With so many new startups and tech companies going mainstream, it's hard to keep up with everything unless you happen to live in Silicon Valley. And in an industry like new home construction, it's even more difficult to apply new approaches with names like Growth-hacking or LeanUX to improve our business. But there's one term you might have heard before that every home building marketer should seriously consider when it comes to their digital marketing: Minimum Viable Product or MVP.
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
According to Wikipedia, "A minimum viable product has just enough core features to effectively deploy the product, and no more...This website strategy targets avoiding building products that customers do not want and seeks to maximize information about the customer per amount of money spent." While this definition might sound a bit dry and lackluster, there's an enormous amount of value in taking this approach – even for those of us outside Silicon Valley. And here's why...
You may not be launching the next earth-shattering iPhone app, but home builders can certainly leverage this thinking because the primary purpose of an MVP website strategy is simple: provide immediate value to your customers while minimizing costs, and then use feedback from actual users to test assumptions and adapt.
Why is a Minimum Viable Product so valuable to a home builder's website strategy?
So you spend months designing, building, and testing your new home builder website design only to find out that users aren’t engaging with it the way you had hoped, and it’s not driving new leads the way you thought it would. This can mean valuable marketing dollars and resources have been spent on features that users simply don’t want, or ultimately don’t contribute to your goals.
By beginning with an MVP approach we can reduce this risk by including only the most essential website features to launch, and getting user feedback early and often to make sure what we’re building aligns with the needs of our audience. The sooner we can determine that something is or isn’t working the sooner we can adapt and find solutions that move us closer to our desired outcome.
The difference between a typical product or website strategy (top) and an MVP approach (bottom)
And the MVP approach isn’t just a strategy for websites. It can be applied to launching any project – be it an app, marketing campaign, or even a new community.
1) Understand your audience and set measurable goals
The first, and most important, question to ask is “why are we doing this project?” If you struggle to answer this question then reference our checklist for determining whether or not you actually need a new home builder website. You may just need a face-lift, or perhaps you’d like to be able to include more automation. Whatever the reason, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. This will inform what is, and isn't, included in your MVP.
Before deciding on even a single feature you must conduct a thorough strategic analysis and set tangible goals. You need to have a clear picture of who you’re building this for and what problems you’re trying to solve. Make sure you thoroughly understand the needs and pain points of your target demographics by conducting user research and testing. This data gives you the confidence that you’re investing in the right areas from the beginning.
2) Define your MVP features: must-haves v. nice-to-haves
After setting clear and measurable goals you can begin to identify what should be included in your MVP. Remember that every feature should be related to the goals you’ve previously outlined. Don’t fall into the trap of including copycat features – just because another builder has done something doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Also keep in mind that features from your previous website may not need to be included – this is a chance for you to re-evaluate the entire experience with fresh eyes.
A good first step is to divide items into 2 categories: must-haves and nice-to-haves. As the name suggests must-have features are business-critical and must be included in your initial launch, regardless of cost or time.
Common examples of must-have features for home builders:
- Floor plan renderings
- Integration with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Marketing Automation (MA) platform
- Live chat tools for with an online sales counselor
- Forms for scheduling an appointment or requesting information about a specific product
Nice-to-have features are those that don't drive your core business, and could be considered for later. For example:
- Maps and geolocation based tools for finding model centers
- Virtual floor plan walk-throughs and augmented or virtual reality experiences
- Advanced personalization strategies
Creating a prioritization matrix, sometimes called an impact vs. effort chart, can be an invaluable tool during this process. This approach can help to quickly identify ways to start seeing results with minimal effort and weed out features that may require a greater commitment of resources and don’t generate enough value to justify the cost.
Remember to bring your entire team together when going through this process. Each department has their own priorities and perspectives on what is most important, and it’s critical that you are in alignment as an organization. Getting all stakeholders involved and working together on prioritizing features will keep things on-track and eliminate unnecessary features being added by a single individual or department with a specific agenda.
Creating an MVP isn’t about including all possible features that are brought to the table – remember that it’s about starting small and building value over time. This means you must decide what are the most critical aspects of this project, and what can wait. Prioritizing some features over others can be a difficult decision to make, so it’s important to defer to your organizational goals and user research as much as possible.
3) Launch, test, learn, and react
Many companies will begin with a soft launch, sometimes called alpha testing, which involves getting feedback from individuals within your organization (e.g. ask the sales team see how they might use it with their process), or even friends and family. This can give you an opportunity to make sure that what you’re about to launch is intuitive, attractive, and free of any major issues. Just keep in mind this is not the time to start adding in new features. That will come with your future iterations.
With your website launched to the public you’re ready to begin the ongoing process of testing and optimizing.
The old “set it and forget it” approach to building and launching a website doesn’t work anymore. You must take the time to check-in regularly, listen to your users, and analyze your efforts.
Review the results of what you’ve built and look for opportunities for improvement. Analytics will show you where users are dropping off, or where they’re spending the most of their time. This data is crucial when considering improvements, or new features, for your website. When considering future website iterations, a good place to start is with the top 5-10 most visited pages on your site (according to Google Analytics).
How to get started
With so many things to consider when re-building your website it can be difficult to know where to begin. By starting with a minimum viable product you can make sure that what you’re launching aligns with you company goals, is cost effective, and gives your customers exactly what they need.
Every home builder can take advantage of this approach because it’s all about providing the most value to your users with the least amount of effort (and resources). When getting started remember these core tenets:
- Set clear and measurable goals
- Prioritize features that provide the highest impact, and wait on those that don’t
- Listen to your customers and use their feedback to inform future enhancements