With scant money, two babies and a new brokerage in 2008, Jenelle Isaacson stared necessity in the face. It stared back and presented her the content strategy that would catapult her Portland, Oregon-based firm Living Room Realty into a thriving brand and company.
“I required every single agent that joined to write about the people they helped,” Isaacson said. Ignore the quality of the house, it’s the people that matter, she told them. She directed those agents to then share the blog post with their clients on Facebook, which, she hoped, they would share with the people they know.
That’s how she leveraged the hustle inherent in content marketing to build a sharp, authentic brand and company that nine years later has 108 agents, 15 full-time staff and did $443 million in sales in 2016, a 24 percent jump from 2015.
Living Room Realty’s content strategy continues today with a frequently updated blog, quarterly digital lifestyle magazine, monthly art exhibits at one of its offices and rich social media feeds. Its quality multimedia content legitimately keeps the 9-year-old firm growing at a heady clip.
Living Room Realty publishes roughly four blog posts each day by requiring all agents to blog.
Operating at a 20 percent profit, the firm embeds content into its business to such a degree that talk of ROI is moot. Isaacson boils down the success to a simple, unassailable factor: “It’s about passion.”
“I built a business so somebody would pay me to do what I would do anyway,” Isaacson said. Mull that over.
A lively blog
Client stories pulse at the center of Living Room Realty’s content (and marketing) strategy. The blog is littered with them, like this one on a couple who moved from Tokyo to Portland, written by the agent who helped them find their Portland home.
The firm publishes approximately four blog posts each day, a publication clip many media sites would envy. The blog includes a mix of client stories, neighborhood profiles, real estate market analysis and new listings, all written by agents.
It maintains that cadence with a policy that requires all agents to blog. If agents don’t write, they don’t get paid. The firm encourages agents to cultivate their individual voice in their posts, which it doesn’t edit. Each agent’s blog roll show up below on their profile pages on the Living Room Realty site and many pay to boost them on social media.
At first agents grumble about blogging, but they quickly learn its value, Isaacson said. It’s also one reason why the firm’s agent fees are so low -- it doesn’t have to dump money into expensive campaigns or pay for SEO. The blog takes care of that.
Living Room Realty's quarterly lifestyle digital magazine, "Where's Your Living Room?" allows the firm to cultivate more refined content.
The firm has an overall monthly marketing budget of $45,000, which it uses for smart branding campaigns and boosting popular blog posts on Facebook. It spends $6,000 each quarter to produce its magazine.
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Only when you nail authenticity does content take flight.
A former punk-rock musician, Isaacson has a performer’s sensibility and an artistic, communal bent that makes the brand tangible. She still plays music and produces visual art particularly weavings and paintings.
In addition to a focused allegiance to authenticity, she has an eye for story, both of which inspired her to found Living Room Realty in the first place: she didn’t feel the brand at the firm where she started her career truly reflected its agents or clients and saw so many interesting clients with great, human stories squeezed through an impersonal machine.
“Why isn’t there a real estate company speaking to the Portland I know?” she asked herself.
So she decided to create it. “Our strategy has always been to reflect the real stories and lives of the clients we actually serve,” Isaacson said. “We use real photos and don't edit our agents blogs. Connection drives every marketing decision we make.”
Outside of the blog box
Some of the firm’s and Isaacson’s best-performing content has taken place outside of the blog, which should alert content marketers to the multi-faceted opportunities they have to share their message.
Isaacson noticed hand-written signs in several Portland neighborhoods alerting drivers to keep their eyes peeled for kids on bikes, so she decided to print up some signs with the same message and branded to Living Room Realty. A popular local bike blog wrote a piece on the signs, which led to local news coverage.
Living Room Realty's neighborhood bike signs generate both press and brand awareness.
As we all know, differentiation wins in marketing. Isaacson says one of her personal best-performing pieces of content is her annual Valentine’s Day cards she sends to her sphere.
“Many agents do Christmas, New Years, or Thanksgiving cards so I wanted to do something that would set me apart,” Isaacson said.