Kick-starting a stalled project

Principal Consultant , David Allison Inc.
  • Aug. 17, 2009

You’ve spent a lot of money promoting your real estate development project.

You’ve got a fancy name, and a logo, and the logo is splashed all over a fancy brochure and website. You tried direct mail but it doesn’t seem to work anymore. And print ads seem like a huge waste of money for the meager traffic they are creating.

Signs on the road and at the sales centre are helping to build awareness, but after the initial rush of buyers in early 2008, things just ground to a halt. And now even the confirmed buyers are jittery, because they know if you can’t sell the rest of the homes in your project it will mean no project at all.

The bank is breathing down your neck, and your sales team (if you have one left) is threatening to mutiny.

What do you do?

There’s the slash-prices strategy. That causes some activity, but kills any hope of profits for you, and really stirs up the existing owners who paid full price.

There’s the head-in-the-sand approach. Don’t do anything and hope the economic recovery saves you. This can cause banks to get very upset, and the lack of momentum will make current owners jittery and more likely to walk away.

There’s a third way for some projects. It’s about extracting the additional story-value from your project and re-igniting interest with appropriate targeted consumers. Here’s how it works, in three simple but not-so-easy steps.

Step One

First thing you need to do is be brutally honest about your existing marketing materials and media plan. You might need someone from outside the project to give you an objective point of view.

Your sales team will likely have some thoughts that they have been too scared to share. It’s vital that you do a reality check here, and know what you have on your hands.

In many cases you’ll find that what you have been using to market your project was perfectly adequate during boom times, when people bought new real estate as an investment, and only cared about resale value as it related to equity gains. Those investor/flipper buyers were easy to sell to. They weren’t that fussy. They probably wouldn’t ever see the inside of the homes they were buying. A slick looking marketing program that used the words: luxury, ultimate, destination, oasis, retreat, privilege, discerning, fortunate, and sophisticated in various combinations was all you needed.

Step Two

Next, you must find the stories and the “brand value” that you missed the first time around.

Did you tell all the stories that an owner/occupier would want to hear? Did you discuss and explain the floorplans, and not just show floorplans? Did you think about the neighbourhood, and how close/far you are from things that will make daily life easier? Did you behave like a journalist on assignment and ferret out all the good juicy news stories about every aspect of the project from a buyer’s perspective?

If you go to Chapter 3 in my book Sell the Truth, (available for free download at you’ll find lists of questions to ask yourself. In truth these lists are just idea starters. But they may get you moving down the right path. During this step your role is to be a wide-eyed kid learning about the project for the first time. Collect everything you learn in one place.

Step 3

You now have a realistic overview of where your existing sales and marketing materials fell short, and a library of new stories and facts that you can add to the communication program to make it more robust. Only thing left at this point is to figure our how to cram all that new information into the existing materials and tools without starting from scratch.

  • Fixing your website isn’t hard. Get rid of any flash movies on the home page and pack it with facts and figures. Have a blog on your home page that you update every week with new stories. The blog is essential. It allows Google and other search engines to find you more easily, and it gives prospects a reason to come back over and over. Think of all the other information you could provide on your website that a buyer wants to know. Links to other competitive projects for example (yes! I said that!), information about traffic, about schools, about sports, about taxes, about sunlight, and immigration, and CMHC figures. The owner/occupier buyer wants to know all this stuff. Be the expert that provides them the information they desire.
  • Use your new blog as the starting point for a comprehensive social media program. Have the sales team set up with Twitter feeds. Use Facebook ads. Do some blog outreach to online communities that share your interests. Don’t be scared of social media. But know the rules of engagement before you dive in. It can get scary, fast, unless you know what you are doing.
  • Brochures can be fixed up by adding a couple of pages, or printing a presentation folder that the brochure sits in; that allows for new information to be inserted as well.
  • Ad campaigns can be re-calibrated to point people to your new website. The website is the hub of the campaign. Everything else exists ONLY to drive people there. So don’t include anything in a print ad that isn’t driving people to the web. No maps, no hours of operation, no photos of the sales team. Just facts that will make people want to know more.
  • The same holds true for your presentation centre. Signage. Direct Mail. In fact, every component of your campaign can be re-tooled to focus on facts and news and what we call “Marketing Journalism.”

Why bother? Because this is the stuff people want to know to feel good about a purchase. Want proof? Download the free case study on my home page  for a project we did called “The Block

Yes, all this effort will take time and money. But it will give you the best chance of success. And best of all, re-working a stalled campaign is a kind of training program: you will learn how to do things right for these new-market-consumers for when you launch your next project.


David Allison, Author and Partner at Braun/Allison Inc.

David Allison is a partner at Braun/Allison Inc.; a Vancouver-based company that provides creative services for residential and resort real estate developers. His book, Sell The Truth, is available for free here. You can connect to him on LinkedIn , follow him on Twitter @BAdavid and read his blog, One Brand Clapping here.

David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

Read more

David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

Read more

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