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

92 Building a Rock Star Digital Marketing Team - Kim Ross

Kim Ross joins Greg and Kevin this week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast to discuss how to build a rock star home builder digital marketing team.

Kim explains that the first thing she did when building a digital marketing team was “…look for solutions to the challenges that we had in our systems, our processes, and our people. I really sat back and took the whiteboard approach to figuring out how we could elevate the work product through a daily creative conversation and how that would be manifest. What were the team members that we needed to bring aboard on a full-time basis to do the day-to-day marketing operations of the company and create a very synergistic sensibility for our brand company-wide? Then, of course, where do we supplement that by outsourcing talent from both the freelance world and the agency side of things.”

When hiring for a digital marketing team, Kim considers it imperative for home builders to consider candidates who have never worked in the home building industry. She says, “…I'll tell you one thing that I've noticed in the industry since I entered it, what is hardly ever stated but is almost always expected, is for a potential employee to have worked for another home builder. I'm pretty sure that I disagree, respectfully, with that approach. It's a virtual guarantee that you're going to get just reheated leftovers for work product, and our customers have told us in survey after survey that new home building, at least the marketing, is just awash in a sea of sameness. It's because we market our product in pretty much the same way industry-wide.”

Kim continues, “I really genuinely believe that any senior executive in the home building industry would do themselves a great service by hiring talented specialists from outside.”

Listen to this episode to learn how you can build a rock star home building digital marketing team.

About the Guest:

As a kid, I dreamed of becoming an advertising executive, an idea machine who could deliver the essence of a brand.  I went so far as to earn a master’s degree in Advertising and landed a role at a respected Atlanta ad agency.  But I craved more excitement - apparently, a lot more.  When opportunity knocked, I quite literally ran off and joined the circus. 

For 11 years, I performed as "non-wrestler" talent for World Championship Wrestling, a traveling show of theatrics on a truly gargantuan scale.  As a manager and producer of the show's dance performers, I got to see the world, perform in 60,000-seat arenas, and received first-hand exposure to a unique type of entertainment that was part improv, part Shakespearean, and part vaudevillian, on live TV.

From there, I branched into series TV and moviemaking, where I got to work with directors like Gary Ross, Judd Apatow, Jeff Zucker, and Larry David, opposite actors like Steve Carrell, Cuba Gooding JR., Tim Conway, Danny DeVito, Whoopi Goldberg, and David Caruso. When I wasn't acting, I worked in B2B sales for a movie title design firm, pitching to directors like Martin Scorsese, Barry Levinson, and Lasse Hallstrom.

Later, I moved to Utah and joined an advertising agency specializing in resort and vacation real estate marketing, became a partner at the firm, and then a little thing called the Great Recession happened.  I partnered with a small team of visionaries to launch a yoga company, one that ended up doing well - so well, in fact, that it was the subject of a Google zeitgeist video in 2012 and was pitched on Shark Tank in 2016. Today, we deliver content through our own App and have a community of avid social media followers several thousand strong. 

In 2014, I was fortunate to join the home building industry. As a marketing executive for a large regional homebuilder, I helped create the marketing package for the company’s acquisition, orchestrated the creation of a new website, managed an in-house team of marketing specialists, and led the marketing and communications team for the 2020 IBS concept house.

When Covid happened, the building industry soared as people sought new living spaces where they could re-create their family work/life balance. Concurrently, the company priorities and leadership changed, giving me a chance to exit to a very overdue - and very life-changing -  hiatus.  Since September, I've been able to travel, read, rest, and reflect on the broad range of job experiences that I’ve had so far.  The best is yet to come - right now, I’m producing a batch of new content for that aforementioned yoga company and looking ahead to joining a company that provides innovative marketing services to home builders.

Transcript

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: We are excited today to welcome to the show Kim Ross. Kim is the former Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Woodside Homes, and currently calls herself a free agent. So, welcome, Kim. Thanks for joining us.

Kim Ross: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I am a big fan of your program and feel very honored to be a guest today. Thank you.

Greg Bray: Well, we're [00:01:00] excited to learn from some of your experiences, but before we dive into that, why don't you help people get to know you a little bit better and give us that overview of who's Kim?

Kim Ross: Sure. I am a girl who was raised in Southwest Florida. If you have read my LinkedIn profile, then you probably would know that I have worked in many industries over my professional career, lived a lot of different places. If you know me personally, you know that I'm an avid horsewoman. I'm a Yogi, a mountain biker, and skier, so I like to spend a lot of time doing those things in the various places where I've lived. People who know me know that I love interior design and fashion. I love to cook Italian food and I'm also rather dorkly competitive on the Peloton bikes. So yeah. I'm constantly going for, you know, hitting that top 3% in my age group and gender. So, that's what I do in my spare time when I'm not working on my professional passion, which is marketing. [00:02:00]

Kevin Weitzel: Wait, so, on the Peloton, are you ahead of or behind Angela McKay because it's a second religion for her?

Kim Ross: Well, I have never been in a competitive environment with Angela McKay, but I'm willing to throw down the gauntlet. I'm willing to make that jump.

Kevin Weitzel: You heard it here first, Angela. You got a challenger. Peloton challenge. I'll accept on her behalf.

Greg Bray: There's a whole nother webinar there.

Kevin Weitzel: So, obviously your reputation proceeds you. How does a Woodside Homes allow you to leave? How do they let a rock star, somebody like Dolly Parton status, or I can't even just come up with all these different stars, you know, Neil Diamond? How do we let a Neil Diamond leave their company?

Kim Ross: Oh, wow. I'm the Neil Diamond of home building. Huh? Okay. Well, thank you. I guess. Well, thanks for that. I appreciate your testimony to the hard work I've done over the last seven years, but Woodside Homes was a [00:03:00] fantastic experience for me. It was my first foray into the home building industry itself.

Prior to that, I had worked in the agency environment. I was part owner and managing client services director for a boutique advertising agency that served the hospitality and second home real estate type of client. So, yes, Woodside was my first and only experience in home building and what a great company to work for.

Got to grow right along with the company. Got to participate as we were sold to Sekisui House, one of the largest home builders in Japan. Through the pandemic, there was just a change in leadership, a change in priorities, and so there was just an opportunity for me to make an exit. Now, I am looking ahead to what I'm sure will be my greatest act of this play in which I am a player. So, yes, I'm currently just coming out of a hiatus where I spent an amazing time reigniting [00:04:00] my creative juices, my sense of imagination, discovery, and rekindling some industry relationships that I've had over the years. So, looking ahead to whatever comes next.

Greg Bray: So, Kim, you already mentioned in your background you've done some agency work, you've been with a builder, and I want to dive into that a little bit deeper in a second, but just tell us overall, from a background standpoint, how did you end up in home building and kind of what led you in that direction in your career.

Kim Ross: Sure. It was purely a function of necessity generating the sense of entrepreneurship on my part. We hit that little bump in the road a few years back called the great recession, around 2007, and our agency suffered some really catastrophic client loss at that time. We had a lot of clients' resorts and independently owned resorts and vacation clubs that were going out of business. People just didn't have the discretionary [00:05:00] income anymore to spend on that type of thing. So, I started looking for other opportunities and the home building job just landed in my lap, and I said, I have a pretty solid history of being able to pick things up fairly quickly, and from agency work, you really do learn how to do the quick study and a deep dive into consumer needs and connecting with the end customer, very quickly. I was able to do that homework and get onboarded and ramped up fairly quickly.

The chief marketing officer at the time, hired me because of my agency experience. He wanted Woodside to create both an in-house team of specialists in the marketing department, and then also someone who would be able to interface with the various agencies and suppliers, who we would need to support all of the work that we were doing.

Greg Bray: So, that's exactly what I want to learn more about, because I think what you did at Woodside, from what I was able to see, was really [00:06:00] start from the ground up and create this team, and that there's some strategy to it, and I think everybody could learn a bit from that experience if you can share some of those things. So, let's start with the starting point, right? You decide, okay, we want an in-house team. How do you even begin to approach that? Where do you start with that type of a project in deciding how to structure it and what you want to include, et cetera?

Kim Ross: Well, a lot of it had to do with the senior leadership's priorities and where they wanted to go as a business. So, from there, what I did was to look for solutions to the challenges that we had in our systems, our processes, and our people. I really sat back and took the whiteboard approach to figuring out how we could elevate the work product through a daily creative conversation and how that would be manifest. What were the team members that we needed to bring aboard on a full-time basis to do the day-to-day marketing [00:07:00] operations of the company and create a very synergistic sensibility for our brand company-wide? Then, of course, where do we supplement that by outsourcing talent from both the freelance world and the agency side of things. Greg, your company played into that quite a significantly I might add.

Greg Bray: Well, thanks. Yeah, we...

Kim Ross: A number of years on website stuff. So yeah.

Greg Bray: We appreciated the opportunity there and the support. When you're looking at that first hire, I think that can be the hardest one, right, because you want everything. You want it now and you want the whole team up and running. Skillset wise, what did you go for first?

Kim Ross: Skillset type job role was really digital, right out of the gate. We needed to have a better attribution model for the leads that we were bringing in into the website and we needed to know where they were coming from and we needed to optimize the search elements of our [00:08:00] marketing plan, right out of the gate. So, that really was priority one. We started looking for a digital media specialist right away, and then quickly on the heels of that, we needed somebody that was adept at graphics, who could build graphics for our digital output, as well as some of our traditional channels, signage and print advertising.

We hired some tremendously talented people to fulfill those roles right away. Then from there, we moved very quickly into what are the content specialists that we need to bring aboard? Following that, we brought in a talented writer, who could execute our strategies for email marketing and social media, and then also someone who could help us with the visual assets that we needed. So, we brought aboard, a video producer who could shoot, and basically packaged together our video content in a number of different ways based on what the particular marketing channel [00:09:00] required.

Greg Bray: Where, in all of that, did you draw the line of what do we want in-house versus what do we want to continue to outsource? Of course, there was probably an evolution in that, I'm sure, as things began but what were those things you looked for that said, oh, this makes sense here versus there?

Kim Ross: That's a really good question, Greg. It took some time and energy put into the answers to that question. Number one, we needed to answer the question of can the desired outcome benefit from the collaboration of many specialists who were servicing a project, or having the in-depth knowledge of someone who was right there working on our industry and specifically our business on a full-time basis. So, that was the first question.

Second, it was a matter of looking at our company workflows. How can we best streamline our workflows and get work product turned around. [00:10:00] Again, if a contractor or an outside agency could do that better, then that's what we would look at, but on the other hand, if we could have a content producer who was able to turn around, say a needed email campaign in a day or two, then that would certainly be favorable. We ended up going the latter route and deciding in favor of a content manager who could deliver the goods to serve the needs of our regional directors for their community marketing on a very quick turn basis.

Then, of course, third, the economic feasibility played into it, for sure. We would ask ourselves the question, is there a use case for a full-time person who's dedicated to this particular type of work? In that regard, I would say that building a team is something that is extremely important to me.

I would never go into hiring for an in-house [00:11:00] position without considering would this person be able to serve the company for the long haul. I don't make a practice of hiring people that I foresee staying with the company a year or two or even three. I want their Woodside experience, or whatever company that I will be leading, it would be for a very long-term engagement. I want that to be their last job. That's the way I look at it. It's a marriage and it's forever, and that's how I go into it. So, in that respect, I took the hiring and bringing a board of team members very seriously. I never used ATS software to vet out potential candidates. I eyeballed every single resume that got sent in for a particular position. Each one got careful consideration.

Kevin Weitzel: Kudos to you on that because a lot of people are using these algorithms for finding the employee, and honestly, there's so much more that goes into it.

Kim Ross: I was just listening to a webinar the other [00:12:00] day from an executive coach who mentioned that these application tracking systems will weed out something like 75% of resumes before a pair of human eyeballs ever sees them. For me, that just kind of does a disservice. I think that a lot of viable candidates would get weeded out just because their resume didn't necessarily contain the keyword set that the system software was looking for, and by the same token, I'm sure a lot of unqualified candidates make their way through those systems just because they learned how to game it.

I really genuinely believe that although hiring in this manner, with a very manual hands-on approach adds hours to your day, there's no doubt about it, it's very time consuming, but ultimately if you're hiring somebody, both for the skillset and the mindset that you require, it requires you to do the legwork.

Kevin Weitzel: And [00:13:00] the culture? Do you find that the company culture is important to hire for?

Kim Ross: Yes, from the standpoint that oftentimes the senior leadership defines the company culture, but I do believe that a company culture can be changed from the bottom up, as well. So, if you really hire people for certain characteristics beyond the skillset that you can't teach. Characteristics such as a service orientation. Having an innate natural curiosity, always wanting to learn things and learn how things work. You can't teach that. Those are the things that I certainly value very highly whenever I add members to my team. You can teach the rest. It's actually not even too hard or time-consuming if you get the right characteristics of people who join your team, who want to learn and are really excited about being part of the project.

Greg Bray: And I'm going to guess that those characteristics don't usually show up in the keyword scans that the software is looking for.

Kim Ross: Likely [00:14:00] not, or you can make those claims, but unless you're able to talk to somebody and have them demonstrate to you the evidence of that, then it really is just, academic.

Greg Bray: So, staying on this idea of the challenge with the keywords, cause I saw an article just recently, I think it was the CEO of the company that owns Indeed, talking about his opinion, the problem with hiring today is the resume, as a process entirely. We just need to get rid of resumes entirely. Not here to debate that necessarily, but talking so much about the software piece of the whole process, filtering people out so quickly and easily based just on some key phrases. What do you think builders who are trying to hire these types of marketing team members that we've been talking about, what keywords do you think they're looking for in there, and maybe what keywords should they be looking for that they're not? And when I say keywords, I really mean skillsets of things that maybe thereafter? [00:15:00] Did that question make any sense whatsoever?

Kim Ross: It did, and I'll tell you one thing that I've noticed in the industry since I entered it, what is hardly ever stated but is almost always expected, is for a potential employee to have worked for another home builder. I'm pretty sure that I disagree, respectfully, with that approach. It's a virtual guarantee that you're going to get just reheated leftovers for work product, and our customers have told us in survey after survey that new home building, at least the marketing, is just awash in a sea of sameness. It's because we market our product in pretty much the same way industry-wide. In order to really create some breakthrough type of communication that is going to resonate with your specific audience, again, I think that people who have an innate curiosity, and perhaps I'm a little biased because I know [00:16:00] that I have a very varied background and it allowed me to bring a whole lot of different types of insights to the table.

So, I appreciate that from others who say, Hey, you know, I used to work for a news organization, and what do you think about editing video and keywording it and putting it into a dam in this way. Those are great ideas, just different work process that came from outside the industry and they ended up enhancing and adding to our marketing goals so well. I really genuinely believe that any senior executive in the home building industry would do themselves a great service by hiring talented specialists from outside.

Kevin Weitzel: I 100% agree.

Greg Bray: I'm going to balance that. I understand what you mean, but I'm also on the side of the agency who specializes, and I don't want you to tell me that all my stuff's reheated leftovers.

Kim Ross: Here's the thing about outsourced agencies, though, that specialize in [00:17:00] servicing the home building industry. That's a different thing entirely because my experience with working with companies like Blue Tangerine, working with creative agencies that have served the home building industry is that they're communications experts and they understand the need to serve a specific audience.

They are just crack experts at being able to identify an audience and speak to that audience with a work product that is designed specifically for it. There are a lot of subtleties that are involved in that, but the proof is completely in the pudding. They are better at defining an audience and tailoring a creative output and positioning than anybody else. I will say that, yes, when you're hiring in-house, that is one thing, when you're outsourcing to another [00:18:00] organization that is going to support your effort, having somebody who already knows the home building industry is a real value.

I can't tell you how much time I wasted when I brought in, for example, an SEO vendor, who didn't really understand our business and they couldn't grasp the fact that we weren't doing nationally scoped campaigns. I'm sitting there going, we're basically a local search type of business. Nobody wants to know what the brand is doing nationwide. They want to know what builders are building in their neighborhoods. That's the kind of thing that makes a big difference when you are outsourcing to agency work, is having that knowledge that is paramount to success.

Greg Bray: Kim, I wasn't offended. I was just, so I just want you to know.

Kevin Weitzel: But let me add this though.

Kim Ross: Oh, but you were.

Greg Bray: No, no.

Kevin Weitzel: But there is something that's comforting in knowing that somebody understands the pain points, the wins, the losses, and the mistakes that have been made in the past, [00:19:00] and feel free to grab a pen to write this down if you want. I don't know where I got this quote from. I really don't. I think it was a great person that once said, "If you don't do it in-house, bring it to OutHouse." I don't know who said it.

Kim Ross: Oh, I love that. I'm writing that down.

Kevin Weitzel: I hope that people grab a pen and write that little tidbit down, that nugget of knowledge there. "If you don't do it in-house, bring it to OutHouse. Boom. There it was again.

Greg Bray: Oh, my goodness. So, Kim, one of your opportunities that you mentioned then is being comfortable with someone who hasn't worked with a builder before. Don't make that an automatic requirement, that they have to work for a builder. Is there something else that builders are maybe looking for or not looking for in their hiring that you've seen out there that you think would be worth mentioning?

Kim Ross: Well, when you're hiring people, you need to keep your end goals in mind. Obviously, home builders need to be focused on making investments in their digital content, their visual, their 3d tours, their social media [00:20:00] content, their day-to-day interactions with customers in the digital space. So, there's got to be people who are experts at being able to tailor the content per channel and per audience. Very important. Having people with those skills, again, whether or not they come from within the industry not as important, but being able to manage content in a number of different levels is super important.

Also, thinking about things like your data integrity and hygiene, and this perhaps moves over more to the IT side of things, but it's a very important handshake with marketing because your customer data goes way beyond just having a CRM these days. You got to have your team, again, whether it's in-house or outsourced, that can help you create synergies with other systems that are very holistic [00:21:00] in their design. Then finally, yes, having the acumen with the different types of marketing technology that's out there now. Being able to move beyond just your basic CRM and into more sophisticated marketing automation, that's able to slice and dice your data, so to speak, in different ways, so that you can develop more personalized targeted messaging is absolutely important. Having people with those skillsets is a pretty table stakes kind of thing these days.

Kevin Weitzel: So, we all learn from different places. We all take nuggets of knowledge from websites and individuals and companies and examples that are out there, and I know for a fact, because I know people that have mentioned you by name, that they seek what Kim is doing. What is Kim Ross doing? What is she doing for her company? What campaigns are they putting out there? Where does Kim look for inspiration? Where are you looking? Whether it be inside the industry, outside the industry, whether it be a company or an individual, who are you seeking new ideas from?

Kim Ross: Oh, that's such a lovely question, and thank you for asking [00:22:00] that because I've had a lot more time lately to explore that. Like I said earlier, I've had a couple of months on hiatus here to just reignite my own curiosity about things. I read things that interest me. Yes. I read a lot of LinkedIn feeds. I have other professionals within the industry. I check out The Builders Daily every day in my email inbox, but I also read a lot of blog content from other companies and leaders who I admire.

I check out Simon Sinek a lot for tidbits on leadership. There is an agency called Element Three that I'm a fan of for some of the day to day digital media type of informative content that I enjoy reading. I watch the Moz Friday Whiteboard for SEO information, and then I subscribe to a lot of email lists of companies that I like, that are kind of outside home building, but I think that they write [00:23:00] excellent content. One is called the Discoverer. It's basically a daily digest about travel ideas. I enjoy European travel quite a bit, and they deliver content in a manner that's quickly digestible and very interesting, and it's always original and fresh. I think about that when, for example, I'm coming up with an email campaign and thinking about, okay, well, what is it that's going to really spur the interest of my customer in a new and applicable kind of way. That's one. I read a lot of horse blogs because I'm a horsewoman. You can take inspiration from any industry really or any type of interest that you have and apply it to your profession. I believe that's the way that you can start innovating, and it has worked in the past. I will keep doing that and they will keep extolling the virtues of just reading other types of content for inspiration.

Greg Bray: So [00:24:00] Kim, just one kind of slightly different angle here. We've talked a lot about what a hiring person on the builder side should be looking for, let's just touch briefly on the candidate side. I'm looking to be hired. I'm trying to either make a career move as a home builder marketer or to maybe move into home building in general. It's an industry maybe that, like you said, I haven't been in home building, so now I'm looking to get there. What are thoughts or tips for that person to help them get hired, so to speak, into that builder marketing department?

Kim Ross: Well, as I said, whether your previous work history is in the home building industry or not, I think that you need to reflect on your prior experiences and really be able to write what we call those, I think, recruiter speak, it's called CAR stories. It's an acronym obviously, for I think it's context, action, and result. The way it [00:25:00] should craft your CAR story, when you're getting ready to prepare your resume, or for an interview, is to really compare your past experiences against the criteria that the hiring organization is looking for.

Just to do some exploration as to, okay, well, what did I do in my past work where I was offered a challenge or perhaps an opportunity, and then what was the action I took? How did I help to solve the problem, me, personally? Did I wrangle the team? Did I propose the creative brief that wound up being the impetus for a new campaign?

Then, of course, be able to describe the results, the concrete effect that your work generated. I think that's a pretty solid way of going about trying to find a job just about anywhere, but certainly in the home building industry. We tend to have [00:26:00] some very concrete, because we're builders, things that we're looking for from our in-house people. Be ready to read the job listing very carefully and be able to speak to those items with some CAR stories.

Greg Bray: I think that's a great suggestion. I know in my career, I learned more about resume preparation when I became a hiring person, reading all these resumes than I ever learned before. When you're suddenly looking at a stack of them trying to narrow things down, you learn a lot about what jumps out at you and what doesn't and some of those kinds of things.

Now, of course, software does some of that. You got to play that other piece, like we talked about before, but yeah, this idea of what have you actually done. We're not trying to hire you just because you need a job. We're not trying to hire you just to fill a seat, just to check a box. We need some work done. We need somebody who can do it and do it well, and you've got to demonstrate that for sure.

Kim Ross: Indeed.

Greg Bray: Well, Kim, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it. Is there any last piece of advice that you didn't get a [00:27:00] chance to share that you really wanted to get out there to our listeners today?

Kim Ross: You know, 2022 is shaping up to be a heck of a year for home building, I have a feeling. I was just reading something on a John Burns that said that what we're preparing for is something like a 22% increase in new communities launching in 2022. That's suggests a lot of marketing work that's going to need to be done.

For marketing leaders out there, I would say, yes, the time is now to get your ducks in a row. Get your marketing assets ready, your 3d tours. Get your website buffed up. Make sure your data is as clean as you can get it. Work with your IT department and see what are the solutions that we can come up with that can allow us to segment our audiences and communicate with them effectively and in a personalized manner. I think that preparation [00:28:00] is key and I'm really excited to see what 2022 holds for home building. I think that it could be another banner year, another unprecedented year, but we've just gotta be ready for it.

Greg Bray: Awesome thoughts. Thank you, and thanks again, Kim, for spending time with us.

If somebody wants to reach out and connect with you and continue the conversation, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Kim Ross: LinkedIn is a great way to reach me, right now, but then also you can reach out to me via email at kimberlyross@me.com.

Greg Bray: All right, 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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