When reading through a marketing strategy paper entitled “Commercial Property Marketing Online” from 2003 I was struck by just how many of its key findings are not being implemented by property firms. As a Twitter user might say – #EpicFail.
The property sector is missing out on the digital revolution. There is still senior level reticence to engage with digital solutions, whether for marketing, customer service or reputation management. You might even call this sentiment suspicion or perhaps just a failure to recognise commercial benefit.
But now there is a policy-driver, which may force a reconsideration of this default standpoint – the localism agenda. The reality of the modern planning process is that one objector with an overactive Twitter account can de-rail an entire planning process.
Localism is handing planning power over to the people. The reality of the digital age is that local community members can express themselves in a variety of different ways and a consensus formed before traditional press teams have barely started moving. A local resident can set up a site and start letting the world know their views thanks to services such as WordPress in less time than it takes a traditional press officer to make a cup of strong tea.
But even more challenging is that today’s news is no longer tomorrow’s chip paper. Negative articles online are available in perpetuity on the internet; they are not going anywhere until a strategy is developed to address them.
This means that consultation on planning proposals must be conducted at the very outset of a project and community buy-in achieved early on. What is more, the modern audiences demands dialogue in its dealing with private organisations – telling local people what you are going to do is no longer good enough when they now expect to have their views listened to.
An example of such a scenarios is the consultation on the Northern Line extension. It is hidden away in a subset of the TfL website with scant opportunity to respond. By contrast, see the Cap Co website for the Earls Court Masterplan - an editorial feast with pages of dialogue that visibly feed into the wider vision. This site is a strong example of a developer not just listening but actively engaging with stakeholders and using that information to generate a development solution.
In regards to the management of property Land Securities has undertaken some interesting work at its St David’s site in Cardiff, where its Facebook page now has more than 5,000 friends and deals are announced daily. A lock-in event for student followers from the Facebook site attracted more than 2,000 local university consumers and demonstrated the power of audience engagement through social media. But why aren’t more people using this vast resource?
Vicinitee uses an online community approach to add value to the local community simply by opening up communications with them in a way that cannot be effectively done otherwise.
Marketing commercial property is a trickier proposition as the target group of investors or tenants is so small that it is a valid question to ask whether any value is generated by creating a compelling online presence.
However, I would argue that we all now conduct our research the same way via search engines – whether we are a City analyst, large tenant or end user. These audiences all form a picture of a company through the way in which search engines frame the collection of media stories, images, social media and other results that appear when you type in a name.
So even if the sale isn’t made online, the reputation of the seller is formed online – and that determines whether you have a chance to make a sale in the first place.
It is therefore this online perception of any development, company or CEO that should concern big developers, especially as the localism agenda – through its empowerment of local councils and residents – which will make adapting to reflect these new realities all the more important.
Augmented reality on mobile phones provides an outstanding option to display the full potential of developments in a way that CGIs and boards can never do. Interactive websites, forum discussion groups and activity trackers such as Glympse may sound like a Big Brother-esque nightmare, but for agents or developers it will allow people to know if they are in their local neighbourhood and request face-to-face discussion.
All this technology is founded on the principals of transparency and frank and open dialogue with all the stakeholders – so perhaps the question is more whether the property sector is prepared to adopt these principles to forge ahead. Or more to the point, it is whether the localism agenda compels them to do so and it is the first movers who steal a move ahead of their rivals in doing so.
This text first appeared in the 2011 Summer edition of New London Quarterly.