Simon Barwick | March 1, 2013

The eternal marketing challenges of the island property developer

Let’s assume you’re a Caribbean-based developer planning a high-spec, multi-home community on an exquisite oceanfront site. Your marketing war chest is by no means unlimited and you soon find yourself wrestling with the following challenges.

THE FIRST ETERNAL CHALLENGE

Selling the virtues of a property development before the bricks and mortar have actually been put in the ground is one of the classic marketing conundrums. And, of course, you’re selling something that carries a price tag in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars range; it’s essential that your audience buys in to your project emotionally as well as rationally.

How do you create the compelling experience of being in the property before it exists?

THE SECOND ETERNAL CHALLENGE

Chances are, your financing arrangements are going to demand a minimum number of initial sales before you can actually begin full construction.

How do you painlessly reach your project’s green-light sales tipping point?

THE THIRD ETERNAL CHALLENGE

For a luxury property developer in the Islands, the pool of qualified local buyers is usually fairly limited and well picked-over by the competition. This means you have to cast the net further afield, and this usually means another country entirely. And if that country happens to be the USA, the challenge of stretching your island budget to cover a continental market area cannot be overstated.

The harsh fact is, most Americans have probably never even heard of your island, let alone considered buying a home there. It’s also sobering to think that qualified US resident prospects for high-end luxury homes in foreign isles probably amount to less than .01 of the US population. That’s very few needles in a really, really big haystack.

How do you focus your marketing effort – and limited dollars – on a relatively tiny audience scattered across a huge market area?

MEETING THE CHALLENGES

So these are the three main challenges that most of our developer clients have historically faced. And we find that the solutions are a mix of old-school common sense and modern digital media strategies.

First, the question of creating a convincing and engaging pre-construction experience for the property. In the old days, you would have been limited to a printed brochure featuring an artist’s watercolour renderings and maybe an architectural model in the sales office. Today, though, the full potency of the digital virtual world can bring your property to life on your prospect’s smartphone, tablet or laptop – wherever in the world they happen to be. From highly detailed computer-generated imagery to 3D video fly-throughs, there are now many available technologies that can show them exactly what sunset will look like from their balcony. And the costs of producing an immersive user experience are more than offset by not having to develop, store and ship expensive printed brochures.

Solving the challenge of the initial sales target comes next, and like many developers you might choose go it alone and not engage a real estate brokerage at this early stage.

Typically, you’ll achieve your target by capturing the attention of motivated local buyers (often described unfortunately as ‘Low hanging fruit’). But they‘re important since, being already based in your local market area, they immediately qualify as potential buyers and they can be reached without expending enormous resources. Because you’re budget-restricted, you’ll want to avoid throwing money at mainstream media. Look instead at the communications channels you already own. Start out by analysing the traffic patterns around your site and exploiting them via street-level graphics. You can communicate an enormous amount about the project via site graphics – its style, size, amenities, price range and, critically, your web address and phone number – the all-important path-to-purchase. The cost of developing site signage is usually a one-off, and because it’s displayed on the construction barrier, stays in place through the development process.

But site signage alone isn’t going to yield all the immediate sales you need. Your local audience, attracted by the site graphics and now eager to learn more, will expect to quickly go online for all the hard detail they want, along with the a virtual tour to fire their imagination. Your website is perfect for heads-with-hearts persuasion and must always go live and be fully-functional before the site signage is installed.

The answer to the final challenge of reaching your non-resident audience begins with accepting the premise that the single major qualification shared by all prospective buyers is that they do, in fact, need to be both familiar with your island destination and pre-disposed to buying luxury property there. Yes, there might be other unaware yet potential buyers out there, but you can’t afford to waste time and resources uncovering them. You need to concentrate on prospects who might be planning a visit and you need to connect with them as early as possible. As it happens, the internet is the perfect way to find them, develop awareness and the beginnings of an intention to buy.

For the marketer without the giant media budget there are a variety of techniques you can use to find this audience – the easiest being a relatively new technique called search remarketing. The benefit of this technique is that prospects never even have to visit your site. Instead you can gain insight into them by tracking keywords which let you know they are actively planning a trip, or even interested in buying property in your region. However, these campaigns must be carefully set up and managed on a daily basis, otherwise your budget can quickly be exceeded.

Another avenue to pursue, and one that’s closer to home, is approaching local tourist partners (airlines, government departments, hotels) to connect directly to imminent visitors to your island. These organisations always have a longer range view of visitor arrivals, and their customers are prime targets for digital communications before they ever reach your shores. What’s crucial is to make your property a must-visit item on their trip list, before they ever arrive. And once they do arrive, you have to reinforce that message with targeted online advertising, reminding them to stop by during their few days in the sun.

Of course, the reality is often far more complicated than the hypothetical picture painted here. Most developers will begin to engage a professional real estate brokerage by the second or third stage of the marketing cycle. Realtors, like we brand and marketing types, will most likely argue that a professional’s early involvement in the property development is critical to success.

If you’re planning a property development and recognise the important role that brand and marketing communications can play, let’s get together and talk – the earlier the better. We’ll help you with everything from brand positioning and visual identity to digital marketing and even signage.

Simon Barwick

Creative Director + Principal