The Ficci-Knight Frank real estate sentiment index for Q3FY15 has highlighted how the current sentiment is negative across all property segments. Over the last decade, the Indian consumer has warmed up to transacting online to fulfil various buying and selling needs. Online real estate was, in that sense, a category waiting to happen. The question now is: What will it take for a consumer who knows how to buy everything from groceries to automobiles online to fully adapt to real estate transactions on the web? The answer is in creating perceptible differentiators.
Overall, portals have turned their marketing investments up several notches, using TV for reach, awareness and branding, but this becomes a very expensive proposition from a wastage point of view. Mobile gives them capability to use location as a target parameter and to conduct experiential advertising, in addition to being economical in comparison. Radio is being used for local reach. On-ground events and festivals are proving to be an effective strategy both from a B2B and B2C perspective. Property fairs are used for lead generation by those players who prefer offline methods of engagement. They help with immediate trials which lead to direct business impact. This is in addition to advertising on news apps and engagements on digital.
Sumeet Singh, executive vice-president, marketing and corporate communications, Info Edge India (the parent company of 99acres.com), said, “For portals, the differentiation is in the quality of the listing, what kind of user experience the site provides, what information is included, and whether quality checks are happening on the listing.”
The ‘traditional’ way of acquiring property in India remains a mix of research, inputs gathered from word of mouth, checking prospects with trusted brokers, visiting the site, the legal assistance needed once a property has been finalised, and gaining as much information as possible about the project in question at various stages. The consumer’s expectations from a portal thus boil down to trust.
The communication challenge then for such portals is to go beyond merely announcing to the consumer their presence, and moving on to addressing those consumer issues which make them prefer transacting offline when it comes to real estate.
Sudhir Pai, CEO, Magicbricks.com, observed, “Where online property portals have succeeded in a meaningful way is driving category adoption. Today our internal data suggests that over 70% of consumers who are buying a home use the internet at some stage of the buying process.”
According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the Indian real estate market is expected to reach $80 billion by 2020. That, if optimised correctly, is a long time for online real estate portals to have arrived at clearer differentiators given the assumption that a fair number of builders and developers would have moved online.
The question these portals need to ask themselves is whether the customer has enough reason to prefer one portal’s offering over the other. The answer to this can only come from giving the return on investment measurement its due importance. “Here, the modern brand manager looks down on RoI, because RoI is so ‘20th century’, and for him it is unfortunately all about engagement,” said brand consultant Anand Halve, co-founder and director, chlorophyll.