May 22 2009

A Consumer First Impression Is A Moving Target

It’s been said you only have one first impression; and that impression has a huge influence on future perceptions.  The evolution of a consumer’s first impression of a homebuilder has been a moving target over the last ten years.

A consumer’s first impression of a homebuilder used to be when he or she walked into the sales office and was greeted by a sales professional.  When we started using the Internet as our primary home search resource, the builder website quickly became the first impression.  And to a large degree the builder website still is the consumer's first impression, but it's still a moving target.  

A website is the face of a company, much like a retail store is the face of a retailer.  A consumer perception of a builder, or any company for that matter, is largely based on their web experience.  As technology has evolved, the web experience has rapidly morphed from a one page static brochure into a dynamic and rich experience with the incorporation of databases, animation, and an increased level of interactivity.

The web is now billions of pages with millions of pages added daily!  Consequently we have come to rely heavily on search.  Google has unquestionably given us the best search experience of any search providers.  They do it quicker and cleaner, with far greater relevancy than anyone else.  The phenomenal growth of the web and our dependence on search has made the first impression target move farther and faster than ever.

According to PEW Research, search has now become the number one Internet activity along side email. When it comes to the home search, we really have no other option other than to do a Google search.  Sure you may search MSN or Yahoo!, but with Google serving upwards of 70% of all Internet searches, Google is the search engine we need to be found on.  Yes, you can make an arguement about Yahoo! Real Estate or MSN Real Estate, but would YOU go there to look for a new home?  I wouldn't.  I've asked several people - they wouldn't either.  Obviously people do it, but it's not a natural psychological behavior.  The natural psychological behavior is to do a search.  Consumers don’t know the name of the builder or where a builder is building.  They only know where they want to live and their price point. So they search.

All that being said, a consumer first impression has now extended beyond the website to the Google search results page.  If your company is or is not found for a relevant Google search, it affects that consumer's perception of your company and it certainly affects your chances to connect with those home shopping consumers.  Being found on a Google search, whether it be a natural listing, a paid listing, or by being on a website that is in the natural/paid listings, has become business critical.

The consumer first impression has moved from the homebuilder sales office to the Google search results page.  Consumer impressions will continue to be a moving target because as technology evolves, consumer expectations will also continue to increase.  The web experience has now become the most important customer acquisition element to homebuilders.  Does budget spending reflect this? Not yet, but if we want to stay in business, it will – eventually. 

Have you heard that 90% of consumers start their home search on the Internet? 
Have you heard there are 200 million Facebook users? 
Have you heard there are 900,000 recorded blog posts added to the Internet daily? 
Do you hear it? 
That is the sound of inevitability.

Technology is not regressing and is not cyclical.  Just as builders have adopted to the consumer expectation of a website experience, we will also have to adopt to the notion that the web experience, whatever that means today and tomorrow, is now our first and most important priority in customer acquisition.

I continually hear stories where marketing departments are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a one day or one month print ad while at the same time can’t find half those dollars to breath life into a flailing or inadequate consumer web experience.  Builders are slashing Internet marketing jobs and budgets but still spend money on expensive and outdated marketing campaigns.  What’s up with that?

As a CEO in the building industry I implore other homebuilding executives. You can’t hide your head in the sand and hope this will go away.  If anything, the social media explosion should show us all that we have moved into warp speed with no intention of slowing down or coming back.  The Internet is NOT some side gig we’re doing for a small segment of our consumers.  The Internet gives us the best chance at being profitable with our marketing dollars. Spend your money and resources there and commit to delivering the best web experience to your consumers as possible.

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes


Posted by: Jeff Shore | May 22 2009 11:42 AM

Outstanding article, Jim. "The Sound of Inevitability" - priceless.  

Even if you set aside the customer's home search agenda, you cannot ignore the fact that customer's offer a greater credibility to the sites that find their way to the top spots of a Google search.  

Nicely done.

Posted by: Mike Lyon | May 25 2009 12:12 PM

the homepage was so 2008 - Google is the new homepage! Great article.

Posted by: Bill Hunter | May 26 2009 7:04 AM

Great article - we've been preaching this for years. It is difficult to understand why there is such willingness to spend tens of thousands of dollars on print placement - and such "hand wringing" over a few thousand targeted dollars online. We are slowly changing minds ~

Thanks again - nicely done!

Bill Hunter
Creative director/President
Wilmington Design Company

Posted by: Tish Addington | May 26 2009 12:35 PM

I couldn't agree more! I think this translates to most businesses these days. Very well said!

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