When Steve Devine, of well-regarded Inner Western Sydney agency Devine Real Estate, added a highly skilled digital marketer to his team, Christopher Melotti, his real estate marketing went from strength to strength.

Many Principals struggle to get to grips with the type of marketer and the skill sets required to navigate today’s digital marketing era. What type of person will truly make a difference? The reality is that you’ll most likely need to attract someone from another industry, where digital marketing has already become the norm.

Impressed with the calibre and breadth of marketing skills Devine’s Chief Marketing Officer, Christopher Melotti has under his belt, I decided to interview him to find out what makes this real estate marketer tick.

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1 – What made you make the switch from medical marketing to real estate marketing?

I had been in Medical Marketing for over eight years, and while I loved the industry, it was time for a change. I had just won the Australian Marketing Institute’s ‘Future Leader Award’ late 2015 and thought it was time to shake my career up.

I believe Marketing is a very versatile practice, and as a result, I thought it was time for a fresh, new challenge.

I got a call from Devine within the first week. I hadn’t even considered real estate! And it was Steven Devine’s passion that won me over. I could tell immediately that this was a genuine man and an inspiring business leader, who possessed a deep sense of empathy that I admired. And two years later, he didn’t disappoint.

2 – What do you love about working in real estate?

Well, I certainly got more than I bargained for when looking for a challenge!

Real estate is a fast paced and a highly demanding industry – I’d even go as far as to say, the fastest and most demanding I know of. I enjoy these elements and the fact that every day is completely different.

Real estate is a great industry because of its product: homes. Australian’s have a real obsession with property, which makes it a very hot, luxury item!

But even more than that, it’s about people: a home represents a person’s identity and comfort. So, taking photos of ecstatic buyers who just purchased their first family home, or filming live streams at auctions and seeing the smile on a vendor’s face as the hammer drops just makes my career all the more fulfilling.

But most of all, I love working with a fantastic team of amazing people at Devine – they make it a joy to come to work every day.

3 – What skills does a real estate marketing professional or in-house team need today?

Absolutely everything in a marketing toolbox! I can’t reiterate that enough.

I wear about ten different marketing hats, simply because agencies tend to be small, and therefore, the “Marketing Team” are responsible for a significant amount of projects.

4 – What does a typical week look like for you at Devine? What activities do you have to focus on throughout the week?

Wow, where do I start?

My team and I look after social media, which includes monitoring and helping all the agents with their accounts, to posting every day on the company account.

We undertake all marketing production activities including; photography, copywriting, scriptwriting, proofreading, editing of communications, designing, advertising, sending materials off to print.

From a brand point of view I look after public relations, company marketing campaigns, new advert concepts, digital marketing and advertising, producing blogs, the website and its SEO. I’ve improved Devine’s branding, marketing strategy, marketing automation, implemented new technology, run events and sponsorship, in-house training. The sourcing of marketing suppliers, a new CRM system, updating software, negotiation of rates with the portals (Domain and REA), alongside managing the overall marketing budgets.

I wish I could say I’m exaggerating!

I work very hard, and it’s not unusual for my daily To-Do list to have over forty items. It’s also a six-day job, as I often live stream auctions over the weekend, and post results on our social media channels, so the public can receive updates in real time.

5 – When you joined Devine Real Estate in early January 2016 how sophisticated was their marketing strategy? Did you find them in any marketing ruts?

In terms of having a marketing strategy – there wasn’t one. I wrote the first Devine Real Estate Marketing Plan last year, and they have been in business for over 50 years! But that’s not a reflection on Devine itself; I’d say this is pretty common of property agencies across our industry. The mentality is pretty much “Sales + Admin”. But now that I’ve been able to make inroads, the results have really put marketing on the map.

Steven Devine told me: “Our business has been treading water for too long, and we need to get up to speed with marketing and technology”.

With that in mind, I hit the ground running, and put in place over 45 new initiatives in the first year. I chuckled when some of the agents said: “Can you take a break and give us a second to get up to speed with all of these changes!”

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But it was exactly what they needed: new software, new branding, brand standards, copywriting, social media, proper marketing campaigns, publicity, automation… it was like starting from scratch.

But, Devine has been amazing in taking all of it on board, and I honestly believe the business is in a much better place two years on.

6 – What have been the main areas of focus for you at Devine? What was missing that you had to put in place?

I would have to say automating marketing activities – when I arrived everything was very manual.

People are creatures of habit. We prefer to stick with the familiar and very rarely step out of our comfort zone. I observed newer agencies using technology that left more established agencies looking very behind-the-times.

For example, I was in Wollongong watching an agent use his phone to take details at an open home, and here was Devine, selling $7 million houses, still using paper and pen. Then the agents would go back to the office and type up all of the information manually…

I was horrified.

So, digital marketing, marketing automation and CRM were the biggest projects.

I bought every team member an iPad, upgraded the CRM software to integrate with mobile technology, and automated the whole process. Now, at an open home, the agent enters the visitor’s details into an App, and it tells them who they are, what auctions and opens they’ve attended recently so that the agent can say, for example, “Hello Mr Smith. How was 45 Newton Road, in Strathfield? This house here is a little different to your last inspection…” This information is also synced live to our CRM, so no further work is required, and the whole team has access to the same customer information – should the home buyer come in contact with another Devine agent.

The home buyer then gets an automatic SMS from the agent’s mobile number with more details, and a web eBook (like a digitally responsive brochure), containing suburb information, videos of the house, contracts, and so forth.

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I also built a Marketing Listing Kit and added that onto the iPad as well, so that when Devine agents present company information to a potential client, we look tech-savvy and worth our salt in a digital environment.

Basically, my job was to support the team so they could look amazing without lifting a finger!

7 – How much of your time is spent on brand building activities versus property marketing activities?

I’d say 30% property marketing, 70% brand marketing activities.

I have a team that mainly do the property marketing side for Devine, led by my amazing Marketing Associate, Sabina Pyper. She keeps a tight ship by organising photo shoots, the placement of adverts, the Devine magazine, our weekly eNewsletter, auction and open home times, videos, and so on. She is simply fantastic and very reliable – I’d be lost without her.

My role with Property Marketing is more script writing for video, copywriting the property bios, and helping out in a more general sense.

Branding and strategy are obviously my primary focus. So, every day I’m on the hunt for the next big thing, the next project, the next campaign, the next piece of technology, the next blog, the next educational conference to help us become recognised as a Key Opinion Leader.

8 – What have been your most successful initiatives at Devine Real Estate? Can you share some of the statics or KPIs for these initiatives?

There’s been quite a lot.

Facebook advertising and engagement, both paid and organic, have gone from zero, to literally hundreds of engagements a day.

I completely rebuilt our website, implemented the latest SEO schemas and practises, and launched paid advertising campaigns, resulting in our website numbers quadrupling.

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Content marketing wise: the agents were manually putting together suburb reports for interested clients, but these reports were very basic and poor quality. Now, we have full automation. We have a report for each of our core suburbs, and every quarter the agents get a digital report they can print and email to their clients, and it’s professionally designed and branded.

My aim is to make Devine the local real estate ‘opinion leader’, as well as increase our agent’s profiles with industry peers.

We also run free events for homeowners and investors. These are educational events explaining the ins and outs of real estate and run throughout the year. These forums provide real value to our clients and result in many new leads and strong customer advocacy.

I also write and pitch articles to publications like The Inner West Courier and The Australian Financial Review, to get the Devine brand maximum exposure. Just last week, The Fin Review ran an article I wrote about one of our agents, Hanna Kim. Hanna was ecstatic because she secured two listings off the back of that article the following week.

I’ve also engaged a Filmographer, to film all our properties, so we have video content for every listing, not just photos and copy. Video has become the norm in our area of Sydney; buyers now expect to see a video as part of a property advertising campaign. Video has provided a noticeable uplift in views of our listings, and now get far more engagement than previously.

9 – What types of changes have you encouraged of the sales team at Devine? How easy or hard has it been to get buy-in from the sales agents or to change weekly practices?

Oh, a lot!!!!

It’s been very hard, to be honest. There was a lot of inertia and resistance to change, and some very strong opinions. But success was achieved by showing the team the benefits to them as individuals specifically.

For example, they found learning how to use the iPads for open homes and the new CRM software quite challenging. However, as soon as they realised how much easier it made their job and how well customers were responding to the automated messages, they immediately sang the praises systems.

Once a few projects were across the line, the team started to trust me far more, and began to accept that the changes we were making were for the best.

10 – How important do you feel digital marketing is to real estate today?

Absolutely ESSENTIAL. The sooner real estate agencies realise this, the better.

11 – How important do you feel social media is in terms of the real estate agents digital interview?

Again, absolutely essential. Not as a priority, but as an extension of our Content Marketing strategy. Potential home sellers will look online for information before they even talk to an agent, so you must be present on social media, showing your sales successes so that potential vendors can see your results for themselves. Provide social proof, and you’ll be the lucky agent that get’s called in for the appraisal.

Ignoring social media will really put you behind competing real estate agents that do because they are achieving more exposure than you.

12 – What is the number one marketing activity that real estate brands should be focusing on?

Your audience. Know your audience and what they want.

Long gone are the days where people rely solely on a real estate agent. So much information about the home selling process is online, and competitors like Purple Bricks and Google are moving in on the real estate agents territory.

You have to earn the homeowners attention and their respect. You have to show your value and worth in the selling process. Implement a solid marketing strategy that answers a home sellers questions and meet their thirst for information, then publish your content across all digital and social media contact points.

In other words, have a marketing strategy that is designed to win your clients over online – on their terms – by offering value that they just cannot ignore or deny.

13 – Do Devine Real Estate Agents still use the letter box drop? Do you believe this is still an effective marketing tool? Do you think this promotional tool will disappear altogether from real estate?

Yes, yes (despite my digital bias), and yes!

I’m personally all about digital and think money is best spent in more effective, measurable and targeted methods, like Google, Facebook and even Rate My Agent.

However, every time we do a mail drop, we get strong results, and I cannot deny it, despite my digital instincts hating every word I’m saying right now. These results could probably be because our printed collateral is professionally branded and has strong copywriting and includes calls to action. We are certainly not the type of real estate agency that whips up something at Kwik Kopy.

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I personally never look at mailers myself, ever, so I naturally think about abolishing them every day, but again, it’s about knowing your audience. And for now, homeowners are responding to our printed materials. I attribute this to a generational bias. A lot of the older generations will look out for printed materials when they are considering selling up and downsizing.

I think as the new generations of internet savvy homeowners are ready to sell, the mailer will end up becoming rare.

14 – What do you see as the major changes in real estate marketing in the next one to two years?

Technology wise, there are a lot of good things happening out there, with 3D mapping, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, etc. to keep an eye on.

I think that real estate agencies will start to get more into marketing and branding after they begin to see the essential role it plays in attracting an audience and delivering results.

I think Purple Bricks is not the disruptor in Australia that it thought it would be. While I always take disruption seriously (the person who thinks otherwise is doomed), and we put defences in place to protect against them, they’ve really fallen short. They’ve spent millions on advertising and not got much cut through with consumers. In fact, as a result, I’ve noticed that their advertising messaging has changed from when they first launched, but I still feel they aren’t taking quite the right approach.

Who will end up disrupting real estate? It’s more likely to be Facebook and Google. Watch the horizon for them.

The real estate industry seems to move slower on all fronts than other industries, so not much will change in the short term.

15 – Are there any new marketing technologies or tools that you are trying out at Devine or that you are personally interested in that you’d like to start experimenting with?

I have implemented and use quite a lot of marketing technologies at the moment; like Messenger, Bots, Automation, Live Streaming, etc. But I think we are positioned as an early adopter now at Devine; most agencies would not be at this level of marketing sophistication right now.

As mentioned above, the industry moves very slowly, especially with technology adoption. As a result, while I’m always excited by things like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR), the industry just isn’t quite ready for them. I mean, I got push back when I tried to implement 3D floor plans and virtual tours because the agents believe it takes away the buyers need to come to the open home, and thus, they feel they lose their opportunity to talk directly with the buyers and sellers.

The fact of the matter is, consumer behaviour and demands are changing, and the industry needs to learn to accept this. We need to move with the times and adapt to the advancements in technology, and we need to embrace change!

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Melanie Hoole

Written by Melanie Hoole

Melanie specialises in helping real estate professionals perfect their personal brand, build a first-class digital profile, and implement inbound marketing activities to attract property owners planning to sell. If you are unsure which direction to take with your digital marketing – contact Melanie Hoole for help.

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