Technology could be the saviour of print media for real estate

by Alistair Helm in


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I find myself in my new role, as a licensed real estate agent in the Auckland suburb of Devonport developing a healthy pragmatism of the age-old decision as to the choice of print, or digital media when it comes to property marketing.

Ten years or so ago, I recall standing on-stage at numerous real estate conferences as the CEO of Realestate.co.nz confidently stating that at some time in the not too distant future our lives would have been so transformed by the evolution of digital media, that the humble newspaper would be dead. I foresaw a time when all forms of real estate advertising would be digital. Fast forward those 10 years and clearly that is not the case. Digital is certainly critical; valued by the real estate industry and consumers alike. However our daily newspapers still survive, somewhat depleted and sadly sullied by the race to the bottom, chasing advertising dollars for general advertising heavily driven by eye-catching headlines and lifestyle celeb stories.

However for the real estate industry print media retains a true relevance. As an agent, I value its ability to deliver passive buyers and the even more valued serendipitous buyer. The story can be easily told of buyers (unknowing it at the time) idly flicking through a weekend property supplement or Property Press at the local cafe or friend's house on a quiet afternoon, only to be enthralled by a property that they suddenly become captivated by.

The value of the print media lies in context, and the fact of strangely imprecise targeting - let me explain. The ubiquity of the newspaper places these adverts in close proximity to everyday news thereby potentially interrupting the daily read with an unexpected opportunity to present a property. It also acts as a reinforcement of a property advert to active buyers who may have seen the property online, thereby reinforcing its appeal and relevance, maximising frequency of presentation.

The imprecise targeting is a very interesting counter-logical argument. The very appeal and efficiency of the digital platform which enables for the specific search for 'this number of bedrooms' in 'this price range' in 'this suburb' is the same process that excludes a perfect property that matches all the requirements but is in another suburb that the buyer never thought about. In the case of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch there are many suburbs that are close substitutes, yet people have fixed mindsets until they are exposed to a house they love the look of, only to find it is located in a suburb that was not on their list, but they go on to buy. That is the power of the print media. Or put another way that is an opportunity as yet not exploited by the digital media players.

So what other capability can print media offer and how might the very latest technology assist them?

Well I came across a very interesting post on Twitter over the weekend in praise of Apple's new ARKit. This is the latest software Apple has released at its recent developer conference to power Augmented Reality. Here's the tweet that peaked my interest and got me thinking about AR a little bit more - watch the embedded short video to get a sense of this capability.

So this example created the sense of an embedded sports video coming to life within a newspaper, leveraging the capability of an iPhone or iPad and the Augmented Reality software. Where you see a sports image and video on a newspaper page, imagine it being a property listing. Simply view the property page with your iPhone and the listing comes alive showing the video of the property or the slideshow for the property.

In someways this is just another iterative step that started years ago with URL weblinks on print adverts, progressed through QR codes and lately encompassed the NZ Herald Homes app that used image recognition that took the user to the listing on the web. All of these technology steps by today's standards seem clunky, especially when you see and imagine this in action (A crude representation made by me shown below roughly visualised).

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This really appeals to me. I have so often sat with people who flick through print publications for property listings and want that bit more information but end up frustrated by trying to find listing numbers and search for them on the Trade Me Property or Realestate.co.nz app.

This clearly is a golden opportunity for NZME's OneRoof - the perfect intersection of print and digital. They have the digital content and the print media platform - it'll be interesting to see how long it takes them to develop this and monetise it!

As for Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me - this presents an opportunity, but would require a partnership with a media company. The logical path being Property Press unless the appetite is big enough for Trade Me to make the ambitious move to acquire NZME, a relatively achievable acquisition when you see that NZME market cap is just $165m and Trade Me sits at $1,900m - something for Jon McDonald to think about as a parting shot of for the new Trade Me CEO.


Newspapers have a future. It lies in a symbiotic relationship with real estate

by Alistair Helm in


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The excellent article “The future of newspapers” written by David Williams on Newsroom got me thinking about exactly that: Is there a future for newspapers here in NZ and globally?

I find it somewhat ironic that I ask this question given I spent many years at Realestate.co.nz confidently professing a belief that newspapers would be dead before the end of the decade, however I have to confess that I have somewhat changed my view over recent years.

I can recall so well the many presentations I made to crowded rooms of real estate agents up and down the country, confidently stating “Newspapers are dying.... people in their 20’s don’t read them, people in their 30’s barely read them; their readership is 40 and older and in time those readers will not be around!” Sure it was hyperbole to support my agenda – digital media is the future for real estate advertising. The data certainly supported my assertion and the declining readership trend over recent years has not been arrested. I even recall quoting the then editor of the Guardian who when unveiling new printing presses back in 2006 stated:

as we installed the new Man Roland presses, we knew they were likely to be the last we ever bought
— Alan Rusbridger

However, newspapers are not dead. They are dying; but at the same time evolving. In my view, their world is polarising. In the glitzy corner there is the world of click bait, of which our daily lives are awash – ever more dramatic headlines fighting for our limited attention spam but sadly racing ever faster to the bottom in terms of quality and ad cost, constantly fearing the competitive threat of Facebook. Sadly, so many of NZ’s metro newspapers have chosen this route.

In the opposing corner are the newspapers that still take the time to report and investigate rather than just regurgitate. Those I would place on a pedestal would include The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post – major newspapers with significant backing. I am a big fan of the approach advocated by Gavin Ellis of the Trust structure. Whilst NZ doesn’t have the global scale opportunities to leverage as these major mastheads do, all is not lost. I am more confident that we can expect to continue to see local and regional (and potentially national newspapers) decades from now.

Newspapers have for the past 150 years relied on advertising, it's a symbiotic relationship at the core of their business model. One of the major groups of advertisers newspapers rely upon is the real estate industry. Pre-internet real estate agents relied on newspapers 100% - providing the right medium to the right audience at a cost-effective rate. Buyers valued it as a catalogue of what was on the market and equally sellers liked it as they felt it perfectly promoted their property. Property advertising in print is logical - strong images with clear attributes look great.

However the world has changed over the past decade or two and today newspapers are no longer the medium to showcase all properties on the market, certainly not for large national or regional papers. This is where I come to my point.

Local newspaper serving local communities can and do leverage local real estate advertising as much because properties advertised ‘feels’ right at home for the very reason that the content is hyperlocal. Sandwiched in with the local school events and sporting club news and all the other hyperlocal going’s on in communities real estate is complementary, comfortable, personal and local. Where I live in Devonport we are blessed by a great fortnightly publication the Flagstaff, it is the very epitome of this. If you want to know what is on the market in Devonport, it’s actually easier to flick through the latest edition of the Flagstaff than even to search on Trade Me or Realestate.co.nz. The same I am sure is as true and relevant for the Raglan Chronicle as for the Ruapehu Bulletin or the Te Awamutu Courier. There are 48 free local newspapers across the country which find a symbiotic relationship with local real estate companies, clients and agents.

As for the national or regional papers; in my view their approach has to be different, they can’t be the hyper local newspaper but on a larger scale. As clearly in the case of Auckland with the NZ Herald they can’t possibly offer to profile 9,000+ properties for sale across Auckland. What it can do though is deliver what is such a key part of real estate marketing – the serendipitous moment.

Advertising a property for sale is about reaching out to as many buyers in the market. These are the people who are deeply engaged on Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz. Buyers who set up email alerts and notifications and addictively check their mobile property apps. But not all actual buyers are so deeply engaged at the time, many don’t actually think of themselves as buyers; sure they certainly don’t represent the majority of people who buy property, but they could be buyers if as serendipity happens, they see a property that gets their heart racing, something that kick-starts them into action. This serendipitous moment doesn’t happen online. It happens in more traditional media of newspaper adverts, catching the eye of the reader as they disassemble the numerous Saturday supplements.

I put these thoughts forward as over the past year I have experienced first-hand the value of such real estate marketing – both hyperlocal newspapers and the serendipitous advertising in major metro papers, with significant success.

So, the truth is I have changed my tune over the years. Real estate marketing is about a broad marketing campaign, not simply online which is undoubtedly a critical base, but the complementary use of print media in newspapers as well.

It is just too important a process in the marketing a property not to consider the dual media, and for that reason we in the real estate industry need newspapers, so let’s hope they can survive and prosper.