Over the past year, I’ve worked on marketing campaigns for 19 property developments across four Australian states. I’ve developed headline concepts, and interviewed architects, engineers, developers, interior designers and buyers. I’ve spoken with real estate industry leaders at Macquarie’s Perspective conference, and written countless property brochures, websites, eDMs, press ads plus more.
So what have I learned? The market has changed a lot in 2018. And off-the-plan property marketers will need to work twice as hard to build trust with their potential buyers. That means putting more imagination into the brand language we develop for projects – and developers being willing to be bold in their marketing strategy.
The importance of keeping it real
Last month, ABC News reported on falling property prices and tighter loan restrictions, and the impact on people buying off-the-plan. In its animation, ‘Average Joe’ is devastated to discover his off-the-plan property has been valued under the original purchase price.
At the same time, we see tightened-lending off the back of the Royal Commission and an oversupply of housing in the Sydney and Melbourne markets. The endless conflicting reports and data about the current state of the Australian property market only makes things more confusing.
It’s no wonder would-be purchasers are feeling fearful – and may prefer to buy a home they can actually see and touch (even if it needs some work).
I’ve heard many off-the-plan homebuyers express this feeling in research interviews over the years. They’ve heard the ‘horror’ stories, and felt unsure whether the dream they’ve been sold would come to fruition. The upside is they’re delighted with the result when they move in – and that’s the part I put into the testimonial of course. But I still hold on to all the emotions as that’s what we tap into as writers.
When every property development is ‘boutique’
When we work on concepts for a new, exciting development, we start by speaking with everyone involved. Typically, they all say something along the lines of ‘this is unlike anything ever seen before in [insert state]’ – and they mean it.
We hear the developer’s commitment, the architect’s inspiration, the interior designer’s passion and the sales agent’s genuine excitement (living in the area, they understand the local market better than anyone). But when it comes to articulating just what makes that vision so different, it all starts to sound a bit the same. Have you noticed just how many apartments are ‘limited edition’ right now?
So we do our research. Diving through finishes schedules, floor plans, Urbis reports and renders. And we put ourselves in the shoes of the target buyer. What’s keeping them up at night? What other options do they have? And why will they genuinely want to live here?
As a writer, I need to truly believe in the developments I work on. Because if I don’t, how on earth can I convince the buyer to place their trust in me? These are people’s real lives (and a lot of money) we are talking about. And buying a home is a very emotional decision.
We work hard to create headlines that capture the imagination. From the totally out-of-the-box ideas to something more direct and straightforward. And on every page, we make sure the copy says the important stuff in an interesting way.
And then we hit the feedback snag. Inevitably, there will need to be changes – many for legal reasons, or when a floorplan or finish has been altered. But more often than not I’ll notice overly-familiar adjectives have started to replace some of our bolder word choices – diluting the language and tone that made the project feel fresh and unique.
This didn’t matter so much when homes were selling like hotcakes. But in a challenging market, we can’t keep doing the same things. What may seem like the safer choice of word is actually putting the project at risk. At risk of getting lost in the oversupply and of being unable to stand out in the crowd. At risk of being seen as just another urban oasis in the heart of the city.
Be brave – and stand out
Finding a true point of difference means being willing to take a different approach. So we’ve started using a brand messaging tool for property developments – just as we would for any new brand launch.
This helps us define a core message for the development, and a distinctive voice that will resonate with the buyer – whether they are sophisticated downsizers or first-home buyers. It forces us to be succinct and clear about the key benefits, and back that up with evidence. And once we get sign-off from everyone, it gives us freedom to write more creatively within that framework.
It’s a bit more thinking work upfront, but it saves a lot of time down the track – especially that frustrating time in amends when that brochure is supposed to be going to print. If we all have an agreed cheat sheet to work from, rogue last-minute editing is less likely. And it also helps everyone, including the sales agent, talk about the development consistently.
Let’s be honest, us property marketers have had it pretty easy for the last two years. When the market was at its peak and homes in Sydney and Melbourne were basically selling themselves, it was almost enough to brand your project as ‘well-crafted’ and leave it at that. But for off-the-plan marketers, the property market is no longer a safe bet – and selling a hole in the ground is going to require a lot more creative thinking.