Guest post by Tom Silva
Principal, Silva Brand
Are you ready for 2016? Despite what the presidential candidates may say in their stump speeches, make no mistake that we are in one of the longest periods of continuous expansion since World War II. On the macroeconomic level, the United States saw 2 million jobs added in 2015, the dollar at its strongest in more than a decade, inflation at zero for the last 12 months and oil prices close to their lowest level since 2003.
Real estate is the same Goldilocks story: We hit the $500 billion mark in investment sales nationally, representing a 24 percent year-over-year increase (in Chicago, we hit $22.64 billion in 2015, up 44 percent and beating 2007’s number).
But like Goldilocks, we need to be careful of things overheating. Take multifamily, for example: Chicago developers will complete a record 9,000 apartments between now and 2017, increasing supply by 30 percent. But beware of a coming glut and slackening rents, evidenced by the recent actions of investors like Sam Zell, whose Equity Residential unloaded a big slate of apartments for $5.4 billion a few weeks ago.
The same is true in downtown office. Many will point to the large developments under construction in Chicago — 150 North Riverside, 151 North Franklin, Wolf Point — as proof of the strength of the market, until you realize that 6 million square feet of shadow space—blocks known to be available but not yet vacated—are expected to hit the market from 2016 through 2018.
So what does this have to do with your brand? Namely that you can’t rely on current demand to drive your business; as the market loses its heady momentum (and interest rates lead to lower yields) it is going to be critical to differentiate yourself from competitors in order to attract tenants and clients.
My top three
Over the course of my career, I have consulted with firms that encompass every facet of real estate — from developers to construction firms to architects to brokerage multinationals. As I have analyzed their brands, looked at their competitors and talked to their clients to link their enterprise goals to their brand messaging, I keep seeing a number of the same mistakes. For this article, I’ve distilled them to my top-three signs that your real estate brand isn’t ready for 2016.
- Not Being a Thought Leader
In an age when CRE services are commodities being offered by multinational, regional and local players, one of the only ways to pry yourself apart from the competition is by rewarding people who visit your website, social media channels or who read your collateral with truly meaningful content. The best way to do this is by distributing market reports, white papers or even reprints of news article that offer readers cogent information about the market.
According to Bruce Rogers, Forbes’ Chief Insights Officer, one of the foremost authorities in the field, and author of Profitable Brilliance: How Professional Services Firms Become Thought Leaders, “Being a recognized authority in your area of expertise is increasingly essential if you want to get attention.”
The large multinational firms like CBRE and JLL have invested millions in data capture that power their quarterly market reports. But today, local firms can procure data from third-party sources and create much more in-depth studies that reveal their deep knowledge of a narrow submarket. In my brand practice, we’ve helped clients author studies about specific product categories like logistics or build-to-suits and even launched a podcast series of interviews with industry experts. It is a minimal investment and yet always generates enormous goodwill, trust and stature within your industry segment.
Strategist Daniel Rasmus, writing in Fast Company, describes it this way: “Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”
While good content is critical to this (you have a contract with the audience with every thought leadership piece not to waste their time and, even more importantly, not to try to sell them), how you disseminate that content is equally important. “The distribution of information is usually just as important as producing cutting-edge knowledge,” explains Rogers.
The large brokerage firms do a nice job of releasing their findings first to industry trades and business publications and then offering it as a value-added to clients by emailing them a pdf. The report is then posted to their website and SEO-optimized so that it shows up in web searches. We advise going further and eblasting your audience a link to your thought leadership pieces, driving them through social media and even producing 60-second videos that summate the major findings as a teaser to the full publication. All incredibly inexpensive and utterly effective.
- Unresponsive design
We’ve all had the experience of clicking on a website on our iPhone and being greeted with text and pictures that are microscopic. So we turn the screen and expand the font in order to read it. But in doing so, we lose all the navigation, so we don’t know where we are without continually shrinking, panning and scrolling the screen. This is deeply frustrating to visitors and, worse, signals to them that you are antiquated in terms of technology.
So what’s the answer? Get responsive. Responsive web design simply means that your site automatically responds to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation (all accomplished through a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries). As you move from iPhone to iPad to your office, the website knows to adjust its content to fit the window. But it’s not just technical; it also needs concise copywriting, a vertical stacked design, and an economy in the user experience that avoids too many moves. This is no longer a nice luxury upgrade; it should be a standard feature of your website given that mobile traffic is now more than half of total Internet traffic, so much so that Google now boosts the ratings of sites that are mobile friendly.
- You’re not using video
As a species, we are inherently visual. According to Digital Sherpa, the average Internet user watches 32.2 videos per month. In fact, one-third of all Internet activity is video viewing; not only that but video reaches brokers, tenants and developers much more effectively than paragraphs of copy. According to Comscore, people stay two minutes longer on your site if you have video. The retention rate for visual information is 65 percent versus just 10 percent for textual information.
And here may be the best reason of all to use video: According to Forrester Research, video is 50 times more likely to get organic page ranks in Google than plain text results. You’re much more likely to get in the first couple of pages of search results with video than without. In my brand practice, we have pushed clients, including large developers and brokerage companies, to wipe away paragraphs of copy in favor of a well-produced 60- to 90-second video that conveys far more about their products, services and culture.
Tom Silva is founder of Silva Brand, a branding and marketing agency in downtown Chicago. A brand strategist and creative director to Fortune 1000 corporations for two decades, his portfolio of work has been recognized by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, International Academy of the Visual Arts and Web Marketing Association.