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123 The Human Balance of Digital Marketing - Michelle Byrge

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Michelle Byrge of Landsea Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss the need for builders to balance digital marketing with human interaction and connection.

As vital as digital marketing is, the human element of home buying cannot be neglected. Michelle says, “So, I think you have to find the balance…the balance of those virtual tools that offer people insight, but ultimately what we're still hearing from our prospects is that they wanna get into the model home and they wanna actually talk to a real person. So, you gotta find your balance for your company…but things evolve. We're constantly keeping a pulse on that…”

One of the best methods for understanding what customers want and need is by asking the buyers themselves. Michelle explains, “We're constantly looking for the feedback because that's how we get better on the tough situations and the ones where we're winning. So, we do have a formal survey process where we survey at close and then into that first year of home ownership.”

Marketing strategies will constantly need to be assessed to reach and maintain the delicate balance between digital and humanness. Michelle says, “So, I would say again, just continuing to look at all those virtual resources that keep that emotional value high because, in home building, it's all about that emotional value and the lifestyle benefits for us. So, if we don't wanna be too digitized. You're just always looking for that balance.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about striking the human balance of digital marketing.

About the Guest:

Michelle Byrge joined Landsea Homes in 2018 and currently serves as Vice President of Corporate Marketing, where she drives and oversees the vision, strategy, tactics, and day-to-day management of all marketing channels for the company, including the corporate website. She also leads company-wide sales trainings and helps implement onsite sales strategies for senior leadership in five different markets including Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas. Companywide, there are more than 80 sales counselors and agents.

In her four years with the company, Michelle has built the entire corporate marketing structure, and developed the brand and marketing guidelines, creating consistency across all markets. This structure allowed the business to scale, operate more efficiently and set the foundation for future successes including becoming a public company and executing strategic homebuilder acquisitions in new markets. She also developed an extensive inside sales department, which started with just one employee.

Furthermore, she developed interactive tools for Landsea Homes’ leading High Performance Home and LiveFlex® initiatives. In addition to launching the programs, she developed a way for prospects to virtually experience these programs.

Michelle is an award-winning and decorated marketing professional. In 2018, she was recognized as Landsea Homes’ “Employee of the Year.” In 2020, she was recognized as one of the “Marketing Professionals of the Year” by the Building Industry Association of Southern California’s SoCal Honors, and in 2021 she was an honoree for “Marketing Professional of the Year” at NAHB’s The Nationals awards competition.  

Most recently, Landsea Homes was named Builder Magazine’s 2022 “Builder of the Year,” which is determined based on a variety of factors, including overall marketing efforts. 


Greg: [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: And we are excited today to welcome to the show Michelle Byrge, the VP of Corporate Marketing with Landsea Homes. Welcome, Michelle. Thanks for joining us.

Michelle Byrge: Thanks, Greg.

Greg: So, Michelle, for those who haven't had a chance to meet you yet, why don't we start off and just learn a little bit more about you. Tell us about yourself.

Michelle Byrge: Well, my name is Michelle Byrge. I am, as Greg said, the Vice President of Corporate Marketing for [00:01:00] Landsea Homes. I've been with Landsea Homes since 2018, but I've been in home building since 2002. So, definitely have a passion for our industry.

Kevin Weitzel: That's the business side of you. I need know one personal tidbit about you that people will only find out about on this podcast.

Michelle Byrge: Oh, my gosh. Well, you know, when you start a new job and people wanna learn something about you, my go-to is that my dad used to work for NASA. So, I have been in a space suit that my children have both been in that's now at the Smithsonian. So, I think it's pretty cool. You know, we've got that timeline of pictures of me as a child, then both my kids and now that's sitting in the Smithsonian. So, cool stuff, but that's all my dad.

Greg: And he wore that suit to work?

Michelle Byrge: He helped people wear that suit to work. How about that?

Greg: Gotcha. Okay. Sounds like you should have held onto it and you might have been able to sell it on eBay.

Michelle Byrge: I know, I know.

Greg: [00:02:00] Well, Michelle, tell us a little bit more about your journey into home building and how you came into this industry.

Michelle Byrge: Well, I actually started out in the resale market. So, I am a licensed broker and definitely enjoyed that side of the real estate industry, but I had two young kids and so I was just trying to stir up some new business. So, I was working for a temp agency staffing model homes, and this was in 2002, to get some listing business.

I was working for a big public and their president and vice president of sales walked into the model home. I didn't know who they were, greeted them. They kind of did their thing in the model home, and then they walked out, and about 15 minutes later came into the model and said, your spec homes aren't open.

I said, forgive me, what's a spec home? I didn't even know what they were talking about. You know, I said, I'm happy to do whatever. I [00:03:00] wasn't given that information, and fast forward, I must have done something right in the conversation. They came back two days later to the next model I was staffing for them and offered me a position as their online sales counselor. So, I started out in new construction in 2002 with a home builder as their internet sales counselor.

Greg: Now, in 2002 internet sales counselor is still a new thing, right? That's pretty progressive for that builder.

Michelle Byrge: I was the first for that market and it was a new market for that builder. So, definitely, I've got a pretty high figured out factor, I guess, you know, to kind of set that up for success. Did that for a couple of years and then just had some interest in marketing. I have a very natural curiosity of finding out why people do things, finding out more about the business, and just kept progressing in my career in home building, and I've been very fortunate to be placed in this position with Landsea Homes in this new corporate role.

Greg: Well, Michelle, for those who are [00:04:00] not familiar with Landsea Homes, I think they're pretty well known in the industry, but tell us just a little bit more about where you guys are building, which types of buyers you're targeting and serving?

Michelle Byrge: Yeah. Well, Landsea Homes is a publicly-traded home builder. We went public in January of last year. We basically have kind of expanded our footprint coast to coast. So, we build in some of the most desirable locations. Starting out, some of our legacy communities in New York and in Boston, in the bay area. We're in the Orange County area in Southern California, and then most recently expanded into Florida and Texas. Arizona was probably our biggest stakeholder and move, in moving into the Arizona market with some acquisition opportunities a few years back. So, we're in all the right spots we think.

Greg: That's fascinating how spread out that is though too. Coast to coast, New York to California.

Michelle Byrge: Exactly.

Greg: We know that Landsea Homes received the [00:05:00] Builder Magazine 2022 Builder of the Year Award. So, congratulations on that. I'm sure that was a big deal for you guys. Tell us Michelle, a little bit more about receiving the 2022 Builder of the Year Award from Builder Magazine.

Michelle Byrge: Well, we were extremely honored to be recognized. The team as a whole has been working really hard to focus on the expansion and the growth, and there's been some tough times for builders over the past couple of years. So, to be honored with this award during all of those challenges has been something that we're extremely proud of. We know it's all because of our home buyers, and that's always been our approach is to make the best opportunity for them and their lifestyles. So, to get both that recognition by our peers and the media, as well as our happy homeowners, it's an accomplishment that we're extremely proud of.

Greg: No, and congratulations to the whole team for that. It's definitely a great recognition and you should be proud of it. [00:06:00] When you have land and communities in so many different areas, everybody always says, all real estate is local. How do you manage your sales and marketing at a corporate level, but also give recognition that we might have to do things differently in one area versus another because of the local nuances?

Michelle Byrge: That's a great question, and I think it goes down to our brand statement of "live in your element." It is all about live in the home where you want, how you want, in a home built just for you. Obviously, there's a marketing spin to that, but every bit of our planning on every new community is about the lifestyle for the homeowners.

So, we really are very thoughtful from the beginning to a first-time buyer community, to a move-up community, to a large master planned community, that we're developing on what that overall lifestyle is to that specific demographic and what's important to them. So, we develop a lot of new product based on [00:07:00] new trends, based on that demographic, and based on that area and that region, to have that long-term sustainable community that everyone is looking for.

Greg: As you are trying to decide how to structure those opportunities, how do you decide what you want to do in-house, either at corporate or in-house may be at the state or division level, and then where do you bring in partners and agencies to help support your various marketing activities?

Michelle Byrge: When I started with Landsea Homes, there was not a corporate structure for the sales and marketing teams. So, every division was running independently. So, I was fortunate enough when I started for our president to offer me the time to really dive in into each area and assess what the needs were to really put together the corporate structure that supported the business locally.

We say, we think globally, but we operate locally. So, it's kind of the same thought [00:08:00] process in our corporate structure. My role in the company is to really drive that consistency in our brand and provide the resources that we can leverage in each market. We found the perfect balance we believe in the sense of the corporate team really driving the structure and the brand and the divisions really celebrating and focusing on that lifestyle in that particular community. So, I think that's what really lifts our brand, and that's also part of, I think, the recognition of the 2022 Builder of the Year is we know it's all about our home buyers and we really focus on that.

Greg: Let's unpack that a little bit more then. Can you give us an example of how you have said, you know what, in order to focus on the home buyer, we need to do better at X or start doing Y? Anything come to mind about a specific choice you've made that says, hey, this will help us focus better on the buyer?

Michelle Byrge: Yeah, I think our high-performance home [00:09:00] strategy for the company is really based around four key pillars and that's home automation, sustainability, energy savings, and a healthy lifestyle, and we wanted it to be more than just a marketing approach. We really want to take each pillar and break it down and show our homeowners and our home buyers what that adds to their lifestyle and what the true benefits of that are to their day-to-day, more than just an included feature sheet. So, we really focus on digital assets, video assets. We do a lot of lifestyle photography and photo shoots and video shoots to make sure that we can really show them how that feature is going to benefit their lifestyle.

So, I think that's something that we've really tried to step up the game, including on our website, our virtual high-performance home experience. Some things, you have to give that visual. So, we've been able to create a digital virtual [00:10:00] experience that really helps people understand some of those features better than they can get when they get into our model home. So, we're really trying to be forward-thinking to present those features.

Greg: So, that's an interesting idea, what you just said there. That they can actually understand it maybe even better with the digital video experience than they can actually physically visiting the model home. Did I understand you correctly, that we can show them things with the video that we may not even be able to point out very well on a visit?

I think that's a little different. So often we're like, well, we're gonna use the digital because they're too far away to visit or it's, you know, 2:00 AM and we're not open or, you know, all these kinds of things. Or the homes aren't built yet, right. There's nothing to visit. But instead, you're saying, hey, we can actually take the digital asset and do more than we can do on a visit. I think that's just a really interesting insight.

Michelle Byrge: Absolutely. It's a program that we're really proud of. So, you can see that on our [00:11:00] website. They can also walk through that at the model home in the sales center, and then we have automated our model homes too, again, show more of we have this lifestyle customization and white-glove service with our company that every home buyer gets.

So, you can now go into our model homes and see how the automation of the home can be customized to you and your lifestyle. So, we're really trying to, again, demonstrate the benefits of all of those features to every demographic, and I think that's definitely where we win is when we can show the benefits to them and the conveniences to their life.

Kevin Weitzel: You know, talking about automated, and this a little bit more of a joke than anything else, but is there any chance that we'll ever have, like when you walk through a museum and you put the headphones on and it's like, Morgan Freeman narrating. You're walking into the home and you know, you punch in your name, Michelle, and it says, what Michelle didn't [00:12:00] know when she was walking into this model home was that it was eventually going to be her family's forever home. Now, is there ever going to be one of those? Is that in Landsea sites?

Michelle Byrge: You know, we are always looking at those type of features, but I will say over the past couple of years, we really listen to what people are telling us through sales offices that were closed and that ability to not get in and really see, touch, feel the home that you're interested in purchasing. What we heard from our prospects were, they wanted to get in the home. They really wanted to experience it.

So, I think you have to find the balance, and I think we have found the balance of those virtual tools that offer people insight, but ultimately what we're still hearing from our prospects is that they wanna get into the model home and they wanna actually talk to a real person. So, you gotta find your balance for your company, and where we're at right now is we feel, we found that good balance, but things evolve. We're constantly keeping a pulse on that and when [00:13:00] the market and the buyer pool is really telling us that that is a feature that they need. Well, we'll be right there and we'll be on top of that.

Greg: Now, Michelle, will you do me a favor? When you guys are ready to audition for the voiceover role, will you invite Kevin to audition?

Michelle Byrge: You got it.

Greg: All right. Thank you. All right. I think Kevin's missed his calling. He should be a voiceover artist.

Michelle Byrge: We're always looking for talent, Kevin. So

Kevin Weitzel: And I've met Peewee Herman on several occasions. We might even be able to get Peewee. You never know.

Greg: All right. I'm sorry. I went there. Okay. Now.

 This is Greg from Blue Tangerine, and I just wanted to tell you how excited we are about our upcoming event, The Home Builder Digital Marketing Summit. It's coming up September 21st and 22nd in Phoenix, Arizona. Now, this is an event that you do not want to miss. We're gonna be talking about websites, SEO, analytics reports, how to use social media influencers more, how to [00:14:00] improve your online reviews, how to really do everything you need to do to start selling homes online.

Again, The Home Builder Digital Marketing Summit on September 21st and 22nd in Phoenix, Arizona. Go to buildermarketingsummit.com. Click register. Please be sure to join us at The Home Builder Digital Marketing Summit.

 Michelle, tell us a little more about, you talk about listening to the customers. Do you guys have some formal ways that you elicit customer feedback and seek it out, or is it more just organic as people make comments while they're interacting with your sales team in the process?

Michelle Byrge: It's both. It's definitely both. We're constantly looking for the feedback because that's how we get better on the tough situations and the ones where we're winning. So, we do have a formal survey process where we survey at close and then into that first year of home ownership. We have not taken the approach of additional surveys, you know, prospect surveys, and during the discovery process of their home purchase, but we're very [00:15:00] noisy on social media. You know, I think that's where we really look at those comments and, look for ways to get that engagement and that feedback during those marketing strategies and approaches.

Greg: This healthy lifestyle I'm sure resonates with a lot of people, and home automation, I think resonates with a lot of people, but has there been one feature that you guys were all excited about, and then nobody cared? The buyers were like, yeah, whatever.

Michelle Byrge: That's a great question. I don't think that it's that nobody cared. I think that it was because we really couldn't demonstrate, or we weren't showing the value of that feature. They didn't understand it. So, I think if the perception is they didn't care, I think that a builder probably needed to do a better job of explaining the benefits. That's where, I guess, we really try and focus on just promoting the benefits to the buyer. So, I can't say that there's something that I can think of that's oh, that option was not something that was well received. More how do [00:16:00] we need to present it?

Greg: I love that answer, Michelle. That was a great answer because you know what? We can't blame the buyer, right? It's all about the messaging. It's all about how we explain it and if they don't get the value, then we haven't communicated it. If we're convinced there's value there. So, boy. I thought I was setting you up there and you just nailed it. So, great job.

Kevin Weitzel: Because you, you guys are national and pretty widespread as far as the footprint goes, do you secret shop your various divisions?

Michelle Byrge: So, as far as our team or our competition?

Kevin Weitzel: No, your own team. Yeah, I think that's valuable, but I was just curious.

Michelle Byrge: We definitely shop our team. We work with a national sales trainer and we have a sales process that is really all about just understanding that trigger event in their life that has them walking in the door today. Most people get out of their cars, especially in Arizona in 107-degree weather, like it is here today. They're getting out of their car to see a model [00:17:00] home. Maybe it's not quite yet 107.

Kevin Weitzel: Not, not yet, but it's getting it there.

Michelle Byrge: You know, they're getting outta their car for a reason. Even when people say, oh, I'm here to just look at decorating ideas. In their mind, they're thinking about remodeling their home. Well, why is it that they're looking at remodeling their home versus getting a new home? So, we really focus on that process to understand and really dig deep into the discovery process. So, we do want to make sure that experience is consistent in all of our markets with every sales agent. So, we do shop the agents to make sure that they're building that rapport, and they're becoming what we refer to as coffee worthy with every prospect that walks in the door. You know, so.

Kevin Weitzel: You work with Jeff Shore.

Michelle Byrge: There we go. Yes, we do.

Kevin Weitzel: Because he is coffee worthy.

Michelle Byrge: Yep. I've worked with Jeff at previous builders, and so there's just, there's people in the industry that you just want to stay connected with and the Shore Consulting team is one that aligns perfectly with the [00:18:00] type of business we want to continue to grow in the organization that we want to be. So, we are very coffee worthy with Shore Consulting.

Kevin Weitzel: Awesome.

Greg: Michelle as you think about some of your digital tools. You already mentioned the use of the videos to help people understand some of the features. Are there any other tools that you guys have deployed that you've been really pleased with the performance and engagement that you've been able to achieve with it?

Michelle Byrge: We work very closely with Atlas RTX and that texting platform that's the perfect compliment between a bot and human engagement, and Max Connect is our digital strategist. It goes back to the same thing that I was saying with Shore Consulting in the sense of, we really want to partner with experts in that space.

I know my business and I understand our goals and my job is to be able to communicate with experts in those spaces to do their jobs and to make an impact [00:19:00] into our business. The enhancements that Atlas has made with a new chatbot that we have on our website versus a live chat feature that most builders had in the past. When I started as an inside sales counselor, I had a live chat feature, and inevitably as soon as you walked away, someone would get into the chat. This new feature with this chatbot gives that insight to our prospects that are navigating through our website, and is a good compliment again, to our inside sales team to quickly respond to their questions and their needs, and then that kind of information and data being pushed to our digital strategist.

I used to say I hated numbers and spreadsheets and I thrive on it now. I thrive on analytics and diving into looking at the behaviors and what type of goals we're achieving based on those behaviors, or goals that we're not achieving and where the opportunity is. [00:20:00] So, I love diving in and looking at the trends and finding out better ways to serve information to our customers, and better ways to continue to stay relevant because if we're not relevant, then you know, it doesn't matter if a hundred thousand people are hitting your website. If there's not relevant content and resources for them to navigate, they're not gonna spend the time on your website to gather the information and put Landsea Homes at the top of their builder choice.

Greg: So, you mentioned the spreadsheets and things, Michelle. What are some of those top success metrics or numbers that you watch all the time? You know, if you can only check for five minutes today, what's the number you go look at?

Michelle Byrge: The goals. I go into Google Analytics and I look at the goals. I think one of the most important goals is I love to see our click-to-calls go up. Again, it goes to that human-to-human contact. People are calling, and so our form fills are obviously a huge metric that [00:21:00] we, you know, monitor, but if someone's calling us, we really wanna make sure we have the time to engage with them. So, those goals are huge.

Greg: I love that you mentioned that one because sometimes as crazy as it is, we have clients, when we build the website that the mobile version, it's like, they're trying to feature the contact button and make people fill out a form. Instead of recognizing this person's holding a phone in their hand. You can just call, right? Just put the big phone number right there so they can just touch it and boom, you're talking to somebody instead of making them try to type and fill it out. So, click to call I think is one that probably not everybody's paying as much attention to as they probably should be. If they're even tracking it. So, that's a great insight. Thank you.

So Michelle, as you're looking ahead, are there any key trends that you're kind of watching and getting ready for that you guys are starting to prepare for now?

Michelle Byrge: You know, there's a lot of talk obviously about buying a home a hundred percent online and virtually, and I think [00:22:00] that's something that we continue to explore in our business. We're not ready to probably take that leap yet, but looking into better ways to present some of our design options. So, definitely looking at some of the virtual design centers and how we can, even at an inventory opportunity for someone, meaning a quick move-in home that we've started the construction process and buyers always wanna see what they're going to be getting, but yet it's just at a frame stage.

So, we're looking at those opportunities to really demonstrate what features have been selected for that individual home to give them a personal experience and a personal kind of walk-through of the home that they'll be getting into. So, I would say again, just continuing to look at all those virtual resources that keep that emotional value high because, in home building, it's all about that emotional value and the lifestyle benefits for us. So, if we don't wanna be too digitized.[00:23:00] You're just always looking for that balance.

Kevin Weitzel: The human balance.

Greg: Well, Michelle, where do you go for inspiration and new ideas? What are some of your sources?

Michelle Byrge: I'm a shopaholic. So, whether I'm shopping for a house or shopping in stores, I love to look at displays. I love to look at how people are presenting on social media. I'm constantly driving around looking at billboards and signage. So, I don't think there's anywhere that I can go that I guess I'm not inspired in some way. If I'm at a coffee shop, how can we create that, again, that coffee-worthy experience and that relaxed atmosphere in our sales center? If I'm shopping in a store, you know, how do I visually experience the space and what am I walking away with and that feel, and trying to take that into our model home experience?

So, social media, I've got a team that's, I'm the worst. Anybody that follows me on social media. I don't post anything, but I am definitely scrolling every day, looking at what people are [00:24:00] doing and getting ideas for the business. Probably not on the personal side.

Greg: It's true. Marketing's everywhere, right? Everywhere around us, and we can always find ideas just from stepping back and looking at who's marketing to us, how they're doing it. Any last pieces of advice that you'd like to leave with our audience today?

Michelle Byrge: I will only say this as it relates to my children and as they're finding their way in their career and I've been extremely fortunate, and I'm very grateful for the opportunities that I've had in my career, but I think it's because I have such a passion for what I'm doing. So, through the ups and the downs, my passion for the industry, my natural curiosity is there. So, it just helps me dive in. I just hope everybody finds that same when we go to work every day, it's sure fun when you're passionate about it. I found a company that provides that atmosphere and that environment and that support that compliments, you know, my natural drive. So, I hope everybody [00:25:00] finds that same opportunity for themselves.

Kevin Weitzel: So, let's put you in the Marty McFly Delorean, and I want you to travel back to the first day you walked into this industry. What advice would you give young Michelle? You're still young, but what would, what advice would you give you at that starting jumping-off point?

Michelle Byrge: Oh, that's a great question. I think you gotta utilize your resources, you know, and not be afraid to, say, I don't know that, but I'm gonna look into that. I think that's something that when I was younger, I probably was scared of what that meant. If I said, I don't know. There's still times to this day where I'm just gotta figure it out, and I don't know. The business is always changing. So, stay curious, be humble to what you don't know, and utilize your resources and the expertise of others.

Kevin Weitzel: Love it.

Greg: And it's pretty obvious Michelle, that you and the team at Landsea are figuring something out. Again, because you're really rock stars, and congratulations again on the Builder of the Year Award. If there's [00:26:00] someone listening who'd like to reach out and get in touch, what's the best way for them to connect with you?

Michelle Byrge: Well, I'm on Facebook and LinkedIn, but LinkedIn's probably the best way, and Michelle Byrge.

Greg: Awesome. Well, thanks again, Michelle, for spending time with us today, and thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.

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