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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

172 Is Your Marketing Juice Worth the Squeeze? - Alison Girard

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Alison Girard of Brookfield Residential joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how to determine the success of home builder digital marketing strategies.

Home builder digital marketing is constantly evolving and keeping pace can be a challenge. Alison says, “As we continue to progress what we show our customers digitally, real-time availability on the site, pricing transparency, it opens up so much. The more we share is exciting, but then the more is requested of us and how we can keep up? So, that's a big challenge I feel too with a digital space. Everyone wants to do so much with us digitally and can we offer them everything they want? We continue to try to keep up.”

As home builders experiment with various digital marketing strategies and channels, the most important question is, is the return worth the time and money spent? Alison says, “…that's what we look for too. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Is your time worth the output?”

The home building industry can be more resistant to change than other industries when it comes to digital marketing, so marketers might need to press harder to get buy-in to try new approaches. Alison explains, “As you all know, home building moves at a slower pace and change is slower. Right? I think the best foray into that for many groups is that you're forced into that situation that that's what you're going to do so you have to try it out. Because, for that marketer, sometimes it's too risky in an organization, right, to say, you know, we've always done this, let's do a totally different. You know, there's some mistakes that are mistakes and then there's some decisions that have huge other ramifications. So, I think I would say press it and you can show the data and show successes. I think it can be a tougher sell at times. But as marketers, I mean, that's our job. We keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and trying to take everyone with us there.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how to make sure your digital marketing tools are adding value to your home builder.

About the Guest:

A dynamic and instinctual leader, Alison Girard is an expert marketer, placemaker and innovator. With over 25 years of experience in the development and homebuilding industry, her knowledge spans urban infill, suburban and large-scale communities, including well-known Playa Vista, the 460-acre “Silicon Beach” urban community on LA’s Westside, The Groves Whittier, the 75-acre redevelopment of a historic state school/correctional facility and popular The Landing at Tustin Legacy.  Alison is known as leader and a doer who seamlessly brings together thoughtful home and community design, data-driven marketing and engaging customer experiences. She pioneers and implements innovative plans that drive the business and customer journey forward while strengthening the company’s core mission.

Alison values success not only through company growth but also through the people she works with. As a leader with a growth mindset and team empowerment at the core of her management style, Alison thrives through team collaboration. And her true superpower lies in her ability to be inspiring and nimble in the most unique and challenging situations.

Currently Director of Marketing at Brookfield Residential for over 10 years, Alison is responsible for neighborhood and masterplan community strategy, marketing and merchandising for Southern California and Arizona.  She plays an integral role in the development of new residential neighborhoods, community design and company innovation initiatives. 

Before joining Brookfield Residential, Alison was Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Standard Pacific Homes Los Angeles Division.  She was recruited to launch the branding, marketing, advertising and sales efforts for the new Urban Development division, building entry-level to luxury condominiums. 

Prior to moving to the homebuilder side, Alison spent several years at real estate advertising agencies working with homebuilders, master plan developers and resorts with clients including Talega, The Irvine Company, John Laing Homes, Pacific Bay Homes and many others.

An active member of the Greater Sales and Marketing Council, Alison is also a past board member and a past co-chair of the SoCal/MAME Awards.  She received her B.A. in Communication Studies from UCLA and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin teenage sons.  She loves art, baseball, podcasts, Pilates and exploring LA.


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 Zonda Livabl.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to have on the show with us Alison Girard. Alison is the Director of Marketing at Brookfield Residential.

Welcome, Alison. Thanks for joining us.

Alison Girard: Thanks so much, Greg and Kevin. I'm so excited to be here today.

Greg Bray: Well, let's start off and just help people get to know you a little bit and give us that quick introduction and tell us about yourself.

Alison Girard: Thanks, Greg and Kevin, as you said, I'm the Director of [00:01:00] Marketing at Brookfield Residential in Southern California and Arizona. I've been with Brookfield, I can't believe it, for 10 and a half years now, and I've been in this industry since the day I graduated college, about 25 years now. It's insane.

Kevin Weitzel: It's a quarter of a century.

Alison Girard: It's a lot. It's a lot.

Kevin Weitzel: Besides my very, very elementary ability to figure out that that's the quarter of century. Could you do me a favor and tell us something personal about yourself that doesn't have anything to do with the home building industry that we'll learn about you on this podcast?

Alison Girard: Sure. I think something really super fun is that I'm a really good bowler, and I bowled as a kid. So, it's great now, you know, if you have company bowling days or when your friends wanna go bowling because I just can surprise everybody and have a really good score. So, that's a fun little tidbit. Most kids played baseball or did ballet. I dabbled in some ballet, but my dad bowled, so I did a lot of bowling as a kid.

Greg Bray: Well, what's the score? Come on, you gotta give us the high score.

Alison Girard: Well, [00:02:00] 224 was my high score when I was in elementary school. So, if we were to go bowling for our podcast, I could maybe get like in the 160s to 180s. I bowl about three times a year, so that's not too much. But, you know, I'm a little rusty, but.

Kevin Weitzel: Do we have a ball of choice or is it based on the lane? I mean, are you a hammer girl? What's your background?

Alison Girard: You know what's so exciting? When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me this purple and silver swirled ball. It was like the most beautiful thing ever. I now, when I mean I just go, I find, you know, a ball that fits, and I don't even really know what pound ball I throw anymore. I just have to decide when I go and pick one. But as a kid, I had the whole, you know, the pink and purple bag. The really pretty bowling bells. So, that was nice.

Greg Bray: For the record, Kevin, my high score is 255, but that was on Wii bowling.

Kevin Weitzel: Mine is a legit 234 but that was seven strikes in a row and then a whole bunch of junk afterwards.

Alison Girard: That's really good. We love Wii bowling as well, so.[00:03:00]

Greg Bray: Wii bowling. That's so much less work on the arm, you know?

Alison Girard: But your shoulder, your shoulder can get a little putout.

Greg Bray: Well, Alison, tell us a little bit more about why you decided to get into the home building industry. You mentioned straight outta school, so what attracted you and pulled you in?

Alison Girard: It's interesting. I just went to a wonderful hall of fame induction ceremony for our president, Adrian Foley last week, and I saw these wonderful college students who already know, I wanna work in home building. I think that's amazing. When I was in college, I majored in communications, so I wanted to do some type of marketing.

One of my first jobs after college was with a small advertising agency that worked with home builders and developers and golf course communities. I really became enamored with what my home builder clients were doing. And I would sit in their meetings and just say like, Wow. I love that they bring everything together from the architecture, the interior design, the landscape, the marketing. How [00:04:00] could I do that one day? So, I just incrementally moved and made my way there. But that's how I first got into the industry.

Greg Bray: So, help us understand a little more about Brookfield Residential, kind of where you guys are building the types of homes and home buyers that you're working with.

Alison Girard: Sure. Well, we're a North American home builder and land developer. So, we're in over 20 markets in the United States and Canada, specifically in Southern California and Arizona. We're building right now in Southern California entry-level townhomes, move-up detached homes. In Arizona, we're building more entry-level and family-detached homes. But our company builds all over the country and in Canada in a wide variety of home styles specific to each region we build.

Greg Bray: So, then you're specifically working with the Southern California and Arizona divisions?

Alison Girard: Yes. We concentrate on Southern California and Arizona.

Greg Bray: Now, we noticed something and we were chatting about it before we got started, [00:05:00] that you've got this interesting title on your profile on LinkedIn. In addition to Marketing Director, it says Placemaker. Tell us a little bit more about what a placemaker is.

Alison Girard: That's a really great question. As home builders, as land developers, as community developers, we have this amazing opportunity and responsibility that we get to create places for people to live. I feel so fortunate every day to do that. And as a placemaker, we are deciding the land plan, we're deciding the street names, we're deciding the architecture. We're deciding the amenities and the landscape and the walkways and trails and how people can interact within that community and live in that community and recreate.

And I just think that's such an amazing responsibility we have. And it's so gratifying to see once you have people who've purchased their homes and moved in and you see them interacting with their community in the way you had hoped. Wow. We created that place, for our customers.

One of [00:06:00] our previous communities, you may have heard of Playa Vista on LA's West side. It was Howard Hughes's former aerospace land and company. When I would do a summer concert there or an outdoor movie and stand in the back and there were 2000 people in front of me glued to a big movie screen, I would get tears in my eyes and I was like, we did it. We built this place that allows this type of connection and community. So, that's what I think placemaking is all about.

Greg Bray: An outdoor movie with 2000 people. That's a major event. That's not a trivial little just, Hey, what should we do this weekend?

Alison Girard: Playa Vista had over 6,000 homes and apartments, and was dense. Density, I always say breeds connection. So, to have that kind of density and everyone coming out for events and things, that's the dream lifestyle. But we have to be a placemaker whether we're building 40 homes or 4,000 homes, we need to create a sense of place. It's obviously [00:07:00] easier when you have 4,000 homes and large amenities, but you have to figure that out when you have a small community as well.

Greg Bray: So, as you start to try and define and create places, how do you factor in the communication of what that place is to the prospective buyer? Especially from a digital standpoint, someone who's just starting to learn about this particular location and community, what are some of the ways that you try to connect with them and bring that to life for them?

Alison Girard: At Brookfield, we've been working a lot on our website in the last few years to really try and bring as much data and information to our customers as possible, and transparency, whether it's in pricing or real-time availability. It starts easy. We put up a sign and then people start to contact us. Then the journey begins for them.

And I think that's really great because, besides emails, we do have a digital platform where once we're starting to sell, we have real-time [00:08:00] availability, Matterport tours, video walkthroughs, kitchen visualizers, and the pricing transparency, almost like a car sticker where you can see, you know, the base home price, upgrades if there's a lot premium, et cetera. I think those tools, they help our customers so much. To me, digital tools are a component, but then I still love to match them with the in-person experience they're going to have with our sales team and at the community as well.

Greg Bray: With your time in home building over the last quarter century, as Kevin indicated.

Alison Girard: That sounds so long.

Greg Bray: I know, I know. We'll just ignore that, started in kindergarten, but the evolution of digital that you've seen during that time must be fascinating. Tell us a little bit about how that process has changed for you over the years and what is useful now that maybe you wish you'd had a long time ago that didn't really exist or wasn't available.

Alison Girard: Oh gosh. When I first started out of college, you know, photos were on [00:09:00] slides, right? You know, slides that went into a projector. At my agency, luckily, there was a slide business close to us and someone had to drive there and always get the slides. And so all of the advances and being able to show our customers, you know, beyond a static image, being able to have Matterport tours, the video walkthroughs, the visualizers, giving them more detail, allowing them to do so much more research at home.

When I started in the industry, I mean, you had to come to a neighborhood to learn all about it. Websites were probably just starting a few years after, I am really dating myself. Oh goodness. But they were just starting a few years after, so I mean, to me that whole revolution of just technology came.

I think COVID was actually what tipped home builders fully to digital. That might be a better marker, is that everyone had a digital presence. Our company was one of the first, I [00:10:00] think, to unveil the self-guided tours during off hours. We had debuted that in late 2019 thinking, oh, this is a nice benefit. But gosh, COVID really showed that was a good benefit.

And then in COVID, we had to sharpen our digital tools so much because people were at home for such a long period of time. We didn't used to do walkthroughs of every home. We weren't doing Matterport tours of every home. We weren't even using all of the tools we could. So, I think COVID really pushed us into, we all had to get better and had to do that as a standard.

And then as we came out of COVID in the go forward, those are just required digital tools to have, no matter where you wanna meet us. Whether you prefer Matterports, Kevin, you prefer a video walkthrough. You don't like the circles of Matterports. If someone else wants to meet us, you know, on Facebook or come in person, I just, I wanna meet you everywhere you are.

Kevin Weitzel: So, this is gonna be a [00:11:00] long-worded question, but I wanna make sure I frame this properly to get the answer, not that I'm looking for, but just whatever your answer is. So, you are correct, just because I sell the digital assets, you are correct in the fact that COVID forced people to come out from the woodwork to say, Hey, we absolutely have to have some stuff down here, but did it free up any of your budgetary requirements?

Because if you look at the typical home builder that is in a single-family home community, they might have, let's say they have 150 lots. They might have five plans they sell, but they only do a model of, I don't know, two, maybe three of those homes. Did you find that by eliminating one home that you could literally fund all of the digital assets, all the virtual walkthroughs, and everything else, or did you just add those components to the two or three models that you already had established per community?

Alison Girard: That's a really interesting question. My answer is a little, maybe a little different than what you're expecting, but when we have to make that choice, oh, there's four-floor plans, we're only gonna model three. But then what we're gonna do with that fourth home is [00:12:00] digital assets are going to help us sell that fourth home. If we're not even gonna build it, we need to have a digital asset to represent that home.

If we're gonna build it and not furnish it, we need to virtually furnish that home. So, it does free up by not doing physical models. It definitely does free up some money in our budget, and we need to use digital assets then to sell. Because I think if most builders look at their absorption, you absorb what you physically build and we all know that. So, we have to prepare, but we also need these non-model homes to show just as well.

Greg Bray: Alison, Brookfield Residential, obviously you've indicated, large company, building lots of different places. How do you guys structure the difference between, you know, boots on the ground, local marketing folks versus kind of the corporate oversight and view of trying to stay consistent across brand, across everywhere? Tell us a little more about some of that ebb and flow between those [00:13:00] sometimes competing elements.

Alison Girard: That's such a great question, and I think every home builder does it so differently and every builder looks to do it differently at times too. We are set up regionally with our local experts in each region. Then we have what we'll call center-led, you might call corporate. We have more of a center-led digital marketing team that spearheads our website and keeping all of our digital assets consistent. But then the deployment and all the tactics come regionally from the different teams, and all the messaging, et cetera.

Greg Bray: Do you guys also have corporate decide how you wanna partner or which assets you're gonna have, or does the more regional team get a lot of say in partnerships like with an agency, for example, or someone like that?

Alison Girard: In the past, our regional teams selected agencies and created digital assets, but then to more [00:14:00] standardize and create better pricing for everybody, now our center-led digital team, curates those relationships that we use.

Greg Bray: So, as you guys are exploring social media opportunities, which platforms are you finding that work well for you and which ones are you kind of still toying around with or maybe looking in the future and haven't quite got to yet?

Alison Girard: Years back we started on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I think we quickly dropped Twitter at some point that it just didn't feel like we could keep up Twitter in the way Twitter needed to work. We just felt Facebook and Instagram were gonna be better for us. So, we really appreciate that presence. We think of it as general brand awareness. Sometimes we will run lead gen through there, but we like it for just another channel. We've recently dipped our toes into TikTok, so we're enjoying understanding TikTok more and meeting another generation of customers where they are on TikTok.

Greg Bray: How's TikTok going for you? We [00:15:00] gotta ask because TikTok seems to be a struggle for some to kind of figure out.

Alison Girard: What's funny, and I'll date myself a little. Like, I think TikTok's really fascinating, but when I open the app right away, it's so loud. I do a lot of my social media use, you know, if I wake up early in the morning or right when I'm going to bed, and I like a silent scroll and I think I just haven't quite figured out the TikTok silent scroll.

I just feel like it's just the right platform for us to be on, and we can take fun videos we've done and repurpose them. Even when we've been shooting some recent videos that, oh, we need some different parts that could work for TikTok. I just feel it's a natural evolution for us. And so we just like any engagement that we're getting there. It's just an area we weren't there before.

Greg Bray: Well, Kevin's a big TikTok fan, aren't you, Kevin?

Kevin Weitzel: I had to actually take it off my phone because it'd be just became a giant time toilet for me. I would get on there and I'd watch somebody fall downstairs and I'd laugh and then guess what? Three videos away. It's another person falling [00:16:00] downstairs and guess what? I get to laugh again. It's just crazy, you know, two, three hours go by and it's like, man, my eyes are burning because they're just done staring at this thing.

And I really didn't see any content that was allowing me to do anything other than just to literally throw away a couple of hours’ time. So, I don't see a way that home builders, at least in my mind, I don't see a pathway with TikTok to be an effective tool to reach people for engaging in the potential of trying to sell 'em home.

Alison Girard: Sure. You know what we were noticing on TikTok, which sort of maybe pulled us there, was resale agents. Obviously, I sell new homes. I respect resale agents so much. They do their own marketing or maybe it's company supported. We were seeing so many real estate agents on TikTok. And then we were also seeing, whether they were lenders or others saying, you know, let's tell you how to get a loan or let's break down mortgage lending and let's do this.

For us, it's like another prong. We see these all as prongs in our arsenal. Again, and I'm gonna, meet you in the office, Kevin. Greg's gonna do the [00:17:00] Matterport tours and someone else is gonna find us on TikTok. TikTok just helps us talk to another segment. I don't put all my eggs in that basket and like, oh, if we don't blow up on TikTok, we'll ever blow up on TikTok, but it's another arsenal where we can repurpose some content and give it a go. But we will evaluate it like, you know, we evaluated Twitter at some point that Twitter just didn't feel like our voice or right for us. We'll evaluate TikTok. We always say, is the juice worth the squeeze?

Greg Bray: Now as the guy from Blue Tangerine, that's a phrase we're gonna have to use.

Alison Girard: I didn't invent that one, so I'll give that one to you.

Greg Bray: But Alison, also I think It's great though that you've identified that different platforms have different audiences and different goals that you might be trying to achieve and trying to reach a particular audience in one place that maybe you can or can't reach the same way somewhere else.

And that's gonna go into how do you evaluate it too, right? Because if you're purely just evaluating on, did we get two more [00:18:00] sales this week? That might not get you what you're looking for. So, what do you look for when you're trying to evaluate these platforms?

Alison Girard: We just look at the engagement numbers or, you know, I'm more day-to-day familiar with Facebook and Instagram. And we look at the likes, we look at any comments. We try and curate content for that. I don't think for us, we depend on it as a strong sales source. It's more just cultivating our local brand and who we are and what we're about. And if some people find us through that way, it's a positive. It's more one of our brand-building tools.

Greg Bray: Totally makes sense. As you are looking at all the different tools that you have available, and you were talking maybe to a digital marketer who's kind of struggling to get things going, what set of tools would you tell them to really focus on first if they're trying to kind of get things up and running and they've been struggling for a bit?

Alison Girard: I'd say if you have finished models, you should be doing video [00:19:00] walkthroughs of those models or Matterport tours. Bring your models to the public, as easy as possible. That's the easiest way. I think what's harder for builders to get into, but what I'm more interested too is just the, like we talked about, if there's four-floor plans and I'm only modeling one or two, how am I representing those other two homes and I'm never gonna even build them?

I think that's partnering with the agencies that create the full virtual experiences and who do it well, and that it doesn't cost me a million hours to put together. I think for us, that's what we look for too. Is the juice worth the squeeze? Is your time worth the output? And I think with videos and Matterports and social media, the time is worth the output.

And I appreciate the builders who have been able to very efficiently or probably smartly with their time, create these full virtual presentations. We've done that in the past. We're probably looking to do it [00:20:00] again. But those are the ones where they do take a lot of time to do them right and we have to make sure we have that time to do those assets correctly.

Kevin Weitzel: I would argue that everybody has the time and here's why. For the overall cost of the hours of your team and the hours of having to coordinate with whatever industry partner you choose, the carry-on just the dirt of one model home lot would pay for your entire suite of homes to be made into photoreal virtual environments. I personally think it's well worth it and you can re-skin it anytime you want. That's the other beauty of it.

Alison Girard: What I love about it too is we do something called a virtual frame walk when we're gonna build our homes. We also do an in-person, but it helps us root out problems. If you can take the assets that are created, starting for that virtual frame walk and roll them right into your finished marketing presentation, that is so smart. So, that's what I've been looking into.

And I have many builder friends who already do these. We just have a [00:21:00] lot of communities in Southern California. We've always been doing models, all models of all plans. As we continue to get more competitive with land deals and look at our budgets, we're starting to head that direction where we're not modeling everything. So, that is a big go-forward for us.

Greg Bray: So, Alison, what tips would you give to that marketer who is trying to have this budget conversation and trying to advocate and say, okay, you know what, if we saved this, we could invest over here and do these digital assets? And because we've always built models, it's just the way we've always done it, it's kind of getting in the way of that conversation. Any thoughts about how they go to the powers that be and kind of make that pitch for maybe a change of view on how to use the budget?

Alison Girard: As you all know, home building moves at a slower pace and change is slower. Right? I think the best foray into that for many groups is that you're forced into that situation that that's what you're going to do so you have to try it out. Because for that marketer, [00:22:00] sometimes it's too risky in an organization, right, to say, you know, we've always done this, let's do a totally different.

You know, there's some mistakes that are mistakes and then there's some decisions that have huge other ramifications. So, I think I would say press it and you can show the data and show successes. I think it can be a tougher sell at times. But as marketers, I mean, that's our job. We keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and trying to take everyone with us there.

Greg Bray: So, as you are trying to look ahead to new digital opportunities and marketing opportunities, what are some of the sources that you go to for ideas and inspiration, things to watch out for?

Alison Girard: I follow every builder everywhere, right? On social media, on their websites. I get emails. I love to see what my builder friends are doing and also what all the different creative agencies are doing. Everyone's using LinkedIn so much better these days. I think too, I'm learning so much about other [00:23:00] companies and vendors from LinkedIn. So, I just try and stay really on top

But as we continue to look at moving forward, the continuation of making digital assets better is so important for us. So, getting those Matterports more detailed, doing great tags, doing great videos, having these kitchen visualizers get better and better to represent the home and your design studio choices so you feel ready. I just want home buyers to come in and be so prepared too. I just wanna continue, I think, to make it better.

As we continue to progress what we show our customers digitally, real-time availability on the site, pricing transparency, it opens up so much. The more we share is exciting, but then the more is requested of us and how we can keep up. So, that's a big challenge I feel too with a digital space. Everyone wants to do so much with us digitally [00:24:00] and can we offer them everything they want? We continue to try to keep up.

Greg Bray: How are you guys collecting that kind of customer feedback because that seems like a very specific question. How does that kind of get back through the chain of folks to someone who might be able to actually do something with it?

Alison Girard: Great question. So, we love feedback. A lot of official feedback comes in our avid surveys. our customers are surveyed at point of sales, at move-in, at midyear, year-end, and at two years. So, I love the comments. As soon as the survey shows up in my box, I love to read a survey. That's where we hear a lot of great comments. Our sales team shares all the comments they're hearing in the sales office, and I think especially when you roll out anything new, you are asking everybody, Hey, what do people think of this? Just always have our ears open and we solicit feedback from our customers. Never [00:25:00] underestimate what you can learn from your customers.

Greg Bray: Well, Alison, we appreciate your openness today and how much you've shared with us. Do you have any last words of marketing advice you'd like to leave with our audience today?

Alison Girard: Yeah, I think a few different things. I think whether it's digital or what we build or how we build, I think our customers are looking today for us for flexibility. They're looking for flexibility in their home design. They're looking in flexibility for us to show them how they can furnish spaces that they can use any way they want.

And digitally, I think our customers are looking to learn as much as they can, but also have the flexibility to call us or email us or meet us in person. So, I like the flexibility of having really great digital assets, but also having a really great in-person experience. Whatever channel you meet a builder you're gonna have a good experience with us.

Greg Bray: Well, thank you again for being with us today. If somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Alison Girard: You could hit me up on LinkedIn would be super. Alison [00:26:00] Girard at LinkedIn would be a great way to reach me.

Greg Bray: Well, thank you so much Alison for being 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 Zonda Livabl


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