MARY ANN O’BRIEN is the CEO and Founder of OBI Creative, a research-based, innovation-driven advertising agency based in Omaha, Nebraska. OBI starts and finishes every marketing plan and advertising campaign with the customer at the center – determining motivations, behaviors, and key consideration drivers.
One of the biggest mistakes I commonly see commercial real estate marketers make is not understanding who they’re trying to attract to their property. It sounds so basic that it’s almost not worth mentioning, and that’s the problem. Too often, we assume we know our customers’ needs, wants, interests and pain points when in actuality, we don’t know where they truly stand.
Ditch a General Marketing Strategy for a Customer-Centric One
A mix of qualitative, quantitative, and secret shopping is crucial to truly understand who you are marketing to. You want to get inside the heads and hearts of your prospects and customers to understand what they expect to experience at a property like yours and then deliver that experience. With a firm foundation of customer insight under your belt, you can build a strategy and creative execution that’s guaranteed to deliver profitable results.
Often marketers must guess whether or not the creative they’re looking at will achieve the results they need it to. Many times it doesn’t; not because the creative design was poor, but because it wasn’t rooted in customer understanding. When you put customers at the heart of your marketing efforts, as well as your operations, your property is destined to become hot.
Aligning Property Design With Customer Understanding
My team and I had the opportunity to help a commercial developer market a high-end outlet mall. With a goal of attracting consumers from a 200-mile radius to a property we were aiming to make the dominant retail asset in the region, we set out to create a truly smart outlet center. We began by conducting customer research to understand what consumer wanted, what state and local official needed, and what interested citizens demanded.
Research revealed a desire for a clean, fresh, safe, technology-oriented center that would recapture a big chunk of the $1.5 billion in shopping receipts going to out of state properties. A four-phase approach helped us target buyer personas with relevant messaging. Our research informed more than just the marketing plan though. It drove the technology plan with the development of an app for the outlet center, as well as the mall design. A customer-centric racetrack design was applied to improve the shopping experience.
Then, as construction was underway, we made sure property developers didn’t overlook the value of applying signage to the fencing around the construction site. Digital billboards and well-placed media buys generated interest and excitement for the opening of the outlet center.
We identified other destination and attraction brands in the area and partnered with them to make package options available that would drive traffic to all properties promoted. A few of the pieces we brought to outlet included:
- Digital marching pylon signs
- Digital wall
- Targeted messaging and flash sales
- Interactive digital signage
- Value vision network
- Self-serve kiosks
- Management office
- Personalized mobile coupons and offers
- Proprietary network
The efforts may seem commonplace now, but years ago when we implemented them they were cutting edge. We were early to the table in implementing the first of its kind architectural technology app designed to improve the shopping experience for visitors.
After months of working with local and state officials to gain approval of various tax incentives, we had the hook we needed to attract new brands to the market like Kate Spade, Nike, Under Armour and Michael Kors. A mix of traditional and digital media drove excitement and customer engagement well before the center opened.
After the ribbon cutting, the outlets went on to become one of the fastest-growing outlets in the country and attracted millions of visitors to its stores.
That center wasn’t the only one my team and I helped develop integrated brand strategy for. In every case, we saw brand new or beleaguered properties experience renaissance through smart, customer-centric design and marketing.
Letting Customer Insight Determine Tactics
When you allow customer insight to drive marketing strategy, you can have confidence that the tactics you’re choosing for your marketing mix will achieve the ROI you need, and the results you seek.
From a foundation of research, you can apply the right mix of tactics to successfully market your property. Things like using 3D tours, high quality, on-brand photography, and every social media channel your customers are active on all fall into place when you layer them on top of customer understanding. Filtered through the lens of your customers, you can avoid messages that come across as too heavy-handed or sales-oriented and provide value that your target audiences find attractive.
You can emphasize your unique offerings and share your brand story in a way that resonates with your target audiences. Omni-channel marketing and optimized websites are a given in today’s distracted, digital marketplace. But, they are no substitute for customer understanding. They are powerful tools best leveraged in concert with a firm understanding of what your customer wants, expects and experiences while at your property.
Customer Centricity Continues After the Sale
A final pitfall I commonly see commercial real estate marketers make is to drop customer centricity after the sale. The world’s most successful brands and businesses are so because they align operations with their brand.
Your people and your property are the hands and feet of your brand. Your brand is the soul of your business. To achieve harmony, the two must be aligned. This translates practically into analyzing every aspect of your operations from how the trash is collected to hours of operation to the condition of your parking lot and the security guards you employ to ensure they all align with and express your brand vision, mission, and values.
Everyone, from your tenants to those who help construct or maintain your facility grounds should feel you living out your brand promise when they’re on property. If you value innovation, it should come through in how you construct, maintain, and operate your facility. It should influence purchasing and collaboration decisions. If you value community, the communities in which you operate should know that without you having to say it.
These are the building blocks that brands like Starbucks, Facebook and Zappos have made billions from. You can achieve the same, if you keep your customer at the heart of your operations and keep your operations aligned with your brand.