How international agents and PRs can work together in these tough times

August 13, 2010

Stop clamouring to be heard. It’s time to listen.

Without exception our agent clients have all asked me the same question: “Kerry, how can Tideway Communications help us to get better, more qualified leads in this tough market?”

I always say, “Start by listening.”

So what does that mean?  The market certainly is tough.  Sometimes the first sales method to be cut is the marketing budget.  We have been able to prove that media relations – influencing journalists to write articles about our clients’ services or products – is a cost effective way to get quality leads.  But it is no use harking back to the heady days of 1997 when we would get 127 leads from one article in the Sunday Times about a development in Portugal – which would then convert to 13 villa sales.

Today, people are not only reluctant to commit their savings to overseas property but banks are reluctant to let them borrow to buy anyway.  There is also so much competition out there now.  Almost every country is willing to sell real estate to a foreign buyer.   So, less demand spread much more thinly, is the agents’ dilemma.

Big efforts to capture more leads using websites are currently having mixed results.  Internet World Stats claim 1,733,993,741 people are now online (that total’s rising as you read) which represents over a quarter of the entire population and usage is growing at 380.3%. 85% of people hunting for a home use the internet to start searching. What do the other 15% do? I reckon they read something in the papers…. then they go online.

The internet may have revolutionised the way agents sell property, but things then began to get impersonal.  There are many more agents selling more property to fewer buyers – despite there being more people online.  And this has greatly contributed to that thinning effect.

“Pay per click” got agents very excited a couple of years ago but they are now starting to wriggle and writhe as the heavy click usage fails to convert to anything half decent.   One client commented, “I wish they’d stop browsing and clicking and do something useful instead.”

He meant he wished they’d buy a property – from him.  But in fact he is the one who must do something useful.  And that is the key to what Tideway Communications is helping our agent clients to do right now.  It is time to change.

An agent’s brand must be so much more than just an umbrella for showcasing a selection of properties.  Getting people to fill out a form may increase the database but it’s now looking very restrictive.  What do you really know about these people?  Some databases are currently proving useful to sell cheap properties to bargain hunters, but we believe there is little point flogging your consumer database again unless this time you are providing something personally useful.  We think the estate agent needs to get back to providing the personal touch because despite of the anonymity of the internet, offering value (and not just cut-price bargains) is especially needed today to attract customers.

We say agents need to provide an experience, an individual experience, ideally a very positive and useful experience which is going to result in customers telling their friends just how pleasant the whole process was.  What is more personal than having a conversation with a customer or potential customer?  It’s what agents have been doing for years and the best ones have been doing very well.  Finding out what is really on their potential customers’ minds and then acting to do something to help.

Welcome to social media marketing.

Social media – all internet based – sounds like a juxtaposition of terms.  Where is the socialising in being stuck behind a computer?  But there’s a great deal of noise going on across the web which can be used by an agent to help him identify buyers.  Tideway’s PR strategy for our agents is about listening and creating conversations.

Our job as marketing and PR consultants is to help our clients to plan. There is absolutely no point tweeting, blogging and posting videos on YouTube without a plan.  We sit down with our agents and ask them exactly what they want to achieve.  We talk about business objectives, we talk about goals.  We talk about what makes them different from their competitors.  We discuss research, training, inspiration, conversations. We make sure that our clients have their company story straight and we decide where to take that story.

We work out exactly who our agents’ customers are and exactly what communities are important to them.  We decide how we are going to reach them and we allocate the right people for the job so they can respond correctly.  We also set in place ways to measure what we find out and what we achieve.

Then comes the listening part.  So much of public relations has been about transmitting our clients’ message.  But today we advise our clients to listen first.  That way they can hear what people are saying about them or the projects that they sell or the countries in which they sell properties. And then our clients can respond to those concerns or questions and the qualified lead will emerge.

It’s important to search about and find out not only who is talking about you, but if they are not talking about you, then why not?  You must give them reasons to do so.  Ask them “How can we help?” and then help them.  Whether it’s telling them where the local hospital is or what the weather’s like, you are helping them to find out what they want to know.

Mike Cliffe-Jones, the MD of Estupendo Lanzarote has been using social media as a business tool for his agency for about a year.  He says, “Twitter allows us to start a real relationship with people well before they are ready to find a property.  The benefit of contacting people early is that we are already friends by the time we actually meet and they are keen for us to be the ones to find them a property. The point of contact for most agents is much later in the buying process – when that person feels no affiliation with one agent over another.  We help people with the general stuff: ‘Which are the best resorts? Where are the best beaches? Where are the kid’s schools? Which bank should we use?’ Ultimately the only way you are going to do business is face-to-face, but by this stage you already know the names of their kids, where they live and what they do for a living so they feel like old friends.”

The key point in this is that a potential purchaser is much more likely to purchase a property from a brand that he trusts.  Tideway is helping our clients to build that trust. The key is to be transparent and truthful.  A potential buyer gets comfort from hearing information from a trusted third party.  Journalists (mostly) fall into that category which, coupled with their ease of use, is why newspapers and magazines still play an important part in the marketing mix.  Many journalists are writing their information online as well and still providing that “third party” endorsement.  It works.

Of course much of that content can be provided by the agent – if he has the time – and we actively encourage our clients to participate.  But yes it takes time and energy to develop a relationship.  So content is also provided by PRs such as ours and we work with people to identify, develop, monitor and measure opportunities to have conversations – with the emphasis still very much on useful.  You need to be authentic in order to create a meaningful relationship.  It’s a fact that the consumer will actually prefer to go with someone he has already formed a relationship with.  That person can be you.

So take another look at social media marketing.  Used alongside traditional methods of PR, this is what is working for the big consumer brands and there is every reason why it can also work for the property industry.  We can understand in these tough times why many marketing budgets have been cut, but social media marketing is not expensive and I believe it is starting to bring in the better more qualified leads that agents need.

So come on… it’s time to listen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: