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60 Flexibility to Meet Home Buyer Expectations - Ananth Rao

Flexibility to Meet Home Buyer Expectations - Ananth Rao

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Production by: Josh Williamson and KT Maschler 

Editing by: KT Maschler 

This week on the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Greg and Kevin chat with Ananth Rao of EYA Marketing. They discuss virtual events and how to improve your company's flexibility to meet home buyer expectations.

Ananth is an experienced marketing professional with a proven background in managing integrated marketing programs and lead generation initiatives, working closely with sales teams. He has proven skills in lead generation, inbound marketing (HubSpot), marketing automation, SEO, content strategy, email marketing, social media marketing, and outreach. 


Greg Bray:  [00:00:00]Hello everybody and welcome to today's episode of the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine

Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome an Ananth Rao with EYA Marketing. Welcome and thanks for joining us today. 

Ananth Rao: Well, thanks for having me.

I'm excited to be on this show here. 

Greg Bray: Well, why don't you take a few minutes and just introduce yourself to us and let us get to know a little bit more about ya. 

Ananth Rao: Yeah. Thanks for the introduction. I'm the senior [00:01:00] marketing director here at, EYA Marketing. And, I oversee basically the digital experiences from the time someone experiences an ad on Facebook or on Zillow or wherever to the time, you come to a website, to our sales center experiences to virtual. So any of those digital experiences, I kind of oversee, but really, the goal here is to help us work with our sales guys to help them kind of crush their sales goals.

So that's, kind of what I do. 

Kevin Weitzel: So that's the business side of you? Can you tell us something personal, something that maybe nobody knows unless they're listening to this podcast? 

Ananth Rao: Something that no one knows. Okay. So, I grew up on a farm in India and I'm a runner.

I love running and I run two of the six world major marathons. So. Cool. 

Greg Bray: Very cool. So, how do you come from a farm in India to digital marketing and selling homes? How's that journey go? The [00:02:00] short version, not the, you know, 

Ananth Rao: yeah, I mean, you know, growing up in India, No. I grew up in the, this was the nineties back in India and the eighties and the nineties, India was kind of opening up as an economy.

And, you saw a lot of the brands, you know, you saw the Cokes and the Pepsis of the world, kind of putting their name there. I remember standing in my village one day kind of looking at this red, Coke brand, you know, the logos and the colors and the forms.Right. I'm like, Hey, look, you know if I need to be part of this, I got to get closer to where the action is, the action figure, at least in the United States. And, and, and so, can I made my way up [00:03:00] here, came to get my masters, and, you know, I've been in the DCAS for about 20 years now.

Greg Bray: yeah. 

Kevin Weitzel: Where'd you get your masters from just out of curiosity. 

Ananth Rao: in a marketing naturally. Oh, I went to American University in Washington DC yeah, I have two interests that I have that I still kind of employ right now, one is technology and one is marketing.

I have my MBA in marketing and technology. 

Greg Bray: Very nice. So tell us a little bit more about EYA marketing and kind of the clients that you guys serve and the services that you provide them. 

Ananth Rao: Yeah. So EYA, we are based here in Bethesda, Maryland, we had wandered, right outside of DC for the industry, we are like an urban infill multi-family developer.

It's townhomes and condominiums and in power, primarily but I think what what's really appealing to me as a marketer is this whole concept of life within walking distance. So when we build communities, you know, [00:04:00] The way we had been looking at it, we are building neighborhoods. We are not building single homes.

So I think that is a big part of the whole, it's part of what we do here. And, um, you know, that's, the really exciting part of, what EYA does 

Greg Bray:  So tell us a little bit more for who your target demographic is for, the homes and the communities that you guys are developing. 

Ananth Rao: So, primarily we are looking at, two personas and we actually have names for them. one is Lisa and Brian who are our life builders and we've got, Paul and Patricia who are our kind of fire power players.

So, Lisa and Brian, are your typical, these are folks who are looking to own their first home, probably stepping up, one to, I probably currently renting right now and are looking at, wanting that urban lifestyle with one more space are on the cusp of kind of bigger things. and just want more space, but still want that urban walkable lifestyle.

I mean that's one kind of bio we have, and the others are downsizing kind of empty? Um, [00:05:00] are a Paul and Patricia. We probably live in their home for, you know, 15, 20 years out in the suburbs for a while. And are kind of tired of mowing their lawn and raking the leaves and doing all the things that come.

But, didn't get up this big home here. and these folks are probably kids that have gone off to college and they're trying to simplify life and so. That's typically who we, who ends up buying. And then there's every day, every, every, every day, everybody in between.

Kevin Weitzel: So I am your target, Paul and Patricia, I am that client, but an interesting fact, just by pure stats alone, I guarantee you there's a Lisa and a Brian out there that are listening to podcasts going. We are renters and we are wanting to buy our first house. 

Ananth Rao: Yeah. And, and I think that the common thread that is, they're looking for lock-in gold lifestyle, they're looking for, a way to simplify their life.

they wanted to spend more time enjoying doing the things they love, rather than worrying about, Quote unquote, joys of home ownership. And [00:06:00] I see that the airports, because owning a home is a bigger responsibility and, there's a lot of, joy that comes with it. but you're also trying to simplify life.

So I think there's a very, so I think that's really kind of the buyer who comes to us. 

Greg Bray: So,  I've always been fascinated with the idea of creating these personas, right? From a marketing standpoint of trying to identify your audience and really get deep. When you were doing that with these particular audiences, how did you layer in like their digital habits into some of that piece of who they are and where they go online and the things they're looking for and shopping for?

Did that become part of that persona activity? 

Ananth Rao: So we had, when I came in, when I joined, it was one of the first projects that we kind of undertook was a data scientists kind of come in, take a look at who our buyers are, and this was great because I'm not from the home building industry.

I'm a marketer, that's how I [00:07:00] approach, most of what we do. And, you know, for me, the clear understanding was who autobiography, you know what are their problems? What are we trying to solve here? And, how can we help our buyers, in the best way we can.

And so, one of those things was looking at our buyers and going and saying, okay, well, here's what we have. And. so some of that was based on some of the analysis that we did by bringing on, some of these data experts in the other part, is how, it's common sense, but, you know, I think we go through a lot of these, And did we do this on a regular basis?

We go through, some of these bio journeys and okay. Let's assume you're a first time home buyer and you're looking for a home in a certain market, what would that journey look like? And let's start with that. And then we kind of, we are looking at our marketing and what we're trying to do from the point of view of.

Who that buyer is. so we take specific [00:08:00] steps and if someone's out there looking, for example, if I were to look for home, would I look on Redfin right now? Would I look on Zillow? Where would I start my home search? Would it be a zip code that I type in? So, so we start with that and we ended up with, uh, you know, how we can help buyers.

Greg Bray: Do you see those two? Any differences between you've kind of got your two different profiles? Are they similar in their online habits or does one start with Zillow and the other one starts on Facebook or do you see any key differences like that, between those 

Ananth Rao: I think the key difference, we've seen is, the Lisa as in Brian's are more trusting online.

I mean, and then that, I think it just comes from how most of that generation has come to grow. Right. I mean, you've come up, uh, expecting to you push a button, you know, you're going to have an Uber come down here. so you know, something is going to happen as a result of doing you're taking an action.

That's the key difference. I see, you know, I think how they start their online or their buyer's journey. again, I think, [00:09:00] you'll see the Lisa and Brian starting their journey online reviews become an important part of that whole equation.

So how your reviews show up, is part of that deal? Definitely. so that's kind of the big, big difference. and I mean, I don't know if you'd be like, Yeah, I think Zillow has its new construction. the consumer trends report out for 2020. And I think, you know, that was, again, a very, very clear thing is on it, but 47% of the folks, first time home buyers, were very confident of what they saw online in terms of which were dealers and that aspect of it.

So, yeah. that's what we see as well. 

Kevin Weitzel: It was actually really similar to my question, Greg, but I was actually kind of coming from a different angle. What kind of, um, Focus do you put on social, like how many of you are outreaches for a new community per se would would fall into a massive Facebook client.

You know, how often are you using those social media platforms to spread the word of that new community? 

Ananth Rao: you know, whether you are everyone's on Facebook, [00:10:00] everyone's on Instagram.

Everyone's was on full tilt on Tik TOK now. it's a big part of the strategy. Yeah, for sure. 

Greg Bray: So tell us a little bit more about how you're seeing that customer experience evolve, you know, for your buyers and in, especially over the last couple of years from that digital component of the experience.

Ananth Rao: so I think one thing. I don't know if you've looked at the McKinsey report and online home buying and online buying, just online shopping, 2020, they want 150 million people who shopped online for the first time. that's about, it's about three months. I actually it's about 10 years of growth.

That's kind of shrunk into three months. Great. That's what's happened big shift and I think you're seeing some of that translate and spillover in the way people buy homes as well. so clearly that's a big shift and we made changes now to reflect that. so I think people want to experience more of, video content, you know, [00:11:00] images and virtual tours and 3D experiences, all of that. you know, I think that's been a big shift for sure. 

Kevin Weitzel: When you're talking about those digital tools, what are you finding?

Not just trending, but what is super valuable in your arsenal that you utilize that you absolutely have to have on every single project?

 I'll tell you, their question is preloaded on purpose, right? Because you actually came to me or came to us with high, high, high praise from Kevin Oakley. Kevin Oakley, watches, builders all around the country. And he said that if there's anybody in this country, you need to be watching right now, is that enough?

And he said, you're the guy that you absolutely have to watch what you're doing, what you've done, what you did and what you're thinking about doing. So, what is that one digital tool that you absolutely cannot live without today? 

Ananth Rao: You know, and this actually goes back. So I hate there is no one digital tool and that I looked at it, you know, one of those questions.

So there is no one data to do. I think, [00:12:00] what do you want to look at closely is where your buyer is and map your. Your experiences from there. And, there is no, and that's the biggest challenge is understanding. Where is the buyer today and how can you map your journey and your experiences?

I mean, how can you map your experiences to do the buyer's journey? And it's such a fluid changing market. you know, what seemed a very normal thing two months ago is not the same anymore, today. you know, we are in the middle of an incredible housing market today.

We should be. We're very successful. We've been very successful with our virtual events that we've, that we've had. and you're more than a thousand people show up for the virtual events that we had for the three community openings last year, combined. As I look at, where things would be for the next one, I asked myself, our virtual events, Are they even relevant today, you know?

And I do have [00:13:00] the question. I mean, we probably end up still doing a virtual event, but I do have to ask myself that question and go, does it make sense? Because, you know, I'm at a point right now and think about it at a point where Hey, I want to be out of debt.

I want to, I don't know if I want to be in the virtual space. I don't know what I want to be doing that. I want to meet people. I want to see people, I want to experience humanity. if that's where people are you map accordingly. So I think that's the biggest, So I should disappoint you or there's no one to, 

Kevin Weitzel: it's actually the right answer because I hear all the time with builders. They say, you know, we did virtual tours and that's just a life changer. We absolutely have to have virtual tours. Like there's so many other things you have to have in that arsenal.

It's a multifaceted attack really, to, to hit that mark. 

Ananth Rao: Right. And, you know, I think the key is really understanding. And trying to get into this whole idea of where are your buyers today and having a flexible [00:14:00] mindset and trying to figure out, how you can create experiences that people want.

And most times, I mean I think we tend to look a lot within the real estate industry. When people are looking at buying homes, they're not looking at it as a real estate industry. They're looking at it in the context of everything else that's going on. And I think that's important, to kind of keep an eye on where people are.

and then, be there where they want you to. 

Greg Bray: I think that's a great point, right? That we get so focused on just the way that we do it in this industry, that we forget that everybody else, they only, you know, buy a home every so often. Not like every day, you know? And so, their context is different.

They get on Amazon, maybe a lot more often than they're buying a home. I'm just thinking they're on Facebook, way more often than they're buying a home. And they're used to how these things work and interact. And we have to have to make sure that we don't have some jarring [00:15:00] disconnect. Between those experiences and how they interact with us.

I have a question about your virtual events and I totally get this idea of I'm sick of being cooped up and looking at everything on a screen. I want to be out there, but when you got that response to those events, did you, were there any surprises like, Oh, now we're getting people that are farther away that never would have been able to travel to the in-person event, but now they're participating because it's virtual.

Did you have any of those types of insights that maybe caught you off guard or were encouraging? 

Ananth Rao: Well, I think just the fact that you could get your message out, in a consistent manner to a whole bunch of people, the virtual event itself, right. there's the whole idea of the virtual event.

And the fact that you could get this one good message out, that was a big one for us. it was a big revelation, clearly, you know, you're always trying to reduce friction. You're trying to reduce ways in which, it's easier for our folks to connect [00:16:00] with us.

And, you know in times past we've had grand openings and sales openings and, and when people want information, you're not able to get that information out to them in the way you'd like, and you couldn't give that kind of attention to everyone and which you could in a virtual event.

I think that's kind of the big takeaway for us now,

Kevin Weitzel:  Do you ever have to change your marketing? Plan or focus based on the needs of the sales team or is it pretty much, you've got a formula that works and you're going to hit the ground with that formula and get it rolling. 

Ananth Rao: Yeah. So I think that's the point I was making about being flexible and nimble.

I think playbooks are great. You can have a playbook and go, Hey, look, you know, this is something that worked for me at my last community. I'm just going to take that and kind of run with it for the next one. Doesn't work you know, every time I felt, I've seen any, you know we've been building these situations.

It's that kind of playbook. I think that there are some basic elements to a playbook, but you gotta be ready. You gotta be flexible and you gotta be ready. Your buyers, you gotta [00:17:00] be able to make changes quickly and on the fly sometimes. yeah, very quickly.

Greg Bray: Do, do you have an example of something that you just had to switch up that you had, that you weren't expecting recently or at all? 

Ananth Rao: I mean, I could go back to the first virtual opening that we had and starting with the concept of, Hey, do we even have a virtual event? Right? Like, do we just go with what we have or do we go with a virtual event?

We just kept asking our prospect list, those questions instead of making assumptions, we said, Hey, look, you know, what would you prefer a virtual event or, you know, an in-person event. And then when folks said, well, this is what we prefer, we ask them, what's the next logical question?

Is it a weekday or a weekend? You know, what's a good time for you? So I mean, I think having that focus and being able to change things of that nature. And when we are able to do that, I mean, not everyone's able to do that. . 

Kevin Weitzel: I know alot of builders struggle with, if the event can feed sales or how amny homes did we sell? What percentage of the community did we sell to out of the event. Outside of those, do you have, markers that you use as a success or failure of the virtual events that you've done today? A way to basically a way to track the success rate of them. 

Ananth Rao: Yeah. I mean, we tried to learn from what we did in the past. So I mean, I'm the first one to live in was completely like we had no idea, we didn't know what we were doing.

The second one, we said, well, what did we learn? And what was that? Yeah. So, okay. So what was our. what was our top of the funnel? Like, you know, how many values did we have in how many of those folks, registered for the event, how many showed up for the event and how many appointments did you get out of the event and what was, how many of those were, sales versus information appointment?

So I think we track each of those things for sure. You try and learn and you see what worked at one in each stage of that conversion funnel and make changes. So, do we have metrics and [00:19:00] goals? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for my next up opening, I got goals for each of these stages.

But I think the key again is, how do you, how are you flexible and how you're nimble and how can you make changes to get to those goals 

Kevin Weitzel: Are you doing AB like testing, processes on a specific event, or are you just looking at comparatives between event one event two, then event three.  

Ananth Rao: So when you look at events, I mean, you put that in context. I mean, if you're looking at each community is different, again, each, there's different price points, different buyers.

So I think you keep that at the back of your mind we AB test like specifically creatives during the course of that event, but, and if something works sure. You know we'll use that, for the next one, for sure. Yeah. But we, I mean, I don't think we'd be looking at, you know, AB testing an event.

I personally, it's the different steps, for example, if a certain. subject line worked at a virtual opening at a certain stage of, email [00:20:00] campaign. And then we're going to try using the most successful one. If a certain kind of image work, maybe you would try that.

So yeah, I think that's where I'm talking about learning from past events. 

Greg Bray: Well, speaking of learning, what are some of the sources that you look at to get new ideas or to kind of help you keep current with what's going on now? 

Ananth Rao: so I'm a big believer in lifelong learning.

I keep my eyes and ears open all the time. I learned from everywhere. I learned from my 10 year old. And I learned from some of the folks in the industry who've been doing such, it's such an amazing job. I feel like there are many folks in the industry who would do a great job and we're in primarily, I mean I'm also looking outside of the industry you know, this tech or if there's other industries, which are doing things that I find better, I make them I'm looking at it.

Kevin Weitzel: No, as of late who's been in your sites, like you know, obviously everybody was watching what Tesla's doing, but you know, outside of [00:21:00] that, what are you looking at? What are your targets. 

Ananth Rao: You know, I mean, Google and Facebook are clearly the big guys from a digital standpoint, you must follow what they do.

And, you have to look at the changes they make because they have a big impact on everything that trickles down. Outside of that, I mean, I just saw, like, I think one of my biggest I have Feedly Feedly I love, I love my Feedly feed because I surround myself with everything that's digital.

Whether it's better, there's ton of standard sources out there, you know, whether it's like search engine, land, or search engine journal or, you know, HubSpot's got great blogs and, so there's a whole bunch of folks who do all of this thing and it's a question of just surrounding yourself with, as much as you can.

And I mean, I enjoy this stuff and like I'm on apps all the time, with my 10 year old and we go out and we take pictures and be like, Hey, this looks good. Or, you know, how do you do things of that nature? So I think, [00:22:00] having that kind of open mindset just a curiosity, I think, you know, that helps.

Greg Bray: Oh, that's great. Well, we really appreciate your time today and the thoughts and insights that you've shared with us. Do you have any last pieces of advice for our listeners and just anything that you'd like to share that we didn't touch on? 

Ananth Rao:  I've said this enough times, I do it on the shoulder and I think, be flexible in your approach. And, what worked once doesn't necessarily mean it'll work again. I think having that approach, is one thing I'd leave everyone with. 

Greg Bray: Oh, that's great. Be flexible. Be curious. That's certainly things I've heard you mentioned today, so great advice for sure.

If someone would like to, you know, connect with you, chat, get to know you a little better. What's a good way for them to connect. 

Ananth Rao: Yeah, you can look me up on Twitter. I'm @ananthrao a N a N T H R a O. you can look me up on LinkedIn as well, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Greg Bray: All right. Awesome. Well, thank you again so much for your time today. [00:23:00] We really appreciate it. And thank you everybody for listening today to the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine 

Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse. Thank you.


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