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Recently, some readers of my blog have commented that I continue to take the mickey out of the REALTOR industry for its marketing use of postcards. No mention that I’ve offered alternatives to the postcard marketing option for twenty years. Oh, let’s see. EMail. Blogs. Websites. Phone calls.

Maybe it’s just time for a collective postcard scream?

It’s been cited in many postings that I’m being ‘ageist’ because agents who use postcards tend to be older than not. I’ve been accused of being negative – as if it’s mandatory to be positive about an ineffective marketing method that isn’t helping the brokerage industry recover…

The problem with postcards isn’t it’s a generational-thing. It’s not even a cost-thing: Nobody needs me to tell them how cost in-effective the amount of postcards required to be profitable must be. Most REALTORS know, as a matter of common knowledge like that of the ineffective classified ad in the newspaper, that postcard responses rank less than 1% rate of return.

Any activity with a 99% failure rate is something I try to avoid right away.

Yet the postcard defense goes on. Just one card might lead to “a deal” worth “thousands!” I wonder just how accurate the post-card-sending REALTORS are at accounting for their hours spent building an address database, desktop-publishing postcards, printing, paper, labels, postage, ink, assistants, etc., etc., etc.

Nor does the defense care that most postcards violate the key principles of marketing. For example, the three most common things found on postcards are:

1. Just “Listed” announcements, sent to the same neighborhood. As if the neighbors of the listing needed “postal verification” that the leaning-over sign in the front yard means the home is for sale. It’s STATISTICALLY ZERO that the postcard will induce the neighbor to find the buyer for the REALTOR; because NOBODY wants their friends as neighbors! And it’s also NEAR ZERO that postcards lead to the selection of a listing agent. RESEARCH FACT: Sellers found their real esate agent in the following order:

  • Referred by friend 41%
  • Used agent previously 23%
  • Visited an open house 5%
  • Walked into office 4%
  • Personal contact by agent (telephone, email) 4%
  • Internet website 3%
  • Direct mail (newsletter, flyer, postcard ) 3%

I know. Those damned facts.

2. The second most common postcard: Just “Sold” announcements. See Just Listed above.

3. The third most common postcard: Personal Promotion featuring the Agent’s High School Photo. Just what is the purpose of this kind of marketing? For example, does it lead to LISTINGS? No, see above. Does it lead to BUYERS? No, because Buyers start their journey online looking for HOMES 32% of the time, and agents only 4% of the time. As for information BUYERS use to find homes:

  • Agent 84%
  • Internet¬† 84%
  • Yard sign 59%
  • Newspaper 50%
  • Open House 48%

Sorry. More facts.

Yet NONE of that is REALLY what’s wrong with sending postcards. Ok, here’s the problem:

“I’ve been sending them for years and it’s always worked great for me in the past.”

That’s the problem!

Sending postcards nowadays isn’t just a bad “activity” because it fails to consistently create new business (compared to other methods). It’s a terrible activity because it represents a MINDSET to “keep on doing what has worked in the past” (though evidence shows it really didn’t).

It’s a business planning problem that represents the challenges of business evolution. Postcards are the poster-child for practitioners who still believe that, like their forefathers, the sub-30-something first time buyers will take action from junk postal mail.

Yeah. Sorry about that text-message-YouTube-internet-social-networking thing…

The problem with postcards is that doing them TODAY is no different than making the following claims about real estate:

  • The internet is a fad; it will go away.
  • The MLS Comparables book is going to make a comeback, I’m sure of it!
  • If I bury this statue upside down on the northeast side of the lot, I’ll get divine intervention to sell this listing.
  • The market is coming back. Just wait until 2010. Or 2012. Or 2020, darn it!

All of these represent irrational (might we say, stubborn) thinking. Nobody would be caught saying those things at a cocktail party, would they? They why, for goodness sake, do we hear so many REALTORS saying, “The Basics are Back! Let’s get out the POSTCARDS!”

Postcards represent stubborn thinking – the “do what we’ve always done and don’t THINK about it,” approach to marketing. Don’t measure it. Don’t believe the statistics. Keep chanting, “My market is different. My market is different. My market is different.” Pay no attention to the torches circling, circling, circling.

The basics may be back – but does that mean so is the abacus? How you prospect has changed – and it’s high time we stopped doing things that never worked! (Coming up: The Exceptions! But first…)

Email, blogging, social networking, text-messaging to cell phones and video conferencing are the prospecting TOOLS of today.I don’t make these rules – the consumer does. The research supports it; at the very least, it refutes the claim that direct mail worked. It made you busy – but not business.

Worse (if possible) going back into the postcard-mailing-mode supports the idea that “you’re an exception” to the rules of business. That somehow, a few successes override the glaring inefficiencies. That somehow, a few deals from postcards suddenly make them NOT ineffective. That’s the kind of dangerous thinking that makes you think: The downturn won’t come to my area. My listings aren’t overpriced. I’m invincible. Just ask the postman!

Even if you don’t like email or don’t know how to blog, you should know how to pick up the phone. Making phone calls to your past clients is measurabley more effective than postcards. And it’s immediately more sustainable and FAR more personable than a stale postcard. Of course, the younger buyers don’t have home phone numbers, and the Baby Boomers invented the Do Not Call List. So, i guess that only leaves us with postcards, huh?

I wonder how many brokers out there – in modern America – are recruiting for “skilled postcard mailers” for their struggling companies.

Alas. Business operations by “historical reaction” – by bringing out the postcards because they worked in the past – without stepping back, to observe the world of consumers, to research, to plan, and to obey the rules of marketing – is like putting rollerskates on an octapus. It may hit a few deals as it’s flailing about, but mostly, it’s a comedy of errors that ends up with red ink spilled all over the floor.