CMO Q&A: Mike Fisher, Coldwell Banker

Coldwell Banker CMO Mike Fisher speaks with Alexandra Bruell about shifting consumer sentiment and a new marketing approach

Coldwell Banker CMO Mike Fisher speaks with Alexandra Bruell about shifting consumer sentiment, the company's new marketing approach, and the relevance of video.  

What's your positioning today? How does it reflect current consumer or real-estate trends?  
There used to be a lot of excitement and anticipation throughout the real estate process. Since the tax credit has ended, there's been a shift in consumer sentiment. We're seeing words like “anxious,” “frustrated,” and “nervous.” There's so much noise out there. One day an article says the recovery is in full bloom. The next day somebody comes out and says it's stalled.

There's a lot of information bombarding consumers that doesn't present a consistent story. We really have focused our efforts on identifying the strength of our agent network and how consumers can and should trust Coldwell Banker. They're looking for protection against everything that could go wrong in the real-estate process.   

Your founders and history have played a large role in your campaigns. Are you still leveraging that positioning now that your marketing is agent-centric?
While you'll see the founders as an accent to our TV spots this year, we're really trying to focus on this concept of “trusted agents with the right tools for smarter decisions.” This idea of trust is so important and we can't do this with TV alone. It must be done, in a lot of ways, through our PR efforts because you can't win trust in a 30-second ad.

We're trying to move the conversation to two different places, for example, with our association with [real estate expert] Michael Corbett. In his book “Before You Buy!,” which he co-wrote with our CEO Jim Gillespie, he gives great tips on how to buy or sell a house. Something like that, which we may not have been interested in a few years ago, really fell into this sweet spot because it ties into our CEO [and] into our whole concept of our agent network.

How are you shifting your budgets and focus in the different marketing disciplines?  
We're probably putting a little more money into PR. The traditional website model is gone. We're moving a lot of our information to mobile and iPad. It gives the consumer the ability to find these trusted agents on the screen that they want.

Have you increased or decreased your traditional marketing budget this year?
We've maintained it. We try to cut costs to maintain our media spending and a couple of core communications pieces we can go out with. When I got here three years ago, we probably had a 60/40 offline/online split for traditional communications and we've been able to keep that. I do believe the best way to reach a mass audience is still offline.  

You're dealing with so many types of agents, regions, and consumers. How do you ensure consistency of message across platforms?
We try our hardest and don't always succeed. They're all independent contractors who work for the brokers who don't work for us, so there's a lot less connective tissue between me and our ultimate local communicators. So the idea is to try to have as clear a message as you can and boil it down to an easy-to-digest idea. We explain all of this at our Gen Blue conference. We'll have thousands of agents and brokers there and we'll be videotaping and recording all of the sessions.

Over the past year or so, can you give me a sense of how you've changed your investment in social media, if at all?
Just from an organizational standpoint, social media was sitting with one of our younger employees who was very good at it. We've since made a bit of a change. Social media is moving over to our communications department. David Siroty was elevated from director to VP. So we've made communications a bigger piece of our internal structure.

How are you using video? Which agency is getting that digital business?
What we've found most effective is video. We invested in an iPad app to get messaging out to consumers, agents, and brokers who are embracing the idea of freedom and mobility. That stuff normally goes to our traditional AOR McKinney. Obviously, with our communications and PR group, we're tapping into our CEO and having him deliver a lot of the video messaging. Those get a tremendous open rate in our network and it's a great medium to communicate the information to our brokers and agents.

The beauty is we're also using those videos to communicate to brokers and agents who may not be affiliated with our company today, but are looking to affiliate with us or change who they are franchising with.
Content is the key. It really has to live in a couple of areas. It's what drives interest and relevance. I don't believe you can control or hold content in one place.

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