One year has officially passed since the COVID-19 pandemic locked down the country, sending a tremendous ripple through the springtime pre-construction real estate market. A year ago, developers were forced to temporarily close sales centres, postpone 2020 project launches, and quickly find ways to serve their clients virtually during uncertain times.
Marketing and sales professionals alike have had to source new and creative ways to keep business flowing over these past 12 months, whether it be through digitizing the sales process or virtual campaigns. While we’ve had time to reflect on the marketing lessons and strategies we’ve learned from 2020, it’s also important to consider how these new practices will influence the industry going forward.
Livabl chatted with Mark Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of TCS Marketing Systems, to learn more about what new construction sales and marketing methods will be important for developers to master in 2021.
Livabl: The real estate industry has had to adapt its approach to sales and marketing in light of new social distancing and pandemic restrictions. What are some of the biggest curveballs you think marketing professionals have had to overcome in the last 12 months, and what additional challenges do you think are on the horizon?
Mark Cohen: All of us got too familiar with the word ‘lockdown’ over the last 12 months, and everyone had to start getting creative to keep their businesses afloat.
For the pre-construction industry, the big challenge was getting people access to what they normally would in a sales centre. Developers and their marketing teams have relied on these spaces to give potential purchasers a feel of what they are buying, and with that option removed, everyone was forced to get creative.
Digital innovation has helped us tremendously. For instance, we used video tools for our launch at Debut Condos in 2020. But, I think marketing personnel will have to think outside the box for the next year or so to find ways to connect with purchasers and help them make one of their biggest decisions — purchasing a home.
L: Let’s say that you’re a developer working on a downtown Toronto condo project and you want to launch sales in 2021. What are the most important factors developers and marketing professionals should be taking into account this year if they plan to start a marketing campaign and launch sales?
MC: There were a lot of projects delayed in 2020, and the challenge in 2021 is going to be product competition. Developers have had to focus on delivering different amenities, and marketing teams need to be innovative in creating a sense of the project in a digital realm.
If you can’t get the purchasers to come to you, the opportunity lies in finding the most effective way in getting to them.
L: TCS Marketing Systems conducts extensive market research on behalf of the projects and clients the firm represents. Are you noticing any interesting or new trends emerging in the Toronto market as of late? Have buyer demographics, preferred price points or investor preferences changed throughout the course of the pandemic?
MC: We work on projects across the Greater Toronto Area, and we are seeing a noticeable shift in buyer needs in terms of amenities, outdoor space and flex spaces. Also, there has been a tremendous demand for product outside of the downtown core as the affordability factor is brought into the mix. With less focus on commuting, buyers want to get the best value for their money and so markets like Whitby, Markham and Etobicoke have seen high demand and are garnering record-breaking prices.
L: We’ve seen new buyer preferences emerge in the resale segment as a result of lockdowns, like demand for larger units, smaller buildings and access to private outdoor spaces. Do you think these tastes will translate to the new construction industry, and should marketers work with developers to highlight some of these COVID-driven preferences in their projects?
MC: We are monitoring these trends and advise all our developer clients to meet the buyer’s needs. Outdoor space is the number one priority since the pandemic, and developers are taking note. This also ties into the strong demand in tertiary markets where there is more localized recreation available to residents. I think it’s extremely important to keep a finger on the pulse of buyers, and focus on delivering a product that is not only priced right but designed for today’s condo dweller.
L: With many of us staying at home and spending more time online, digital marketing and a robust presence on social media is vital to brands. How should marketers build a competitive media plan to take advantage of these opportunities for additional audience exposure? What kind of messaging or media will resonate with buyers the most in 2021?
MC: Virtual tours, Zoom presentations, drone video — anything that can help your project reach buyers is important. Social media is a great tool to keep people passively connected to the project you are selling, but it is the whole package that is going to create sales. Marketing teams want to focus on the amenities with that being a focus for buyers more than ever, and also need to be communicating more as the physical connection through a sales office is limited.