This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Janette Hawkins of Gemcraft Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how tracking analytics is the key to making better marketing decisions.
Metrics are part of any digital marketing plan and studying those metrics is essential to being successful. Janette explains, “Using those metrics has been helpful for us because we then will take that and go, okay, well this is working or this is not working. I do a lot of tracking because again, back to budget, I don't have money to just throw it everything. So, I need to know exactly what's working.
It is difficult to know if marketing processes are working without tracking. Janette says, “I would definitely say track, track, track. I know the bigger guys are doing that, but if you're a smaller builder or even a medium-sized builder, if you're not tracking what's working, what's not working, where you're spending your money, you know how much it's costing you for each of those leads. If you have an online sales counselor, how they're tracking across all of their metrics.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about why tracking metrics is vital to marketing success.
About the Guest:
Janette Hawkins joined Gemcraft Homes as Vice President of Marketing in February 2019 and had previously led the marketing teams at TriCorner Homes, Traditions of America, and Keystone Custom Homes. With nearly 20 years of experience in homebuilding, she has driven strategic marketing initiatives that significantly improved results, expanded market share, built brand recognition, and improved customer experience.
Janette holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Marketing from West Chester University and has been a speaker at IBS. She resides in West Grove, PA with her husband and three children.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.
Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show, Janette Hawkins. Jan is the VP of Marketing at Gemcraft Homes. Welcome, Janette. Thanks for joining us today.
Janette Hawkins: Hi guys. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Greg Bray: Well, Jeanette start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and help us to get to know you a little better.
Janette Hawkins: Sure. My name is Janette Hawkins. I am the VP of Marketing at Gemcraft, as Greg mentioned. I have been in [00:01:00] home building nearly 20 years, which is a little scary to say. I said, you know, it wasn't so bad when you were saying 10 years or 15, but 20 seems like a lot. Yeah, but I love this industry and I'm really excited to be here today.
Kevin Weitzel: So, 20 years, in that same 20 years, that means you've got some personal secrets that you can divulge about yourself on our podcast. Tell us one thing interesting about yourself that we will learn on our podcast. Not industry-related.
Janette Hawkins: Not industry-related. Hmmm. Well, it's a little industry-related, but I'll tell it, and then you can ask me something different if you want. While my background is marketing and I've worked in marketing for all these years, I actually went to school for two years for interior design.
I thought that's what I really want to do. Yeah, so I ended up going for two years, and then, you know, at 19 years old, you're like, uh, is this what I really want to do? Not sure, and switched majors. Went to accounting for a little while. Don't know what I was thinking. Ended up in marketing, but it really has worked out because, from a marketing perspective, I get to work with all of our [00:02:00] model homes and merchandisers. So, I still get to do a little bit of that interior design that I love.
Kevin Weitzel: That's super cool.
Janette Hawkins: Yeah, so it was fun.
Greg Bray: So tell us a little more about then that leap from interior design to accounting to marketing to home building. How did you end up in marketing specifically in the home building industry?
Janette Hawkins: It's so funny. I blame the accounting part on my boyfriend at the time who is now currently my husband. He was an accounting major and I'm like, oh, maybe I'll try this accounting thing. Definitely, I'm not a numbers person. So then, yeah, I was like, well, you know what, let's get a business degree. You can do a lot with a business degree. Ended up in marketing and just loved it.
I didn't work in marketing at first. I was actually on the IT side, which was a little funny, but my husband and I moved to a different area, and I was a realtor at the time. I had gotten my real estate license. There was a builder out here looking for an assistant. So, I applied for the job. Got the job and started working with a community sales manager in the area where I was living. Which was fun. I loved it.
I sold for [00:03:00] about three years and then the company that I was working for realized, oh, wait, you have a marketing background and an IT background, we're going to pull you in-house. So, I ended up coming in-house for them and overseeing marketing and IT there for almost 10 years. So, it was great. It was an interesting leap, but it was fantastic. It was nice to be out in the field and selling first before I came into the office because I knew what the sales team was going through while they were out there.
Greg Bray: Well, and IT and marketing in our topic of digital marketing obviously come together a little bit too because of the technology pieces that come into play, so, but before we dive into that, Janette tell us just a little bit about Gemcraft. You know, where you guys build and what kind of buyers you're serving?
Janette Hawkins: Sure. Awesome. So, Gemcraft Homes has been in business for over 25 years, almost going on 30, and we are building in a bunch of different states here in the Northeast. So, we are Pennsylvania and Maryland. We also are building in Delaware now. We build in Virginia. We're headed to New Jersey and West Virginia in the coming [00:04:00] year. So, that should be exciting, and we just started our first 55-plus community, which is one of our communities in Delaware.
Kevin Weitzel: Delaware. So, I could relocate?
Janette Hawkins: Totally. It's right in old New Castle, right along the river. Lots of hiking and biking and walking trails and great little area. Great food.
Kevin Weitzel: Nice.
Greg Bray: Well, did that, tell us a little more about your steam and how you guys structure your marketing and various team members.
Janette Hawkins: Sure. So at Gemcraft, I kind of worked directly with our president of sales and marketing, who was actually an owner of the company. Which is fantastic cause I love she has that background, and then we have a marketing coordinator and we're looking forward to adding, probably a marketing assistant this year.
Greg Bray: So, then what types of partners do you guys work with to help with some of the different parts of your marketing plan, as far as agencies, et cetera?
Kevin Weitzel: Let me actually expand on that. How do you determine what you keep in-house versus what you choose to partner with outside of your agency?
Janette Hawkins: I think that is a fantastic question because we can't do it all, right? And I don't have the [00:05:00] knowledge. I don't have the time or the ability to keep up on how rapidly changing everything is. I think that's one of the interesting things. I guess when I started in this, you know, 20 years ago, things didn't change as fast as they do today. You could kind of learn this whole social media thing. You could learn that Google ad words and things like that. I have to rely on partners because if we had to know it all, it's just impossible.
So, we have an outside marketing agency that does all of our Google ad words. They do some of our social media, but we oversee everything. So, we want to make sure all of our social is, you know, in Gemcraft's voice. So, they're really hearing about Gemcraft and you know what Gemcraft does, not some marketing agency that's saying, hey, this is what I think you should talk about, and then we use our website company to do all of our SEO and things like that.
Greg Bray: How does the wide geography that you guys are serving come into play with your marketing efforts, both from just staying on top of it all, with a small team that you've described and also kind of the different needs that each area may have to specialize [00:06:00] in?
Janette Hawkins: Good question. So, it's been interesting, especially just from a branding perspective. Like moving into New Jersey and West Virginia. They don't know Gemcraft right now. They knew Gemcraft. Gemcraft had built there probably 15 years ago, but we haven't been there in a while. So, it's been interesting trying to handle it all and then of course not just throw money at it.
So, try to be really targeted on what we're doing. So, we're trying to start campaigns ahead of time. Hey, we're going to be in West Virginia. Let's just get our name out there with some of the Google ad words and things like that and get some of those keywords out there and at least get people recognizing Gemcraft Homes in those areas.
Kevin Weitzel: So, because you have this geography issue, do you find that your salespeople have to amend their speech patterns? In the Maryland area, do they have to say cod and stuff like that? And in West Virginia, I've never met anybody from West Virginia, but in my head, I don't know why, but in my head, I was thinking of like the stereotypical, the Clampetts with the hillbillies, with the no shoes and, you know, hey Pa, hey Ma, we fixing to go, you know. I don't know why I think that in my head and [00:07:00] I apologize to any West Virginia listeners. I know that this is not reality, but in my head, that's what I think. So, do your salespeople talk like that in West Virginia?
Janette Hawkins: That is a very good question. They don't. So, it's interesting. The person that we have going down to West Virginia is actually from right over the border in Pennsylvania. So, there's this like one section of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia. You can get within three states within a few minutes of each other. So, he's going down, but I've had the opportunity to meet with two or three different realtors in the area and they're fantastic.
I think it's funny, Kevin, you say that I'm like, are they going to have kind of that like Southern drawl, but they didn't too much, and my only experience with West Virginia, my son goes to West Virginia University. Kind of over on the other side of the state, so, but they're very, very friendly. Wonderful. They will do anything for you. Great people.
Greg Bray: Oh, Kevin. I just don't even know.
Kevin Weitzel: I don't even know where that came from, Greg. It just, it popped in my head. That's how I work.
Janette Hawkins: I loved it.
Kevin Weitzel: Things just pop into my head, and I'm just like, I have to know. Do they talk like that?
Janette Hawkins: Now, I'm thinking I'm [00:08:00] like, Pat. Does he? Does he? No, he doesn't have, he doesn't have the drawl yet. Maybe he'll pick it up while he's there.
Kevin Weitzel: Yeah.
Greg Bray: Oh, man. Okay. Moving on. So, Janette with some of your years of experience, how have you seen the digital piece of your marketing evolve over the last few years, from the, you know, percentage of focus and kind of effort that you put into that versus other marketing activities?
Janette Hawkins: I have definitely seen it change over the years. It's been very interesting to watch. I actually had one of my salespeople come to me the other day and say, hey, can we put an ad in the newspaper? I was like, what?
Greg Bray: Wait you said recently somebody asked you that question?
Janette Hawkins: Recently.
Greg Bray: Oh, okay.
Janette Hawkins: Recently.
Greg Bray: Okay.
Janette Hawkins: I was like, won't speak to, you know, the age of that person, but I'm like, I haven't put an ad in the newspaper in at least five years. It may have been longer, but at least. So, back to the digital question. It was just an interesting question that they asked me. Kind of took me back. I was like, gosh, I didn't even think about it. Like, is [00:09:00] any builder doing anything in newspapers?
We have definitely moved most to digital. I would say probably half of our marketing budget is digital now. We have to be, and that's probably not even enough. It probably needs to be a little bit more, but with all that geography, I got a lot of signage budget too. So, some billboards in there, here and there where we can, but yeah, a lot of it we've moved mostly to digital.
Kevin Weitzel: I've got to go back to this newspaper thing. Now was this somebody that was summarily just obliterated on the spot and released from their job, or were they higher up in the food chain and you have to just go, Mr. or Mrs. we find that that's not the best way to spend your money right now.
Janette Hawkins: I didn't have to be that nice about it, but I didn't obliterate them either. I just went, that's probably not going to be the best use of our money at the moment. I said I can probably use those dollars a little bit more wisely to get you some more traffic if that's what you think the issue is. They're like, no, I, people still read the newspaper. I'm like, but not to look for ads for homebuilders.
Kevin Weitzel: And I don't want to [00:10:00] bring on any doom and gloom. This crazy market we're in right now is going to change. Interest rates are going to hit and yada yada. You get the whole gist, but do you find that you are marketing for putting butts in the seats so to say? Or are you marketing just for brand awareness or for community awareness? How are you marketing right now, and do you have a focus like that that you're having to accommodate?
Janette Hawkins: So, for us, we're really trying to be as targeted as possible, not just trying to put butts in the seats. We don't have the budget just to have just a branding, you know. So, we are really trying to be as targeted as possible, or we try to be really accurate with our keywords or geographies, going into these new markets, trying to make sure we do a little bit of research and know where these buyers are coming from. Especially, like West Virginia, we think that people are going to be coming out of the areas like Martinsburg and that way.
Kevin Weitzel: You're mentioning cities. I was thinking you were going to say coming out of huts, you know, out of hunting cabins. No, I'm just kidding West Virginia. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding.
Janette Hawkins: People move out when they've got to get a little bit more for [00:11:00] their money.
Kevin Weitzel: That's true. That's true.
Janette Hawkins: Yeah. That's where they're going, but maybe from the huts. But we're trying to be as targeted as possible because, you know, we don't have a huge budget. I think that's one of the interesting things in marketing. While retail pricing has gone up for many years, I feel like our marketing budgets have come down.
Kevin Weitzel: They have. I can tell you as somebody that sells digital assets to builders, the marketing budgets have come down and they're like, oh, we're selling so well. We don't have to spend any marketing. I'm like wrong answer.
Janette Hawkins: Exactly. You still have to. It's not like you can't cut it off completely. You've got to keep that going cause this market isn't going to stay this way forever. Just like you said, Kevin, it's going to change.
Kevin Weitzel: Take Pepsi and Coke for example. The number one and number two flip-flop year after year, beverage sales companies in the world, and yet they still have billion-dollar ad spends every year. Billion-dollar ad spends, and why? They have the number one and number two spot. Who do they worry about? RC Cola? That's crazy.
Greg Bray: They probably own that one, but I'm really fascinated by this geography differences that you guys are dabbling in because I would think those [00:12:00] buyer demographics are going to be kind of different. Are you seeing reactions to certain types of messaging be different across maybe the Google ads or your social media activities? Do you get kind of a different response based on what's going on in different geographies?
Janette Hawkins: So, I think we will. So, interestingly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, they're very similar. Even in some of our, like what we consider like lower shore, Maryland, they're still just very similar buyer demographics and things like that. I do think when we get to West Virginia, it might be a little bit different. We're still working through all of those.
We definitely have noticed, like in Virginia we are selling the water communities very different. You know, it's gotta be different targeted advertising. You know, they're looking at second homes. So, we're doing a lot of different kinds of advertising. More for product type and the way people are purchasing than it is for demographics.
Greg Bray: So, as you are trying to measure these differences then, what are the key metrics that you're looking at? How do [00:13:00] you measure success of your campaigns?
Janette Hawkins: So, we are using Analytics like crazy. However, I have a little secret to tell. I have not learned anything about the new Google Analytics yet, Analytics 4. I have to dig into that. Have you guys dug into that yet?
Greg Bray: So, so yeah. Analytics 4 is something that people need to be paying attention to, for sure. Now you've got a little bit of time to learn it from a reporting standpoint cause they've announced July of 2023, but the dirty secret is if you don't get the tracking set up in July in 2022, then you won't have year over year reporting capabilities next year when you're forced to switch. We're kind of working on some things to help get the word out on that a little bit more but yeah, thanks for mentioning that because that is an important thing to pay attention to for sure.
Janette Hawkins: Yeah, because I do, I mean to the question, I really, I do rely heavily on our analytics. We track everything from just visitors month over month to, you know, how much time on site, bounce rate. We're always looking at those kinds of things, and then engagement, of course. What are people doing on the site? You know, are they [00:14:00] lead forms? Are they calling us? Are they looking at directions? Are they looking at our interactive kitchen? Different things like that, and I do still rely on our sales team.
You know, when they have buyers that come to the model and somebody that hasn't eliminated us. You know, they've been on the website. They actually walked into our model home. I want to know exactly what their path was. The team does a pretty good job of saying, yeah, well they told me they started to search. They saw us on Google. They found us on Google and then they went on the website and they did this and this.
Using those metrics has been helpful for us because we then will take that and go, okay, well this is working or this is not working. I do a lot of tracking because again, back to budget, I don't have money to just throw it everything. So, I need to know exactly what's working. I tell the team that. I say, if you don't give me good data back, we may turn something off that really is working and I don't know that. So, a little bit of the analytics on the digital side and then still some of that just, hey, what's getting put into the CRM system about where people have come from.
Kevin Weitzel: So, part [00:15:00] of that delineation and having to separate out various market spaces, do you have any your market spaces that haven't been hit by this, I shouldn't say COVIDism, but you know, like in Florida and Texas and Arizona, you know, we have whole communities that literally have to be put on, and the Carolina's for that matter, you know have to be put on a roll a dole program where they can't pre-sell homes. They can't even get the homes out to list. That's a long question. I haven't got to the question yet, but do you have any of your markets that weren't affected by that, to where you can still have status quo sales process?
Janette Hawkins: To tell you the truth, not really. We definitely had to change. I mean, we are still selling to be built. We're not saying, hey, we're going to take them through drywall and then sell them. It seems to be working. We have been very strategic with pricing. So, we're raising pricing every couple of sales just to make up for all the supply and vendor cost pricing that's coming back to us to just try and stay ahead of that, but we haven't made a ton of changes with the way that we're selling.
Greg Bray: Janette, we've talked a lot about lead generation and [00:16:00] outreach marketing. Are there things that you guys are doing with digital technologies to kind of improve the customer journey or their buying experience?
Janette Hawkins: Yeah, so a couple of things and we need to do more. I think that's just a constant. We just constantly need to improve the technology because I really think that people are doing so much more. I mean, I know we've talked about this probably for five, eight years. People are doing so much more online before they even come to see you. You know, are they not eliminating you, like we just said. I always tell our sales team. If somebody walks into the model, they have not eliminated us. You need to grab onto that prospect and never let them go.
Yeah. So, we're trying to do a lot on the website. So, when we launched our new website at the end of last year, you know, we did an interactive kitchen, which people love. They love playing around with the cabinet colors and countertop colors and flooring and things like that. Our sales team loves it too because they can be like, hey, just go play with that for a little bit while I do this. We want to continue with some of those things. We're planning on you know, an exterior designer, so they can look at the exterior of the home and design [00:17:00] things. Interactive floor plans. Kevin and I have been talking about interactive floor plans.
Kevin Weitzel: What?
Janette Hawkins: We love interactive floorplans. We're coming back to it. We didn't have a lot of those technology assets. We're working towards more of those now, and then, even more, I think one of the interesting things and I know we might get to this later too. I would love to see how the buy now and buy online plays out. What do you guys think about that?
Kevin Weitzel: You don't want to ask me because my opinion is not the typical opinion.
Janette Hawkins: Okay.
Kevin Weitzel: I'm a firm believer that when you simplify the process to just a simple clicking a button and a series of clicks that you are commoditizing your product. You're really you're dumbing it down to the point where it just comes down to who has the best price of this type of square footage in this general area. Now there are some niceties to it and there are some comfort factors that people have by how they're climatized and accustomed to shopping now. There are aspects that should be made better with a buy now, you know, as far as simplifying the process, but I [00:18:00] don't think that just eliminating the sales team and eliminating, you know, the whole marketing deal out of it is the right pathway.
Janette Hawkins: I tend to agree with you. I think it's cool. Maybe like a spec where it's completely finished and you can do a complete walkthrough and you can see everything about it. Maybe, but that experience of buying a three, $400,000 home, that's what kind of our price range in this area. I just still see people wanting that kind of personal walk me through. I need to touch and feel things and feel like somebody taking care of me with that big of a purchase.
Greg Bray: I think that there is going to always be different types of buyers with different types of comfort and expectations, too, and as we look at the younger generation and some of them, for whatever reason, don't even want to ever talk to a salesperson. There's also this idea that self-service doesn't necessarily need to be what buy online means, right? It doesn't mean you have to do it all by yourself.
It's more about, in my opinion, the idea that we're facilitating certain parts of the journey, some of the [00:19:00] transactional pieces, some of the paperwork pieces, some of the capturing the emotional moment of, I've come to the community. I looked around. I talked to somebody, but I wasn't sure yet, or I needed to think about it, and now I know, oh, I have decided. I want that lot, and it's 10:00 PM, and now I'm excited, and now somebody's going to walk in tomorrow morning and take it away from me because, you know, I'm not able to go because I have to work in the morning and I can't get there till Saturday or whatever, but I can finish that piece and do it on the website and reserve something or lock it in, in a way that can be done on my schedule.
You know, do some of those documents that, you know, you feel awkward doing, sitting in a desk in front of somebody else because you want to read them without feeling rushed. I think it's all about allowing the buyer to go back and forth between us in the office and back at home and do some of those pieces at their leisure and comfort.
Kevin Weitzel: Greg, I want to build on that because I don't want people to come away from this thinking that Kevin hates buy online cause Kevin doesn't hate buy online. You know, I know for a fact that you had an outstanding [00:20:00] experience buying a car, Greg. Carvana, I think might've been.
Greg Bray: Yeah, back, back when used cars were actually affordable, you know.
Kevin Weitzel: So, I understand being enamored or being appreciative of that process and how simple it can be. They've done a good job at making that a smooth transition. I personally appreciate that. What I am wanting to make sure that I get across to here, and not to rob Janette of her talking times, but I want to make sure that people understand that I just don't want the either/or scenario to hit.
I don't want to be forced into, I have to follow these robot buttons versus I want to pick up the phone and talk to somebody. I want to be able to chat with somebody. I want to be able to have my questions answered by a human right, not in a foreign call center. That's the experience that I want. So, if it automates to a certain degree. Sure. No problem. Especially if it shortens up the process or makes the process easier.
Janette Hawkins: Yeah. They'll definitely be that balance. I love that idea of that balance cause one of the other things that we didn't talk about technology-wise that we would love to implement is like an online design center. I think people would [00:21:00] love the ability to sit there and like click through all the cabinet colors or click flooring choices when they're not sitting in front of a salesperson. Like, the salesperson is kind of over them, like which decisions do you want to make and let's make that quickly because I've got another appointment and coming in.
Whereas that kind of thing, they can sit at home. They can pick out what they like. They can talk with their significant other, whoever's making the buying decision, and, you know, I think there's a good balance. Then Greg, like you said that FOMO, fear of missing out, that they're going to not get that lot that they want because they can't get in touch with the salesperson. So, I think we'll see the, probably a little hybrid.
Greg Bray: And are you guys actively pursuing some of that Janette or are you still researching and watching what's going on?
Janette Hawkins: That's exactly. We're kind of researching, watching, listening to kind of everything that's out there, and I mean, it's really interesting to see. I definitely like to be on the cutting edge, but I don't want to be on the bleeding edge. So yeah, so we're just sitting and watching and waiting. See what happens.
Kevin Weitzel: Speaking of watching, what trends, again, you're feeding different markets and there's different things that are cool in certain markets. So, what trends are you [00:22:00] watching and keeping your finger on what pulses to be able to decide how you want to spend your marketing ad money? You know, where are you looking for that kind of stuff?
Janette Hawkins: So, it's really interesting you say that. I think, you know, all of us as marketers, we don't just zero in on the home building business. I think things that are outside in different industries can come over to the home building industry. So, I'm constantly like, I don't know about you guys, but like we'll be out driving around and I'm paying attention to all kinds of signage and, you know, I'm the one that clicks on ads that are coming through that have nothing to do with me, because I want to see how other people outside of our industry are doing it, and is there a way that we can bring something different into the home building industry?
Greg Bray: Well, Janette, you've been very generous with your time with us today, but is there any last words of advice that you'd like to leave to help our listeners out there improve their marketing?
Janette Hawkins: I would definitely say track, track, track. I know the bigger guys are doing that, but if you're a smaller builder or even a medium-sized builder, if you're not tracking what's working, what's not working, where you're spending your money, [00:23:00] you know how much it's costing you for each of those leads. If you have an online sales counselor, how they're tracking across all of their metrics. I really truly believe in tracking as much as possible. It has made a huge difference. As we mentioned earlier, from marketing budgets shrinking down, it's made a huge difference for me to be able to make decisions for the future being able to track everything.
Greg Bray: It's all about the data.
Janette Hawkins: All about the data.
Greg Bray: Well, Janette, if somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Janette Hawkins: Oh, so they can reach out to me by email email@example.com. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, I'm out there on all those social media platforms as well.
Greg Bray: Well, thank you again for joining us, and thank everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.