The New Role of Digital in the Property Journey

This expert panel discussion during Adfenix Real Conf. 2021 reveals valuable insight on how real estate has evolved in the last decade.

Rikard Jonsson
Rikard Jonsson
December 16, 2021
5 min read
The New Role of Digital in the Property Journey

Table of content

Real Insights Article Series
This is an ongoing series of articles that cover the topics and insights shared during the three-day Real Conf 2021 hosted by Adfenix. The following article summarizes the panel discussion on Day 3 Session 2 of the conference. The panel includes: 

Cathy Harrington, who is Vice President of Marketing at Lyon Real Estate and based in California; Zane Burnett, who is in San Diego county and current Chief Digital Officer of luxury boutique firm Willis Allen Real Estate; Sydney Perry who is Director of Digital Content with the Corcoran Group; and Julie Kozich, Executive Vice President for Dilbeck Real Estate in southern California. 

Our panel members have almost a hundred years of experience put together, providing digital solutions to agencies and brokerages and equipping agents to meet their business goals in a modern world. Their discussion today will share valuable insight on: How has the real estate industry changed in the last decade?


The New Role of Digital in the Property Journey
Cathy Harrington from Lyon Real Estate shares that traditionally, agents were doing print advertising in order to reach consumers, spending monumental amounts of money with very little return, and no ability to measure that return. Now consumers are, in many ways, more sophisticated than the agents they work with, and fully able to ask a host of questions regarding their property. Consumers, especially millennials, are spending tremendous amounts of time online, and they want measurable results. Today’s brokers and agents therefore are needing to work really hard to meet these new demands. 

Are these new consumer behaviours a direct effect of digital development?
The answer is a resounding yes. Before digital, results of marketing efforts were not measurable. Today, with AI targeting, for example, every action taken by a consumer is tracked online - their preferences, desires, clicks etc - and brokers can collect all of that data for analysis. In terms of property marketing, it’s a positive development, and it is also the reason why consumers expect so much from industry professionals. 

What has been surprising about these developments in the last decade?
In terms of property marketing, what has been surprising is the way in which all that data is being used and marketed. Every consumer action, the places they go, the songs they listen to, the movies they watch - it is all being served back to them somehow, based on their behavior. This can be promising for marketing, but also invasive and therefore a surprising development for consumers today. 

Is the real-estate industry in the forefront when it comes to digital developments?
Sydney Perry from the Corcoran Group believes that real estate is one of the more unique industries; the whole reason why consumers would work with a potential agent is because they connect with them personally, and these digital developments include brands and agencies becoming more humanised, personal and more authentic. Marketing efforts and digital marketing are no longer just about data and advertisement, but about customizing buyer and the customer experience, making that authentic connection with users and generating more business. 

In the past, this was a more difficult process because of a lack of information to utilize, but now, with larger social media platforms changing some of their rules, we see more difficulties in terms of targeting. That being said, it is now easier for brands to be more personal, as they can now have a better understanding and grasp of who their clients and potential audiences are. This in turn enables them to provide enhanced user experiences and more fluid, genuine interactions. 

What is the most common mistake when trying to adapt to these changes?
The most common mistake, Sydney shares, would be to not take the time to understand who your audience or potential clients are, and understand what their genuine needs and concerns are throughout the buying process. Sydney speaks on how the Corcoran Group emphasizes utilizing agents as great pools of information in order to help them better understand audience needs. Not understanding or fulfilling those needs would be a huge missed opportunity in terms of generating business. 

Zane Burnett of Willis Allen Real Estate agrees, adding that we are living in a time where we’re having to bifurcate between digital natives and non, and for that reason, personalization can be a bit more difficult. On top of that, there are differences region to region, and messages can hit home differently. Messaging in the Hamptons can differ from messaging in Florida, and all that speaks to the same idea of personalization. That said, the real estate industry is in an exciting position filled with new opportunities as well as challenges. We now have the ability and opportunity to create a massive dynamic in terms of who’s receiving it, while the challenge is to identify what message will reverberate the most. 

Do these developments require a different set of staffing entirely, or new knowledge? And how does the industry meet those demands?
Real estate is a professional services industry, not a product one, and it too has been caught up in the world’s rapid desire to want to stay relevant in the digital landscape. While this has meant hiring and training staff well-versed in this area, Zane believes it is also important to be able to pick the right partners when it comes to providing those products that can enable you to have the reach and efficacy in that digital landscape. 

Julie from Dilbeck Real Estate says we must also remember to look at the more human side of it all, because for the first time, we have an eclectic mix of young, digital, tech-savvy members of society, as well as an older group that has delved into digital but are not quite as invested as millennials and Gen Z. And yet real estate has been slow to adapt to changes that should have happened years ago in the industry. Personalization, transparency, ease of use - these are the biggest things in people’s lives today, and are even more applicable and relevant when it comes to homeownership, a significant event in a person’s life and an investment to their future. Digital has opened up incredible new opportunities for the industry to help personalize and magnify these events in people’s lives, and technology plays a huge role in that. 

Is a digital transformation necessary in every target group?
In short, no, because, according to Cathy, we have to ‘reach consumers where they are’. Millennials and Gen Z expect measurable data and brands to meet them where they are. However, many baby boomers are not even going to see these digital acts. Likewise, many agents are tech-savvy; some are not. The duty of the brokerage firm is to help all agents meet the needs of their consumers, no matter what social strata they come from, no matter how tech-savvy they are, and no matter how unfamiliar agents are with the digital landscape. 

Zane adds the old adage, ‘you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time’, speaking to the balancing act that agencies need to play when it comes to the needs and desires of both agents and customers, because agents are their customers too. 

What does the future look like in terms of this development? 

  • Julie shares insight on the strides that have been made within the property industry. While everyone can look for homes on their search engines, at the end of the day, customers will need agents with true understanding of the local markets to really guide them down the process, not only regarding pricing, but what’s happening in the area, speaking to the lifestyle and future hopes that that consumer may have. And on the flipside, the last five years alone have seen many more agents adapting to and embracing these changes, eager to learn and grow.   
  • Sydney predicts that over the next five years, brokerages are going to shift more of their focus into educating their agents so they can better serve their clients, even if it means an increased migration from print to digital, because the next generation of buyers is going to be increasing with those tech-savvy digital natives first.
  • Cathy adds that over the next five years, their role as the broker is to always be on top of what the consumer’s needs are, to help agents digest it, and help them partner with the best companies that can help them meet the needs of today’s consumers, whatever they may be. For example, the importance of third-parties will be all the more significant if you’re taking brokerages with 500-1000 agents and you’re trying to help them find social media solutions that will scale. 


Key advice for the next five years: 

  • Zane believes that there will still be a place for print in the future (especially in the high-end); he advises brands to make sure that digital image is in line with whatever image is being portrayed in print collateral, print that is going out, etc to maintain brand consistency. 
  • Julie believes that technology is key, but everything needs to be integrated. No standalone or piece-meal products for real estate companies - they have to all be integrated together, easy to use for agents, because if the agents don’t use it, no matter how good the tech is, it will be a waste.  
  • For Sydney, it’s important that brands are providing content that is valuable to each buyer or consumer, no matter where they are on their journey. Content needs to be authentic, while accurately portraying brand image. It should educate, and push them one step closer to their goal, whether it’s buying, selling, or renting a home. 
  • Cathy closes the discussion by emphasizing the importance of automation, because her experience working with real-estate agents at length has proven that agents need solutions that are easy and effective. Agents also need to be able to provide great content that positions them as great storytellers in order to truly help meet the needs of their consumers.

To sum up: 

  1. Traditionally, agents invested a lot of time and money on print advertising but saw little return and no measurement ability. Now, today’s consumers are often more sophisticated than agents in terms of search capability, and they expect measurable results. 
  2. New consumer behavior trends are a direct result of digital developments; every consumer action is tracked online and served back to them in some way. 
  3. Digital developments are helping brands become more humanised, personal and authentic, attracting more consumer interaction and loyalty in unprecedented ways. 
  4. The most common mistake is agencies/agents not taking the time to understand who their audiences or potential audiences are, or their genuine needs through the buying process. 
  5. It is important to be able to pick the right partners when it comes to providing products that will enable greater reach and efficacy in the digital landscape. Finding the right third party that can automate solutions will be critical for agents moving forward. 
  6. The goal is to help all agents meet the needs of their consumers, no matter their social strata or level of digital-savviness. 
  7. Balancing storytelling, automation, and marketing, (both digital and print) will continue to be important for agents. 


Real Conf 2021 is a three-day virtual event exploring ways that agencies and brokerages can leverage the power of digital to increase business opportunities, elevate the brand, and empower agents to deliver success. The conference features hundreds of invaluable insight from keynote speakers, panel discussions and case studies from experts in the field. 

All 15 sessions with 25 speakers are now available to stream on-demand. 

Gain full access to the stream and watch the sessions in their entirety by signing up here: https://www.adfenix.com/real-conf 

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