A challenge was given to Ernest Hemingway.
Tell a story in six words.
Challenge accepted.

“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

OK, so those six words—the saddest classified ad in history—may not have actually been written by Hemingway. But that’s the way I heard it a few years ago during a writing seminar led by Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

He was talking about the power of words and how a few of them, well chosen and precisely placed, can do just about anything. They can lift you up. They can break your heart.

That lesson stayed with me and resonated even more when I traded journalism for marketing and landed a job as a copywriter. In modern advertising, you get only a few words. You’ve still got to tell the story, and you also must compel the reader to do something, buy something. Maybe even something life-changing, like a home.

I come back often to those six words. Their power lies in the sudden and the unexpected. If you didn’t feel like you’d just been punched in the stomach, you don’t have a pulse. Those six words remind me what’s possible and remind me not to settle.

In homebuilder marketing, it’s easy to fall into a routine, recycling the same ideas, the same promotions, the same words over and over. If you want your message to stand out, to linger in the prospect’s memory and motivate them to walk through your door, it helps to tell your brand’s true story simply, in a way they didn’t see coming.

It helps to know that words are powerful and anything is possible.

Derek Turner is the Senior Copywriter at NDG Communications. Before joining NDG, he spent more than a decade as a journalist, writing and editing at newspapers in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He also served as Senior Editor in the USO’s Marketing and Communications Department.

We’ve got a lot of multi-talented people at NDG, but we never thought to hire an interior designer.

That would have come in handy, because we’re kind of winging it.  We’re rearranging furniture and adding desks to accommodate our growing team.

We’ve been fortunate to welcome new clients and new opportunities in the past year. To meet the challenge, our staff has grown by nearly 50 percent.

Our Five Keys to a Great Hire

At NDG, the team is everything. It’s how we’ve gotten this far and it will drive any future success. So we’ve taken some time to step back and define the qualities we want in new NDG team members.

Ultimately, we’re looking for five things: talent, character, drive, attitude and energy.

The work we do requires a lot of different skill sets. We’re a creative agency, obsessed with analytics. So we’re fun and methodical. We’re artists and digital wizards and everything in between.

We don’t insist that new hires have years of experience doing the precise thing we need them to do. If they have talent in their field, they can adapt to the job they’ll do here. If they have the other four traits, they will excel because failure is simply not in them.

Come to Work with an Attitude. The Good Kind.

An advertising agency—any business, really—is one big science experiment. It’s all about chemistry. When it’s good, it’s a beautiful thing. When it’s not, you’re just trying not to catch the building on fire.

We need people who thrive in a team environment, people equally excited to learn and to teach, to innovate and inspire.

What we ask is simple: Bring your talent and your passion. Get to know the talents and passions in every corner of the office. Pull them together to create something amazing.

If you like the sound of that, hey, we’re still hiring.


Email marketing is fast, efficient and effective. It’s almost too easy.

That’s why so many homebuilders fall back on it to stir up attention for a sluggish spec home or struggling community. Rather than seeing email only as a quick fix to your problems, think first about how you can serve your prospects.

Think slow courtship, not a one-night stand.

A recent Inman News blog post on revamping your email strategy included these telling statistics on the types of emails prospects want to receive:

New listings that match what they are looking for — 82 percent
Info on a specific home they’ve saved online — 43 percent
Alerts of upcoming open houses in their search area — 40 percent
Update on local market conditions — 35 percent
Monthly newsletter with seasonal tips, recipes and local market news — 12 percent

Builders are all over the first one. Everyone loves listings emails. But there’s plenty to learn from the rest of the options.

Info on a specific home: When a prospect shows interest in a home, keep it fresh in their mind. Email them with reminders about features and energy savings or send them new photos of the home.

Alerts on upcoming open houses: In new home communities, sales centers are open on weekends, so why not treat each one like an open house. Provide a few refreshments to step up the hospitality. Once a month, send a promotional email to give prospects a gentle nudge and subtly suggest competition and urgency.

Update on local market conditions: A periodic update on the local market not only establishes authority, but those insights can spur action. Still, be careful to treat it as a genuine service to the consumer and not a scare tactic.

Monthly newsletter with seasonal tips, recipes and local market news: Quality content elevates your brand. Make it useful and shareable. Encourage prospects to email it to family and friends or post it on social media.

The bottom line?

People like to be served, not sold. Take care of your prospects first and the sales will come.

Here’s some great news to get the week started: NDG has been chosen to represent the Colonial Forge community in Stafford, VA. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, beautifully located, with a wide selection of homes from three of the top homebuilders around.

We couldn’t be more excited. Check out the press release below to see why.

Date: May 12, 2014
Contact: Tom Nelson, NDG President

NDG Communications Hired to Lead Marketing Efforts for Colonial Forge

LA PLATA, MD — NDG Communications is proud to announce that it has been selected as the agency of record for Colonial Forge, a new home community in Stafford, Va., offered by a trio of prominent regional and national homebuilders.

Beazer Homes, Drees Homes and Augustine Homes combine to build single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums in Colonial Forge, a highly regarded community in a popular suburban area south of Washington, D.C.

“We’re extremely grateful to be chosen to represent this neighborhood and these three well-respected builders and developers,” NDG President Tom Nelson said. “When you visit the community, it’s easy to see everything that makes this place so desirable—the gorgeous natural setting and thoughtful home designs, not to mention the friendly, close-knit feeling. We’re excited to get started and help more homebuyers discover such an amazing community.”

Once completed, Colonial Forge will include 538 homes in all. Just more than 20 percent have already been sold. The community will also include a variety of amenities, including a clubhouse, pool, tennis courts and nature trails. 

Colonial Forge sits on a beautiful piece of rolling countryside with a 100-acre wooded backdrop. It’s right next door to Colonial Forge High School and a short drive from other great Stafford County schools.

NDG will begin work for the community immediately and will launch a redesigned website in the coming weeks at ColonialForge.com.

Beazer Homes is a Top 10 homebuilder nationally with more than three decades of experience and a footprint in 16 states. Drees Homes has been family owned and operated for more than 85 years and builds in 11 major U.S. markets. Augustine Homes, a well respected land developer and luxury home builder, has been a good will ambassador to the community for over a quarter-century and is credited with bringing to the area some of the most sought-after communities like Colonial Forge and others in Stafford and surrounding counties.

NDG Communications is an award-winning advertising and marketing agency focused on the homebuilding and real estate industries. The agency serves its clients by acting as a true partner and delivering real results through a measured approach to advertising, branding, digital development, production and media services. For more information, visit NDGcommunications.com.


It’s the end of a long day and you’re just getting home. You stop at the mailbox, open it and reach inside. What do you find?

Fifteen years ago, you’d be holding a thick stack of bills and greeting cards and sales letters. If you had the energy or the inclination, you might half-heartedly flip through, looking for something important, or even better, something interesting.

But this is the digital age. Our bills are automatically withdrawn, our birthday wishes come via Facebook and the mailbox is a lonely place.

This is what opportunity looks like.

Seize the Moment

We’re in a golden age for direct mail marketing, something many builders overlook. When a prospect picks up their mail, your DM will stand out because the competition has thinned out.

No one denies the value of online marketing. It’s here to stay and it’s not optional. But more than ever, there’s something about holding mail in your hands.

Direct mail recipients become the most engaged website visitors, spending more time on the site and visiting more pages. It’s common for a single mailing to produce five or more home sales.

Prospects are motivated to read direct mail, especially when it’s well targeted and compelling. If it’s an invitation—a VIP event, an open house, a grand opening—all the better. Ask them to do more than just show up. Ask them to RSVP. Start the conversation, or rekindle it.

Seal the Deal

Want an even better response your direct mail?

Pay a little extra and put it in an envelope. Use a stamp rather than a bulk mail imprint. We’ve tested this idea with multiple clients and found that prospects who receive direct mail inside an envelope are more likely to take action.

Time and again, our clients see people walking into their sales centers carrying the direct mail piece. They pulled it from their mailbox and held on to it. That’s a motivated prospect.

That’s the enduring power of direct mail.

It’s a no-brainer that today’s homebuilders must devote extra attention to mobile marketing, enabling potential buyers to interact with the brand on tablets and smartphones.

If you’ve succeeded there and the prospect has walked into your sales center, that’s excellent. But it’s no time to let up on your digital game.

Sales center touchscreens are the next step in closing the sale.

At NDG, we’ve had great success developing sales center touchscreens that are functional, intuitive and easily integrated into our clients’ prospect management systems.

If you’re having a high-traffic day, sales managers may be busy with other prospects when the next one walks through the door. A large touchscreen will catch their eye and they will be able to use it unassisted until a sales manager is free.

A prospect can scroll through available homes—complete with big, bold photography—choose an available homesite and begin customizing an interactive floorplan. But make it worth their time. Allow them to jot down notes, save their plans, print them or email the PDFs to themselves—all, of course, after registering and providing contact information.

Once a sales manager is free, the touchscreen allows them to give a virtual tour of homes, including those not available to walk through in person. They can talk options and incentives and design details. They can fine-tune that interactive floorplan, bringing the prospect ever closer to signing a contract.

Our clients who have incorporated this new touchscreen technology report better interaction with prospects and, most importantly, more sales conversions.

NDG Interactive Designer Cindy Breck, second from left, discussed the importance of branding and web presence with a group of young entrepreneurs.

It’s never too early to get started on a career in business.

That’s why I was honored last week to speak to students with the Young Entrepreneur Academy at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. As the Interactive Designer at NDG, I jumped at the opportunity to represent our agency and tell the group of 13 middle school and high school students about the importance of branding and a strong Web presence.

The YEA, sponsored by the Charles County Chamber of Commerce, helps young people achieve their dreams of becoming real and confident entrepreneurs. The students develop business ideas, write business plans, do market research, pitch their plans to investors and some even launch and run their own companies.

Each week, the class invites a different speaker from the community to visit and share what they’ve learned in their own careers.

To get started, I asked each student about their business and invited them to share their “elevator speech.” Wow, was I impressed. They had some great ideas—everything from anti-bullying apparel to fish tank accessories. They’d started their business plan weeks earlier and they were well on their way to success.

Now, the pressure was on me. I started by asking them a broad question: “What is branding?” Most said branding was the logo, the color scheme or the slogan. And of course, they were right. Branding is all these things and more rolled into one.

To stress the importance of branding and how it can set the tone for years of success, I showed the students Apple advertisements from the 1970s up until today. By the time I explained that the “funky looking keyboard” in an ad was actually a typewriter, they understood what I was showing them. After all these years and hundreds of products, Apple’s brand remains consistent, strong and memorable.

Moving on to the idea of Web presence, I asked the students another question: “What do you do first when you want to find out more about a product?” And everyone answered in unison, “Google it!”

“Content is king,” I told them. An overused phrase, I know, but it reminded them that a great website doesn’t begin and end with great design.

I showed them statistics that revealed how much better a business does when it uses an effective website and we discussed how important it is to develop a great user experience and targeted marketing strategies. And we wrapped up by reviewing the almighty Web Strategy Pyramid.

I think we can all agree that we’re over winter.

Prospective homebuyers already are looking forward to warmer weather, and now is a prime opportunity to show them a great place to enjoy it. A recent blog post from REALTOR Magazine reminds us that front porches are making a comeback. They’re among the most sought-after features this year.

As a homebuilder marketing your product, how can you take advantage of this?

First, don’t overlook the front porch when staging your model homes. Think porch swings, rocking chairs and hanging baskets. Shoot plenty of photos. Use them in ads and direct mail, share them in galleries on your website and on your social media accounts. Encourage your prospective buyers to imagine a warm summer evening with a glass of lemonade and fireflies dancing in the yard. It’s a perfect perspective to sell the story of the home.

The time to do it is now, with winter throwing its last wild punches and all of us longing for spring and summer and those days just made for rocking on the front porch.

It’s actually a law. As an advertising agency, we have to post a blog the day after the Super Bowl assessing, critiquing and/or making light of Super Bowl commercials. Seriously, it’s a law. You could look it up. It’s probably on the Internet somewhere.

Anyhow, being the law-abiding ad folks we are, below is our list of the most superbly superlative Super Bowl commercials. Enjoy.

Most Likely to Make You Cry
Microsoft: “Empowering”


Most Likely to Make You Salute
Budweiser: “Hero’s Welcome”


Most Likely to Make Parents Cringe
Hyundai: “Dad’s Sixth Sense”


Best Ad That Ignored the Critics
Cheerios: “Gracie”


Best Ad That Made Twitter Explode
Coca-Cola: “It’s Beautiful”


Most Effective Low-Budget Super Bowl Ad
T-Mobile: “We Killed the Long-Term Contract”


Best Use of Teen Wolf in an Ad
Radio Shack: “The Phone Call”


Best Sequel to a Clint Eastwood Ad
Chrysler: “America’s Import”


Most Innovative Use of Cattle Reproduction in the Selling of a Pickup Truck
Chevrolet: “Romance”


Best Use of a Flaming Sledge Hammer in a Local Super Bowl Ad
Jamie Casino: “Casino’s Law”


Of all the excuses to head to Las Vegas and escape the frigid East Coast weather, this is a pretty good one.

Members of the NDG team are winging it west next week for the International Builders Show 2014. It’s the largest event of its kind for homebuilders and a great opportunity to learn about the latest, most innovative trends.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates from the show. Then check back here when it’s all over and we’ll share some of the best things we saw and heard.

And by the way, we’re also eagerly awaiting Tuesday’s National Sales and Marketing Awards. NDG’s “Happiness Is …” campaign for Orleans Homes is one of six Silver Award winners for Best Overall Advertising Campaign. One of the six will receive the Gold Award.

Wish us luck.