Real Estate is E-Commerce in China: Digital A More Practical & Effective Solution
I’ve been working extensively in Chinese Marketing for Development Projects for 2+ years now & feel it’s time to set the record straight on Chinese strategy based on my experiences.
Many large-scale developers desperately struggle in the Chinese market, they spend large sums on attending Real Estate Exhibitions only to find that there is either very little interest in their projects, the space is too competitive (filled with competitors stood side by side.. how do you differentiate yourself?) or that the leads they are generating are typically higher-funnel, less qualified prospects.
I can’t name names but a large-scale developer recently complained to me that for the 75,000+ USD they’d spent flying all their team over, booking the exhibition space & re-producing their brochures in Chinese they’d attracted just 10 prospects, not highly qualified either, rather these were merely window shoppers.
Exhibition Events Have Value But Only If You’ve Built a Digital Presence
You simply can’t expect to solely enter China through any type of international exhibitor event. These events do provide foot traffic but are highly competitive, from experience stalls don’t stand out much from one another. The high-net-worth punters are largely window shopping, with too much choice and not enough differentiation.
In-fact buyers will largely search online prior to attending any such event, if you have no local presence on Chinese platforms how to you intend to build trust?
LPS Shanghai is one of the largest yearly property exhibitions in Mainland China
The problem for me is that international projects have not been localized..
Indeed at Shanghai LPS I was recently struck my a number of incidents..
Chinese buyers would walk up to a major stall, not engage with a single sales person but rather scan a QR code for the Official WeChat account, then walk away glued to their phone.
I saw this happen 10+ times in a space of 30 minutes. This served to underscore the importance of building a digital infrastructure to support any offline activity such as Exhibitions. This where major developers are falling flat..
The conclusion? The most effective stands were those that capitalized on O2O (offline to online), indeed the busiest stand by far was DAMAC’s, why? Because they’ve invested significantly in developing an online presence. Browsers had likely already encountered their official WeChat account (a smart portal for both investment trends & new listings) + a wealth of content on Chinese web portals including IFeng, Sohu Finance etc.
Logically in such a digitally led culture reputation is first & foremost built online.
To Localize in China is to Digitize
I’ll get this printed on a T-Shirt one day.. But it’s my response to any developer who starts rolling his eyes when I mention ‘Digital Marketing’, as if online channels are not applicable in 2018.. Holy Smokes. I’ve begun rolling my eyes right back at them.
The traditional infrastructure of touting projects at events is not going to cut the mustard in China, content has to be formatted and presented on the right local channels in order to drive leads, build visibility & most importantly reputation.
On average the Chinese netzien spends 2+ hours per day browsing online, anyone who’s spent any time in China will quickly tell you, this is a mobile centric culture like no other, it’s on the go online engagement.
It’s continual short bursts of engagement throughout the day, it’s not a long drawn out sales pitch at an exhibition or a sustained look through your project portfolio (which often largely the Chinese don’t relate well too.. I’ve spoken with a number of friendship groups about this).
So what is it then? What’s step one for putting your projects in-front of prospects?
A wholly unique advertising space has to be leveraged for driving sales
Let’s start with WeChat
WeChat is the most prolific of all social networks in China, according to their last report they reached 992 million Daily Active Users in September 2017.
I’ve always been slightly dubious of official figures on MAU’s or indeed DAU’s from Chinese tech companies but regardless, it’s a lot of people immersed in China’s most integrated social media tool.
However you mention WeChat do many developers, agents or brokers & you’ll receive a blank stare. A lot of sales teams will open a personal account before attending an event but this has no listings, property info or company Q&A services.
WeChat is vital as a Sales & News Letter tool, not for Lead Gen
In my last article I wrote about this I worry I gave WeChat a hard time. It’s a great tool, indeed we’ve worked with many developers to build their WeChat as a PORTAL FOR INSIGHTS. You create a strong brand image around your offering, build yourself as the definitive native expert in your niche, again we come back the value of niches!
It is a poor tool for generating leads, it’s a closed network so users can only see content if already in your network. Therefore I view WeChat as a second stage after initial listings, paid advertising etc. It is for building community.
I don’t wish to sound petty but recently a couple of developers simply rolled their eyes at me when I mentioned the term ‘social community’.
Unfair I feel when you consider WeChat’s role in Chinese society, it is in the DNA of your potential investors. Your projects need to be listed on WeChat if you are attending offline events (already mentioned), your community check in with your content regularly.
I suggest for this reason subscription accounts, with no limitation on content posts weekly you can regularly inform your prospects with quality data, portfolio information & tips on regional/local living.
If selling units is about selling a lifestyle & the benefits of that location then you must realise WeChat’s dominant place in the life of your investor.
Interesting Data on Chinese Searches for International Real Estate on WeChat in Q1 2017.
Case Study 1: DAMAC’s Official Account
DAMAC use their WeChat Page as a Portal for Insights into their Specialized Markets. This allows them to build trust amongst their following as they recognize them as a leading player in the Middle Eastern Region.
A selection of WeChat listings & articles, I’ve always taken the view of building trust through an education based approach.
That ‘professional shop front’ is created through a mini-site, built in HTML5 & highly customizable, treat this as your project portfolio rather than that thick slab of paper, keep pages short & to the point, you can incorporate;
- Property Images
- Floor Plans
- Live Video Show Casing
- Text Alerts
- Group Chat Functionality between Sales Agents & Prospects
Case Study 2: Creating a WeChat Portal Pre-Show
Caimeiiu, Chinas’s leading Luxury Listings Platform, partnered with Alain Pinel before Shanghai LPS (Luxury Property Show) to develop a tailored WeChat account for the event alongside relevant creatives & functionality.
This was unique in the sense it connected their online listings portal with WeChat, we shall move onto the pivotal role listing services play but for now it’s clear that WeChat & property listing integration is growing.
Below you can see inbuilt inquiry forms, LPS dedicated page information, Branded Material, Featured Projects & Branded Articles.
Most importantly the page featured Exclusive listings, exclusivity is vital in this game, what can you offer WeChat users that differentiates the page & draws followers onto the account?
QR Code Functionality Allows Users to Scan & Browse the Account, O2O (offline to online) is a huge trend in China that Realty must take advantage of.
Working on a project by project basis (Lead Generation)
If you embark on a marketing strategy, I suggest starting with up to 3 projects initially, this allows an agency to more deeply understand the USP, area, regional information, service infrastructure & the character of the project.
This is not soul-less selling! You are engaging with humans so be human, understand your target audience’s needs & in China this is a digital-centric experience.
Projects need to be visible on local channels, there are a range of options available including;
- Website Development (Typically for Larger Developers)
- Listings Portals (Including Caimejiu, Jinlist & Juwai)
- News APP Software / Paid Search for Lead Generation
- Chinese Social Media Channels
- Investment Forums & Databases for Email Marketing
- Project exposure in Chinese e-media news outlets.
Evidently there is no one size fit’s all approach. Some opt for a stepping stone approach into China focusing initially on listings whilst others opt for the direct marketing approach in conjunction with this.
The scope of each project is completely different. From my perspective each project should be treated in the same way as a brand.
You are branding the space & working with creatives & marketing strategy to put content in-front of the right eye-balls.
Sample of Paid Search Property Listing on Baidu, China’s largest engine with a 75%+ market share.
Listings play a vital role in China Strategy
Listings services allow you to tap into well-established web portals associated with different types of investors & traffic.
On more limited budgets they also allow for a more realistic platform for listing both developer & project information.
The feedback I have from clients is often that large-scale listings services such as Juwai are costly & highly competitive, it is increasingly pay to play on these platforms in terms of media buying onto of a listing..
With rising costs how can you realistically list, the answer is more niche, specialist platforms that target your audience demographic.
Specialist, Boutique Listings
With niche spaces being filled by specialist players, Juwai will have it’s place but in the long-term I predict that alternative, more specific platforms such Caimeiju are likely to see significant growth..
Why? Because they just cater for luxury, high-end projects (promoting trophy properties in China since 2009), have developed a really smart web portal, are more boutique for listings & are better utilizing video for clients to host HD content in China.
Another example would be Huhangwu, an interesting portal being developed for German based projects that focus on an education based approach.
In short, it’s logical that outside of dominant listings more niche, specialist sources will continue to grow as the Chinese investor becomes better educated & informed.
Boutique is the future for Real Estate Marketing.
Caimeiju Creating that Luxury Aesthetic to Promote Chicago Luxury
The role of video in marketing projects is growing
Creating that luxury aesthetic that actually connects to increased exposure & qualified traffic is the problem besetting so many developers.
It’s an obvious question, how do attract as many qualified eyeballs as possible.
Recently we’ve run a series of video campaigns, they’ve really knocked my socks off in terms of quality engagement, video is king for me now.
A high budget video is money well spent in terms of how that can be leveraged in China. The immediacy of visuals in such a crowded & competitive space is logical.
Platforms to consider include IQIYI, Tencent Video, Youku & now even Caimeiju with their CND private video player.
660,000 views in a one week period for a ‘Made in Russia’ Campaign on Tencent Video
A smarter incubator service for a complex market
I am lucky to work with some of best professionals in this business in a range of different capacities. The vision for me is together we can offer the most holistic & comprehensive point of market entry into China that is catered for each project case in terms of the scope of work.
I spend hours each day speaking with developers, brokers & agents increasingly I understand their frustrations & see smarter solutions for them.
The idea of incubating a concept and developing it from the ground upwards in China is what excites me the most.
The core value of using such a service is evident, it allows for;
- A better understanding of the high-net-worth demographic
- Offers 360 degree communications across local platforms
- Incorporates the most relevant Listing Services & Connects Social Portals to that Listing
- A more holistic approach than any other player can offer in the China market.
Want to speak further?
If you’re keen to chat please email me at; firstname.lastname@example.org
I am incredibly passionate about this area and leveraging China digital on substantial projects based on my years of experience working on the ground.