October 03, 2016

Real Estate Marketing in The Digital Age: Interview with Josh Cobb


Juggling a real estate tech company and a successful real estate podcast is no mean feat, but Josh Cobb manages to do both...all while recognizing the importance of maintaining his wide network of business and personal relationships. Cobb founded Stepps, a real estate digital marketing firm, in October of 2014 in Australia.

A former real estate agent himself, Cobb recognized the need for real estate agents to get help with some of the more technical aspects of their marketing strategies. Beyond helping agents get their websites set up, Josh and his team at Stepps offer everything from social media training to marketing analytics, and even helping establish the nitty gritty marketing strategies.

Josh shared some of his wisdom with us in this exclusive interview, so go ahead and check it out....you might just be surprised at what this digital marketer says is the most important thing to focus on for your networking!

Contactually Influencer Interview:

Interview with an Influencer: Josh Cobb

Contactually: How do you maintain your network of relationships while continuing to engage and run your company, Stepps...among everything else you're working on?

Josh Cobb: Although we are very active in communicating through digital channels, we fundamentally believe the economics of business happen face-to-face. So we have a rigorous events schedule throughout the year and we attend these events (conferences, seminars etc) not necessarily to sit in sessions, but rather to catch-up with colleagues, clients, past podcast guests and industry friends in the hallways, functions and trade halls.

On the client side, we travel regularly so we always allow time either side of our schedule to visit the people that matter most to our business.

Contactually: You've been working in the real estate technology world for most of your career, at what point did you decide to break out on your own and launch Stepps?

Josh Cobb: As an agent myself, I always struggled with traditional methods of outbound marketing and advertising in real estate i.e. cold-calling, door knocking, letterbox drops etc - It wasn't fun for me.

Probably a little naive at the time, I thought there had to be a better way to market while improving the perception of real estate professionals in the communities I served. So I started consuming as much information as I could about brands, outside of real estate, who had built an audience and their businesses around the practice of content marketing.

After working for a consulting firm here in Australia and being fortunate enough to 'pilot' and document a content marketing approach with a select group of real estate brands, Stepps was started in a hotel room at the Hilton San Francisco on July 17 2014 after I attended a session with Marc Davison from 1000watt Consulting at Inman Connect.

Marc's passion for helping raise the perception of real estate professionals and become better marketers was infectious and it gave me the confidence to finally step out and build my own business.

Contactually: Stepps' main focus is on helping real estate professionals perfect their marketing, what would you say are some of the most common marketing mistakes you see in the field?

Josh Cobb: By far, the biggest mistake is lack of differentiation. Our industry is very insular, in that agents look at what top agents are doing and replicate it. This might work for a while but as every other agent in their marketplace begins to do the same, it's no longer special. It's essentially the same shouting with a different megaphone.

This is why content marketing is, in my opinion, the biggest competitive advantage in business today. Agents and agencies who are delivering inherently helpful information, consistently over time with no expectation of an immediate return, are winning attention and building massive audiences who reward them with their business - eventually.

Content marketing goes against the grain of how we're taught to sell in real estate, but on our mission to either build or find case studies, we've found those who have gone all-in with a content marketing approach are usually new to the industry and are outperforming agents many years their senior in a much shorter timeframe than their counterparts.

Contactually: If you had to pick one key social media channel for real estate professionals to focus on utilizing for their marketing, what would it be?

Josh Cobb: More than 90% of our time and budget on social content promotion for clients is spent on Facebook.

The level of targeting for advertising purposes is second to none and the tools available for customer service outreach are incredible.

Many of our data suppliers here in Australia are also now partnering with Facebook to provide custom segments for real estate professionals that allow agents to target audiences based on their property data - such as land size, how many bedrooms their property has, does it have a pool, dwelling type etc.

Some of our clients have reduced cost per conversion by up to 70% utilising these segments inside Facebook and the retargeting abilities are only getting more powerful.

Contactually: You host the very successful Real Estate Pros podcast, what inspired you to start it up and what have been the biggest surprises or lessons you've learned along the way?

Josh Cobb: When we launched the business on 21 October 2014, I knew I wanted to help real estate professionals get smarter about marketing but I had no idea what products and services they would actually pull out their wallet to buy. So I started the podcast, maybe foolishly at the time, with the intention of building an audience who I hoped would tell me the products and services they wanted. When someone subscribed, we asked them one question: "What is one thing you'd like to learn more about, or a challenge you'd like solved, when it comes to digital marketing?" After 9 months, the most common problem agents told me they had was standing out in all the digital noise.

So we started developing products and services to help agents solve this problem. We still ask this question today when someone subscribes to our show and after 97 weekly episodes, 45,000 email subscribers and 86,000 downloads later, we're fortunate enough that we no longer have to guess what products to build next or what content to produce for our audience.

The biggest surprise for me is just how far your content can reach. I had no intentions of working outside of Australia but we now have clients all over the world who found us through our podcast. The biggest lesson for me has been to trust the practice of content marketing more. Many family members and friends thought that starting a business with no products or services was crazy but I trusted the process and thankfully it paid off.

I think it's great that there are so many consultants and trainers out there today who preach the good word about content marketing, but I don't believe anyone can preach the practice of content marketing unless they practice it themselves and have runs on the board - so I feel that our podcast is, in many ways, our social proof for the products and services we provide.

Contactually: What role have relationships and networking played throughout your career?

Josh Cobb: It's everything. Without relationships, no-one would ever give me the time of day to interview them for an episode of our podcast. Without networking, we wouldn't have the global network of friends and colleagues who inspire us everyday with all sort of ideas. Building a business can be lonely if you're going to run your own show. It's a lot more fun with people.

Contactually: How do you maintain your relationships at such a large (and global) scale?

Josh Cobb: Networking... Online & offline. Genuinely helping other people to promote their content and their brand online is a form of networking in itself, but meeting those people offline at a conference is where the magic really happens. I can confidently say that by investing tens of thousands of dollars to attend conferences all over the world in these first two years of our business has returned at least three times in current and countless future opportunities.

Contactually: You often interview real estate professionals and experts on your podcast, what's been the best way you've found to reach out to and build relationships with these folks before you have them on the show?

Josh Cobb: As above! If I meet someone that has a great story to tell, not something to sell, I'll ask them straight up for the chance to tell that story on our show. I also ask people I've interviewed who else they think might be a good fit for our show and they're usually happy to make an introduction for me.

Contactually: Finally, what would be your piece of advice for a real estate professional looking to network and build relationships via digital marketing?

Josh Cobb: In relation to offline networking, invest your own money in attending events that are going to make you smarter than every other agent. Chances are your principal/broker or franchise won't pay your way so you need to dip into your own pocket if you want to be great.

Consider events that don't necessarily have anything to do with real estate. If your competitors are all targeting the same people with the same 'special' offer that every other real estate agent learnt about at some real estate conference somewhere, what makes it so special?

In relation to online networking, seek out people you admire. Share there content. Collaborate with people of influence in your local market to create content that helps you both reach an audience that you couldn't do on your own.

Go face-to face

Yes, it's important to have an excellent Facebook, but just as Cobb points out, there's nothing more important to a marketing strategy than good old fashioned face-to-face contact. Agree or disagree? If you're feeling inspired, give him a shout on Twitter or check out Stepps yourselves. Plus, you can't beat the wisdom Cobb doles out on a regular basis during his podcast, be sure to give it a listen!