'Word of mouth can be a big maker or breaker'

With the Middle East experiencing a property boom like never before, we asked two real estate comms experts how they cut-through to the consumer: Mark Humphreys communications manager, Better Homes; and Jamshed Nawaz marketing and advertising manager, Landmark Properties.
'Word of mouth can be a big maker or breaker'
By Staff writer
Sun 12 Nov 2006 04:00 AM

With the Middle East experiencing a property boom like never before, we asked two real estate comms experts how they cut-through to the consumer: Mark Humphreys communications manager, Better Homes; and Jamshed Nawaz marketing and advertising manager, Landmark Properties.

How important is it for a real estate company to have an effective branding strategy?

Mark Humphreys:

Branding is about the consumer understanding what you’re all about. Property is a serious financial investment and the client wants someone they know and can trust. Our ultimate goal is to become the customer’s best friend — not in the sense that they buy us a beer after work (though it would be nice) but in the sense that whenever they have a property related need they feel confident coming to us.

Jamshed Nawaz:

The real estate market relies heavily on recognition and integrity. An effective branding strategy is definitely important in order to communicate a company’s key messages to its target audience. Landmark Properties is here to stay and has been working on building its brand equity. We are successfully positioning ourselves to be a ‘sustainable brand’ through various internal and external strategies.

Real estate is a very cluttered marketplace. How do you achieve stand out?

Mark Humphreys:

When we re-branded earlier this year we looked carefully at reinforcing our brand proposition and the tone and style in which it’s communicated. We even adopted our own colour ‘magenta’ to set us apart from the plethora of insipid ads which is par for the course in real estate.

Jamshed Nawaz:

In order to stand out we have created a strategic marketing plan. To build our overall brand equity our marketing activities include above and below-the-line advertising, PR, DM and CRM. Our recent ‘Got Space’ campaign focused on the emotions of the homeowner, positioning Landmark as a real estate company which can cater to the needs of homeowners and investors.

Are there too many small, less professional companies cluttering your market?

Mark Humphreys:

There’s nothing wrong with small companies as long as they’re properly trained and act in an ethical manner. Obviously in regards to the client, a bigger agency can offer you a lot of things that smaller agencies can’t such as wider choice, specialist services etc. But Better Homes was small once. The problem is that amongst the smaller agencies there are a few rogues and brand equity is the last thing on their mind

Jamshed Nawaz:

Definitely, but these companies are here for the short run. As the market stabilises, you will see an end to a majority of these ‘quick buck/fly by night’ enterprises.

Real estate and letting agents get a bad press. How do you make your company seem more consumer friendly?

Mark Humphreys:

We run a number of schemes in an attempt to improve our service with programmes on customer care, CRM, quality assurance and a heavy emphasis on staff training — it would be nice to think a lot of these initiatives do their own talking.

Jamshed Nawaz:

In this region word of mouth is a big maker or breaker. We always keep information open to our clients and partners. Because of the low supply in the market, there are some real estate companies who are not playing a fair game with the competition and their clients by not being transparent and over-promising.

What is your strategy for advertising?

Mark Humphreys:

We have a two-pronged approach to this — direct response and branding which are print-focused and supported by radio. We’re not a big fan of traditional outdoor; it’s very costly and we’ve found new mediums like our car designs more effective.

Jamshed Nawaz:

Advertising is a part of Landmark Properties overall branding strategy. It helps us promote our name; brand recall, and retention in the minds of clients or prospects. It is important for end-users to have brand recognition which can be achieved through advertising. However, advertisingis just one of the tools we are utilizing to strengthen ourselves in the market.

How do you use PR?

Mark Humphreys:

We value PR very highly. It is something that is rather undeveloped in this part of the world, although this should change when the market finally matures and people have to start thinking more carefully about where they spend each dirham. We use PR to drive many of our new initiatives. The thing I love about it is that in its purest form it’s unbiased communication and people respect that.

Jamshed Nawaz:

Public relations is a very powerful part of the marketing mix and a very effective method of opinion forming. Through carefully thought out and positioned editorial we can shape potential and existing clients’ attitude towards a company. A well researched and in-depth PR activity in a respected medium can gain a great deal of admiration from the public.

How important is your company’s online presence?

Mark Humphreys:

A lot of our clients are from abroad and the web is their first port of call so it’s vital we get it right online. We’ve got a whole web team who do things I didn’t even realise needed doing. Looking for property can be a time-consuming task. What we’re in the process of doing here is developing a site which basically means the buyer can virtually conduct the whole process online.

Jamshed Nawaz:

We are always looking at ways to optimise our site for our clients. It is also important for us to make sure we appear on the first pages of search engines due to the astonishing number of real estate companies in Dubai. Inaddition, we spend on online advertising with major portals which cater to our target market. This has resulted in our website achieving better results than most online listings websites.

How do you ensure that your brand values are carried through to your sales agents?

Mark Humphreys:

Hypnosis. No seriously, it’s all about staff buy-in; communication and wherever possible seeking employee feedback. Giving them a sense of ownership means they go that extra mile for the brand.

Jamshed Nawaz:

Our brand values are to provide the highest quality service possible to our clients. These values are transmitted directly to our sales agents through training and regular communications. We do our best to ensure sales agents are fully equipped to make Landmark Properties an attractive real estate consultancy to work with.

Image Caption:

Mark Humphreys

communications manager, Better Homes

Jamshed Nawaz

marketing and advertising manager, Landmark Properties

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