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Next-Wave Marketing

Commercial Property News

By Dan Friedman and Margy Sweeney 

(October 1, 2002) New York City --The biggest change to real estate marketing to have come out of the Internet Revolution is almost certainly the electronic listing services provided by firms such as CoStar Group Inc., LoopNet Inc. and eBay Inc. They have made information on properties for sale or lease available to more people than was ever dreamed possible ten years ago and have increased industry transparency exponentially.

But their limitation, from the point of view of property owners and brokers, is that they are passive: Marketers have to sit back and wait for interested parties to come looking. Offering an alternative approach, a number of technology firms have sprung up to provide building owners, managers and brokers with the means to create their own electronic marketing campaigns that they can "push" directly to potential clients.

One such product, OLB Property Publisher, which was developed by Inc. and is currently in beta-testing, allows users to brand their data and maintain ownership of it--while still enjoying all the cost and speed advantages of disseminating information via the Internet.

The owner or broker imputs the information on his or her property which is stored in a secure data base hosted by OLB's Web servers. That information can then be put to use several ways. First, Property Publisher can be used to instantaneously update building information on the user's own Web site. Also, by using a customized template, real estate marketers can design their own electronic brochures that can be e-mailed to client contacts. The e-brochures arrive in inboxes as HTML-enriched e-mail files (not as attachments), which makes for a more user friendly experience for potential clients. The brochure can also be broadcast faxed, or a hard copy can be printed on a color printer--it's all up to the user.

"You decide to whom, when and how the information is delivered," said Peter Friebe, president of OnLineBuildings.

Early users are reporting positive experiences. "We've been utilizing the broadcast e-mail and, in certain targeted cases, the broadcast fax," said Neil Heilberg, COO at Denholtz Associates, one of two real estate firms that have been beta-testing the software for the last six months. "We've also printed color flyers. It's a big step up. The flyers are always up-to-date and attractive. You can update them before you go to a meeting and have them printed in minutes. Before, by the time flyers got into the hands of brokers, they were often out of date."

OLB's business model is straightforward: The customer pays a nominal licensing and installation fee and thereafter a monthly subscription based on portfolio size, roughly one penny for each square foot. There is no limit on the number of users, no limit on the number of e-mails and no transaction fees. Friebe points out that one of the strengths of the system is that it can be used by all authorized employees, no matter where they are located. "You can (distribute) it to all your offices, all of which can update (data) at anytime, " he explained. " You can also, if you chose, let third-party brokers into the system and co-brand the information with them."

Build It, E-Mail It

A similar Web-based product, Brochure Builder, is available from Metropole Worldwide L.L.C. Robert Siegel, Metropole's CEO, spent 20 years as a retail broker in New York City. "As a broker, I always faced the challenge of how to show properties to potential tenants," he said. "What we've done with Brochure Builder is created a tool to meet my needs."

Brochure Builder allows property owners, managers and brokers to create online brochures for e-mailing with virtually no computer knowledge. "The user doesn't need to know anything more than how to type," said Siegel. "If you can fill out a form, you can have an electronic brochure with maps, floor plans and photos."

The brochure accommodates all kinds of photos, including the company's own Metropole360 technology, which, with a single click of a digital camera, provides a panoramic, 360-degree image that lets viewers "move" though a property on a virtual, interactive tour. The Metropole360 feature is being used by, among others, CB Richard Ellis Inc. to help market Morris Corporate Center in Parsippany, N.J.

"It really is an invaluable leasing tool," says Joe Ravenelle, senior real estate manager in the CB Richard Ellis' Paramus, N.J. office. "Our leasing prospects are quickly able to identify available space meeting their criteria."

Metropole's Brochure Builder is sold on a subscription basis. The user opens an account for a minimum of five brochures at $50 per brochure. The larger the number of brochures in a packet, the less it costs per brochure.

Virtual Vision

A year and half ago, Screampoint L.L.C. burst into the construction and commercial real estate industries with a highly sophisticated product, the "3-D Digital Asset," that allows for the creation of very detailed, photolike, digital models of buildings--inside and out--that are going to be built or remodeled.

"We originally created it for use in design decisions and construction analysis," said Hsiao Lai (Sean) Mei, co-founder, president & CEO of Screampoint. "It soon became clear that it could be of great value in leasing and marketing as well. ... (Using the 3-Digital Asset), you can put the prospective tenant anywhere in the building, say the 28th floor corner office and show them what it will actually look like." It can also display associated information such as square footage, leasing terms, sample contracts and so on.

Screampoint takes information from architects and engineers and translates it into digital imagery that can be delivered over the Internet, on a CD Rom, a DVD, even a color print--it all depends on how and to whom you want it distributed.

Screampoint also allows for the constant revision that accompanies the design--and for that matter, the marketing --process. "If you're creating one-off types of images, it can be a waste of time and money," said Mei. "The ability to react and turn things around quickly is key to targeted marketing approaches."

Bethesda, Md.-based Douglas Development Corp. is using Screampoint to pitch space to potential anchor tenants in its redevelopment of Washington, D.C.'s historic Woodward & Lothrop department store building. To help retailers envision their future space, "(Screampoint) can make the storefront--even the window displays--look like it will when it's finished," said Douglas' Sabra Gould, who is marketing the space. "We liked the realism of it."

Screampoint's modeling tool has also been used to create presentations for municipal and community approvals. In New York City, Insignia/ESG Inc. and developer Forest City Ratner Cos. used Screampoint models of the proposed New York Times Co. headquarters building to help win approval for its construction from the Empire State Development Corp. and the New York City Economic Development Corp.

That the potential of the new marketing technologies is apparent to the commercial real estate industry was underscored in August when a group of leading real estate executives, led by Tom Falus, president of strategic ventures at Cushman & Wakefield Inc., and including Mary Ann Tighe, president & CEO of New York tri-state region of CB Richard Ellis Inc., announced that they had, as individuals, invested a total of one million dollars in Screampoint.

Pointing out that marketing is just one, and probably not the most important, use that Screampoint can be put to by the commercial real estate industry, Falus said: "In the future, using 3-D Digital Assets you will be able to e-mail 100-percent precise images of the space to the decision-makers and walk them through it on the screen. ... It will save a great deal of time and money."

The new generation of marketing tools have left tedious site visits, snail mail and faxed flyers in the dust, yet they are still about sparking the same connections that make the real estate business work. As Friebe summed up, "We seek to complement traditional marketing methods--not replace them."

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