Marketing has changed tremendously with the rise of internet connectivity, especially on mobile. B2C businesses were first to jump on this newly emerging digital marketing bandwagon - embracing channel marketing. B2B, however, was slower to the game and has been playing catch-up ever since, only in recent years embracing marketing automation and digital advertising like Adwords or Facebook campaigns.
The first and most significant developments were mobile and social media.
Back in 2007 when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, the era of mobile began. Since that day, the way people consume content online has evolved, allowing for immediate access to information anywhere, anytime. In addition, the development of 3G & 4G networks enabled users to send and receive relatively large files on the go.
Your clients access information on their phones both at work and outside of it. People expect to be able to access information, crunch data and communicate seamlessly on mobile. Plus, the nature of the job of commercial property professionals is mobile. To back this up with statistics, on average 71% of employees spend over two hours a week accessing company information on mobile (Fierce Mobile IT). That creates a competitive advantage for companies which prioritise mobile experience.
Nearly one-third of the world uses social networks regularly (eMarketer, 2016). That’s a lot of people. At the same time, social media enables companies to target communities and professionals through geolocation targeted communications (serving ads to people based in a specific location). Social media allows you to target your prospects more directly through organic and paid posts.
This also extends to messaging through their platforms. Social media offers an alternative to email marketing, especially in the post-GDPR era. Think about diversifying your channel marketing outside of email marketing. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or WeChat (especially if you’re targeting Chinese investors) present a great opportunity for communicating your value proposition to a targeted audience. Similar to email, mass messaging of irrelevant content to your entire database can be more harmful than useful.
Consumer behaviour as a barometer of trends
When it comes to the adoption of new and emerging technologies, consumers tend to be early adopters - jumping on new tech trends whilst brands and companies slowly follow suit. Consumers set the trends and companies wanting to connect with their audience must embrace these technological changes.
Here are some big trends from the last few years which have changed the way companies market products:
Did you know that Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average? This translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. With the rapid increase of mobile traffic, search has become a part of daily life. It doesn’t apply to individual consumers only, it has a broader impact - reaching B2B researchers and decision makers. For instance, according to Google themselves, 49% of B2B researchers who use their mobile devices for product research do so while at work. That’s the power of search in today’s world.
As a commercial property professional, you would be missing a trick if you ignored search as one of your channels. There are two main types of search: paid and organic. Organic search encompasses search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid search concentrates on Adwords or Bing.
Some practical actions that could help you boost search rankings:
- Research keywords specific to your commercial building and potential tenants that might be interested in taking a lease
- Within your building description, include keywords your potential tenants use when searching for a new commercial space
- Experiment with Adwords - if you are not running Adwords already, you might want to try running Adwords campaigns
Portals and marketplaces
The first commercial portals developed from print magazines as an online extension. Later on, with the introduction of Web 2.0, more independent portals started to emerge. Portals are essentially content aggregators supported with an accurate search engine. Users see portals as a convenient way to access many listing in one place and see wider availability in a given area. Aggregation of many buildings in one place gives them the edge when it comes to SEO as Google tends to favour sites with many pages. Hence, having your building listed on portals can help you increase the visibility of your property on Google. Plus, portals are often designed with user experience in mind, therefore you can presume users will find it easy to find all relevant info about the property. This might help with pre-qualifying enquiries.
Access on the go
In October 2016 mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic. This was a milestone that only reinforces the mobile-first approach promoted by tech giants like Google or Facebook in recent years.
Although in many B2B sectors users still predominantly consume and access content and communication on a desktop, this does not necessarily apply to commercial agents who spend a significant part of the working day away from their desks.
There is also another incentive. The mobile-first approach is championed by tech giants like Google, punishing websites that are not optimised for mobile. If you’re aiming for a win-win solution, you should consider the mobile-first approach for both your tenants and prospects as well as your staff.
Digital for low-value transactions
The sub-5000 sq ft market is a tough one. With rising competition from serviced office operators, agents specialising in the sub-5000 sq ft office market have more reasons than ever to embrace digital marketing.
Here are a couple of digital tactics you could employ:
There is a common perception that leads generated online are of lower quality than referrals. However, there is a strong likelihood of generating more leads online versus offline, but this poses the need to qualify these leads. Traditionally, an agent would call all these contacts to qualify them and convert them into a viewing. However, these days this part of the sales process can be automated. By introducing automated communication and well-designed UX forms, you can pre-qualify leads and only concentrate your efforts on the most promising enquiries.
If you are trying to rent out smaller spaces, you need a decent number of enquiries in order to let the space quickly, as the greater the number of leads generated, the greater the chance of a conversion. Promoting your building across multiple channels can help drive exposure and as a result generate more enquiries.
In marketing speak, this sort of approach is called funnelling leads. The top of the funnel is the initial stage of the process when potential tenants (prospects) show interest in your offer. Then, prospects should be funnelled down the pipeline until they convert into a paying customer (or in this case, a tenant). The top of the funnel should attract enough interest that there is sufficient traction to quickly convert interested parties into tenants. It’s hard to get a quick decision if there is only one person interested in a space as there is no pressure to make a decision swiftly.
Digital for high-value transactions
Content marketing became popular a few years ago; however the concept in itself is not so new. For many years, professional service companies like KPMG or Deloitte would publish various reports based on the data gathered about the given sector or trend. Those would be distributed to their clients and potential new clients. Providing value to your prospects through content for free helps you build your reputation and positively influence prospects.
An interesting example of content marketing in real estate, albeit residential, is a digital and print magazine called The Peninsulist. London is a competitive residential market and, with its recent downturn, developers and landlords are fighting a hard battle for potential buyers. It’s clear that the developers of new housing in Greenwich are trying to build a brand around Greenwich Peninsula. Using content, they are positioning Greenwich as the place to live if you want a perfect blend of city living with access to greenery and a community-oriented feel.
Think about how you could be inspired by their approach and introduce content marketing to your marketing mix.
Reputation and brand building
Commercial agents offer a service to both tenants and landlords. Reputation is a major factor that affects clients’ decisions, especially at the high end of the market. Reputation is built by repeatedly delivering exceptional service. However, in the digital world reputation is also built by having an opinion and expertise on a specific subject and sharing it online. The more people read and enjoy your opinion pieces, the stronger your reputation will grow in the industry.
However, one should not underestimate the importance of brand at the lower end of the market. If no one has heard about your company, they have little idea what level of service you provide and what you stand for. If, on the other hand, you have a strong brand and reputation, then it is easier to close a deal quickly, and you may be able to charge a premium for your services. For instance, you might ask why so many SMEs and freelancers use WeWork? Mostly, it’s linked to the perception of what services WeWork offers. They know they will get a lovely office space with access to events and beer on tab. That’s the power of a strong brand.
What the future holds
Practical applications of big data
A few years ago, marketers coined the phrase ’big data’ to describe a vast database in a format that is readily available to analyse. Although it’s been discussed for many years, a lot of companies still cannot get to grips with what big data means to them. Many commercial property companies are still afraid to share any of their data collected with partners.
Frankly, having a lot of data in itself is meaningless if it isn’t structured analysed properly. Many companies have lots of fragmented databases with many overlapping elements that only confuse the outcomes of the analysis. Having centralised and systematised data storage could be a game changer for many advisory services, like commercial agents. The outcomes and learning obtained from data analysis on the company-wide level could provide opportunities to upsell and cross-sell services internally. It could enable so-called ‘stickiness’ of the services offered by a firm.
In the B2C world, AI assistants are a hot topic. The ‘Unilevers’ and ‘P&Gs’ of this world are investing significant cash and resource into developing marketing strategies around AI-enabled assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana or Siri.
Imagine the scenario, you’re driving your car to the next viewing. You cannot use your mobile phone while you’re driving. However, you can still talk to Siri and Alexa. By using voice commands, you could send a reply to requirements with matching disposal from your centralised database.
Bots are slowly creeping into various areas of our lives without us knowing. For instance, many insurance companies use AI-enabled bots to qualify enquiries coming via their website and either suggest insurance products straight away or pass the lead to an insurance broker.
Bots can be a great help, especially if they use AI to a certain extent on a large dataset. A good example of a really well thought through AI-enabled chatbot is a bot built by the team from Sage - Pegg. It allows small businesses and sole traders to manage their accounts using a simple AI-enabled messaging bot on Facebook or Skype, streamlining their accounting.
Now, let’s think about a potential application in commercial property. Bots could be used to pre-qualify enquiries before they are passed onto agents. They could also be used to offer free advice to potential tenants or landlord clients to then be passed onto an agent to be upsold to other professional services.
Key takeaways from this piece:
- Look beyond email campaigns to promote your properties. Understand what media your prospects consume and how they access it.
- Set up a separate strategy for larger and smaller units - they require a different approach and budget/labour allocation.
- Think mobile - when choosing technology providers or planning campaigns, think about the mobile experience of your stakeholders. Mobile first is a thing!
- Qualify enquiries - not all enquiries are equal. Some are more relevant than others. Establish a process of qualifying ‘hot’ enquires to concentrate on leads that are most likely to convert.
- Prep for the future - start experimenting with new technology and marketing tactics. Look out for new trends and practical case studies of new technologies in use.