Creeping disruption: Philippine real estate’s looming digital shadow

In Photo: Brad Geiser, Angelyn Soh and JP Salustiano

Part One

DISRUPTION!—the word that digital entrepreneurs wield like a chainsaw to scare conventional business.

But sometimes industries like real estate experience disruption as a slow creep, like a thief in the night, quietly rewriting the rules, subtly shifting the balance of power, right under the noses of nervous executives who struggle between maintaining company harmony and keeping up with the outsiders who have less to lose and a bigger appetite for deep change. This article is written from the perspective of five technology thought leaders.

Brad Geiser, a marketing futurist who has noticed two profoundly different conversations governing the technology discussion as it pertains to real estate:  “We should use technology to improve our already-successful model,” and “We need to totally change our business model to take advantage of technology.” Those who are already winning with the conventional approach are thinking they can vaccinate themselves against technology by adding a little bit here and there. Geiser describes these moves as “slow, silo-ed and budget strangled.”

Meanwhile, their marketing teams are starting to do business with platforms that generate inquiries online. “They think these platforms are great. They’re cheap and effective alternatives to conventional advertising.” Geiser said. The problem is, marketing people don’t always think like business people. If Uber and Air B&B or Amazon has taught us anything, it’s that he who owns the platform holds the power. Real-estate executives often believe that owning the building them gives them the power. “Tell that to the guy who owns taxis.” Geiser said “You’ll still make money, but you don’t call the shots.”

Real estate at the speed of social media

Angelyn Soh is an Asean social-media expert and the managing director of Society, one of the fastest-growing social-media agencies in the country.

“We see digital as bridging the gap between merely generating engagement or awareness to generating measurable sales and leads for brands. With the real-estate business, it is now or never to be part of something that has the potential to generate a good amount of sales by keeping up with the innovation of digital and making sure that they don’t get left behind,” Soh said.

Soh put her finger directly on a major point of industry sensitivity: “Digital will, in the future, replace real-estate agents in getting leads on real estate. Increasingly, for most people on social media, generating a lead is as simple as click a ‘learn more’ or ‘book appointment’ now buttons to secure a slot or view a unit. Cutting through the additional steps of having agents explain the properties, allows the potential buyers more time to immersive themselves into the actual property itself.”

“Nowadays, with the majority of consumers online and on social along with the growing trend of social media and mobile-phone usage, information is passed through with just a click of a button. The majority of potential customers are glued to their phones, whether it’s during commute, at home, at work or even in the banyo, data is now one of the most important things in the daily life of a consumer. Whether it’s watching the latest viral video on Facebook or YouTube, sharing a funny meme on Twitter, posting your #ootd on Instagram, social media is already a very huge part of the lives of the consumers regardless their age, gender, beliefs, there is content for everyone.”

Soh pointed out that the digital-age buyer is a totally different animal from the property investor of the past.

“With rising spending power for working-class Filipinos, comes the ability to invest their money in properties driving real-estate business growth. It is also imperative to understand that when today’s buyer thinks about investing in a new property, the first place they look is on digital platforms and brands must be present in those touchpoints to make sure they hit their right target audience, at the right time, with the right messaging to generate the right call to action.”

Pull and Push

Driving the digital revenue-generation charge is a concept known as programmatics by those in the advertising industry. It involves online behavior modeling to better understand who your real customers are and where they go online so you can chase them with different ad strategies. It is one of the most consistent methods of business generation ever devised.

JP Salustiano, managing director of Cadreon, and a top practitioner of this science, thinks the consumer landscape is shifting right under the feet of the industry.  “We live in a connected age and people are moving faster than brands. The Internet has dramatically changed the way customers make purchase decisions, especially for high-ticket items and potentially life-changing transactions. From the technology-driven change in consumer habits, to the availability of new customer access points, such as OLX, Lamudi and even Facebook, there is no denying that real-estate brands must adapt to the ever-evolving landscape to win in today’s marketplace.”

Salustiano revealed the tactical approach for generating business.

“Nowadays, a lot of people would go online to do a quick research first before they even consider a property, and this has become a critical step in the decision-making process. Online assets are also used to showcase new projects, improve brand credibility and give buyers a destination whenever they are looking for and considering properties. The combination of a search campaign and online assets are commonly used by developers as ‘pull’ strategies, getting users who are already interested in current offerings, and eventually making them convert.”

Programmatic systems enable brands to specifically target people who are already interested in real estate through their online behavior and search patterns. For example, if a person searches for a condominium in Makati, a developer can serve an ad for a Makati property to that specific person, in a web site that he will visit the following day, whether it is related to real estate or not.

On top of this, programmatic can also target people who may not be actively looking for a property now, but has the potential to be triggered by the right message. If, say, a retired dad sees a digital ad featuring a property in Bonifacio Global City, he might consider buying a unit for his son. Programmatic does this by going beyond demographics and considering other factors like relevant interests and contexts that may not be directly associated with the category at first glance.

“In a nutshell, programmatic is all about smart targeting—delivering the right message to the right user, at the right place and time, and at the right price.” Salustiano said, “The key is to know when and how to use programmatic campaigns, which vary from case to case depending on the objective. Cadreon helps real-estate developers sell their properties by ensuring that real potential buyers receive messages that are almost tailor-made for them in the web sites where they visit, at the right moment when they are most receptive.”

Right now, digital is at the heart of a lot of advertising campaigns, but a complete shift from traditional to digital (and broadcast to programmatic) is not going to happen in the next few years. Brands who can crack the perfect balance between push and pull marketing across paid, owned, earned and shared media will win. For real estate, the right combination of online assets, search, social-media activity and programmatic advertising enjoy much better results.