Jonathan Kauffmann, broker-owner of Charlottesville, Virginia-based Nest Realty, found an answer to a big question.
Zillow and realtor.com offer consumers world-class real estate search platforms and massive brokerages and franchisors cultivate recognizable brands with national marketing campaigns. What’s a small, regional brokerage to do?
It’s a question many real estate leaders stare down nowadays -- if the big boys have tech and brand, how do you stand out?
The answer to that question defines marketing, and Kauffmann’s 8-year-old, 110-agent firm lit on it early: a fixed focus on high quality -- agents, brand, service.
To communicate these brand basics, Kauffmann turned to content marketing -- the increasingly powerful tool real estate brokerages, agents and firms use to standout, deliver value and carve out an organic piece of the branding pie.
Nest Realty’s content play includes a frequently updated blog tailored to each of its five locations, an 18-month-old biannual lifestyle magazine and a robust Facebook presence. A full-time content manager, Jasmine Bible, oversees the effort.
A careful strategy fires the company's content. It includes detailed quarterly content plans and weekly monitoring of metrics and performance.
Nest Realty’s content bet boils down to building trust, Kauffmann said. The upfront content and care forge the relationships his firm and his agents’ livelihoods depend on.
Nest Realty’s content marketing strategy includes all the vital elements of an effective plan: clear goals, constant measurement, a crystal brand (with a wonderful tagline “live where you love”), consistent content created to reflect it and a certain understanding of audience.
Brand view, from the aerie
Content marketing was baked into the firm from the beginning. It’s one of four pillars Kauffmann built the firm upon:
- Service company to clients
- Agent services company
- Marketing and creative company: tools, creative ad agency concept
- Media component. “To be successful today and in the future, the firm needs to have a voice and be a trusted source for content, particularly locally,” Kauffmann said.
Design is a big deal to the firm; it bleeds throughout its brand, from its name to its logo, its fresh office design, its sleek operations.
The firm has an in-house marketing and design team: a brand manager, a content manager (Jasmine Bible, more on her below), and two other admins who also chip in with marketing. The firm also has what Kauffmann called a "pseudo in-house" creative agency, nectar, which handles the firm and its agents' printing and graphic design needs (Kauffmann is a partner at the agency).
Nest Realty's aesthetic carries deep into its content, too, as reflected in its 18-month-old print and digital lifestyle magazine, explored below.
The firm's content is designed to keep Nest’s agents atop their sphere’s minds and attract like-minded agents to the firm, said the firm's content manager Jasmine Bible.
Digging in, blog
From its inception, Nest Realty had a blog with hyperlocal real estate stats that give an unvarnished look at the local housing market. This gained the local media’s trust and helped build the firm’s rep as local real estate thought leaders.
Market reports are one half of Nest’s content focus. Local stories, development and people are the other.
Lead brokers at each office oversee their office’s blog, which they update, at least, three to four times each month.
Bible developed style guides for each office to help them speak most effectively to their local audience. She likened her content management efforts to an “air-traffic controller.”
The firm also leverages its agents for content. A 2015 post by Wilmington agent, and boat captain, Quentin Jones on local off-shore fishing, got a lot of attention.
The blog has a few long-running series, including “Meet the Agent” and “Meet the Makers.”
Nest’s content guru Jasmine Bible helps office leaders craft editorial calendars and supplements the local blogs with company-wide content. She sends lead brokers a content calendar a quarter in advance with what she’s posting and brainstorms with them how to fill in the gaps.
Bible constantly monitors the blogs’ Google Analytics data to shape strategy. She looks at:
- Which stories attract the most readers
- Where readers come from
- What neighborhoods buyers are searching for on nestrealty.com
The firm hosts friendly blogging contests among offices, awarding winners “Nesties” for things like having the most content and the most new bloggers.
The year-and-a-half-old magazine sports a crisp, fresh, professional design, reflecting Nest’s bright, alive brand.
The firm prints roughly 10,000 copies of the biannual magazine and distributes its agents' contacts (of those agents who opt in). Its fourth edition is set to come out soon.
Nest Realty’s latest magazine.
Nest leverages all the content it builds for the magazine in blogs, enough for approximately 35 posts. Every word shows up on a blog eventually, Kauffmann said.
Bible’s distribution calendar ensures that at least one post hits Nest Realty’s Facebook page each day.
Every Monday Nest posts a real estate data piece in its “Market Monday” series with a link back to Nest’s website to reinforce the firm’s local real estate expertise and credibility. It runs a “Featured Friday” series, spotlighting one of its standout listings.
A testament to the unnerving power Facebook wields over many publishers and their content nowadays: Nest Realty’s Facebook page is the main traffic conduit for Nest’s website and blogs, Bible said.
Nest chops up metrics from Google Analytics and its various social media platforms to measure content results, lean into what’s working and what’s not.
With Google Analytics, Bible studies unique visitor traffic to specific stories and time spent on them.
For social media posts, Bible analyzes likes, unlikes, comments, shares and post frequency.
With the numbers in front of her, she’s constantly seeking answers to questions like:
- Are we getting better engagement?
- Are we posting too much?
- Are we consistent enough?
- Why did this post get 60 likes and this other just 3?
Social stats for one recent blog piece that performed well, a “Meet the Agent” profile of Nest Realty Charlottesville agent Dawn Cromer.
Cromer post stats:
Facebook: Reach: 998; Likes/Comments/Shares: 33; Post Clicks: 69
Instagram: Likes: 8
Twitter: Impressions: 264; Likes: 1
Nest Realty M.O. -- reason to fly
Nest’s significant content play feeds into its origin story, like a fly into a mountain trout’s mouth.
Kauffmann graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in English in 1999. His first job out of school was at a tech firm in operations and sales.
He started flipping houses on the side and by 2003 had morphed into a full-time residential real estate sales agent. His career chugged along until 2007 when his eyes blinked open after attending the National Association of Realtors national convention that year in Las Vegas.
Kauffmann recalls the convention showed him a “whole other world” that prompted him to think deeply about the value of a broker to agents and consumers and the agent’s role in real estate's future.
Kauffmann distilled his thoughts and inspirations into what he called a “Jerry Maguire manifesto” -- a 20-to-25-page document he handed to his broker and company owner. Expecting feedback and action, he heard crickets.
That document formed the foundation of Nest Realty, which kicked open its doors in Charlottesville in fall 2008.
His answer to those NAR conference-inspired questions: the real estate broker of the future would be a top-flight agent-services company.
He continually asks himself how his firm can help agents become more productive and efficient? Answers thus far include:
- Customer experience
- Transaction management
- Branding and marketing
- Training, best for my client
His big thinking immediately made waves.
The premier residential real estate news publication Inman News named the firm its brokerage innovator of the year in 2009.