OnTheMarket.com Marketing Opinion

Oct 13, 2014

Opinion blog from Stephen Jury, head of marketing for Emoov.

I wanted to blog about this topic to share my view, as a marketer. I have not worked in the property market for long and my views are from a marketing standpoint.

Agents Mutual are a collective of estate agents launching a property portal to take on Zoopla and Rightmove. In short it is just a device to reduce costs and increase revenue for the UK largest estate agents.

In my previous role I worked at Motors.co.uk for 4 years and they are the automotive version of Zoopla. We had the task of developing a strategy to take on the mighty AutoTrader within the classified market. In 2014 this has really taken off with the Carfuffle TV advertising campaign which was launched on the back of a number of product innovations.

I mention my previous role as I ran a number of consumer research projects for Motors.co.uk and the insight lends itself to the Agents Mutual debate.

Like within the property market, car dealers have also seen large price rises over recent years by Autotrader and have tried to launch a number of sites to counter this. Trusted Dealers is the automotive version of Agents Mutual. It is owned and ran by the largest car dealers in the UK. It’s an ok website but nothing unique about it and little or no marketing spend to grow awareness.

Car dealers have been forced to align their marketing budgets with large digital players which spend millions on brand building and traffic acquisition. 60% of traffic to Autotrader is direct or via a brand search on google. Car shoppers go this site as the number one source for buying a car, not their local dealer. I’m really happy with my marketing work at Motors.co.uk and their continued product and marketing innovation which will mean a better choice for the consumer (and advertising car dealers).

As you can see, automotive and property are very similar in regards to the power shift to online portal websites.

My biggest issue with Agents Mutual is the fact that they are giving consumers a worse experience for their “partners” gain. Their sales ploy is to force estate agents to stop advertising on either Zoopla or Rightmove. I’m sure the AM team are very happy with this as a sales tactic but if you really think about it, how is this helping UK property sellers?

I’m selling my property right now and if my agent wouldn’t have advertised on both Zoopla AND Rightmove, then I wouldn’t have selected this agent to sell my property. Zoopla have done a fantastic job of growing their business and brand awareness over the past 4 years. I really admire what they have done and there wasn’t a meeting I went to at Motors during 2013 which we didn’t mention their consumer strategy. Rightmove have an awesome brand and I absolutely love their focus on mobile UX over the past 18 months. Their mobile and tablet app is one of the most frequent apps I use each week.

I have never visited an estate agent to buy or sell a property nor have I ever used their website to search for a local property. I found my two previous properties via FindAProperty (Acquired by Zoopla during their merger) and I have used Rightmove to find the property I am currently in the process to buy.

During the strategy for the recent Carfuffle campaign for Motors.co.uk, I spent a lot of time with consumers asking them about how and why they use portals. Less than 10% of consumers know how portals make their money and very few consumers know the prices paid to advertise on these websites. The biggest thing for me during all the research I have conducted, consumers really don’t care. They want the best product, best websites, best UX, best advertising, a trusted brand and the best amount of inventory.

I think it is criminal that estate agents do not value the work Rightmove and Zoopla have done in building what are some of the best property products in the world. To just drop one of them just to have a stick to beat them with on rates, is just wrong.

If an estate agent really is customer focused and wants to give the best marketing to their customers, how can they justify not being on Zoopla AND Rightmove?

With regards to the 6,7 or 8 million pound figure mentioned about the Agents Mutual marketing budget. This is not enough to grow a brand to compete with Zoopla or Rightmove. Rest assured Motors is spending over this in 2014, Rightmove and Zoopla are also likely to overspend in H1 of 2015. Even without TV budgets, how long have the portals spent building SEO to rank on google on pretty much every town and street in the UK? Yes AM might have a good SEO agency with previous property classified experience, but even they will tell you it’s going to be a hard slog to rank within the next 6 months.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same applies to Agents Mutual. I’m sure they will come out fighting in January, but how many consumers are really going to hang about in say March if their property hasn’t been sold by their agent. Questions will be asked I’m sure and any agent not on Zoopla or Rightmove will have to justify this to their customers. As I said before, go tell your customers that you cannot afford to list their property on Zoopla or Rightmove as your rates are too high. In that same discussion tell them you are going to charge them thousands of pounds to help them sell their property. I’m pretty sure what most consumers will think here.

It’s not just about spending power and TV adverts. The marketing director of Zoopla recently said at their digital conference “Don’t under estimate how much it costs to grow a truly valued brand”.

I couldn’t agree more.”