Real estate differentiator

A friend and I were throwing around some business ideas and talking about the challenges that real estate agents have in differentiating themselves from the competition.

We talked about an auction-style system akin to Guru.com or Elance.com. I wondered if there was space for something similar in the real estate industry. Turns out, there already is: RealtyBaron.

Not all agents are going to like this because there can be a sense that bidding on work or proposing work commoditizes what you do. But I think that this is a great way for real estate agents to capture more business easily. After all, there are consumers who want cost savings so they are willing to sell their own home, but they also need the convenience and expertise of an agent. It’s a binary problem: 0 or 1, no middle ground. And agents are having trouble differentiating themselves because their service and price is exactly the same. Realty Baron solves this problem.

Virtual business meets real business

I’m not really a computer game kind of guy. I spend all day writing at my computer, so when it comes time to relax, I like to do other things that don’t involve me staring at my monitor.

Although I tend to avoid the entire online gaming industry as a result, I have been increasingly fascinated by its growth and especially by the business opportunities that result. I’m speaking specifically of sites like Second Life or Google Lively where players interact with others in a virtual world.

For the average gamer, this virtual world allows them to do just about anything — from socializing to virtual roleplaying wargames. For business people, there are other opportunities that may seem strange now but could become increasingly attractive. For example, SecondLifeGrid.com, a Second Life support website, offers information to businesses about how to manage collaboration and efficiency using Second Life as a virtual office. And, businesses can sell virtual products and services to virtual customers.

So, if your business is looking for a way to collaborate more effectively, or if you are looking to increase your customer base without the high cost of inventory, a virtual business expansion may be a step to consider.

This article, although a little old and fairly long, talks about virtual businesses in the Second Life world which generates millions of dollars each month selling virtual goods and services. Moreover, this article highlights the opportunities for real estate and financial businesses that want to offer services inside this world.

From a personal perspective, I can’t really get into this kind of entertainment; I’ve got more than enough to do in the real world! But from a business perspective, there are a lot of dollars to be made if businesses can get creative enough to expand their services into this market. One place to start is to look at what you do now and extend that into the virtual world. (Just recently I wrote a proposal for a company that is looking to expand its social media marketing efforts and my advice included Second Life, where their services would fit nicely). And what makes this opportunity even better is the lack of competition to the new and still-unusual market.

* * * * * Note: After publishing this post, I revisited this topic a couple of years later and decided that there was more I wanted to say about virtual business* * * * *

Although I originally wrote this blog post because I was thinking about how tech trends were intersecting with selling opportunities, I’ve recently revisited this topic for a different reason: To think about why customers buy in a virtual world and how that can inspire business owners in the real world to sell more effectively.

Recently, I was traveling with my brother-in-law who is a pretty serious gamer. He described his favorite game in vivid detail (although I can’t remember anything about it — I confess I glazed over a bit. Sorry, Jon). To feign interest, I asked him what he liked about the game and he said that it felt like you were actually there, doing whatever it is that the game required.

This is called an immersive experience, and it’s the reason that gamers like games. Today’s gaming systems immerse players in a realistic environment and ask them to play in a way that feels real. For example, they might use system-connected guns or steering wheels or swords or whatever. Gaming is no longer a disconnected experience where you use a dial to swivel a paddle up and down, as in the classic game Pong. Today’s gaming is about putting the player IN the experience.

This is an important lesson for business owners who serve real customers. The immersive experience puts customers right inside the purchase so they feel like they already own the product or service that is being offered. They are interacting with it. They are part of it.

For example, compare the experience I’m having right now: I’m shopping for a dining room set of table and chairs to go in my nicely remodelled kitchen. Some places that sell furniture just jam in row after row of tables and chairs and it’s sort of overwhelming and every table looks the same after a while. But other places create these nice little mini settings, where the table and chairs are on a rug; there are pictures on the wall; there’s a place setting on the table. It’s like a vignette of what my dining room could be. As a result, I’m immersed in imagining me and my wife sitting at the table, entertaining friends. Yep, I’m WAY more likely to buy that dining set because I’m immersed. Oh, and I’m way more likely to pay more.

It’s not just the case with dining sets. Immersion is frequent in other selling scenarios, too: Model homes, test driven cars, “try it free for 30 days” offers, etc.

Your business can sell more by borrowing inspiration from the virtual world of immersive gaming experiences: Help each and every potential customer feel like they are already living the experience and they will be more likely to buy. Here are some ideas to apply it to your business:

  • If you sell a product, and if you can afford the brief cash flow interruption, offer it for free for a period of time and ask for payment later.
  • If you sell a service, try asking for money part way through or after the delivery.
  • If you can’t do either of the above (for example, maybe you sell an ebook), then your sales copy needs to do the work. Your sales copy needs to help your potential customer see, touch, taste, and smell the experience before they hand over their money. It IS possible to achieve. Why not add in some immersive elements into your sales copy and test the results for yourself?

Want to read more about this? Check out the blog post grow your business by selling with stories. Stories are a great way to immerse customers in the experience before they buy.

GoogleBook Convinced Me to Buy

Google transformed the web by helping users to wade through volumes of information. We embraced Google’s web search because it made a difference to our search. But its book search has encountered some criticism.

As someone who produces copyrighted material every day, I understand and appreciate those who want to protect their data and potential income sources. However, I think that some of the criticism is unfair. Today I was searching through Amazon for a book I wanted to buy. I stumbled across a different book by a different author on the same topic.  Books on this topic are a dime a dozen (and of varying quality) so I wouldn’t just buy it because Amazon presented it. I viewed the table of contents but that didn’t help. So I jumped over to Google Book Search. I found the book, jumped to a section in the book that I was most interested in and skimmed 25 pages.

… and then I bought the book.

Skimming  the pertinent section of the book was enough for me to know. I realize that part of the concern by publishers and authors is that I’ll know the “secret recipe” and won’t need to buy the book. That is a danger (but I think it puts the onus on the author to deliver high quality content consistently through the book).

Note to publishers: Readers don’t buy books based on the cover. (Okay, some do but they shouldn’t). The people who will become your most satisfied customers will buy a book becasue they read part of it and wanted to read all of it. Or, because they read it and want to read it again at their convenience. The table of contents is helpful, but not always sufficient. You will always have readers who read your book and don’t buy it (which is why I can never find a chair at Chapters) but many people will read a book and still buy it anyway. In other words, you are selling information but you’re also selling convenience and accessibility that is available only in a paper book.

The power of the pen

It was Edward Bulwer-Lytton who said it best: “the pen is mightier than the sword“.

That’s why I love language — letters, words, sentences, and grammar — it’s more than just a career for me; it’s a true passion. And, like a musician that practices as often as possible, I am constantly reading and writing to develop my skill. There is so much power in effective communication!

Yesterday, my wife and I were out with some friends, one of whom had just returned from a workshop about effective writing in the workplace. He referenced a 2006 lawsuit between communication companies Rogers and Aliant based on the placement of a single comma in their agreement.

The agreement in question went like this: “[…This Agreement] shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.

There are three clauses in this sentence (separated by commas) and the issue is whether the final clause “unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party” referred to the first clause or the second. If the final clause referred to the first clause, Aliant could back out of its agreement within one year as long as it gave written notice. If the final clause referred to the second clause, Rogers felt that it had a “locked-in” agreement for the first 5 years. 

That reminded me of something I read in the New York Times a couple of months ago. The Times was reporting on a US Supreme Court decision regarding the Second Amendment in the US Constitution. The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Once again, it’s the commas that are causing confusion. The issue at hand is whether or not the amendment is intended to support the importance of maintaining a militia or the importance of citizens to bear arms. Obviously, the second reading is the most common but the article points out that there are several versions of this amendment — with varying comma usage of 2, 3, and 4 commas — and those commas completely change the meaning. Read the full story here.

Exacting grammar is not essential in all cases.  Stephen King is a very engaging author and ignores many rules of grammar in a way that is very effective. I believe some business writing such as sales or marketing writing) is another avenue where the rules of language can be bent as necessary to achieve a purpose. But the two stories mentioned above show just how powerful language can be.