Mobile, or cell phone, advertising is still in its infancy. Good things are just starting to happen and bigger things are definitely coming. While homebuilders have always been a bit slower to adopt new technology, mobile marketing is shaping up to be a good fit, and one worth experimenting with now.
The cell phone has evolved from a device we thought we originally needed “for emergency only” to one that causes a panic attack if we leave the driveway without it. Today’s breed of cell phone, often referred to as “smart phones”, can still communicate with simple phone calls, but also include text messaging, picture and video messaging, instant messaging, email, and internet access. They’re used to store passwords, calendars, notes, to-do items, music, television shows, movies, and more. For many users, worrying about going over the plan’s minutes has been replaced with dreading the data charges from accessing the Internet. Many cell phone users are switching over to unlimited data plans so they can access the Internet without worrying about those sky-high bills.
So how much does mobile traffic really impact the web? Consider that Google recorded its largest spike ever in traffic to its mobile site on Christmas day of 2007, when everyone opened their new iPhone and went straight to Google.com. The iPhone’s approach to mobile access has changed what consumers expect. The phone does a spectacular job of displaying full size web sites, instead of the rough view most other smart phones have, and it offers hundreds of downloadable applications that access the Internet seamlessly in the background. If you still think the mobile Internet space is not that big of a deal, consider that Google is entering the arena in a big way with a cell phone operating system called Android. Android will not be a hardware product, but a free software platform for cell phone manufacturers to pre-install on their phones. The first cell phones running Android are expected to be available by the end of the year. Android will offer built-in seamless internet accessibility and a huge network of programmers who’ve already been busy developing applications to run on the new Android powered phones. And because it’s Google, they’ve got the largest advertising network on the planet built right into it.
So what does all of this mean to homebuilders? The power of mobile platforms is that they are… well… mobile. They travel with the user on the way to their destination. The industry has always focused on location when describing the value of the new home. What better way to reach and follow prospects than in a locally relevant method? Today, there’s a free iPhone application that searches and maps available homes on the market. It’s a bit limited, but it’s the first of its kind… just give it time.
Soon will come the day when a user can seamlessly jump from a new home search website on their desktop, carry that search to their mobile device (or start there), and then leave the house with automated directions on how to reach each sales center. Along the way, they’ll be prompted when they’re passing the local schools, shopping centers, and other communities that meet their search criteria. They will be able to choose the communities they’re interested in and have a voice-prompted guided tour of the areas, attractions, and places they’ve marked as important.
What about that prospect that hasn’t returned your phone calls for a month. Wouldn’t it be great to have a message pop-up on their phone when they’re within a mile or two of your sales center reminding them to stop in and pick up their free gift? This and the previous solution are not available today, but I’m positive someone’s working on them.
So if the really cool technology is still coming, why bother getting involved now?
Consider the builders who are just today embracing the Internet. I would expect everyone to agree that they’re behind the curve. They’re not in a place that makes it impossible for them to catch up, but their competitors are definitely taking business from them. The builders that embraced the Internet early on have been reaping the benefits of their experience and market position for some time, and still are today.
The same holds true for mobile. Builders who recognize the power of the mobile medium today will be a step ahead of their competitors tomorrow. Wouldn’t you like to have experience that your competitors do not have? Wouldn’t it be comforting to know your competitors are just now making the mistakes that you learned from years ago?
As with every marketing effort, you need to know your audience. I don’t expect mobile marketing would have the best penetration for an active adult market. If, however, you’re selling an urban project to young professionals, you’d be crazy not to have some mobile initiative.
There are good mobile options available today… mobile websites, text messaging, among a few others. Starting to experiment with applicable buyer profiles is just smart business. That experience will give you the wisdom and confidence to leap in big with both feet when the right opportunity appears.