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Traditional vs. Digital CRE Marketing: Which Has a Better ROI?

Every property needs a real estate marketing plan, and every brokerage needs a marketing strategy. This has been true in real estate for decades as brokers and real estate agents strive to make their sales goals. But the medium has shifted dramatically in recent years. Emails have all but replaced direct mail. Print ads have been supplanted by digital ads. Instead of trying to reach huge groups of customers at once, real estate marketing strategy is now all about segmentation and targeting. 

For those who know how to use it, digital marketing has the potential to fast-track to your goals. The collection of sales leads and data about each lead is incredibly easy, and that allows real estate agent teams to reach precisely the buyers and sellers they’re targeting at any given time. And segmentation is as much about the investors you don’t reach as the investors you do reach — when every email feels relevant, sales leads are much more likely to open the next one. 

If digital goals aren’t already central to your real estate marketing plan, it’s time to overhaul your plan. Here’s why.

Traditional Marketing is Obsolete

The “traditional marketing” category includes anything that tells a customer about a product without using the Internet. That could include newspaper and radio ads, billboards, flyers, TV commercials, and even telemarketing. 

Prior to the 21st century, traditional marketing was the only way to reach mass audiences. To reach as many commuters as possible, you’d purchase a billboard above the most congested stretch of freeway or at the busiest train station. To reach the largest possible TV audience, you’d advertise during the Super Bowl. You may even have sprung for direct mail marketing campaigns. Traditional marketing hasn’t gone away for every industry — Super Bowl commercials, after all, are still the talk of the winter season. 

But in commercial real estate, traditional marketing strategy mostly included lawn signs, newspaper and magazine ads, and the occasional billboard for a brokerage or real estate agent team. Those strategies are becoming obsolete in the digital world. There’s little point in reaching a large national audience when many real estate investors are searching on the zip code level. And because real estate deals arise out of specific, targeted needs — a need for office space by June, a new commercial real estate investment by August, or a liquidation as soon as possible — reaching a more passive consumer, like someone watching TV, isn’t particularly valuable in finding potential customers. 

Traditional marketing can make sense for reaching some select buyers, like upmarket baby boomers who read glossy magazines and might be seeing luxury condos. But the vast majority of commercial real estate buyers and tenants are looking for specific products at specific times. Traditional marketing won’t help them reach those goals.

In contemporary real estate, brokers’ identities are becoming less important. Buyers and tenants — and their brokers, too — are looking for property, and will work with whoever happens to reach them with the listing of the property they want. Today, a successful real estate marketing plan is about using targeted advertising to connect the right buyers and sellers to the right property. 

Digital Marketing is Booming

A digital marketing strategy includes everything from social media to search engine optimization, online marketing and paid ads. It became an essential part of a real estate marketing plan about a decade ago, when tenants, buyers and sellers began originating their real estate searches online rather than calling a broker. Gradually and then all at once, it became drastically more important to reach those searchers.

More or less everyone is online in 2020. Most of us are online constantly, either on our computers at work, tablets at home, or phones on the go. Think about the last time you sat in a waiting room: Did you pick up one of the magazines on the table, or did you catch up on emails or scroll through social media? Digital marketing is about reaching those customers at exactly the right moment — and in today’s market, it’s easier than ever if you know how. 

The real estate industry, in general, has been late to this transformation. But they’re catching up fast, out of necessity: 44 percent of residential real estate searches began online in 2018.

A digital marketing strategy starts with building a compelling visual brand. That includes eye-catching colors and logos that are consistent across your website, video content, social media presence and printed materials. Beyond that, you can build interest in and loyalty to your brand through white papers, targeted email campaigns, and blog posts. 

The goal of all this marketing is to widen the top of your brokerage’s sales funnel through lead generation and nurturing. The more people you get onto targeted email lists, the more people you can reach with content they find relevant and listings they find compelling — and the more people you move closer to doing business with your real estate agents. Having a comprehensive marketing plan that involves digital marketing is the only way to dominate the industry. 

The Benefits of Digital Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing

Unlike traditional marketing, digital marketing has highly measurable results. You can see in real-time how many people are opening your emails or sharing your social posts, and you can tweak your strategy in response if those rates aren’t meeting your goals — or, if you’re seeing success in your efforts, you can know to continue that work. 

Digital marketing also offers opportunities to interact instantly with your audience, especially via mobile devices. Rather than waiting for them to dial the phone number on your flyer, you can proactively follow them on social media or add them to a relevant email list. Today’s customer is much more comfortable messaging a Facebook page or chatbot with a question than dialing a phone number with one. Respond to them there and you’ll win their trust.

Digital marketers can capture an amazing amount of data about their customers. This allows for detailed email segmentation, so that customers interested in office space don’t see industrial listings and vice versa. The more relevant your emails are, the more likely customers are to keep opening them.

Finally, digital marketing has a much higher return on investment than traditional marketing. It’s almost always cheaper, since digital ad rates are so low compared to print ad rates. That frees up room in your marketing budget to invest heavily in your visual brand and in highly targeted ads. Then the feedback loop begins: You’ve reached customers who want what you offer; you’ve added them to your email lists; they’re more likely to do business with you once; and if your sales team does its job, they’ll be likely to do business with you again. 

Digital marketing is a fast-growing industry: EMarketer.com predicted that 2019 would be the first year digital marketing spending surpassed traditional marketing spending. If you’re new to the digital marketing space, an expert can help you create a sophisticated real estate marketing plan. Reach out to WindWater today to get started.

Related Webinar: Leveraging Technology in Real Estate to Maximize ROI

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