Advertising property for sale - online or offline - that is the question

I was attending the digital conference in Melbourne this week hosted by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria and RealEstateView.com.au.

One of the speakers, Andrew Beecher the head of marketing for Realestateview and previously with carsales.com.au made the statement that he had “a passion for seeing print media decline” he also went on to challenge the real estate industry that “2012 (or 2013) should be the year to undertake an online-only campaign for property”. The latter driven by first hand experience of selling his own house this year. These statements are completely consistent with someone who is working for a property portal and given the dominance of online for property searching in Australia.

I, in my usual manner was actively tweeting from the conference, keen as ever to share the insights from the speakers and both of these quotes I shared with my followers

Alistair Helm (alistairnz) on Twitter-1.jpg

With over 1,300 followers I have a good cross section of real estate people as well as technology people and “others” who are interested to hear my thoughts. However I was somewhat surprised to receive this tweet from one of my followers – a person who I shall not identify but is a key person in the NZ real estate market who runs a large real estate company. Have a read of the tweet:

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I was very surprised to see this response; it was to my mind very defensive and clearly showed that I had hit a raw nerve!

Surely real estate companies recognise the power of the web. It is the most effective medium for buyers to locate their new home and the most cost effective medium for sellers to promote their property to buyers.

To say that “experts” have proven that property selling requires both print and online is inaccurate. Not because I dispute any such research; but because it can never be tested.

Statistically to prove a hypothesis requires a control, and in property marketing you can never establish a control. Let me explain.

If I were to say that online marketing can sell more cans of soup that offline then I would set up control environments. I would set up similar audience, similar competitive environment and do a test over a significant enough time period (say a month) at the same time in four discrete markets; one market would just have online advertising, one would have no advertising, one with print only, and one with both forms of advertising. A statistically valid sample size of buyers over a month period would allow a statistical confidence to be established to show that one form of advertising is more effective over another or not.

When it comes to property you cannot establish two simultaneous markets, let alone four. Every property is unique. Even two identical properties in the same apartment development are not identical as the small pool of buyers actually will skew the data. Equally the only way to establish online-only or offline-only advertising is in different physical markets, this is impossible with property as houses are only in a physical location and the physical location affects the appeal and demand.

Therefore I can say with complete confidence that there is no evidence that online-only property advertising is better than offline-only or that you need both. It simply cannot be proven.

What we do know from extensive research globally is that property buyers each year in larger numbers spend more time researching, browsing and enquiring online, whereas the numbers using and relying on print media is declining, with people spending less time viewing print media.

The real estate industry is trying to deny this trend; not because they don’t believe the research, no it is even simpler.

Online property advertising is not as effective a medium for real estate brands as print media and that is why real estate companies continue to pour $millions each year into print publications. Added to which the print publications incentivize such advertising – as any medium would do to ensure they don’t loose customers – especially as print media is in terminal decline.