter of the social media concept. He had his team create a Facebook-like website dedicated to the timeshare industry, called AskMando.com (an acronym for “ask management and operations”). His was a product that appeared before its time, however, and he never could quite get advertisers to understand the medium’s potential. In those early days, the various platforms were viewed mainly in the context of personal use, rather than an effective way to push out a message. But the lessons learned were not forgotten a few decades later when he delved into the procurement of leads for his retirement community.

”As a land tract developer marketing to a highly niched demographic, I’ve rediscovered the use of social media I explored in the ‘80s by using Facebook,” he tells us. “The numbers work out. If using direct mail programs were like a shotgun approach (the numbers worked because it was relatively cheap); then using Facebook is like using a precision rifle. It’s perfect for a small HOA or manager who can’t afford a large marketing operation. Facebook marketing is revolutionary. This is the same concept as the old direct mail; but now, you can drill down to people you know have the propensity to buy. These days, Facebook can help you offer a higher quality premium to a highly select group of prospects with greater assurance that you won’t have to weed through a lot of NQs.”

In an article entitled, “Digital Marketing,” which appeared in the September 2016 edition of Resort Trades, Mark LaClair, managing partner at TotalScope Marketing, spoke with our writer Judy Kenninger, telling her he used multiple channels. “Your marketing efforts need to work seamlessly with social media, your website, email, and other channels. The idea is to have a campaign with enough gravitas and then leverage the strength of each channel.” The article mentioned LaClair also believes that digital campaigns are even more effective when traditional media are also included, such as magazine advertisements, billboards, and radio.

Both LaClair and Wilson agree that using email is essential to maintain visibility. It’s the old ‘out of sight; out of mind.’ “Houses in the Gardens are all custom-built, so we send emails that promote available developer lots, as well as our realty company’s resale inventory. We send out a monthly ‘Property Report’ that describes each lot or house, pricing, tax information, and so forth. Plus, and perhaps even more importantly, we provide a list of what’s been sold recently to show how quickly these properties turn over. Fortunately, when a resale becomes available, it’s typically sold before we can even put it on the MLS. That’s how effective our emails are; it also demonstrates to interested buyers that they’d better move quickly.”

“You’ll want to use a service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact to segment your list, so you can send content that’s relevant to the recipient,” LaClair tells Kenninger. “They can send from their IP address, which will help prevent your IP address from being flagged. The best list is email addresses you’ve generated through relationship marketing rather than ones that are purchased. To avoid being caught in a spam filter, scrub your list before you send an email, because if too many are invalid, that could cause your email to be flagged. The content should be relevant to your domain.”

Carrie Vandever, digital enterprise manager at Resort Trades mentions blogging as a useful tool, as well as providing the groundwork for additional online outreach. According to Vandever, blogs are the best proven method of how to stay on top of the search engines because of their RSS feed nature. “Typically, resorts are finding blogging once a week or so to be the most effective,” she says. “Consistency is important. Check with Hobspot, Buffer, and Copyblogger for hints on how to find interesting content and avoid pitfalls that might be a turn-off.”

“Remember that storytelling is always the best approach to capturing your reader’s attention,” adds Wilson. “But you also need to research articles on SEO for the latest changes in search engine rating algorithms.”

An article in Forbes written by John Rampton in 2016 says, “Searchmetrics, for instance, found that the top 10 pages contained an average of 1,285 words. serpIQ, on the other hand, has found 1,500 words to be a good target length.” (forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2016/05/05/7-seo-trends-every-small-business-needs-to-know)

However, a more recent article suggests that number may soon change as more readers sign on with mobile devices. “In the past couple years, the best post length for SEO was around 2,000 words. Longer blog posts ranked better, but evidence also seems to suggest that readers don’t typically want to read posts this long. That shows that Google is still failing to give people the best results, their algorithm is using post length as a factor to decide where pages should rank in their results. But with a move to a mobile index, this might change.” (snapagency.com/blog/posts-2018-whats-best-length-seo)

“The bottom line for any ad, email or missive is authenticity,” adds Wilson. “We strive to make our content engaging, conversational, educational and entertaining. But if we come off to readers like a car salesman, we know we’ll be dead in the water. After all, we’re not selling a necessity; we’re in the business of presenting them with the opportunity to change their lives for the better. If there’s a note of inauthenticity in our approach, we’ll look like an elephant at a garden party.”