There is no way to sugarcoat the situation, property markets across the region have been cooling while the level of competition for attention and sales leads has been heating up.
A regional roundup by Property Report (recently acquired by PropertyGuru) noted that after several years of double-digit percentage increases in property prices in many of the region’s markets, 2015 was a year that could “most kindly be described as a holding pattern.”
“We’ve been on a pretty extended bull run in many parts of this region,” Nicholas Holt, Asia Pacific head of research at Knight Frank told Property Report. “It had to burn out to a certain degree, and it has.”
For PropertyGuru, an online property portal group founded in 2007, a slowing market situation and the ever-present slew of competition both new and old have heightened the need to keep on top of its game.
“This just means that the team has to work harder to deliver leads to advertisers,” said CMO Bjorn Sprengers, in an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific. “Luckily, our approaches, and the tools that we use, have also evolved.”
The company claims a leadership position in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Every month, it says, more than 14 million property buyers view over 116 million property pages and generate more than 500,000 enquiries for real estate developers and agent advertisers.
“It is our brand promise to help property seekers make better, more informed, property decisions,” said Sprengers. “To help achieve that, we seek to make the market transparent.”
Asked about how much the company spends on marketing annually, he said that marketing and technology innovation are the prime destinations of investment for the company, both in terms of headcount and in terms of spend.
“The two disciplines synchronize tightly on brand promise delivery and differentiation, and we spend double-digit millions annually across our markets,” Sprengers added.
Sprengers said that the company does not work with digital agencies as it manages content, SEO and marketing automation in-house.
“That’s because we view these disciplines to be mission-critical and too entrenched in our technology bets to outsource,” he added.
But that doesn’t mean the company is going at it completely alone. Sprengers said in Singapore, PropertyGuru works with Brilliant, a boutique agency for strategic and creative development, and in Indonesia, with Phibious. Media buys are done through UM in Singapore.
Data, the building blocks
If there is one weapon at PropertyGuru’s disposal, it’s all the data the company has available to leverage for its marketing objectives.
“It’s a key change in the way we operate,” said Sprengers. “We use data for branding, traffic acquisition, conversion and retention.”
But whilst the prospects of big data are certainly exciting, especially in the long-term, it is the area of small data that hold’s the company’s present focus.
“In fact, we believe that if a company does not fully leverage the opportunities of small data, it will also not fully leverage the potential of big data,” said Sprengers. “As such, the use of small data is a matter of mindset.”
Asked what message he had for fellow marketers looking to get started, Sprengers said that one common misconception is that it is difficult or complicated to do, or that you need to spend a lot of time doing it, or gathering the data.
“That’s not necessarily true," he said. "Marketers should always focus first on what data is available to them. Is it sales data, user data, traffic data? How can we combine, or manipulate this data, to come up with new and interesting insights?
He points to PropertyGuru as an example, where the company processes “over 500,000 laptops worth of data every day”, and boasts some of the most comprehensive listings in all the markets it operates in.
“In Singapore, we have more than 80 percent market share, which means that we can quite accurately predict market movements, not by looking at transaction prices like most other players in the market, but by looking at asking prices, the prices that sellers are listing the information by,” said Sprengers.
“This becomes really valuable and unique data that keeps our consumers and advertisers coming back to us, because no one else can provide it to them,” he added.
One of the services the company offers is automated customer performance insights reporting, which shows real estate agents how their property listings performed versus those of comparable agents, as well as what actions they can take to get more leads.
“Per report, we crunch about 200,000 data points, and this process is completely automated,” said Sprengers, adding that the company currently counts 30,000 agents as customers.
Content is king
The company also wields the principles of data journalism in their approach, “using data to inspire our brand-oriented content marketing strategy.”
The company currently publishes more than 600 pieces of content monthly across all markets, ranging from news and market trends to property guides.
Many of the stories created are written on the basis of insights extracted from the unique data the company already has at its fingertips, such as market information, website traffic data, customer information and published public data.
In its quest to create more sharable content with higher brand linkage, the company recently started writing in-depth reviews of new projects across the region.
“We hired and trained a dedicated team of property experts,” said Sprengers. “These experts review new projects and write in-depth reports about them and is part of our mission to help property seekers make a more confident property decision.”
Sprengers said that the company’s focus is very much in making its marketing budgets scalable.
“To achieve that, we spend a lot of time on finding and building long-term content partnerships with leading media players across our markets,” he added.
In Malaysia the company has arrangements with Astro, Malay Mail and HGTV, while in Indonesia, it works with the likes of EMTEK and Masima Radio.
These media partnerships also offer an additional benefit, enabling PropertyGuru to offer advertisers multiple touchpoints via its integrated property media capabilities spanning online, mobile and events.
The company has 14 mobile applications across markets, which have been downloaded more than 2.8 million times.
In January of this year, the company also acquired Print and Property Awards businesses, under the brand names of “Property Report” and “Asia Property Awards.
The company is now positioning itself to real estate advertisers across Asia as a media partner able to support regional branding initiatives across multiple platforms. The acquisition combines PropertyGuru’s 14 million users and Property Report’s 70,000 online and offline readers.
Sprengers said that a big part of the company's growth is due to two important factors that differentiate its from traditional media agencies or houses, the first being its domain expertise.
“We can give property advertisers very accurate advice on how to market their projects and properties,” he added. “We also take accountability for our results, as we have deep understanding of advertisement performance and are willing to work with advertisers on the basis of performance-based contracts.”
The year ahead will see the company continue its focus on content and organic performance of its website and apps, increasing the personalisation of user experiences and automation of marketing programmes.