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The Postcard Paradox

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 by Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Besides the occasional coupon booklet or greeting card, the majority of post that arrives in my mailbox each day can be categorized as either pointless junk or boring bills. Yet, every once in awhile a piece catches my eye.

Recently, I was rifling through my mail seeking out anything significant. Per usual, out of the stack of letters I was holding, I found only one piece that had importance. Everything else was heading straight for the trash. Yet, as I was tossing the useless catalogs and marketing pieces away, one caused me to stop in my tracks. Below is what the postcard read: (details slightly altered for privacy reasons)

Sold In Your Neighborhood

555 State Street

   Considering a move in the future or thought about listing your home?

Now is the time!

I’m never too busy to help you with all your Real Estate Needs!


Tom Smith 317-123-4567

 If  your property is currently listed with another broker, please excuse my aggressive marketing.

To clarify, this flyer has nothing to offer me. I’m not moving nor am I planning to. So why then did I find this direct marketing mailer so intriguing? Truth be told, after scanning the information I stopped because of one sentiment on the very bottom of the postcard:

. . . please excuse my aggressive marketing.

To say the very least, I was struck by the disclaimer for several reasons. First, the use of aggressive felt a bit abrasive to me. Now, let me preface by saying, I know this word is not always negative in fashion. But, speaking as a representative of Tom Smith’s target audience, I felt the word choice could have been more strategic and upbeat in nature. By utilizing a descriptive adjective such as proactive or ambitious, my receptiveness to actually saving the mailer for future reference would have increased greatly.

Second, I was quite bothered by Smith’s blatant display of inefficient research. For instance, the catalog of properties that are currently assigned to real estate brokers is a matter of public record. This means that prior to conducting his mailing, Smith could have easily conjured a marketing list excluding properties already under alternate representation. Understanding this, I am left to formulate one of two conclusions: either he is deficient in the knowledge of the resource or he simply lacks effort in its regard. I’m not sure which aspect is more off-putting. There is good reason why professionals take advantage of industry resources. After all, doing so creates the opportunity to boost efficient and effective workflow and positive customer service.

Lastly, I was surprised by Smith’s carelessness. Here’s the deal: direct mail marketing can bring great opportunity, but it’s also a tough and expensive process; particularly since results and success vary greatly no matter how much money is spent. For real estate brokers, I can only assume it’s essential to utilize this marketing technique in a thoughtful, financially cognizant manner—not just because they front the cost of the venture, but because it reinforces the value in worthwhile spending. Unfortunately, it is clear that Smith got caught up in his own productivity paradox. Despite how reasonable and productive it seemed to send out postcards to every resident within a designated area, Smith’s attempt at mass marketing not only demonstrated the price of fruitless spending, but probably turned away a substantial amount of potential clients.

In the end, we may never know how much business Smith’s postcards generated, but I have to wonder whether or not others agree with my thoughts. Is Smith’s message effective? Take a moment to decipher your point of view on the matter and enlighten us with your opinion by posting a comment today!

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Efficiency In Real Estate - Last week, BarCamp Indiana featured a blog post from Slaughter Development’s founder Robby Slaughter. The post discusses the correlation between real estate productivity and the telephone. Read on »
The Call Volume Paradox - Joe is a sales professional with a problem. His management is unhappy despite the fact that Joe is fantastically successful at closing great deals. Read on »
The Facetime Paradox - The essayist Paul Graham likes to point out that productivity is not about appearing productive. He writes, “If you work here we expect you to get a lot done. Don’t try to fool us just by being here a lot.”
Read on »

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13 Responses to “The Postcard Paradox”

  1. Bryan Hart Says:

    Wow. This particular direct mailing goes against pretty much everything I have learned about effective marketing in the past year.

    First off, it is much more efficient and even enjoyable to look for “Permission Marketing” opportunities (as Seth Godin points out). When your marketing strategy is equivalent to littering, then it’s time to try a new model. It reminds me of Christian “tracks” that are left on cars, on restaurant tables (as “tips”), and even on the ground as “dollars.” (And this complaint is coming from a Christian)

    It all comes down to the fact that people are people. And if your business isn’t connecting real people to real people, then advertising dollars are going to be wasted. Besides…who apologizes by saying, “Please excuse my _______.”?

    Oh well, tirade over. Great post.

    -Bryan Hart

  2. Allison Carter Says:

    While I agree that this is not the most effective postcard in the world, it doesn’t bother me too much. Mostly because I probably would have sent it straight to the trash, but obviously he’s okay with stealing clients from existing representation-that’s why he didn’t exclude them and that’s why he included that line. Would this be effective in doing this? Not unless you were already extremely unhappy with current representation, I would think.

    The aggressive line is kind of amusing, both in that it supports the assumption that he’s actively looking to steal clients, and also in that a direct mail piece is the least aggressive kind of marketing imaginable. In all, it’s just another silly, ineffective direct mail piece.

  3. Randy Clark Says:

    Good post. I’d like to add a third reason for the use of Aggressive and ignoring current listed homes. If a listed home is unsold at the end of the listing, good ole Tom may want to be remembered as the “Aggressive” agent they may want to consider next.

  4. Stephanie Eppich Daily Says:

    In my opinion Mr. Smith is apologizing for exactly what his job is as a Realtor to do - to sell. Sales people are aggressive by nature, especially in the housing market that we are in, they absolutely have to be aggressive.

    If I were to receive the same post card that Ashley received I would assume several things:
    1. The guys is an amateur, he has no idea who his market is.
    2. If I’m looking to sell my house, I’m not going to call this guy because he obviously hasn’t done any research. Any good Realtor can tell you the location, sometimes the addresses of their competitors listings in a particular neighborhood.
    3. It’s obviously he’s throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks. Direct Marketing can be extremely expensive, and you can see little or no results from your efforts.

    If I’m looking for someone to do business with I’m going to ask someone that I know and trust who I should go with. Someone that has a good head on their shoulders, steady, trusted, solid performance. Or I’m going to research it myself via Social Media.

    There are too many avenues now using Social Media to not be well informed, to not do your research, to not be well prepared.

    I hope Mr. Smith isn’t waiting by his phone.

  5. Erin Says:

    I have always found that negative verbiage in marketing always receives negative response. Whether it is direct mail, email, television or radio…always seems to me that if your words are negative your response is negative.

    What is sad about this case is direct mail is such a tough animal in general that the overall language of one sentence within this postcard basically took his marketing budget for this campaign and put a flame to it.

  6. Erik Deckers Says:

    I actually liked his apology, because it kind of made me go “awww, that’s okay. It’s not THAT aggressive.”

    However, as a former direct mail guy, I can tell you that Smith’s approach was entirely wrong. Here’s how:

    Pop quiz:
    1) People who are likely to buy a new home. . .
    a. Currently own their own home, and want to go through the headaches and hassles of selling it, thus taking a loss on what they paid for it.
    b. Rent a home or apartment, and thus are more likely to want to OWN the abode they live in.

    2) You can buy mailing lists of people who rent, make a certain amount of money, and have a certain credit score.
    a. False
    b. True

    If you answered ‘b’ both times, then you know how to do effective direct mail.

    Direct mail is not about sending out thousands upon thousands of postcards in the hopes that one or two of them hit. Direct mail is about sending out dozens and dozens, maybe even a few hundred postcards, and hoping one of them hit.

    Direct mail done properly can target your exact audience. Direct mail done poorly gets blog posts written about you.

  7. Harrison Painter Says:

    Interesting post. My previous life was in the real estate business, and I can tell you most of these mailers are simply pre-made templates agents purchase through vendors. I can honestly say that the vast majority of agents/brokers have no idea what marketing is, let alone understand how to measuring their efforts. It is kind of a shot in the dark strategy for them.

    I personally like the word aggressive. If I am going to hire you to sell my house, that is going to be the first thing I look for. How aggressive is your marketing and hustle. I do not want a passive broker trying to sell my house in this market. So I disagree with you on that point.

    Also, the point on the tools at the agents disposal. I understand what you are trying to say, but there is a reason for this disclaimer. It takes a few days to print up the postcards, and a couple more to mail them out. In that time a home could have been listed, and an broker MUST put that disclaimer on to comply with Indiana real estate license law. It has nothing to do with being lazy, it is just something that has to be done.

    I do agree that this is a very poor effort in the digital media age. I saw a statistic recently, I will try to dig it up, that less than 5% of agents/brokers are using video?? Really???

    If you want to hit a home run with a marketing piece, give it an experience. Why not shoot a series of videos showing how to bake your favorite muffins? Then add these to your postcard marketing pieces and drive traffic to your website. (Hopefully with updated content on it!!!) Not everybody is currently in the market to buy/sell a home, but who doesn’t love muffins!!! The videos give a glimpse into your personality, your brand, and you can always throw in some real estate tips in the mix for even more value.

    Just some food for thought, I could go on and on. LOL

    Keep up the great work! LOVE IT!


  8. Ashley Says:

    Wow! I’m loving all the responses and the fantastic glimpse into other’s views on the pros / cons / disasters / successes of direct mail marketing. I agree Randy that perhaps Tom’s motivation for sending out his mailer to houses potentially already under representation is perhaps to get his name out there in hopes that they’ll call him in desperation. Though, I have to wonder how often such an opportunity actually occurs? My first guess would be very little, but then again I haven’t the slightest idea and admit it could be a greater amount than I imagine.

    Thank you Erik for your acceptance of Tom’s apology! I certainly got a kick out of it to say the very least. In all seriousness, I think Erik’s advice is extremely important: Refining your target audience so that you only mail a few hundred (rather than a few thousand) to reap the same amount of return is extremely strategic, effective and efficient.

  9. Nick Carter Says:

    I agree with Randy Clark’s point. If you’re trying to sell your home in this market, seeing that some is aggressive is a plus. For all those who are offended by the aggression (ashley, you included) Mr. Smith shouldn’t care. Good marketing SHOULD polarize the audience. Some will hate it, but if that’s true, then there are likely others who will say: “look how in-your-face this realtor’s being. let’s replace the pansy listing our house now with this guy.”

  10. Ashley Lee Says:

    Nick, you and Randy make a valid point that I can’t deny. In fact,prior to writing this post I asked my husband his views on the marketing piece (in particular the use of the word “aggressive”) and he felt the same as you two. And this is essentially what prompted me to write this post in the first place.

    Though I was a bit turned off from the postcard (not necessarily offended as you say), I found the difference in opinion so intriguing and questioned whether Tom’s marketing methods were truly amateurish and lazy. Given the varying opinions in all the comments, it still may be up for interpretation. But needless to say, I can certainly understand and appreciate the viewpoint you, Randy and my husband hold — I just can’t say I agree with you.

    Thanks for the comment!

  11. Rhoda Israelov Says:

    In more than four years of providing ghost blogging services to different companies and professionals, I’ve found, the most tricky part of creating content for either a company’s or for a professional’s blog is finding the right “tone”.

    When there are disagreements between writer and business owner, those tend to center around content that someone views as either “too sales-ey” or “not sales-ey” enough.

    Take the example you posed, Ashley. The writer obviously believed you’d be more accepting of an assertive approach if he asked your “pardon”. In doing so, however, he managed to turn you off, rather than on, to the thought of either becoming a customer or perhaps making a referral.

    I happen to agree with you that the choice of words was poor. I don’t, however, necessarily disagree with Tom’s marketing method - even if you have no interest in moving, you live in the neighborhood and might know someone who is interested in selling and who wants to find a realtor who gets results. Again, what went wrong here was not the marketing, but the tone.

    Homeowners looking to sell are having a hard time nowadays, and might actually welcome an aggressive person “on their side”. Still, I’m sure, a somewhat softer approach (still in the form of a cold mailing) would not have inspired your ire.

  12. Robby Slaughter Says:

    Great discussion, everyone!

    I’ve got to admit, the word “aggressive” doesn’t turn me off nearly as much as the phrase “If your property is currently listed with another broker.” To Harrison’s point, this could have easily read: “As of the date of this mailing, the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database indicates your home is not currently on the market with another broker. If this has changed…”

    Furthermore, I do like the idea of an “aggressive” agent as Randy, Nick and others have suggested. Why not a postcard targeted at people whose homes are not the market which says “Want to sell but afraid no one will make a serious offer? Tom Smith is an AGGRESSIVE agent who will get your house sold. Call today!”

    I think the weakness of this particular marketing piece is that it illustrates the ignorance of the agent. They’ve nearly wasted a powerful word in near the end of the text instead of using it right up front to polarize and captivate their audience. And, the agent hasn’t made use of readily available resources to determine if the card is even applicable!

    I think we all agree, though, this is DEFINITELY amateur hour!

  13. rntgirl kirsten Says:

    Wonder how/if he got a date for prom…

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