Why Digital Marketing Matters For A Commercial Real Estate Business [An Entrepreneur’s Success Story]

I didn’t realize it back in 2011 when I launched my company, but getting started was actually much easier than what came next. At the time, I had years of experience under my belt in real estate and finance, so I was uniquely positioned to form a tech disruptor, SquareFoot, to bring transparency and technology to an otherwise opaque and outdated process. My vision was clear, and the opportunity sat right there in front of me. The problem that emerged? I didn’t realize how much of a challenge it would be to attract and to recruit people to come to us to pay for our services.

The startup mentality

When you work at the bigger players in commercial real estate – and really true of all traditional industries – the business tends to flock toward you. However, when I part of a small group of people with a startup mentality, a small budget, and little brand recognition, I had to figure out how to get my name out there and to reel in the right people who we had in mind at launch. If they didn’t know they were supposed to be coming to us, we didn’t have a chance to get them to sign up.

Intent as a powerful business weapon

So I did what I often do when I have to solve a problem – I Googled it. There, online, I stared at a plethora of resources available to bring me up to speed on Marketing 101. Whether my business focused on real estate or another discipline, the rules around the basics to inbound marketing were the same: Introduce and make something people are searching for, and delight them with what they discover on your site, and you can take your company to the moon far more effectively than without the digital support.

Going digital in a traditional industry can bring a competitive advantage

I realized quickly that I had something that people would want to see, sift through, and spend time with. In that era, we saw a rise in transparency around residential listings, giving people all over the country a chance to click through and to learn about what homes were selling in their own areas and what prices those properties could command. It gave everyone a chance to become experts, for free. I suspected that if someone did something similar for commercial listings that it would be met with similar glee by the right people looking to learn more. All small business owners like me want to be more informed, not less, when making critical decisions such as which office space they’ll take on for their teams.

The successful transition to digital-first

Sure enough, I guessed right. Not only did people want to see what was available, but they’d also reach out to us when they find a space that suited them. I was able to rather seamlessly build a quality funnel to bring people to our site and then to turn over those high-intent leads to our capable brokers to go show the spaces and then to close the deals. I didn’t become an expert at all of the digital marketing by any means, but it was my willingness to acknowledge and then to address my shortcomings that helped drive clients to us, especially in the beginning. Over time, our growth and success were tied directly back to the openness I had to learn more about building and then optimizing an inbound-driven process. This was entirely new for the industry at the time.

The value of UX

As I read more about how to create a ‘sticky’ site experience for site visitors, I also recognized there was a chance to better inform the (existing, prospective) client about what to expect and also a little bit of clarity around industry jargon. We incorporated a company blog to give people more access to ideas and a quick education about the basics. In this way, I was able to take what I knew – commercial real estate – and to apply it to an area I was growing intodigital marketing. It was the fusing of those two ideas that set us apart and made us a go-to source for more than just those who wanted to visit available spaces this or next week. We invested in long-tail SEO and marketing, and I was intrigued enough to be at the forefront of those conversations with staffers in charge of executing on this strategy.

Key takeaway

For business owners setting out now for the first time to disrupt their industries, I would recommend thinking along similar lines. I recall that feeling of underwhelming by early results and overwhelm of having to invest in my own education before cranking it up a notch. However, it’s that acknowledgment and investment in myself that I tie back to the company’s taking off. Companies cannot live in a vacuum; they must meet and accommodate where the client lives and what they hope for. The best thing to keep in mind is that many traditional industries remain in the dark about the value of and the opportunity for competing with organic search as a key lever for success. SquareFoot is a new kind of commercial real estate company, but it got that way from adopting a marketing-first mentality. To achieve that, I had to become a marketer first.

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Jonathan Wasserstrum

Jonathan Wasserstrum is CEO and co-founder of SquareFoot, a personal commercial real estate assistant. Prior to business school, Wasserstrum worked in the International Capital Group at Jones Lang LaSalle where he advised foreign and domestic clients on more than $3 billion worth of transactions globally.