While REALTORS® may have started the year with a solid marketing plan, everything changed in mid-March.
Amid the spread of COVID-19 and public health guidelines, real estate professionals were forced to change the way they do business. Traditional open houses were replaced by virtual tours or live streams, and even sending marketing material by mail became a lengthy, unpredictable process.
So, REALTORS® adapted their advertising and marketing efforts to this new reality, with new mediums for their message.
“What COVID-19 did is accelerate a process of change in advertising and marketing within real estate that’s already been in play for a long time,” says Elaine Hung, chief marketing officer with Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.
In a 2019 study, Real Estate in a Digital Age, the National Association of REALTORS® Research Group found 98% of older millennials and 89% of boomers use websites as an information source during their home search.
Even prior to COVID-19, 62% of all home buyers were using a mobile website or app as part of their search—indeed, 65% of older millennials, 59% of Gen Xers and 57% of younger boomers found their home via a mobile device, according to data from REALTOR.ca.
What changed during COVID-19, however, is digital advertising and marketing trends sped up exponentially, says Hung. Overall internet traffic in Canada grew by almost 40% between February 1 and April 19, with video streaming responsible for almost 58% of all internet traffic, according to the Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report.
Moving onto digital platforms
“We as a company have been investing in a strong local and global digital advertising network for our property listings,” says Hung, “investing in high-resolution photos, professional videos and 3D videos to bring homes to life online.”
Digital advertising, including Facebook, Instagram and Google, has “always been and continues to be one of the most cost-effective ways to reach consumers,” she says. “In a time where they’re needing to adapt, [salespeople] should be looking to brokerages who are supporting that kind of learning.”
But it’s also important to make sure they’re getting a return on investment for “any and all of their marketing and advertising,” says Hung. Key metrics real estate professionals should consider include the cost per thousand impressions, the cost per click or interaction and, if possible, the cost per lead.
“It’s easier to measure those outcomes online and in digital than traditional channels such as print to really help a real estate agent or company make some challenging decisions,” says Hung. “This is a time where marketing needs to be an investment that generates a measurable return.”
The rise of social media
In February, Petrus Engelbrecht, sales representative and senior vice-president of sales with Sotheby’s International Realty Canada in Oakville, Ontario, decided to redirect his marketing budget to social media—and that meant hiring a social media manager. His efforts ramped up as COVID-19 became a global pandemic.
But the challenge for real estate professionals when it comes to social media is “it very quickly morphs into something that doesn’t look authentic,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges is to bring some of the ‘raw’ back into it so it doesn’t look like somebody is managing my social media.”
By working closely with his social media manager, Engelbrecht has found the right mix of curated and ‘raw’ content so his online presence has a sense of authenticity.
Regardless, “one should totally embrace technology at this stage—whatever you’re not comfortable with, get comfortable with that very, very quickly,” says Engelbrecht.
While clients are spending more time at home, the only way to get in front of them is by phone or online—and “we don’t know where our audience will find us.” That’s why his current marketing efforts are focused on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google My Business.
Engelbrecht also uses Facebook Live and then boosts his videos after the broadcast. “I’ve had thousands of views now on Facebook Live and I literally invested $25 to boost it,” he says.
Using a combination of Facebook Live and Matterport (a 3D platform for virtual house tours), he can track each unique visit and how much time buyers spend going through a house—information he can then pass on to clients.
Gus Papaioannou, sales representative with Realosophy Realty Inc. Brokerage in Toronto, says his brokerage has been using Matterport for about four years.
“We’ve found that helpful before; it’s even more so now,” he says. “[Since COVID-19] we’ve seen an increase on Matterport viewings—it’s doubled or tripled easily.”
Papaioannou promotes his Matterport posts on Instagram, which boosts viewership of the listing and visits to his website. “I’ve even had a few people reach out through that,” he says. “It isn’t something that you can always measure … but the bottom line is to increase traffic to the listing.”
Making the right impression online
That means “now more than ever properties have to look a certain way,” says Papaioannou, from prep work and staging to photos and virtual tours.
“You have to have all of them, and they have to be very good,” he says. “Those are the homes that are getting the most attention [online] and selling the quickest for the most amount of money.”
For the foreseeable future, most introductory meetings will be taking place over video conferencing technologies, rather than in person—and that’s how REALTORS® are making their first impression with buyers and sellers.
Engelbrecht recommends taking a few online tutorials to make the most of the platform you’re using—and make the right impression. That might require investments in lighting, a high-quality microphone or other equipment.
“I’ve done many listing presentations on Zoom—you can share your screen, you can show them even some of your traditional documentation,” says Engelbrecht. But he recommends investing in a professional version of Zoom (such as Pro, Business or Enterprise) rather than using the free version. After all, it doesn’t make a good impression if you want to sell your client’s $3 million property, he says, but you’re using the free version of Zoom that cuts you off after 40 minutes.
Thinking outside the box
REALTORS® also market themselves by sponsoring and supporting community events. Since attending these types of events won’t be an option for the foreseeable future, they’ll have to think outside the box to show their support for the community—which is especially important during such challenging times.
“What that requires is thinking of creative ways to show we care about the neighbourhoods we live and work in,” says Hung. “Our team in Calgary just hosted a physically distanced community cleanup day in multiple neighbourhoods … [where] everyone followed strict safety and distancing protocols.”
At a national level, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada partnered with Jack.org, a Canadian non-profit organization that fuels youth-led mental health programs across Canada.
But if there’s one takeaway for REALTORS®, Hung says the trends toward digital advertising, social media and video, as well as making sure that a website is high performance and lead generative, are based on long-standing trends in real estate consumer behaviour—and COVID-19 just accelerated the process.
“The industry was already along that road,” she says, “and this made many real estate companies and agents realize they needed to catch up to the real estate consumer.”