Commercial Agents - using great design to get great business
21 September, 2011 | Web design
Last week, we started a series of articles highlighting some of the common mistakes that chartered surveyors and commercial agents make on their company websites. Our hope, is that from understanding the pitfalls, you’ll be able to create a website that really works for your commercial property practice and delivers an excellent ROI.
In part one of our journey through the web, we looked at the use of photography. This week we’re going to look at the wider ‘graphical’ design that the photography is part of.
What is Design?
When I talk about website design, I’m really talking about two things:
- Graphical Design
- Architectural Design
The latter ‘architectural’ design is about the physical build, site map and user experience. We’ll look into this area and what it means for commercial agent websites in the coming weeks. We are going to concern ourselves this week with graphical design.
Graphical design creates a visual representation of your company and what you do, with the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction and hopefully a positive connection. Graphical design contributes a huge part to your brand image, along with a number of other factors.
What Makes Your Commercial Property Practice So Different?
“You only know how good your insurance is until you have to make a claim”. You must of heard that saying, it was a favourite of my fathers, when the teenage, rust-bucket owning me asked him to evaluate the very cheapest quote I’d managed to unearth after a day of ringing various numbers found in the Yellow Pages.
Aside from showing my age, this little preamble does serve a purpose. This well used saying perfectly encapsulates the inherent risk when purchasing a service. You only really know if you made the right choice after you’ve made the purchased.
And as chartered surveyors and commercial agents you’re in the service sector.
Services are on the whole intangible; they provide the customer with little opportunity to judge, demo or road test before purchase. In addition consumption and production are essentially inseparable. When marketing your ‘services’, it is therefore important to create as many positive ‘tangibles’ as possible. Staff, premises, marketing collateral and of course a website.
It is the ‘tangibles’ that differentiate you from the competition, not all the blurb and chat. Often the first and most regularly referenced ‘tangible’ is your website.
Why Is Graphic Design So Important To Commercial Agents?
The choices that you make with typography, layout graphics, photography and colour pallet will all play a huge part in the ultimate perception that the wider property market will have of you as a chartered surveyor and commercial property agent.
Within your marketplace you probably have upwards of fifteen direct competitors, all with RICS membership and all offering similar services. In the customers’ eye, what makes you so different? Why should they contact you? Just saying words like professional, knowledge, experienced, established is not enough, because every commercial agent uses these words, even the bad one. So the words have no value, they are meaningless.
Huge assumptions can be made before a single word is read. The graphical design of your website (and ultimately your brand) will provoke an emotional reaction to your company, in which the client will make their judgements on professionalism, experience, knowledge and even personality.
Its interesting how a commercial agent will be the first to make comment and ultimately judge someone on his or her appearance. Smart, conservative and business like is the order of the day. And yet this is so often not the case with a commercial agents brand, marketing and website.
An alarmingly large proportion of the commercial property sector seems happy to present the most unprofessional image online. Out-dated design conveys an agent that is out-of-touch, outmoded and apathetic. What sort of impression will clients be forming if you are one of the many agents happy to use a ten year old website to represent their business?
Who Are You Designing This For?
Who is your website aimed at? You will not be trying to flog and find everything from agricultural land to inner city live/work properties. If you are, we need to have a separate chat about strategic planning. The overall marketing strategy that your business follows will have identified a few key target markets.
So who are they and can you create a detailed profile to brief your website designer with?
The website for your commercial property practice is not for you. It is for your clients both existing and potential. What you think is acceptable may well be projecting a completely wrong image to them.
Working with a web design agency that specialises in the commercial property sector will really pay dividends here.
Design By Committee
You’re also not creating a website for the visual gratification of your colleagues. Your website is for tenants, landlords, developers, prospective employees etc. The parameters and objectives of your brief and your final creative selection should be based on fact, not opinion.
Limit the amount of people in the decision-making unit (DMU). Anyone with fixed, blinkered or parochial views about your market has no place in an effective DMU.
Design is so subjective. Our reaction to design can be influenced by gender, age, culture, childhood experience etc. it’s why you should look from the client perspective. Fact, not opinion.
Trying to Design It Yourself.
So many bad websites are born out of a clients desire to inject their own creative flare. You’re an expert in commercial property, not an expert in graphic design. Listen to the designer and let him get on with it. Your role in the design process starts and finishes with the brief.
Learn From The Big Boys
Look at the way leading commercial agents communicate online to the wider commercial property sector. Look at the importance they put in good design. Jones Lang LaSalle, Carter Jonas, Strutt & Parker et al have strong, recognisable brands that communicate a distinct position. Brands that reflect the high-profile property portfolio’s that they handle. In terms of brand they are very much peers of the large corporate clients they serve. And for the small to mid size clients, they represent something aspirational.
Good design and strong brand identity is available to all, its just a question of finding the right design partner and making a sensible investment. Good design doesn’t have to cost a fortune, there are plenty of talented mid-range agencies, but in the end, you do get what you pay for.
Brave Design Wins The Day
Build a website trying to appeal to everyone and its likely to appeal to no one. You’re trying to standout from the rest, to convey a difference and a competitive one at that. If your marketing planning has been thorough, you’ll have a very targeted audience that you are trying to reach anyway.
Try to be unique. Just because all of the other chartered surveyors do it one way, presents you with a wonderful opportunity to differentiate. In a marketplace where it is so difficult to convey difference, it’s a no brainer.
Your website needs to catch the eye, to engage the client and conveying your company’s individual personality and purpose. It needs to deliver information fast, in the most direct, simple and user-friendly way. Great design will play a big part in that.
People do judge a book by its cover, so make sure yours is well designed.
By Philip Burrows