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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   November 2012

Mine Your Data to Build Your Brand

Unearth information that will get the attention of the media — and consumers

Mine Your Data to Build Your Brand

Hidden in many companies’ websites and databases are gold mines of information that could build their brands. By turning client surveys and local-market information into usable — and reportable — data, your company can garner media attention as a source of reliable and timely industry information. This could impact your company in many ways, including bringing new business, earning a competitive edge, discovering opportunities for strategic growth, getting greater access to capital and recharging your work force.

Companies like Ellie Mae, RealtyTrac, Zillow, Realtor.com, Bankrate, Lending Tree and others have discovered that leading media outlets are hungry for information that helps define and communicate to consumers marketplace trends in housing and finance. Few industries are as important to American families as housing, yet compared to other industries, especially where the largest players are publicly traded, housing can be a black hole for reporters. Moreover, in an industry that prides itself on being local, virtually every statistic and report describing market trends is national in scope.

The media’s appetite for real estate data is virtually limitless. More than 40 years ago, when it was only a year old, Freddie Mac initiated a new survey of its lenders to assess rates for the standard mortgage products of the time. In April 1971, Freddie released the survey results publicly and the weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey was born — and it immediately put Freddie on the map. Today, many mortgage-related companies, ranging from Bankrate to LendingTree, also issue weekly rate surveys — and they all get news coverage. Rate surveys based on offerings available on mortgage marketplace sites are effective and successful ways for these companies to communicate the breadth of financing choices they offer borrowers and to establish an authoritative leadership position for their brand.

Rates are just the tip of the iceberg, however. Earlier this year, Ellie Mae began releasing a report on mortgage originations based on the data flowing through its Encompass360 platform and the Ellie Mae Network, which serviced 20 percent of all U.S. mortgage originations in 2011. The report provides detailed information on approval rates, loan types, median FICO scores, and loan-to-value and debt-to-income ratios. For reporters covering mortgages, it’s a new and accurate way to track how borrowers are faring in today’s lending environment.

On the real estate side, sites like Realtor.com, RealtyTrac, Zillow and dozens of local multiple-listing services have turned their property listings into publicity machines with current monthly reports on prices, inventories and time on market. These and other regular data reports generate coverage like clockwork, creating the repetitive messaging so vital to building brands. Good data programs generate invitations to speak at top industry forums and on local and national television programs. These repeated news-interview opportunities project your brand, and they often increase as you aggregate data over time.

Not every company is as large as Ellie Mae or gathers as much data as Zillow, but even smaller mortgage banks and brokerages can turn the data they already collect into an opportunity to garner media attention and spread their brand. Often, the best way to begin is to get a good understanding of what journalists are covering and what information might augment their work. Here are five key elements to consider as you work to position your business and your data for media coverage.

  1. Consumer interest: The more you package your data with consumers in mind, the more appealing it will be to the media. How can your information help consumers make homebuying and selling decisions, like when to buy or what kind of mortgage to take out? Price, sales and inventory data are more consumer-friendly the more localized they are, so be sure to address local markets. Data on the mortgage-origination process should be presented in a way that helps consumers decide questions like what kind of loan to pursue or how much money to put down.
  2. News value: To make news, your data must be representative of an aspect of real estate activity at a local, regional or national level. Transaction platforms that are dominant or near-dominant in certain areas — niches like short sales, real estate owned properties (REOs), good-faith estimates, Federal Housing Administration loans or federal relief programs like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) — can assemble data that are representative of activity at a national level. Pay attention to what reporters are covering and see if your data fit. News means new. Fresh and timely information on sales, prices, inventories, distressed sales and market trends will get more coverage than aging or dated information.
  3. Context and interpretation: Some companies issue only a spreadsheet or a few graphs, and they wonder why they don’t get more media coverage. Even a news release often is not enough. Reporters aren’t housing economists. They expect to receive report commentary as well as the numbers that put the data in perspective and helps them understand what’s newsworthy about a report. Do you have more than one news story in your data? Bring out every trend and finding that you think is newsworthy, and you may discover that the more you give reporters to work with, the more coverage you will get. In time, you may want to consider a newsletter and/or a blog to add depth and additional coverage to your program. These channels are great ways to surface and comment on findings in your data that aren’t hard news.
  4. Quality: The quality of your data must pass muster. Bias is often unavoidable but should be disclosed. For example, if you are a brokerage that specializes in a certain segment like luxury or serves a certain clientele like military families, your data might provide an interesting and newsworthy picture of your specialty, but not necessarily of the local market as a whole. If your information is at all complicated, consider bringing in a consulting economist or statistician. If you have current and valid data of a sufficient volume to track trends, chances are good an expert can design a program that will pass muster. Good ones also can identify news opportunities and draft commentaries to accompany your reports. You need not be the industry leader or even the market leader to build your brand with data, however. Use your information to track and illustrate trends important to consumers, and you will find that the media uses your stuff even if you are a smaller player. You even may find that people will begin to think that you are bigger than you are.
  5. Timing: The major real estate data releases post their release schedule months — sometimes years — in advance. You can look them up and avoid issuing your data at the same time, unless you have something closely related, like local data that complement a national sales or price series. Unfortunately, there is no way to know when many lesser data releases will come out. What you can do to increase coverage and get attention in advance is to issue a media advisory two to four days ahead of time with some teaser information that will encourage editors and reporters to make room for your story.

As you look to build your brand in the marketplace, consider: What data do you already gather? What information flows through your website? What opportunities are there to make news with that data? How hard would it be to survey customers or others to create data that would describe newsworthy trends in your market? There are many possibilities and opportunities out there, and the rewards may be remarkable for those who can mine the gold in their databases.


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