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This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Samantha Ostert of Skogman Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how small changes in digital marketing strategy can lead to big results.
Digital marketing is constantly evolving, and new opportunities arise almost every day. Samantha says, “There's so many cool things out there. It's hard not to get caught up in the cool versus what really will convert.”
One thing that does remain constant in digital marketing is the focus on experience and how to communicate that effectively. Samantha says, “Well, it's not about what we have to offer, it's about what we're providing through that experience and how can we translate that out digitally or through our marketing and through the moment somebody walks in the door.”
Digital marketing is about progression, and small changes can create substantial outcomes. Samantha says, “It's not going to hurt anything to try something new. Make small improvements to make big results.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how the implementation of small changes can generate major effects.
About the Guest:
Samantha Ostert is the Senior Marketing Manager for Skogman Homes, a family-owned builder that has been building homes in Iowa for over 75 years. Samantha started at Skogman Homes in 2015 as a New Homes Sales Specialist/REALTOR after previously working in Advertising and Digital Marketing. After a couple years in sales, she moved into the marketing department, which allowed her to combine her sales and marketing experience.
With a passion for social media and inbound marketing, Samantha worked to create a new online marketing strategy that significantly increased their online leads, going from a handful/month to nearly 100/month! In 2020 she implemented Hubspot Marketing Hub to create streamlined nurturing campaigns to convert those leads. In addition to supporting the new homes division, Samantha and her team stay very busy marketing the family of Skogman Companies including Skogman Realty, Skogman Insurance, two remodeling companies, apartments, and storage.
Samantha and her husband, Lance, live in Cedar Rapids with their two daughters, Colette (3) and Penelope (1) and two dogs, Remington & Nyla. In her free time, she enjoys golfing, reading, scrolling on Instagram and TikTok, and checking out new trails and parks with the family.
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 OutHouse.
Greg Bray: And we want to give a special shout-out and thank you to our sponsor of today's episode, NterNow. You can learn more at nternow.com.
And a special welcome to today's guest, Samantha Ostert, who is the Senior Marketing Manager at Skogman Homes. Welcome, Samantha. Thanks for joining us today.
Samantha Ostert: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Greg Bray: Well, let's start out and just get to know you a little bit. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Samantha Ostert: So, [00:01:00] I have been working at Skogman Companies since 2015. I started as a new home sales specialist. Randomly saw a Facebook post for a position to sell Skogman Homes. At that time I was working for a digital marketing agency here in Cedar Rapids. I don't know why I thought, Ooh, isn't real estate glamorous? Wouldn't it be fun to sell new construction homes?
So, I applied and felt like I made like this huge shift in my career into real estate from marketing and advertising. Then lo and behold, a couple of years into that Skogman Homes didn't even have a marketing department. I said, Hey we need more dedicated marketing. Presented a plan and said, I want the job, and for some reason, they agreed to it. It kind of grew from there. They went from being like a solo, one-person marketing department to now having multiple people. It kind of just went from there.
Kevin Weitzel: [00:02:00] That is amazing, and I wanna come back to that cause that's pretty important. A lot of small builders don't realize the importance of having boots on the ground for their marketing teams. But before we get into following up on that, we need to know something personal about you. Something that people will learn on our podcast that they don't know about you, that is not business related. Like, are you a juggler? Do you throw knives? What are you into?
Samantha Ostert: I'm not a juggler. So, personally, I actually got my start in radio/TV/film and wanted to be a TV news anchor. Which is hilarious now because that would not be my forte. But the funny thing is, I used to do TV shows in college and radio shows. I struggled so hard on radio. TV, it was okay. It's fine, but talking live on the radio was the most difficult thing.
Greg Bray: And these were things in school like that the college was putting on? Or what types of programs were you working on?
Samantha Ostert: Yeah, it was college programming. I don't wanna go into too much detail because you could [00:03:00] find them, but I was the host of a children's puppet show, a tv kind of a tech news show. That was kind of crazy, but that was fun. I did all sorts of different things.
Kevin Weitzel: So, you haven't lived in Iowa your whole life, right?
Samantha Ostert: No, I'm originally from Milwaukee. Went to school in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My husband, I met him up in Wisconsin and we relocated down here to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I don't know why I decided to follow him.
Kevin Weitzel: So, we know what brought you over to Skogman Homes, but lemme ask you this. When you saw that they were in dire needs of having some sort of boots on the ground for marketing, and seriously, I run into companies, especially some of the smaller companies all the time that they're like, well, we consulted with an agency, or you know, we have this high school kid that helps us with our social stuff, and that's really about it. How easy was that jump? I mean, did you have to basically learn literally everything or were you able to put some of your skills to practice right away?
Samantha Ostert: Yeah. [00:04:00] So, my minor was journalism/advertising/PR, and I focused a lot on that, working creative spaces in kind of advertising. I sold advertising in Wisconsin. Then worked at the digital marketing agency, which was a HubSpot inbound marketing agency. That's where I learned the bulk of my marketing knowledge.
So, when I went to Skogman I kept saying, Hey we should probably have a CRM. So, we got a CRM, and we slowly started talking a little bit more and more about how can we market, how can we utilize different things. And I have a huge passion, obsession for social media. So, I said, it's a low-hanging fruit. Like, we can just start there. You can put stuff on social media about the business. That's how I found this job. Let's start there.
At that time they were posting once a month maybe. It was very old school in terms of traffic is brought in through signage and open houses, and newspaper, of course. Newspaper, the King. So, [00:05:00] when I kind of transitioned, they even said, I don't know that there's enough work for somebody to do only marketing. There's not enough work for that.
Well, as we all know like you start here and it just builds and builds and builds. So, I guess to answer your question, I did have a background in digital marketing, inbound marketing. We kind of started with social media and just kept growing from there.
Greg Bray: So Samantha, before we peel that back a little bit more, just tell us about Skogman Homes. Where you guys build, what kind of homes you're doing, and the type of buyers that you're working with.
Samantha Ostert: Yeah, so Skogman Homes, we celebrated our 75th-anniversary last year. It's a family-owned company, fifth generation running it now. We build about 150 homes a year. We have two markets that we build in currently. We would consider ourselves like a semi-custom builder. We can go pretty custom, but we typically always start with our own floor plan. Skogman Homes actually falls underneath the umbrella company of [00:06:00] Skogman Companies. We also have a real estate company, the largest in the area, an insurance company, two remodeling companies, apartments, storage. We're diversified.
Kevin Weitzel: Throw some financing in there, you can just take care of the entire package.
Samantha Ostert: So, we used to have a financing company. I don't know if it didn't make sense or what, but that was before my time. I don't think I could handle another company right now though, so let's not tell them anything about that.
Greg Bray: I was gonna ask, are you involved in the marketing for all the companies or just for the home building piece?
Samantha Ostert: Yeah, so I am involved in all of the company's marketing. My start and my focus is the building because it is the biggest portion of our company. It is the biggest driver of business. So, I focus on that. But I have a team, a social media specialist, and a graphic designer that work with me on everything too, so.
Kevin Weitzel: So, once you'd gotten the go-ahead to run the marketing department, how long was it until you started adding some other humans into the equation?[00:07:00]
Samantha Ostert: At that point, simultaneously they did hire a VP of marketing to kind of oversee us cause we needed somebody to reign us in a little bit. And then it was just me and another gal. She focused completely on realty. I focused completely on new homes and digital primarily. Then over the course of gosh 2020, 2021 roughly, we hired on our graphic designer, we hired on our social media specialist. And then we do use a couple of freelancers for outside of work too.
Greg Bray: So, when you talk about digital, what piece of that is social media versus other types of digital activities that you guys are involved with?
Samantha Ostert: Yeah, so our digital portfolio is mainly we deployed Marketing Hub in 2020, 2021, and do a lot of lead nurturing through HubSpot. Honestly, well, I should have started with where a lot of it started, our website and interactive plat maps and [00:08:00] floor plans. I'm pretty sure in 2020, Kevin called me and was like, I have something for you. And I was like, I'm not interested. And then he's like, no, no, no. And I was like, okay, I am interested.
We really needed interactive plat maps. That's where we started. When we started to do the interactive plat maps and really focusing on our website, it just made more sense to keep driving traffic through social media, Facebook, Instagram, email marketing through HubSpot. I'm sure there's other things that I'm missing. And then we added on interactive floor plans. That's a big driver of just getting engagement onto our website.
Greg Bray: I'm just wondering how many people Kevin talks to where they say, no, not interested.
Kevin Weitzel: Well, is it that they're not interested or they're interested but, you know, it's not in the budget or the brats won't approve it or yada yada. It's more of the excuse more so than anything else.
Greg Bray: It's good, Samantha, that you recognize Kevin's got something to offer. We appreciate that.
Samantha Ostert: Well, it's totally a fact of, I get, I don't know, 10 calls a week of [00:09:00] something that might be beneficial to my business, but I can't do it all. I want to do it all. There's people in accounting that tell me I can't have unlimited funds or I don't have enough time. And honestly, like just being able to see the value of that and being shown the value of what it can do for us on our website was big.
Kevin Weitzel: And then you retooled your website too, as well.
Samantha Ostert: Oh yeah. Well, we launched our website, gosh 2018, but we have done so many different changes and updates. What's nice is I come up with little things here and there and tweak them. I mean, this is not new. I'm sure there's other people that have done this, but on our inventory page, on our move-in ready homes page, it was one of those things like, what if we just had a quick email form fill that said, do you want a list of this in your inbox? Would that be easier for you to look at?
We thought, oh, it can't hurt to turn it on and try it. So, of course, we go to Blue Tangerine. We ask, we do it, set it up, and that [00:10:00] became one of the biggest drivers of leads that we could follow up with. And it was just really low-hanging fruit. Didn't know that it would pan out to be much, and slowly we have built that up a little bit more. It started with literally just an email address, not a first name or last name. Now we do ask for first name, last name because that gives us at least a little bit more. But that has been a huge driver of leads.
Greg Bray: [00:11:00]
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So, as you're sitting there dealing with all these calls coming in, all these ideas, all these things you want to try what is it that you're looking for to help you make some of those decisions? What's the metrics that matter most to you when trying to decide which tools or technologies to work with?
Samantha Ostert: That's a great question. I think it's just if somebody's bringing a tool to me it's gotta identify what pain point in people don't know what floor plans you have or what changes they could make or something. And then being able to show how that can be addressed. The biggest metrics I would say for us, we're finalizing our goals and it's like [00:12:00] we need to be able to get more people to set appointments.
So, how can we work backwards from we have a huge conversion rate or a great conversion rate for our sales team if they meet with clients? So, how do we work back from that? Okay. Set the appointment by getting the lead, getting the lead to convert, delivering the information that they've asked for. So, if they're looking for a lot, we are able to easily and quickly deliver the information they're looking for in the area that they're looking for.
Usually, that turns into them responding to us. Kind of just working back. The metrics would be like is it going to drive qualified traffic to my website, is it going to drive interested traffic to my website that will convert, or that I could nurture is my biggest question.
Greg Bray: I love that you're starting with the business objectives. You know, it's not just about cool technology or flaming logos.
Kevin Weitzel: Flaming logos.
Greg Bray: You know what, whatever. Maybe I'm dating myself the old flaming logo ads back in the day. But[00:13:00] the idea being that so often people, Oh, that would be cool, but you're actually saying, okay, we have a business need of better leads or more leads or setting appointments. So, which technologies will help us accomplish that? I don't think everybody focuses that way. Sometimes they're just throwing stuff at the wall, just trying to hope that something makes a difference, and aren't really measuring. It sounds like you guys are doing a great job with measuring and understanding.
Samantha Ostert: Well, I mean, I'm definitely guilty of that. There's so many cool things out there. It's hard not to get caught up in the cool versus what really will convert.
Greg Bray: So, as you started kind of social media and then you've expanded the roles and department, what, in the social media world, is working well for you right now, and what are some of the things that maybe you're hoping to experiment with or try in the future?
Samantha Ostert: Well, right now, I would say in terms of social media, Instagram reels, reels in general, has been the [00:14:00] biggest way that we've been able to kind of grow on those platforms. So, that's been really fun. We've worked with our partner photographers to now provide the right content in vertical formats, quick under 58 seconds. So, we can not only use 'em on Instagram but YouTube, TikTok, all of those different things.
That was probably the biggest hurdle is telling my photographer to turn the camera. He's like, I don't wanna do that. That's not what I wanna do, and I was like, believe me, it's gonna work. It's going to get us more views, get you more business. And getting our sales team in front of the camera doing tours has been really effective. In fun ways. I love a scroll on Instagram and TikTok at night. I just love it. It sucks you in. It's probably horrible, but everybody else is doing it too. So, like we, as a business, like highlighting, people wanna see homes. People want to see this cool stuff. Okay? Kevin is shaking his head that he is not on those [00:15:00] platforms.
Kevin Weitzel: I had to turn it off. I have so much addictive quality in my brain that an hour or two would go by and I'm like, why am I still watching this garbage? This is crazy. And I could not stop. I couldn't put my phone down. It was nuts.
Samantha Ostert: I get.
Greg Bray: Your comment about the hardest thing was to get the photographer to turn the camera the other way. I think that's really insightful though, that recognizing, Hey, we need to try it differently. It isn't like we had to go spend a bajillion more dollars to try something new, right? This was the same money, this was the same work in essence. It was just let's just do it a little different and see what happens. Was that just a big aha moment or was that something that people were just brainstorming and that was the idea that came out of the big three-day retreat, that we need to turn the camera?
Samantha Ostert: I mean, I think it's like the combination of so many different things. Like, before reels and TikTok were really popular every time I said to, you know, agents or our new homes team Hey, if you're taking a photo, remember hold that phone [00:16:00] so that it's horizontal like, wide. Everybody was so focused on that. The moment TikTok came to the scene and changed everything, and Instagram then copied them, it really was one of those things where like we all had to literally shift our thinking to try a different way.
I don't know, working for a company that's 75 years old change doesn't come easily to not only the employees but the company and everybody around us. But it's just let's keep adapting to the changing market and try something new. I threw it out there to the photographer, and honestly now like that is the bulk of his work. It's doing vertical photography, vertical videos. It's just being open to the change.
Kevin Weitzel: So, that was a system that basically a need from their platform that required that change. But where do you look for your inspiration and your next steps? Even outside the industry, where are you looking for inspiration right now?
Samantha Ostert: [00:17:00] I just like to look at the brands I like to follow or like the people I like to follow. It doesn't have to be real estate focused. It doesn't have to be big. It can be something as simple as just like an influencer that I like. I find so much more of my inspiration by being engaged in social media. So, if I'm looking at social media, it's being engaged in social media. If I'm looking at email marketing, it's the emails that I get in my inbox from other brands that caught my attention. I also, of course, love to read different blogs which is why like I think a blogging strategy is huge. Just being able to like read about other things.
Kevin Weitzel: Like Sideburns Quarterly?
Samantha Ostert: Exactly. Exactly that.
Greg Bray: You've stumped us all now, Kevin.
Kevin Weitzel: Sideburns quarterly. I don't even know if that's real, but if it is, it's gotta be amazing and magnificent.
Greg Bray: Gonna go register the domain name right now.
Kevin Weitzel: How often do we do that? Because I do the same thing. You know, I'm into music and high-fi systems, so I get [00:18:00] all these different ads that pop up, and the ones that draw my attention, I'm like, how do they get me to follow into that? How did I get sucked down the rabbit hole of clicking on their ad? You know, cause I typically don't click on ads, but sometimes you do. Okay, I'm just going to go completely off-topic. I saw one for a little micro blender. It was literally the size of a AA battery and it cracked me up, and I would've been a client. I would've bought that product if it wasn't 50 bucks. It was 50 bucks. That's a lot of money for a joke.
Samantha Ostert: That's exactly it. I like to look at what catches my attention. What about that brand story just really sucked you in and how can you translate it over? So, one of our big things right now, I don't know if I should share this, it's not sharing anything, but one of our big things is like the president of our company's son goes to High Point University. We've never heard of it. Never ever. Barely anybody's heard of it, but they have such well-rounded entire experience of that [00:19:00] university.
I mean, if you just mention High Point University, he's like, that's not only the best marketing, the best overall strategy. Their mission is built on providing an exceptional experience and it goes all the way through. They're not just educating these kids that are going to college. They are giving them an entire exceptional experience. So, it's so funny. It's like how do you take a college or university and translate it over to a home building company or a real estate company? Well, it's not about what we have to offer, it's about what we're providing through that experience and how can we translate that out digitally or through our marketing and through the moment somebody walks in the door.
Greg Bray: It's a great point that the ideas of how do they communicate, what are they sharing, at what point do they make me feel special, or help me want to know more or move forward? Those are all the things that we are exposed to every day, and if we can step back and analyze for a minute, we, oh, I could do that, and you just need to tweak it here or there, and we could use it for ours as [00:20:00] well.
Well, Samantha, when you talk about all these new ideas and these things you're trying to do, obviously sometimes you get some pushback. You mentioned the accountants and okay, we can't really help with that, but what advice would you give to that person who's maybe got the old guard in the way of what they're trying to get done? Any tips for them to help push some of these new ideas through the pipeline?
Samantha Ostert: Well, aside from just asking for forgiveness, my actual tip is I like to present the problem. So, I always go to the problem, find all the information. So, way back when I used to, you know, be a supervisor for a Verizon store in between trying to find work after graduation, it was if you came to your manager with a problem, come with a solution. Whether it's the right solution or not, just come with a solution because that now creates a conversation versus a, okay, now I have to solve the problem.
So, I find that if I come to leadership and say, okay, [00:21:00] here's our big problem. We don't have any leads coming in, or we don't have any reviews on our Google My Business right now, but here's how we can solve it. And then break down each piece, and who's going to do what. Because I think the biggest problem is people are worried about more work landing on their desk. They're worried that if we decide to do interactive plat maps, now I have to manage the interactive plat maps. So, if we decide we are going to launch this new review platform, I'm going to have to launch the new review platform. So, if you provide the problem, the solution, and who's going to do it? Maybe they're involved, but they don't have to be the lead on it. That makes a big difference. And I find that that gets results and pushes towards the right direction.
Kevin Weitzel: So, when you see that the parking lot is riddled with cigarette butts, you don't think that just walking in and yelling at somebody saying, Hey, there's cigarette butts outside, you would say, Hey, you know what? We should probably pick these up and put an ashtray out here to keep this from cluttering up and making our parking [00:22:00] lot look like trash.
Samantha Ostert: Exactly.
Kevin Weitzel: It's a Marine Corps tenant that if you are going to come with a complaint, number one, you don't complain in the Marine Corps cause you're not allowed to. But if you don't come with a solution, get to steppin' 'cause they don't wanna hear it. I totally agree with that.
Greg Bray: Well, Samantha, this has been a great conversation. We appreciate your time today. Do you have any last words of advice you'd like to share with our listeners before we wrap?
Samantha Ostert: I think my biggest advice is just keep trying and keep AB testing and like trying different things. Like that quick inventory request. We could have been like, wouldn't this have been a great idea? And then we didn't try it, and then we never got to like the best steps. We started somewhere and we kept evolving, taking tiny little steps. I think everybody wants to see like the big result right away. Or the same thing with turn the camera vertical and try it a different way. It's not going to hurt anything to try something new. Make small improvements to make big results.
Greg Bray: Awesome. Yeah, just try something new. Just keep testing. Love it. [00:23:00] Well, Samantha, if somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Samantha Ostert: Best way to get in touch, probably through LinkedIn, or email me, samantha@ skogman.com.
Greg Bray: All right. Well, thank you again, Samantha, for sharing with us, and thank you to our episode sponsor NterNow. Make sure you learn more about their self-guided tours nternnow.com. And we would like to thank everybody for listening to The Home Builder of Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin White with OutHouse. Thank you. [00:24:00]