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This week on the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Greg and Kevin were joined by Lisa Lausten, Senior VP of Marketing at Stanley Martin Homes. They discuss how technology shifts should reflect how consumers not only shop for homes, but shop in general. You don't want to miss Lisa's noteworthy journey that brought her into the home builder industry.
Lisa leads all aspects of the brand and digital marketing, market research, and digital sales for the company. She purposefully built an in-house creative and digital team to drive economic efficiency and unprecedented levels of creativity and flexibility. Starting her career in accounting and finance, a decade later made the switch to brand and digital marketing, after arraigning her MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She believes that the best marketers possess a combination of creativity and analytical thinking. Before Stanley Martin, she learned from the best at Playtex, Unilever and AOL.
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: Today we are excited to welcome to the show Lisa Lausten the senior VP of corporate marketing at Stanley Martin Homes.
Lisa: Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited.
Greg Bray: So Lisa, for those of our listeners who haven't had a chance to meet you before, give us kind of that quick introduction and tell us a little bit about [00:01:00] yourself.
Lisa: Sure. As you said, I'm the senior vice president of marketing at Stanley Martin Homes. I've been there for about five years now and it's been an amazing experience.
I live in Virginia, but I'm a New Yorker at heart and I live in Virginia with my husband and two kids and my mini labradoodle Poco.
Greg Bray: Ooh, labradoodle. I've got a golden doodle, so yeah, that's great.
Kevin Weitzel: So Mets or Yankees.
Kevin Weitzel: That's a real new Yorker right there.
Lisa: It's actually, that's where my husband and I's first date was, was at the old Yankee stadium.
Yeah. But he lives in Virginia and somehow got tickets to go to Yankee stadium and invited me, which seemed fishy, but he came up to New York and we went to Yankee stadium and here we are today living in Virginia. So somehow he got the New York girl to move down South.
Greg Bray: Interesting. Interesting. Well, tell us something that a lot of people don't know about Lisa.
Lisa: So, I mean, I guess some people know this, but I was an accountant when I originally started my career. So I've been in marketing for a really long time, but I'm [00:02:00] a numbers girl at heart. And I believe that, you know, even digital marketing, especially is the perfect balance of understanding the finance and the analytics.
And the creative thinking. So I find anyone that has that finance background ends up being a better marketer.
Greg Bray: Oh, that's an interesting insight. We'll have to unpack that a little bit more here in a minute.
Kevin Weitzel: Greg, let me ask you, let me ask Lisa this. Does that mean that vendors that come to you with proposals better have their numbers all in a row?
Lisa: Yes. Numbers are important. You know, you can't be a great marketer if you don't understand the business.
Greg Bray: So tell us a little bit though, how you went from accounting to marketing, to home building.
Lisa: So as I said, I started out as an accountant.
I worked for Ernst & Young, straight out of undergrad, as an auditor, which I loved because I got to go to different clients and learn different businesses. And then eventually I took a job with HBO in New York doing financial analytics and international joint venture finance. And decided to go back and [00:03:00] get my MBA.
And to be honest, I was on a finance track. I went into the Stern School of Business, which is renowned for their finance education, but I took a marketing course and I realized that I was so much more passionate about. Marketing than I ever was about finance. So I quickly switched over to marketing. Finished my MBA while working at HBO suppose a part-time MBA, but an amazing, amazing experience.
And then I switched and went into brand marketing with some of the larger CPG companies, such as, you know, Weaver and Playtex, and really got a foundation of marketing. Understanding what a brand is made of understanding those consumer insights. And I did that for quite some time. And then out of the blue, I got a phone call from a headhunter who was looking for someone to come to a company in Virginia.
So I remember. I'm a new Yorker. They gave me a call about Virginia and I just met a guy who lived in Virginia at the same time. Who's now my husband. So [00:04:00] that serendipitously this job was two days a week in Ashburn, Virginia working for AOL three days a week and their New York office.
So it was the perfect combination of doing something new in marketing and also worked well for my relationship with my husband. So I did that. And once I got to AOL really got entrenched in digital and everything about technology and loved it. I spent seven years of my career there. And I wouldn't change that for anything in the world.
I really learned a lot and made a lot of connections, a lot of networking and just learn a ton because, you know, as you guys know, technology is ever-changing and the kid just can't stop learning. So then I decided at one point I was still traveling from New York to Virginia. So imagine starting a family, two young kids going back and forth between the two places.
My husband had enough and was like, you need to find something a little bit more local. So I left AOL and went to a startup here, and it was called vetstreet.com [00:05:00] it still exists and we started it from nothing. That's the thing that was interesting about Vet Street, which will now be, I swear, I'm going to get to home building, but that's your directory for the rest of my career was it was an industry that wasn't very digital and they really wanted to bring in somebody to change that and to make it more digital, veterinarians are not the most digital savvy.
People you could meet. So there was a lot of fun and incorporating and invigorating their education around digital. So I really enjoyed that. But as you know, um, startups can burn you out. So I did that for a little while and realized, wow, this is a lot of work. I still have some young kids and a family to take care of.
So I left and then did the same kind of thing, but what into financial services and went to a company here locally that is, was all about radio and traditional marketing, and they needed to bring someone on board to kind of change it into a digital format. So I went there and spent three years reinvigorating that marketing team.
And [00:06:00] then I was introduced to Steve Alloy at Stanley Martin Homes. And, uh, we had a great conversation. I loved it and agreed to do some consulting for them. So I consulted for a few months and tried to think about ways to make our marketing team, much more modern and focused on the future. And so about two months after I consulted, he offered me a full-time job.
And that's how I ended up in building and at Stanley Martin Homes.
Kevin Weitzel: That is by far number one, the craziest pathway. Yeah. Least direct pathway to the whole building we've ever had on our podcast. Until you said something that I know for a fact is foreign to 90% of the home builders out there. Can you repeat the thing you said about technology is ever, what was that you said.
Lisa: I don't know what, say it one more time. Like I said, a lot of stuff
Kevin Weitzel: you said technology is ever, and I don't know the word.
Kevin Weitzel: Really, so you're mean. And tell me that when you put some [00:07:00] sort of tech gadget on your website, it doesn't just work forever and be
Lisa: There's pretty much an expiration date on everything.Right. It's like you know, you can't just keep it right. All staples don't last forever. So I would say with technology, anyone, you know, I just started reading Adam Grant's new book, but rethinking it's all about rethinking. It is amazing, right. If you're not constantly rethinking and re-establishing yourself, you're going to lose you can't just put it in there and expect status quo.
Carry you too winning again.
Greg Bray: Well, Lisa, I knew you knew a lot, but I didn't realize how much so I'm impressed. So I'm even more excited about what we're going to learn in the next few minutes. As we call it, pull it all out of you here, you know, we probably won't get to all of it. I'm sure.
But just to be fair to your current employer, tell us a little bit more about Stanley Martin Homes. Where you guys build your target buyer and some of those details.
Lisa: Sure. So Stanley Martin Homes is kind [00:08:00] of a Southeast home builder. We start in Maryland and we sell homes all the way through Georgia, wherever expanding.
We, about three years ago, we were purchased by Dalla House, which is one of Japan's largest home builders, and they have been instrumental to helping us grow an amazing partner for us and has been a crazy fun ride right now because we are just growing like crazy. So we built homes for first time buyers, first time move up, second time move ups.
It all segments, you know, millennials baby boomers, et cetera. And I'd like to say also, like what we try to do is build homes that people love the design of, but at a price they can afford. Right? So we're not a luxury home builder. We're not, semi-custom, we're a production home builder that builds great design at a price that everyone can afford.
Kevin Weitzel: I think luxury is relative though, because I drive a Fiat 500 C. Total chick car, by the way. [00:09:00] And it's luxurious in my world. I bought it brand new It's a luxurious, I call it a sports car in posts.
Lisa: Right. I think it's relative affordability. Right. So, you know, everybody has the threshold that they can afford.
And I think that's where Stanley Martin plays. Right. We're not going to be, you know, the, you know, maybe in some markets we will be a million over, even in this a relative affordability place, it's not about the dollar amount. It's about reaching a buyer in that market with something that they can afford.
Kevin Weitzel: So I follow up on that. So let me ask you this, when you get acquired, you said three years ago, right. And since that part of that strategy was to acquire other successful builders, correct?
Lisa: It is correct. All right. We've required a couple. We had FrontDoor come in. I can't even remember the years anymore.
I think this year has throw me off for the years, but we required FrontDoor a few years back and that got us into the Atlanta and [00:10:00] Charleston markets. And then this past February, we acquired a company called Essex Homes and that got us into Columbia, Charlotte Greenville Aiken, Augusta, and the coast.
Greg Bray: So Lisa I'm interested about you know, being acquired by a Japanese company.
Were there any, well, I know there's cultural differences, right? So, but did they bring some different insights that you hadn't thought of before because of their worldview? That made you Oh wow. That's something we should try or something we should do different than maybe, you know, you hadn't thought of before.
Lisa: Yeah, no, I think that's it. They bring a lot of that to the table. Right. So in so many different ways, but from a marketing perspective, I'll try to keep it on that is they're all about long-term strategic planning, right? It's not about the win next week. It's about, are you setting yourself up for the future?
And that's been huge, I think, cause that's been my philosophy all along. No things expire. If you're only looking for that quick fix, [00:11:00] it's going to be done, but are you building yourself up for success down the road and that scale. And so that is a lot of what Dalla House is all about. And it's been really great partnering with them because they're helping us have that longterm vision.
Greg Bray: Awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that. So I'd like to dig in a little bit, cause I know one of the things that I saw in, in some of your profile information is as you were kind of touting your in-house team, right. So tell us how you kind of put that team together and what drove you to decide what to have in-house versus bringing in partners or other agencies for and how you kind of look at that.
Kevin Weitzel: what to take Outhouse.
Lisa: Ah, very nice. Very nice. Kevin. Good plug. So the team has grown like unbelievably over the last five years, just as a company ground, like the marketing team is growing. Right. One of the things that we're doing and I said it before, it was [00:12:00] just always rethinking. Right. Looking at everything and being like, okay, is this working best?
Is this the right ROI? Do I have the right talent on the team that can do this? Now, one thing that happens when you bring things in-house and I'm always wary of is your best ideas come from outside of your company, hands down outside of the industry, outside of the company. And you know, you can't brainstorm as well, if you're all thinking the same.
So that diversity of thought comes from agency help external vendors and things like that. So you're always still going to have those as part of your mix. But I think when he'd get to a point where operationally, it makes a lot more sense for your team to be doing that on a day-to-day basis, because it makes you become more nimble and quick to adjust.
That's when it makes sense to bring those things in house, but you always need to make sure you're still looking outside or you're going to lose sight of the future. So what we did is looked at different sections of our teams. So like the way my team is set up, you know, there's market [00:13:00] research, which is, is underneath me a lot of that.
We do in-house but we're leveraging a lot of external data there. Right? It's not just us doing surveys amongst ourselves. We're looking outside, we're talking to consumers, we're talking to other builders, we're talking to industry experts and that's what builds up that team. The, um, I also have a digital sales team, right?
So what we call new home consultants. They called a million different things I found out in this industry, but their whole goal is to make sure that customers that come to us get their questions answered and that they're ready to make that next move to buying their home. So again, as go to outside of just our place to look for advice, help, what are the best practices?
What are the things that we can do? I challenge my own team to make sure they're going to conferences each month. Figure out if they're reading books, read blogs, listen to podcasts because you're never going to get the best ideas inside your own head when it comes to traditional marketing though, which is where I think you wanted me to head [00:14:00] originally with this question, is I did bring in-house about a year ago.
All of our digital capabilities when it comes to digital media. So we're doing all of our social media and our Google ads and our banner ads. And re-targeting all of that's being done in house. I made that choice a year ago because we are at a scale where that makes sense. So I might change my mind when we're at a larger scale and I no longer could have a team internally that I need to bring in more resources, external.
It's something that I'm going to revisit on a regular basis. It's not set and done that I brought it in house and that's how we're going to be forever. I'm constantly re-evaluating that? Did I answer your question? So every longly.
Greg Bray: perfectly.
Kevin Weitzel: So let me ask you this. What about your capabilities and how does your head not spin managing across multiple state lines and multiple teams and across multiple fronts with how do you do that?
Cause, I mean, there's more marketing directors out there [00:15:00] that live in one valley, let alone one state or five, six, seven states. How do you do that?
Lisa: Well, I hire the best people. I mean, it really comes down to that. I mean, I have the most amazing team that I work with and I hire lots of people who are intellectually curious, people who are not going to just be happy with doing the same thing day in and day out.
They're going to rethink and restructure themselves. And once I do that, you know, I don't need to be the all-knowing. I have a team now that knows more than I do. And that to me is success, right? If it's only me making these decisions, we're never going to win.
Greg Bray: Lisa you mentioned your work with the vets, veterinarians, right?
As being the most digitally savvy, there have been some that have accused home builders of also not being the most digitally savvy. What are your thoughts on where digital fits for builders today and how they should be looking at that [00:16:00] as well?
Lisa: Yeah, no, I didn't. I had to pick one when I got here five years ago, I will say I was a little shocked on how little technology was being used in the industry. But I must say over the last five years, how fast people are catching on and really embracing technology as part of their future plans and future growth. I would say of all the industries I worked in, I think this is the one that is really going to have to get on the technology bandwagon.
If you want to be successful, as you look at how e-commerce is affecting the world, as you look at the coronavirus this year and what it's done to people's buying and shopping habits, it's changing everything. And if, as a builder, you're not ready for that, you are 100% going to be left behind.
So I think some of the things that I think about when I when I think about changes is what are we not [00:17:00] doing today that we need to do tomorrow and really looking at other industries, right? Look at automobile industry, for instance, right. I got my husband a Christmas present and he actually did get a Fiat Kevin, a convertible that I bought used on Carvana, the best shopping experience.
Greg Bray: I love Carvana. Big fan, big time.
Lisa: Amazing. 20 minutes clicked a button. The car looked exactly the same as it did online. When it pulled up at my door. Sign the paperwork. And I was in that car, you know, no time at all. It is amazing.
And if you're going to tell me that that's not going to happen to the home building industry, I think you're very mistaken. It is going to happen and it's going to happen faster than anyone.
Kevin Weitzel: Is that, Oh, that's the little spider version. So in Italian sports car, [00:18:00] I bet. Huh?
Lisa: I believe it's time girl from New York. I have to have an Italian sports car.
Greg Bray: I think Lisa that's a great point. I think I've said it before. I'll say it again.
I've purchased two cars from Carvana and I don't know that I'll go anywhere else ever again. I just, the easiness of what is normally a rather intimidating and scary purchase, right. Uh, are in the home can also be considered a rather scary and intimidating purchase for a lot of people. Right. It's it's that's a big deal.
Lisa: Don't you think it was a lot of the hand-holding that they did and like they were always two steps ahead of me and explaining what was going to happen next. So I didn't get nervous. I didn't have a chance to get anxious about that purpose. Are we doing that as home builders for our home buyers?
I think a lot of times we want to keep them in the dark as opposed to leading them into where we want them to go.
Greg Bray: And it's a little harder with a home that you have to wait to be built and all the other, you know, pieces that length of time that goes along with some of that. But [00:19:00] I completely agree that there's things we can learn from folks like that and opportunities to make that smoother and use the technology to do it.
Lisa: Yeah. And it's happening. I mean, I don't know if you guys read the Redfin survey that came out that comes out monthly, but last month it was like 63% of home buyers bought sight unseen. That is insane. When you think about that number, that is a lot of people embracing technology.
Kevin Weitzel: So has Stanley Martin implemented a buy now button?
Lisa: So we're in process, you know, as you said, it is difficult. One just because of the details that go into the home buying process. But I do think it's something we're going to explore in the near future, especially on our move in ready homes. Those houses are already done.
They're already ready. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to hit a buy now button and get one of those homes.
Greg Bray: At least I think that's a great point, right? There's there's kind of [00:20:00] two different buyers, right? The one who wants the home that's ready now, or the next 30 days, or whatnot, or the person who wants to be involved in all the choices and, and everything that goes into the construction process.
When we talk about the whole bio online, it doesn't have to be like sight unseen. It doesn't have to be unassisted. It doesn't have to be just a quick Amazon checkout, but it can be facilitating that process with the technology. Even if we have to talk to somebody every now and then heaven forbid we have to talk to a sales person.
You know, we want that.
Lisa: So funny, my husband's in sales and last night he was like, Lisa, why do people text me after I called them? I'm like, cause nobody wants to talk to a salesperson, Mike.
Greg Bray: Yeah, they we're scared that they're going to push us into something we don't want. Right.
Lisa: It's also an image that has to change.
Right. And I think that's also, the home builders are going to be the most successful is changing that thing that a sales person is going to push me into something I don't need into a [00:21:00] sales person's my trusted advisor. And they're going to make sure I get what I want.
Kevin Weitzel: Love it. I found my success in sales cause I've been in sales, my entire life of being a customer advocate, you know, looking out for their needs more so than my paycheck.
And if you look out for their needs, the paycheck flows, right behind it comes with, it's a cart that's attached to caring about your customer.
Lisa: I think it's in general. Right? Good things happen to people who care about other people besides themselves.
Kevin Weitzel: Yeah.
Greg Bray: So outside the automobile industry Lisa, are there other places you're looking, you know, for ideas?
You know, you've already mentioned being outside the builders, but what else? Or where else do you go to look.
Lisa: I mean, yeah, I'll be honest. I spend the least amount of my time looking inside the home builder industry, which I'm working on. So that's one of my blind spots that I know I'm not the best at, but, you know, besides automotive, I'm constantly looking at technology companies, new ones that are starting up.
Figuring out why they thought that was a good idea, because the why is what's going to lead you [00:22:00] to where you need to go and how to get to scale. I spend a ton of time looking at startups. I think that's where you're going to find the most interesting things to look at, to see where the direction's headed.
I would say also, you know, up until this year, I thought hospitality was a really great place to look because they have gotten so awesome at customer experience, right? They're selling you a handholding experience at concierge is that thing that you need, and I think that's a place for a whole line that we need to do a better job, because that experience is what's going to differentiate, builders from one another.
Kevin Weitzel: So you bring up an interesting point. Philosophically, does it really matter what builder X, Y, or Z are doing? It really only matters what you're doing in your own ship, because your ship is the one that has to have the fuel in it and have the crew on board. And you have to actually put the missiles in there.
They use missiles, the missiles in the rocket launchers and blow up stuff. You know, it really doesn't come [00:23:00] down to what the other boat across the water is doing. Right.
Lisa: A hundred percent. Like I think the thing I think about all the times is, you know, I definitely look at builders. I shouldn't say I don't look at them at all but I do.
But I think the places where I've noticed is one builder does something and then everybody else just jumps in. Right. And I don't know if people are asking themselves the questions on just because this person did it. Isn't right. For me, does it fit my mission? Does it fit our values? And whereas when you look.
External to the industry, you see more of those different things and how they've transformed them to work for their industry. And that's what I think home building needs to bring in. Is this exterior view. I think in general, this industry spends a lot of time. Talking to each other, which is great.
Right? There's so much comradery. There's this feeling of you belong to a special club, but I would suggest that if you looked outside, you're going to get more diversity in your thought process.
Greg Bray: No. I [00:24:00] think that we see that when we're working on, you know, website designs and things where everybody just is only looking at builder websites and it's, I needed to be like them or like them, or I'd like what they do.
And it's like, have you looked at some of these others that do a search a different way? Or are they now granted, I want to balance that with the idea. We have the same, you know, people spend most of their time on somebody else's website, not yours. So you don't get to retrain them on how the web works.
You can't do it so different that they get confused. Cause then they give up and leave. Right. You've still got to follow some of those conventions, but they don't all have to be other builder conventions for sure. Well, Lisa we really appreciate your time today and want to be respectful of that, you know?
What are some trends that you're watching, you know, as we kind of wrap up here that you're looking ahead towards that you think we need to be getting ready for?
Lisa: Um, well, there's so many, but I know I already mentioned the idea of the shift, right? The technology shift to how people are shopping for homes and shopping in general.
So I think that's one that I'm definitely watching. I also think the demographic shifts, [00:25:00] right. People don't necessarily need to be where they work anymore. What does that mean? And well, how does that affect the design that we're looking at from homes? Right. One thing that we do at Stanley Martin, that's amazing is we really redesigned homes all the time.
Right. We don't have, you know, and I think Kevin, you can attest to this, right? We don't have just one floor plan and we just keep it out there for 20 years. We're really adjusting those on a constant basis and using those trends to inform. How can we change this? How can we make it work better for people?
And, you know, we say, I know it's our tagline, but it's not cliche that, you know, your life is our blueprint. And we mean that, right? So as soon as we're seeing these shifts, the demographics, we want to start all the way back to lands and looking at, are we buying the right land? Are we putting the right product on there and it isn't going to work for people when it's ready to become a neighborhood.
So I think I constantly started that and I think the last piece that I'm looking at is this idea of affordability. We started out talking about [00:26:00] that and Kevin is spot on, right. It's relative to what you have, but making sure that we're creating things that most people can't afford. And it's in design that they're going to love.
Greg Bray: No, that's great. Any last pieces of advice that you'd like to share with our listeners today? Any of that one point that you really want to make sure everybody understands?
Lisa: Yeah. I think the one thing I would say, if you've got anything else out of these 30 minutes that we spend together would probably be recognizing to be a great leader.
Best thing is to realize you don't know it all. And there's lots of other people who know much more than you do. And if you don't tap into that, you're not going to be a successful leader and you always need to care about others. Way more than you care about yourself.
Kevin Weitzel: Can you call my girlfriend and give her that?
Greg Bray: Kevin, this is not a relationship counselor. That's the other one that you [00:27:00] listened to? Well, Lisa, thank you so much for spending time with us today. If there's someone who'd like to learn more, reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch.
Lisa: Well, obviously I'm on LinkedIn, so that's always a great source.
And I definitely check that on a regular basis, but they could also email me at LaustenL@stanleymartin.com.
Greg Bray: Well, thank you again so much for your time today and thank you everybody for listening.
Lisa: Thanks Greg thanks Kevin. This was super fun.
Greg Bray: Well, and please join us again. Next time on the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast.
I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse. Thank you.