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The mysterious case of the phantom ad


On his latest tour of new developments


KEITH OSBORNE, features editor of whathouse.co.uk, discovers that buyers are imagining things.


Chatting to the head of PR at a major housebuilder, she told me an interesting anecdote about a customer survey that her company had recently conducted. They asked buyers to identify where it was they


first heard about the development they had just purchased at. From the array of media they were able to choose from, around 30 per cent said they’d first seen it on a television advertisement. It’s an interesting statistic, not least because


the housebuilder in question has not broadcast a television campaign of any sort for many years. At a time when many sales and marketing departments are struggling with static or dwindling budgets, they are looking at ways to maximise the effectiveness of their spend and what better way to do so than ask the customers themselves what it was that first ‘drove’ them to the site? I can imagine a certain amount of despair from


the marketeers on seeing this result. Having taken the time, trouble and expense to survey their customers and to try to understand their buying habits, the most startling lesson they’ve learnt from the experience is that one third of their purchasers were spurred on to buy their new home by an imaginary advertising campaign. Perhaps the housebuilder has a department of “men who stare at goats”, telepathically delivering this hallucinatory message to the unsuspecting house buying public. ‘Black Ops’ in the UK new homes industry? But fantasy aside, it’s clear from that survey


that 30 per cent of the respondents gave a completely misleading answer to the question they were asked. Unwittingly, I’m sure, but it does make you wonder what they were seeing in their mind’s eye to convince themselves about a non- existent advert and somewhat skews the usefulness of the survey. Understanding the buying process has become increasingly essential to housebuilders, as marketing departments squeeze more and more value from their limited budget. It must have


Promotion by video. Two Houses, Poole, by Banner Homes


been exasperating to find that such a significant number of customers can get things so obviously wrong about their own behaviour. Though imagining an advert is perhaps a bit on


the extreme side, it is a bit tricky to determine just one reason for buying, or the first time you saw something. Often by the time you come round to purchase, particularly an expensive item, it’s become so familiar to you that the initial contact with it can be hard to pinpoint. I haven’t bought a home for 17 years – very remiss of me, I know – but when I decided to join the 21st century a few months ago and buy my first MP3 player, while I probably did see the product for the first time on TV many moons ago (not an imaginary campaign – I’ve checked), ultimately my decision was based on word-of- mouth recommendation and internet research. In the end I nominated “recommendation” as


my main source of information on the customer survey but I would also say that in the absence of many friends using a different brand, the research I did on the internet into equivalent products and price was what clinched the decision to part with my money on that particular product. Like many others I suspect, I appreciate that I


can do my research in my own time, from as many sources as I like, without feeling pressurised to buy. Other recent evidence highlights the


significance of the internet in the initial stages of property purchase. Statistics from MyHomeLife revealed that 88 per cent of homebuyers and renters use the internet as their first port of call in their search for information. While a TV advert may have some visual impact, there’s only so much information that it can impart and for many consumers, the next natural step is to fire up the PC and check out the product’s website, or review sites. At whathouse.co.uk we’ve found more and more housebuilders making use of video presentations to demonstrate their developments. Redrow.TV was arguably the first example of a housebuilder really buying into video in a big way, but others have followed, including Banner Homes, who are marketing a number of their high-end schemes with professionally produced video footage. Perhaps the conclusion from that customer survey is that housebuyers really want to see a TV or other audiovisual advert for the homes they want to buy, and if they don’t see one, they’ll just imagine they have anyway. Any other housebuilders out there with strange, or revelatory, responses to their own customer surveys? Are they a useful tool for moulding future marketing policy, or simply a way of determining how unreliable the average punter’s memory is? Keith Osborne can be contacted at ko@whathouse.co.uk


sh showhouse July 2011 | 15


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