“Social media marketing, for us is predominantly a brand initiative”

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Housing.com has redefined the real estate business and marketing has been a key ingredient to the success. In an exclusive interview with Nilotpal Chakravarti, Pratik Seal, CMO, Housing.com, talks about the way housing.com are leveraging the digital medium to ramp up further and the way forward for it.

TA: How are you ensuring that you have an integrated marketing effort?

PS: We set out with a clear marketing objective of creating a unique brand identity for Housing.com. All marketing initiatives adhere to the clear mandate of ‘Brand’ before ‘Numbers’. The Brand tonality, look & feel, messaging, guidelines unify all platforms as ‘One Brand – One Message’.

TA: How are you leveraging the digital medium to acquire customers or create an amazing customer experiences?

PS: We identified three kinds of customers for the campaign – the end consumer who’s looking to buy a house, the real estate fraternity of brokers, builders, investors etc. and the peer group which is a pool of future talent for the organization. We then chose several online platforms to reach each customer segment. LinkedIn and Twitter are ideal platforms to connect with future employees of Housing.com who range from technology enthusiasts, developers, engineers, data analysts to brands and marketing professionals. For the real estate fraternity, we adopted a targeted approach through advertisements, content in relevant sites and mobile marketing.

The focus of incorporating digital platforms into the larger campaign was to draw traffic to the website. Every approach was to draw customers to the product, provide them a great user experience and ensure they spend greater time navigating within Housing.com.

TA: Social Media Marketing and ROI are often discussed and dissected. What are your views on Social Media marketing and how do you gauge the ROI?

PS: Social media marketing, for us is predominantly a brand initiative. However, we do execute many ROI based initiatives on the platforms – leads to conversion, supply, demand, app downloads etc. As marketers, one needs to gauge how social media is adding to the brand salience and aiding our positioning. These brand initiatives may also translate into hard core numbers in terms conversion of leads into actual buys – but, the process is often slow. However, platforms like Linkedin enable you to interact and engage with the consumer right through the entire funnel of awareness, engagement, enquiry (lead), to conversion (through re-marketing).

Each social media has its own strength. Through Twitter and Instagram one can communicate on a one on one basis, and therefore, the brand can be far more specific in its tonality and more engaging. While on Facebook your message reaches a wider audience, and therefore, messaging may be more generic.

TA: As a marketer, what according to you are the key challenges for any CMO, especially for digital marketing?

PS: The rate of change in Digital marketing, I suspect, matches or exceeds Moore’s Law. Being abreast is the toughest challenge!

TA: What can be done to address the challenges?

PS: Personally, I think, spending time with the kids is the best way to keep up with the ‘Exponential Progress of Technology’.

TA: Most marketers believe that harnessing data analytics is one of the most important challenges they face. Are you also one of them and if yes, how are you dealing with the problem? Do you have in-house skills to harness data?

PS: Data analytics has been an essential pillar for Housing.com. Having recognized its importance right at the onset, we created a data analytics vertical ‘Data Sciences Lab’ even before we had a team for marketing in place. Today Housing.com has an elaborate and diverse team specifically created for three unique functions of Business, Product and Marketing analytics. The teams constantly share their findings, confirm hypothesis and measure trends, besides many other things that big (medium or small) data can deliver – the least of which is also the future marketing roadmap.

TA: Has big data completely altered the landscape for marketers?

 PS: As a predominantly digital platform, data serves as the very back bone of our business. Hence we work on data exhaustively across functions of product, business reach and marketing. I personally think big data as a term is widely used but poorly understood and utilized. It’s a nice, big jargon to throw.

But, I’m sure, it would not be a jargon for long! Another 6-12 months, it will be ‘Big’ enough.

TA: Is it true that the emergence of the digital medium has put enormous pressure on CMOs to realign their strategy? How critical it is to be on the same page with your CEO and CTO?

PS: The digital medium is a very important component of a marketing campaign now. This transition has been so quick that if you don’t jump on the wagon you miss out on tremendous opportunities for your brand hence the pressure. This is a platform that evolves so fast and one needs to invest time in learning, identifying and adopting the medium into the larger objective.

Marketing drives the CEO’s vision. One constantly hears of the CMO and CTO debate but both functions are basically working to drive a singular vision of the company. Hence, you may not necessarily be on the same page but you need to be aligned with the CEO to drive his business objectives.

TA: What are your marketing plans going forward?

PS: Housing.com has now established itself in 101 cities. OOH, Print and digital platforms formed the phase one of the campaign to establish the brand identity. As Housing has established its footprint in a wider range of cities, we are looking at television as an efficient media vehicle for creating awareness in Tier 2 and 3 cities.

TA: What is your digital advertising spends? Can you give a number to it? Has it risen over the past year and if so, by how much?   

PS: Our digital spends have risen by 35 – 40% since we adopted several tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in the first phase. We focused on improving search engine optimization, locate specific targets in terms of lead conversion and content. Housing.com’s digital marketing team comprises of bright people with expertise in marketing analytics, SEO, SMM, Brand, social etc.

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