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As lockdown restricts site visits, real estate companies keep potential buyers engaged through immersive tech, AI-driven marketing

Despite economic activity coming to a standstill, real estate companies believe the overall sector outlook looks far more positive than last year in terms of growth. While most players seem to have dropped offline mediums, including OOH, from their spends, TV and print continue to occupy some space

Real estate companies have made digital advertising the mainstay of their marketing plans as the Covid-19-related restrictions have reduced the importance of outdoor and print.

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Despite construction activities coming to a standstill because of the lockdown, major real estate companies are still continuing to advertise as they are optimistic that the sector will grow better than last year.

Snehil Gautam

Snehil Gautam, Head, Growth and Marketing, Housing.com, Makaan.com and PropTiger.com, said the second wave is unfortunate but doesn't seem to be a prolonged phenomenon and the real estate industry does not seem to push the pause button on their ad spending.

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The first corona wave had made home ownership imperative, the second wave has further strengthened it. So there is a new set or class of property buyers in the market and advertising by real estate companies is required to address them. Housing.com plans to keep spending regularly for the next 12 months on key sports, TV daily soaps, news channels, social media and OTTs.

“The real estate companies are keen to keep up the momentum in terms of advertising and marketing plans so as to cash in on the growing realisation among people related to the importance of having their own homes. The real estate sector had shown a sign of revival in the January to March quarter this year and the stakeholders of the sector remain quite optimistic of a quick revival and sentiments in June or July. Around 90% of the prospective buyers in big cities have now moved to digital platforms such as Housing.com for their initial search and discovery. Hence, it makes sense for us to keep up our ad spend and enhance our top-of-the-mind brand recall, especially with the new user segment coming online for searching homes,” he said.

Yukti Nagpal

Yukti Nagpal, Director, Gulshan Group, said there would definitely not be any curtailing of the spends on advertising or marketing. Only the plan of action will be to judiciously utilise them as per the changed scenario and would be selecting the most effective and penetrating mediums. The ad spends are likely to come in spurts once the lockdown settles a bit and the festive season arrives.

“Marketing and advertising are crucial for a brand; it makes the brand stay on the top of the mind for its customers, which benefits in the long term. Good content has the power to leave an indelible imprint on the mind of viewers and audience,” she said.

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Gulshan will primarily be working on developing thoughtful content that resonates with its values and at the same time garner multiple impressions over social media. The brand has decided to shift focus from promotion to brand awareness and has dropped mediums such as  print, OOH and events and is only focusing on digital and E-PR.

Samujjwal Ghosh

Samujjwal Ghosh, Chief Operating Officer, Xanadu Realty (real estate b2b consultancy firm and institutional growth expert in the realty sector), said it will not halt digital spends for any of its clients considering the lockdown. Digital is its ATL since consumers have become more comfortable with a no-contact virtual home-buying experience.

“Cutting down spends will be disparaging for the business. Digital spends will draw in new buyers, especially the young new-age buyers who are enthusiastic users of the platforms, and with data management and analytics, we can manage the pipeline of leads from the expression of interest to bringing in the deal,” he said.

Ankit Shah

The pandemic has curtailed ad spends in the short term and in most cases diverted to online and digital mediums, said Ankit Shah, CMO, Strata (an investment platform that helps people invest in commercial real estate through fractional route). While the overall spends have not changed numerically for it, the approach and spend shares have been skewed dramatically.

“Considering there is enough liquidity in the market and people are eyeing more stable platforms for investments, our plans for new acquisitions continue as per schedule. In fact, spends on brand and acquisitions will go up during these times. Owing to the pandemic, the offline channels have been heavily restricted and hence the industry has witnessed a significant shift towards the online and digital mediums. While during the first wave, marketing spends were curtailed, this time the spends are still the same but the share of print and OOH has been diverted to digital mediums owing to the lockdown,” he added.

Unlike earlier, the post-Covid consumer is indoors, availing online digital mediums, which has brought about a paradigm shift in marketing strategies across businesses and real estate has been no exception.

Immersive tech, automation is the focus

Virtual and immersive tech is being adopted by most players to keep consumers engaged.

Ghosh said automation helps build robust knowledge management systems for data-driven decision-making. The real estate sector too is driven by the digital medium in pandemic times and gradually the entire ecosystem will have to move online together for it to be a long term solution — selling, buying, banking, registering.

While Gulshan is spending on digital mediums and E-PR, its focus is to drive engagement.

Being a tech-based investment platform, Strata’s focus is towards online marketing. Due to the lockdown, there is a steep surge in online marketing spends over outdoor advertising.

However, Shah said print and television will still remain to occupy a certain share as content broadcasting has not been paused like the previous lockdown. So while brand and marketing spends will continue, the highest share of wallet will be skewed to digital. Outdoor, which has always been one of the most-preferred channels in real estate, has taken the maximum hit and it will take some time for it to recover.

Better growth prospect this year than last year

Experts said the sector is definitely resilient and in a better position than last year due to digital adoption and technology advancement.

Moreover, customers are also keen on utilising digital tools and are coming forward with their changing preferences through webinars, live polls and other digital events.

The factors that will fuel the growth are all-time low home loan interest rates, digital adoption, developers’ willingness to offer lucrative and flexible payment plans, said Nagpal.

Most importantly, because of the renewed importance of having a home that is multi-functional, this trend is likely to persist for the long term, she added.

“It is difficult to predict a confirmed timeline for recovery but we will be able to reach pre-Covid level only once a significant percentage of people are vaccinated and the rate of infection decreases substantially, leading to Covid scare put to rest. With fear and uncertainty looming, it is limiting people to make high-end financial decisions quickly,” she said.

While the first wave took investors by surprise, the second wave had them prepared. Investors across businesses are eyeing the second wave as an opportunity to build wealth through safe investment platforms.

Ghosh said Q1 will see a drop in sales and registrations. However, the overall outlook looks far more positive than last year. Consumer lifestyles have changed drastically in the last one year owing to the pandemic and shift in operation strategies such as work from home and rapid digitisation. Proximity to the workplace is not a priority anymore. The entire environment overall, he said, has given the real estate buyer more flexibility in choosing a location. Gautam said that after first wave, there was a V-shaped revival in the real estate sector. In fact, the sector saw unprecedented demand after many quarters. He believes there will be a very similar trend after second wave too. The platform already has seen an uptick in online demand as cases have started to go down in India.

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