Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Esther-Mireya Tejeda (Anywhere Real Estate) Transcript
Esther-Mireya Tejeda: The things that you like and the things that you do and the choices that you make are actually being fueled by your unconscious emotional constitution. The closer we get to actually understanding that unconscious persona, now we're talking about a truly 360 robust understanding of that person.

Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how marketers can get smarter and stronger. I am Greg Stuart, the CEO of the nonprofit MMA Global. And that voice you heard at the top is Esther-Mireya Tejeda. She is the CMO of Anywhere Real Estate, which owns Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Sotheby's Real Estate, and more.

Esther-Mireya, or E-M, previously worked at Ogilvy, PepsiCo, Univision, Entercom, and more. She joined Anywhere in 2022, just before the housing industry underwent some dramatic changes that we're going to talk about. Today on Building Better CMOs, Esther-Mireya and I are going to talk about the irreplaceable human element in real estate, why marketers need to think of themselves as business leaders, and — very interesting — how businesses can use neuroscience-based methods to understand the demographics of their customers.

This podcast is all about the challenges that marketers face and unlocking the true power that marketing can have. Esther-Mireya Tejeda from Anywhere Real Estate is going to tell us about how she did that right after this.

Esther-Mireya Tejeda, welcome to Building Better CMOs.

EMT: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here today.

GS: Yeah. So Esther, just so everybody knows here, you're CMO of Anywhere Real Estate, and I'm going to guess very few of our listeners, unless they're inside real estate, would actually even know the company. So it's a collection of well-known brands. You want to share those brands with everybody so they know?

EMT: Absolutely. So Anywhere is the parent company of some of the most well-known brands in real estate, including Sotheby's International Realty, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, ERA, Better Homes & Gardens, and Corcoran. We're also in the corporate relocation business. So if you've ever been moved by your company and you've moved through Cartus, that's an Anywhere brand. And we're also in title insurance and in mortgage. So it is the leading residential real estate company in the USA.

GS: Crazy big, thousands and thousands of employees, right?

EMT: Oh, yeah, huge. And some of the most beloved consumer real estate brands in the country and, arguably, around the globe. So a very exciting time to be in this role and in this industry.

GS: Well, is that what we call this, exciting, Esther Mireya? I'm not sure, is that the word I would've... Yeah, I don't know. What is the state of real estate? What's happening right now? Everything's kind of in a state of flux.

EMT: It's been quite a ride. As everything, residential real estate is cyclical. There was quite a positive reaction happening after the pandemic, for the business and people wanting to move, people thinking differently about their housing situations, people rethinking city living and wanting to move out to the suburbs, things like that. That actually ended up having a really great benefit to the business in combination with really, really low interest rates. And then things really did change towards the end of 2022, when we saw significant rises in interest rates, which changed the dynamics for most American buyers and sellers, coupled with some real challenges in inventory. America has a huge housing inventory issue. We have more people than we have houses. Across the country, in all markets, that is the case. And so high interest rates and low inventory lead to a really peculiar set of circumstances that have dramatically impacted transaction volume and just what is comfortable for most Americans to consider.

Especially if you're sitting in a home with a 3 percent interest rate, you have to really think long and hard about giving that up to move somewhere else with an interest rate that's twice, or even more than twice, as high. So there's a lot of opportunity, I think, for change and disruption and transformation, and thinking about this industry differently and thinking about the customer experience differently, and improving the customer experience all around. And I like to say that when there's challenges in the market, that is what gives rise to some of the best and most creative strategic thinking. I've seen that over and over again in a lot of other roles. And so we are tackling some pretty significant transformation and big, huge, powerful inspiring goals at Anywhere right now. And so that's why I say it's an exciting and thrilling time to be at the company.

GS: Well, listen, you've got to appreciate growth opportunities, as somebody said to me once, and I guess that's what this is. And it is kind of a crazy one right now. I mean, you've got private equity in the business, which is really changing the landscape. You see a lot in the news about that. I don't think that has anything to do with you all, obviously. You do have the higher interest rates. I mean, I have two mortgages under 3 percent. You're right, I'm never giving them up for as long as I live. I mean, who would do that? That would just be insane. Real estate's a funny business. My wife's said it's a contractor business. Most brokers or sales agents are independent contractors, managing that can have its own challenges. I mean, it's a pretty darn complex business.

EMT: It is. And so we are a franchisee. We franchise a lot of our brands. Agents are, to your point, independent contractors. What that means, especially from a marketing perspective, is that the value of our brands and the value of our brand equity and awareness, and the trust associated with our brands, is our biggest asset second to our people and our teams. So it makes the function of marketing actually much more important, and sort of front and center, than it would be perhaps in other industries and organizations because so much of the value that we're bringing, in the B2B sense, is the power of the brand and what does it mean for driving business.

GS: And that brand is dictated in part by a customer experience. And by the way, I know a lot of pretty well-to-do real estate people and they're relatively independent-minded. There's a sense of "They're not going to work for the company" kind of thing. I don't know, there's a funny orientation to that a little bit. But that's got to make it really tough then to extend it all the way down to what is arguably a consumer's biggest purchase they're ever going to make in their lives.

EMT: For most people, absolutely true. It is the biggest purchase that they will make in their life and the biggest investment decision they'll have to make. And I think what we see in the data is that the agents and the brokers that do the best in this business are the ones that understand the importance of a positive customer experience. And we spend a lot of time, as the marketing engine for the enterprise, thinking about things like customer trust and thinking about things like, again, positivity in the experience and how do we make the transaction process more simple for buyers and sellers alike. In fact, that is the core of the Anywhere transformation strategy. It's something that we're thinking about, all the way from the CEO down to every last person that's on the ground, boots on the ground in the company. We're in the business of thinking about how this experience can be improved through smart technology, good data, really great customer experience, et cetera. So lots going on, and certainly no shortage of things to tackle and great ideas to be had.

GS: Well, in some regards, too, Esther Mireya, that might even be kind of a good place to jump off into the thrust of this show. I haven't been around the business as long, other than being a consumer, but with the digitalization: the fact that you can see all homes online, you can look up all information. I mean everything's really starting to change. It's also, I think—all due respects to at least the people I know—it's not been a very, what I consider, technologically oriented industry. It really was the classic people business, right? I mean it really has been, it really was a one-to-one relationship between that buyer, seller, and their real estate agent.

EMT: And it still is a people business. I think that's something we say a lot and we're very proud of. I think at the end of the day, what makes a successful transaction versus an unsuccessful transaction is the experience that you have with your agent and your broker and how well equipped, how knowledgeable, how trustworthy you believe that person to be in their role to steward you through what is a really, really complicated, cumbersome process. And the role of technology in that, which is exactly what we're investigating and navigating at the moment, is there is a tremendous opportunity for smart technology, not to replace the human and people side of all of this, but to elevate it and to enhance it by taking away some of the operational friction in the process and some of the sort of project management stress in the process, so that the buyer, the seller, and the agent can focus more on that human relationship and getting the client to the finish line more successfully.

GS: I think good real estate agents are, at sometimes, almost armchair psychologists at some level.

EMT: Absolutely. And we hear that from our consumers all the time, where they describe their relationship to their agent as a trusted adviser, as a counselor of sorts. That's a relationship that we have to take very seriously and remains at the center of the business.

GS: No, it's a funny thing, and not to get off to too much personal, but it's funny. My wife is in real estate in the New York area here, out in the Hamptons. And there's a lot of super smart, super slick people in the Hamptons doing real estate. There's no question about that. And at the end of the day, I think her niche is the fact that she's just an incredibly... I've watched. It's like she's an incredibly trustworthy... There's some people spending a ton of money, not that she studies the market in the way that maybe some of these other people, but they really trust her. I watch that again and again and again. They'll choose her over somebody who seems a little bit slicker or whatever. More established, bigger teams kind of thing, because they trust her. Yeah, it's a big deal.

EMT: It is a big deal, and it tracks fully with what we see in all of the research around consumer behavior in general. We are living in the most distrusting period of time, certainly in all of our lifetime. Consumers, if you look at all of the data, all of the research that is out there right now, consumers are more distrusting today than they've ever been. They don't trust each other, they don't trust the government, they don't trust businesses, they don't trust brands.

GS: We don't trust news.

EMT: We don't trust news, we don't trust science. Everything is up for a debate. And the data also shows us that there's very little optimism, so folks are less optimistic about the next five years than we've ever seen before. And that's in work data, that's in the Edelman Trust Barometer. That's a thing that is surfacing in research all over the place. And so it tracks, what you're describing totally tracks. People will flock to brands, businesses, whether it's real estate or something else, that they believe are aligned with their values and their principles, and that they believe are going to operate in their best interests. And so we, as marketers, are in the business, almost squarely right now, of understanding that nuance in our customer base and delivering on that trust proposition, because that is the only way to effectively run a business in today's day and age.

GS: Okay, well this is a great jumping off point, so let's get into Building Better CMOs. Okay, so the question I always ask: what do you think marketers don't fully understand or appreciate that would create for a better marketing dynamic? What is that? What do you see as you look out, and you've been in marketing a number of years, a couple of decades at least. Big New York agencies, I noticed. Pepsi was in there, I saw on the list. So you've been, dare I say, classically trained. And you've seen a lot of different markets from different places. In fact, you've been on the media side, too. Univision, did I see you at Univision one point?

EMT: I was at Univision. I was at Entercom, which is now Audacy.

GS: Yeah, Audacy, exactly.

EMT: So yeah, I've been around the block. No spring chicken over here.

GS: Well, that wasn't where I was going. However, as you look out over the broad swath of markets you work with or what you've seen in your experience, what do you think we don't fully appreciate or get?

EMT: I think part of the biggest issue with our discipline is that a lot of marketers describe themselves as marketers and think of themselves as marketers and only marketers. And so, the issue with that is that there is a disconnect between the function and the subject matter expertise of marketing and the overall business strategy. There are so many times where I see that misalignment between heads of marketing, marketing teams, and the CFO and the CEO, simply because people are speaking totally different languages. And the marketing team is knee-deep or head down in the business of marketing and not really understanding, really, what is this business trying to accomplish? What are the revenue goals? How does this business operate? How does it make money? How can I support the bottom line? How can I be part of stewarding the business forward? And I think understanding and accepting and embracing that you are first and foremost a business leader, and before you are a functional marketing expert, that is the leap that a lot of marketers struggle to make.

And so I always bristle a little bit when I hear senior marketing people say, "Well, I'm just a marketer," or "I'm a marketer." I kind of want to reach out and say, "No, you're actually a business leader that is a marketing expert, not the other way around." And I think if we embrace that relationship to our organizations and to the rest of the C-suite, and frankly to the bottom line, we will have much more agency as a discipline, and a much more important role, and the rightful role, and seat at the table to start being part of larger decision-making business strategy, not just execution and outreach and engagement and all of the things that marketing is historically known for. Because this is a function that can and should be doing much more expansive work in today's landscape.

GS: Okay. I'm going to parse this in two different ways with you then, I think would be interesting to hear. What does it mean to be a business leader? What do you mean to be connected to the rest of the C-suite and the objectives of the organization, how you kind of started there? And then I think I'm going to ask you, what do you think is required to be a really good marketer? Let's take it back down a level, but I'm going to go back to that higher level for a moment. What is that?

EMT: I think marketing really needs to understand what a business is thinking to do and wants to be and what they want to accomplish in the five- and 10-year outlook. So the language of CFOs is very different from the language of CMOs. We have to learn to speak that financial language. We have to understand the books, how the revenue is generated. We have to understand quarterly earnings and the impact of those reports on the success, health, or otherwise of a business. And I think the more that we integrate into those conversations around future strategy of a business, transformation strategy of a business, growth strategies of a business, diversification strategies of a business, et cetera, that we can become an integral part of the strategy team. As opposed to, I think, where a lot of marketing sits, which is an execution arm that is designed to help execute or implement strategies that are being set somewhere else.

And so, when I say, "Get closer to the business," and when I say, "Think of yourself as a business leader first," I mean quite literally your job is in a crew of people, a leadership team that is trying to drive a business, in its entirety, forward. What are you adding to that mission? And then, what is the way that marketing, as a functional area, can support that mission and help hit those numbers and drive to that bottom line? And that is a jump that is very difficult for a lot of marketers to make, and we need to start having that conversation more widely in our discipline.

GS: I want to get some examples of that kind of thing, but I want to call out this is not the voice of an MBA. There is not a business degree... I looked at your undergrad. Your undergrad is not a business degree, you're not an economist. What got you to be so attuned to the business dynamics, and how do you talk to the CFO?

EMT: So I will say, I have a little bit of a running start. I come from a very entrepreneurial family, and so I have always had a total business kind of outlook on any organization that I've ever been a part of.

GS: Okay, okay. You learned it at the dinner table, maybe?

EMT: Exactly, right. Having that comprehensive view of what this organization is doing helps me to then ladder up my marketing strategies to support that. I did spend a lot of time working on financial comms, so I got very, very versed in the business of the CFO and their quarterly earnings and understanding all of that.

GS: Oh, okay, okay.

EMT: It really started to become crystal clear how at the end of the day, everything that everyone is doing in the business comes down to the financial reporting out to the shareholders and to the stakeholders and to Wall Street. And so, the closer that you are to driving that success, the more successful you will be in driving your function, and so that's advice I give to everybody.

GS: You sat on the investor calls, or whatever, you were helping to work on communications for the company around that in your background, and you were like, "Oh, these people are talking. I'm in marketing, but I'm working for the CFO." I'm assuming at some level what's going on there. And like, "Oh, that's their language. That's different than what I'm hearing here from these other people in marketing." Interesting. Wow, what a unique experience.

EMT: And thank god for that, because it really has been a full-circle journey for me. I mean at that time marketing was still being talked about as arts and crafts, essentially. The creative team, design, advertising, collateral materials, et cetera, but not really clear to the CFO or the CEO, "How is this actually driving my numbers, which is the thing I need to report on every quarter to my stockholders or to my partners." And so what has happened, over the years and the decades, is that organically marketing has gotten closer and closer to that, almost to a point where we're sometimes thought of as a sales enablement function, which is also a mistake. And so I think the trick is finding that smart middle ground where you are maintaining the integrity of creative, and you are maintaining the voice of the customer, and you are that conduit and that liaison to what is happening in culture and society and helping your organization be responsive to it, but doing it in a way that is commercially viable and that is commercially minded because that's ultimately what everyone is there to do.

GS: Can you give an example? You don't even have to name the company. Can you talk about sort of an awareness moment you had, or how you figured out how to talk to the CFO? Or how would you advise to talk to the CFO? What's your advice to other marketers to understand what the CFO is having to deal with and the business that they're in, and how to translate that?

EMT: It's all about being able to measure and being able to quantify your impact.

GS: Oh, man. So you mean the thing that we in marketing suck the most at?

EMT: Yeah. And we can't afford to suck at it. That's the thing, because—

GS: I know. It's ridiculous.

EMT: More and more, this is what is being asked of marketing leaders, like show me the return on this investment. I mean, we're actually hearing organizations talk about marketing as an investment. We're hearing folks ask for ROI.

GS: A little bit.

EMT: Especially in organizations that are much more digitally forward, or have digitally forward thinkers, they're talking about marketing in terms of ROI. And so, you have to get to a place where you're really understanding what are the metrics that the company is measuring against, what are the numbers that they are driving to? And then when you are executing or building marketing strategies, you have to also do the work of understanding if I am successful at this, this is the economic KPI that this can return for the company. One of the things that I always bristle at is when we see marketing work that is totally couched in engagement numbers and engagement metrics. So engagement numbers and engagement metrics do not actually tell me how much money we made.

GS: Are we having the likes conversation? The most despised metric, right?

EMT: We're having the likes—

GS: Or click-through. Oh, my god.

EMT: Click rates.

GS: You wouldn't know this, I wrote the industry's digital click guidelines globally and got adoption of that in 2004. I've gone back to the organization now that manages that, I said, "We should cancel the technical guideline of a click. It is misleading and bad for the business." They've not chosen to do that yet, but I think we should get rid of it. Stop it. Stop measuring it.

EMT: It's only half of the story. It's like, "Okay, so what happened with that click? How did it actually drive all the way through to a dollar?"

GS: It's worse than that, I've done the research. There was no relationship between clicks and business performance whatsoever. None, none. In fact, my very favorite study of all time is there's one out there where people took, and they created white blank ads in standard IAB sizes. That's who I did that work for. standard IAB sizes, white blank ads. You know what's funny, the click-through of white blank ads was the same as ads with ads in them. That's insane. Yeah, we're idiots.

EMT: It is. We need to get away from that. We need to start talking dollars and cents. We need to start talking total addressable market. We need to start talking about incremental volume, incremental transaction volume. What can we actually deliver?

GS: It's all about incrementality. You're a hundred percent correct, a hundred percent. Okay. How do you look at your success as a marketer? What do you think maybe you're doing differently than another marketer might be doing? I think would be interesting to understand. How do you translate your role in this collaboration that ultimately then gets to the business goals? Talk to me about marketing.

EMT: So first and foremost, I'm hyper-focused on what is our economic contribution to the business? And so I frame everything in that context and I look to create strategies that deliver on economic goals, one. Two, the other thing that I am championing very heavily right now is much deeper and much more robust segmentation of the customers. I like to call that total audience strategy, and it is thinking holistically about a business. Our business, for example, in real estate is very complex, as you mentioned earlier. We have agents as customers, we have brokers as customers, franchisees as customers, and then buyers and sellers. And they're all customers in a different way, very much classically a B2B2C organization. Now, if I marry that with the insights that we were talking about earlier, around consumer trust and the state of affairs in the world right now, and all of the research that we are seeing in the marketing industry around consumer behavior and expectations, the dissolution of trust as a core tenant of society, the decrease in optimism for future generations.

And we just look at that data, generation over generation, and we look at it through ethnic lenses, and we look at it through household income, and we look at it geographically, it's a pretty clear picture of fragmentation. And so what we are dealing with in today's market, in today's reality is, I would say, the most fragmented, diverse, nuanced, and complex customer base that certainly I have ever seen in over 20 years in marketing.

GS: Wow.

EMT: And so what that necessitates, as a marketer and a business leader, is a much more complex way to understand that customer base, because that one-size-fits-all approach of yesteryear, today means one-size-fits-none.

GS: Okay. Can I step in on that?

EMT: Sure.

GS: Let's go back to your background, because I know where you came from, and Pepsi, phenomenal brand-oriented company. And this is not about Pepsi. Let's just take that out of the mix. Are you kind of rejecting that as the underlying thesis of where marketing goes? That it's not just about creating that unique brand differentiation and bringing it to the marketplace? Because a lot of people still believe in that.

EMT: It is not. It is that and a lot more now. And I think customer and consumer expectations are higher than they've ever been. And I think that, also, there is a desire and, not just a desire, a demand for personalized experiences that reflect the values and the belief and the wants and desires and to meet the specific needs of that customer. And so we have to get into, what I'm calling, precision marketing. And in order to have that level of precision and targeting and granularity in your strategy and in your execution, we have to have better, more robust data and insights. Because in even one brand, you can have so much fragmentation in your customer base that, by just kind of understanding one segment, you're leaving a bunch of money on the table and you're also potentially eliminating an entire customer base from your brand and from your business. And so the hyper-targeting to create the hyper-trust, that's the relationship that we need to be building right now. And so what I am working on to get there is something I'm calling emo-graphics.

GS: We have a name for it. Let's make sure everybody heard it. Emo-graphics, should we spell it? It's just E-M-O-graphics?

EMT: It's a shorthand for emotional graphics. And it's what I argue is the missing link to getting that robust, 360 customer profile. And so when I first started this in this business a while ago, over two decades ago, it was all about demographics. That's how we segmented our customer, that's how we targeted and personalized.

GS: Dumbest thing in the world.

EMT: Absolutely.

GS: Unbelievably. Men, 25-54. Women, 18-49 have... You've got to be shitting me. What is there common about... You could pick any random person at the same age group and stand them next to you, and I guarantee you none of your needs, your desires, your state of life are the same. It doesn't matter.

EMT: I agree with that a thousand percent.

GS: It's insane. Oh, my god. Crazy.

EMT: And we would add ethnic layers to that, it doesn't work. So we moved on from demographics, and then we added psychographics, which we thought was the cutting edge of understanding.

GS: It feels a little unproven, validated. We'll see if I hear from the psychographic company on that, but that always left me a little funky. You could develop an interesting insight, and maybe it showed up in messaging, but you sure as hell couldn't really target against it, so who cared?

EMT: So we always, as an industry, say we are all about understanding why. I hear that all the time from just about every leader that's in this business. Why does your customer do this? Why, why, why? But psychographics don't tell me why, they tell me what. They tell me what they do. They tell me what they like. They tell me what they prefer, what their choices are. They don't tell me why. And certainly, neither do demographics. And so emo-graphics, in my opinion, is the answer to the why question. And it is premised on the psychological known fact that the majority of human behavior, upwards of 95 percent, is actually emotionally driven by the unconscious. So you may not even be aware of it, but the things that you like and the things that you do and the choices that you make are actually being fueled by your unconscious emotional constitution.

And so, I think that the closer we get to actually understanding that unconscious persona, and we marry that dataset with the demographics and the psychographics, now we're talking about a truly 360, robust understanding of that person. Now we can understand what makes that person tick. Now we can start building personalized, targeted, precise campaigns and strategies that truly, truly segment customers.

GS: Oh, my god, I love it.

EMT: And I want to be clear, to your earlier point, this is about segmentation. This is not fluffy, persona kind of characters. This is about understanding, at a very core level, the emotions that drive our customer base, segmenting those people appropriately, mapping that to the datasets that we're getting through our variety of marketing channels, marrying that data with demo data and psycho data, and then creating customer profiles for look-alikes, for targeting. All the things that we do digitally. And it's emo-graphics, it's all neuroscience based.

GS: I love it. Let's take a quick break. We'll be back right after this with Esther-Mireya Tejeda.

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