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Redfin has built its online real estate service over the years largely through word-of-mouth referrals and a very active public relations effort, one which landed CEO Glenn Kelman on “60 Minutes” a few years ago. But things are changing at the Seattle online real estate company, which earlier this month started testing what newly-appointed marketing chief Tom Vogl described as “small-scale marketing buys” with radio stations in a few of the 19 markets where it operates.

Wait, Redfin? It may seem like an unusual move for a company like Redfin to embrace an old-school medium such as radio. But Vogl tells GeekWire that the debate between “offline” and “online” advertising is “becoming largely irrelevant.”

“Consumers increasingly don’t consume media or think about their shopping behavior as online or offline,” said Vogl, who joined Redfin last month after six years at REI. “They may see a TV ad or hear a radio spot and go to a website or use a mobile app to continue their browsing process, just as much as they might call an 800 number or visit a store. Radio is a good medium to test because it’s fairly cost-effective and quick to execute.”

Redfin isn’t stopping with radio. It is also testing online display advertising, as well as retargeting campaigns which shows ads on other Web sites to potential customers who previously stopped by the Redfin site. An online video test also is in the works for April.

“For the most part, customers who have worked with us in the past or regularly use our site love Redfin. Word of mouth is still our largest driver of our growth and has accelerated every year we’ve been in business,” said Vogl. “Our goal in testing some marketing vehicles is to figure out ways of getting the Redfin story in front of more consumers. But to be clear, we continue to invest way more in serving customers through things like our website, mobile apps and our team of agents than through advertising efforts and don’t see that changing anytime in the foreseeable future.”

Interestingly, Redfin isn’t the only tech company bolstering its presence in traditional media. Amazon.com — which shunned advertising for years — has turned to TV to promote its Kindle Fire. And Google — the king of online advertising — has increasingly turned to TV, radio and newspapers to get its message across. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Google spent $213 million advertising its own services last year, up from $56 million in 2010. A growing percentage of those ad dollars are going to traditional media outlets, like TV which accounted for $69 million of the ad spend in 2011. That was up from $0 in 2008.

Things don’t always go as planned with traditional advertising, as Redfin found out earlier this month when one of its radio ads mistakenly aired twice on the Rush Limbaugh program in Seattle.

“We had not authorized that insertion, and the Rush Limbaugh program is not part of our media plan,” a spokesman for Redfin said.

Previously on GeekWire: Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman sounds warning bell about money-hungry ‘media sites’

 

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