To put it simply, until recently, real estate marketing has lagged behind the marketing efforts of many other industries, which have been incorporating digital marketing for nearly two decades.
Marketing innovator and expert Serine Labidi noticed one of the biggest opportunities in real estate: taking advantage of social media and other digital channels to market not only specific property listings but also the agents behind those listings.
Labidi’s video-forward, multi-channel digital marketing strategies have led to a great deal of success for herself and for her teams, successfully establishing brand voices in a space where very few competitors had managed to do the same.
This success has earned awards, as well as the attention of industry figureheads outside of real estate who are taking note of her strong and effective innovations.
The Confidence managed to secure an interview with Labidi, and during that interview, we covered Labidi’s strategies and execution in detail, in addition to charting her rise to industry prominence.
When you started out in real estate, what were some of the opportunities you noticed? What did you want to change?
Labidi: When I first started in real estate, I couldn’t help but notice that social media was a huge unchartered opportunity for the industry. Developing a digital presence and democratizing real estate by providing free access to information was my goal.
I wanted to change the way that agents market themselves, shift focus to developing a brand, establishing a digital presence, and creating a platform. I also wanted to change the way agents market their listings. The listing itself isn’t the product, it’s the expertise the agent brings to the table.
I think I was lucky enough to fall into it at the right moment, back in 2014. With social media becoming such a large part of our day-to-day, it was evident that real estate marketing needed a bit of a refresh. Traditionally, brokerages would handle PR & marketing for all teams/individual agents through print advertising, direct mail, flyers, and in 2014 Zillow leads and Google Ads. Very print & PR heavy for the most part.
But traditional brokerage marketing tactics, great listing photos, and a listing post on Streeteasy just weren’t going to cut it anymore. With 60,000 real estate agents in NYC, what sets you or your listing apart?
And at that particular moment in time, million-dollar listings started to gain a ton of attention and it was evident that people had an interest in real estate, the market, the industry, and the behind-the-scenes. It wasn’t about the listings, it was about the persona, the brand, and information about an industry that was previously quite private.
So that’s exactly how I approached it. I knew there was demand for a stronger, more elaborate digital strategy and I wanted to develop it.
Specifically on the topic of real estate branding, what are some of the updates you’ve made for the digital era?
Labidi: Leading with a content-driven digital strategy. The modern client is looking for a real estate advisor that can add value and that’s exactly what a successful real estate digital presence should look like. A presence that adds value.
And we use video as one of our main mediums. For instance, with my client The Steven Cohen Team, we’ve created/produced multiple different shows and video series. These strive to inform and educate viewers in a short, consumable vertical video format distributed all across our social media platforms: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube Shorts.
During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, we launched a COVID live series, the first of its kind in the industry, with 30-50-minute Zoom interviews with leaders from different NYC industries. It was broadcasted live on Zoom and social media. Our guests included leaders like Howard Lorber (Chairman of Douglas Elliman), Michael Stillman (Major Food Group), Dan White (Magician), Countess Luann (RHONY), Gabriel Stelian-Shanks (Drama League), and more.
I’ve also created a digital marketing strategy fit for a 2022 real estate brand, whether you’re an individual or a team.
Real estate has always been about building relationships, but instead of simply building them in real life, we also build them online with a video-forward multi-channel digital strategy. So, I certainly could not take credit for being the first one to do it, but I have helped pave the way for a video-forward multi-channel digital strategy.
Would you say that the future of real estate marketing and sales is digital?
Labidi: Absolutely. No question. I think we may be already there. 90% of home searches start online. So creating a strong digital presence is vital to the survival of any real estate brand, especially in 2022.
While you can’t technically add a home to an online “cart,” most leads are generated online. And during COVID, we actually saw a spike in Facetime transactions. Clients bought properties without even setting foot in them. While that’s not the norm, we’re moving towards a digital sale, and real estate marketing should reflect that.
What are some of the challenges associated specifically with luxury real estate?
Labidi: I specialize in marketing luxury real estate, and unlike lower-priced listings, the chances of selling a $20M listing through an online lead are minimal. Unlike other luxury industries, where you can create a campaign that targets demographics like income and education level, Housing Discrimination laws limit targeting strategies on Google, etc. So developing an effective ad campaign that targets the luxury client is probably the most challenging aspect associated with marketing luxury real estate.
This just means that thinking out of the box is your greatest tool as a luxury real estate marketer. A multi-layered approach consists of digital ads, YouTube tours, and social media efforts.
But it also consists of digital placements in Bloomberg, Bloomberg Terminal, and partnerships with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Can you talk about the impact of digital marketing on overall sales volumes?
Labidi: In 2021, NYC’s total sales volume was the highest it has ever been, our best year yet. Moreover, 2021 also saw a record-breaking volume for luxury sales. And this can be attributed to multiple factors, like pent-up demand post-COVID, but the reality is digital marketing played a major role in the record-breaking numbers we saw.
During COVID, home searches tripled and traffic and views on listings more than doubled. People were stuck at home with easy access to thousands of listings and a plethora of information on the real estate market through social. Naturally, this resulted in an increased overall sales volume. And this certainly applies to the current market, where demand has stabilized, deal volume has dropped, and prices have also started to drop.
This isn’t the best market to be in, yet deals are getting made, homes are moving, and digital marketing plays an undeniable role. Never before has the client had so much access to information and so many real estate brands to choose from. Not only has digital marketing had such a positive impact on overall sales volume, but it has also created transparency within the industry.
You’ve received quite a few awards in your career. Do you see these awards as validation of innovative work? Do awards provide motivation?
Labidi: Certainly. Being acknowledged as a team for record-breaking sales volume and knowing that it is all a result of the digital presence we’ve built is a phenomenal feeling. Tangible numbers and awards are great.
But funnily enough, it’s the smaller acknowledgments that serve as my motivation. Hearing that Dianne Von Fostenberg thinks our social content is the best Real Estate content currently on social media or hearing Darren Starr commenting on how incredible our newsletter is, is what truly motivates me.
Having people completely outside of the industry, but leaders within their own, point out and acknowledge how unique my approach feeds my motivation to create innovative work.
What have you been working on recently?
Labidi: Recently I’ve started a new project with one of my luxury real estate clients: The Steven Cohen Team at Douglas Elliman. We’ve taken the industry by storm with a new Podcast: Real Talk with Steven Cohen and Tim Malone.
I’m currently producing the podcast and we’re four episodes in. The goal is not only to further build a platform but it’s also to strengthen the brand through long-form unscripted video, and so far it has been quite a success.
When looking for a real estate advisor or brand to work with, clients want to know who they’re dealing with. The person’s values, ethics, their story. It helps to associate the brand with a story. And that’s exactly what we’re aiming to do with the podcast: let people in on the behind-the-scenes.