As technology evolved, real estate marketing did too. From a local and rather straightforward marketing campaign, it became more and more complicated with the emergence of new technologies. How did it change?
There always have been owners of estates, and those who had to pay a fee to live there. Since the beginning of humanity, rich and powerful people have been investing in real estate. They owned many properties they wouldn’t use for themselves, and then they would rent or sell them. How did they do it? What was their marketing strategy?
It was much more straightforward than today. Unlike nowadays, developers and homeowners were mostly common merchants. The success of their business was a matter of reputation. They would reach their target by word of mouth, and convince them by the art of negotiation.
For centuries, the most critical communication tool for advertising was town criers. Developers and homeowners would hire people in public places to tell everyone about their properties.
Printing, the first big step to modern marketing
In 1450, Gutenberg invented the printing press. As general literacy increased in the cities, printed ads started to rise. Real estate professionals published small ads to hand out in the street or to stick on public boards. No doubt that it had a significant impact on the market because it became widespread. We can still see flyers and billboards today, but town criers, however, have completely disappeared.
In 1704, the first real estate ad ever printed in a newspaper was published in the Boston News-Letter. It was the first time that a real estate marketing campaign reached such a large audience and it would go even wider.
In the late 19th century, real estate agencies rose as an intermediary between sellers and buyers. They regrouped and organized themselves into big companies. They took another step further when they printed the first property listing newspapers, which helped developers considerably in their marketing strategy. Developers realized that working with agencies was actually cheaper and more effective.
The first real estate ad in a newspaper
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. That is when the modern real estate agent was truly born. Agents were assigned to a neighborhood of which they would know the market specifics. How did they generate leads? They still used their predecessors’ tools such as direct mails, billboards, yard signs, brochures, and ads in local newspapers. Then, thanks to the growing popularity of telephones, they were able to reach their target through numerous phone calls. Actually, some agents would spend their days on the phone to answer inquiries.
More significant projects only meant that they needed to cover a larger area, and print their ads in media with a broader audience, and then make a lot more phone calls. However, this process was not scalable.
Being able to reach thousands
With the emergence of radio and television, marketing campaigns could reach another level. The first real estate radio ad ran in 1922. Larger projects would use these modern communication tools to attract more leads.
However, because it was new tech and the channels were quickly saturated, it cost a fortune to launch massive but ineffective campaigns like this, and the bigger the campaign, the lower the conversion rate would be. That is why it was crucial to target better.
In the early 2000s, local real estate markets became busier as more and more competitors worked in the same areas. To stand out from competitors, some agents started to go on the internet. They created their company’s webpage or blog. Then listing websites appeared, and it became evident that real estate professionals would have to adapt their strategy to this new technology. Knowing a local market wasn’t good enough anymore. Real estate professionals had to learn about the global market to understand how to sell better.
According to studies, 40% of customers did their research online in 2000, this went up to 80% in 2006, and 95 % in 2016. See more interesting stats about homebuyer trends here.
These numbers increased very quickly thanks to the rise of social media and smartphones. Customers learned how to search on Google, and they started to look for a new house on the internet. There are so many listing websites now that it is not rare to see the same property on more than 20 different websites. It has become a real problem. It is confusing for both marketers and clients.
The internet influenced customers in two ways. First, they grew bored and tired of being overexposed to advertising. Second, the internet also increased customers' expectations. This virtual access to unlimited information had risen their expectations regarding the information provided. Now, customers want to be able to find everything on their computer or their phone.
Digital technology has evolved so much in such a short time. A quality website is now essential. Websites used to be rudimentary with straightforward designs, but now they are getting more and more attractive and detailed, and they can integrate high-quality pictures and shareable videos. The quality of a website has become so important that customers won't take a company seriously if it doesn't have a frequently updated website nor an active presence on social media.
Since 2008, the use of social media has increased drastically. Today, there are more than 2 billion users on Facebook today, and they are not using Facebook only to chat with friends anymore. 80 % of real estate clients have used social media in their search process. Younger generations such as Millenials and Gen-Z are even focusing their research on social media.
What are they doing there? They look at ads, read reviews, and then they make contact with owners or agents. Social media advertising has become more efficient than any other campaign. Read more about how to use Facebook Ads here.
Then came what we call next-generation tools. They are mostly based on 3D modeling technology to replicate a building in 3D from an architect's plan. This technology has been evolving since 2000. Now, potential clients can easily visit an unbuilt property in virtual reality. These tools allow the customer to discover a building as much as they need to make up their mind. It helps them feel part of a project and see themselves living in it. It also makes agents more efficient as they learn from customers’ data what they can improve in their offer.
Some people fear that the internet is the end of the real estate agent career as we know it. Of course not! The internet has completely disrupted the real estate market. Marketing became more planned and complicated, but traditional tools and services are still relevant. Actually, homebuyers tend to look for properties online, but then they usually contact an agent for advice or closure.
Mike DelPrete, who’s a famous real estate specialist, recently explained on Inman Connect: “When it comes to real estate, technology has a dual role: making agents more efficient, and providing a better customer experience. It’s not about replacing agents or removing the insurance of having a specialist involved.”
Customers are not ready to buy and sell through an app. He explained that psychological barriers are stopping them from trusting new technologies over a real estate agent. Buying a house is a once or twice in a lifetime decision, and the real estate agent’s role is to help them make that decision. So it all comes back to where it started: Who is to be trusted? One thing hasn’t changed through history: the most powerful way to get new quality leads is by word of mouth.
New apps and new pieces of technology are created every day. Some may be revolutionary and some not, but it is essential to use them properly as not every tech is always relevant due to the generation gap. Clients from older generations won’t be interested in next-generation tools such as virtual reality tours. On the other hand, younger generations won’t look at newspapers ads anymore; they would rather see ads on social media.
One single service is not enough. Agents and developers have to think about their customers’ marketing experience. It is a multi-step process: capture their attention with beautiful visuals, cool branding, and catchy advertising, then provide details about the property on a dedicated website, then invite them to a showing in real life or virtual reality, close the deal.