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The Netflix of property search: Asia's PropertyGuru dreams big after brand refresh

Property is the biggest category after food and shopping in Singapore and Southeast Asia, and it is a market that constantly seeks transparency and education. It is no surprise then, making decisions on property is one of the major milestones that people in this region make in their life.

With real estate agents and developers marketing their properties everyday, and property buyers entering the market every five to 10 years, helping these stakeholders in the ecosystem achieve their goals, pays off for property portals like PropertyGuru.

Founded more than a decade ago, Singapore-based PropertyGuru now operates across four countries in SEA and employs over 400 employees. It uses property market data in the region to create and share advice on good timings to buy property using innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Bjorn Sprengers, chief marketing officer at PropertyGuru, tells The Drum the company wants to play a role in solving a disequilibrium of knowledge of property buying by making people confident, because it believes if buyers are confident about their decisions, then they are more inclined to make the right decisions and act on a particular listing.

To reinforce this role, the platform underwent a brand refresh in April and unveiled a new brand positioning statement called ‘Look forward to Home’ to highlight its reputation for helping people find a place they can call home. Its new logo is made up of two distinct and interconnected roofs, with the red line symbolising people’s life journeys, the different stages people go through in their lifetime and the importance of home at each stage.

It also revamped its website and mobile applications to bring personalisation to the forefront of property seekers' search experience, with the use of AI, to make every property search a highly personalised and intuitive experience.

“The property ecosystem has a lot of players in it, from seekers of properties to suppliers of short-term stays, to sellers, agents and property owners,” explains Sprengers. “We are very focused on our role, which is to facilitate that marketplace by bringing in supply and demand of properties. We want to be really good at that and we believe that we can be better than anyone at that, simply by virtue of the amount of data that we have.”

The Dutchman claims that PropertyGuru has 25 million people on its site, with a 75% share in Singapore, which makes it a market leader everywhere. “We know better than anyone in Singapore about what property seekers are looking for, but also what property suppliers are putting in the market and what matches work well or not.”

“We believe by focusing on our role and applying technology and data science to get the value from the insights that we have, we will serve the market best. We know so much about supply and demand for property in Singapore and in other markets, we are better position than anyone to develop a point of view as to how does supply and demand come together, and what to expect from prices and volumes,” Sprengers adds.

The brand refresh also saw PropertyGuru launched a pricing widget which allows people to look at a particular unit and take its data set and compareables to look at prices. It also gives advice on capital gain and rental yield to allow people to educate themselves.

According to Sprengers, the widget was launched because the company has built a strong expertise and data model in the last few years to put out quarterly market indexes, which tracks prices of properties in every markets and every six months, it publishes an outlook of where it sees the market going. “We have to go beyond just showing a listing and help people decide by making sure it is the right listing and answer questions like entering the market and if it is a fair price,” he explains.

More than a property search portal

Sprengers, who spent a large part of his career before PropertyGuru working as a consumer marketer at Dutch electronics giant Philips, is also keen to stress that the company is now more than a property search portal and has become a technology company that helps consumers make more confident decisions.

Noting that consumers have high expectations of brands these days, Sprengers says it is imperative for PropertyGuru to meet and exceed expectations as property seekers are expecting personalised user experience.

“People expect to be given more immersive experiences when looking at properties, which is why we launched virtual reality at developers' roadshows in 2016 and do an immersive walkthrough,” he explains. “We need to have more customised experiences like Netflix, where the more you use it, the more it morphs itself around your preferences.”

Aside from working with property market data, AI and machine learning plays a big role in helping PropertyGuru create personalised and customised experience.

For example, when an agent creates a listing on its platform, PropertyGuru use algorithms to analyse on the spot whether an image is a good image for the listing. It would analyse if the picture for the listing has a pool, if it has an angle to the sun, what kind of style. If the agent decide to use words in the photos, or use the toilet as the first picture and the house as the last, the platform advises them in real-time that showing the house in the first photo is a smarter move.

“In property search for a consumer, we identify several areas to focus on. As a marketplace, you need to make sure you have the coverage. Across SEA, there is no brand that has more coverage than us,” says Sprengers. “It is also about quality vs quantity. You can have a lot of quantity, but if that quantity is not good, then it does not help you solve your problems. That is another area where we work with AI.”

Brand building

PropertyGuru eschews from using traditional media to advertise itself, according to Sprengers, because he feels that as a marketer, being able to make fact-based decisions is super important and it has been very much enabled by the virtues of online and data associated with digital marketing.

The company also worked with PHD to create a tool called Brand Equity Attribution Modelling (BEAM) which allows it to attribute brand spend to business effectiveness.

“As a marketer, migration and maturity of online has enabled people like me to solve a lot of problems that has been historically been difficult to solve. For example, attribution of spend to impact - the famous saying of "50% of my marketing budget is effective, I just don't know which 50%",” says Sprengers.

“That is an unforgivable statement by marketers because online has allowed marketers to become more sophisticated. As a brand, we spend a lot of time on navigating effectiveness and we have built pretty powerful proprietary tools for that.”

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