With digital marketing now all the rage, and some agencies closing branches and going ‘virtual’, many might think that the era of print is well and truly dead.
Certainly the days when the back of your local weekly newspaper was rammed with pages of property advertising have long since gone.
But print and other forms of traditional marketing are still very much alive and kicking, with one of the oldest and most iconic – the agent’s signboard – about to enter a new era thanks to Covid restrictions.
Tom Cummuskey, sales and marketing manager at Kremer Signs – the UK’s largest maker of signboards – says this year has seen a massive uptake in boards, up 50 per cent on last year.
The reason is simple. Lockdown brought people out onto the streets for exercise in unprecedented numbers and the trend has continued. Combined with the mini-boom fuelled by the stamp duty holiday, agents have been keen to get their names out there, even though in a fast-moving market, the signboard is often bottom of the list.
It’s round-the-clock marketing – it’s in your face, it’s powerful, it’s brand awareness in the area that matters. I don’t think that as a marketing tool it will ever be replaced. Tom Cummuskey, Kremer.
“Since lockdown a lot of people are going about walking on the streets and agents are trying to get up as many boards as they possibly can,” he explains. “Rightmove does its part, but you will look at sale board even if you’re not in the market for buying a property.”
“If I see a firm’s boards everywhere, they are obviously who I am going to call – you have subliminal marketing going on in the background.
“It’s cost-effective, too – the board can be used time and time again whereas every property you list on Rightmove has a cost.”
Kremer coats its boards with reflective vinyl prior to printing, which means at night they stand out like a reflective jacket.
“Again, it’s round-the-clock marketing – it’s in your face, it’s powerful, it’s brand awareness in the area that matters,” emphasises Cummuskey. “I don’t think that as a traditional marketing tool it will ever be replaced.”
QR codes are back
Thanks to Covid restrictions, signboards are now entering the digital era with the use of QR codes – a type of square barcode that can take you directly to a website. QR codes were trialled a few years ago but never really took off.
Now, with virtual viewings all the rage, their time has come. All a prospective homebuyer has to do is snap the QR code on their smartphone and then watch a virtual viewing while standing outside the front door – though it can be saved for later.
“More agents will be using QR codes because anyone who wasn’t QR savvy has now had it forced on them by the Covid track-and-trace system,” adds Cummuskey.
Kremer also makes shop fascias, and believes the agent’s office still has a key role to play. “Some people like to work with agents face to face, which is why you need an office with good signage that is going to enhance your brand. Again, you’ve got round-the-clock exposure.”
Ben Brookes, Managing Director of signboard erection firm Agency Express, agrees the time may have come for QR codes on boards, coupled with augmented-reality viewings.
“It might have a bit of a resurgence now that people need to scan in and out of shops and restaurants – I think when it first turned up seven or eight years ago, people didn’t really know what it was.”
He says the most interesting tech innovation he has seen was the use of NFC (near-field communication, as used on smart cards) to send property information to your phone as you walked past, but it never really caught on.
Like Cummuskey, Brookes has been rushed off his feet post-lockdown – in fact Agency Express has just had its busiest quarter, ever.
“It’s not just pent-up demand – a lot of people are moving out of the city, a lot of people had to live in certain locations for work, and that is changing. The best times for us are when times are tough; when agents are fighting for every instruction, every house has a board.”
There’s a good reason for that – a traditional sale board has advantages that digital advertising simply can’t compete with at the moment.
“First and most important it’s a locating point for the property,” he says. “A lot of people do drive-bys and look at the local area – it gives them the chance to have a good poke around before they make a more formal inquiry.
“Secondly it indicates the ability of an agent to sell in an area. The one thing people don’t do is search property portals to see which agent has actually sold the property – the board [with a ‘Sold’ sign] shows how successful they are and that they are actually able to sell.”
Brookes says that with more agents moving online, the need for some kind of physical presence has never been more important.
“Having a board presence means they still have that local ‘on the ground’ feel without having a branch,” he explains. “Some of the heaviest users these days are the online agencies – you need some way of telling people that you are trading in that area.”
When it comes to design, Brookes says agents often get trapped into thinking about what might look good in a brochure, rather than on the street.
“You look at a brochure close up, whereas a board you look at 50 feet away for half a second – you need bright colours and big lettering. The most common mistake I see people make is using very thin stencil lettering that looks very nice but just disappears into the ether.”
He says dark colours disappear at night, while red is the final colour you will see in the gloom, other than white. “And white is obviously free!” he jokes.
He says he often plays a game with prospective franchisees. “I say ‘name an agent in your area’ and they will almost always pick one that is prevalent with boards – it’s the brand they remember, not the company or the trading history. It’s purely the colours on the board, that’s what sticks with them.”
Signboard has been making and erecting signs for 35 years, and director Andy March agrees that it’s a “24/7 sales tool”.
“Even Streetview doesn’t really show people what the neighbourhood looks like,” he explains. “Most people who are spending any serious sort of money are always going to drive through the neighbourhood, and agents’ boards give a good indication of market share.”
He says normally at this time of year demand would be slowing but business was up 30 per cent in September and 50 per cent in October.
Most people who are spending any serious sort of money are always going to drive through the neighbourhood and agents’ boards give a good indication of market share. Andy March, Signboard.
March has also seen a repeat of the post-financial crisis phenomenon with new agents – perhaps ‘let go’ by their former employer – entering the field.
“One agent in Billericay who started out on his own eight weeks ago has already come back for his second order of boards,” he says.
Like the others, he has seen a renewed interest in QR codes, with one client running a trial in eight offices.
Of course, traditional marketing methods extend beyond signboards and attractive shopfronts and interiors – business cards and brochures still have a key role to play. Woodblock prints everything from business cards to brochures and letterheads
“The power of print should never be underestimated, despite the digital world we live in – primarily for exactly this reason,” says Lucinda Perks, business director of design and print firm Woodblock. “Print stands out from the barrage of digital media that we are bombarded with; it allows us the opportunity to switch off from the tech.”
Perks cites research that shows printed text is easier for the brain to process than words on a screen, making the former more engaging. According to Top Media, people are 70 per cent more likely to remember businesses seen in print compared to online.
She adds, “Within the property market, we are seeing agents striving to compete by enhancing their personal service, for example by sending cards or letters of congratulations or small promotional gifts to reinforce their brand.
“Print has advantages that tech just can’t achieve – the best marketing strategies comprise a mix of both digital and print media for the most effective results.”
Graeme Edwards, general manager at another property print specialist, Ravensworth, agrees.
“Now, more than ever, successful marketing campaigns need to be multi-channel. It’s no longer a debate of print versus digital, as audiences straddle both on- and offline – so it makes sense to have a presence on both,” he says.
Now, more than ever, successful marketing campaigns need to be multi-channel. It’s no longer a debate of print versus digital. Graeme Edwards, Ravenswort.
He says digital marketing has its limitations, with emails often going unnoticed in a crowded inbox, or even going through to spam, while social media is “crowded and noisy”.
“Customer interaction with print marketing tends to be deeper, more engaging and much more memorable,” he adds. “One of the best ways to reach homeowners continues to be through their letterboxes.”
Many people consider print more trustworthy and authoritative – in fact it can be a welcome respite from the continually bombardment of the digital world.
Along the way it acquired several other firms, and four years ago it was decided to merge them all under the Dexter’s name.
To raise brand awareness, the decision was taken to launch a print magazine not just highlighting properties for sale, but also offering property advice to homeowners.
The Dexter’s magazine is now printed three times a year, with 200,000 copies distributed to households across London.
“We find that of the whole range of marketing channels print advertising works well for us, and our own magazine really works really well,” says marketing director Richard Page.
We find that of the whole range of marketing channels print advertising works well for us, and our own magazine really works really well. Richard Page, Marketing Director.
The magazine, just under A4 in size, is printed on uncoated stock, giving it a distinctive look and feel.
“We see the magazine as a point of difference,” he explains. “You obviously need to have the editorial in there so we make sure we’ve got things that are relevant about property and living in London. But what’s always fascinated me is that people always go straight to the properties. They look at the properties and say, ‘Look at that’ or ‘I used to live near there’ or ‘Look at the way they’ve done that’ or ‘I love that fireplace’ – it’s extraordinary the way they zoom in to the properties.”
Page says it’s a great way of drawing in potential buyers. “Even if a property has sold we can offer them something else.” Crucially, the strong brand presence created by the magazine draws in vendors, too.
There is also an online ‘page-turner’ version which further increases exposure.
Despite the increasingly digital world we inhabit, Page is still a firm believer in print, taking out two pages in the Evening Standard every Wednesday and an advert in the Financial Times on Saturdays.