Why your email marketing isn’t working and what a farmer would do about it

Farming and email marketing have their similarities.

At the end of a long, dusty, gravel road, not far from the tiny wheatbelt town of Karlgarin, you’ll find Liz and Peter Ray’s farm. Its vast 4,800 hectares (12,000 acres) sprawls endlessly across a flat, red/brown landscape, punctuated only by drought-toughened Dorper sheep finding relief from the heat under the shade of tall, lanky Salmon Gum trees.

Years of below average rainfall, plagues of locusts, and frosts that kill bumper crops before the seed is fully set and ready to harvest make this both a tough place to farm and a tough place to live.

Each year the Ray’s plant around 3200 hectares (8000 acres) of crop including wheat, barley, lupins and canola over a physically and emotionally draining four-week period in autumn. During both seeding and harvest their farm is a 24 hour-a-day operation that puts to work huge, satellite guided, four wheel drive tractors towing seeding equipment wider than most wider than many suburban house blocks. It’s a staggering operation, in terms of both size and speed. More importantly, though, the Ray’s operation involves months of advanced planning, research and preparation before they even think about starting those massive diesel engines.

Before planting a single seed, the Rays have the soil in each of their paddocks tested for soil deficiencies. Soil samples are taken in precisely the same spot each and every year with the help of GPS equipment and their four children, who make their way from the city to help out whenever they can.

Based on these soil samples, which are analysed in a lab then translated by a soil scientist into language the Rays can understand, they know precisely what types and quantities of fertiliser the soil in each of their paddocks needs to maximise the yield for whatever crop they’re planting.

According to Liz, the soils in some paddocks are so poor they don’t warrant an investment in a lot of fertiliser. On those paddocks, the type and amount of fertiliser is reduced and a crop that is likely to do well in these conditions is planted. For Peter and Liz, soil testing is all about maximising efficiency and yields through knowing every inch of their farm. It’s a strategy that works to eliminate as many variables as possible from their operations and has helped them survive despite weak grain prices and some of the driest seasons in living memory.

If there’s one thing that the Rays’ strategies teach us it’s this: knowing your territory pays dividends. It pays dividends in both increased yields and in reduced costs. In other words, knowing your patch makes your real estate business more profitable.

Yet the knowledge that’s important for success as an agent isn’t of houses and block sizes and sales prices. Sure those things are important. Agents need to know these things in the same way Peter and Liz Ray need to know about the spot price of grain and the cost of fertiliser. But that’s not the knowledge that helps agents plant the best seed and apply the best fertiliser.

Inasmuch as listing farms are where houses exist, it’s in the hearts and minds of the audience that seeds made of advertising and marketing, and fertiliser made from follow-up calls and relationships, begin to take root and grow into a profitable crop.

The question for agents, then, is this: How can I know what’s in the hearts and minds of my most profitable customer segment? It’s a question that, sadly, too few agents ask, even though it’s the foundation for creating marketing messages that resonate with an audience and that gets people to take action.

Big brands and advertising agents have been asking this question for years to help them carefully craft marketing messages that have maximum impact. For example, the Carlton Mid Woman Whisperer beer ads from 2008 were designed to speak to real world Aussie ‘blokes’ who were in a relationship and had responsibilities such as kids and a mortgage, but who also wanted to spend time with their mates.

Clearly, Clemenger BBDO, the advertising agency responsible for creating the campaign, could have chosen to advertise the beer to a broad audience but they didn’t. Instead, they made it their business to create an ad that resonated with only those people who they knew would buy more of their product.

Like the Rays, Clemenger had an intimate knowledge of their most productive ‘land’—their target blokes. They knew how they spoke, what they wore, what they looked like, how they behaved, and, most importantly, what motivated them.

To achieve this level of understanding, ad agencies routinely conduct exhaustive research into who is buying their products and why. This research allows them to create a buyer persona—a fictional description of a person that represents their target audience—that is then reflected in the characters, imagery and narrative of the advertising or marketing message.

If there’s one thing an agent could do to make their marketing more effective it’s to take a leaf out of the ad agency playbook and create a buyer persona for their most profitable customer segments. Of all the segments a real estate agent has, there is none more important than previous clients. These are people who have established a relationship with the agency and, treated well, often become a rich source of highly profitable repeat and referral business.

The job for agents, then, is to research their previous clients, particularly those who have become advocates and those who have generated the most profit. Where do they live? What do they do in the spare time? What’s important in their lives? What motivates them? What are their aspirations? This is the moment when agents must, just like Liz and Peter Ray, get their shoes dirty by getting out in the field. Great customer insight doesn’t come from emailed customer surveys or tele-canvassing. Instead they come from real people, having real conversations, about real life.

These deep customer insights, that allow for the creation of the highest quality marketing, are as valuable to agents as soil samples are to the Rays.

The question is: when are you going to start testing your soil?

Image by Eric Allix Rogers via Flickr.

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About Peter Fletcher

Speaker, trainer, and consultant helping real estate agents sort out their online communication strategy.

@peterfletcher - Google+


  1. Another great article Peter! Much like the farm patches the neighbouring real estate patches can be vastly different. The same ‘fertiliser’ that works in Vic Park doesn’t work in Carlisle. Therefore different marketing messages at different frequencies need to be sent out.


    • Peter Fletcher says:

      You’re right Dave. Importantly, different people require different ‘fertiliser’. Each person has their own motivations and interests and content that matches those interests becomes the fertiliser which supports them in becoming an advocate. 🙂

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