By Richard Abronson
RISMEDIA, Jan. 10, 2008-There’s a new game in town and it promises to further reshape the real estate industry-mobile computing, mobile Web browsing, and SMS text-messaging. No longer are buyers tied to their computers. Now, they can be reached anytime and anywhere, and there are new services that enable real estate pros to easily get mobile.
We all know the huge impact that the Web has had on the real estate industry. In the 1990s, the Web was populated primarily by visionaries who recognized early that the free flow of information would dramatically transform the relationship between buyers and sellers. Now, because listings are so readily available, fully 80 percent of home buyers start their search online, according to Bill Tancer of Hitwise.com. No longer are agents the gatekeepers of real estate information. They are more the experts in the home buying and selling process who must stay on the cutting edge of trends, technology, and techniques as their clients become more informed, increasingly tech-savvy, and younger.
In addition, agents need to provide a level of customer service on the Web that is comparable to what they might provide in-person. If an agent’s online presentation leaves something to be desired, another is just a few clicks away.
Today, there is a new information revolution that is already making that of the 1990s pale by comparison, and its foundation is exponentially more pervasive than the Web. I’m talking about mobile. While the primary purpose of a cell phone is still to make voice calls, the number two and number three reasons for cell phone purchases have to do with text-messaging and Mobile Web browsing. In fact, according to InsightExpress in September 2007, over 50% of the over 240 million U.S. mobile phone subscribers have Mobile Internet access and 75% have text-messaging capabilities. Of this subscriber base, daily usage of text-messaging and mobile browsing is growing fastest among 25-54 year olds with over 40% of them text-messaging daily. To further boggle the mind, the CTIA Wireless Association reported that there were over 28 billion text-messages sent in June 2007. That’s almost 1 billion per day and increasing.
What does this mean for the real estate professional? For starters, let’s put this into perspective: Every home buyer and home seller has a cell phone with the functionality of a mini computer, and it’s generally turned on and with them at all times. Take into consideration the statistics I’ve mentioned above and it’s not hard to realize that people are walking and driving around with immediate access to an enormous amount of information. What’s more, the power of today’s cell phones give people a number ways to act on that information the moment their interest is piqued. For the real estate professional, this means that there are new opportunities to generate active leads wherever and whenever a buyer encounters an agent’s advertising, whether it is for a specific property listing or for the agent herself.
What does this “look like” exactly? Most of us are aware of the American Idol phenomenon and the way in which fans could “text” their votes for their favorite contestants. This was accomplished by employing what is known as the “Common Short Code” (or Short Code for short… ha, ha!). This is what voters would “text” to, for example, “To vote for contestant number 8, text 8 to 34545,” where 34545 is the short code. Think of the short code as a 5-digit phone number. Common Short Codes can be leased from the Common Short Code Administration for $500 to $1000 per month, depending upon whether it is a random or vanity code. Once in possession of a short code, an advertiser can use it any number of ways by assigning keywords to certain functional commands that can be “texted” to the short code. Google has employed this for searching. By texting search keywords to Google’s short code (46645 or GOOGL), an SMS text-message will be returned to the user with results that link to the user’s mobile Web browser. Including a zip code in an SMS Google search restricts the results by location.
Other advertisers are using SMS text-messaging and the Mobile Web to augment their print advertising. MGM Mirage promoted its MGM Grand property by announcing on billboards that people could get on the VIP guest list to one of their nightclubs by texting the event keyword to 646629 (in this case, “ROK”). Because potential patrons could respond to the billboard ad at the moment they encountered it, the response rate was higher than in other media. In fact, the International Data Corporation says that “due to the sense of immediacy and relevancy, SMS text-message campaigns can result in response rates of up to 10%.”
For real estate professionals, a similar tactic can be employed that not only let’s them turn lookyloos into leads anytime and anywhere, but also let’s them squeeze more value from their existing print advertising expenditures.
According to Shuki Lehavi, CEO of Gumiyo.com, “We’re seeing tremendous interest from the real estate sector for our mobile marketing services. Real estate pros are the ultimate self-promoters and they are fearless when it comes to trying new technologies that can help give them an advertising edge. However, they’re also going to be the first to realize when a ‘new-fangled’ technology doesn’t do anything for them. What’s good about a mobile service like Gumiyo is that agents and brokers can get a mobile marketing strategy going for very low cost, but they start generating an ROI almost immediately. By adding their Gumiyo Go Code keyword and MLS IDs to signs and ads, they instantly increase the power for those signs and ads to generate opportunistic leads.”
How to Get Started
The first step is to get listings optimized for the Mobile Web. Most real estate Web sites don’t look so great on a cell phone, and many are just too big to be downloaded through limited mobile bandwidth. The next step is to get hooked in with a short code to allow buyers to “text” keywords like MLS IDs or an agent’s name so that information about a property or an agent can be returned to the buyer’s cell phone. While it’s possible to launch a mobile Web browser, type a Web address, and navigate to listings; it’s much easier and faster for the buyer to text something and have the results delivered to the phone. Fortunately there are services like Gumiyo that do this for the agent or brokerage for less than the cost of a stack of color property flyers printed at Kinkos. In fact, the time and cost for an agent or brokerage to provision its own short code, build a mobile site, and program SMS keywords and commands makes finding a mobile listing service like Gumiyo a necessity.
Once an agent has chosen a mobile marketing service to setup mobile versions of property listings with a means for buyers to access them, the value becomes readily apparent. For instance, real estate sign riders can be printed with something as simple as, “Get more info on your phone: Text 345347 to 48696,” where “345347” might be an MLS ID or Listing ID and “48696” would be the short code of the mobile marketing service.
Without even getting out of the car, a potential buyer driving by a property can text the ID and receive instant information about the listing that includes a link to a media-rich mobile Web page complete with pictures, a full property description, and contact information about the agent. Some real estate mobile marketing services even allow the agent or brokerage to reserve exclusive vanity keywords. Jim Dodd Realty, for example, might reserve the keyword “JIMDODD.”
By placing this on his signs or bus bench ads, buyers or clients can text it to a short code to get back information about Jim Dodd with links to all of his active listings. Included on Jim’s mobile home page would information about Jim’s real estate business along with phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Most cell phones already have the built-in technology to dial highlighted phone numbers when clicked or to send e-mails to highlighted e-mail addresses.
Voilá, a lookyloo has just turned into a lead. It should also be noted that text-messages sent to a buyer’s phone remain there until manually deleted. This means that whether or not a potential buyer connects with a listing agent, the text-message with the listing information remains with the buyer like a bookmark.
The same can be done to augment any form of advertising, and it can be done so without adding any additional cost. Most agents are already doing this by adding a Web address, or URL, to their printed property listings. Great idea, but how many interested buyers either forget the address or simply lose the motivation in the time it takes to get in front of a computer again? By including an SMS keyword and a short code on a printed ad, a sign, a flyer, or a billboard, a potential buyer or client can immediately get more information because, as mentioned earlier, the cell phone is already in his pocket.
If a mobile marketing service is doing its job correctly, hits to mobile listings and mobile home pages will be tracked and any text-messages or e-mails sent by buyers will be recorded. This is particularly relevant to enhancing an agent’s image as technology-savvy in the eyes of her clients. Obviously, a seller wants his property sold as fast as possible for the most he can get. By adding the mobile channel to the advertising mix, an agent not only increases the visibility and opportunities for buyers to connect with a listing, she also demonstrates to her client that she’ll leave no stone unturned to find a buyer. The data from mobile inquiries reinforces this.
Finding the right mix of Web, print, and now, mobile advertising may seem a perplexing task, especially in this challenging real estate market. John Voket recently wrote in his RISMedia article, “The Relationship Between Print and Online Advertising” about the integration of print and online advertising as the future of successful real estate marketing. As proven advertising channels that increase interest in property listings, the marriage of offline and online advertising brings a real estate business “inline” with its message and its buyers. Rather than complicating this marriage, the mobile channel functions as a tie between the other two channels into a neat and effective “trifecta” of an advertising strategy. By transforming print into an interactive medium that drives traffic immediately to online listings (and all that it implies), the ubiquitous mobile phone becomes a crucial yet inexpensive tool in the real estate advertiser’s quest to sell more and sell faster.
For more information, visit http://www.gumiyo.com.