What’s the standard method of real estate marketing?
- Hire an agency or two, to create classy, glossy, fancy images –
- Book ad space in ToI and bombard people with ads.
- Book billboards – splash the pics and some idiotic copy with the words ‘dream home’ or a derivative thereof –
- Hire sales staff based on how many years they have worked in other real estate companies, and which brands they have served –
Oh yes, and buy a package from Magic Bricks, 99Acres or Housing, etc. and sit back and wait for the customers!
If that’s all that is needed, why the heck do you need to hire a Head of Marketing, or Head-Sales, at huge packages!
Oh, did I forget something? Yes! Digital Marketing – the newest bandwagon that everybody jumps on without much understanding as to how to use it; and you have myriad agencies out there, promising you top SEO results, great social media responses, and scores of leads for your sales guys to sit and call throughout the day!
WHERE IS THE APPLICATION OF MIND?
Where are you making a difference as a Marketing Head or a Sales Head?
And I wonder, in the first place, why are these two distinguished and separated from one another, so that you end up only doubling the costs?!? I have seen companies having a separate Head, Marketing and Head, Sales, even though they only had one project! It is understandable when you have several projects running concurrently, but not otherwise.
Shouldn’t you have ONE Head with two divisions under him, closely working together in unison and with a good rapport? Isn’t it true that the marketing team keeps harping about the number of leads they have generated, while the sales team keeps complaining about the quality of leads and the lack of genuine inquiries and actual site visits from these leads?
“Oh, but everybody does it this way! You have to have two separate verticals and heads for those verticals!”
I asked an AGM in a leading real estate company about why they have this distinction, and his reply was, “The marketing people have to communicate in a creative manner, whereas salespeople have to talk facts”.
I was shocked by this reply. Is that it?!?
Marketing should drive footfalls to the site; sales should convert those footfalls into customers. If your marketing does not bring interested potential customers to the site, it has failed completely.
Here’s how I would go about the whole thing;
First, it starts with the plot, the location and the surroundings. Study it well and decide the nature of the project that is to be constructed there. Your marketing begins right here! You look at the micro picture and the macro, both. What does that micro market need? 2Bhk & 1 Bhk units, or 3.5Bhk and 4.5Bhk units; is it close to the road, will balconies be desirable owing to the noise of traffic or is it better to limit the number of balconies; is it offering a view that will remain unhindered, and hence people will like sitouts more? Should you provide for more car park bays or less, etc.
These and many more questions should be asked and answered at this stage, for they will constitute the elements of your marketing and sales when you launch. It is moronic to first finalize the design and layout from the architect, submit the plans for approval and fix a launch date and then try to devise a marketing strategy!
Your starting price points and average price for the entire project should be determined beforehand, based on the research conducted prior to commencement; this will also ensure that the amenities and features in the project are better suited to the target customer profile. Your sales people should be involved in the initial discussions, and they should be heard. They are the people on the ground, they will have a better feel for the market and customer preferences than the builder who moves about in an imported SUV, or the architect who sits in Mumbai, or France, or Dubai! (Oh, but we can’t hire sales staff that much in advance! Who will bear their cost?) Well, find a way; it will be worth it. If you are a large construction company, you can certainly borrow sales staff from another project and deploy them in the market to obtain a ground report.
Hopefully, you have a reasonably good sales manager or DGM who has a strong EQ, and is a hands-on guy – use him. He will more than likely revel in the task and do it excellently. Make sure your people have the required levels of energy and enthusiasm, first. Beware, people start slackening off by the time they reach somewhere near the GM level; they tend to harbor a feeling of having arrived, and thus all they want to do, is lean back and relax.
Plan the amenities and features, keeping in mind that the key decison-maker is usually the lady of the house. Give her the things she really wants; depending on the socio-economic strata that you are targeting, this will differ, and must be altered. The lower middle class homemaker is focused on the kitchen, the ‘ota’, the tap in the sink being too far inside making her lean forward and causing back-pain; the ‘ota’ being too low or too high, etc. (Why has nobody thought of offering a platform whose height can be changed?)
I have seen buying decisions finalized the moment the lady entered the kitchen and found that it felt good. Nothing else really mattered after that.
For an affluent development this may not matter so much as other factors, because they will usually have a servant or cook to do their work.
Every project should have a story; a narrative of what’s coming and how life will be in the habitat being built. It should cover the micro aspects as well as the macro aspects; the micro, of course, covers things like having a vegetable market nearby, medical shops, conveniences in the buildings, etc.
The macro will speak about schools, hospitals, commute to work, travel, etc. But it is not sufficient to merely state that there are 5 hospitals within 3 kms, 3 multiplexes and 2 malls. Customers are notoriously unimaginative, and hence it is a crime to leave things to their imagination. It is a marketing crime and a sales crime. If you have the perfect story, properly fleshed out, you will have little difficulty making the sale at your desired price-point, presuming, of course, that you have not been unduly greedy and quoted some fantastic figure!
The story should speak of how the area will develop in the future; how it is connected to the large development of the city, and how it connects with the outside world, i.e. highways and airports, ports and railways, etc. An egs.
Sales – “What does your little daughter like? Art, singing, sports?”
“Oh, Sheila? She loves to draw and sketch!”
Sales – “Wow, that’s wonderful! Do you know that there is an internationally renowned school of design just 15 minutes away! And who knows, when she grows up, she might be specializing from there! In fact, maybe that’s the reason, destiny has brought you here to our lovely project! Just imagine..”
A brief exchange like that can close the sale, right there and then.
Two Wings of a Bird
Marketing and Sales are two wings of one bird. Ideally, should have one head only, to take ownership of both and to ensure that there is a perfect and coherent union of the two.
It is not enough for marketing to be creative, they should know what that creativity is supposed to achieve; they MUST understand human and customer psychology! One marketing head facing an uphill battle with no sales in over 6 months, put out a billboard campaign which said Rs.800/- off! I advised him against it, and suggested that he should say ‘Rs.450 or 500 off, and leave something on the table for negotiations. I also warned him that a billboard message like this could send a wrong message to the market and customers might wonder why the price is being slashed so drastically; in which event, they might decide to hold back and wait for further price reductions, thus defeating the purpose of the exercise. He did not heed my warning and went ahead. Result? Not a single sale throughout Diwali and the month following.
The message was very creatively designed; the artwork was superb, but the message itself was flawed.
This is the situation with most marketing messages; hardly any of them evokes a desire to buy or possess the property; hardly any urgency is created in the mind of the customer. Images of opulence are very common now. The ones who can actually afford these expensive apartments are not impressed by their look; the ones who are impressed cannot afford them.
If you use external agencies for digital marketing or lead generation, link their payments to their performance. No walk-ins, no money.
Some top builders have started this new gimmick of using Code Names for projects; and inviting applications, where allotments are supposedly made by random selection, etc. All these are gimmicks. They appear to be successful because they receive a good response yet they do not consider that if anybody had spent the kind of money that they spend on ads and publicity, any project would have got a good response. So the response was not because of the gimmickry or CODE names etc. It was the AD SPEND! And it was the project itself.
Typically, one must avoid fancy language. The language that hits the gut is the language that gets the job done. Compare the political speeches of a Modi and a Rahul Gandhi – the one is hard hitting, harsh, venomous, emotionally provocative while the other is soft, talking about love, and goody goody things; but who gets the response? It is Modi, not Rahul. Why? Because Modi’s speech evokes emotions; it has nothing to do with truth or falsehoods, good or bad; it is simply this, he manages to provoke and stir up anger and loathing for his opponent; Rahul fails miserably in doing that.
What does your marketing evoke? Does it stir up feelings? Are they the right feelings?
Do you have unnecessary fat sitting in your top ranks? How to figure that out? Simply think, if this guy was not there would the business really suffer? If yes, how much would it be affected? Your answer will indicate the real value of that particular executive.
Finally, do you listen to your sales team? Do you listen to those who meet your customers daily? They are the one’s who have the truest idea of how the company is perceived, how the product or service is being received, what changes need to be made, etc. Townhalls were supposed to be meant for this purpose, but in India we have managed to screw that up too!
How? By having the immediate superiors standing right there next to the top shot from HO! Do you think any lower guy working near the grassroots is going to open his or her mouth and tell you the hard, bare truth? No, they are all going to smile, nod and smile, again. If you want to hear the factual situation talk to the people without their immediate bosses around.
The reason companies often have to spend so much on external consultants is because they do not have a good internal system of listening to their employees. Following some of the ideas listed here will certainly help increase your RoI on marketing and generate better sales.