Before you put your development on display, make sure you’ve looked at all the details.
Unearthed takes you inside property marketing.
What technologies should I use? How do I find the right team? When should I brief my designer? How much budget should I allocate? We’ve covered the globe, talking to experts from developers to branding consultants, architects to sales agents, and technologists to designers, bringing you the latest thinking and tested wisdom from the world’s best property marketers.
Each monthly episode of Unearthed shows you the trends, takes you behind the case studies and offers the inspiration to help you raise the bar on your next marketing project. Unearthed: It’s what’s really happening inside property marketing
For most developments, the marketing suite is where the rubber really meets the road. It’s where buyers and tenants get to feel the goods and kick the skirting boards. Most agents will tell you it’s also the place where the majority of deals are struck and the success (or otherwise) of a development is first felt.
So it’s fitting that the first episode of Unearthed starts here, learning from the experts behind some of the most innovative marketing suites and sales units in the industry, from the modular, re-useable pre-fab units of South-East Queensland all the way to the purpose-built multi-level residential ‘Pavilion’ of Battersea Power Station.
How important is your marketing suite?
“You have to remember that a marketing suite is your first execution, the first time you are delivering something that people can actually walk inside,” says Rachel Jones Senior Marketing Manager at the city-changing Battersea Power Station development in London.
“There’s a risk the buyer is going to pin that on you and say ‘well, if they can’t get a marketing suite right how can they possibly get the whole built-out development right?’ So I recommend you give yourself and your team enough time to create the proper scope, the story, the customer journey and actually build it to a very, very high quality specification.”
So, does that mean you have to allocate the lion’s share of your budget to your marketing suite in order to get it right?
Not necessarily. “I think you can spend just as much money doing a poor marketing suite as doing a great one. One of the poorest I’ve seen, when we completed our recent global study tour, was very expensive, but the developer did not consult with the agent,” says Knight Frank’s Erin van Tuil, Director of Sales and Marketing for Melbourne’s latest ultra-premium residential tower, One Queensbridge.
“In that case, they went ahead with their interior designer and built something that was completely impractical to the sales process, it actually worked against the journey that an experienced agent knows will reap the best rewards. After all, what you are hoping to access through any consultant engagement is the knowledge and expertise of someone who has learned through multiple projects.”
Scott Hammond Director of Wordsearch Australia, the world’s leading property marketing agency network is a firm believer in tailoring an experience to match not just the product, but also the buyer.
“The marketing suite experience should go beyond the four walls of the physical space and reflect the target market’s lifestyle. When you’re targeting ultra high net worth individuals, the customer journey might make use of private planes or helicopters to bring them in to the city in preparation for a visit to the marketing suite. We don’t do this simply to impress a potential buyer but to demonstrate that we are on the same page, we understand how they live, and that this investment matches their lifestyle.”
Time and money are your friends. The lack of them is your inspiration.
While we’d all like long lead times and free-flowing budgets, our industry simply doesn’t work that way. Rather than cutting corners, Lachlan Grant, MD of Happy Haus, believes that the constraints of a tight brief can often drive teams to work harder to find innovative solutions.
“Everyone would love a 500m2 sales display with internal water features and all that sort of stuff, but you have to stop and ask ‘is it market-appropriate?’ Do you actually need that space in terms of expenditure, or can you have a smaller, more functional display that does everything you want it to? Marketing suites do become redundant at some point in the project, so it’s a balancing act between what level the display needs to be at versus the cost at which it’s going to be useful for the sales function.”
Solving this equation has lead Grant’s team at Happy Haus to carve out a piece of the sales suite market for their modular, pre-fab residential dwellings.
“Usually we’re dealing with clients who have a time-sensitive program, they have a very valuable site and they usually have a very valuable product. So all of those things need to be taken into consideration when you are executing a sale for display.”
While many people still hold onto the notion that pre-fab means ‘cheap’, Grant believes the efficiencies from modular come in a different form.
“People underestimate modular construction. It’s not the cheapest way to construct but, for certain projects, it can absolutely save you money. For example, a site that we put a sales suite on recently didn’t get town-planning approval until three days before we were due to deliver the building. Now, because we were building it off-site, we could start construction prior to the approval being in place, which meant the developer got a much better outcome. Although construction might be a little bit more expensive on a square meter rate, your overall program you may end up saving 3 or 4 months, which on most projects is a huge advantage.”
While the idea of furnishing a display apartment in a completed building to then sell in the final stages is an obvious way of reducing cost, the modular approach brings that possibility to off-the-plan sales, albeit in a slightly different way.
“One of our developments in Brisbane used a recycled modular pod as they display suite. We were able to source it from another development, transport it onto our site and complete the fit-out there,” says Adam Di Marco, of Di Marco Group, a Brisbane-based property development company.
“It was extremely cost effective but still a beautiful display and we completed it in around 6 weeks as opposed to probably double that to build it as an in-situ construction. At the end of the sales phase, we were able to on-sell the pod to another developer, recouping some of the cost and remaining very efficient about how we’re using resources. I believe that particular pod is on its fourth construction site now.”
Or maybe you don’t need a marketing suite at all.
Before you start planning you marketing suite, plan your marketing strategy – you may find your audience are happy to make purchasing decisions from a ‘virtual marketing suite’. After finding success with the ‘recycled pod’ approach, Di Marco then went even leaner.
“It could be risky to try and sell without a physical suite, but in some cases, it can work. For us, looking at the sales we required before construction commenced, we decided the market that we were targeting was purely an investor market. So we invested ‘over and above’ in the design, the renders and the visualisation of the development. It became a really important piece of the total journey and the experience for the buyers.”
For relatively sophisticated investors, a comprehensive suite of renders helped them interpret the plans, allowing them to assess the potential of the development.
“We supported the visualisations with very detailed specifications and demonstrations of the finishes, so the investors could see the quality and assess the value.”
According to Di Marco, the package functioned as a completely mobile virtual sales suite and allowed the developers to gain commitment for the investor stock. “The idea would be to develop a traditional suite for the higher-value occupier stock in the building, so it’s a matter of ensuring your approach and investment is appropriate for each stage.”
When you need to take things to the next level.
One of the secrets to creating an impression of enduring quality in just a matter of weeks, according to Mike Iwanicki’s planning. “We ensure we get in to the space in the early stages and do a walk through, before it’s even planned or drawn out. To see the scale of it is very important. Often we have to work backwards from an imposed deadline, so timing becomes critical. It will often guide my choice of materials and even suppliers. There’s no point presenting a particular design or concept, no matter how stunning, if it can’t be created in the time you have.”
Plays well with others.
Another skill the modern property marketer needs to master is the ability to collaborate.
“With most display suites you are invariably working with interior designers and interior architects, as well as project managers, the agents and obviously the developers. So there are a lot of people all wanting different things from the space, wanting to put their mark on it. As the creative agency, we’re the glue, the balance that makes sure it all comes together and it’s all working towards the sales objective.”
Interestingly, we uncovered a similar story at the modular end of the market.
“Over the course of the last seven years, we’ve worked in a number of collaborative arrangements,” says Grant of Happy Haus. “Whether it’s been winning the design brief and building the display, or collaborating with a developer’s in-house architect or working with third party architect to then deliver the display, we’ve adapted to working with any of those models. The important thing is the outcome of developers selling more product to consumers.”
Stay on target.
Understanding the financial outcome was a common theme amongst all of our Unearthed experts, with many using it as a ‘North Star’ to guide the design process and help the entire team make smarter decisions.
In the case of Battersea Power Station, Jones keeps a close eye on the inventory and uses that insight to modify the approach to the marketing suite. In a scheme lucky enough to have two ‘starchitects’ on board for the residential product, the marketing team still had to make smart choices about what the suite would represent.
“We always make sure the show apartment and the marketing suite represents the product we have to sell. For example, we originally had a one bed Foster + Partners and a one bed Gehry Partners apartment in our display space but, when it became clear we had more of the Gehry Partners product available, the team decided to remodel and make a full-size 2-bed Gehry show apartment. We then made the Foster sections smaller, so people could still have a flavour of what the Foster palette and quality would deliver.”
A continual focus on customer insights led Jones’ team and the UK Sales Director to a further focus on Frank Gehry and his work.
“We created a space that feels like an exhibition of Gehry, so as people walk through the space and up the stairs before they get into the apartment, you almost have a journey through his life, his designs and his buildings. It helps people recognise his buildings, which are familiar and iconic, but not necessarily known as Gehry designs. It helps us celebrate the fact that this is Frank Gehry’s first UK permanent residential scheme, but it’s purely driven by the fact that, in this market, people already have a good knowledge of Foster + Partners.”
Pushing the right buttons – when is the right time to introduce technology?
In the physical and analogue world of marketing suites, there’s no hotter topic right now than technology, particularly of the virtual variety. If you’re looking for a simple, definitive answer as to whether you should invest in cutting edge visualisation tech for your next project, you won’t find it amongst our panel of experts. It’s a complex opportunity that requires an investment in strategic thinking before diving in.
For a better understanding of the role of strategy in property marketing, stay tuned for Ep 3 of Unearthed, due mid April.
“We get asked about technology all the time. People want to know what’s the latest thing that you’ve seen and what’s the next best thing, but you have to start with your objective. Technology, just like everything else, is a case by case situation,” says The Property Agency’s Iwanicki.
“From my perspective, when technology is used well, it’s helping the buyers’ experience. We’ve done interactive screens, touch screens and data tables and so on, but you need to keep in mind the requirements of your agents as well. They are bringing potential buyers to a display suite or a display gallery to experience what the space is like, to touch and feel. VR is a great digital technology, but it’s still a world that’s not real.”
Knight Frank’s Van Tuil is also wary of the human disconnect that too much tech can introduce in a marketing suite. “I think there is technology that is hugely worthwhile, but any kind of technology that you would bring into a marketing suite needs to be completely functional. People want to just turn on a light switch – they don’t want to have to find the iPad and then work through sixteen buttons and menus.”
It’s not all bad news for tech.
The recent acquisition of virtual 3D company Floored Inc by CBRE global indicates the shift towards using technology to augment the sales experience may be a trend rather than a fad, but look a little deeper and you’ll see the ‘horses for courses’ advice still holds true.
“We’ve really used this 3D experience a lot more on the commercial side than the residential team have to date,” says Jones of Battersea’s use of visualisation technology.
“The tech we’re using is not strictly VR, it’s gaming technology that lets you essentially fly around the buildings, walk on the high street, go into the Power Station, up into the office space, walk through the space and get a real sense for how it’s all coming together. The interesting thing is we originally thought that was just going to be a great sales tool but, it’s actually had a lot more uses than we originally intended – design, space planning and so on.”
Here’s where a deep understanding of your audience can help you select the appropriate technology: work out what’s important to decision-makers, then select the tool that best demonstrates that aspect.
“I definitely think the commercial and the leasing team have used the 3D experience quite well at Battersea Power Station. Certainly, when Apple were coming over, people were getting quite excited by it and we made sure we took the tech along to the discussions so the members of staff can have a play with it and get to grips with the building. It works well from a commercial point of view because people like to see the space, the openness. It also helps them decide which floorplates they like the look of.”
Innovation in marketing suite design comes in forms other than just tech, says Hammond.
“When it comes to large phased commercial buildings sometimes it is necessary to go beyond what a building or floorplate looks like. We’re designing ‘live’ commercial suites that provide a ‘try before you buy approach’, much like test-driving a car. A project team from the potential tenant can experience how the building feels and see how it works for their organisation, before committing to a 10 or 15 year lease in a new building.”
It’s important to remember that not all the technology needs to be in the suite. The trend towards research and data-driven targeting – already widespread in many international markets – is part of the reason van Tuil prefers being part of a global advisory firm like Knight Frank.
“I don’t think it would be inaccurate for me to say that we have some of the best real estate research teams in the world. We produce the most detailed publications, including our Wealth Report, which is in our eleventh year now and hugely respected by wealth advisers and property experts around the world.”
While it’s entirely possible for developers and marketers to access data on the open market, many larger firms prefer to generate and analyse their own data. “It’s hugely important to us, to trust the source of the information, because you know we are the trusted advisor. That’s the difference between me saying ‘this is my opinion’ and me being able to say ‘this is Knight Frank’s global opinion’. That’s worth an enormous amount to our clients.”
For a deeper look into Digital, data, social and CRM in property, stay tuned for Ep 2 of Unearthed, due mid March.
Van Tuil believes there is something less tangible but equally important to consider when weighing up the effect of tech on today’s buyer, particularly at the premium end of the market. “I think we are having a return to the ‘arts and crafts’ movement, if you will. People want to see something that is actually crafted by a human, that has some warmth to it”
So are we heading ‘back to the future’ to a world of paper collateral? Yes. And no.
“I think print is still very useful. People still like to touch and feel. There is more emotion to opening up a brochure with beautiful paper than in swiping a screen. In saying that, however, a really good sales tool on a tablet, with quick access to all of the floor plans, the images, the view lines and so on, is also important. We don’t want people to lose focus, getting distracted because we can’t get our fingers on the information they want quickly enough. You need a mix of tools, appropriate tools, in any sales environment.”
Where to from here?
Our experts didn’t hesitate to nominate a few aspects of display suite marketing they believe are due for an overhaul. Fundamentally, if something has been done a certain way for a long time, you might be looking at an opportunity to create a real point of difference.
“I find that the sales tracks are very repetitive. It seems that lots of sales displays are very similar in terms of the sequence, whereby you start macro and you end micro, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing”, says Di Marco.
“You set your context, you set your location, you set the market dynamics and then you go all the way down to the finishes and the very micro level stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that but I do find that many developers have a bit of a cookie cutter approach and I believe that there is the opportunity to subvert some of those things and really celebrate the difference in a particular development. It could be the design of the tap or perhaps the brick or a piece of the history or something that becomes the motif of the development, becomes symbolic of it and you build an experience around that.”
Grant from Happy Haus also cautions that popular trends aren’t always worth following.
“I recommend that what you get in terms of a display suite is aligned with your final product. A lot of people are using shipping containers and that sort of stuff, which looks cool, from a distance. My view is that they are really effective – if you’re trying to sell shipping containers. If you’re trying to sell premium apartments, then that’s not going to work quite as well for you.”
The lesson Jones learned from Battersea was that not everything that can be done, should be done. “A lot of people will maintain that you need to physically represent everything that you are selling, but I’ve learned that you need to represent essentially what is the hardest sale because then that’s going to help you the most.”
Hammond adds, “We are entering an exciting time for marketing suite innovation and a move away from gimmicks. Customer-centric design thinking will help move marketers away from the cookie-cutter approaches we have seen in the past. Design to your audience first.”
In an increasingly competitive market driven by more economic uncertainty, it seems everyone is looking for the ‘silver bullet’ to provide the competitive edge. According to Knight Frank’s van Tuil, these are the conditions that can lead some developers in the wrong direction.
“The tougher the market gets, the more developers and marketers need to differentiate and I think you go through stages where people just put in all mod cons and weird gadgets to try and attract buyers. I think that’s fairly hollow. When the market gets tougher, I don’t think buyers stop buying, they just want the absolute best they can get for their money and we need to respond to that.”
And the most appropriate response for marketers, according to van Tuil, is collaboration. “You need to stand by your brand, and every piece needs to fit together really beautifully inside the suite experience. No element of the marketing collateral works in isolation, you have got all of those pieces and they all have to work together.”
Thanks to our panel of Unearthed experts for this episode:
Erin van Tuil has over a dozen years in property marketing in both Australia and the UK. She is Knight Frank’s Director of Sales and Marketing for Melbourne’s latest ultra-premium residential tower, One Queensbridge. Knightfrank.com.au
Rachel Jones has a degree in design and a background in lighting before moving into property marketing, working for UK agency Pollit & Partners before moving developer-side with Battersea Power Station, where she is now Senior Marketing Manager. batterseapowerstation.co.uk
Lachlan Grant had dozens of years experience in sales and marketing roles when he came across the world of modular architecture. His interest grew rapidly to the point he joined the industry and is now the Managing Director of Happy Haus. Happyhaus.com.au
Adam Di Marco is the Managing Director of Di Marco Group, a Brisbane-based property development company. He has over a decade of experience working with private and public developers in Australia and overseas. He is also the founder and publisher of The Urban Developer. theurbandeveloper.com
Mike Iwanicki’s career in advertising and design has taken him across Australia and around the world, working for boutique firms and multinational organisations on some of the world’s biggest brands. He is currently the Executive Creative Director of The Property Agency. thepropertyagency.com.au
Scott Hammond is a property marketing specialist with over 20 years in the industry, establishing and leading agencies in the UK, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. He is the Managing Director of Wordsearch Australia. wordsearchaus.com.au
Coming up: Marketing Suites, the How To Guide
If you’ve enjoyed hearing from our experts, stay tuned at the end of the month when we release our downloadable How To guide for creating effective, innovative display suites. Available as a downloadable PDF, this first Unearthed ‘How To’ guide will walk you through the timelines, budgets, strategies, collaborators and ideas you should be considering as you plan your next display, sales or marketing suite.
About the Editor In Chief
Barrie Seppings has over 20 years experience in marketing, communications and technology, working with the world’s leading brands in agencies across Australia, the US and Asia. He is the Director of Strategy at Wordsearch Australia. Follow @BarrieSeppings
About the Publishers
The Urban Developer is Australia’s largest and fastest-growing online community for development professionals. Their daily updates are read across the industry and their live events and panel discussions are highly sought-after. The Unearthed Series is the first of an expanding rage of resources for development professionals, published by The Urban Developer and developed in collaboration with Wordsearch Australia.
Wordsearch are the world’s leading network of property marketing specialists, with consultants, strategists, designers and managers in eight offices around the world.
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