Century 21 Enters 21st Century, Embraces Mobile

Real-estate agency Century 21 has made a huge commitment to mobile media, mainly because it has figured out that mobile is a great way of developing a younger, real estate-buying market for its services.

"Why did we do this -- clearly because there is this new home buyer," Michael Callaghan, vice president, digital and strategic marketing at Century 21, explained during an opening keynote at MediaPost's Mobile Insider Summit.

Noting that new home buyers typically are in the 25-to-40 age bracket, Callaghan said mobile media is the ideal way to both reach and enable them to interact with Century 21's services.

Interestingly, that's almost the identical point made by Chris Needham, vice president, digital, Fidelity Investments, during the panel discussion that followed Callaghan's presentation. Noting that the typical online Fidelity customer is about 65, Needham said Fidelity's mobile users are more like "40 to 45."

That, he said, sparked a major shift in Fidelity's IT spending from the Web to mobile.

The same apparently is true for Century 21, according to Callaghan, who said about 10% of the real-estate firm's budget now goes to mobile.

That makes sense, he noted, because the typical real-estate purchasing journey begins online -- and increasingly, via the mobile Web. As a result, Callaghan said Century 21 began its mobile retrofit by focusing on creating optimized mobile versions of its Web site. Regardless of which mobile device is used, Century 21's servers are able to deliver the right content to the user.

He said Century 21 currently optimizes for the four major mobile operating systems -- Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm -- but that its primary usage comes from Android and iPhone.

It took Century 21 longer than it expected to optimize its mobile Web infrastructure, Callaghan admitted, but attributed that to selecting the wrong mobile technology partner, which did not understand some of Century 21's business issues.

Once Century 21's mobile Web platform was optimized, he said the company focused on mining whatever data analytics it could, but found that mobile analytics aren't nearly as robust as state-of-the-art Web analytics. The company is still struggling to get the "same level of analytics on this platform."

That said, Callaghan noted that available data is incredibly encouraging.

"We started to see a doubling of year-over-year Google searches for real-estate content," he noted, adding that he doesn't anticipate that curve to slow down anytime soon. Moreover, he added that 89% of mobile users are using it throughout the day, and that 72% are using it in conjunction with other media.

"Our next step was to develop cross-platform real estate apps," he said, to ensure that users could load and use the apps on any device.

To date, 172,000 users have downloaded Century 21's real-estate app. The company has made promoting app downloads a part of its overall marketing program. He said that Century 21 also continues to fine-tune the functionality of its app, for example -- creating a version that enables users to access all the homes available in a market, not just those represented by Century 21 agents.

"It led to challenges, but it was something we had to overcome because consumer need was here," he said.

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