By Barbara Matthopoulos
Director of Communications & Media Relations
Chicago Association of Realtors
Think back to when you bought your very first car. What were your requirements? Were you looking for a particular make and model or the most powerful engine? Or perhaps, like most first-time car buyers, you needed something with four wheels and a price tag you could afford. Odds are you’ve upgraded to something better suited to your lifestyle today. You are in a completely different mind frame now, one that prizes luxury, safety and good mileage over bargain prices and basic features.
First-time homebuyers experience the same range of emotions, from exhilaration to anxiety, over making the decision to purchase a home. Negative media reports on the housing market contribute to these potential clients’ worries and make them less likely to even embark on the process, let alone see it through to a closing. First-time homebuyers are most sensitive to the news they see — and hear — as they consider their timing in embarking on a home-buying opportunity in this market.
As director of communications and media relations at the Chicago Association of Realtors, I have read thousands of stories about the current housing market, and some aren’t pretty. Your job, if you want to garner new business in this challenging time, is to present to first-time homebuyers the story that they aren’t seeing. Yes, this is in fact a buyer’s market. But what does that really mean? It means that these buyers have a chance to enter the market by purchasing their first home at a fantastic price. There are a variety of homes available in a vast array of communities just waiting for the right buyer to make an offer on the home of their dreams.
How will you convey this story to the many Chicagoans who are debating whether or not to buy? Consider your marketing communications strategies — how do you stack up? First, stop assuming that the display advertisements you’ve placed and your signage are going to sell your services for you. The very first place people in the 21st century go to research anything, from celebrity gossip to chronic illnesses, is the Internet. Take five minutes and “Google” yourself — it will be the first thing your potential clients do when they hear your name. What does the search yield? If you have your own Web site or a page on a social networking site like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or Active Rain, those hits will be at the top of the list. If you don’t have any of those things, it’s time to consider engaging yourself in online social networking. You may not be “connected,” but I’d be willing to bet that your competition is. Don’t believe me? Google them.
After you’ve established a Web presence, consider how else you can reach your audience. Chicagoans in their 20s keep up on local news in small doses. The Red Eye, the Chicago Tribune’s complimentary micro-daily, makes its way into the hands of thousands of commuters everyday. Most people don’t read every single page of the Sun Times or Trib, so they are far less likely to dig through the pages to find your advertisement. Other great opportunities to appeal to the mass home buying population in Chicagoland come in forms of advertising in and around mass transportation. Consider leasing out an ad space in one of the local rotating ad displays near your area bus stops or perhaps in the buses and trains across the city.
Now that it’s summer, Chicagoans will be out in droves, heading to Cubs and Sox games and hitting the beach. Perhaps your company can advertise at one of the ballparks or sponsor one of the hundreds of beach volleyball teams at North Avenue every night of the week. Viral marketing opportunities are at their best as TV and Radio ad departments try to lock in new advertisers in this market. You can often negotiate your purchase of advertising airtime during a particular game and also include an on-site presence at the game itself, via rotating signage, banners, an area of seating or even an on-site booth. Negotiate well, and the network you contract with might even integrate your message on its Web site.
Regardless of your budget, big or small, your marketing initiatives can bring you great return if you do your research and venture into territories which may otherwise be foreign to you. Gear up and drive your way toward new prospects looking for the first home buyers can call their own, a piece of the American Dream, in the heart of Chicago.
Barbara Matthopoulos is a Chicago native, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism/Media Relations from Loyola University Chicago and a Masters of Arts in the concentrations of Corporate and Multicultural Communication from DePaul University. Matthopoulos has worked for several high-profile organizations and clients in television, higher education, private club and professional trade association industries. She can be reached at bmatthopoulos@ChicagoREALTOR.com.