Ask any home buyer now, their property journey starts online - from researching the property of their dreams to finding out more about finance and how to access it. It is now vital for brokers to strategise how they can use a range of online platforms to ensure they are seen and heard in order to attract more clients. Malavika Santhebennur explores more.
Just Google it. This has become the staple answer to any query.
So, it was somewhat unnerving when Google threatened earlier this year to withdraw its search engine in Australia.
The threat was spurred by the Australian government introducing a media bargaining bill in February 2021, which enables it to make technology giants such as Google negotiate with news producers to pay for content that appears on search engines or social media.
However, an eventual agreement between the government and Google averted the threat of closure of the search engine.
While a world without Google Search seems unimaginable, this incident gives pause for thought about how closing the platform would have affected brokers and their marketing strategies. Given that many brokers have built their online presence utilising Google Search and keyword advertising, events such as this underscore the importance of employing a diverse digital marketing strategy.
Indeed, Deena Janes, managing director of finance marketing specialist Your Client Matters, says that most brokers using a structured marketing strategy should not be relying solely on Google.
Ms Janes, who provides marketing education, products and services to the finance and associated industries, tells The Adviser: “Brokers would have multiple platforms and strategies to generate leads and connections for their business.
“As the old saying goes: ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. This still stands true.”
In fact, Ms Janes says that while she has seen brokers investing resources on Google advertisements and search engine optimisation (SEO) over the years, it is a strategy that “is very costly if not done correctly”.
“It also takes time for you to see the results. If you don’t have an expert in SEO and in your industry, you can waste a lot of money,” she says.
“We believe that there are so many more natural and organic ways of generating enough business.”
One broker who has adopted the organic approach by using multiple online platforms to build his network and attract more clients is Shore Financial broker Christian Stevens.
According to LinkedIn, he is the most viewed broker in Australia and has also set up one of the largest Facebook groups for first home buyers: First Home Buyers Australia (which had more than 8,000 members at the time of writing).
Mr Stevens, who became a full-time broker four years ago, says he largely relied on these platforms to amplify his voice in what can be a crowded market.
Speaking on The Adviser’s Elite Broker podcast, Mr Stevens says: “I’m not a big fan of the door-to-door strategy. It’s 2021. You need to have a digital strategy; you need to have an online presence or you’re kidding yourself.
“If you’re a new-to-industry broker, how do you compete against the 100 other brokers that are better than you? Social media allows you to get an audience 10 times bigger than what you could do on your own.”
Mr Stevens says he uses the platforms to provide financial literacy education, diluting complex information and posting “little snippets” so his audience can gain an understanding of topics like lender’s mortgage insurance, the HomeBuilder scheme, and how much deposit they may require to purchase a home.
He also says he uses different platforms to target a different demographic.
For example, he says that LinkedIn can be harnessed to target referral partners and build a professional online profile, while both LinkedIn and Facebook allow clients to post broker testimonials, which offer “proof behind you as a brand”, he says.
He tells The Adviser: “I worked out very early on that first home buyers are mainly on Facebook. I started a Facebook group [called] First Home Buyers Australia a couple of years ago.
“It takes care of itself. I don’t really do anything. People invite their friends to it, it grows organically at about 500 new members a month, and that’s just a continual source of leads.”
While the growth of a broker’s social media presence is important, online success is often linked with the level of audience engagement, meaning that a lack of likes and comments could be construed as a lack of engagement.
However, according to Mr Stevens, rather than focusing disproportionately on likes and comments, engagement should be measured through the number of views on the posts.
“If you were to stand on the street and hand your business card out all day, you couldn’t possibly hand it out to as many people as just doing a post on LinkedIn,” he says.
Ms Janes advises that brokers would need a “planned execution”, which would include establishing connections and creating content to succeed in these online platforms. She recommends brokers to use LinkedIn for the business-to-business channel and Facebook for the business-to-consumer channel.
“With LinkedIn, I observe that most brokers are linked with other brokers, so a generic communication approach will only end up in educating your other broker friends. So, you need to have an approach to connect with just your clients to have a greater impact on results for effort and contacts,” Ms Janes says, adding that she has seen asset finance brokers increasingly attempting to tap into this platform.
“With Facebook, you also need to work out how best to penetrate your connections on Facebook without having the additional expense of Facebook ads.”
Another digital platform brokers could use to attract clients and establish themselves as an authority on finance and providing financial literacy is through podcasts.
Brighter Finance founder Marcus Roberts launched the Sydney Property Insider podcast with buyer’s agent Michelle May around three years ago, which he says “does generate some level of activity”.
Mr Roberts says he invites guests to his podcast, including real estate agents and accountants, who discuss a range of topics from local real estate markets to the types of tax deductions available for an investment property. Topics of discussion are also often suggested by listeners, ensuring that their burning questions are answered quickly.
Explaining the impetus for launching the podcast, Mr Roberts says: “I really feel that there’s demand out there for understanding property where they can listen to someone, but not necessarily have to have the confrontation of having an interview with someone or asking questions.”
Videos on financial literacy – whether through YouTube, social media, hosted on websites or sent directly to clients – is also an increasingly effective means of positioning yourself as a trusted adviser.
EverLend broker Evelyn Clark told The Adviser last year that she started posting videos at the beginning of 2019 and has since recorded more than 50, which she posts on a weekly basis.
“It’s gotten to the stage now where my videographer and I will record for three or four hours and we will probably get between 10-15 videos out of that,” she told The Adviser in the November 2020 edition.
According to Ms Clark, she posts videos off the back of trends and customer enquiries.
She explained: “I found that a lot of people were spending time thinking about their financial position when COVID first hit – because they either suddenly found they had the time or they were realising that they could perhaps save a bit more money in lockdown. I was noticing a trend of refinancing.
“So, my first videos were really directed at refinancing and helping clients to better their financial position. I just sat down with a videographer and mapped out the types of videos I wanted to record for consumers and my clients. We did that on a Friday night and had the first two videos out on the weekend.”
She continued: “Coming out of [lockdown in Victoria], I found that people were looking at purchasing again, and so then I was doing videos about what people need to do to get their pre-approvals done now so that they would be in a position to buy when they wanted to. I think people think about pre-approval but they don’t do it until they’ve found the property they like and the auction is just days away.
Like Mr Roberts, Ms Clark also started a podcast, titled I wish I was taught that in school, where she and a buyer’s advocate discuss the three pillars of finance, property and mindset.
However, while all of these digital platforms are effective in targeting a larger audience, many brokers will receive a large volume of business from their existing clients referring to their friends and family, and from referral partners.
However, while recognising the role of referrals for brokerages, Ms Janes says that according to her research, only 5 per cent of a broker’s client base is actually referring their brokers to acquaintances, showcasing the need for brokers to implement systems to increase referrals on a consistent basis and spread their reach.
“Most people do not refer business to you without you prompting them. Every referral system above needs a different approach, strategy, resources and consistent effort. Brokers need a system to make it a seamless part of their business,” she says.
Above all, the most effective marketing strategy brokers could implement is to communicate with existing and pipeline clients via emails, SMS, phone calls and even direct mail, according to Ms Janes.
“Popping a personalised communication piece in a letter box still works, including letters, newsletters, post cards and strategic messages. Direct mail can get to more people than just your database,” she says.
Furthermore, she suggests that brokers could consider attracting new clients through these channels.
“Some brokers only communicate to settled clients, and miss out on the future business of those hanging in the background and waiting for the right time,” Ms Janes says.
“My motto has always been ‘market until they opt out or buy from you’.”
She concludes: “Don’t be scared to communicate with people. They are your future business.”