10 January 2021

Smart home technology finds its voice in 2021

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The UK property industry’s first step in future-proofing itself should be to look outside of itself at how consumers are communicating with and purchasing from other verticals. There has been a rapid and significant evolution in the sophistication of these interactions, driven largely by the rising importance of brand storytelling, targeted content delivery, customised channel experiences and – finally - the technology able to support these marketers’ ambitions.

So, what’s in store for 2021 and beyond?

1. Rise of the robots - from mobile first to AI first.

In the future, consumer environments will be underpinned by sophisticated technology woven into the urban landscape and fabric of our everyday lives, enabling seamless responses from brands to consumer needs. For marketers, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is already creating a world where advertising and branding are becoming increasingly invisible, smart and automated.

As machine-learning algorithms do the heavy lifting of online search and programmatic media buying, intelligently identifying consumers and serving relevant ads, chatbots have also joined the fray – streamlining digital consumer browsing and researching journeys and acting as an increasingly effective entry point customer engagement tool. And should you think this is still niche technology, the stats disagree - 65% of mobile users have communicated with businesses via messaging app, and 76% have done so via SMS. Over 34,000 chatbots are available on Facebook Messenger alone.

What does this mean for property?

AI is driving efficiency in marketing automation across industries and property should be no exception. Smart off-the-shelf tools now include machine-learning algorithms which can churn vast quantities of data to identify which of your ads perform best on which audience at what stage of the buying process. In addition, data mining and smart predictive tech could help you identify what stage in life a consumer is in, or even when they are likely to move house based on their previous online activity.

This in turn could help you serve up relevant ads and information which could serve to foreshorten the browse-to-buy journey.

Given that 90% of estate agents’ time can be taken up in prospecting, it is unsurprising that AI-powered property chat platforms are already amongst us as customer service tools. “Rebecca” from iProperty Group and “Zoombot” from Zoomsquare are able to initiate conversations with potential customers in the process of researching property.

And in an increasingly global market, chatbots allow you to provide a reliable, 24/7 service that is both mobile responsive and completely pressure-neutral.

This in turn could help you serve up relevant ads and information which could serve to foreshorten the browse-to-buy journey.

2. Hyper Personalisation

Contextual data is becoming increasingly important. Knowing a consumer’s context – where they are, what the weather’s like, the time of day, where they have been recently, for example - enables brands to anticipate intent and serve personal needs much more effectively.

Consumers expect hyper-personalised and hyper-responsive relationships with brands, seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives. Consumers… As a result, your engagement with customers has to feel as little like marketing as possible.

What does this mean for property?

Don’t be a one size fits all brand. With multiple audiences (investors, downsizers, residents etc) ensure your marketing talks to each group’s specific needs. Generic messaging via generic media isn’t effective. Importantly this goes beyond marketing to the product itself.

From our own research, we know the importance of personalisation when it comes to property - 85% saying having options is important to them in their decision-making process. When you can get numerous options when buying a car why can’t we get this with a home? Well, it’s changing. One of our clients has a home with 316,000 permutations so watch this space.

3. Marketing to Alexa

What does your brand sound like? A decade ago this would have been about a jingle or pneumonic, for 2021 it’s about your tone of voice in the Alexa era. Personal digital assistants are transforming consumer research, discovery and purchase behaviour.

It is estimated that there will be 8.4bn users of voice-enabled digital assistants worldwide by 2024. Google reports that 27% of the online global population is using voice search on mobile. It is clear that these invisible gatekeepers will force a shift in the way brands in every industry target and respond to consumers.

Brands are serving up applications that surface educational and other informational content, guide consumers to a decision what do I cook tonight? Where should I go on holiday? This enable fast and frictionless ordering/commerce, and provide audio-based entertainment and games.

What does this mean for property?

How can your development be described verbally? Take away the CGI and tell me why I should buy a home at your development. Often the messaging and verbal strategy is left to the end if it is tackled at all, and this needs to change.

4. Third Spaces

Third Spaces - a term describing the places people visit between home and work, where they interact with their surroundings and are open to new connections. These physical and emotional third spaces offer huge untapped marketing opportunities for brands in every industry.

Mobile, geolocation and digital out-of-home technologies now enable brands to access the transient moments in a consumer’s daily life. Huge opportunities are available to engage people according to their location, environment and even mood.

Brands are making themselves relevant and useful in local spaces and communities. Where customer engagement once ended at conversion, brands are now looking beyond – for example Uber shares insider knowledge on the hippest spots in town with its customers.

What does this mean for property?

Building sites may not be third spaces now but why can’t this change? How can you interact with passers-by and make meaningful engagement? It could be physical - everyone seems to want a flat white now. It could be issue based – give people a canvass to express their opinions.

5. Film will be more important than ever

Moving images tend to engage consumers much more deeply than flat content or audio alone. Moving… Done well, film can be immersive, emotional and inherently more shareable than any other medium.

Over time brands have been able to capitalise on the introduction of several highly-engaging video features on different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.

With mobile users spending more time than ever with their smartphones, video views are increasing at a disproportionate rate. In the United States, YouTube registers a larger volume of the 18+ demographic during peak TV hours than any cable TV network. Facebook recently revealed that their 1.65 billion active users watch about 8 billion videos each day.

And let’s not forget live video as a community tool which gives property brands the ability to capitalise on local knowledge and topicality.

What does this mean for property?

We’ve used film as a core platform from day one at Silk Road. We consider it vital for engagement and have had great success sourcing stories from locals, architects and experts. If you’re only just dipping a toe into video, consider small changes to start with. For instance replacing time lapse camera footage of site updates with a Facebook live post.

6. Take a stand

As recently as five years ago, people bought things on the basis of price, value and ease of purchase. Now 60% of consumers will buy your product based on you. What you stand for as a company, how you behave and what your values are.

With consumers struggling to make sense of an increasingly volatile world, there’s a big opportunity for brands to play a more meaningful role in their lives. But, this is no time to sit on the fence – be prepared to take strong positions or risk irrelevancy.

Consumers increasingly distrust traditional cultural leaders, turning to brands for guidance: 88% of US consumers believe that companies have the power to influence societal change, and 78% feel that companies should address the issues facing us.

In the future, brands will create passionate connections with consumer - by helping to redefine social and political narratives, placing themselves at the frontline of the cultural conversation.

What does this mean for property?

It’s easy – stand for something. It could be local to where your development is. It could be a cause that means a lot to you and your team. Whatever it is be prepared for some negativity but that’s a good thing. It means you’re getting noticed. But you’ll get disciples and it’s always better to be loved than liked. Think Marmite.

7. Customer-Centric Content

AI is beginning to automate and optimise content creation. In the future, brands may be handing over their creative tasks to intelligent machines. 80% of marketing executives say AI will revolutionise marketing by 2020.

Ian Liddicoat, global head of data technology and analytics at UK media agency Zenith, “this will result in a vastly superior customer experience for the consumer, as every touchpoint and customer preference is connected and mined by machine- learning techniques that optimise each interaction based on any given KPI – a web visit, brochure request, sale, etc.”

What does this mean for property?

Understand exactly who your target audience is. Nearly every property development marketing brief we see lists every type of audience as the target. This runs the risk of making the marketing (and the product) vanilla. Know your audience and then consider what content is going to be most appealing to them, and by which channel.

Move away from traditional static content into a more dynamically developed and served content environment. Move away… Ensure your digital platforms are designed mobile-first, a practice which inherently weighs up the importance of content over the surrounding clutter. And invest in a smart marketing automation plan which delivers tailored content to each of your consumers through continuous test and learn.

Know your audience and then consider what content is going to be most appealing to them, and by which channel.

8. Storytelling

Much importance has been placed on storytelling in the past and this isn’t going away. It’s particularly relevant to property as helps creates the emotional connection – something a floorplan and spec sheet can’t do.

Storytelling works because stories:

  • People react to emotion
  • Put a face to an issue (nobody cares about process; they care about people)
  • Connect us
  • Humanise brands (people want to see your personal side)
  • Are about “show/don’t tell.” It’s one of the best things stories do. Don’t just make claims. Tell the stories that substantiate them.

What does this mean for property?

The first thing we do on any development is try and uncover any stories. It could be about the area, history of the building, the design. If there isn’t one, create your own story and develop the product around it.