CMO of the Week: Opendoor’s David Corns - Brand Innovators

CMO of the Week: Opendoor’s David Corns

Opendoor’s David Corns loves to solve hard problems. So it makes sense that as chief marketing officer at, an ecommerce real estate platform, that he is working to disrupt the very traditional real estate business.

“Buying and selling a home on an online platform is really motivating, disrupting that traditional category that has really been unchanged for over a hundred years,” says Corns.

Ever since the pandemic, larger purchases you would not traditionally have been able to buy online have been available for sale through ecommerce channels including art and cars. “You can buy a car on Carvana, you should be able to buy a house and sell a house just as easily,” reflects Corns.

The brand’s marketing work reflects this disruption as well. During the Super Bowl, a customer sold their house live on TV using the platform during the Atlanta broadcast. The company built a giant bird’s nest at UCLA to help convince parents visiting their college kids that it’s okay for them to leave the nests. They’ve built massive yard signs in cities, as well as local yard sign hacks. For St. Patrick’s Day, consumers could pour a Guinness from a yard sign. For March Madness, there was a yard sign with a functioning basketball hoop. Some yard signs served as local neighborhood libraries. 

“That kind of innovation has been central to what we’ve done at Opendoor, because we believe that if the product is innovative and disruptive the marketing should be too,” adds Corns.

Corns will be speaking on the Brand Innovators Cannes Marketing Leadership stage next week. 

In advance of the event, we caught up with Corns to discuss disrupting real estate, creativity and Cannes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Last time we talked to you before the Super Bowl, you were planning to sell a house live on TV in the Atlanta market. How did it go? 

We saw our awareness and consideration go to an all-time high. What was truly incredible about that was we only ran that work in Atlanta, which was the hardest market for selling at the time. We only ran it in one city, but because it was such an audacious thing to do –to sell a home live from TV– we got a lot of national press. This helped raise the profile of Opendoor, which is obviously important to us. We’re a disruptor and we’re a brand on our ascension so getting attention beyond the media we’re buying was great. 

How does innovation play into your work?

Innovation is kind of central to everything we do at Opendoor. The product itself is wildly innovative and ambitious. Real estate hasn’t changed in a hundred years and finding ways to make this complex and hassle full process simple, certain and fast is part of it. You can enter an address. You can get an offer on your home in minutes but also on the buying side, you can tour our homes with a click of a button on your phone and you can self-tour the home, no agents, no commission. Those things are highly innovative.

How is the real estate category evolving and where do you fit in?

Opendoor is leading the future of real estate. We have self-service real estate where you can tap a button of a home. We have innovation where you can enter your address and get an instant offer on your home. Those things are fundamentally where consumers want to be. We’re seeing a lot of conversation in real estate around commissions. There’s been lawsuits about it. It’s a big topic of how much should consumers be paying for commission? We don’t work on a commission-based model. We have a set fee and we believe what’s good for the consumer is good for Opendoor. It’s less about how the category is evolving –we’re leading the category– and more about what happens to the category in the next few years.

What marketing challenges keep you up at night?

We’re in a really tough macro economy right now with inflation the highest and fastest growing in 40 years. Two or three years ago mortgage rates were around 2-3% and now they’re around 6-7%, which is a headwind for the entire category. But what do we do in the near term? People need to move, because they get new jobs, they have babies, they get a dog and they need a yard. Helping consumers that need to move in this macro climate is certainly more challenging but we’re having success there. 

It’s really balancing the near-term needs in a tough macro environment and making sure we don’t short change our long-term ambitions. It’s really about that making sure we’ve got marketing work that is performing today but ensuring that we’re not short- sighted. It’s about setting ourselves up for the next quarter, the next year and the next five years to come. We’ve really been focused on this brand performance approach where we make work that is both brand building, but we know it will drive traffic too. 

How are you thinking about creativity heading to Cannes?

The big theme is creativity as a business advantage. We’ve certainly seen that play out a lot. I’m also looking to see the best marketing work from around the world. I’m getting increasingly interested in who’s really well with CRM, email marketing and direct marketing. There’s a huge creative opportunity and possibilities there that can often get overlooked. We have an opportunity to be even more creative and ambitious in some more traditional channels. We’re disrupting a highly traditional category. We should be disrupting highly traditional marketing too.

How are you thinking about AI?

Historically, we went through the industrial revolution then went through the information and internet revolution and AI is the next revolution. It is impossible to comprehend the change AI is going to bring to humankind, but I truly believe that creativity always wins. It’s about how do we use AI creatively? How do we bring AI creatively into our media strategy, not just creative execution. We’re already working with AI for image generation both for marketing channels. In the future it’s going to be interesting because you’ll get to almost create and see work before you produce it. We’re beginning to use it in marketing more and more but we’re also policing ourselves because we still believe that creativity wins. AI can be a tool to help you be more creative, but it isn’t the answer.

How has your background in the agency world prepared you for this job?

It goes back to that creativity as a business advantage. You learn working at an agency things like a bias for action. A need to take complex things and simplify them and work as an organism not a mechanism. It’s not about having a good strategy deck that’s presented and having a good meeting. It’s about how do you make sure that work lives in the world? That part of my background carries forward so we have a culture within the marketing and communications department where it’s basically like making sure the work lives in the world. We’ve done a lot of great creative work that comes from having this belief that consumers need to see it.