Real estate is one of the sectors to actively embrace digital marketing. Digital campaigns augment existing sales channels and provide attractive unit economics. The changing behavior of the younger buyers, especially when it comes to consuming information online, is driving up the utility of digital campaigns. The urban home-buyer is searching for, comparing properties and reading reviews (& forming perceptions) about the builders online much before shortlisting a property for a site visit.
Keeping these changes in mind, what should the CMO of a real estate brand do to effectively run his/her digital campaign? What are best practices? Here are a few points gathered through our firsthand experience of running such campaigns
Platforms – Looking beyond search & display
Purchasing real estate is a long haul process for most buyers. The time when the thought of buying an apartment is triggered to actually ‘signing on the dotted line’ could be a year! The longer a brand stays with the potential buyer through his/her journey, the better the chances of the brand being chosen over alternatives.
This implies that the brand should ideally help start the purchase journey by being the trigger, if not catching them early in their decision process. Display based platforms, for example: Facebook, can be a great platform to initiate the buying thought process in the minds of prospective buyers. Similarly, google display network, targeting towards affinity audiences can be effective.
Google search captures those who are further down the purchase path. They are actively looking for options, filling out forms and might have already commenced some site visits. A good mix of ‘late-stage’ and ‘early-stage’ prospects defines a healthy sales funnel. Therefore, search campaigns, however ‘high quality’ the leads might be, should be augmented with social campaigns. Those who get in the funnel through search campaigns can be nurtured through a multiple touch point, rich media campaign through facebook & google re-targeting. Other platforms are available, for example news publishers, but their return on either brand recall or on a CPL basis is not exciting.
Customer types & communication: Tailored & personalized
The best part of digital campaigns is the freedom for experimentation that a brand enjoys. A brand can be differently positioned for different audience types. In the context of real estate, the communication could be directed to the following customer types
- First time home buyer – Buying their dream home, a very emotional purchase
- NRIs – Could be looking for an investment opportunity or building their ‘final abode’
- HNIs – Looking for a pure investment opportunity, diversifying from other asset classes
The communication type, proposition for each of these should be different. The first time home buyer is buying into a dream. Story-telling plays an important role. Visualizing the ‘happily ever after’ moments is important in communication. In contrast, those looking for investments are objective and are looking at objective measures corresponding to their end objective, i.e., returns. The communication should adequately answer the following questions: a) what time would take the project to be completed?, b) what rental yields can be had?, c) what is the resale prospect or capital appreciation rates in the locality?
Metrics to track – Going beyond number of leads and CPLs
The most frequently looked at metric in real estate is number of leads and cost/lead. Filling out a form, which becomes a ‘lead’ is an expression of interest. The degree of the interest is the actual measure to look out for. In real estate, the real metric is the cost of getting a site visit.
Site visit is a commitment of time and energy. Real estate transactions close after a few site visits. Buying a property is no less than a landmark milestone for the household – something close to a wedding in stature. The first site visit might involve just the decision maker(s). However, the subsequent site visits are a ritual involving the extended family or friends. The second site visit can imply that the probability of sale has now moved upwards of 80%.
To measure effectiveness of campaigns running across multiple platforms, use the following charts to understand opportunity areas for various ad-communications.
The above chart illustrates that having CPL as the only metric could lead us to choosing Platform 3 – Campaign 3 whereas Platform 2 – Campaign 2 performs best overall based on cost/site visit and number of site visits.
Real estate is ‘local’ – are you leveraging geo-targeted ads?
Both google and facebook allow brands to show ads to people around a certain latitude and longitude through a relatively new geo-targeted ad format. Since real estate is a very local subject and searches happen for specific localities, which might be closer to where the buyer lives, prefers to live or else the buyer works. Using geo-targeted ads can be very effective.
Ad-creatives used for geo-targeted ads can carry a local flavor, making them more likeable, translating to better CTRs and lower CPLs
Track the latitude-longitude to understand leads concentration points on the map
Real estate properties can evince areas from a few concentrated clusters from within the city. Campaigns should capture latitude and longitude to be able to understand specific city pockets which are contributing leads. This can help brands focus their campaign to these specific pockets and therefore optimize on spends per lead generated. One such analysis is shown below.
Sales without building a brand will lead to nowhere
Running a lead generation campaign minus an active social/digital campaign for the brand can be very suboptimal. Real estate is a very high involvement category of purchase – perhaps the most important purchase for the household. Decision makers look for signals of credence to begin with. Then subconsciously the buyers looks for association anchors and specifically experience the emotions the brand’s communication evokes.
Those looking for luxury would look for those signals. Others looking for reliability as the foremost criteria would search for those cues from the communication. The more relatable the imagery of the brand, the higher the performance of the sales campaign.
We see a great correlation between CTRs for real estate ads and the strength of the brand. This directly translates to a lower CPL and eventually lower CPA. It is advisable to support lead generation campaigns for real estate with offline as well as social media campaigns.
Think long term: Velocity of offtake of your inventory for the next project
The amount of investment made on brand building for the first through nth project, would determine the velocity of offtake for the n+1th project. Factor in a disproportionately high marketing investment for your first project and expect the cost of sales to decline as a proportion of property sale prices as you do the next few projects. Brand building has long term impact on your sales efficiency in the future. It merits investment. If your plan is to build many more projects in the future, invest in digital branding alongside your lead generation campaign.