“There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic is the greatest challenge we’ve seen in advising letting agents. Prior to this, the biggest one was getting them set for the Tenant Fee Ban,” says Bryan Mansell, co-owner at Allstars Group.
Allstars Group offers bespoke training to agency businesses to help them find the margins where they can improve - and this involves helping agents adapt. “The letting industry traditionally has an inability to change. What’s going on now is going to force change - we'll have to do things differently and that could be one positive to take from this situation,” says Mansell.
Allstars Group believes that marketing and communications should benefit. “Now's the time to pull your socks up and spend half a day putting together a marketing plan that allows you, throughout this period and when we come out of this confusing time, to have actionable tasks in place moving forward,” says Sarah Edmundson, co-owner.
In the short term, she suggests appointing a marketing person, “somebody who takes over all responsibility for the marketing of the business” to manage the plan and define the agency's audiences. “You have to to focus on the different stakeholders you’ll be reaching - is it a current tenant, past tenant, current landlord, prospective landlord?” says Edmundson.
This audience segmentation may evolve in the long term along with the situation - and will allow you to better plan your messaging. For example, you’ll need to consider if you’re contacting a “vulnerable landlord” and adapt your message accordingly. “You need to make sure we're not just communicating one message to everybody,” says Mansell.
The tone of the message will also need to adapt to the current circumstances. “The tone has got to completely pivot right now, it can’t be the same as we had two weeks ago. You have to take an authoritative but empathetic approach - be the trusted advisor,” says Edmundson.
This means sharing not only soft content, but also giving direction and practical advice. “You’ll need to break up your messaging. Don't make it always about legislation or tactics,” says Mansell.
At the same time, a balance must be achieved between building relationships through personal messaging and maintaining business continuity. “We’ve still got businesses to run. We’ve still got to be kind and heartfelt but we also have to be cautiously commercial,” says Edmundson.
While the pandemic is ongoing, “you've got to keep your messages frequent” to keep your customers informed about the situation. This can then build towards a longer-term strategy, making sure the messages in each campaign are “consistent across all your marketing channels.”
“You’ll run a campaign to go into every window on every website that you advertise on and on your own website, in your mail outs, in emails and of course on social media. The tone and message should be the same across all channels and then change to the next one after a period of time rather than doing five or six different posts all at the same time - think like the big, well respected brands,” says Mansell.
Edmundson highlights how, if agencies come together to make this change and offer a new caring but authoritative voice, the whole sector will benefit. “The industry has a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the perception of estate and letting agents - to position ourselves as not only as advisers from a property perspective but actually what wonderful people we are.”