Why Zillow Started Investing in Advertising and Found Its Way Home

Every year the Puget Sound American Marketing Association hosts MarketMix in Seattle. It’s the largest marketing conference in the Northwest and this year top marketers from Nordstrom, T-Mobile, Nike and more took to the stage at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center, sharing insights and learnings with marketers from around the region.

It was here where an opening keynote by Amy Bohutinsky, Chief Marketing Officer of Seattle-based Zillow, presented the reason why the company had finally chosen to run their first-ever advertising campaign.

“We were the largest web and mobile player in our category but 88 percent of Americans couldn’t come up with ‘Zillow’ when asked to name a real-estate-related website.”

The brand had done a tremendous job creating the online real estate category. Massive data, informative real estate insights and proprietary industry tools, such as the famous Zillow Home Value Index, had raised the company from mere start up to industry authority. But if the brand was going to become synonymous with homes and real estate it needed to go beyond data and web search returns. It needed to have an emotional side and be remembered by people.

And that’s where advertising came in: “You’re not just looking for a house. You’re looking for a place for your life to happen.” Connecting with people on this level became a priority.

After the advertising, website traffic was up 75 percent, Zillow’s brand awareness doubled and their category share tripled.

Advertising acted as ‘an accelerant’, as Amy put it. The brand had already started a small fire of success with unsurpassed data, notable public relations, strong social media and effective email marketing. Adding advertising on top of all this was the key.

Many early growth companies lead with advertising before these other channels are honed. But Zillow has given the marketing industry an excellent case study on how to use advertising to turn a category leader into a memorable brand.

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