Parkbench, the subject of a recent founder interview, is a neighborhood news platform helping real estate agents be the digital mayor of their neighborhood. They actually refer to it as a Local Leader Real Estate Marketing System (truthfully, I’m not exactly sure what that means).
A bit more about their model:
Real Estate is a relationship based business and we help you stand out in your community. We will help increase your sphere of influence by enabling you with your own neighborhood website. Our system has worked for hundreds of real estate professionals across North America.
A Few Thoughts
Let me preface my thoughts by saying — I’m a HUGE advocate for developing/demonstrating hyper local expertise as a central strategy for an agent/broker.
That said, there is a rather large graveyard of startups who tried to build businesses on hyper local neighborhood news. I wrote about local news and real estate just a few weeks ago, and mentioned a few of them (Outside.in, Patch, Blockfeed). Localism is another one that made a run at it many years ago.
Why is that? The problem with “local news” is, well, it’s not really a “problem” to the majority. There’s literally news everywhere you look online. Finding a different/new source for local news is not a “problem” many home owners / consumers care about solving.
User acquisition in the “news” vertical takes considerable time, since most marketing comes from word of mouth and not as a result of people seeking a specific solution to a problem they’re facing.
There are thousands of other websites competing for that same local traffic/attention. Other agents, brokers, newspapers, portals among them.
Even if you succeed in attracting a hyper local audience — how do you monetize an audience without an urgent problem in need of solving?
It’s true, buyers want to get to know the neighborhoods they are contemplating moving to (whether from far away, or across town).
It’s true, local news (can) drive leads.
It’s true, there is value in collaborating with others locally (and nationally for SEO).
It’s true, going it alone SEO-wise is time consuming and expensive.
The Core Challenge
The challenge with Parkbench’s model is a lack of agents playing the long game (how many agents genuinely make decisions based on what will help their business 3 years from now, and remain committed for 3 years to see it to success?) as well as the cost/time of acquiring customers.
Jim Duncan and Ines are examples of those playing the long game over the past decade — but the reality is most agents give up on local blogging before they ever get to a point where they are generating qualified leads from their efforts.
Becoming the Digital Mayor
Were I to commit myself to being the digital mayer of city/neighborhood X, I’d go into it knowing it’s a 2-3 year strategy. I’d fully expect to write several hundred blog posts at a minimum, and likely record numerous videos and perhaps even a few podcasts.
Thus, for me, the prospect of using a platform such as ParkBench comes down to the following big question:
Why create and curate local content on someone else’s platform?
Being a massive content creator for over a decade, I know full well the time and effort required to create great content — and that content’s value over time. Content is permanent breadcrumbs back to my business (some my thoughts from 2008).
I know how hard it is to generate traffic.
Is the risk of a company (whether that be ParkBench or any other entity) changing their mind and doing something different with my content (or showing ads on it) 2 or 3 years from now worth it?
ParkBench’s offering becomes more interesting IF they do all the work and drive qualified local traffic interested in speaking to an agent. It’s no secret there are plenty of agents/brokers willing to pay for qualified leads. That said, traffic acquisition and eyes on brand is the hard part of the equation.
It gets interesting if you place their technology into a brokerage committed to investing heavily into local overs the course of several years.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe being the digital mayer is exactly what an agent/broker should be doing. I know anything is possible.
I just don’t happen to believe lack of technology is the reason most agents haven’t embarked on that strategy/journey — or that a better tool will result in more sticking with the strategy long enough to succeed.
Am I wrong? Leave your thoughts in the comments.