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Worth Serious Thought: The Dead Zone

August 18, 2008

Once in a while, Seth Godin will write something that makes me remember that the dude is really pretty smart.  This is one of those things.

Faced with the excitement of making a CD and all the knobs and dials, they overproduced the record. They went from being two real guys playing authentic music, live and for free, and became a multi-tracked quartet in search of a professional sound. And they ended up in the dead zone. Not enough gloss to be slick, too much to be real.

This happens at restaurants all the time. Give me a handmade huarache and it’s fine if it’s on a paper plate. Or give me something from Thomas Keller. But I have no patience for the stuff in the dead zone, the items that are too slick to be real, but not slick enough to be a marvel. Who, exactly, wants an industrial tuna sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap?

You can send me a hand-written note (but don’t write it in crayon with words spelled wrong) and I’ll read it. And you can send me a beautifully typeset Fedex package. But if you send me mass-produced junk with a dot matrix printer, out it goes. The dead zone again.

This insight has one of those head-smacking D’oh!’s built into it that makes what is profound seem incredibly simplistic.  But it is profound.

In our advertising saturated world, going halfway pretty much guarantees your marketing is going to get ignored.

In particular, I think this bears quite a lot of thinking about in real estate.

Marketing a house for sale cannot possibly be an easy job.  No way, no how.  Especially in this market.  At the same time, I do think that far too many brokers fall straight into Godin’s Dead Zone when it comes to marketing materials for the homes they are representing.  They are too slick to be real, but not slick enough to be a marvel.

I did a Google search and picked this flyer entirely at random:

Holy Dead Zone, Batman!

Holy Dead Zone, Batman!

The flyer is too slick to be “real”.  And yet, it’s not slick enough to be eye-catching or attention-grabbing.  There’s no wow there.  No pizzazz.  Nothing that makes you want to check it out further.  (Granted, it’s a hard thing to judge printed material by online photos… but still….)

Note that this particular listing is for a $10m house — that’s ten million dollars.  Assuming a modest 2.5% commission rate, that means the listing agent stands to receive a $250,000 payday if the property is sold.  A quarter of a million dollars.

And this is the best he can do?

I’m not entirely sure what a “non-slick, genuine, real” marketing flyer might be for this.  Maybe a variation on this:

House For Sale! $10M and its yours!

House For Sale! $10M and its yours!

Granted, the client might be nonplussed if you were to do a set of hand-drawn posters for his $10M alpine palace, but hey, it would probably get people to read further.  It might even get some buzz going, because of its uniqueness.

A step up might be to do a bunch of handwritten cards on beautiful stationery and enclose a personally shot photo (not a professional job) with it inviting the recipient to inquire further about this amazing property.

If you’re not going that way, then you have to go all-out, and be so slick that the materials become noteworthy.  You have to impress the person seeing the marketing materials with the professionalism, the thought, and the production values.  Something more like this:

Why yes, I wear coats to the beach....

Why yes, I wear coats to the beach....

In fact, Corcoran routinely does some very nice things.  Take a look at this for example.  If you’re going to represent $10M properties on the web, something like that is slick enough to be a marvel.  It grabs hold of your attention, invites you to play with the cool Flash toys, and makes you marvel at the beautiful homes.  It’s like very high quality housing porn.

The lesson doesn’t apply, I think, only to the super-high end either.  Every house is still going to be some family’s biggest purchase.  It’s likely to be the seller’s biggest sale as well — a key event in that family’s life.  Don’t you owe it to the client to do more than slap together some hasty templated flyer that lands smack dab in the middle of the dead zone, neither authentic nor professional?

It is my considered opinion that quite a few real estate professionals would benefit from a regular diet of design books, magazines, and websites.  I particularly like The Dieline — a package design blog that is regularly updated, and filled with some of the most striking designs I’ve seen.  And no, none of the designs are of real estate flyers, but ideas could translate.  The usage of color can translate.  The thoughtful design can translate.

Whether you pursue the simple elegance of simplicity that forsakes commercialized slickness in favor of authentic human voice, or the blow-your-mind power of truly slick, marvelous designed materials, Godin’s insight is really worth some serious thought.  Stay out of the dead zone.


One Comment leave one →
  1. August 18, 2008 10:46 pm

    Great post Rob! I read the same Godin post and found inspiration in it as well. Seems to me that this concept presents a great opportunity for the brokerage to offer something for the agents. The reality I see is that most agents don’t have the time or talent to do something that falls on the high side of the dead zone…but Brokers can. I’ve seen it done several times in my market (and clearly Corcoran has a history of doing so) and it has proven to be quite the recruiting tool.

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