Experts share the line between old and new ways of marketing
In this age of technology and social media, commercial real estate has not been immune to the lure of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other new and potentially potent means of spreading their marketing message. And yet, as they continue to determine the “right mix” of marketing vehicles year-after-year, timeless approaches like personal contact, “snail mail,” hand-written notes, and print media stubbornly remain a strong part of that mix. The amount of digital marketing adoption seems to differ depending on why and when they adopted their online platforms.
“With this being my 35th year in CRE and 40th year in sales after college, I am obviously an expert in the ‘old school’ tactics, starting with cold calling, post cards, client lunches, newsletters, print media advertising, seminars, and heavy civic involvement,” says Brian Lightle, SIOR, founder/principal/broker associate, at Lightle Beckner Robison, Inc. in Melbourne, Fla., and 2020/2021 SIOR Florida Chapter president. “I added my company website 26 years ago and recently added my personal website, which discusses my business expertise, but also includes snapshots of my personal life. I tend to use the shotgun approach and pursue every one of these approaches as much as possible. My mix is based on the results I continue to see from all efforts.”
“We do a lot of digital marketing on our own stand-alone website, and we have a social media person on board to keep our platform up-to-date,” adds William Gladstone, SIOR, principal of the Bill Gladstone Group of NAI/CIR in Lemoyne, Pa. “On the print side, we publish our own quarterly magazine, our own monthly newsletter, and now oversized quarterly postcards. We are ‘big’ on reminder postcards and Google reviews in order to stay in front of our clients three to four times each quarter.”
“We probably do somewhere around 60% social media (including LinkedIn),” says Street Jones, SIOR, principal and vice president of Rich Commercial Realty in Raleigh, N.C. Jones and his team initially marketed on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but decided to focus their efforts purely on just one platform and do it well, which was LinkedIn. That decision, he says, was based on the belief that LinkedIn “covers the full demographic – you have younger folks right out of college, people who are retired, and everything in between. It covers the gamut.”
Jones says he also does some mailings and follows up a lot of meetings and some cold calls with a “good old-fashioned note” or letter. “I don’t know if that’s the Southern way of doing things coming out of us,” he says. “All of us were taught from a young age to believe that hand-written letters really mean something.” He adds that he’s gotten some “really good” responses from those who receive them.
Adam Kaduce, SIOR, senior vice president & managing director with R & R Real Estate Advisors in Des Moines, Iowa, says his number one focus “is prospecting and networking, in all forms: in-person, calls, and e-mail.” It’s no secret, he says, that “our business is still a relationship business.” He believes that prospecting efforts, no matter the platform, will always drive the most business.
His team is also active on social media and e-mail marketing as they seek other ways to stay top-of-mind with prospects and decisions makers. “Many of those efforts can be scheduled in advance and are coordinated with new development activity,” he explains. “We also find ways through digital marketing to highlight the leadership of our team members, celebrating professional achievements and recently completed deals.”
In addition, he continues, “We still see value in some print advertising. Our local business newspaper regularly reports on commercial real estate activity and is a ‘go-to’ source to get the eyeballs of decision makers in our community. We find targeted opportunities to be there.”
BEING OPEN TO CHANGE
With the rapid change in technology, along with fluctuations in market demand, SIORs are keenly aware that they need to be flexible with their marketing mix, and open to recognizing when change is needed.
Gladstone decided he needed to ensure he reached out to his clients in a variety of ways, embracing new technology without abandoning what he knows works. “We’re very good with our website, but my clientele is probably between the ages of 35 and 54, and those people may not be as heavily into digital as the younger crowd, though things will change more over time,” he shares.
Gladstone adds that any change needs to demonstrate its value. “We tried an experiment the other day,” he shares. “We used to send out our newsletter monthly, but we decided, why not try to cut costs and go digital? There will be more people to look at it.” After the change, however, he started asking people, and they couldn’t remember receiving the digital newsletter. He decided to return to printing the newsletter, coupling it with the digital version. “While he understands digital is often less expensive, he feels that having that memorable physical touchpoint can still be a worthy investment.
"Our goal is to meet [clients] on the medium of their choosing, and sometimes that means a mix of everything."
“We still find value in traditional methods like direct mail and print advertising, but we have layered in new avenues,” says Kaduce. “For example, as a part of prospecting I would send a piece of direct mail, make a call, and connect to the prospect on LinkedIn. Our goal is to meet them on the medium of their choosing, and sometimes that means a mix of everything. We continue to utilize e-mail marketing, but e-mail clutter makes it increasingly difficult to make an impact. A phone call or in-person meeting is our preferred route.”
“My mix has added the websites, e-mail blasts, and digital newsletters over the years, and we’re now working to increase visibility through SEO, Google ads, etc.,” says Lightle. “I continue to use the old school methods, too, and find that there are prospects who respond better to a postcard instead of another e-mail blast. I focus heavily on referral sources today and find great results from my lunches and face-to-face meetings.”
For Jones, “Our marketing via e-mail was built out of a very robust database of existing clients, prospects, and brokers across the country and internationally, but we limit the number of campaigns; we’ve found that every time you send something somebody unsubscribes, and you lose a little chink; it’s chiseled away each time. So, we do that more infrequently, and we have more success in terms of open and click-through rates when we send less. If people see something maybe once a quarter, they know it must be something important, so it gets a high open and click-through rate.”
EVALUATING, STAYING ON TOP OF THINGS
With innovation occurring at such a rapid pace, and with ongoing changes in their own strategies, how do SIORs determine if their latest approach is working, and how do they stay in touch with the “latest and greatest” in marketing trends?
“We annually review our marketing efforts to assess what worked and what didn’t,” says Kaduce. “Recent assessment has been focused on connecting with decision makers in a hybrid work environment. Hybrid working has required a different approach to prospecting, as decision-makers spend less time at their desk. We work to hit them with different mediums to ensure we get in the door.
“We are also assessing how we stay in front of decision makers as generations change,” he continues. “We have four different generations making real estate decisions, and we must be where they are. That means exploring new channels and balancing efforts on different platforms.”
To stay informed on changing marketing trends, says Kaduce, he relies on his marketing team, who are closely following contemporary ideas, and younger team members, who bring new ideas to the organization. “Some of our most creative marketing ideas have come through our Millennial and Gen Z team members who try out new concepts,” he shares. “They have adopted more creative video content, Matterport tours, and social media engagement, which adds to our traditional prospecting activities.”
"We also look at how folks are marketing outside the real estate sector; just because someone is using a marketing tool in another industry does not mean it doesn’t apply to us."
“We’re constantly in touch with SIOR,” says Jones. “It’s a great platform for understanding what our peers are doing and using. We also look at how folks are marketing outside the real estate sector; just because someone is using a marketing tool in another industry does not mean it doesn’t apply to us. We constantly ask our clients and vendor partners what they do for marketing as well.”
His efforts over the last 12 months, he continues, have focused on gearing up his LinkedIn presence, and “we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. Also, we found the thing we get the most commentary on are things having to do with us as people, rather than some infographic we created about the market or some article we wrote about marketing expenses. That does not get nearly the same level of activity/engagement as does a picture of the entire team on an outing, or a photo of us on tour with clients, or photos of us with our kids decked out in our Rich Commercial Realty attire.”
“Based on our shotgun approach, it is easy to see where my results and leads come from, whether it’s an ad in a magazine or lunch with a referral source attorney,” says Lightle. “Occasionally we will become involved in an organization to gain leads, only to find that they refer to another firm, and in that case, we stop our involvement there and use the efforts elsewhere.”
In addition, he states, “I read everything I can get my hands on to learn from the expertise of others. Attending our SIOR Florida Chapter and global events are also great ways to learn from what others are doing. At our Florida conference last week, for example, we shared information on the use of Google ads and SEO focus.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Looking ahead, do SIORs foresee any short- or long-term changes in their marketing mix based on the newest technologies, or those that are still on the “drawing boards?”
“My plan for the next five years is to continue marketing through as many successful methods as possible while monitoring the results and the new methods that may arise,” says Lightle. “In the meantime, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’”
“We’re constantly pushing to maximize the effectiveness of our investments in marketing, and if economic conditions deteriorate, we will evaluate every spend even further,” says Kaduce. “We will definitely be evaluating how we can utilize low-cost mediums like e-mail marketing or social media and contrasting that with higher priced options.”
Video, he adds, continues to be a marketing approach that works for commercial real estate. “We have been successful using it to highlight office and industrial space and showcase upgraded amenities,” he says. “We will continue to be active with videos and seek out opportunities to put together high-quality videos with a longer shelf life that can be reused.”
Jones however remains a contrarian. “I think with all the constantly new technology evolving and feeling like it’s more digital in nature, moving forward it will be important to hold on to the old ways of marketing,” he says. “I mean hand-written letters, snail mail, picking up the phone and calling people, and meeting face-to-face. I just came to meetings with two clients I haven’t seen face-to-face in a couple of years [because of COVID-19]. It was just so nice on both sides, so refreshing to have that interaction again.”
In a world where everything is becoming more digital in nature, SIORs feel the future must include those basic cornerstones of direct marketing that have worked for so long.
This article was sponsored by the SIOR Foundation - Promoting and sponsoring initiatives that educate, enhance, and expand the commercial real estate community. The SIOR Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-forprofit organization. All contributions are tax deductible to the extent of the law.
William Gladstone, SIOR
Street Jones, SIOR
Adam Kaduce, SIOR
Brian Lightle, SIOR