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Rethinking Model Home Viewings with Self-Guided, In-Person Tours

Virtual Everything

Since early March, when you know what kicked off, that’s where everyone’s been racing to get to regarding marketing, customer interaction and sales.

But now that the dust is (somewhat) settling and things are loosening up, it’s an interesting conversation to look at what’s coming next. On one hand, people are starting to head out and feel more comfortable with safe one-on-one interaction – on the other hand, plenty of folks aren’t.

This puts businesses in limbo, needing a new way to operate that works for everyone. Both buyers who are leaping at the chance to get back to normal and those whose preference is to err on the side of caution.

I discussed this topic on a recent episode of Digital. Done Right., specifically touching on a self-guided tour tool we’re rolling out in the home building industry. Here’s the gist of how the tool works and how it came about.

Expanding on Existing Technology

Virtual walkthroughs. 3-D tours. Matterport. YouTube. All these technologies predate COVID-19 and they’re all awesome, powerful tools for marketing and selling homes.

There were plenty of reasons to prefer shopping new homes from your sofa or Starbucks long before the pandemic. People are busy and virtual tours are fun, fast and efficient. By the time you account for traffic and the distance between listings, it’s easy to check out ten homes in the time it takes you to see just one in person.

Why waste your entire Saturday touring the same number of homes you can experience on your lunch break?

But as effective as the current crop of interactive tools have been, virtual tours miss the mark on several points compared to traditional in-person viewings with a sales rep.

Gaps in the Sales Process

Imagine making the decision to purchase a brand-new car without getting behind the wheel for a test drive. No way. Not even with the slickest VR goggles would you trust the virtual experience over the feeling you get sitting in the driver’s seat.

Same goes for houses.

Sure, a buyer will move forward on a house virtually if they’re relocating from thousands of miles away and don’t have a choice – but in general, it’s tough to close the sale without a physical walkthrough.

Here’s why:

  • Special features are easy to miss – part of a sales rep’s job is to point out architectural details, upgrades, quality of life features and unique design traits that may not be readily apparent to a buyer just walking through the home. From floor plan synergy to air flow, natural lighting, bonus spaces, energy efficiency and more, a new construction home is more than what you experience on the surface.
  • Questions can’t be answered in real time – virtual tours are great for allowing buyers to see the plan at their own leisure in a no-pressure environment, but the lack of two-way communication is a real problem.
  • More difficult to compare between builders – as design and layout trends tend to move somewhat uniformly across the industry, it’s harder to differentiate between builders if all your comparisons are made online. From running your fingers down a high-end countertop to experiencing the airiness of an extra-high ceiling or noticing how upscale finishes pop in real life.
The new self-guided tour tool addresses these challenges and more – all while offering many of the benefits of a virtual tour.

The Next Iteration of Awesome

The self-guided tour combines the freedom of a virtual tour with the sensory and interactive elements of a traditional showing, with social distancing as an appropriate added bonus.

The basic idea is similar to the self-guided tours you’ve taken at a big museum or historical site on vacation. With a whole lot more bells and whistles.

For starters, the tour can be accessed without needing to download an app. Removing this friction motivates buyers to try the tool out. Instead of installing an app, they only need to scan a QR code, call a phone number or type in the URL. Voila. It’s all web-based to get folks rolling right away.

Once a buyer is ready with their smartphone to tour the model, the web app provides a wide range of multimedia information based off user choice and where they are physically located inside the plan. From written text to voice over explanations to optional videos or downloadable content, the self-guided tour acts like your own personal virtual assistant, providing all the same details and flavor usually shared by the sales rep at the appropriate time.

And when they’ve got a question not covered in the tour? No problem. With the tap of a button the app calls the rep down the street at the sales center to get answers in real time.

The self-guided tour makes it possible for buyers to enjoy a fully immersive model home experience without ever setting foot in the sales center. They lock up, are notified that the tool exists and boom, they bypass the sales center and head straight to the models that interest them.

This really is a tool that solves part of the COVID-19 riddle while potentially changing the way model home tours are facilitated for years to come.

Added Benefits

  • Future appointments can be scheduled directly from the app.
  • Additional information about the community that’s usually only located in the sales center can be accessed from the app: community amenities, nearby points of interest, site plan, aerial views, etc.
  • Current move-in ready inventory can be viewed from the app.
  • Feedback/surveys taken during the tour help the sales rep provide smarter follow-up while collecting contact information to gather leads.

Data Analytics

From an automated digital perspective, builders can use the data collected by the app strategically. From monitoring which parts of the home buyers spend the most time in to tracking video views and compiling user-provided feedback, the data can lead to sweeping improvements in sales center staffing, content production, model home showing workflow and even structural design changes.

Listen to the full podcast or watch the YouTube video for a deeper look at the measurement analytics side of implementing self-guided tours.

Power Up Your Digital Marketing

Imagine you were the owner of a small winery at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. With a heavy reliance on visitors buying product from your tasting room and wine drinkers eating out at sit-down restaurants.

Ouch. It was probably a good time to uncork a bottle or two and drown your sorrows.

Or alternatively, to get creative and pivot into the digital world.

Sounds kind of crazy. A virtual wine tasting. But plenty of vineyards pulled it off.

In a recent Digital. Done Right. Podcast, we talked through this example and brainstormed how the basic principles of what made virtual wine tastings work translate to other industries. We talked about the power of pivoting in real-time and taking the leap into the digital world for businesses more traditionally associated with brick and mortar.

Leveraging Customer Relationships

Successfully creating an online alternative for an in-person experience starts with harnessing your database. The people most likely to give your virtual experience a chance are those who already love your brand.

From there, it’s all about finding a way to build on that relationship through a genuinely interactive event.

The thing is, online experiences don’t have to be complicated and hard. Users aren’t expecting Hollywood level production quality which means very little barrier to entry. Plenty of successful digital events are filmed with a smartphone and hosted on Facebook Live.

What is important is the connection – and ideally the ability to ask questions in real-time (or near real-time) with influential people or thought leaders in your industry, even if that thought leader is you!

Back to the Wine

Looking at how this worked for the wineries, it is simple. Get someone trustworthy to taste and talk about your wine, make recommendations, and answer questions. Voila! This sort of third-party testimonial can be an immensely powerful replacement for a personal tasting.

Set up a subscription service and lay out a full calendar of virtual events customers can participate in. And really, you can rethink and repackage the subscription model strategy here to be less gated. To allow people with smaller commitments access to the content. Try limited-time free offers or the option to sign up for individual events.

Get creative. Tons of small businesses are coming up with incredible stuff and with consumers hungry for normality and influencers potentially low on work, it’s a great time to get decent talent involved for less money than you might think.

What About the Video

We already know that consumers love video – but here are a few basic guidelines for sketching out the type of content that gets traction.

  • People prefer to hear from real people. Not actors. Take the new Ford Bronco videos, for example. They used the real designers and the real engineers and got them rolling with a thought-provoking Q & A.
  • Keep it conversational. Going back to production quality and scripting here, you don’t need to invest the same time into interactive video content that you would for a television commercial. Maintain a reasonable level of quality but focus more on engaging the audience.
  • Showcase your personality and humanize your brand. Don’t be afraid to let the people in your videos be themselves.
  • Stimulate a two-way dialogue. Even if this means users drop questions into the comments section and you answer them later.

Interactive Content

This leads us into the power of interactive content and the ability to expand the digital experience beyond scheduled virtual events.

As more brands jump into interactive content, more ways are becoming available for consumers to interact directly with advertisements. This could be quizzes, checklists, augmented reality ads, 360-degree videos or chatbots embedded within the ad.

Chatbots are a fun way for users to engage with ads and they create a more personal experience that ties into higher conversion rates after clicking through to the website.

Pivot Now, But Not Too Far

COVID-19 threw things into overdrive a bit here but realistically, most companies are going to want to flesh out a more robust digital strategy as consumers get more used to these types of interactions.

But for businesses sitting at square one, the thought of embracing all this new technology can be daunting. Particularly when some of what’s available looks cool but may not be viable in terms of generating sales or boosting revenue. Stuff like voice, augmented reality and virtual reality, for example.

Where do you start and how far do you go?

Well, you start at the beginning. And you go as far as your testing takes you.

Your digital strategy doesn’t need to dive straight to strapping your customers into VR headsets and firing your entire customer service team to replace them with online chat. Basic tech like surveys and polls can engage your customers. Video content takes it further. Interactive virtual events build on this. And so on.

It’s OK to take baby steps as long as you’re taking steps.

I recommend carving out 15% of your marketing budget to try new things. Not to dabble and give up straight away but to really give new ideas a go. It can take months or longer to figure out what’s working for you, so set a budget and let trials run their course.

Help is Available

A lack of understanding for how to lay out a digital roadmap might seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. It might even be cheaper to invest in an expert right now. There are plenty of digital arts and digital agencies hungry for business and they can help you build out your digital asset library.

More importantly, you can work together with someone who has done this before to think through the entire digital experience you’re hoping to achieve from start to finish.

The most important thing is to just get started. Growing your business didn’t happen overnight and implementing a robust digital strategy won’t, either. But you are better to pivot now and get the ball rolling rather than waiting six months and still find yourself sitting at square one.