Today, the standard of practice for selling real estate online is to use digital photos. Of course, there remains a part of the industry that still hasn’t heard this message, judging by the persistent percentages of listings online without a photo; but those agents will be out of business this year anyway. For the rest of the industry, always looking for a new marketing angle, how about this: try talking to your prospects. Online.
I don’t mean responding to your emails or using instant messaging; I mean actually talking to your prospects by using voice narration and podcasts on your listings. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then throwing in a few dozen extra ones – spoken out loud – will only raise the bar on your competition’s static-listing marketing.
Adding voice narration can start small: Using a standard microphone and the Windows Sound Recorder program, agents can create a short WAV file that’s small enough to store online and quickly download even by visitors using dial-up modems. Sound Recorder is amazingly easy to use: there are only five buttons in the entire program. Creating your message takes three steps: First, write out a script. Use short sentences. Avoid technical words. Next, practice reading the script out loud a few times; listen for words you aren’t completely pronouncing or ones that you’re rushing. Most novice narrators need to slow down their normal rate of speech. When you’re ready, find a quiet space with your computer and a microphone. Launch Sound Recorder (under Programs/Accessories) and click the red “record” button. Read your script. Click the square “stop” button at the end. Then click the arrow “play” button to review your recording. If you want to try again, just click File/New and start over. If you like your recording, click File/Save.
The “hard part” comes next: adding the sound to your listings online. This will mostly depend upon your web site’s programming for handling listing data. However, almost every modern web database provider features tools for uploading and storing “documents” or additional files with the listing. A sound recording is just a different kind of document, so you should be able to upload it using the same process you’d use to upload a scanned document or PDF file. You should also be able to give the file a “plain text” name, so it appears as “Click here for a voice message” rather than the technical name of the file. A nice feature of this approach is that almost every computer with a sound card will be able to play the recording because the WAV format used by Sound Recorder does not require any special software to play.
Moving up the sophistication ladder, creating a podcast for your listings breaks the sound barrier for longer files and enhanced features. A podcast is essentially a downloadable recording, just like the WAV file, but it can be of longer durations. And since podcasting software like Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) is free, creating and editing complex recordings doesn’t cost extra money. Podcasting does not require the listener to have an MP3 player, either. Podcasts are simply MP3 recordings that can be played on almost any computer or MP3 player. (The term podcast is just a brand-ism, just like Xerox is used to mean making any kind of photocopy.) Yet podcasting does expand the possibilities for using sound to market listings online. As we’ve already noted, you could create longer narrations, not only to describe the property in greater detail, but for other topics of interest. You could create a podcast to describe the town or school system; perhaps a short recording discussing financial options for purchasing the home; or even use a podcast to tackle common questions like renting versus buying.
When consumers encounter your podcasts on your listings, they will have a few options for enjoying them. If they click the recording, it will simply play on their computer. If they right-click and “save”’ the file, it will actually download it from your site, so they can then put it on their MP3 player to listen to while on the go. And once the recording is saved on their computer, consumers can share it with friends and family by sending it as an attachment by email. Now that would be a strategic marketing success: imagine consumers spreading your recorded file around the internet for you!
In both of the cases above, we’ve used sound in its most basic form – a recording. What about combining sound with images? There are a few approaches here that could add interactivity to your listings and keep consumers on your site longer. For starters, what about simply adding sound to the photo-tour function? Microsoft offers a free tool called Windows Photo Story (search for “photo story” at www.microsoft.com) that you can use to import a sequence of photos. Then add some text to the caption of each photo. A built in recording function lets you narrate each photo separately. To further enhance the process, Photo Story lets you play one or more background music tracks throughout the production. While all of this sounds exciting, the really cool part happens at the end: you can choose to output the final file in five different formats. The standard format is a Windows Media File, which can be played on your computer, in a PowerPoint presentation or uploaded to your online listing database. Other selections include the ability to create an email-ready narrated presentation format for direct e-marketing and a PDA-ready format that nicely fits the presentation to the smaller handheld computer screens. And to really blow away your competition, try the Smartphone format which prepares the presentation for your cell phone display. Send the file to your phone, then use your phone’s email function to send it to any other cell phone user in the world!
At the top end of using sound to sell real estate, and just short of doing a commercial video shoot, why not create an “exploration” opportunity for visitors browsing your listings. This is the approach that many computer vendors have implemented – using interactive images of their laptops. When visitors click different parts of the image, a voice narrates the features and benefits of that particular piece of the laptop. Now imagine creating a listing where the photos had clickable sections, and each portion launched a short narration of that section of the room. A photo of the kitchen could be programmed to launch a recording about the appliances if the visitor clicks the refrigerator and a different recording about the recent renovations if the floor or windows are clicked. Essentially, you are dividing photos into pieces like a jigsaw puzzle; then attaching narrations to each piece. Doing this requires a little programming, probably using Macromedia Flash. For most busy real estate agents, their part should just be writing the scripts and making the recordings; use a skilled programmer to section off the images and link in the sound files. Since the output will be a flash file, which is essentially an interactive graphic, consumers will only need an internet browser to see and hear the presentation – even on a PDA.
Whether you start at the beginner level or move directly to television-quality commercials, adding sound to your online listing inventory is the next step in the evolution of online property marketing. With more web sites vying for consumers’ attention and email inundating their patience levels, adding the power of sound to your web site helps ensure that, when a consumer lands there to look around, they will see and hear something that will encourage them to stay a while.
This article was authored by Matthew Ferrara of Matthew Ferrara Seminars Inc.
Reprinted with permission of Matthew Ferrara Seminars Inc.