Real estate agency marketing is about bringing wisdom of opinion and human understanding to the table over and above the traditional industry proposition of finding buyers, says marketing expert Anthony Stroebel

Research into why people choose a particular real estate agency or, indeed, use an agent at all, has traditionally indicated that the ability to market a home to the best buyers sits firmly at the top of the list. And it’s by a significant margin compared with the second reason: a recommendation by a friend or family member.

Supposed marketing prowess – “I’ll do it better than the next guy” – has always been the primary weapon of the estate agent when pitching for a client’s business. Current research continues to support the notion that this thought process remains in place. This is despite the advent of property portals that, in theory, provide the bulk of the leads to the 25,000 active agents in South Africa.

Dare I say that we as an industry have perpetuated this somewhat one-dimensional notion, which has, in turn, made us vulnerable. Surely marketing should be about the delivery of customer value and not just confined to advertising? The bringing of buyers to the table is critical but in this digital day and age this has almost become table stakes, certainly as far as the bulk of the market is concerned. This is opposed to the higher-end luxury buyers, who require more specialised marketing.

It is more about maximum financial returns and peace of mind for the selling client, and emotional returns for the buyer him- or herself that really counts. Interestingly, the traditional weekend press property guides continue to be utilised extensively, despite what some would construe as offering a declining return on investment. Ironically, these so-called advertising pages are not intended to appeal to buyers at all but are used to give sellers the comfort of seeing their properties “in the flesh”, rather than in some mystery digital channel.

The print property guides are also used to achieve various positioning objectives for both the agencies and the agents themselves, showing their regional or suburb presence. This begs the questions: what is the real value of marketing when it comes to differentiating one agent from another? What is the role of marketing in the first place?

Marketing should serve to add value both before, during and after the selling process to both the buyer and the seller. Of course, the old adage of “sell my property for the highest price, in the quickest time, with the least hassle” will always hold true from a seller’s perspective. This is the fundamental role of an estate agency service but not something that brands in our space can hang their hats on.

The industry has come of age and consumers now are savvy. The concept of value delivery needs to evolve accordingly out of what some would provocatively call a historically commoditised industry where price (that is, commission) is the key driver of choice by clients. No longer can estate agents wield the ownership of data and information, nor the ownership of marketing channels as their raison d’etre or competitive differentiator.

Real estate agency marketing is about bringing wisdom of opinion and human understanding to the table over and above the traditional industry proposition of finding buyers and, in so doing, justifying our value in what is an arduous and often stressful process. What we are really selling is the ability of our agents to engage and add value at many different levels with clients, most important of which is the human aspect. Agents are our most powerful marketing channels and until we, as an industry, can say with conviction that this is what drives the real value in our industry, we will always be under threat from technology. If indeed we are anywhere near fearful of being disintermediated, then we need to question why. Our stock in trade is our people. The sooner we can appreciate this, the more optimistic we can be about our continuing to add value where it is most needed by consumers.

Words Anthony Stroebel, group marketing director for Pam Golding Properties