Thinking Long Term

Principal Consultant , David Allison Inc.
  • Feb. 2, 2010

Anyone who has been a real estate developer for more than a few weeks remembers the “good old days” when investors and a few end-users could be counted on to line-up the night before a project sales centre opening. In some places in Canada the line-ups are back, but my guess is this is a temporary response driven by fears of rising interest rates. So, fine, enjoy it while it lasts, but let’s think about a more long-term, sustainable approach to real estate project marketing; one that ensures the right people for your project find you regardless of the interest rates, and one that ensures your own corporate brand is burnished and made more valuable as each project is launched, sold and completed.

In the old days, standard methodology for marketing a real estate project relied on what I call a “drip-feed” of information. Some mysterious advertising and hoarding would hit the market, usually with a snappy or provocative headline and a sexy picture of a stunning view or an architectural detail. During this time period you were urged to pre-register, and more often than not you had very little idea what you were registering for, or how much it was going to cost. The promise was that if you gave us your contact information we’d give you a bit more information; and in the heady days of guaranteed rapid equity growth, that’s all it took. People would pre-register in droves.

Next would begin the dance. New versions of the promotional campaign would include a bit more information, and urge further registrations. When the flow of registrations slowed, more information was released. Simultaneously, the sales team worked the leads, emailing and/or calling the registrants to determine the level of interest. Leads were ranked, and the best ones, who were the most motivated, were promised a package with a lot more information in exchange for converting to a “reservation,” which meant sending a cheque for a substantial albeit refundable deposit.

The reservation system purportedly “held your place in line” as there were so many people scrambling to buy a piece of the dream, and your financial commitment would ensure that your option to buy was secured. At the time of the reservation you were asked to indicate your first, second and third choice of suite, and the sales team promised to do everything they could to make sure you got something that was on your list. Opening day was a frenzy of buyers writing contracts as fast as they could, according to a pre-determined time schedule designed by the sales team to ensure maximum absorption. Everyone was happy. The developer achieved rapid sales, and the investor-buyers had a piece of paper they could assign to someone else in 6 months for a 20% lift on the purchase price.

Today, when the majority of the buyers for a project will actually take ownership of the home they buy, and will, more often than not, live in that home, the old system is broken. Except in rare cases, people want to know a lot more about a home and a lot more about the developer than in days gone by. We are all being far more careful with our money, and the sheer volume of information we require before we trust a seller is exponentially larger.

So, what’s a better way?

I call it Marketing Journalism. Marketers need to stop acting like marketers and start acting more like journalists. For every project, unearth and tell all the stories you can possible find about why the project is great. Stories about the region, the neighbourhood, the building, the suite features of course. But also tell stories and share information about demographic predictions for credible third-party sources for the area; stories about the neighbours, the shopkeepers, the civic plans for the surrounding city blocks. And don’t forget the micro stories; why did you choose those appliances, that soundproofing system, that construction company? Who are the people at the engineering firm working on the rain-screen technology and how innovative is their system? What kind of thought has gone into the placement of the doors in the suite? Where are the electrical outlets? Why?

Providing all the “news” about a project up front, through a blended media package that includes traditional and online channels (and yes, even social media) will give prospects a lot of facts to consider. The prospects who review this information will see how credible and passionate you are about your project. And they will register if they think the project is a good fit for them. Be warned, however, because you will attract fewer registrations. On the other hand, the people who do register will be self-qualified, and the conversion ratio will be much higher. Your sales team will initially be worried, as they are accustomed to having thousands and thousands of leads. Instead, they will find that everyone who they talk to is knowledgeable, and to some degree already more than vaguely interested in buying. It’s more honest. More real. And more satisfying for everyone involved.

Perhaps the most important benefit? People will come to trust your company. They will see that you care about the buildings you build. They will come to associate your brand with quality and credibility. It will make all your projects easier to sell, regardless of economic conditions. Finally, it means that you are selling the right people into the right projects. They will be happier with the home they buy. And they will thank you for it.

For more information on Marketing Journalism, as opposed to the old-fashioned hype-and-jive approach to project marketing, download a free copy of my book, Sell The Truth at and plan on attending a breakfast seminar on March 29th, presented by RENX, featuring myself, Hunter Milborne, and a few surprise guest speakers.

Formal registration isn’t set up yet, but for readers of Sell The Truth on, you can pre-register (sound familiar?) by simply sending me an email at [email protected] and I’ll let you know when the registration system is set up. Proceeds from this seminar will go to a GTA charity, thanks to our generous sponsors, who will be revealed shortly. We have two sponsorship opportunities remaining, at $1500 each, and if you are interested in getting your company name in front of a room full of real estate movers-and-shakers let me know. You can email me at the above address for more information.

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…

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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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