CMO of the Week: Opendoor’s David Corns - Brand Innovators

CMO of the Week: Opendoor’s David Corns

As a former agency guy, David Corns, chief marketing officer at digital real estate platform Opendoor, is excited about innovation and hacking into culture.

This year, the brand livestreamed footage from its app during the regional Atlanta broadcast of the Super Bowl and on the Opendoor website during halftime. The ad’s promise: selling a home can be as easy as watching the Halftime show at the Super Bowl. The live ad featured a real homeowner in Atlanta showcasing their house via Opendoor’s Virtual Assessment. 

“We’ve taken what used to be months of stress and hassle, and made it simple, fast and certain,” says Corns. “The thought behind it was, it doesn’t matter if your house is a mess, it doesn’t matter if friends are yelling in the background, it doesn’t even matter if Usher is singing in the halftime show in the background. What better way to bring that to life than have someone sell their home during halftime.”

The timing was perfect, as Corns says home sales kick off each year after the big game. “There’s something about the day after the Super Bowl that home sales and interest start picking back up,” says Corns. “My theory is people are in other people’s homes and getting jealous of their kitchens and so start considering a move. America is all watching the Super Bowl, so it is a great opportunity to talk to that audience and introduce them to a new way of selling their home.”

Prior to joining Opendoor in 2022, Corns held senior leadership roles at R/GA, Crispin Porter Bogusky and Wieden + Kennedy. Brand Innovators caught up with Corns from his office in San Francisco to talk Super Bowl, creativity and storytelling. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What makes you excited to go to work in the morning? 

It’s really innovation. Opendoor has reinvented a category  that’s been unchanged for over 100 years. In revolutionizing real estate, which is one of the last categories to have real digital transformation, the focus on marketing, is to ensure that we’re truly innovating. In a category that is pretty well established for selling a dream of the next home, there’s a really unique way to talk about the transition rather than the transaction of the home. We know that people move houses or apartments, often not because they want a bigger house, but it’s because they have a life change. They are having a baby. They’re getting married. They’ve got a new job. Something is happening in their life that is requiring them to move.

Traditionally there’s been a lot of stress that’s come with needing to sell your home to move. There’s a lot of really exciting creative territory to talk about the simplicity and ease of Opendoor. Our brand purpose is powering life’s progress one move at a time. How do we bring that to life both locally and now nationally? It’s been great fun building out a marketing department that is both brand focused and performance focused, that considers creativity a business advantage and helping to put Opendoor on the map.

Can you talk about your approach to storytelling and getting this message out there?

The halftime showing is a good example. When many others are getting celebrity endorsements, we use real consumers and actually be creative about how we use the medium versus just buying the spot. We have an approach we call hacks – how do we hack into culture? 

Last Super Bowl was in Phoenix and we built the world’s largest real estate for sale sign, an Opendoor for sale sign. We’re really looking for ways to break through by leading with creative and strategic approaches versus starting with, “We’ve got a media channel to fill.” More and more, we’ve been looking at media and creative together to be as contextual as possible. We’re in March Madness, where we’ve got creative specific to basketball and a player being traded, therefore needing to move house. 

We have media plans for 55+ communities. These are often people downsizing after their kids have left the house. We’ve brought media to target them, but we’re also creating creative that speaks specifically to them. Last November, for parents’ visitation day at colleges, we built a huge empty nest –an empty bird’s nest– basically encouraging parents that they can leave the nest too. 

We also have our evergreen brand “Be Open” campaign, which is really bringing to life these moments of life transition. A couple finds out they’re going to have a baby, cut to the dramatic realization of dread that, “Oh, God, we’ve got to sell our house. This is going to be a lot of stress.” Intro Opendoor and there’s angels singing from the sky, and they’re able to move ahead with what’s next. 

The process of getting to that is really brand first, purpose first, considering the audience, not just how do we get a message in front of them, but how do we ensure that that message is highly contextual to that audience and that media in that moment? And then finding fun ways to break the mold and be disruptive. Real estate is a pretty traditional category, so disrupting it is a lot of fun. 

You’ve used the word creativity a lot. What does creativity mean to you? 

Creativity is a business advantage and it can work across everything. Being creative about how we plan media, being creative about how we bring ideas to life, both in concept, in execution, and really just finding unique and innovative ways to solve problems. 

That’s one of the things that appealed to me about Opendoor, because it felt like real estate was the last category that was undisrupted by digital transformation. It was a category that was very rational, which was surprising because your home and moving is very emotional. Creativity from that sense is finding new and unique ways to solve problems or bring ideas to life and honestly connect with people at a human level rather than just a business level.

Can you talk about how your past roles have helped you in this current position? 

Agencies are often hired to pitch. The process of pitching is really helpful, because you have an objective point of view on a business need and you go deep quickly to try and solve that problem. I find that bias for action really helpful as we’re trying to build momentum and grow awareness for the Opendoor brand. Let’s get to a clear defined strategy quickly, let’s pressure check it. But then when we have that strategy defined, let’s blow it out as far and wide as we can. 

We can talk and have strategic conversations all day long. But if we’re not making things, consumers aren’t seeing things and then action isn’t going to happen. That’s been one of the things I’ve enjoyed bringing forward the most. That and ensuring there’s air cover for people to take educated risks. The other thing is a benefit of agency experience is seeing the kernel, kernel of an idea and knowing where it could go.

Do you have any predictions for marketing this year? 

Everyone keeps talking about AI. AI will be part of marketing’s future. AI will be part of everyone’s future. creativity is hard to predict. Therefore, those that will be the most creative will ultimately win. I can see a world where marketers become too reliant on AI. We’ll have a very generic marketing world where it would be harder for brands to stand out. 

But AI also brings huge opportunities to produce ideas quickly and effectively. It brings an opportunity to test work by being able to make a high volume amount of creative work push it out into the world and see what performs best. It’s going to be more the lines between brand and performance will continue to blur. The lines between TV, social will continue to blur and somewhere in the year, either a new platform or a new trend will arise and everyone will jump on it. That’s where I’m cautious. What is the end goal? It should always be about your brand, your message versus chasing the trend.