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4 minute read

In the early 1990s, marketing and advertising in real estate looked very different than it does today.

No online property portals. No Facebook. No ratings and reviews websites.

Agents used mainly offline channels to market their properties and services to buyers and sellers, and even though the media companies had access to an audience, real estate businesses were still largely in control of their data – and ultimately their brand.

As online property portals shot to fame in the mid-late nineties, we as an industry started handing over our listing data with the promise of more reach to potential buyers. In the late 2000s and into the 2010s, agents and offices started creating profiles on these platforms with the promise of more “eyeballs” on their brand.

In more recent times, these platforms have started offering vendor lead generation services for agents and agent comparison services for vendors – which, some would argue, is building an even stronger foothold for these online platforms to generate more revenue out of a real estate transaction.

As each new product comes to market from these online platforms, or as new platforms emerge, they are offered for a low (or no) fee, at least to start with, to entice you into handing over just a little bit more data – a strategy proven effective by companies like Facebook. Your data is their product.

It’s tempting to build your brand on land someone else owns because they make it so ‘easy’. The challenge for our industry moving forward, however, is that the land we’re renting is getting more crowded and more expensive every single day.

Some would argue that the game is lost against the portals and social giants like Facebook  – but I’m far more optimistic.

Owned versus rented land

Building a profile and accessing an audience on social media and other third-party platforms is relatively quick and easy to do – upload your profile, post some content and voila!

Building your ‘owned’ channels, and driving traffic to them, takes considerably more time and keeping up to date with the latest digital marketing strategies and technology is hard when you’re busy listing and selling property. I believe this is, sadly, why so many real estate businesses today rely heavily on ‘rented land’ to build their online presence.

As the major property portals release new marketing/branding tools for agents and agencies, it pays to keep some perspective before diving into yet another subscription that is, ultimately, designed to benefit their bottom line.

In fact, we predicted in an article back in 2016 that the more recent release of products from the major portals would be rolled out in exactly the way they are.

You are in real estate

We work with, and know of, many brands who are relying far less on third-party websites and portals today than they did yesterday – and the results are exciting for our industry.

Sure, they still use third-party platforms, but more of their time and energy today is spent on understanding and utilising the data on their ‘owned’ channels to access an audience themselves while ensuring that their website is the first and final destination for that audience. These businesses are building their house on digital land they own.

The point? Renting is fine if you’re clear on what you want to get out of the platform. But it needs to be known that every successful brand – at one time or another – owns and has access to its assets. As these online platforms get larger and more influential, they will continue to reach out to you and pull you in a direction that adds to their bottom line.

For example, the reason why all the major portals are pushing their social media advertising products harder than ever before is that social media advertising, if done properly, drives significant amounts of traffic to your website at a very low cost. And if the portals can drive more traffic, you can bet they’re going to use this increase in traffic as the means for increasing your subscriptions. We are feeding the beast!

REA’s latest round of TV ads, suggesting consumers should never sell off-market, is an obvious swipe and slap in the face to the people who have supported their business for 15 years – the agents. For years, REA has suggested that there is only one way, their way, to sell real estate. It’s super smart marketing on REA’s part but pitting the consumer against their agent’s advice (the people on the front line of this industry) is crossing the line in my view.

On the flip side, it’s a positive sign that our industry is getting smarter (and selfish) about how they use their own data and who they give it to. REA are seeing how effective off-market sales can be for both the agent and vendor. Why else would they run these ads!?

I’m all for leveraging as many third-party websites as makes sense for you to accomplish your marketing goals, but make sure you know what you are getting into.

You should get up every morning knowing that these platforms have changed the rules overnight and you now need to absorb their costs into your business in order to maintain a healthy profit.

If you keep that kind of perspective going forward, you can focus on what type of business you are truly trying to build, and whether there will be any control left at the end of the year.

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