We are pleased to announce the availability of the Riskin Associates mobile application. Based in Montecito, CA, Riskin Associates has been the top selling Santa Barbara real estate team for the past decade. The award-winning team lists some of the most coveted estates on the south Santa Barbara coast. We were engaged by them to create a mobile application that would add to the services they provide their buying and selling clients that have made them a market leader.
Goals and Approach
For the design of the application, we took queues from the Village Properties mobile website we developed since the Riskin Associates team is part of the brokerage. We decided to keep the overall flow of the application intact, but the branding, content and functionality needed customized for Riskin Associates. We wanted to accomplish a number of goals with the modified design:
- Produce a clean, elegant design that conveys the elegance and luxury of the properties they represent
- Provide a vehicle for them to highlight and market their distinctive properties
- Incorporate visual imagery that reflects the unique nature and beauty of their listings and the surrounding area
- Create a finished product that would further differentiate their brand and set them apart as a leader in the market
Key features of the application
In order to develop the key features of the application, we evaluated their online presence which uses vivid photos and imagery to highlight their property listings. We wanted to provide a similar visual experience on mobile and give Riskin Associates the flexibility to highlight the different properties they represent. In addition to the essential features such as property search (both by location and by criteria), methods to contact the team, and an about us section, we incorporated the following:
- A vivid home page focused on a full width image that can be dynamically changed by Riskin Associates
- A featured listing section that allows them to highlight the properties they represent – each listing is its own interactive photo gallery that can be compiled and controlled by the Riskin Associates marketing team
- Links to custom content created by the marketing team such as property brochures that are hosted through Calaméo
You can access the application via any iPhone or Android device by opening the browser (or Safari) on your phone and going to www.montecito-realestate.com. You will be automatically redirected to the mobile application where you can learn more about the Riskin Associates team and explore their featured listings.
Raising the bar for service and performance
It was a pleasure working with the Riskin Associates team on the development of their mobile application. The energy and enthusiasm they brought to the project is evident in the finished product. It is a reflection of the time and personal attention that they give each of their clients. It shows in all aspects of their business, particularly in the level of service they provide their clients and the attention-to-detail they put into their marketing materials. With the availability of their mobile application, they have another tool that reinforces this high level of service, whether it is used for marketing properties or helping prospective buyers identify properties to purchase.
The Riskin Associates mobile application is another example of how leading brokerages and agent teams are embracing mobile to raise the bar on the services the provide their clients, differentiate themselves in the market, and further reinforce their leadership position in the market
QR codes are another way to connect to clients and prospects through their mobile phones. Once you understand what one is, you’ll notice that they seem to be everywhere – product packaging, flyers, magazines, billboards, even t-shirts! In fact, on just about any print or display ad you’ll see a QR code. It’s a convenient way for people to get more information about something without having to do a lot of typing on their phone.
Before I describe what QR codes are and how to effectively use them in real estate, I want to emphasize that QR codes are not the end-all, be-all for mobile marketing, nor are they some silver bullet that will make your business take off. In fact, I consider QR codes to be a form of gimmick marketing as awareness among consumers remains low. However, if you can attract one additional client or close one more transaction this year by using them, they will be worth the investment.
To help you get the most out of QR codes, I will cover the following:
- What is a QR code?
- Tips and best practices
- Use cases for real estate
What is a QR code?
QR codes (short for Quick Response codes) are two dimensional bar codes that look like the inkblot images you’d find in a psychiatrist’s office. They are an encoded representation of the text that is contained within them, so the number of possible codes is effectively endless. As I mentioned above, they’re a bit of a marketing gimmick, but when used properly, they can be an effective tool to engage consumers on their mobile phones.
In order to read a QR code with your phone, you have to have a QR code reader installed on your phone. Here are some of my favorite QR code readers for iPhone and Android devices:
Keep in mind that these are just my favorites. There are lots of other options out there. A Google search for “QR code readers” will turn up plenty – just make sure to select a free one. There’s no need to select a premium reader. Once you’ve installed a QR code reader, or if you already have one, try scanning the QR code to the right. It will take you to our website on your mobile phone.
Tips and best practices
QR codes are easy to generate and can be included on virtually any print or online medium. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to misuse them. When implemented poorly, QR codes won’t generate results and, even worse, can frustrate and/or alienate your clients and prospects.
Here’s a list of tips and best practices to follow when including QR codes in your marketing to give yourself the best chance of success when using them:
1. Stick to standard formats
While it may sound like a good idea, don’t use non-standard formats. Big companies like to create proprietary formats and claim their format is better than the standard. The fact of the matter is that they’re trying to lock you into their platform, software and/or ecosystem. Microsoft tried their own proprietary tag format a few years back that never really caught on and has been subsequently discontinued (see image right).
Whatever you do, don’t use proprietary formats. All QR code readers can read the standard, but it’s unlikely that a QR code reader will have support for proprietary, non-standard formats.
2. Make sure QR code destinations are mobile friendly
What do people use to scan a QR code – their mobile phone! While this may sound obvious, I’m amazed at the number of QR code destinations that are not mobile friendly.
Make sure the end result of your QR code works on a phone. For example, if you create a QR code with your contact information, make sure the information can be automatically entered into a phone’s address book. If the QR code takes someone to a website, make sure the website looks good and is usable on the small screen.
3. Minimize the characters contained in the QR code
A QR code is nothing more than a translation of information into a picture. The more information you try to put in a QR code, the denser it becomes. Why is this a problem? A QR code reader could struggle to read a dense QR code due to the quality of the mobile phone camera. In addition, a dense QR code could become corrupted during the printing and copying process. In general, the less you put into the QR code, the better off you are.
In the QR codes below, the one on the left contains a URL with tracking information, while the one on the right contains the same URL shortened using bit.ly. In other words, scanning either code will take the user to the same place. The one on the right will be easier for a QR code reader to scan and will be less susceptible to corruption through the printing and copying process.
*** Note: Use URL shorteners such as bit.ly and goo.gl judiciously. Some users may be hesitant to go to a URL that is hidden behind a shortening service. Generally speaking, you should only use a URL shortener for a QR code if you are concerned that the QR code will be too dense for reading or printing, or for measurement (see #7 below).
4. Test before deploying
Install a QR code reader on your phone and test your QR code before deployment. Make sure that you get the desired result, such as redirection to a website or downloading of contact details. Nothing can be more frustrating for a user than taking the time to read a QR code that doesn’t work. Let’s just say that it doesn’t create a good first impression.
5. Tell users what to expect when scanning
QR codes should not be used to “hide” information. In other words, if your QR code has your contact information, say that scanning the QR code will provide them with your contact details. If your QR code takes people to a website, put the website URL above or below the code so people know where it will take them, and better yet, those people without a QR code reader can simply type the URL into their browser.
Revealing the intent of your QR code will increase the chances that people will scan it. Given the amount of malware out there, I am very hesitant to scan a QR code unless I know what will happen when I scan it. It’s a dangerous world out there – better safe than sorry!
6. Match the placement with the context
click to enlarge
This tip is a bit more subtle, but make sure to put your QR code in a place that makes sense. In other words, if you’re putting a QR code on a yard sign, it should point to a place where people can get property details, not a generic website. A QR code on a property flyer should go to a place where more details, a virtual tour, or a digital brochure are available. A QR code on a business card should have your contact information. Hopefully, you’re getting the picture.
To the right is an example of a good QR code implementation. The card tells people what they can expect when they scan the code, and the website destination address is contained in the instructions.
7. Measure usage
Measurement is the key to any marketing campaign, which means you need to track your QR code marketing. One of the easiest ways to track QR code usage is through a URL shortener such as bit.ly or goo.gl. The shortened URL will not only yield a less dense QR code but also provide a way to measure the number of times it is used. I would recommend employing a different shortened URL for every medium where you place the QR code so you can see if the hits are coming from your business cards, print ads, display ads, etc.
For those who are more advanced in your website analytics, you can also add utm codes to your website links before you encode them into a QR code for better tracking. Here is a link to a short primer on utm codes and how to use them with Google Analytics to give you a few ideas. UTM codes are also a good alternative to URL shorteners since some people may be hesitant to download content through shortened URLs for security reasons (see #3 above).
8. Don’t pay for the QR code
There are plenty of free websites out there where you can generate QR codes at no cost. These codes can be saved to your computer and used in print mediums, display ads, or wherever you chose. My personal favorite is http://goqr.me, but a simple Google search for “QR code generators” will provide a long list of sites for you to explore.
Use cases for real estate
Using the tips and best practices, here are some ways you can include QR codes in your real estate business:
- Business cards
QR codes can be placed on business cards to automate entry of your contact details into someone’s address book or to direct them to your website. If you want to get really creative, link it to a YouTube video introduction of yourself.
- Yard signs (or sign riders)
Use QR codes on yard signs to direct people to property specific websites, virtual tours, or a mobile-optimized property description. Since QR codes can made into stickers, you don’t need a new yard sign or sign rider for each property. Just print a new sticker with the new QR code for the property and put it over the old one.
- Property flyers
Use QR codes on your property flyers to direct people to virtual tours, property videos, or more detailed property descriptions and brochures. You can also have a QR code link to videos of the area or market reports.
- Property mailers
When you send out a mailer for a new listing, include a QR code that links to a page with more details or a property video. If you’re feeling adventurous, create a QR code that will allow someone to text or email you directly for more details when they scan the code.
- Print ads
It can be tough to include all of the property details in a magazine or newpaper print ad, so use a QR code to direct people to a more detailed website, property description or virtual tour.
These are just five use cases that I’ve come up with, but these aren’t the only places that you could use a QR code. If you get creative, I’m sure you could come up with plenty of other use cases.
QR codes can be an effective marketing tool
Despite being considered a gimmick, QR codes can be an effective marketing tool when used properly. Just bear in mind that QR codes are only one part of a marketing plan and that I would not recommend building your strategy around them. In other words, QR codes should be one of many tools in your marketing toolbox, not the only one.
The bottom line: If you are able to complete one more transaction this year by using QR codes, it will be worth the investment given their low cost of implementation.
If you have any questions or comments regarding QR codes, feel free to ask in the comments or contact us directly. Also, feel free to share any QR code marketing success stories that you may have!
A recent blog post by 100watt’s Joel Burslem got forwarded to me recently. It was in reference to Estately’s new mobile app, which he was raving about. While some of his claims are a bit over the top (sorry, but adding events to a calendar is not a new iOS7 feature), the Estately design is well done. There was one comment he made, though, that really stood out for me:
Real estate search is moving to the handset.
He’s right, but not quite 100% right. I don’t believe that real estate search is moving to the handset, it has moved to the handset.
Why am I certain it has moved? Just take one look at the stats from Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com. They are killing it in mobile. Whether it was by accident or by design, they invested in mobile early. The rest of the industry left the door open, and the portals stepped in. They continue to invest and improve the mobile experience, partially funded by investors, and partially funded by those who pay to advertise with them.
So should brokerages give up on mobile? Should they cede that platform to the portals? I would contend they shouldn’t, that all is not lost. Brokerages still have a lot to offer over the portals. However, they need to rethink their approach to mobile and figure out how to effectively use it in their business.
I see way too many real estate companies that spend lots of money on branding initiatives, their desktop website, social media platforms, SEO, pay-per-click advertising on Google and Facebook, advertising on Zillow and Trulia, and then little or nothing on mobile. They settle for simple templated mobile sites or responsive websites that only care about screen size. Neither of these incorporate what differentiates a broker from its competition or the portals, let alone incorporating mobile features to deliver a unique experience to the user.
So how can brokerages up their game in mobile? Here are a few of my recommendations based on my experience working with our clients:
- Articulate your strategy
Before rushing into mobile, identify what your strategy is and how you plan to differentiate your company. Then look at how mobile can help you achieve those goals. In other words, don’t let mobile drive your strategy. Identify your strategy and identify how mobile can help you achieve it. In other words, start by asking why?
- Reflect your image and brand
Many companies are treating mobile as a separate entity instead of including it as part of their brand. Mobile needs to represent your brand just as well as your website, print ads, social media presence, brochures and yard signs do. Don’t treat mobile as a second class citizen. For many consumers, your mobile presence could be the first (and only) contact a user has with your company and brand.
- Engage the user
Create an experience on mobile that users will want to use and come back to. As a hint, most template sites I see these days aren’t cutting it. Consumers expect more than that from mobile. Things like strong visuals and imagery, the use of gestures, or simplicity in the user interface can create a more engaging user experience.
- Incorporate local knowledge
Brokerages are (or should be) experts in their local area. Whether it’s knowledge of neighborhoods, schools,restaurants and shopping, things to do, market trends, or preferred vendors, figure out how to incorporate these into your mobile presence in a way that provides value to your clients.
- Use context
Mobile devices are unique in that they provide information about a user that can be used to determine user context and intent. As an example, if a user loads your app while standing in front of a property for sale, what do you think they are looking for? Hint: it’s not why you’re the best company in town. The information that a user provides through their mobile device can dramatically improve the mobile experience and make it much easier for a user to get the information they want quickly and easily.
It’s time to rethink the mobile experience in real estate. As Joel states, Estately has raised the bar for everyone, and that bar is going to get raised even higher going forward. As a brokerage, it’s time to start taking mobile seriously, to invest in and take control of your mobile presence. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself funding the portals through your advertising to build ever better products. Worse yet, you may find yourself having to bid against your competition for advertising space on those same portals to purchase, or buy back, one of the most valuable items in your business – your leads.
When looking at user behavior on mobile devices, it can be simplified into an equation. On one side is the number of mobile applications available, and on the other side is the amount of time a user has. On the number of apps side of the equation, the number continues to grow on a daily basis, seemingly exponentially. On the amount of time a user has side of the equation, the number is relatively fixed and under constant downward pressure. This imbalance led to an astute observation by Waze CEO Noam Bardin when he said, in reference to how the future of mobile will play out, “the next five years will be about fighting for time with users.”
It means that developing for mobile is only an entry point for success on mobile these days. The bigger challenge is figuring out how to engage users so they will spend their most valuable commodity, their time, with you. In other words, how do you create user engagement on a mobile device?
#1: Understand why consumers would want to access your mobile presence
Taking your desktop website and stuffing it into a mobile form factor is NOT the right answer. Neither is building your mobile presence around what people do on your desktop site. Mobile is a completely different beast, and context is king. Think like your target user(s), label a few cases, and identify under what conditions, or context, a user would access your mobile presence.
#2: Identify the goals consumers want to accomplish
Once you’ve determined the conditions, the next step is to identify what they want to do. The goals can range from extremely big, like storing information about everything in the case of Evernote, to small tasks-oriented items, like finding directions and store hours in the case of a retail store. In either case, you want to make sure your users can accomplish their primary goal(s) as quickly as possible. Mobile users are looking to complete targeted tasks, which is very different from desktop users who are more likely to engage in research related, time consuming activities.
#3: Determine how users will find your mobile presence
Will users learn about your presence through word-of-mouth,online blogs and websites, social media, Google searches, voice-based searches such as Siri and Google Now, or offline print media and ads? While you may not care, it will have a huge impact on the type of mobile presence you decide to create. For example, if you expect the majority of your traffic to come from Google searches, an easy to navigate and use mobile website should be your top priority (although I would content that a well functioning mobile website should be at the top of everyone’s list, but I digress).
#4: Select a mobile presence that fits with what your users expect
For example, if I’m developing a game for mobile, users expect that it will be a native app. If I intend to use your application multiple times a day or week, I would prefer the convenience of an app. If I only need to use your presence occasionally, or just once, than I just need a usable, well-designed mobile website.
#5: Create some “magic” through the user experience
Of all these points, this one is the most difficult. The best apps create a complete user experience that embodies not only mobile but also your desktop, social media, and offline entities. They include mobile as part of their overall user experience instead of treating it as a completely separate object. Unfortunately, there aren’t any hard rules or formulas that you can apply to create a magical user experience. You have to look at your brand and your users (and/or customers), apply some creativity, and determine the design and features that will make people want to engage with your mobile presence.
In the early days of mobile, creating a mobile website or native app was enough to succeed. It isn’t anymore. The mobile space has become too crowded. You need a strategy that determines how you will engage the user and win the on-going battle that is the competition for their time.
In addition to the debate between responsive web design (RWD) and dedicated mobile websites, which I discussed last week, another great mobile debate is the choice between developing a mobile web application/site or a native application. As with all great debates, this is not an either/or decision. Just like the RWD versus dedicated mobile website issue, it requires analyzing the desired goals and outcomes and choosing the right tool for the job.
Why do we have native apps?
In order to understand and frame the debate, it’s important to understand how we got here by understanding why mobile apps exist.
When the original iPhone was launched in 2007, native apps were not part of the plan. The original plan was to have all third party applications run through the browser over the web. Unfortunately, there were a number of issues that developers ran into when they tried to write feature-rich, web-based mobile applications:
- Network speed
In 2007, wireless providers were still filling out their 3G footprints and improving capacity. For example, AT&T’s network went through a lot of growing pains, which I’m sure early iPhone users still painfully remember. Network limitations made access to apps difficult and had a large impact on performance.
- Web features and capabilities
Web technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3 were still in their infancy at that time and not fully baked nor supported consistently across mobile browsers. Plus, access to phone hardware and offline capability, didn’t exist or weren’t ready for prime-time.
- Access to hardware and operating system
In order to maintain security, the mobile phone and OS manufacturers closed off access to the hardware and operating system features.
- Screen sizes
Native apps were the best way to make use of the small of amount of available screen real estate on those first smartphones.
So why build for the mobile web?
If native apps have these inherent advantages, why would one want to build a mobile website or mobile web application? Well, a lot of the limitations that native apps addressed have been resolved over the last five years. Carriers have upgraded their networks to be more reliable, offer better coverage, and, with LTE, provide much higher speeds. Web standards have evolved and are supported across mobile platforms, and they continue to get better every day. Some of the latest advancements in the standards are providing developers with better access to hardware features such as the camera, accelerator and gyroscope, and graphics capabilities. Screens have also evolved, and while screen real estate is still at a premium in mobile, the average screen size has grown over an inch from 3.5″ to close to 5″ with high definition resolutions of up to 1080p on some models.
With these limitations solved, there are some inherent advantages that the mobile web has over native applications:
Instead of having to sift through the native app stores, discovering a mobile website or application can be done using standard web searches, which consumers are very familiar with. Common SEO techniques and practices can be used to make sure your mobile web presence ranks properly, and you aren’t subjected to the promotion practices and policies of the controlled and curated app stores. In addition, as more people use Siri, Google Now, and other voice search systems, which are geared toward crawling the web, there’s a better chance that someone will find your mobile web presence through a voice search.
- APIs and data mashups
Using web standards and open APIs, it can be easier to create richer applications by sharing data via web services and to migrate between devices and platforms. Native applications, on the other hand, are more likely to store data locally, which makes it harder to interact with other services and to upgrade or change between devices and platforms, creating a lock-in effect for the end user.
- Cost and efficiency
Since HTML5 is well supported across mobile browsers, mobile web solutions can be built once and immediately distributed across all platforms – iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. There is no need to go through the cost of developing for each mobile platform or of waiting for the approval of each app store. Also, if new platforms emerge, such as FireFox OS or Ubuntu, there’s a much better chance that your application will be available on these platforms with little or no change required.
So does the general public care?
The answer is no. The user really doesn’t care whether the app is web or native. They just want to access information or complete their task in the most efficient way possible. The people who care most about the mobile web versus native debate are the hardware/software manufacturers and developers, each of which have a vested interest in the discussion. Therefore, depending on what is best for their well being, that is the side that they are likely to push.
How should you decide what to do?
To get you started, I would suggest looking at the four primary activities that people perform online as outlined in a 2012 Pew Research Report:
- Accessing information
If the primary goal of your mobile presence is information access, then a web-based strategy works best. The primary reason is for discovery and updating. You’ll want to make sure that people can easily find and access your latest and greatest content without having to worry about it being buried in an app store.
If your site is geared toward learning, I would recommend a mobile web first strategy since it will be the easiest way for people to find and access your information. However, if you’re doing a lot of static course-based material, such as a university course, a native app may allow you to create a more specific, richer learning interface using a dedicated piece of hardware, such as a tablet.
Typically, this will be better in a native app interface because you can get deeper access to the hardware and operating system to better utilize the graphics, video and audio capabilities of the device. It will also be easier to monetize your entertainment or gaming app through the app store than it will be over the web since users are generally conditioned to pay for this type of content. However, for simpler projects where monetization is not important, a web-based approach may work better.
- Content Creation
For creating content, I’d recommend a native app. Again, there may be some web-based tools, but content creation can be very challenging on a mobile device. Therefore, it is recommended that you develop a native app that makes usage of the guidelines and input methods of the operating system and the hardware.
Overall, the best advice I can give is to determine why users want to access your content on a mobile device, what actions or goals the user wants to accomplish, and what goals and outcomes you want to achieve from your mobile presence (visits, leads, sales, etc). Then decide which platform, web or native, works best.
The simplest answer to the web versus native debate is that you should always start out designing for the mobile web, since you have control over that presence and it is where the majority of people will start their search. Then you can evaluate whether a native app will help you to further achieve your mobile goals.
However, there are a few exceptions to the mobile web first rule. If you fall into one of the following categories, I would suggest going native as your primary mobile presence:
- High performance gaming
HTML5 graphics capability has come a long way, but to get the best performance from your game, you’ll want direct access to a phone’s graphics hardware and any acceleration capabilities, which are more reliably accessed through a native application.
- High engagement/repetitive-task based apps
If your application is something a user will make use of everyday, or multiple times a day, then a native app is the way to go. The most compelling reason is that native applications support push notifications, even when the app isn’t running. This allows you to alert users to new messages, send them reminders, or otherwise keep them engaged.
- Enterprise applications
If you’re building a dedicated application that will be used solely by your business and its employees on a daily basis, then a native app would make the most sense. It will be easier to justify the investment in the native technology, it will provide your IT with control over the hardware, and you’ll be able to control the user experience. You will also get the benefit of being able to design a more secure application.
No matter what your specific case is, be comforted in knowing that the mobile web is not going away anytime soon, and neither are native apps. Both have there place in mobile and will continue to co-exist over the long-term. When deciding what to do, identify what your goals and desired outcomes are, and then choose the right tool for the job.
And if you need help, feel free to contact us. That’s what we’re here for!