Part 3: Technology is going to change everything

Principal Consultant , David Allison Inc.
  • Oct. 3, 2016


There’s never been a better moment in the history of commercial real estate in Calgary, or anywhere in the world. And the lessons we can learn from the Calgary marketplace apply regardless of where you live, or even what industry you’re in.  

This sentence sets the context for this three part article about how technology is impacting the real estate industry.  Part one describes key disrupters and ended with description of what Millennials are doing. Part two is about the end of the inflexible office, a new industrial revolution with powerful technologies.

So what do the disruptions brought on by millennials and emerging technologies mean for marketing?

3D Printing

3D printing erases the entire last barrier from full participation in the economy: you don’t have to have a factory. You don’t have to have cheap labour. You don’t have to have any labour at all. Distribution networks are not required: think of the impact on shipping and trucking and airlines and FedEx and trains and highways and infrastructure and jobs to support all of those things.

Retail stores? What will those be for? Maybe some kind of theatrical brand-experience; it won’t be for actual shopping and acquisition of merchandise anymore. Space requirements for retailers will change dramatically, somehow, into something else. Something we probably can’t even imagine right now.

I’ve heard rumours of a prototype running shoe 3D printer the size of a standard ATM machine being tested right now by Nike. Apparently you stick your foot in this thing, push some buttons, and your shoes get 3D printed right there. Nike doesn’t need a store or a salesperson or storage or factories if this thing catches on.

Now imagine if that same thing happened to 10% of the retail sector, 30%? What if 50% of retailers don’t need to look like retailers anymore?

Shopping malls are already facing these issues, and it’s only going to change faster and more dramatically. Developers are turning shopping malls into mixed-use residential and retail villages – which is amazing – but I wonder if there will be any retail at all in those spaces in the next ten years?

I met the Director of the Design Department at Museum of Modern Art at an event a few months ago. She was showing us a 3D printed dress. The printer knows how to print it pre-folded into a small cube, and when it is done printing you simply shake it out and it becomes a full dress. This innovation around dimensionality has been a barrier to fully embracing 3D printing – how could I possibly imagine printing a suit or a tie or a chair unless I imagine that my printer is big enough? But now they have that problem solved too.

If you don’t think massive changes to what we are accustomed to are possible, think about Chapters, and the bookstore industry. Would you have predicted the death of books and bookstores even 10 years ago? When is the last time you went to a store to buy a book?

One last example

Things can change. Things are changing. And it’s only just begun. And for any doubters left in the crowd, one last example.

Before technology came along and disrupted the media world, remember how media and advertising and branding worked? We all sat around in a boardroom and decided what to tell customers about our companies.

Media was in the business of providing content only so that they could sell advertising space adjacent to the content to companies with a story to tell.

Our brand was what we told everyone it was. What people said about our companies was what we told them to say.

Then along came the Internet and social media and suddenly everyone could be a newspaper or a radio station or a TV channel; everyone – you didn’t have to be a corporation, have a bag of money, or an advertising department.

And all hell broke loose.

Media went bankrupt. Companies folded. Other companies became huge overnight doing things we’d never heard of, or even dreamed of before. WTF is a Facebook or a Google? Remember the first time someone showed you these things?

Now some of these new digital companies are facing new ideas and new paradigms themselves. Who knows what will come along next. Industries don’t just move along and change with the times anymore; they are invented and burst into prominence and then burst into flames and get replaced. Yay technology!

So I could keep going, but let me summarize here for moment.

The world of office space sales and leasing, industrial markets, retail space, and everything else that sector knows and loves is going to look like this:

Whatever happens next, you can do one of two things. One, you can get ready to take advantage of it and be one of the victors; or, two, you can bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away.

The commercial real estate industry, famously, likes the latter of those two approaches. Time for some tough love here: I can’t think of another industry other than commercial real estate that is so slow to embrace change in the way things have always been done.

Commercial real estate is still largely about whom you golf with – about your network of buddies. About passing the network along to the next generation. It’s about listing properties based on certain key features. And it’s about those almost-identical listing brochures and online listing sites and OMG I am so bored even just writing about this stuff.

It’s time for change.

There are outliers: I have seen and worked on commercial real estate projects where the players are willing to try something new. Those of you who are experimenting with staying contemporary – I applaud you. But it’s not enough.

Remember, this is where you are heading as an industry:

And to get ready you need to do the biggest pivot of your lives.

Your network is shrinking and capital is portable – the next deal isn’t with the guy you golf with, it’s with someone from a country you’ve never been to with a name you can’t pronounce who doesn’t speak your language. So the first thing we can all do: property owners, service providers, brokers, builders – whoever you are – is make it easy to be found.

Figure out how to reach out to the global village. Build your own brand and your company brand by meaning something.

Stand up and tell a story you are passionate about. Build a following. Get people excited about what you are excited about. Don’t be scared to be specialists instead of generalists. Write blogs. Attract attention. Be known far and wide.

And be prepared to pay for it.

If you own a building you want it to be a famous building. Your broker shouldn’t have to pay for that: you need to invest in telling stories and building a brand for your building. Brands are built with stories, and it costs good money to tell good stories and to do it consistently and well.

If you are leading a company, you need to get involved and be the spokesperson for your company. It’s not a job for your receptionist. You can’t say, “Oh I’m not into that social media stuff,” because it’s not social media anymore. It’s the media.

Newspapers are folding. TV is dead. The post office is on the verge of bankruptcy. Magazines are dying. It’s all online. The whole world has become virtual. If you aren’t online, you aren’t in the world anymore.

The good news is that online is 100% democratic. You can do it. Anyone can and everyone is.

The hardest part of all of this is deciding to do it. Doing it is not hard. It’s the ability to shed the dinosaur skin and decide that you are going to embrace the new world and abandon your comfort zone – that’s the hard part.

Technology changes every business. Whether you’re in commercial real estate or asparagus importation, you have to run with technological changes or risk being left in the dust by the competition. So here are seven macro thoughts that anyone, from the real estate broker to the asparagus importer, should consider.


Watch for what’s happening in the larger world and use these trends as filters to think about your business. Disruptive ideas are the new norm: when everything is disruptive it’s not disruptive it’s just normal.


Build a strong brand for your company that means something important and resilient.


Build a strong brand for yourself that means something important and resilient.


Embrace the technologies of today and then discard them for the technologies of tomorrow. No one builds a business using fax machines anymore. But at one time they did. What’s the fax machine of tomorrow? Who cares? But be ready to ditch it and adopt the next thing gleefully.


Business-to-business marketing is still about people. We tend to forget that. People react to human emotions and fears and anxieties and dreams behind their desk, or on their sofa at home, in exactly the same way. Ditch the conservative reserved all-things-to-all-people approach and stand for something. Take some risks.


Help each other be successful. We are all going through this, and those of us who do it together will have way more fun and be way more successful that those who don’t share, and don’t help, and maintain the old-fashioned, what’s-in-it-for-me stance.


This last point isn’t so much about marketing specifically, but about life and marketing in general: Be excited. Give a damn. You’ll attract other people who do too.

It’s a time of massive change and massive change means massive opportunity. It’s not always easy. It’s a lot of work. Change is — as the saying goes – hard. But I do firmly believe that we are on the verge of a very big, new, shiny, exciting, and amazing world.

The people who shake off their fears and build a good head of steam are the ones who will be ready for whatever the world throws at us next. And, in fact, they will be the ones who are deciding how the world might look next.

That doesn’t happen often. It happens very seldom in fact, that we get a chance to reinvent and reinvigorate and improve a whole industry and maybe even the whole world!

Grab the opportunity. Start today.


DAVID ALLISON advises clients across Canada and the USA about how to build a great brand and tell a great story. He has worked on hundreds of commercial, residential, industrial and recreational real estate projects around the world. He was the national VP Marketing for a Canadian luxury real estate brokerage. He was VP Marketing for a global real-estate project-marketing operation with offices in 70+ countries around the world. He’s written three books on real estate development marketing, won numerous industry awards, taught masters and undergraduate university marketing classes, and served on the board of the Urban Development Institute Pacific Region for 5 years. He is a frequent speaker, writes for industry publications, and in 2015 was named Editor-at-large by the Urban Development Institute.




David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

Read more

David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

Read more

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