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ANTLER New Homes Podcast: In conversation with Simon Jenns, Founder and Director of ANTLER

It's a podcast takeover! What happens when ANTLER Founder and Director, Simon Jenns takes the hot seat...

Jasmine Janetzky

What was your journey into property that led you to founding ANTLER? 

Simon Jenns

I guess like most people in property, it was a complete accident. And I know I probably shouldn’t say that. It was totally intentional. I have a family history of property. My dad was an architect. My brother is very successful in commercial property investment. And so I suppose it was probably inevitable that I’d end up in property at some point. And it was a complete fluke. Like I said, you needed marketing. I really enjoyed marketing.

I went to uni because I started a business and I realised I didn’t really understand marketing. That was my decision to go to uni. And when I finished uni, I worked in corporate event management. I enjoyed sailing, spent a bit of time doing yachting and I had a choice. I got offered a job to go and work out in Vernacchi as a resort manager managing the yachts or to work with a house builder. I applied for two jobs and I got offered them both and I was in this real conundrum. I remember I was in London managing an event for Facebook and I had this decision to make.

Do I take the fun route and go and work on the super yachts or do I take the sensible route and take a job? And I thought, I’ll take the sensible route. I don’t quite know what I was thinking! And I joined a company called Bargate Homes. They were a very small house builder at that point in time. I think there were no more than 10, 15 of us when I joined. And it was very small. We were doing small developments, but a really great business to cut my teeth in. 

My kind of responsibility at Bargate was very much to grow the brand and to sell developments as quickly as possible. I joined Bargate in 2012, 2013. At that point, the market was recovering from the finance crisis. So it was a great time to kind of start that role. And I took a lot of learnings from other sectors. So I guess the benefit of me coming in out of property was that I had no preconceived idea of how properties should be marketed.

So I kind of came in fresh with a load of self-confessed ‘dinosaurs’, an amazing team, amazing management team, the brains behind Amplevine that grew into Linden and sold out and started again with Bargate. And so I kind of knew what the goal, what the journey was. I knew that at some point there would be a big sellout, which ultimately came. And my role ultimately was to build the brand and to sell properties as swiftly as possible. So I took a lot of learning from outside the space.

At that point in time, Apple was still launching iPhones and people were queuing up outside. And I thought, well, what if I could copy that? How could I recreate that in the property space? And it was just brilliant fun. I got given a whole load of freedom. I was encouraged when I cocked up. I was encouraged when I succeeded. I was praised. It was just the perfect environment to grow in. I had a very, very supportive manager, the owner of the company I worked very closely with, which was brilliant as well. 

We had some just some amazing successes. We had a development in Winchester, which we had 250 people queuing up outside for, I think it was 14 apartments, all at record breaking prices and they all sold within the launch, which was fantastic. Similar story for a development in Basingstoke. And I kind of created this approach to launching development that just seemed to click and work. And as a result, the brand organically grew quite quickly, the awareness of the brand buzz around it.  I’m not saying that everything was a great success at all. There were lots of cock-ups on the way, but that ultimately leads to learning. And in my period of time with Bargate, it was a very small team, it was me and a marketing assistant. We had small but reasonable budgets. 

We didn’t have the budgets to engage big, amazing property marketing agencies, the likes that are used today with some of the nationals. So all I could default to was smaller regional agencies ultimately. And I worked with some great agencies, but the challenge that I faced was that none of these agencies really understood the needs of an SME house builder. So what I found was that I would end up, kind of holding their hand on the journey. And rather than paying someone and getting the job, sort of delegating the job and getting it done, which was what I needed, I was ending up kind of doing the job with them, which was fun. You know, it means you get to have a whole lot of input, but it frustrated me. And we had a couple of those big agencies into pitch and we realised that we just, they weren’t for us. And then the smaller ones realised that actually, this isn’t really working. We had a few interesting incidents with some of these smaller agencies and customer experience and that kind of really hacked me off. And I thought, you know, you’re a small business. We’re a growing fish in a pond, you know, where’s the respect here, I suppose, ultimately. 

So that kind of led me to a point four or five years in, and I sat down with my boss, and it was about the time when we’d had our first child. And I think as with anyone, when they first have their child, the whole world gets thrown up in the air. I sat with my boss and I said, look, I kind of want to know what’s coming, what’s next. I feel like I’ve achieved the brief, which is growing the brand, selling things off-plan, what’s coming next. 

It was a pretty frank conversation about ultimately I’m retiring and you’re, you’re going to sort of step into my shoes. And I kind of, I suppose, hoped for that. But when he said that I had this real moment of, is that actually what I want? Is that really truly what I want to do? Do I want to grow with this business in the short, medium, long term? And is this the future career that I want? And I was pretty young, I was late twenties. And to have this opportunity in front of me was amazing. 

And for whatever reason, I turned that opportunity down and I realised that that isn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was, I always had an entrepreneurial flair, I was always starting little businesses and selling stuff (we can talk about that another time!). But what I wanted was to make my own mark. I knew I’d never be truly happy if I was an employee and I wanted to kind of grow my own business and do something to put my own stamp on it. 

So that was when I entered the world of agency and ultimately it was a really tricky conversation because ultimately his retirement plans got kind of obliterated, and there is an incredibly capable and brilliant sales marketing director now that filled that role and he’s brilliant. So they couldn’t have had a better outcome, I believe. But ultimately I went off on my own journey with their support and their backing, which was really great, into the agency world. 

And that was when ANTLER was founded. And the goal of ANTLER ultimately was to create an agency that could deliver to the needs of SME house builders. That was the kind of clear goal. So, the goal is not, and has never been, to become a sprawling great agency because that doesn’t give SMEs the service that they require. SMEs typically are smaller businesses, smaller teams, and they need the input of individuals. They don’t want a team of 10 coming in and then constant staff changes and to be at just a number, a small fish in a big pond, the goal with ANTLER is for every client to be a big fish in our very small pond. 

So I kind of firmly believe that as an agency, we’ve got a cap ultimately on how many clients that we want to take on and a cap when it comes to kind of staff count that we will hit and we won’t grow past that because, I believe that if we go past that, then we become like the bigger agencies that are better suited to the nationals. So the goal for ANTLER always is to give the best possible level of service with that core understanding of the SME market. 

We have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the property market. We are talking with clients day in, day out. We’re always coming up with little initiatives and our goal ultimately as an agency and our responsibility is to serve our SME house with the clients with new solutions, presenting them new ways of doing things, giving them ideas and thoughts. They’re not always right and they don’t always get taken up, but the ability that we have when we have that level of exposure, we’re that niche down to the space is far greater than any of our competition can offer. And I think that’s testament to our growth. We’ve been going, seven and a half years, I think now. And it’s so easy to kind of look forward and what’s next, what’s next. And rarely do I sit back and go, crikey, look what we’ve achieved! Look at our client list. Look at the some of the projects we’ve worked on. We’ve marketed billions of pounds of property. It’s a massive number. 

It’s a privilege, ultimately, to run a business like that. It’s an absolute privilege. And along the way, we have picked up some incredible individuals in our team. Jasmine, you being one of them, employee number one. And it’s an absolute privilege to lead that team. And I’m learning along the way. I managed individuals when I was at Bargate, but for me, firstly, growing a business and running a business and a team of people, it’s all been new. So I’ve kind of learned, I’ve learned as I’ve gone along and, you know, again, I’ve cocked up along the way, I’ve made some pretty bad decisions, but I think also some good decisions that have kind of led us to this place, which is now in a really quite exciting position where we now have, it takes a while to grow a brand and we now have, you know, an established brand that seems to be getting recognised. We’re doing some great things. We’ve got some really exciting projects in the pipeline to cover the whole SME market, not just with individual clients. So yeah, that’s the kind of journey to ANTLER today. And looking forward, the market is totally different to when I first entered property, you know, not just economically, but how buyers consume information, what marketing is, how it works, you know, social, digital, all that kind of stuff. 

And it’s really exciting. I think you can either sit back and think, crikey, what do we do? It’s all changed or you can look forward and that’s our goal. You know, that’s our responsibility for our clients is kind of eyes up what’s coming and innovating because for our clients, generally their eyes are down, focusing on delivering sales. 

JJ

Yeah. And obviously as your employee, number one, I can echo your words. It’s been an incredible journey. And lots of exciting things to look forward to. 

SJ

Yeah, cool. That’s good to hear. 

JJ

So Simon Hybrid brochure. It’s something that we’ve been plugging hard as a business. What is it and why should house builders care? 

SJ

As an agency, when we first started, all of our clients were printing brochures and it was just what we did. When you had a new development, you designed a brochure, went to print and the file that gets sent to print, this is pretty boring and pretty technical, but it’s a PDF file, it’s formatted in a certain way that means when it comes out to the printer, it looks great. And that’s what we’ve been doing up until COVID where we had a whole load of brochures that were designed, ready to go for print and they never went to print. 

As we all know, there was that little lull and then that absolute boom and houses sold like hotcakes like we’d never seen before. And at that point we didn’t print any of the brochures. So all of these brochures that we designed to go to print and prior to COVID clients would say to us, do we really need to print brochures? You know, aren’t we in a digital age now? And, you know, of course we were in a digital age, but what we didn’t want to do is recommend a solution and say, oh no, you don’t need to print brochures. Um, because if it all went Pete Tong, it would ultimately come back on us.

So we would, the kind of line that we would say was, well, yeah, we think you do. You know, we think the clients still want printer brochures. There is absolutely a place for these PDF brochures in digital form, but we still need to print brochures. We think that’s what the buyer wants. And obviously COVID totally proved us wrong. And we had the choice at that point. Do we either sit here and hope that housebuilders forget about this and we go back to printing brochures and short memories and all that, or do we embrace this and go, right, if digital is the route forward and buyers don’t need print, look at the solution. Because ultimately the problem that we knew existed with PDFs is when you send a PDF to a buyer, that PDF, which is a 30 year old piece of technology, firstly doesn’t work on mobile. If anyone has ever tried to view a PDF brochure that they’re sending their customers on mobile. If you try rotating your screen and zooming in and zooming out and looking at full, it’s just, it’s the worst possible customer experience, but it’s still the default for most house builders, which I find absolutely mind blowing, but that’s aside. 

So we kind of looked at this and thought, well, the inherent problem with PDF is it doesn’t work on mobile. Over 60% of traffic now is from mobile and growing. And 95% of buyers, is the stat that I read last year, undertake their property research online. So why the hell are we looking at printed brochures as the marketing solution to buy? Why aren’t we prioritising digital? And this was the conversation that we had during COVID when all the world was going crazy. No one knew what up from down was. And we thought, right, now’s the opportunity. Let’s innovate. Let’s look at what’s out there. What are the alternatives? It gave us a bit of breathing space to look at what’s working, what’s good, what’s not? What have we done previously? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

We designed plenty of microsites for clients, and there were reasons why they were good and reasons why they were bad. We had put PDFs into flip books, which for those that don’t know is effectively just a bit of software that still has all the downsides of a PDF, but just makes it look a bit nicer! So we’d had all of that knowledge as an agency, which I think was absolutely fundamental to us creating Hybrid. If we hadn’t have done all those things and experienced all of those problems and solutions, prior to COVID, I don’t think we would ever have created what I believe now is the future of property brochures. 

Hybrid version one, we pitched it to a client and the kind of vision ultimately was, we’re gonna create a Hybrid, hence the name, between the look and feel of a printed brochure, which is big images, big headline text, that’s how we always used to design brochures, well, how we still design brochures, and all the benefit and functionality of digital. 

So house builders spend a huge amount of money on amazing CGI’s, animations, fly-throughs. But historically that’s always been hidden, hidden behind a link on a website or hidden behind a link on Rime Move that no one can ever find. And we thought, well, why can’t we just look at designing this online brochure in a way that brings all of that to the fore? 

So, we kind of looked at what those solutions were and created this brochure solution ultimately called Hybrid and pitched it to the client, pitched the vision and, this was a retained client so they kind of knew us really well, they’d leaned on us heavily through COVID and us on them. And we pitched it to them and they thought, sounds great. You know, it sounds great. We don’t know if it’s going to work. Don’t know what it’s going to look like, but let’s give it a pop. And we gave it a pop and it was on a very small development of, I think it was 12 homes, and they all sold off-plan using this Hybrid brochure we created. 

We used a lot of video, a lot of CGI animation, and the benefit is that all the costs, all the budget that went into printing a brochure could be diverted into what the buyer actually wants, which is to understand the house that they’re buying in a greater way. So more of the budget was spent on the assets, animations, et cetera. And that ultimately created a really compelling tool for a buyer to be able to log on to this website, ultimately which doesn’t look like a website, the user experience is fairly different, but it gives the user everything they need to be able to understand the development in a far more interactive way than a PDF could ever even attempt to try and communicate. And that was the kind of proof. 

Ultimately, when you sell a development off-plan, millions of pounds worth of property, we thought, all right, we’ve got it. And we then rolled that out to a number of other clients, leading house builders in the sector, exactly the same happened for them. We thought, great, we’ve cracked it. We’ve got this Hybrid tool and then the market got really good. And we, ANTLER being totally honest, started getting distracted by other things, digital solutions, and again, eyes up, forward thinking. And we had a competitor nipping at our heels that absolutely outright knocked off what we’d created. And one of the clients that we’d produced Hybrids for had kind of said, this is what we’re doing now they’d seen it, one of these big property agencies had seen it and totally knocked it off. And that client went and is now using them for their Hybrids. And they’ve even used the word Hybrid in their name. That is how much they’ve knocked off, not only the aesthetic and the presentation of it, but the name as well, which was really gutting. It was really gutting. But actually at the time, I thought, fine, it is what it is. That’s the benefit of being the leader is people want to copy you. And we kind of just thought, no, all right, let’s just crack on with whatever else we’re up to.

And then we had this realisation about eight months ago that the tool that we’ve got is brilliant. But version one was that it was like the MVP, (minimum viable produc) that did what it needed to do to serve the purpose of the customers. And then we thought, well, how could we now look at Hybrid and create that something bigger and better rather than just it being a digital brochure? What else could we do? What else could we do here to innovate to give house builders SMEs what they really need?

We landed on quite a few unique options, which no one else is doing in the sector at the moment still, which is great. And we sort of thought, right, let’s stick a rocket up it. Let’s decide that we’re gonna innovate with Hybrid. We’re gonna make it a core focus of the business. It is the future. We were convinced by it when we made it and we’re still convinced by it now. And let’s put a vision behind it. So rather than it just being a tool that buyers can use, let’s put an unachievable vision behind it.

And that vision is that we want Hybrid to become the platform that every new development is launched on because we strongly believe that it is the only platform that can deliver what buyers want, which is as much information as possible, at the click of a button, responsive. And for SMEs, there are a huge number of benefits, not least data IP tracking. So you can see exactly who’s on your, Hybrid at any one point, what they’ve done with the Hybrid, locate their activity on the site back to their individual. So a level way beyond Google Analytics, totally innovative for the sector. I’ve just given a few things away to our competition. Great. That’s fine. We’re innovating at the moment and we’ve got loads of other stuff coming. So, and that’s kind of how we’ve chosen to embrace it as an agency. 

And we’ve totally redesigned the aesthetic, the user experience. We learned a huge amount about designing and how users interact with the brochure, which has enabled us to now build what I think we are now totally confident in, which is a really, really strong and exciting tool. And the benefit for that tool, we kind of knew that if we wanted to disrupt, and this was the key, it was all about disruption. If we wanted to disrupt, we not only had to disrupt on like features and functionality, but on pricing. So we are now able to offer the leading tool at a leading price. 

It is cheaper than designing a printer brochure, cheaper than sending a brochure to print, because that’s what tech should do. It should disrupt on pricing and on functionality. So it’s really exciting because we sit here with this product that really I know that every development in the UK should be on, that every housebuilder in the UK should be using, but not everyone knows about it, which again kind of intrigues my marketing mind because ultimately our goal now is to get as many people as possible to know about it and to use it. And I’m not plonker, I know that ultimately not every development will go onto it but the unachievable vision for Hybrid is for that to be the case. 

And as long as that is our vision, we will be innovating, we will be blue ocean strategy, you know, being the boat out in front that everyone else is following. That is the goal. And we’ve got some really, really exciting little projects and kind of side projects with partners planned, which, which just, yeah, it’s fascinating to think that all came out of a really awful time where being totally honest with you as a business owner, I thought, are we even gonna have a business at the end of this? And out of that came some really quite exciting innovation. 

JJ

So that segues nicely into the next question, Simon, which is, is print dead? 

SJ

Yes. Ultimately, yes. 

We can deny all that we want. Our business was built upon designing and printing brochures. We have to innovate. I’m not saying that print doesn’t have a place at all but there are still a lot of house builders that kid themselves into thinking that that’s what buyers want. And, you know, with that stat, 95% of buyers undertake their research online. Where do you think they want their information? Online. And print has a place, you know, when they walk into that marketing suite or when they walk around the show and to have something to take away with you. But, you know, I’ve experienced this first hand recently, trying to buy a new car, and the print stuff, you know, yeah, you walk out with it, it just went straight in the bin. And I think there’s this, and I was kind of convinced by it too, that when a buyer goes and they tour the showrooms and they come back with five brochures and they look over them and they decide, no, they don’t. No, they don’t. You know, it’s a complete pack of lies. 

A buyer goes, they get a feel, they know what they like. Yes, the floor plans, absolutely. They pour over the floor plans. They don’t need a £20 printed brochure to decide who to buy from. And that is a total flip as to what I thought a few years ago, but having now seen how ‘does this sell like hotcakes using digital tools’. Print for house builders is dead. 

It doesn’t mean that house builders shouldn’t print the absolutely vital information that buyers want. So things like the floor plans, the spec, the site plan, those are the fundamentals. And yes, we are designing, we are printing those. I would love, again, the vision is to not be printing anything, I think from a sustainability point of view, we don’t need to print, we shouldn’t be. We’ve got to ultimately give buyers what they want. 

I would caveat all of that with it does depend on your target audience. If you are selling retirement property, for example, some of those, which is bonkers, don’t have access to tech still, very, very small amount. So they have to have print and some of those won’t be able to use some of this tech that we’ve got at the moment. So we still have to cater for those audiences, but it does require examining what you’re currently doing. If you’re still printing whopping great coffee table brochures, it’s just not necessary. And I know that for some it’s a trophy piece and a coffee table thing they can show to their friends and it supports the brand and all that. But does that really matter? Would you not rather spend all of that money that you’re pouring into these amazing brochures, divert that into all the stuff that really matters, CGI’s, animations, walkthroughs, that ultimately means people buy. They’re more confident to buy quicker, sooner, quicker. 

And so yeah, I think that print ultimately is dying, there is still a place for high quality print in instances. I would strongly advocate for any SME that is still printing brochures to review that. What we’re currently suggesting to those that are of that mindset that they still want print is, have a branded brochure. Have something that promotes the brand, promotes the quality of the product, of whatever it is that makes you unique. Put a little pocket in the back, and I know this is very National House Builder-esque, but put a little pocket in the back and then have that in your marketing suites. And when someone asks for a printed brochure, say, yeah, here it is, stick in the plots that they’re actually interested in. You know, someone’s interested in two beds, rather than giving a brochure full of four beds, given the ones they’re interested in.

So yeah, that’s the approach that we now have for print. So we’re recommending actively to clients, go down the digital route, yes, print, but print what’s actually needed. 

JJ

So which sector could the property industry learn the most from? 

SJ

The automotive sector.

I think there are lots of sectors that we could learn from, but I think automotive is one that could easily be where the property sector is at the moment, which is light years behind. And I guess the frustrating but the really exciting thing about the property sector is that there doesn’t seem to be a huge desire for innovation. Whereas in the automotive sector, I think because of the way that cars have innovated with electric, et cetera, that naturally the marketing has shifted.

And I think what the automation sector does really well is they service the customer. And I think what the house building sector does really well, or really badly, actually, sorry, is servicing the target audience. And what I mean by that is, every brand in their marketing has to target an audience. You know, it’s really difficult to pinpoint an individual and go, ‘you’re a buyer’ and market to them. You know, obviously tech and social and AI and algorithms can help us with that.

But what the automotive sector does really well is when that customer enters the funnel, it gets really quite personal quite quickly. And that is the opposite of what housebuilders do. Housebuilders tend to keep everything really generic, really like we’re the brand, this is the development, until someone either picks up the phone and says, I want to buy or can I come and view or someone sends an email and then you get that personal relationship with someone. But even with that personal relationship, there’s still quite generic content that goes back and forwards.

Whereas what happens in the automotive sector is, if you’re interested in a car, again, COVID changed all this. If you’re interested in a car, whether it’s a stock car or whether you’re looking to order one, that you will get interacted with personally in a very, very different fashion to that of the house building sector. A lot of video is utilised. If it’s a stock car, you know, within minutes, generally you’ve got to walk around and it’s not this high-end production that house builders believe every buyer wants. It’s a salesman with a shaky hand taking a video of the car and going catering to your needs, whatever you’ve said in that email, ‘I’m looking for this’, using those as kind of talking points. 

And what do house buyers get? They get a generic email, would you like to come and view the development? This is when we’re open. It is taking too much effort for a buyer to discover a house at the moment. And I think that’s the difference between the automotive sector is if you’re looking to buy a car, you can find absolutely everything out about it. I’ve recently bought a new car and the whole experience was just incredible with every single brand. You couldn’t fault the amount of information that was out there, but the thing that car, that automotive brands let themselves down on was the customer experience. That was where they failed. I was toying up between two brands and the one that won was the one that gave the best customer experience.

What can house builders learn from that? That a home buyer wants all of the information at their fingertips. They want everything as quickly as possible up front. They don’t really wanna have to engage with people unless they want to. And they want personal communication when they want it. The problem with most housebuilders is that there is still this default, ‘here’s the information that we’ve got, you’ve now got to come to us for more’. Or when a customer does enquire, the experience really isn’t that personal. 

And I think where the house building sector has to go is giving away a lot more information. And we get kind of a mixed response to this conversation with SME house builders. Some believe ‘hold it all back’. You know, we want to hold it back. And I strongly believe that that is what we should do at an off-plan stage. The art to off-plan selling is exclusivity. It’s creating something, creating a perception of something that is so unique, so hot that I have to buy it. That is the goal with any off-plan marketing strategy. When we do that, that is when the sales come rolling in. The worst thing you can do in off-plan is give it all away. So this is totally dependent upon the stage of marketing you’re in, but when you’ve launched and all the information is out in the public, don’t just release half of it, put it all out there. 

And the response we get from clients to that is really mixed. Some are like, ‘no, we hold it back. We want customers to come to us  if we give it all away, they’ve got no reason to come to us’. And others think, yeah, absolutely. You know, that’s, that’s the world that we’re in. And I think the ones that think they will hold it back are the ones that are going to lose in the long term because, um, been looking to move house recently and we’re moving to an area we hadn’t really considered new. And I thought, actually, maybe I should have a look and see what new build options are out there. And I was absolutely shocked at the level of information that was really available. If you know where you wanna live, you know what your budget is, you know what you’re looking for, it is really, really hard to find the information about the house that you’re looking at. 

And what I mean by that is that most housebuilders present a development as a development. They don’t think, ‘plot 45, this is what’s unique about this house, this is why someone wants to buy it’ and market it in that way. It’s just, oh, you know, it’s a house type and it’s a plot that falls within a house type and here’s the generic stock footage of a previous stock imagery of a previous development which has had this house, but the kitchen looks different and the layout’s different. It’s just, it is the worst. It is the absolute worst customer experience. And I was astounded because what I would have regarded as some of the leading national house builders and some really strong SMEs massively let themselves down. And it’s not until you put yourselves in the shoes of a buyer and you think, right, this is the house I want to buy and you try and find the information out about it that you realise how poor it really is.

So I think that there is a lot of work to be done by house builders on being more plot-led, particularly when houses are selling like hotcakes, there’s no need, I get it, but particularly in stickier times, being plot-led is the only way to succeed. 

And I think that’s what we can learn from the automotive sector is the benefit of a car is ultimately you buy the base model and then you can kind of add options and extras, but the car, is the car, is the car. And I totally get that every plot is unique in some way, you know, whether it’s the garden size, the way that it’s facing, you know, whatever. But we’ve still got to respect that on the other end of this information is a customer that wants all that information. And for as long as we hold that information back and think, well, you can’t have it until you come and ask for it, we’re letting ourselves down and we’re potentially losing sales. 

So, I think that the real opportunity for the house building sector is to be more plot led, to look at the customer experience and look at ‘how can we become more personable’. How can we give a far better quality of service as opposed to looking at marketing development as marketing development. 

JJ

So in your opinion, what’s the secret to off-plan sales success? 

SJ

The secret to off-plan sales success is 100% all about creating an air of exclusivity.

Nobody wants to feel like they are buying something that everyone else has got that they were late to the party. Everyone wants to feel like they are getting the hottest thing since sliced bread. All of my successes in terms of off-plan sales in the past have come from creating that feel of exclusivity. That is about creating this supply and demand tension. This is something that a guy called Daniel Priestley talks about actually, which if you are at a park and you see an ice cream van and you see no one stood at that ice cream van, you have the ability to go up to the ice cream guy and say, oh, give us a 99, not that 99 flakes are 99p, I don’t think they ever were, but give us a 99p flake for 50p. And he’ll go, oh, it’s pretty tough today. Yeah, fine, you can have one. That’s kind of one instance. And then the next day you go and you’ve got 50 people in the queue. You’re not even gonna dream of going to the ice cream van man and going, can I have that 99p flake for 50p? He’s gonna go, well, actually, if I put the price up, there’s two pounds, I’ve got a queue as long as you like.

And it’s creating that tension between supply and demand. Every development has a level of supply. And what you’ve got to do is, create a level of demand that outstrips supply. Because what you then get is this incredible situation where you can play however you want. You’re not then at the mercy of buyers and their budgets. You’re at the mercy of the level of stock that you’ve got, but you have this ability to review pricing, to decide when you want to launch.

And when you create a feeling of exclusivity, you build that database, you build a bulging database, which puts you in the strongest possible position. And it’s really easy to do in a hot market, and when you’ve got a product that’s very unique, that’s really easy, it’s really hard in a tough market. That said, we have supported some of our SME, housebuilder clients in achieving that, even in this market, which is something I’m quite proud about.

But it is all about exclusivity. It’s about holding information back in that coming soon stage, holding back the right information, but releasing the right information. Creating that tension, creating a glut of demand for your supply and having some fun playing with it. And it’s a really fine line to balance. 

I remember in my days when I was in-house for an SME, I would have the phone ringing off the hook, people buy, I just want to buy one. Like I’ll pay whatever. I’ll put my deposit down now. And the answer was always no, you just have to wait like everyone else. And it seemed bonkers. You know, we had other people in the office that were like, why aren’t you just taking these reservations? Because the minute you do that, you’ve opened, the minute it’s out in the public domain or you’ve started taking reservations. Suddenly it’s not as exclusive as it was. So that idea of exclusivity is about restricting it and restricting access to it. And I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I got a real buzz from it. And ultimately what that creates is a long queue of people that want to buy. And it creates an ability for you to manage the marketing process. And the problem is that a lot of house builders that don’t take that route, they just take the old, well, we’ll wait for a show at home and then we’ll put it all out on Rightmove and we’ll launch it and hopefully people will come and will buy is that you’re not in control. You’re totally at the mercy of whatever buyers are thinking in that week, rather than having a campaign which is actively geared around generating a feeling of exclusivity. 

So yeah, if you want to succeed in off-plan sales, exclusivity, exclusivity, exclusivity. 

JJ

So how can in-house teams make the most of their marketing agencies?

SJ

So marketing agencies can be used in two ways, either project-based, so it’s here’s a project, can you help us with it? Or retained, which is as a brand, we’re trusting in you for X period of time, normally 12 months, to be our partner and to deliver on these objectives, whether it’s developments or campaigns or whatever. 

From our experience and people can listen to it and go, of course you’re gonna say that.

But from my experience, the best possible results come from retained relationships. And the reason for that is that we are constantly talking about you as a client, thinking about you as a client, talking with you as a client, meeting with you as a client to understand what’s going on in your world. And as a marketing agency that only works with SME developers, we know what’s going on in your world. You know, beyond your four walls, we understand that we see other clients that have got similar problems and frustrations. We’re helping them. 

When you adopt a project-based approach, which is, well, here’s the development, can you help us launch it? Of course we can, you know, and we do that. We’ve got loads of clients that we do that for, but the best results come from the retained relationships. 

It allows you to create relationships with clients that are far deeper than just popping up and launching a development. And what that means is you have that ability to lean on us. And rather than, you know, a lot of SMEs have smaller teams, it might be a team of one, two, three, four, however many in your marketing team. When you plug into an agency, whether it’s us or anyone else, you get new skills, new knowledge, new expertise. You get to scale up quite quickly. You go from a team of four to however big the agency is. You get a real spread of skills. So most housebuilders, actually no housebuilders have a copywriter, a designer, a developer, an account manager, a strategist, a social media manager, whatever it is, have all those skills in individual people in houses. Generally, the marketing manager or the marketing assistant is expected to have a very low level, a bit like a GP, a low level understanding of everything, but not a deep level like a surgeon would have of everything. 

So that’s the benefit of plugging into an agency and how house builders could make better use of agencies is by leaning on them. And I think that there’s this fear. I’ve come across it a couple of times. There’s this fear of marketing managers and even sales and marketing directors of not wanting to be seen to not know about something, if that makes sense. So it’s kind of, there’s this fear about asking a question because they don’t want to either look stupid in that I should know this or put themselves at risk of someone else thinking, well, hold on, you’re in that position. You should know about that.

And it’s quite the opposite. You know, our role as an agency is to help your light shine brighter, you know, so that you can go to your manager and say, look what I’ve done. You know, we don’t sit there and take the credit. I don’t, I’ve never written to a chief executive and gone, ‘Oh, look how amazing we were’, you know, ‘it was us that achieved that’. Or, you know, ‘we designed that’, you know, all of the light shines on our marketing, our point of contact, our marketing manager, sales and marketing director, marketing assistant, whoever it is, that’s our responsibility. Because what we want is for them to feel great about themselves and what they’ve achieved and we want that long-term relationship.

If you’re looking at how you can improve your marketing, improve your results, just get better, then I believe that engaging in a long-term positive relationship with an agency gives you the ability to get there much quicker than if you try and do it yourselves in-house. 

JJ

So where do you feel that house builders are currently missing their greatest opportunities? 

SJ

I believe in customer feedback and reviews. 

And the reason for that is, if 95% of buyers are undertaking their research online, they don’t just wanna hear from you, they wanna understand from people that have bought from you to understand, can I trust this brand, this house builder? Can I believe in them? Are they gonna deliver on this dream that they’re selling? And for a lot of house builders, they’re getting reviewed. They don’t even know about it. They’re not engaging in the reviewing platforms, whether it’s Trustpilot, Google reviews, there are some housebuilder specific review sites now as well. 

And I think house builders need to think long and hard about what is their customer feedback and review process. And at what point do they ask for feedback? There’s this on the PR side of the business, typically we get case studies from buyers once they’re living in the house and everything’s great and shiny, but that isn’t the only point in the customer journey to take customer feedback. How about pretty early on a couple of weeks in if like, how’s your experience been so far? And this isn’t necessarily just for public consumption. This is for internal feedback. This is feedback that allows you to optimise internal processes and understand where we’re really good, but also where we’re really bad. Because if you don’t recognise that and explore yourselves, a customer will and they will talk about it. So I think it’s looking at firstly internally, how are we gonna try and gather feedback and not feedback for feedback sake. You know, there’s so many businesses out there that I’m sure are gathering feedback and they’re doing absolutely bugger all with it. They literally, it’s just a tick box. Yeah, we’re getting feedback and maybe a metric by which they’re measured. As opposed to thinking, right, how are we gonna, how are we going to implement the findings of this feedback. 

And then the second is, yeah, the public feedback. So whether it’s on social media, commenting on your posts or whining and moaning on their own social about the experience they’ve had or whatever, it’s valid, generally it’s valid. There’s a reason why they’re hacked off. There’s a reason why they’ve got good feedback and negative feedback. And as a housebuilder, if you’re not seen to be addressing that feedback and taking it seriously, then your potential buyers are forming assumptions about you immediately. Subconsciously, they’re reading these reviews and either whether you respond or the tone of how you respond will allow that potential buyer to form an opinion. We’ve all bought stuff online, we’ve all read reviews. I doubt there’s anyone out there that hasn’t bought something online that has never read a review.

And that review has the ability to make or break a purchase. You know, if you’re looking on Amazon, everyone goes by how many stars it’s got, you know, number of reviews, quality of reviews. So look at how could you, as a business, improve the number of online reviews. Obviously we want them to be positive. That’s all about improving customer experience and have a policy as to how are you going to deal with reviews? So whether they’re good, bad, or indifferent. Respond, you know, engage. Because if you leave those negative reviews online to fester, that is gonna do nothing but damage the potential to sell to the person that’s reading that. And you do have the ability to turn a negative situation good. 

There are some customers out there that you will never please. I’m not for a minute saying that you can convert everyone, but don’t view reviews as wholly negative or negative reviews wholly negative necessarily. I think it’s also looking at what’s your process to dealing with negative reviews. There are so many brands out there now that just have this kind of copy and pasted line of, you know, we’re really sorry to hear about it. Email us on this address and we’ll take it seriously. It’s just bullshit. It’s total rubbish. What people that leave negative reviews want is to feel like they’re being heard and understood and demonstrate that, you know, demonstrate, acknowledge it, don’t get defensive. You know, people see that exactly for what it is.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got to be a doormat, but acknowledge and respond to every single review, good or bad, in a personal way. And that should be the responsibility of, I believe, either someone in customer care who genuinely cares rather than is just a go-between between the customer and the contractor, or someone in marketing that understands how to communicate. 

It shouldn’t sit with anyone else. It shouldn’t be sitting with the office manager or, you know, someone without any experience in dealing with this. If you’re going to deal with customer reviews, get some training, have a bit of an understanding and have a policy as to how to manage these reviews. 

JJ

And I think for a lot of companies, the review process is a bit of an afterthought. What they don’t realise is how much of their brand is put into the reviews and that’s part of their brand building process and that it deserves the attention that all their marketing gets. 

SJ

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s a great point. I think that the goal of any business is to grow the awareness. And I think there’s a real danger that if you don’t embrace public feedback that actually you’re shooting yourselves in the foot in terms of the ability to build brand. 

JJ

In a free way, really.

SJ

Exactly. 

JJ

No money needs to be put into dealing with customers. 

SJ

Yeah, exactly.

JJ

So you’ve spoken a lot about ANTLER’s past and where we are currently. What do you feel the future of property marketing looks like?

SJ

I believe that at the moment there is too much of a responsibility on a buyer to find the property for them. The majority of buyers will start their research on a portal. That’s kind of where most buyers begin their property search. And the challenge at the moment is the way that that information is presented to buyers isn’t going to stick for much longer.

In a world where we’re all being served really personal information, sorry, information that is relevant to you as a person as opposed to generic. And the onus of brands is gonna be to give a buyer what they want without even really knowing what they want. And the issue with portals right now is that it requires you to know exactly what you want to be able to find what you want. 

So for example, if I’m looking in a particular area, I’m looking at a particular size of house, a particular price point, I might get five, I might get 500 properties come up and I’ve got a click through them one by one. Is this one for me? No, it’s not. Is this one for me? No, it’s not. And if I exhaust that list, I’m then sitting there waiting for the next property to be listed on the market when that person is ready to move. 

I believe the future of property sales and marketing will be in a totally different platform. And I would love to be the one to create this, but I don’t think my pockets are deep enough. Well, they’re definitely not deep enough! 

It’ll be a platform which has every single property in the UK listed on it, whether it’s new build, whether it’s secondhand, whether it’s on the market or off the market. And this platform, I believe, will be totally powered by AI machine learning. A little bit like Tinder. I’m married, I’ve never had Tinder! But from what I understand about Tinder is that when you are looking through potential matches, you swipe left if you like them, right if you don’t, (or maybe the other way around!) and the algorithms learn, oh, this person likes this sort of person. And I think the same will happen with properties is you’ll be certain at the beginning, you’ll come onto this platform and it’ll say, which houses do you like? Swipe left if you do, right if you don’t. Da da da da da. The algorithm will learn exactly what you’re after. You know, the aesthetic of a house, the layout, price point, location, whatever. And every so often it might throw a curveball in just to see, or maybe their taste of change, but it will learn, it will know what you like.

I think this platform will have every single property in the UK listed on it, and it will throw out a lot of the middlemen. I think there’s massive disruption coming for people like us, for marketing agencies, for estate agents, for anyone that’s involved in the transactional process of a property sale. And I think this platform has the ability to present every single property, whether it’s off market or not. It is mad that you have to sit there and wait for your ideal home. 

I believe that we all have a perfect home, whether it’s one or whether it’s 10. And I think this platform will have the ability to twin you. So it will go like, based on what you like, here’s the 10 properties that match, whether they’re on market or off market. So Jasmine, you might have my perfect house and you’re not on the market and you come up as a match. And I think, oh, crikey, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. And I approach you off market and I go, Jasmine, I’ve matched with your house. I know you’re not on the market, but would you consider selling? This is my budget or this is what I’d be willing to pay. And you think, oh, actually, yeah, I know I hadn’t really thought about moving. Maybe I would, or maybe you wouldn’t. And then you come on and you go onto your platform and see what you match with and your match is on the market or it’s off the market and you approach the next person. We just created a chain. Without anyone’s input, I wanna buy your house. You wanna buy someone else’s house. Maybe that person is doing whatever, either wants to move or go into rented or go abroad, whatever, breaks the chains. We’ve got three people in a chain. We can manage that process with support from the platform, from AI, whatever. And we’ve just created an off-market transaction. At the moment, that is impossible without the input of an agent’s knowledge of who lives where to enable that to happen. It has created a transaction which isn’t reliant upon me deciding to search for what I know I want, the platform has thrown at me what I do what it knows that I want.

So that’s what I reckon is gonna come. And I might be totally wrong. Maybe there’s something else that I haven’t come across, but I think that’ll be the platform that wins. And I think there are a few players that could do that. I think Google has the ability to, I don’t think it’s necessarily part of their business plan. They hold a lot of obviously Google Maps, mapping property data, maybe Meta could, maybe one of the portals could, but I don’t think the portals will.

And here’s why I don’t think they will, because their bills are paid for by estate agents. And the minute that they remove estate agents from the process, they lose their business. So it will be a new player that enters the market. And what does that mean? What does that mean for the future? I think what it means for the future is that transactions will happen much quicker because there’ll be less people involved. I think more transactions will happen because you’ll be more aware of what’s available because it doesn’t necessarily have to be on the market for it to sell. 

And I think it will enable us all to live in better homes that match us better ultimately, as opposed to just putting up with what’s on the market at the point at which you’re looking to move. 

JJ

So it’s clear you’ve thought a lot about this, but what if you’re a first time buyer and you have no idea how the housing market or sales of homes works? How would you provide knowledge through this app for those people?

SJ

And you have hit the nail on the head right there. The problem with the property market is it’s too, it’s confusing. 

You know, for a lot of people, the whole process for you and I and others that listen to this, you know, we know how the market works, but if you’re a first time buyer, you don;t have a Scooby, you know, you’re totally dependant on someone either guiding you on that process and taking you on an honest tour or finding it out for yourself somehow through Google. And it’s not, it’s not complicated. You know, we all know it’s not complicated.

Yes, there can be some complex transactions, but you know, we’d be bonkers to think that AI couldn’t find its way through some of these. So if you’re a first time buyer, it’s as simple as, do you like this house? Yes or no. And once you get to one you like, it will then take you on that journey of either introducing you, you know, with AI support. I can’t see us needing a human to get involved to kind of hold your hand through it. I think that’s the problem right now is the process does require that and it shouldn’t.

It should be as simple as…take eBay. Great example. If you have something you want to sell, you list it online, someone finds it, the process is all managed by eBay. It’s really simple. The eBay platform has evolved back in the old days, I think before PayPal even, it was bank transfers and checks and stuff like that. Then they’ve bought out various businesses that have created this platform. That now means you can organise your postage through it. The courier.

So simple, so slick.

What used to be a process of either, probably either, selling stuff at a car boot sale or putting in free ads or you know all these old things that everyone thought that’s the way you know properties used to be listed in magazines and the property papers and, you know, where are the free ads now? These platforms have kind of taken what was quite a convoluted and pointless process and created it really efficient like eBay have so I don’t think you’ll necessarily need to have a lot of knowledge it will be up to the platform to deliver that property and the property buying experience in a way that’s as simple as it possibly can be.

And I think with blockchain, that’s going to make the speed of buying the house so much quicker. Why should it take three months, six months, 12 months, in some cases plus, to buy a house? Why couldn’t it be, right, this is the house I want to buy and within a week it’s done, or sooner. It’s the whole thing. The whole process right now is totally broken.

JJ

I suppose in years to come with our generations of tech-wise kids, it will be the expectation. And that’s how it’s done. 

SJ

100% That’s if we even need housing at all, because it may well come to a point where we’re all wearing these headsets and we’re plugged into a cupboard in a room and we can live in our ideal home for free or for whatever a designer is going to charge you to create it. And it feels real enough that that is your house. You know, it’s a very, very strange world. Very strange world. 

Maybe that’s the alternative is that we actually don’t end up living in housing and you know, it’s, it’s the virtual world where we reside and that’s where we spend our time and money. 

So yeah, who knows? 

JJ

Watch the space. 

SJ

Watch this space!

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