Marketing

Privacy Rules Are Changing Marketing. Are You Prepared?

The rules for real estate marketing all just changed — and our industry is not prepared. Yesterday’s playbook just got burned. Privacy lit the match. 

Consumers won. They demanded privacy and transparency, and they got it. New laws and regulations are now in place and strictly enforced. They will get stricter moving forward. Because of this, your marketing requires change.

Think of it this way: Your marketing is no longer compliant. Let me walk you through exactly what changed and what you need to do about it. 

The impact of privacy on email marketing

The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) went into effect July 1, 2014. It brought with it sweeping changes to Canada’s email marketing rules. The new law requires:

  • A clear and concise description of your purpose in obtaining consent.
  • A description of messages you’ll be sending.
  • Requestor’s name and contact information.
  • A statement that the recipient may unsubscribe at any time.
  • When requesting consent, checkboxes cannot be pre-filled to suggest consent. Each subscriber must check the box themselves for consent to be valid.

Under CASL, fines are up to $1 million per violation for individuals and $10 million per violation for companies. 

How long will it be until those same changes and penalties happen in the U.S.? Real estate agents are notorious for sending spammy emails and using automation to “drip” on leads for years.

According to Constant Contact, “Contacts added after CASL went into effect can stay on your list for six months or up to two years after the transaction that started the relationship. After the relationship ends, you must remove them from your list or ask them for express permission to email them.”

For real estate agents, that means your leads need to re-opt in every six months, and your past clients would need to every two years. If not, you would be required to stop emailing them. Considering the average open rate of real estate emails is 19.7 percent, that would mean almost 80 percent of your list could disappear. 

I even hear through the grapevine that knowing who opened and clicked your mass emails is going away. At a minimum, you will need to get people on your list to opt into being tracked. I would guess that almost no one will. 

The impact of privacy on websites

In May of 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in Europe and caused websites worldwide to require a cookie consent notification. Since then, I can’t visit a website without being interrupted by a pop-up asking to allow my activities to be tracked. 

Only 11 percent of visitors click to accept cookies; 89 percent either ignore it, close it or say no. If someone declines the use of cookies, you can’t see what they look at on your website. You won’t know what pages or listings they are viewing or how many times they have visited. 

This “user tracking” data is one of the most effective ways people segment their marketing and enables them to follow up with their hottest leads. Now for anyone who clicks “no,” you won’t be able to do either. 

The Right To Be Forgotten is another part of the GDPR that if and when a similar rule is put in place in North America, many agents will lose a significant percentage of their existing database. 

If your leads are buyers who are no longer buying (because they already did or decided not) and sellers who are no longer selling (because they already did or decided not to), then The Right To Be Forgotten means their “personal data is no longer necessary for the purpose an organization originally collected or processed it.” You would be forced to delete the contact. 

The impact of privacy on ads

On Aug. 13, 2018, HUD sued Facebook over housing discrimination. That completely changed the way that you’re allowed to target ads. You can no longer target by neighborhood or even ZIP code. Hundreds of other valuable filters disappeared overnight. 

If your marketing team hasn’t adjusted to these new rules, you could be paying more money for ads that don’t work as well. 

Facebook and Instagram ads have been a staple of the real estate industry for the last decade. Agents have generated millions of leads and closed countless deals because of them. In addition, they provided unprecedented targeting capabilities that made spending money on traditional advertising seem foolish.

The fallout from the HUD lawsuit has reached well beyond Facebook and Instagram. Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snapchat and TikTok either already have or will soon also remove filters that could be deemed Fair Housing Act noncompliant. 

The impact of privacy on phone calls

In 2020, according to the FCC, “U.S. consumers received nearly 4 billion robocalls per month.” No wonder phone manufacturers and carriers have made it easier than ever to identify unwanted calls. They had to. The government gave them a June 30, 2021 deadline to do so. 

The new required technology “helps law enforcement track bad actors.” If you are an agent or team who calls hundreds of people per week and a low percentage answer (or when they do, the call is less than one minute), can’t you see a world where those metrics cause you to be labeled a bad actor, and your calls are the ones that show up as “suspected spam”? 

Nowadays, when I get a phone call, half of them say “silenced possible junk,” and the other half say “suspected spam.” And I didn’t even need an app for it because it happens natively. Even when I get a call from my area code that isn’t flagged, I rarely answer because those calls are often telemarketers. 

The FCC’s website even advises people: “Caller ID showing a ‘local’ number no longer means it is necessarily a local caller.” It also recommends that you “don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.”

The consumer empowerment movement is negatively impacting our ability to follow up over the phone. It is time to face the reality that most people don’t want you calling them — ever. 

I get it. As a real estate agent, you want to convert leads, but you ignore shady calls the same way people ignore yours as a consumer yourself. That is why you have to call a hundred leads to get maybe a handful even to answer, much less hear you out. Why do you think your lead conversion rate is less than 1 percent?

Not to mention you have to call every lead immediately and often over a long period of time to make contact. Especially if they don’t know who you are and didn’t specifically ask to be called. Just because you capture a lead and get their information doesn’t mean they want your call. 

Meanwhile, countless real estate platforms currently use forced registration as their primary way to get leads and then suggest they use their phone number as their “password.” 

That is not permission to call. Not even close. 

The impact of privacy on mobile

On Jan. 27, 2021, Apple announced a massive privacy initiative; iOS 14 (and beyond) would require App Tracking Transparency. This change means iPhones “will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.”

Said simply, there is a pop-up in every app that tracks you asking for permission to do so. Only 4 percent of iOS 14.5 users have allowed app tracking; 96 percent said no. 

Mark Zuckerberg is so worried about this change that he resorted to “Help keep Facebook/Instagram free” pop-ups virtually begging people to allow tracking. Because if Facebook (and every other social network) loses the ability to track you, they also lose the ability to show you highly personalized ads. 

And you lose the ability to run them. 

How to stay compliant

So, what have you changed about your marketing based on the consumer empowerment movement? If your answer is “nothing,” I would advise you to wake up and take action immediately. 

I started by saying that “yesterday’s playbook just got burned.” I want to end by showing you what tomorrow’s playbook has in it. I want you to know what marketing that’s compliant looks like. 

All of these new rules are being enforced to make it harder for you to contact people. So the solution is to get people to contact you.

Build a brand people know, like and trust. Focus on building your personal brand as much as you do your businesses. People need to know you exist and think of you as the obvious choice to contact when they need to buy or sell a home. 

Try to become as famous as possible hyper-locally. You can’t do that by forcing people to register who just want to look at a listing. You can’t do that by dripping on them forever with listing alerts. You can’t do that by using AI and chatbots that pretend to be human.

There are only two things you need to become a household name: social media and content. Take the best pictures. Make the best videos. Write the best copy. Host the best podcast. Send the best emails. Run the best ads. Design the best graphics. Have the best website. 

Content is king, but only when it’s excellent.

Social media is simply where you distribute content. You should post on as many platforms as possible and advertise where your customers are most active. When you have the best content, you have the best social media. When you have the best content, you can post it everywhere. When you have the best content, ads are worth running. 

The three most important words for you to remember about marketing from now on are quality, consistency and expertise. You need to put out great stuff regularly that shows you know your niche. 

The privacy revolution is here, impacting every single way you do marketing on the internet. You must change too. You’re not going to be able to grow your business using yesterday’s playbook — so burn it.

Chris Smith is the co-founder of Curaytor in Orlando, Florida. Connect with him on Instagram or Twitter