The oldest adage in real estate sales-“location, location, location” – is poised to become the newest truism in real estate marketing. More and more, industry marketing pros are focusing their energies on identifying not only where buyers are in a traditional sales cycle, but also on where those buyers are physically.
The Power of Where
Let’s start with a fact from the crazy-but-true files: The first consumer mobile applications with location-based features actually date all the way back to the turn of the 21st Century. In 1999, The Weather Channel and TrafficTouch apps were released for the Palm VII. It wasn’t until 10 years later, though, when the first breakthrough app in the category – the first version of Foursquare – hit the market. Its basic goal? Tech blog Mashable gives us the succinct skinny: “to teach users about things and places they didn’t know about as they walked around the world.”
A few short years later, thanks to the revolution that Foursquare helped spur, you can now use mobile location-based apps to do everything from finding friends to avoiding enemies. Which means you can also use them to make friends of prospective homebuyers, while at the same time distancing yourself from competitors (i.e., “enemies”).
Pinning Maps: The Two Big Technologies
You’ve no doubt heard of global positioning satellite or “GPS” technologies (if you use a car navigation system or map apps like Mapquest or Google Maps, you’re already familiar with the usefulness of GPS). And while traditional GPS systems can help guide homebuyers from their existing home in OldTown to the potential house of their dreams in NewTown, two other location-based marketing technologies are proving especially ideal for real estate marketing:
Typical geofencing tools are based on GPS or radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies. They basically allow you to define a specific area-let’s say, for instance, your new home community-and then draw an “invisible electronic line” that surrounds that space. So when a prospect with a mobile phone that’s loaded with a specific location-based app crosses the invisible lines you’ve established (i.e., enters your community), she gets an alert on her phone.
Beacons are a slightly different twist on the same idea. Think of beacons, in a very rudimentary sense, as “in-room GPS systems.” Beacons, transmitters typically the size of a hockey puck or smaller, operate through Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) protocols, and have a much shorter range than geofencing technologies (as little as a few feet to as many as a few hundred). A mobile phone with Bluetooth LE support enabled and a location-based app will get alerts once that phone comes within the range of a beacon.
Location-Based Marketing Gets Real in Real Estate
While geofencing and beacon technologies operate differently (e.g., they have different ranges, use different amounts of power, have different boundary sizes and shapes, etc.), they share the same basic function: to know when a mobile device is within a specific location, and to trigger something to happen on that device. For real estate marketing, the implications are huge (full disclosure-the BrightDoor Mobile App was the industry’s first to commercialize beacon technology, so we’re admittedly big proponents of location-based marketing):
- Community Promotions: You can know when a homebuyer is entering or exiting your community, and serve up welcome messages and other customized content to that prospect’s mobile phone or tablet.
- Amenity Promotions: You can alert homebuyers to all the on-premise extras-like your pool, golf course, fitness center, trails, etc.-that help make your community that much more engaging to buyers.
- Floor-Plan Promotions: You can call attention to specific floor plans as prospects drive by model homes in your community.
- Model Home Tours: You can automate and augment the home-tour scheduling process-you can use a beacon on a “For Sale” sign or front porch, for example, to instantly trigger a “call-the-agent-now” option to appear on the prospect’s phone.
- Sales Center Explorations: You can keep buyers focused on available lots, new listings and community amenities as they tour your sales or discovery center.
- In-Home Options and Highlights: You can showcase key features (like optional finishes and fixtures, for instance) as homebuyers move from one room in your model home to the next.
Those examples by no means represent an exhaustive list of how builders, residential developers and brokerage teams can use location-based marketing for real estate. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is yet another relevant truism here; as it gets more and more difficult to capture and hold prospects’ attention (which last just eight seconds, less than the attention span of a goldfish), the importance of engaging them in the right place at the right time becomes increasingly important.
Where From Here? A Four-Step Checklist
If you haven’t yet embraced location-based marketing (or “proximity marketing,” as it’s sometimes termed), consider taking these first four steps to get started:
- Step One: Get familiar with the basics of the technology. You don’t have to be an expert, by any means, but you’ll at least want to get a sense of the basic terminology and the differences between geofencing and beacons. (This article provides a useful baseline summary of how the two technologies work—and can work together. And this list provides a quick snapshot of how many popular mobile devices already have BLE technology built in as standard equipment.)
- Step Two: Think like homebuyers do. Better yet, drive or walk in their tire tracks or footsteps. You’ll be well-positioned to consider what your buyers experience from beginning to end during a Saturday afternoon home search outing. Which brings us naturally to the next step…
- Step Three: Brainstorm your location-based “triggers” and the content you can serve up when those triggers are activated at key points (i.e., when buyers enter your neighborhoods, sales centers or individual rooms in your model homes). In a way, it’s a simple cause-and-effect exercise, and you’re in control – you get to decide precisely where and when the “cause” happens (that is, where the natural “pause points” are along your homebuyers’ journey, and how you can use those opportunities to automatically deliver informative and persuasive marketing content).
- Step Four: Map out a pilot program using the results of Step Three (and by considering how you can use all the great data you can gather as buyers interact with you – there will be a LOT of it you can capture and analyze). Keep in mind, too, that you don’t have to down the entire location-based marketing apple at once. You can take one bite at a time – by, for instance, installing a beacon system in just one model home.
Technically, there’s a fifth step, too: allowing your mind to wander with all the possibilities that next-generation location-based technologies could bring to your real estate sales and marketing efforts. (Here’s just one example: think how useful it would be to recoup some of your mobile marketing costs by giving your subcontractors – from foundation specialists to interior designers – prime advertising space within your location-based marketing apps. Suddenly, something you originally envisioned as an expense could actually become a profit center.)
In short, location-based marketing in real estate is going places. And you’ll want to not just be along for the ride, but instead plant yourself firmly in the driver’s seat.
Editor’s Note: This is the second of six installments in our summer 2015 technology blog series. Read our first installment on email marketing, and be sure to keep an eye out for the next edition.