Estates Agents and Social Media

Recently, my social media colleagues and I got into a discussion about the marketing methods used by Estate Agents – mainly, the local paper.

The topic arose as we discussed the huge number of adverts in the local paper – without any digital link that may allow the reader to see something in more detail.

I mentioned that an estate agent had said that they felt they must appear in the paper, regardless of it generating results, or not –simply for visibility purposes.  She mentioned that if her company did not appear in the paper, the locals would think they no longer exist.  So some of the advertising budget must be used on advertising in the paper, knowing there is no return.

My colleagues and I shared our view on this line of thinking and concluded that this type of action is based on zero evidence but probably a result of the agents’ fear of change.  Estate agents are not alone in this though.  A shocking number of businesses continue to do what they have always done, regardless of obvious changes occurring around them.  It seems that the general tactic is to avoid any measurable results and therefore avoid the reality of a failing situation.

But, for estate agents, I feel there is an even more embarrassing situation.  Anyone that has dealt with estate agents will know about the infamous Finance Director that comes up in meetings, negotiations, sales discussions and when deciding to powder one’s nose.  This Finance Director, it seems is so important that the agents cannot help but refer to him or her at every turn.  Therefore, you would think that the estate agent is in good hands.  Except it is this Finance Director that is all too happy to spend on advertising that has proven to swallow cash without any return, let alone measurable results.

Given that nowadays we have the ability to analyse so much more information about the things we spend on – especially in marketing, a Finance Director that allows such spend that cannot possibly be measured, should be fired purely for this decision!

My colleague, Matt did have some good news about this though.  He told me about an estate agent that actually had the balls to pull out of all paper adverts. Having done this, the estate agent believes that it has actually had a positive effect on his business! This raises the question: Is being in the local paper making estate agents (or any other business in fact) look unattractive?  Perhaps it makes them appear to be too old fashioned, resulting in automatic assumptions that their pricing or service will also be old fashioned.  After all, there is a growing belief that if you are not “with” the times, then neither is what you provide, leading to an out of date or uninformed product or service?

What puzzles me, apart from spending on something that you know will not provide a return is that of investing in a medium that is not measurable as opposed to something similar that can be measured.  For example, as Matt put it:  do you know if anyone even sees the ad in the paper?  Do you know if anyone has read the ad?  Do you know if anyone found an ad interesting – on any level?  As for the “something similar that can be measured”:  online advertising provides you with these statistics and with the right kind of analysis, you will also know which ads were crap resulting on saving money the next time around.

I tested this for several clients and the best case study for this was the advertising I managed for a local photographer.  Given that this photographer had uploaded several pictures she had created to her Facebook page, I had a huge choice.  I used so many for just one ad within the same budget.  After all, unlike the paper ad, online you can use a different image and text for the same budget.  The exercise proved to be difficult in that the competition is high – however, the one ad that performed superbly compared to any other ad was of a picture that I really didn’t like.  The figures showed how many people liked what they saw, and also how many people liked it enough to “click” which demonstrates Interest.  Now to take Interest to a sale is another process, but as far as the ad is concerned, the photographer has a lot more information of the ROI, as opposed to nothing at all apart from the bill of a paper ad!

As it turns out, even the photographer said she hated the photo that was such a hit!  So here we have proof that being in the business doesn’t mean you know what your best clients want to see.  Despite her feelings about the image, she now knows which image to use on brochures, studio window and any other marketing she chooses to do – including the paper.  Yet another return from online advertising!

Although many estate agents have started using online social networks as a means of advertising, but for most it is just a tick in the box to appear “with the times”.  Some may hire a Marketing Assistant who has used Facebook on a personal level and assume the job done regardless of the risk (as highlighted in another post “Employing a Marketing Individual for Social Media – Conned?”) simply because it is easier, just as it is easier not to think at all.

The transition from paper to digital is of course only speeding up.  The tiny size of the yellow book and Thomson local are demonstrations of this.   Further highlighted by the empty ad boards on trains shown here on the left.  However, understanding the quality of what is carried out online is another.  This is why you see so many businesses (not just estate agents) with only one way conversations on their Facebook Pages.  On LinkedIn, you will hardly see any Estate Agents because LinkedIn activity requires a lot more time and professional effort for real results.

When it comes to spend, it is astonishing how much is spent on advertising given the return on this investment.  Having asked five separate estate agents for this information, none could provide statistics showing anything truly positive from traditional advertising apart from piece of mind – and that is only if they believe it is the way to be seen.

The only item I see as possibly debatable is that of the cost of boards.  An estate agent recently mentioned the statement “boards breed boards” – I can see why exactly, ten years ago.  Now I only notice boards that belong to my clients!  However, if there was a beautiful building that I wanted, I would indeed look for the board.  It is simply easier, and I believe in making thing as easy as possible for prospects.  So boards fit.  However, Matt felt that he and others drive straight past, and never notice them.  That is indeed true for me also, most of the time, except for when I see something I want.  So perhaps the saying “boards breed boards” is out of date, but rather “boards make it easy” is truer.  That is just off the top of my head – I am sure you can think of something better!

My colleague and I also discussed portals used by estate agents, such as  Matt says he can see exactly how the portals will soon disappear.  But this is only once the estate agents realise the potential they have by doing their online marketing correctly.  This will result in estate agents no longer losing money to portals – money that they can have themselves.  It makes sense.  If you can cut that middle man out – then why not?  Of course this means adopting new technology and having it work professionally for you.  Another “change”!

Personally, I think this will mean that the more established brands that are forward thinking will start reaping the rewards before others have the chance to even think about it.  They will start showing two way conversations online instead of the mostly one way posts we see today, along with committing a budget to online advertising where the majority of prospects now are and some will even start using tablets for field staff to stay in touch with the office.

The risk for the traditional estate agents is that the gap between the successful agents and themselves will get even wider and catching up even more difficult.  As the saying goes, the best will survive and come through, but then will that leave us people with less choice as competition decreases?


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