Commercial Real Estate Marketing Public Relations

How is COVID-19 Changing Real Estate Content Marketing?

April 27, 2020

Nine months ago in this space I was raging against the misuse of press releases. I riffed on the topic in a blog post, “Three Reasons Why Companies Fail at Media Relations.”

The gist of the post was that many companies overly rely on shallow, self-serving press releases to get media attention, often leave the customer (usually the most interesting part) out of the story, and ask media to tell stories that don’t meet their objective standards for what’s interesting or newsworthy. Together, these reasons explain why press releases so often fall on deaf ears.

Fast forward nine months, and property companies including operators, service providers, and proptech and fintech enterprises are behaving differently. They’re still turning out their fair share of syrupy press releases, but they’re also producing more authentic, more empathetic, less flowery and less self-serving content than ever before (or at least in a long time). The reason why? The coronavirus public health crisis.

The coronavirus crisis has made companies and the people who run them rethink or in some cases rediscover what corporate and marketing communications ought to be. This epiphany, conscious or not, has been a function of necessity, and industry professionals have been wise to rise to the occasion.

In the midst of a public health crisis, when people are literally getting sick and dying, it’s not particularly appropriate to stand on the mountaintop and declare a company’s latest self-serving accomplishments. The times demand something different, namely empathetic, informational, useful communications that help people make the best use of your property, service or product, including maintaining health and safety. Of course it’s reasonable if the communication demonstrates a company’s underlying value and value proposition, but that is secondary.

The new wave of content-based marketing and communications since the onset of the coronavirus crisis has been astounding:

  • We’ve seen the resurgence of email, which has long reigned as the cost-effective champ of mass marketing and customer communications but gets dissed for lack of glamour. Who among us hasn’t received 192 emails from all of the companies we’ve done business with in the past 20 years? It’s a bit much, actually, and some of the emails suffer from a want of substantive information, and clearly some of the email lists haven’t been scrubbed by the vendors in years. But the form of art makes perfect sense. A short, caring email with information on how the company can help the customer at a time of crisis is a beautiful thing to behold — and even more so when a reply email to the sender gets answered with a return email or call.
  • Livestreaming has surged in popularity as a communications medium. During the coronavirus crisis more companies have displayed the confidence to undertake livestream events, which can be viewed in real time or appreciated indefinitely via recordings. Livestreaming has all the power and immediacy of live television, and can be conducted with or without audience member interaction. Perhaps the reason it’s so popular among consumers of the information is its very authenticity. Even if scripted, it comes across as unfiltered; in other words, real.
  • If live communication demonstrates urgency and immediacy, recorded webcasts and podcasts are gifts that keep on giving — pieces of content that can reside on a web page, social media page or podcast library for viewing anytime day or night as the user sees fit to access the content. Use of these tools has surged, too, during the pandemic, and so has their consumption given that people are sheltering in place at home… literally a captive audience.
  • Property portals, including property apps, also have reasserted themselves as important content-sharing channels during the COVID crisis. These tools essentially operate as extranets for office tenants, apartment residents and other space users. They’ve been around for a generation or more, but there’s nothing like a crisis to reaffirm their benefit and stimulate heightened use. Since the coronavirus crisis began, the standard fare of property portals (rent reminders and building happy hour notices) has been replaced with more serious content that informs tenants and demonstrates that property operators are taking action in their interest. It’s hard to imagine going back to the pre-crisis days of pretty benign content hubs given how these channels are proving their capacity as information-sharing and engagement tools.
  • Websites, blogs and social media deserve a mention here to the extent they are harboring timely, useful content and providing interaction and community-building opportunities, though their use had become relatively standard before the coronavirus.  
  • The explosion of online groups and events is notable, too, both for the purpose they serve to inform, help and engage people, and for their marketing and public relations benefit. A great example: virtual fitness classes for apartment residents or office tenants. It’s hard to imagine many of these groups and events won’t continue after the current health crisis subsides.
  • Virtual reality tours warrant an honorable mention here as well. As a property marketing tool they’ve been on the rise for years. The current crisis has accelerated the use and reliance on fly-overs, fly-throughs, walk-throughs, and any other way to show property without being there. At an underlying level virtual reality is mainly about leveraging the power of video, which plays an increasing role in marketing and company communications across the board.

The tools and technologies available today are amazingly powerful with the potential to produce equally amazing results, as we're seeing.

There is and always will be a place for really good press releases that incite media attention or serve a valuable disclosure purpose, but the press release is only one tool in the content marketing toolbox. The coronavirus crisis has made real estate companies — property operating firms, service providers and other vendors — discover, rediscover and take to the next level corporate and marketing communications based on meaningful, personal, topical content. That’s a very good thing.

-Cary Brazeman