150 properties are sold in Denmark every single day, which means that estate agents are fighting house to house, for sellers and buyers alike. Anne-Mette Koch from DanBolig talks about the digital transformation of her chain, about innovative concepts and about her own motivation as head of marketing.
“I nurture my curiosity so I can better understand things in a new way”
– Anne-Mette Koch, Kommerciel chef, danbolig
“My MA in business, language in culture with French as my main language combined international perspectives with a traditional business masters’ in economy and marketing. This course was introduced as it was considered necessary that we should look beyond our own national borders and grow somewhat in international terms. As this was a new qualification, it was chosen by people who wanted to try being in other places and work alongside people who saw things from a different perspective. During this course, you could sense that this curiosity about how things are done elsewhere was a real driving force. For me, staying curious has always been a central element. You can certainly be curious when everything is new but maintaining that also means having the ability to change stance and be ready to understand things in a new way and context, as well as being able to say “no”. This curiosity was my motivator at Lego and DSB and it is also a motivator at Danbolig.
-Anne-Mette Korch is Danbolig’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO).
-Danbolig have been working with Sunrise for twenty years, during which campaigns to establish awareness and preferences have been launched.
-In 2018, Danbolig was Denmark’s third or fourth rated, based on size.
-One major task has been the revitalisation of DanBolig’s communications platform which has, among other things, been achieved by developing the “Our Neighbourhood’” concept, which not only sells the actual property, but also the local area in which it is located, by sharing residents’ positive stories about the area.
-Digitalisation has been a central component of Anne-Mette Koch’s work in recent years.
As a brand, we have to allow interpretation of ourselves
Danbolig is here for the long-term perspective and the long-term relationship. A long time goes by before customers find the need to use us. Choosing an estate agent is not a habitual choice, like choosing a bag of crisps or a bottle of shampoo. These are long-term relationships and require patience when it comes to establishing credibility and image. Previously, you could just sit down, develop a campaign and say “this is our image and now is the time to ensure it is understood by everyone, so let’s run it to film and on print”. You can’t do that nowadays. You simply have to allow interpretation, because customers will absorb the aspects they want to… You have to accept that your brand is built on smaller impressions. You have to be consistent, sustainable and relevant, but only in the chunks customers are willing to take in. Customers are doing the work and we, as a brand, are making ourselves available.
We must allow ourselves to be invited to the next step, making ourselves engaging at all steps in the customer’s journey. This requires that we go to the essence of the value we create. What are we able to offer in real terms? And we should engage this at different times, to the various stakeholders in the ongoing process they are part of. You might have been considering whether or not to sell your house for several years. Typically, you know that this is going to happen at some stage. It might be before the kids start school or “before we…” something or other. There is a significant personal trigger, of which Danbolig is unaware. Therefore, this involves building various relevant experiences that allow us to be invited inside and be considered when this happens. This requires humility and an acceptance that we should allow customers to bring us on board when they find it relevant within their own context.
We have to tell stories that create value and make it natural to recommend Danbolig.
I am working with a great deal of focus towards a 2020 plan. The task of everyone in marketing is to build and retain the value of their brand. We focus extremely hard on where we are relevant in the customer’s journey and where we may be falling short. Sometimes, this means that we should push our brand slightly into the background and let the people behind do the talking. Therefore, we have for example expressed the “Our Neighbourhood” concept, with the estate agent’s own history and personality as a credible sender.
It is important to be curious at all times about whether there are other elements that should now be interpreted in new contexts and to keep a constant eye on whether it is also having an effect. It is not just about telling good stories. A stronger degree of preference, high recommendation worthiness and credibility have to be established as something that our customers value very highly. When choosing an advisor, which is what you are doing when choosing an estate agent, you listen very closely to what others have done. Who have they been satisfied with? These are elements in our strategy towards 2020.
We are constructed in a way in which certain things are orchestrated centrally and others are the responsibility of our shop fronts, which are independent businesses. What we deliver centrally is what builds our brand and must give the shop fronts a solid basis they can work with in their own local area. There are often local conditions which mean that completely different things are at stake. There may be a new competitor who is doing something or other, or there may be some event about the expansion of the town, a new harbour or new central office.
We must be able to orchestrate this locally, because if we do things centrally, they become stiff and conformal, untrustworthy in fact. If we are to be able to make things relevant in consumers’ closer context, the “game board” must be sufficiently agile and flexible, so that agents can orchestrate themselves within its boundaries.
But there still needs to be synergy, because digital media are everywhere within the fields in which we operate. This is probably the biggest shift for our proprietors. Previously, they could check their impetus based on postcode or town boundaries. This is no longer possible. Facebook means that what we do in Vejle also has an effect on someone in Faxe. It has the effect of creating expectations, of something to tap into and get something more out of.
Centrally, we try to facilitate this by performing analyses, checking our figures, our traffic and our brand score. This allows us to be certain of our relevance and that we are getting enough traffic from the right channels. This means that we sometimes have a gigantic dashboard.
We can learn a lot from our agents
There is still plenty we can learn in marketing the other way, that we need to be able to facilitate, such as when local initiatives turn out to be successful and when there are new best practises that we need to roll out on a broader basis. It is not just from head office outwards that there is an exchange effect. It has also become easier, partly because more people are willing to bid in and say “we did it like this” and partly because we have established various internal forums and Facebook groups where it has just become faster and easier to share observations and results and to inspire one another.
“Try to take a look at how we have styled our window.” What is harder is to interpret all the figures. What are indicators in one direction? What are the indicators in the other direction? And you have to maintain consistency and focus, instead of allowing yourself to be distracted by “hey, we got loads of clicks by doing that, so we should just to it more often”. This may have the opposite effect on other parameters, so it is important to continue to believe in what lies at the core. Sometimes, the notion of “shouldn’t we do something new?” can take over. No… We shouldn’t necessarily do something new. We have to be consistent about these things, and not allow ourselves to be taken off track just because we got 400 clicks.
This can be a challenge, just as it can be its own challenge to focus on the right things. What are the basic metrics, actually? What do we need to keep an eye on? The apparent immediate impression of a campaign might be “Wow! we had so many visitors”. But what was the subsequent impression? Did we have a conservation effect or not? Whereas something else may not have produced large and impressive amounts of traffic but did actually do exactly the right thing for a specific target audience.
Conversion is most important to a large population of people who do not read long texts.
If I had to choose a single parameter as the most important, that parameter would be conversion rate; our ability to convert to a particular action. The rest simply facilitates that there is a sufficient volume of traffic with high conversion rates, or that our website is working well. There is no point having a lot of traffic if everyone drops out anyway. Why did they do that? They couldn’t be bothered to continue? Perhaps there was too much reading involved? There was no call to action? Conversion to the desired action is the most important of all.
Everything we do must involve a call to action. There must always be an option to click further. You should never be left asking questions. It has to be easy to skip backwards and forwards on your customer journey, if you have perhaps become interested or curious about a particular sentence. You must always be able to move towards a deeper understanding or a quick “call me” contact option. These are the most important features we build in. Long stories have to be unravelled, but we need to be careful not to become overly-enamoured with them ourselves. Customers do not have the patience for this. You can just ask yourself: “When did I last see a double entry in a newspaper?” You might read a picture text and a facts box at the end of an article and, if it was interesting, you can explore the rest of it.
People “zap” texts in a different way to previously. Completely. And this is a challenge when your brand isn’t just a bread and butter brand, but one that involves complicated services, where you have to build things up in an easily accessible way and use small “bites” that can be constructed into a single whole. I know this from myself. I am happy to read something if I feel that I am determining the sequence and am not forced to read a load of stuff just to get somewhere else. That’s the biggest thing we are looking at.
Digitalisation is primarily about helping customers where they are at
When I arrived here almost four years ago, my task was to investigate how we could better bridge the gap between what our shop fronts were so good at doing and the impetus that lay in our ability to affect customers before they arrived at one of our offices. We could see that customers were informing themselves increasingly through the various digital channels. They do more investigation. They read more. Your house-hunting starts at home. You visit the office far less frequently. Actually, we do not have shop fronts as a way of bringing people in from the street. They serve as meeting places, as a way of being accessible in the local scene and because this is where our agents “live”. They know what is going on. It takes them no time to drive down to Privet Avenue, because they are already nearby. This is far more of a question of availability than it is a question about “coming inside the store to buy something”.
Understanding how long a process is involved before a customer makes themselves known to us in person is one of the biggest challenges presented by digitalisation. In the beginning, it was very much about presenting examples to our owners of how much had already been done before they actually met a customer face to face. One of the first things that struck me when talking to our agents was their experience of the decision-making process for a customer, which was 14 days, or perhaps three weeks from meeting the customer until the customer was ready to sell.
In other words, during the eighteen-month period in which the customer was already preparing to sell, we have had no actual contact with them. They know nothing whatsoever about us and they are nowhere near ready to talk to us. My idea was that we needed to be more relevant during the earlier stages. We need to be more present, so we changed our entire website. We did so in a responsive manner, and at very basic levels, so we could have a presence on all platforms and so we could see the traffic. We saw a huge increase in traffic from mobile devices. We then prepared a strategy for how we could become more relevant throughout the entire customer journey, building it from inside out in order to be certain that our agents were on board right from the start and that they were the people who could leave a new impression.
Therefore, we put together the “personal estate agent” concept, as there had not previously been a concept that our agents could use on the digital platforms. There were no shop sites where they could express themselves, no banners, no video clips that they could share and disseminate. We had to build something conceptual up that would allow them to tell their story and that would help them to become relevant, also even if it did not involve customers actually signing any paperwork. We activated them this way, making them accessible in a completely different way. We did a lot of work with Facebook and how they could build a more personal impression, where they could talk more about what they each represented. This was kind of our first step down this new path.
Another thing we did was to expand our relevance during the early process, by addressing the questions you are interested in having answered at an earlier stage. Should you sell before buying? Am I selling at the right time? What is it like in the place I want to move to?
These were some of the ideas that lay behind our “Our Neighbourhood” concept, that we developed in collaboration with Sunrise. There are lots of things buyers are interested in, but they are unable to search for. Our sellers know about these things. They know precise details, such as that the hole in the hedge is a short cut to the lake, where there is a good playground; all those small, unique details. By engaging these elements, we create a strong degree of relevance and a robust way of telling our sellers that we have a strong toolbox for selling their properties. This is just one example of how we created a relevant context for both buyers and sellers. We are making this available to the user. It was a way of catching people when their guard was down, but simply by being there with content that is relevant, thus allowing us to show them that we know what is involved and that they can feel secure about getting in touch with us.
Digitalisation is also about focus and synchronisation of the marketing initiative
Internally, digitalisation has created a new focus.
We have developed some fixed national campaigns that are based on an online point of departure, with content that our agents can always tap into. We have also made sure that we synchronise our initiatives during these times of year. This allows us to achieve the best possible synergy from our efforts. We did a lot of work on that. Instead of having seventeen versions of all kinds of stuff, we cut to the bone and said “these are the important platforms, and these are the messages. If we all use them, it produces a better, more unified effect.”
We have an awful lot of messages. Some are about how the next step is not necessarily to call an estate agent, because you might well not be at that stage yet. Instead, we invite the customer to learn more. Take for example our property market parameter; how are things in your area? the neighbourhood check, or order an evaluation now, because it makes good sense and it’s something you have to remember to do, just like visiting the dentist. This is the entire concept behind our valuations weekend.
This is a combination of informative content and tactical concepts. Sometimes there are messages that need to come first, to carry the tactical and make it relevant. If we hit a target audience of maybe 1,000 home owners, maybe only 6-8% of them will actually be on the market over the next 6-12 months. The other home owners may not be at that point. Perhaps they are simply curious. But maybe 6-12% of this group is considering that it is time to move over the next 6-12 months. It is therefore important that there are messages other than “call us if you want to sell now”. We are providing no-obligation knowledge, because it is the interaction that matters. This is how a lot of what we do is structured.
With our unique “Our Neighbourhood” concept, we are making a wealth of personal knowledge available to both buyers and sellers
“Our Neighbourhood” started when some of our agents told us that, when they were handing over keys, the buyer and seller felt a need to talk to each other, because the situation allowed the transfer of all the knowledge the owner had gained while living in the property. These are some of the things that, had they been aware of them before, the buyer would have valued even more highly about the place they were interested in buying. This gave rise to the idea of capturing some of this input and communicating that a property has some unique characteristics that a seller would like to pass on.
As we are user-driven, we were very interested in this because it has so much more credibility than simple hearsay. At the same time, we could also see that Google behaviour is specialised. People look for specific things in specific areas. People don’t just look to live in Herning municipality. They know they want to live in the South part of town, not the North. They don’t want to be behind the stadium but on the other side of the railway tracks… all these kinds of facts that are unique to the local area.
The question was how to enable this without drowning people in far too much information. We figured out that we would just have to put together our own map of Denmark, where we can get into further detail about the various municipalities. The other way of doing it is just too big and vague to be able to communicate what it is like to live “right here”. You need to get really close in, at ground level.
As a result, we teamed up with Geomatic, who provide massive amounts of consumer data. You can really get close up and talk about “this kind of people live on this street. They all drive Volvo estates and DIY shop in Silvan”. There are so many details you can pick up on, which allow you to describe what goes on and what is characteristic in the area. What can you talk to people about at the local supermarket? This got us off to a good start, because we now had a map with some content. This was a good foundation to ask people to tell us their own stories in “talk about your favourite spot”.
This has given our image a significant boost on some of these parameters, in relation to credibility, competencies and relevance. It has become part of our toolbox now. Something that our agents do remember to ask about is “We’ll be putting together a strong presentation of your house and your neighbourhood, so is there anything that you think we should bring in right from the outset?” This tool is unique to us. It is something our agents use to put the dialogue into words on their local Facebook profile. “We love Hedge Row or the Marmalade district”. What do you think is best? This has turned into a great way of bringing about dialogue, because it is so immediate and personal. It is a tool for both sales and searches. I guess you could say that this will at some point become the way of building up a buyer database. We can certainly envisage this.
When you create something good, opportunities can grow from the framework you originally saw in front of you
We also have various partners who are very keen to participate and produce their own content, such as a bank that may be awarding grants to local initiatives, a new pier or perhaps a new roof for the local scout hut. Some things are obvious candidates to promote in “Our Neighbourhood”. “There will be a new skate park her, because money has been awarded for the project’. This is aligned with the whole notion of shared economy and “passing things on”. In these situations, we are seeing that “Our Neighbourhood” can help to strengthen local cohesion.
But these things don’t happen all by themselves. We have put together a series of films and run various campaigns, which have contributed towards visualising the idea. In this case, we used a few celebrities, which is something we have otherwise avoided. Here, we weren’t asking the celebrities to talk about us. Rather, the celebrities were talking about their own neighbourhoods. This allowed the communication to be credible and it was easy to see what the message was. It was all about the unique features they could highlight in their own neighbourhoods. This has helped in terms of both awareness and use. This has also been disseminated on Facebook, because sharing is so easy, and it is easy to generate a lot of interest about the subject.
I don’t really know yet where this is going to end up. This is something that we will be using as a basis to work from, because we want to ensure that it stays relevant all the time. This may lead to new experiences, such as new types of data, new things we can use, access to the buyer database, or perhaps changing the way things are contextualised when people are looking around and surfing for properties. Could there be something there? “Check out how great this neighbourhood looks”. There are various ways to work from this basis.
In general, we look very closely into how technology can make the normal day easier. When the time comes that Siri really is smart, it will be interesting to see what kind of things we can pick up that way. This may contribute a great deal towards our site construction and how we generate leads. Machine learning is also something our agents can see a great deal of benefit from, in relation to setting prices and providing advice. This allows them to draw on factors other than their own experience. If all agents take part in this, patterns will be observed and I think that could be really interesting. It would almost allow you to go in and say something along the lines of “well, a house this size and this price here on the South side of the road, is most likely to be sold in 76 days.” It could be a lot of fun and there could be some interesting simulations. I also think that the customers would like this.
It is my job to think outside the box.
Perhaps we should get our customers to think themselves outside their homes a bit more often, and in new ways?
Personally, I try to keep myself up to date about technology.; via LinkedIn, or in networks.
I talk to my colleagues and keep an eye on what is happening in other industries, not least financial companies here in Denmark, because some of the things we do are very hamstrung by Danish legislation.
Neither can you reject the idea that something completely different will happen, as we see in other industries where things are subject to massive changes. Take the market for cars, for example. Here, people are starting to own just one car for a certain period. What if moving to a new house was like this?
Right now, we think moving is a miserable process! Painting and decorating, packing, unpacking and repeating. But what if it was easier? What if this was integrated into a concept? Would we change homes every seven years, because it was fun or easy? At the moment we are taking part in a national “moving to a new house” study about people’s relocation habits. What motivates us to move to a new house? What do we see as barriers? What are we worried about? In reality, the housing market is very much driven by desire and curiosity. We love to sit and have a look at somewhere we might want to live one day, but we don’t go out and buy a house every Saturday. It is simply impossible, too expensive and far too complicated. But when it is driven by desire… what if we could make it more accessible? Then I think there could be some fun insights in there.
I think people see themselves as well grounded, but this is for periods of your life. For the seven years when you are a student, you love your “hood”. But you also love the idea that you will live in a different way when you have smaller children. You love the image of yourself in the various situations. I think we have the ability to connect and feel grounded, but this is something that goes with living your life. A huge house might have been great when you had five kids living there. But afterwards, we would prefer something else.
The possibility of disruption to the housing market is most definitely something I think about. We have now put together a three-year plan. This took us the best part of a year. We will have to think everything through and get to grips with what we really deliver. What are we actually good at? You have to be ready to come up with the next suggestion of what that might be.”