Q&A with Bev Thorne, SVP Marketing, Century 21 Real Estate

In 2008, Century 21 Real Estate LLC spent less than 10% of its advertising budget online. But, earlier this year, the franchisor of the world’s largest residential real estate sales organization said it would cancel most of its offline advertising in favor of ads placed on the Web.

Century 21 logo.jpg On Tuesday, Bev Thorne, the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Century 21, is speaking at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) New York conference during the session entitled, “Budget Migration: Going Digital Without Impacting Your Brand.”

The session is part of the Search and C-Level Executive Track. The moderator is Jason Ferrara, SVP of Sales and Marketing for Elixir Interactive, and the other speakers on the panel are Pattiann McAdams-Russell, Executive Director of Avon’s Online Division and Crispin Sheridan, the Senior Director of Search Marketing Strategy at SAP Marketing.

According to the latest SEMPO Annual State of Search Survey, search engine marketing is poaching budget from other marketing channels, especially from offline marketing channels. This represents a marked difference from 2005, when budget was shifted mostly from online media such as web development and affiliate marketing, but is consistent with spending in the past two years.

The SEMPO survey also found a shift in terms of what budgets are cannibalized in favor of search engine marketing. Over a quarter of advertisers report they are shifting budget away from print magazines and another 21% report their budget is shifted from direct mail. Rounding out the trend towards cannibalizing print, 19% of advertisers report they are shifting budget from their print newspaper advertising.

All this puts Bev Thorne at the epicenter of one of the most significant industry trends.

In her role as Senior Vice President of Marketing for Century 21, Thorne leads the planning and execution of the domestic marketing strategies in support of market share growth for the largest real estate franchise organization in the world. She is responsible for leading the strategy development and program execution of all consumer, broker and agent marketing programs.

Thorne earned her MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and has worked extensively in the areas of consumer marketing, strategic branding and event marketing management over her 20-plus year career. Before joining Century 21, she was with JPMorgan Chase & Company, where she served as senior vice president, customer marketing for the Home Finance business unit. Prior to that, Thorne worked at AT&T for nearly two decades in a series of increasingly senior roles, planning and executing marketing and communications strategies nationwide.

I interviewed Thorne late last week via email. Here are my Qs and her As:

Q: You’re speaking at the session, “Budget Migration: Going Digital Without Impacting Your Brand.” What information do you need to know about migrating budget to digital without impacting your brand awareness or the equity you have built up in your brand?

A: As we planned our marketing campaign for 2009, we made a firm commitment to spend our advertising dollars where they would be the most effective in driving leads to the nearly 100,000 sales professionals within the CENTURY 21 System. First we looked at our own data with regard to ROI on our online spend. The data made the decision to transition our national television advertising to online a very easy decision. From 2007 through 2008, our online advertising yielded a 237% increase in leads and a 62% reduction in cost per lead year over year.

Q: The move to a predominantly digital marketing strategy can be overwhelming. What advice to you have for other marketers planning to go digital?

A: Plan enough time to socialize the benefits of going digital with your key stakeholders to ensure you have maximum buy in before announcing the move to the general public.
By empowering key stakeholders with information through effective communication you can help them to understand that online marketing enables a more targeted approach to the consumer.

Q: Migrating from staid traditional channels to the open waters of the Web can be daunting. Did it take courage to start moving significant resources away from TV, radio and print and into search, social, display and email?

A: As you may know CENTURY 21 was the first national real estate franchise on television and now we continue our forward-looking market leadership as we enhance our online advertising. Market leaders must be willing to make the decisions necessary to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace for their products, services and sales professionals. We are confident that increased online advertising will benefit our brokers, agents and most importantly, the consumer.

Q: How does Century 21 Real Estate measure results — especially for search, display, email and social media?

A: We carefully track and measure our cost per lead in every channel where we advertise and market. Our goal is to maximize our investment by continually increasing our leads and reducing our costs per lead. The greatest thing about online advertising is that it enables us to track the effectiveness of our ads which helps us to better understand what is working and rapidly respond and make corrections and enhancements where our messaging is not as effective.

Q: Are there any lessons that you learned as well as any metrics or tools needed to gauge the success of a balanced digital marketing program that you’d like to share?

A: Given the fluid nature of technology and its applications for real estate marketing, the only constant is change. If there is one lesson to be learned, it is that by constantly innovating in the online marketing space you can develop a more agile marketing platform to effectively insulate your brand from dynamic shifts in how consumers prefer to be reached; thereby, cogently positioning your product, service or sales professionals for long-term success.

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