Another day, another Zoom call. As of the end of June, almost twice as many people across the U.S. were working from home as opposed to at their companies’ offices. This group accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. And their change in behavior, involuntary or not, has made cities almost unrecognizable virtually overnight. This is one of the many reasons that real estate is booming in suburban, vacation, and “rural, but connected” markets across the country and some businesses are feeling more optimistic. That said, a lot is still changing, and quickly. 

Last week, we looked back at the almost five months since the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Several trends have emerged that illustrate how the coronavirus has changed media, how the coronavirus has changed consumer behavior, and how the coronavirus has changed real estate. This week, we’re going to dive into where these intersect – we’ll look at how the pandemic has changed digital marketing for real estate and as real estate professionals how you can thrive, and not just survive, in this new normal. 

First up is how everything has shifted to be almost exclusively local, and what that means for your communication and marketing efforts.

The Homebody Economy

The “COVID era” has ushered in countless changes at an unprecedented pace. The biggest one may just be the ubiquitous shift to local. Local commerce, local news, local activity – in every area of our lives, hyper-local has become the new norm. Because, in large part, it has to be. Infection and recovery rates, economic reopening plans, responses to racial injustice, the question of schooling – they could be vastly different in towns mere miles apart. 

Consider this – travel is bouncing back, but people are sticking close to home. Only 21% of people in the U.S. plan to drive more than two hours from their house in the next two weeks. And according to research from Accenture:

  • Three-quarters of people prefer socializing at home, even with many restrictions lifted.
  • 86% of people plan to continue working from home even after they don’t have to.
  • More than half of consumers are buying more local products, the vast majority of whom say they’re going to keep shopping locally long term.

As expected, options like curbside pickup and drive-through service have also seen high adoption rates and as McKinsey & Company writes, “While some of these habits are seen as a workaround to the crisis, many at-home solutions to regular activities will likely be adopted for the long-term.”

Chart of Consumers Using Omnichannel Services

Local is More Important Than Ever

The shift to local has broad implications on marketing. National brands typically leverage national media plans and marketing strategies for economies of scale, often maximizing reach above all else. In the real estate industry, a new approach is going to be necessary for the big players. Major brands are going to suffer and savvy agents and brokers will embrace independence. For brokers and agents with an already strong local presence, a return to marketing basics is needed, starting with:

  1. Updated store hours, contact information, etc. – companies should have a verified Google My Business page, and accurate business information on major sites like Yelp and Facebook; consumers need to know how to reach you, that you’re open for business, how you’re conducting business, and what to expect. In order for your business to appear in search results, that information must be consistent across your website, social media pages, etc. and verified.
  2. Talking to communities individually – individual clusters of streets, and even a single street itself, could be vastly different than a neighborhood a few miles down the road. Everything from how safe a community is, to local regulations, to the school district (and increasingly, the presence of private school and childcare options), to access to services and connectivity have become essential information buyers seek and listing agents need to be prepared to provide. Personalized messaging is essential and though it requires extra work, advertising campaigns, on-site content, and search engine optimization (SEO) must be focused and tailored to each locale to be relevant.
  3. Frequency over reach – your main goal should not be to reach as many people as possible. A few highly qualified leads from your highest priority community are worth more than dozens from outside your main focus area(s). And research continues to show that habits developed during the “COVID era” are likely to stick. So target prime neighborhoods to establish strong name recognition and build impactful frequency that drives action, and don’t worry if it takes a little bit of time. Though the market is booming now, brokerages and agents who aren’t already established in the most desirable communities can still compete effectively through hyper-local, high-frequency targeting, laying the groundwork to ensure theirs is the name that comes up most over time.

As alluded to above, real estate marketing strategies must also focus on building consumer confidence in your company’s current operating model, especially how you’re ensuring the safety of your employees and customers. “Even as many US regions reopen, 70 percent of consumers are not comfortable going back to “regular” out-of-home activities,” writes McKinsey & Company. “Most consumers are waiting for milestones beyond governments lifting restrictions—they are waiting for medical authorities to voice their approval, safety measures to be put in place, and a vaccine and/or treatments to be developed.” You may have invested in your customers’ digital experience, from virtual tours to better transaction management. You may have built up a local content library and prioritized getting your website to consistently rank in search engines. You may have done all of this and still not fully understood your customers’ COVID-induced emotional needs like reassurance for sellers that their buyer’s offer won’t fall through or that they won’t get cold feet, having been forced into a bidding war or pushed to buy the property sight unseen. 

It’s important that real estate marketing during COVID-19 reflects the realities we’re all facing. The importance of local, paired with the growth in digital and omnichannel, means that consumers are looking online for local information more than ever. And advertising must reflect that – whether a small business’s or National brand’s. As Yoram Greener, Executive Director of Juba Plus, a data science and analytics group, says, “Every advertiser should have a local advertising budget dedicated to driving business on the ground. This type of methodology is as important for corporate marketing as it is for local store owners.” It doesn’t matter whether you are David or Goliath – we’re living street to street and those who recognize that will come out ahead. 

This is part one in a five-part series all about the Ways the Coronavirus Has Changed Digital Marketing for Real Estate.
Read Part 2: Beyond Leads
Read Part 3: Consumers Expect More
Read Part 4: Bidding, Explained
Read Part 5: Opportunities Abound