Mobile app ecosystem allows real estate brokerages to deliver excellent consumer experiences

Over the last year or so there’s been an ongoing and well-publicized debate between proponents and opponents of real estate property listing aggregators and whether brokerages have ceded too much “control” over the consumer relationship to these entities. In my mind this is a debate with no clear winner and no clear loser, as both sides make excellent and valid arguments. This wonkish debate can continue, but it’s time for brokerages to take action within the mobile environment.

It’s clear that some real estate property listing aggregators have done an excellent job with presenting real estate related information in a novel manner. Many of these aggregators are well-capitalized, have taken SCRUM software and product development to new levels, and continually evolve. These companies have done a really great job monetizing the consumer and agent experience within their brand environment. As such, these entities have seemingly taken ownership over brokerages’ property listings, the consumer experience, quick response times, and engaged and informative customer service. They are a seeming Juggernaut of continued market dominance.

Yes, these entities have garnered a significant piece of consumer mindshare since 2005. But this continued quasi-dominance will not continue forever. And to this point, brokerages need to stop focusing on and obsessing over what the property listing aggregators are doing. Brokerages need to look inward. Brokerages need to look to their core values and creativity as a brand and build on those values and that creativity. Last time I looked real estate brokerages still have the same opportunity as aggreagators to delight consumers with an exceedingly excellent experience, and continue to deliver on this experience, thus gaining customers for life. When brokerages consistently deliver on this value proposition, consumers “reward” them with their business and referrals. Real estate is a still a local, relationship-driven business.

I will concede the point that some property listing aggregators have brilliantly leveraged brokerages’ property listing assets and created compelling social+web+mobile presences. But brokerages have always had an opportunity to similarly deliver something unique, compelling, and useful to consumers. The Internet is the Great Leveler of the Playing Field. Given this, what should brokerages focus on now in their drive to deliver an excellent experience? Build another listings portal? Embrace Facebook as a primary advertising venue? Build a kick-a$$ mobile app? Here’s a proposed answer: brokerages should consider all of these tactics, but should focus on creating a series of mobile apps that leverage a rich database of property, demographic, lifestyle, neighborhood, and predictive information.

According to this Mashable article, mobile is the ascendant platform of choice for consumers. Thus, brokerages should focus now on leveraging this platform. Brokerages should define what is “broken” (with the consumer experience value chain) with mobile apps released by the various real estate listings aggregators. Similarly, brokerages should define what’s “right” with these apps. Disregard or “fix” what’s wrong, and make better what is right. In other words, “build a better mouse app.” ;-D Next, brokerages should analyze what Sawbuck Realty has done with its HomeSnap app, as this informs brokerages as to what makes a successful app. According to this Scobleizer interview, the HomeSnap app was the top real estate app on iTunes for a period of time. What makes the HomeSnap app so successful with consumers? Simplicity + Motivation. This is a concept proposed by Stanford University Professor BJ Fogg. The HomeSnap app is simple to use (take a photo and retrieve information about the home) combined with satiating a consumer’s curiosity—motivation—to “know” the details about a home (what was paid, what’s the history, etc), delivered in a manner that costs the consumer as little time as possible.

Simultaneously, brokerages should focus on building the richest database of home-related data thus created. This database would focus on compiling core up-to-date and ACCURATE property-related data, neighborhood-related data mashed up from several different data sources (like EveryBlock, NabeWise, StreetAdvisor, Walkscore, etc) and then normalized, combined with socialgraphics and demographics and psychographics (supplied by companies like Facebook, Acxiom, or Experian), and further enhanced by behavioral and predictive analytics. This database will power the mobile app ecosystem. This database could also power a website that’s very SEO-friendly and optimized for mobile, but the website is secondary to the mobile app. Sounds weird? Yes, to me too. But consumers are telling us with their purchase patterns and platform utilization patterns that mobile is precedent. Thus, brokerages need to play to this whim.

Finally, an integrated CRM would underlie this mobile app ecosystem for brokerages and agents to use. The key is for the mobile apps to tie directly to a CRM module so brokerages and agents have an opportunity to immediately respond to consumer inquiries. The mobile app ecosystem would promote collaborative CRM and drive consumer brand loyalty. And it is this latter point where the mobile app ecosystem has the ability to transcend—jump the chasm if you will—traditional modes of service delivery in the real estate industry. Brokerages are better able to control the overall experience via a mobile app. By allowing consumers to control their experience via personal settings (e.g., notification via text but not email, or notification via message pop-up but not text, etc), brokerages are tapping into the consumer DIY meme (i.e., having “control” over their brand experience). More importantly these behaviors not only inform brokerages as to how to segment their database for true one-to-one marketing opportunities but deliver an excellent service experience to the consumer when he or she decides to engage the brand. Integrate a mortgage services component and a transaction management and notification layer, and the experience gets richer. The consumer wins. The brokerage and its agents win.

Finally, what happens when a deal closes? A brokerage can give the consumer an option to continue the relationship across a variety of complimentary, meaningful, and informative channels such as refinancing opportunities or co-marketed offers with entities like Home Depot, Target, etc. If a brokerage has delivered an exceedingly excellent experience for a consumer through the entire home buying or selling process, that consumer has an incentive for the brokerage brand experience to continue. All delivered through the mobile app ecosystem.

The opportunity for brokerages is here just like it was in 2005 when the “age of the aggregators” dawned. And like then, brokerages can grab an opportunity now to deliver on consumer expectations.

Photo credit: w00kie

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