Instead, on the advice of their marketing and branding consultant, they developed a campaign that calls upon millennials and others to define Sacramento’s sense of place, to talk about how their world is connected to the heart of the city and to inspire viewers to live life to the fullest right near home.
The advertising campaign, shaped by Sacramento’s Vision Launchers, threw out the typical playbook that emphasized photos of model homes and lists of subdivision amenities, said Kevin Smith, who’s managing The Mill project for the Northwest Land Park development company. Nonetheless, he said, it got a tremendous response.
“Before we even had the models, we had over 1,000 people on the interest list,” Smith said. “We have continued to have strong traffic through the community. We get very good feedback from our owners as well as our buyers.”
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Smith, who has worked in housing for more than 20 years, said the development on Third Street, just off Broadway, was designed with millennial buyers in mind because they were entering the first-time-homebuyer stage of life. At the same time, Smith and his partners also wanted baby boomers to know that the homes would put them near the central city if they were ready to downsize their lives and shorten their commutes.
So far Video Launchers has produced 86 videos for The Mill, ranging from a reality-TV-style program where four millennials are given the keys to a model home for a weekend to lifestyle videos that feature millennials enjoying the city’s diverse spaces. Smith said he was particularly struck by the impact of the ongoing “Live On” series of videos that eschew any talk of home features and instead focus on Sacramentans such as photographer Nicholas Wray, fitness trainer Bryan Washington of The Academy, and recently restaurateur Randall Selland sharing their views on what defines Sacramento.
Russell Breton, co-owner of Vision Launchers, explained: “We started identifying people from all different walks of life and all different social circles, and we invited them into The Mill, and our whole goal was to create advertising campaigns out of these people that weren’t overtly self-serving. We didn’t write any of their scripts. ... We just said, ‘Talk about what you love (about Sacramento). If it involves The Mill, we want to hear it, but if it’s just Sacramento, well, The Mill is about that, too.’ Even as The Mill, we can stand behind people and second their thoughts.”
Northwest Land Park currently has 151 homes in various stages of construction. To date, 32 homes have sold, 19 are in the contract stage and 26 have been reserved. When completed, Smith said, there will be roughly 1,000 homes there. While grading and other land work began two years ago, the first model homes were ready in spring 2015. The size of the homes varies from 553 square feet, priced in the low $200,000 range, to 1,451 square feet, which are priced in the low $400,000 range.
Homeowners began to move in at the end of February, Smith said, but the conversion from home shopper to homebuyer doesn’t mean that Northwest Land Park stops its marketing and branding efforts. Rather, Smith said, they look to transition owners into being ambassadors who are so excited about the neighborhood location, sense of community and potential that they will crow about the wisdom of their purchase on social media.
“Vision Launchers ... has worked with us continually on the idea of the customer experience, the buyer experience, the owner experience,” Smith said. “(It) is your best form of advertising because if (owners) are well taken care of, if they are satisfied with their homes, if they enjoy where they are living, they’re going to be your best advocates and your best voice out there.”
“The way we work at Vision Launchers is, we’re not just interested in making a buck or making a dollar for whoever needs us,” said Breton, 30. “Our whole slogan is that we want to find beautiful ideas and make them contagious. We want to help meaningful causes that we believe in grow, realize and launch. We realize that through marketing them. Marketing is just the transference of ideas.”
He said he and his partner, David Martinelli, 32, had never worked with a developer or a client as large as Northwest Land Park when the company approached them in late 2014, and they weren’t certain it would be a good fit. On the other side of the table, Breton said, Northwest Land Park wasn’t so certain that a seven-person marketing firm could deliver the punch the company wanted.
But Breton became convinced that it would be a harmonious relationship after listening to Northwest Land Park’s Jim Murar talk about his vision for the infill subdivision: “What he said is we want to take a part of Sacramento that has been long forgotten, that has been segmented and fragmented from a lot of the life that has surged into downtown and the greater city, and we want to bring life to it. We don’t want to just build homes and sell space. We want to create a sense of place that will be timeless in years to come.”
Still, Breton said, he would go to meetings where he wanted to focus on heart and vision and personality, and he would be greeted by people who couldn’t believe he wanted to make and distribute advertising where the development name was not mentioned by people talking in the video. Instead, Breton and Martinelli put a tiny The Mill logo at the bottom of the screen.
“We did a full-on marketing campaign that mentioned ‘homes’ zero times and showed homes zero times,” Breton said. “All it did was tell a story about a lifestyle that people were already passionate about. We just said, ‘Listen, we get you, and we understand. That’s all, end of conversation.’ We didn’t try to sell. We didn’t try to force-feed our message down people’s throats because our whole thing was, people are smarter than most marketers give them credit for.”
Breton said he sees a definite shift in the American Dream, influenced by millennials.
“Residential developers still think it’s about the biggest house you can afford, one that’s pretty and has everything you need,” Breton said. “But the American Dream has shifted. It’s less about materials and more about memories and moments. It’s more about living your lives in pursuit of experiences instead of managing all these expenses.”