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Embracing the digital shift in real estate

14 August 2020 13 min read

In a matter of weeks, the effects of Covid-19 have changed the way we live, work and play. The material impact has been especially significant on the property and real estate industry given its inherently physical nature.

“Physical distancing has directly changed the way people inhabit and interact with physical space…Beyond the immediate challenge, the longer the crisis persists, the more likely we are to see transformative and lasting changes in behaviour” (McKinsey report)

With recent mandates to work from home, travel limitations and safety measures that have relegated interactions to mostly virtual settings, real estate industry leaders have actively sped up the adoption of digital technology as a way to mitigate this drastic change.

However, the shift to digital is not new — pre-crisis, the real estate industry had already to take steps toward digitising processes and services, using technology not only as a tool for efficiency and automation but to create better, memorable experiences between people and spaces.

Let’s take a deeper dive:

Digitalised real estate is here to stay

In the wake of the outbreak, one of the traditional assumptions of this sector being debunked by digitalisation is that meaningful engagement with customers and employees can only occur in physical spaces.

By utilising analytics and digitally-enabling services for purchase and leasing, asset and facility management, design and space-planning — finding the right commercial or residential space can still be a highly interactive and personal experience. The effort toward building customer trust, respect and loyalty will go a long way in protecting relationships and value.

Kum Fei, Managing Director of the architectural visualization firm Digital Mirage, sees technology as an enabler in the consumer journey, allowing buyers “to make informed decisions, to see ahead in time and space, for developments that are yet to be built or completed.”

Observing an increase in popularity in interactive digital technology in the last two years, he states that it “allows greater immersion and engagement with a future space”

On different use cases, he shares, “We are seeing more virtual show suites and these cut across different types of properties. For example, companies that build hotel properties for hotel companies to manage will put together a marketing package to approach different brands. F&B shops will use digital and so will the architects of medical facilities.”

Take the case of Sotheby’s who have observed how and virtual reality are impacting luxury home marketing:

Technology is having a significant impact on the luxury real estate industry and how homes are being marketed today. We have sold homes based on consumers only taking a virtual reality home tour and never setting foot inside the home. While this is not commonplace just yet, consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea. Millennials trust their devices to guide them. Consumers have a greater degree of trust today in that what they are seeing through digital technology is real. They are becoming more comfortable with making a home purchase without seeing the property in-person. This approach is shifting how agents are marketing properties and where they are investing their time. It’s a profound change.

Kevin Thompson
Chief Marketing Officer of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates

From a branding identity perspective, businesses now have to adapt to the changing needs of its audience. Branding takes on a much more strategic and experiential form for example by building dynamic touchpoints that can be activated on multiple screen platforms like desktop, mobile and wearable tech.

Taking the digital leap now

As brands engage in multi-channel conversations with their customers and employees, the most effective brand leaders act on the knowledge that it is much, much more than a logo or tagline — it is a sum of experiences, composed of powerful moments and interactions.

We’ve compiled key insights from our recent branding programmes in the real estate industry. See how these brands are embracing the digital shift:

9 Penang Road, Singapore

Place-branding integrates online and offline touch-points into a seamless experience

For 9 Penang Road, property developers sought to create a differentiated offering through a place branding strategy that breathed life into the new space and identity.


The challenge was to clearly position this unique location and Grade-A development for new companies seeking a highly connected address surrounded by amenities. Place branding helped build competitive advantage that influenced perception of the space — moving it beyond real estate assets to become an iconic addition to the urban landscape.

Using a sophisticated brand identity seamlessly across physical and digital touchpoints relayed a stronger sense of place. From construction hoards and printed marketing brochures through to digital catalogues and a sleek website, the cohesive experience allowed the development to truly “own” its MidCity location.

Bringing the experience even closer to the customer, immersive content allowed users to interact with 360-renderings and panoramic views of Singapore. Interactive tools like this can help brands highlight the new kind of workspaces now being configured for physical distancing and productivity in these times.

Place branding bridges gaps between the sense of place, experience, image and perception that tells a different story altogether and delivers new key messages.

Peninsula Residences Yangon

Customising a sales approach and target diverse audiences through an interactive brand communications

A globally recognized and established luxury hospitality name, The Peninsula brand prepared its exclusive hotel and residences for entry in Myanmar. Given that Yangon was the brand’s first frontier market, the challenges and considerations involved positioning and how to signal luxury in a market where it has little meaning.

Curated marketing content was very important for continuity of the Peninsula brand style. Three communication routes were established in order to cater to three very diverse audience groups: those unaware and in need of education, the informed & interested and knowledgeable brand converts.

A branded sales gallery, high-specification marketing brochure and an interactive sales app for a select audience of HNW Burmese buyers were all created as part of an integrated solution. The app was designed to be presented personally on an iPad and without the need to connect to the internet, allowing the sales team to create a highly customised experience, talking individuals from the different audience groups through as they present.

The flow was mapped out to cater for multiple user requirements, with the option to navigate to specific points within the app with ease whilst retaining the immersive Peninsula narrative. This use case illustrates how digital formats can address potential confusion in a new market and act as pre-sales education tools for very specific audiences.

By The Bay

Community place-making through digital and mobile technology increases the perceived value of a location

Raffles Quay Asset Management (RQAM) manages the flagship assets of Marina Bay Financial Centre, One Raffles Quay and Marina Bay Link Mall — all Grade-A office buildings that define Singapore’s iconic downtown skyline.

An exciting opportunity emerged for a digital-led branding solution to connect professionals in this district in a much more meaningful way through a mobile community app. Its functionality goes beyond utility booking and access and encourages creating personal connections with the physical place.

The app was launched in tandem with a full brand identity system based on the personas inhabiting the space from tenants, partners and guests. As a digital touchpoint, the mobile app interface reflected the brand’s aspiration as a lifestyle symbol for the Bay Community.

Meeting customers where they are through digitalisation

Crises teach us to rethink assumptions in terms of what we know and how things are done. There is a greater sense of urgency for brands to be transparent, accountable and purposeful now more than ever and digital technology enables this at scale.

Real estate leaders will benefit from taking immediate action to improve their businesses given the potential for transformative changes. Brands must focus on the positive impact of having a superior online and offline customer journey to meet customers where they are right now, while also maintaining an awareness that the future could still look drastically different.

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