The Last Minute And The Last Mile

I don't think anyone doubts that the intersection of mobile phones, GPS positioning and the real estate/rental markets will be a big winner for somebody. As I peruse some of the available options in downloadable iPhone apps, the possibilities seem endless to me.

On the property sales side, the Zillow app still blows me away with its immediate access to detailed pricing estimates and sales histories for the house you are standing in front of this second. As my partner and I consolidate houses and prepare to sell one, having a resource like this at hand-changes the game. We walk in front of houses for sale and no longer wonder what they want for it. "Google it," she says. She is adorable. Everything on my phone is a "Google" to her. If information is power, then immediate information is power squared.

On the apartment-hunting side, I sure wish I had gad apps like the ones from Apartments.com and ApartmentGuide when I was getting divorced years ago. In that mad rush to find a place that was suitable for me, my daughter and an expanding home office of gadgetry, I ended up in a borderline dive because I just didn't know the nearby alternatives. "Dad, I can smell the neighbor's cigarette smoke coming up through my floor," my daughter would complain. I could have told her to open the window -- but then she would have been treated to the late-night profanity coming from a parking lot that always seemed suspiciously active at 3 a.m.

Popping open Primedia's ApartmentGuide app now shows me that there were a number of nicer complexes available in the area. According to Charles Stubbs, CEO of Primedia, the app has been downloaded 300,000 times since it was launched ten months ago. Its appearance in an Apple iPhone TV spot helped fuel the traffic, and in a recent program update 85,000 of those downloaders updated the app immediately. Comparatively, the Android version of the app attracted 4,000 downloads, although Primedia says it is seeing especially strong retention on that platform.

The early learnings suggest a ton of cross-marketing possibilities from these listings services on mobile, even if few of the providers are close to embracing them. According to David Quinlan, director of innovation at Primedia, 60% of the conversions on the apartment complex listings on this platform are coming through a direct click-to-call link as opposed to an email message. The Web-based ApartmentGuide.com sees much of its traffic early in the week when people are planning their apartment hunting jaunts. "On the app we tend to see the activity closer to the weekend," says Quinlan. "It t is a device that is on them and they check at the last minute."

It is this last-minute and last-mile opportunity that seems to me ripe with possibilities for cross-marketing and for added services. Both ApartmentGuide and Apartments.com apps are fairly similar right now. They work with the complexes in the area to gather qualified leads. I don't know what Apartments.com does with its mobile sales, but Stubbs tells me for now mobile is a value-add: "We sell a bundled solution to generate leads by call or email from potential tenants. It is a value-add to incentivize and reward customers. [It shows them] we are innovative and can place their content in front of consumers on multiple devices and from different access points of content."

And I would argue that mobile puts clients in front of tenant swhen they are also in a very different situation and mindset from their research mode on the Web. The listings, details, map, images and contact capabilities of the current apartment-hunting apps are fine as openers. But as an apartment hunter I know that I had a range of common questions I was asking at the moment I was touring a place, and I likely was not going to remember or care to research them when I got back to my desktop. Where are the schools, shopping, parks? What are the traffic patterns? Crime rates relative to other areas? Where is the nearest Starbucks, anyway? Right now I see these apartment guides doing a fine job of serving their clients, but I think there is still a lot of room to serve the consumer and differentiate the apps.

Some of this goes back to what GPS adds to the marketing mix. If an application knows I am not at home and I'm obviously hunting for an apartment, it can make some presumptions about my current and near-future behavior. Suddenly I become a massively qualified lead for a range of relocation products and information that some real estate sites have been leveraging online for years. On mobile, of course you get the consumer at a heightened moment of need. You are at the last mile and at the last moment.

For lack of a better phrase, I keep using the term situational awareness to describe the unique mobile marketing opportunities I see in markets like real estate. If we know the when and where attached to a user within a vertical category like apartment-hunting, then we can attach a mindset to that user and a set of immediate needs. Then you are marketing not just to demographics or even generalized behaviors; you are marketing one-to-one and in the place and in the moment. In ways I am not sure we can imagine fully yet, that converged set of parameters has to change everything.

Tags: mobile
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3 comments about "The Last Minute And The Last Mile".
  1. Gerard Mclean from Rivershark, Inc. , July 23, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    Steve,

    How do you get away with saying things like "She is adorable. Everything on my phone is a 'Google' to her."??
    This is the voice you should only hear in your head!!

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost , July 23, 2009 at 12:50 p.m.

    Gerard.

    A. I haven't gotten away with it yet. She hasn't read it. If you don't see a column by me Tuesday, you will know the answer to your own question.

    B. Lucky for me she is a college professor (in comp sci, no less), and she wears her ignorance of cell phones proudly. She partakes in the joke. Or at least that is what I keep telling myself. ;-)

  3. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC , July 23, 2009 at 4:34 p.m.

    :( - I agree with Gerard, Steve. Let that lunatic stay in your head!