CMO of the Week: Coldwell Banker’s David Marine

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David Marine, chief marketing officer at Coldwell Banker, is no stranger to digital innovation. He was hired as an “electronic product manager” at the real estate brand 20 years ago after seeing a posting on hotjobs.com. 

David Marine, chief marketing officer at Coldwell Banker, is no stranger to digital innovation. He was hired as an “electronic  product manager” at the real estate brand 20 years ago after seeing a posting on hotjobs.com. 

“That was at a time when I was like, ‘Hey, we got all this print stuff. We need to make it digital,’” recalls Marine. “My first day on the job, they sat me down and they put this three ring binder in front of me and said, ‘This is a living presentation. This is the lifeblood of every agent. They need this in order to win. We need to figure out a way to make this digital.’ So I created the first ever PowerPoint listing presentation in Coldwell Banker history.”

In his role, Marine has helped establish the brand’s first social media pages, the first app and the company’s exploration in virtual worlds. The brand’s mission is to empower its agents to leave their mark on the world of real estate. 

“From that, our core values are home awesomeness, ingenuity, and excellence. Home, because it's at the core of what we do. No one has done a better job at understanding the emotional aspects of home ownership and the impact it has than Coldwell Banker,” says Marine. “Awesome, sounds like it's a juvenile phrase, but you know awesomeness when you see it, and it speaks to the culture that we want people to have. And working with Coldwell Banker agents is also part of this amazing brand.”

In January 2020, Coldwell Banker hosted a kickoff event at its headquarters to celebrate a rebrand. The company had a major campaign scheduled to launch during March Madness, but had to pause when the pandemic shut the world down. “We paused for about a couple of weeks and then what we found was that we had an interesting opportunity on our hands,” says Marine. “Our messaging behind that campaign was all about this idea of guiding you home since 1906. We found that all of a sudden home was becoming a central part of our existence, whether we liked it or not.”

The ad was going to end with highlighting Coldwell Banker as the “one real estate brand that's been guiding you home for over 115 years." But the  company changed the copy to “Stay home, Stay healthy.” The ad showed a diverse group of people finding relief when going home. 

“I think it goes to the idea of authentic storytelling and the story you're telling is married to what your brand is truly about and how your customers perceive your brand, it will work,” Marine reflects. “It is pandemic proof and it's living proof. While I would not have planned to do a rebrand in the middle of a pandemic, I actually think it turned out to be one of the best things for us, because it allowed the messaging that we had set to really shine at a critical point in time where no one knew how to go about this. How do we sell a home, how do you do an open house? We're not allowed to be in there. We were showing that a brand that's been around for 115 years is still able to guide people through this crazy process, even amidst crazy times.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Marine from his home in Rockaway, New Jersey to talk about the real estate boom, digital innovation and how experience in Second Life has prepared the brand for the metaverse. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Let's fast forward to where we are now. Obviously, real estate has boomed in the pandemic era. How would you characterize the demand for your business overall and what overall market factors are you seeing attributing to where you are now?

No one could have predicted the surge in real estate in the interest at the beginning of 2020, or even halfway through 2020. It's really been crazy, but the idea of everybody sheltering at home moved you one or two ways. You either said, "Wow, I'm so glad that I have this place," or it was, "Oh my goodness, I’ve got to get out of this place," type of deal. And just some interesting market factors all playing into it with still relatively low mortgage rates. The fact that remote work, all of a sudden became available for many, so this idea of I have to live within 30 minutes or 20 miles of this location was then taken off the table. You may have rented an Airbnb for two weeks and all of a sudden you're thinking, "You know what, I'd really just like to live here or someplace that is similar." Those were all factors that were playing into it.

I've been with Coldwell Banker for 20 years this month and the thing that everybody has been talking about since I first joined the company was, how do we move the entire transaction online, the whole experience via digital? We have done training initiatives, pushed to do it, and all it took was a global pandemic. Within two months, the entire industry went fully digital and there's no turning back now. That all helped escalate the surge and the ability to service our customers in unique ways, and everybody learned how to do a virtual open house. The importance of videos, handling those digital transactions online through contract platforms and all that stuff. So that all of a sudden elevated the ability for us to service customers at a high level, even through a pandemic.

How has your media mix evolved, especially as the process for lead generation is constantly evolving in the wake of some of the changes to privacy and cookies and all that? How are you adjusting your media mix accordingly these last couple of years?

We've always been a very digital focus from a media panic standpoint. And I can remember early in my career talking like, "Hey, there's this company called Hulu and they want to do some ads. All right, let's sit down and talk with them." And we forged those new grounds. So what it has done is obviously streaming has changed everybody's business, especially within the last year and a half, because everybody now has 13 subscriptions to different services out there, including myself. We found looking at not just media buying from a strict, like we're going to buy in this, it was looking at the situation as well. And what is the core messaging and how do we tailor that messaging to the specific media outlet?

For example, early on in the pandemic, we looked at cable news, and we probably would never be advertising in cable news, but at that point in time, we're like, everybody's is glued to their television, they all want to know what's going on, this is the way for us to get our message out there. And it doesn't matter that I'm buying in a noon day part, because everybody's home. They're all watching. 

Another digital trend is crypto and blockchain and all these emerging payment methods that certainly intersect with your business. How are you marketing to those behaviors?

It hasn't become a mainstream thing yet. It's obviously something that we're looking into. In our Luxury Real Estate Sector 2022 and Beyond report, we have a very big section on crypto and how it is working. It really isn't an everyday thing yet, but I'm sure that it will be. And there's a lot of talk about NFTs in the metaverse and how that is going to help with virtual real estate and interest in that. That's another area that we're keeping an eye on. Ironically, that's actually a space that we were a little bit of a forerunner in. Back in 2007, we were the first to set up an office and sell virtual real estate in the virtual world of Second Life. At the time, we actually rebuilt an actual home for sale in Seattle, within the virtual world as well. You could take a tour through, and if you looked out the windows, you would see the actual view from the home in Seattle and the real world. We learned a lot from that. 

You mentioned Second Life, which I would imagine is one of the many firsts you've seen in your nearly 20 year career with Coldwell Banker. Can you maybe walk me through some highlights of some milestones that you've helped introduce to the brand over the years?

One that stands out is one day I walked into the head of marketing at the time's office. Mike Fisher and I said to him, "Hey, I've been on this thing called Facebook, and I think that this is going to be something that we probably need to get involved in. I think we should explore it." And his response to me was now like, "Wait, what is this new thing? What are you 20-somethings saying about this?" It was go do it, let's go. So setting up the first social media profiles for the company and even within the industry was that first step.

Also I helped launch the first international real estate iPhone application, Android application, iPad application and the first YouTube channel that we called Coldwell Banker On Location, back when you used to have names for your YouTube channel and you had custom gadgets on it. You could search for videos of homes for sale, videos of agents, community videos. And it wasn't just that like, "Hey, we've got this first thing," but it really started in video, which is still continued today, where video is at the core of everything that we do. That's what has really helped propel our brand forward and helped with both the perception of our brand in the consumer space. The connectivity within our network of 100,000 agents across the globe was very early on in seeing the power of video to tell a story and to persuade.

What are some of Coldwell Banker's latest commitments to diversity equity and inclusion at a corporate level and how do those ultimately manifest themselves in your work as a marketer?

Around 2020, we had just launched an inclusive ownership program, where we said anyone from some of the underrepresented markets – whether it was a Black-owned business or military or female or LGBTQ+ – would have the ability to enter into owning a franchise through a special agreement and different rate packages, as well as having special mentorship opportunities with our CEO. That has been taking off like nobody's business. In fact, we are seeing a massive over 1000% increase in agent recruiting for those companies that have joined as part of the inclusive ownership program.

That allows us to tell a better story and showcase that this is a place where people from all walks of life can participate. And the American dream of home ownership is something that is at the core of our DNA. It doesn't matter who you are and where you're from, we would not only love to help you find that place to call home, but if you want to be in this as well, this is the place you can call home too.

I'd love to know what are some of your personal brand pillars or guiding principles as a marketer?

I truly believe in the power of a story. There's a lot of people that read health books and motivational books and whatever. I'm a sports guy and love comic books and movies. Any presentation I do, you're going to find a Harry Potter, Marvel, or Star Wars reference in it somewhere. The reason that all those stories are not only truly authentic, but they have a certain construct to them and makes them compelling. And that's what attracts me to Coldwell Banker as a brand. How do we continue to tell a story that only we can tell? 

But I think the thing that I'm most proud of is the team that's around me and the people that I've seen have grown from being a social media manager to now being in charge of all field marketing, to someone who is just looking at how do I do different blog posts and is now overseeing our entire media and advertising program. Seeing the growth of this team and how they have been able to weather the storms of a rebrand in a pandemic has been one of the most satisfying things.

As we enter the third month of the year, what are you most excited about for the remainder of 2022?

We are launching a shift in our strategy and focusing on sellers. The majority of the industry is focused on buyers. Let me show you pretty pictures of houses, get you in them as quickly as possible. We do very little as an industry for sellers, because that is at the core of what our industry's all about. And there's a real problem of listing inventory. It doesn't matter where you are listing inventory is an issue. This year we're launching a new campaign that is focused on sellers. They'll be accompanied by some updates to our website, focusing on sellers, specific tools, features, technology. Not that generic rote content that people don't update in five or more years, and they just leave on their site, but really engaging sellers and showcasing that Coldwell Banker is truly the sellers brand. I'm excited for that rollout. 

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