Why digital advertising is vital in real estate with Spencer Smith

Why digital advertising is vital in real estate with Spencer Smith

About this podcast

It’s time for another episode of REAL with MoxiWorks. In this episode we sat down with Spencer Smith, from Evocalize to discuss all things digital advertising.

Follow along with the transcript below:

York Baur

Hi, everybody and welcome to another REAL podcast by MoxiWorks. I’m York Baur, CEO of MoxiWorks, it’s my pleasure to be joined by Spencer Smith, Vice President of Marketing for Evocalize, who is our partner for our digital marketing products under the MoxiPromote brand. Welcome. Good to have you.

Spencer Smith

Thank you, very happy to be here, York.


Awesome. Well, I just learned a fun fact of yours, which is that you had a very inauspicious start, I would say, to your digital marketing career. So tell us where you actually started that ultimately led you forward to pursue digital marketing.


Yeah, so I stumbled into digital marketing. I was actually working on a blueberry farm in Southern Oregon. I went to school in the Bay Area and I missed seasons. And during the Summers I worked on a farm. And so I went home after I finished school, was out there digging ditches, fixing irrigation. It started raining. Southern Oregon is not a fun place to be in the winter. And a buddy called me and said, Spence, why don’t you come do a contracting gig at Google, answering customer service emails from digital advertisers.

So went down with a sleeping bag and about two weeks worth of clothes as a contractor, stayed at a friend’s place until I got a full-time job offer and that really launched me into digital marketing and digital advertising. But originally, the plan was, background in international relations, international security. So I was looking for something focused off in the international government sphere and instead ended up at Google.


Wow, that’s, that’s such a great story because so many of us have these twists and turns that, that we can’t anticipate that lead us down the road we ultimately follow and that’s, that’s awesome. And, and I spent time growing up with some blueberries on the property. So I feel you on that, that program.

So let’s talk about where you took it from there though. Tell us a little bit more about the next career steps and how you ultimately got to Evocalize.


Yeah, so I started out doing the customer service emails and then quickly transitioned over into a product launch for Google. So this was back longer ago than I like to admit. But at the time, Google was only doing cost per click. So people paying.

But brands realized they wanted to be out on websites in front of eyeballs that weren’t just contextually targeted. So before, if you had an ad about a truck, your ad would show up on websites about trucks.

But it turns out that people who like trucks are doing other things in their life. They might be on a news site or a camping site, or something of that nature. So, I helped do the product launch globally of CPM, or Cost Per Impression advertising for the Google Content Network. Back then it was called AdSense. And the idea was you could start to choose, based off of the interests of people, where your ads would appear.

So spent time doing that. Had a great time. Went and lived in Ireland for Google for a period. Time in China and elsewhere and then went back to graduate school. Came out of graduate school. I’m really good at graduating during recessions.

So I had thought of getting out of digital marketing at that point, but it was 2009 so I ended up back at a digital marketing startup that was focused on targeting and putting the right ad in front of the right person at the right time, which has just been this theme throughout.

Bounced around a little after that, spent time at Microsoft, and then got called by Facebook and they were looking for someone to specialize and figure out how to do international launches of third-party partners for ad targeting.

So the idea of how do you find that right ad and put it in front of someone based off of the right data, they would partner externally at that point and so I spent 18 months leading global launches. Spent a lot of time in Australia, got to brief the Australian government on privacy concerns, got to brief the Japanese government on privacy implications through an interpreter, which was really exciting and unique experience.

Switched to the sales team to get back up here to the Pacific Northwest, which is home. I wasn’t able to wear all of my fleece vests back down in the Bay. And so move back up here on sales. It was time to make a little bit of a change.

Did another startup really focused on B2B ad targeting because the B2B world, when it came to putting the right ad in front of someone and thinking about how do we put it in front of a buying committee, because of B2B decisions being made, not just by an individual, but a group. So focus on B2B advertising at a local startup. We were acquired by LiveRamp. Spent three years there, then took a little break, did a sabbatical and a road trip to National Parks, and then got introduced to Evocalize, and what really brought me in, I thought was interesting about Evocalize, is they’re taking the power of digital marketing and making it easy and accessible for local businesses.

One of our clients said, your ad interface is like sitting down in the cockpit of a Boeing 747. It bells, whistles, gauges, levers I don’t know what to do and I’m worried I’m going to go off the runway and crash. What I love about Evocalize is they simplify that. I think of it as being more like the Tesla that can be self-driving. There’s all the technology under the hood. A Tesla is super complicated, but you get in it and it gets you from point A to point B in luxury and gets you to your desired destination. So when I saw Evocalize, I thought, I really want to be a part of that.


Wonderful. And that’s the perfect tee up, I think, for our discussion today because what you just described, particularly there at the end, I would say is true for frankly, all people, but certainly our audience of brokers and their agents. Because everyone needs to advertise, needs to promote themselves and their brokerage, but doing so in a less complex way is certainly a challenge, I think for most. Because I think this is a problem, by the way, in software generally, is you know we build stuff by engineers for engineers pretty much.

And I’d like to think Moxi is, is certainly cut above on that, but I think we can all do a better job in any step of the way of making it more simple. So let’s talk about that. So you and I had a conversation in the past about lead generation versus sphere marketing. And so let’s dive into that just a bit and maybe you can give your thoughts on how a brokerage audience, let’s start there, might think about the ad dollars, not only that they spend, and how to think about digital marketing and digital advertising specifically through that lens, but also what they should be encouraging their agents to do and, and think about how they should do it.


Oh that’s a big conversation, we could spend hours on that. To me, when I think about sphere and leads so it comes down to, there are the people you know, and the people you don’t yet know that you want to know. So in your sphere, those are folks who you know, you have a relationship with, you want to continue the relationship with them so that you are top of mind and you are who they go to when you are ready to buy a home, sell a home.

Then, you want to grow your sphere over time, and especially I think as a brokerage that’s supporting your agents, you want to be thinking about, well, how do we grow our sphere so that we can help equip our agents both giving them a fish, if you will, and also teaching them to fish. And, so I think about the marketing capabilities both of a brokerage to bring those in and to nurture their sphere and then grow it. And also give that to agents.

And as you say, it’s bringing it back and making it simple. So, in so many cases what makes digital marketing successful is having the right data. So, when it comes to your sphere, you’ve got your first name, your last name, and email, you have contacts and people want to talk to you. That makes it easy to reach them out across the internet, whether they’re on Facebook, Google, TikTok, whatever it might be. But then to find more folks like that again, it comes back to having the right data, the ability to do a lookalike audience. And so, brokerages have a lot of success there, I think, because they have the right contacts and having that data at scale to reach their sphere and then go beyond the sphere.

At the same time, agents are super busy, and they have so many things to be doing in their day that adding another task, like marketing is not what they need. So as a brokerage, if you can remove the complexity of marketing, make it simple and automated or push button simple, where all the agent has to do is really enter the most important information, apply their local expertise and knowledge then you’re giving them time back that they can focus on the other aspects of their job that are even higher impact. So that’s how I think about the technology coming in, is if you build the right technology, you can build out the complexity. So what’s left is really only what’s critical, yet it works with sophistication.


Got it. Yeah. So I’m a pilot, by the way, we didn’t talk about this, so I love the flying analogies. And to me, I see it as sort of an autopilot where you say the destination, but you really let the technology help guide you to the destination. Let’s talk, though, about that lookalike audience and automation. Because one of the things, and I used to fall prey to this myself, believe it or not, as a marketer, because I have a long executive marketing background prior to being CEO here. And one of the things that I had to learn myself and then I had to coach my teams on, it’s very easy to think you know better.

And yet the data, as you say, is ultimately what determines success or failure. The data doesn’t lie. If people are clicking on this and not on that, you may think this is better, but actually that one’s better, because the data says so. Just do a quick thing on how you believe the technology you guys have built in combination with your integration with us accomplishes not only simplicity, but optimization of the spend.


Yeah, so what I love is you gave that example of the data doesn’t lie. And the more data you have, if you don’t have a good lens to look at the data, it’s actually dangerous because too much data, you drown in it. But a good system takes that data and then optimizes it and uses it to the best of the ability.

And so, if you have a system that has the right machine learning, the right AI, artificial intelligence, to take in that data, if you think about what you’re trying to achieve, and that could be finding a buyer, it could be finding a seller, it could be doing agent branding, brokerage branding, it could be doing recruitment. All those are different outcomes you want, and those are really needles in haystacks. So what you want is the computer is good at figuring out what’s a needle and what’s hay. So then, the more haystacks with needles in them you can get, the better off because you’ve got more needles at the end of the day to sort through.

So as we think about optimization, our technology, and by working with you, to kind of aggregate across brokerages and agents, there’s more data flowing through it. That creates a better outcome for the brokerage and for the agents than if they did it on their own, because they have less data. And so by bringing that together, our technology is able to say, we’re seeing more shots on goal, so we’re seeing which ones are landing. We’re seeing more homes in this area, or we’re seeing more recruitment in this market. We can help figure out when to show an ad, what is the right ad, who is the right audience. And all that happens underneath the hood. But that’s because there’s a whole smart team of engineers who are figuring out what are the signals, and how do we identify those signals better.

And then at the end of the day, there’s a simple interface on top of it. I mean, it looks really simple, and that’s by design. But there’s all the complexity underneath.


That’s right. And I want to quote our Mark Carlson, who runs our engineering organization. He always says easy is hard. He’s right. It looks very simple, but that to some degree almost belies how complex things are going on underneath.

And I think you’re right. The cloud, the MoxiCloud that we operate on behalf of our customers is truly this almost oil field and then you guys operate the derricks that get the oil out kind of thing It’s a very good partnership that we have not only functionally, but conceptually which I love.

Let’s talk about something else, though. Obviously your technology is designed in combination with our tech and data to optimize in the way you’ve described. But, one of the things that just absolutely drives me spare, and I’d be curious if you also have seen this in other markets other than real estate earlier in your career, is a lot of times, technology companies, I think, take advantage of customers when it comes to a new media type. They, they tend to obfuscate. Then they say, ‘oh, this stuff’s so complicated and you couldn’t possibly understand it, we have the magic secret sauce, so give us a hundred dollars and we’ll do stuff, don’t pay attention, and you’ll get s impressions and some ads and some stuff in order’. There’s obfuscation because at the end of it, our technology does its thing. But at the end of it, we’re still placing media, right? We’re still buying media as someone would by themselves on a Facebook or these other networks. I think it’s irresponsible to be opaque about how much of the client’s money’s actually going to the media and we should claim credit. We should charge for this value that we add in the form of our technology and this intelligence and ease of use and all those things. But we shouldn’t overcharge for it by hiding and minimizing the amount of media spend at the end of the chain. Can you talk a little bit about both your view and Evocalize’s view, and obviously we match in our view so I really want, though, the audience to hear it from your side about the importance of that transparency.


Yeah. So at the end of the day, you should be judged on results. And if you are driving great results, then someone is going to look at that and say, my cost per whatever, my cost per lead, my cost per impression, my cost per recruited candidate. They’re going to look at that and be able to compare it to other channels.

But being transparent in that, is going to give them more information and really say, ‘oh, I’m getting a better end result and I’m paying for that value’. And I’m okay with that because actually my cost is still lower than when I was doing it on my own. And so that’s where I think the old statement, it takes money to make money. By finding the right software, the right partners, you’re paying for that, but it makes you more effective.

And so I always think about, go and look at what were you doing on your own and how much time were you spending? Because that’s something that doesn’t get factored in oftentimes. I was spending hours a week running my Facebook ads and I was getting X. Well, now I’m spending minutes a week or I’ve built an automated program so that I’m not spending any time and it’s running and I’m getting X plus Y. So I’m getting better results plus I’m saving time. There’s value in that and now I understand how my budget is being spent and I can do an apples to apples comparison. I think there’s real value in that.


That’s right. So let’s close by looking sort of out the windshield. I think one of the things that I feel an obligation to is to try and help our audience, our brokerage customers and others, understand where we think at least things are headed so that they themselves can start thinking. Because one of things that’s true right now, I think the housing market’s been incredible for years, but especially the last couple of years. And we had that freak out kind of during the pandemic for about a quarter in there and then since then, it’s just been a moonshot. And I think, you know, revenue can cover up a multitude of sins and there’s when business is doing is going gangbusters sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s going to be like when that ebbs again, which it inevitably does.

So what would you say, maybe I’ll put a cap on it, maybe like a 24 month horizon. How would you encourage in particular brokerages to, for themselves and how they would coach their agents, to think about what the role and, and relative spend levels should be in their digital marketing and digital advertising in particular?


Yeah, so if I go back to the idea of your sphere and the idea of make hay while the sun is shining. The market is hot right now. Lots of people are thinking about selling, buying, buying a second home, moving closer to family, moving farther from family, whatever it might be. There’s a lot of interest right now in people expressing that interest, which is great in the world of digital marketing because that gives you signal and it also then allows you to increase your sphere.

And at some point, the market will cool off. And when it does, you want to have the best sphere possible. And so, the people that you can get in today, hopefully they buy from you today, but then they’re going to buy from you again as their family grows.

I was looking earlier, the number of millenials who are turning 30 I think last year was a large number, and that’s typically the age at which they start to buy their first home. And so if you can get them in your sphere now, then you’re going to have them for those ongoing transactions. So, as I think about digital marketing, they’re spending now. To take take advantage of the hot market and to prepare yourself for the future. And so as I come back to it, figuring out the right amount of spend really comes back to looking at what are the results.

Arnd measuring the results by not just leads, but also are you getting those contacts and building relationships? And then how do you continue to grow those relationships with those touch points digitally so that you stay top of mind for 24 months, 48 months, 10 years from now.


That’s right. And that’s, that’s why our partnership is so great because you have that technology that brings the people you don’t know but want to into the world. And then we, of course, through our products and those of our other partners can do more of the nurturing beyond just the advertising component. That’s wonderful. Awesome.

Well, Spencer, it’s been a great pleasure talking about this. You’ve, as I say, forgotten more than most will know about this. So I’m sure we’ll be doing more of these sessions down the road. I think this is an emerging area for a lot of brokers and it’s something that we need to keep paying attention to.

So I really appreciate your willingness to come on here and talk about this. And for the rest of you out there, thank you so much as always for listening. And this has been another REAL with MoxiWorks.Take care.