Marketing, the flip-side of product

A lot of eyes glaze over when the word "marketing" pops up, mine included, especially before I shifted from the journalism side of things and began exploring the dark arts of content marketing.

But seeing the real estate industry and, increasingly, other industries through the eyes of a journalist-marketer makes it clear just how critical marketing is to business success. One of the core missteps I see, over and over again, is confusion around messaging, positioning and brand.

So many real estate tech firms I see aren't presenting their valuable products in engaging ways to their target audience, whether it be brokers, agents or consumers. There's a narrow focus on product, but messaging and bringing the company to life with story and content, languishes in cubicle shadows.

The godfather of transparency-focused tech, Rich Barton, Zillow Group co-founder and executive chairman as well as chairman and co-founder of employer-info site Glassdoor, lawyer-matching site Avvo and founder and former CEO of Expedia, wrote a Medium post this week voicing the same insight, perception, "we are entering a new golden age of marketing and branding."

Barton astutely notes that the SEO age that peaked with the rise of Google is fading in the search giant's maturity as desktop searches dwindle, Google ads dominate search results for important, popular keywords and space opens up with the new ascendant kings Facebook and Snapchat.

Barton's telling a classic startup story here -- about fledglings hoping to be unicorns using one that has sprouted a horn in Zillow Group as an example. From the beginning, Zillow wanted to control its digital domain, not rent from Google, he writes. (I see the same danger now for firms outsourcing their presence and marketing dollars to Facebook). So it rightly focused on just two things: product and a carefully, strategically crafted story exposed through smart public relations.

Part of Zillow Group's huge success is due to having a marketer, Amy Bohutinsky, at the leadership table from the get go, Barton writes. Bohutinsky, the firm's former chief marketing officer and current chief operating officer, designed Zillow Group's hefty, smart content marketing strategy, too.

As the digital and media age continues to rapidly evolve, a great product or standout service without a compelling story baked into the heart of a firm and shared smartly and consistently, just won't cut it. I see it everyday in the firms I work and talk with: invest time, money and energy into your firm's story -- it's the only way to grow today. Tomorrow, you'll need it just to survive.