Will the digital age weaken the need for human involvement in real estate transactions? Not while our hearts still crave the human touch, writes Anders Sorman-Nilsson, founder of Sydney-based research company Thinque
A few weeks ago, I jumped on my bike and rode up to the famers’ market in the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.
It wasn’t so much that I needed anything in particular; rather, I wanted to escape the urban feel of my apartment and bypass the food duopoly through which I conveniently access supply chain-optimised and mass-produced fast-moving consumer goods most of the time.
It was a sunny, fresh Sydney mid-morning, and on entering this bazaar of stalls, I was immediately met with the aromas and visual attraction of farmers displaying their wares and showing off their artisan skills.
For three hours every Saturday in this spot on Taylor Square, rural meets urban.
As you pass through the busy lanes of stalls and feel the herbs grown in the NSW Blue Mountains between your fingers;
when you speak to John, who roasts, grinds and makes you a hand-crafted espresso with a personal history; or when you’re given a family insight into the origins of a rye bread recipe, you realise that business can still be local. Visiting a farmers’ market makes you think that the more some things change for real, the more other things stay exactly the same.
Let me explore this for a moment. The more certain things change for real (think online retail, globalisation, smartphone banking, the need for instant gratification) the more other things stay exactly the same (our need for personal advice,
a sense of belonging, human connection, and community networks).
So, what does this have to do with real estate? Well, this bricks and mortar business is being digitally disrupted – right under our eyes – and real estate professionals around the nation are making critical trade-offs in how they market and communicate because of this digital disruption.
Should we choose technology or should we choose tradition? Should we pursue the analogue, high-touch customer service of old, or focus on the digital, high-tech customer service of new?
Imagine a spectrum with analogue on the extreme left and digital on the extreme right.
Where would you say your business is positioned? And does it matter?
Well, you might think that even though we are interlinked, hyperconnected, and online 24/7/365, you might still doubt whether a computer interface can ever truly replace a human face.
It may not yet be there, but it’s getting closer. Much closer.
It’s not just about bricks any more, it’s also about clicks. It’s not just about analogue window displays anymore, it’s also about digital window displays. We are now at the convergence of the analogue and digital, and the sweet spot in effective real estate communications resides in the digilogue.
It’s not an either/or, it’s an and/also scenario.
This choice is not about whether the internet, social media, and mobile communications are here to stay or not. It’s about whether you truly care about great client service. Because clients and prospects are now voting with their feet – or increasingly with the clicks of their mouses. Digital disruption hits those who refuse to listen to their clients and their clients’ needs, just as business leaves those who provide poorcustomer service.
What do I mean by this?
Here’s the deal: even though our minds might now be largely digital, our hearts are still firmly analogue.
So, what does this mean for you as a business?
My strong conviction is that purely digital or purely analogue businesses will struggle immensely during this digital disruption. If I mentioned Google, Apple, and eBay, you’d probably be thinking ‘digital’, and yes, in many ways you’d be right. These guys understand that you need to provide value to our digital minds, but they don’t stop there.
The way they connect with our analogue hearts is through analogue communications and experiences. Google sends out printed, analogue $75 vouchers to encourage small- to medium-sized companies to advertise via digital AdWords; Apple makes 50 per cent of its revenue from its hightouch concept stores; and eBay has now opened up a bricks and mortar store in New York City. For these global players, staying local is still of critical importance if they are to connect with our analogue hearts.
Most real estate professionals sit at the other end of the analogue versus digital spectrum. By definition, a bricks and mortar industry is heavily analogue, and many real estate professionals have rested on their laurels in the belief that this will never change. This is ignorance, at best.
The unique thing about digital disruption, and the one that is eroding your market share, is that the internet is removing the need for middlemen and women.
Do you use a travel agent or Expedia? Do you use a recruiter or LinkedIn? Do you use a car salesperson or Drive.com.au?
Do you use AirBnb.com or a property manager?
If you still believe your window display matters, you’d be right, but not in the way you’d imagine. Your shop front has turned into a show room, and you’re currently marketing for more optimally and convenient online options, just as retailers are currently marketing for the likes of Amazon and eBay unless, of course, you complement your analogue presence with an optimised digital presence.
Clients now do their due diligence online not offline. They visit sites like RateThatAgent, LinkedIn, SellMyCastle and industry blogs to determine whether you’re credible or not. They don’t necessarily have time to invest an afternoon walking between analogue shopfronts to determine who they like. However, once they have determined whether they like you online, that’s when you’re more likely to get an analogue visitor.
This is not dissimilar to online dating, which essentially created the phenomenon of social media. People did their research online, and if rapport was built, an analogue meeting would be scheduled. It’s the same in your industry.
So where does this leave you? Here are some concrete tips on how to go digilogue.
Provide value to digital minds through:
a search engine-optimised blog on wordpress.com which provides thought leading and educational content that is highly localised, based on your expertise and market top quality research tips, such as ‘Top Seven Questions You Need to Ask Your Agent’, or market reports like ‘Why Mosman is Hot, and Cremorne is Not’ which leads can only access if they hand over their online contact details to you nurturing your leads with educational materials that contain calls-to-action to drive analogue visits or appointments
Connect with analogue hearts through:
Providing an unforgettable, in-store experience focused on care and personalised attention – study what Apple, innovative bank branches (eg. Umpqua) and credit unions like People’s Choice are doing in this space ensuring your client service is truly outstanding and that what the client/prospect receives in exchange for having invested their valuable time in coming into your analogue space is remarkable and way better than something they could have downloaded online capturing even more tailored information about the client, their aspirations, needs, goals, motivations, and using a future-minded digital
printer to send the client/prospect a tailored, personalised brochure as a follow-up Ten years ago, if I said apple, blackberry, or orange, you’d probably be thinking about fruits, or maybe even a market.
Today, these are digital disruptor brands that have changed the way we connect, share, and care.
Which reminds me of how I heard about the analogue Surry Hills farmers’ markets – not via word of mouth, but via word of mouse; spread via social media; and search engine-optimised, localised and found via Google Maps.
However, neither the herbs, coffee or bread could be downloaded via an app. The online communications made me want to go offline and to reconnect with these local artisans.
So, what local, analogue experiences are you providing to ensure clients and their friends keep coming back to hang out with your analogue self and your team members?
The future is neither analogue nor digital alone, it’s digilogue. Make sure you embrace it.
Your future depends on it.