Residential property marketing: fighting the COVID-19 curveball

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has impacted the effectiveness of residential property marketing with a temporary fall in ROIs and display centres empty due to social distancing requirements. As potential buyers are forced to grapple with a multitude of pressures including working from home, losing their jobs or being temporarily stood down, overall consumer confidence in the economy, and the job market, has taken a hit. But with every challenge, comes opportunity. Now is the time to convey your company’s stability. Now is the time to ensure consumers have confidence in your project. Now is the time to think differently.

Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer found that 82% of Australians want to hear from brands during this crisis. Consumers believe life, and the economy, must go on; giving brands permission to communicate.

Now is not the time to sit still. Now is the time to be proactive; communicating and educating while people have time to research and consider their next move.

This curveball won’t last forever. The developers who continue to sensitively promote their project, and brand, will be best placed to take advantage of the recovery post COVID-19.

So what can you do during this time to keep your project on track?

Increase communication to purchasers and ROIs

If your development is at a stage where contracts are signed and purchasers are waiting for construction to begin, or be completed, it’s important to contact and nurture your purchasers and leads.

People want something to look forward to. Provide inspiration with stories about local businesses and amenities. Provide educational resources and webinars on financing and, most importantly, fill them with confidence about the progress of the project and your stability as the developer.

If it’s a smaller development, you could also contact your purchasers with a personal phone call to reassure them.

Brands can build goodwill now through acts of humanity and generosity. How can you support your local community while also supporting your purchasers?

The digitally engaged

Millions of Australians working from home, and in self-isolation, provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage online with a highly captive audience.

The daytime demand on the NBN network has increased by more than 70% since the COVID-19 crisis began. Nielsen reports an increase of at least 70% in time spent consuming online content; the figure is even higher for millennials.

Claimed usage of TV streaming is up 42%, social media is up 47% and online video is up 44%.

The Australian property website realestate.com.au achieved a record 10.7 million visitors to their site in March 2020. Views of digital inspection videos and 3D tours have increased 105% and 357% respectively as buyers research property from the comfort, and security, of home.

While social distancing rules make it difficult for potential buyers to visit you face-to-face, there are still plenty of ways you can engage them through the sales journey by providing research and experiences that edge them towards making a decision. These tactics include

  • Appointments: Promoting one-on-one personal tours and appointments of your display centre, together with the social distancing and hygiene measures you are implementing, will encourage centre visits. Appointments can be promoted via your existing channels – social media, your website and EDMs.
  • Instagram stories: Instagram now has 9,000,000 active users in Australia making it the third highest social media platform behind Facebook and YouTube. Instagram Stories allow accounts to share ‘moments’ of their day quickly and easily in the form of a series of photos or videos. Stories stay on your account for twenty-four hours and then disappear but in the meantime they are featured at the top of the home feed for high visibility.
  • Virtual display centre visits: Use video conferencing via a multitude of platforms including Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Teams and Hangouts to give potential buyers a live tour of your display centre from the comfort of their home. On some platforms, you can even share your screen with potential buyers to run through a floor plan or brochure for example.
  • 3D and 360 degree tours: If buyers can’t visit a display centre, 3D, 360 and walk through tours provide a more immersive experience, and a better understanding of space, then they’d get from a 2D floorplan.
  • Market with your existing resources: While now may not be the time to increase media spend, you hopefully have established databases and digital marketing tools that can be utilised without too many extra resources.

Quality content

Now is not the time for hard selling. Communication should be warm and relevant; showing an understanding and appreciation for what most people are going through. But people are online and looking to be entertained and informed.

Content includes the words, messages, images, videos and animations you use to tell your brand story. Is your messaging positive, reassuring and inspiring? Are your images, renders and video content high quality and relevant?

Use social media, your EDM and website to tell the stories of the local community surrounding your development. The people who run cafes and beauty salons. The retailers that may be closed but have an online shop. Ask your local community for content you can share.

Tell your story. With so much economic uncertainty, the recent closure of several builders and the looming threat of bankruptcies, prospective and existing buyers want to know they are buying into a development that is supported by a solid team. They want to feel safe and secure; provide that reassurance by communicating the reasons why your business will be around after this crisis is over and why you still believe in the project you are building. This could be communicated via developer video updates, EDMs or even Instagram stories.

Share the stories of your suppliers and project team too. Companies and brands demonstrating solidarity in adversity will earn the respect of buyers.

Media spend

People are still searching for property. With the curve flattening, and the promise of returning to normal on the horizon, certain media channels are worth considering.

Mediums such as outdoor and out of home advertising and signage, at a time when vehicle traffic and public transport use is significantly down, might not be a wise investment.

Focusing on digital platforms like Facebook advertising, Google Ads, programmatic advertising, even catch up TV, at a time when so many people are online seems like a smart choice.

With media spend down, media companies are offering discounts, deals and distressed space opportunities so keep your ear to the ground, or let your media representative know you’re looking, and have creative ready to go.

Review your target markets

The owner occupier market may be a more challenging audience in the near future. While interest rates are low, unemployment is likely to reach double figures and, with a shallower buyer market, you may need to expand your initial project target market. Is now the time to be allocating more marketing dollars to the investor market?

Your project team

As a business owner with a team of 12, one of my highest priorities right now is protecting the wellbeing of my team and ensuring they feel connected. This includes our suppliers and the network that supports us to do what we do. Now is the time you should be communicating regularly with your purchasers and prospects as well as the team you need to ensure your project is a success.

If you’ve put your marketing or project into hibernation, how are you continuing to communicate with your team so they are engaged and raring to go when things start to pick up?

Be creative

Why not use this unique event to undertake activities you’ve always wanted to try with a project but haven’t had the time to previously do? Consider the product mix, the surrounds and amenities. How can your project be better and more unique than others? We’re all going to have a greater appreciation for space after living in hibernation. Does your project consider this? Is there room for improvement?

What can you do now that will get you some attention and differentiate your offering? Is it your developer story? The communal spaces and landscaping? The amenities?

Undertake research and focus groups using teleconferencing programs like Zoom to test ideas.

Is now the time to look at your own corporate marketing? Your own company’s brand story and messaging. Your brand assets, your visual identity and your messaging, underpin everything you do. Is your brand strong, recognisable, dependable?

Remain optimistic and opportunistic

Most projects have a long term timeframe and mindset. While it’s sensible to reduce spend in some areas in the short term while people are focused on their health and economic survival, developers who continue to sensitively promote their project and brand will be best placed to take advantage of the recovery.

Think about what you can do now so you are prepared when the market improves?

What opportunities are going to arise? Will DA and Council approvals become more streamlined now that there’s pressure on government and industry to get projects moving quickly to create economic activity and jobs?

Having hibernated for several months in our existing homes, will we see a greater appreciation for our home; our ‘castle’? This appreciation could see a revival in suburban and greenfield living with communal space and amenities within walking distance – along with a new appreciation for the backyard.

With everyone currently driving less, will there be a reduced emphasis placed on cars and car parking in future developments? Do your developments integrate alternative transport modes such as walking and cycling?

Once social distancing restrictions lift, people are going to be itching to get out and about. Give them a reason to visit you by hosting events and activations at your developments and display centres.

While consumer confidence is currently at record lows, the real estate industry could bounce back faster than other industries. The industry hasn’t experienced full shutdown like other sectors have. Low interest rates will help drive demand and, as the engagement figures show, Australians are still passionate about property.

Now is not the time to sit still. It’s time to prepare for the recovery.

This article was written by Julie Wrobel, Managing Director of branding and marketing agency, Algo Más.