While the rumors of the death of real estate are greatly, (and repeatedly) exaggerated, an agent from just 10 years ago would hardly recognize the industry today.

No, agents aren’t whizzing around Manhattan in flying cars just yet, and houses are still houses, but Silicon Valley has been treating the industry like the beaches of Normandy — ripe for the disrupting.

“Honey, in My Day We Got Our Listings From a Bulletin Board…”

That was one of the first things an old school broker told me on my first day as an agent in Manhattan. Since I had a pile of blurry faxed rental listings still warm from the copier on my desk and she called me “honey” at least 10 times during our first hour meeting, I didn’t doubt her.

Of course today with billion dollar iBuyers, Matterport, AI-powered instant valuations, and an audience with an ever shrinking attention span, it’s hard to claim the industry isn’t under assault. The idea of explaining chatbots and lookalike audiences to my old colleague seemed almost comical. How the hell was she going to compete online?

Ironically, cutting through the noise online takes some of the very same skills she had in spades.

If you want to successfully market a property and build a brand, creating a memorable experience for your potential buyers and advocates is one of the best things you can do. There’s even a fancy new name for it: experiential marketing.

What is Experiential Marketing?

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?
BELLA Magazine x Tommy Hilfiger & Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger NYFW Event. photo via Douglas Elliman

Experiential marketing is a strategy that leverages in-person events or experiences in order to build engagement or your brand with a particular audience. However, unlike event marketing, experiential marketing is more heavily focused on encouraging people to share their experiences on social media.

Why Experiential Marketing is Ideal for Property Marketing

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?First, and perhaps most importantly, experiential marketing creates a space for buyers that’s somewhere between staring at an LCD screen in their kitchen at 2 a.m., and getting into a car with an agent and listening to a hard sell. It’s a way to kick the tires of a potential home without the pressure. It’s also a way to inject some fun and life into an otherwise empty and lifeless house.

It Lets Real Estate Agents do What They Do Best…

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?
Resident Magazine x Kevin O’Leary November Issue Cover Party Event. Photo via Douglas Elliman

A common misconception about creating buzzworthy events that social media influencers will flock to is that you need tech skills to pull it off. Luckily, if you can create a fun event, maybe partner with a local chef, band or DJ, and figure out who the influencers in your community are (hint: Buzzsumo can help), and send out email blasts, you’re pretty much good to go.

We’ve Been Here Before…

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Let’s face it, real estate and events to increase engagement aren’t exactly new. Whether it was wine and canapes at a luxury open house or a scotch (or three) after a signing, booze, idle chatter and real estate have gone hand in hand for decades.

Even better, experiential marketing lets agents leverage some of the same skills that likely got them into the industry in the first place — knowing how to schmooze, and knowing how to get people to relax and have fun. Once an agent has a list of influencers and potential buyers, all they need to do is make the place engaging, interesting, and fun.

Experiential Marketing Case Study: Partnering With a Luxury Brand

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Event: The Macallan Estate Open House
Listing: 40 Riverside Drive, New York, NY
Listing Agents: Dexter Guerrieri, Nicole Kats
Brokerage: Douglas Elliman
Brand Partner: The Macallan

When it comes to 10,000 square foot turn-of-the-century limestone mansions on the Upper West Side, “engagement” is more than just a buzzword. Sure, most homes look better in person than they do on Zillow or StreetEasy, but it’s one thing to walk through with a broker and quite another to actually see the place buzzing with life. It’s the difference between renderings and reality. It’s still incredibly hard to fake.

In order to help bring a stunning work of prewar architecture to life, Vandenberg, the Townhouse Experts, a team at Douglas Elliman, decided to host an event with The Macallan, a renowned Scottish distillery founded in 1824.

Of course, they added a few social media friendly twists to a traditional tasting. First, they transformed one of the mansion’s sitting rooms into a recreation of the Easter Elchies House, a circa 1700 mansion on the Macallan estate in Speyside, Scotland.

All Macallan Estate event photography by Jon Prospero and Sam Ortiz:

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?The lower entrance to the mansion with Macallan branding welcomed visitors to the event.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?The 10,000 square foot mansion offered ample opportunities for mingling with a social media friendly backdrop.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?The Macallan team educated curious event goers on the history of The Macallan.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?A sitting room transformed into a replica of the circa 1700 house on the Macallan Estate in Speyside, Scotland.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Checking out a scale model of the Macallan Estate.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Guests were also treated to virtual reality excursions to Scotland and a field of barley. Perfect for selfies.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?

Experiential Marketing Case Study: The Intimate Supper Club

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Event: Social Influencer Supper Club
Listing: 161 West 73rd Street, New York, NY
Listing Agents: The McPeak Thurber Team
Brokerage: Halstead
Food & Beverage Partners: Mariela Alvarez & Monte Lobos Mezcal

Of course experiential marketing doesn’t need virtual reality or partnering with a luxury Scotch brand to be successful. In fact, sometimes low-key events reserved solely for social media influencers can have even more of an impact.

Case in point, the Social Influencer Supper Club hosted by Halstead agents Katie Thurber and Sean McPeak. Listed at a mere $7,995,000, the listing they were working with was decidedly more family home than decadent party palace. That made a smaller more intimate event a more natural fit for the space.

Working with chef Mariela Alverez and specialty Mezcal producers Monet Lobos, they created an intimate and fun setting for a select group of social media influencers. Most notably they decided to skip the brokers and focus on influencers from real estate, wellness, fitness, and food. The idea being to break out of the often insular world of brokerages into the wider world of luxury influencers.

Here’s the team on why they chose to eschew the typical cast of brokers and agents for their dinner party:

“We feel individuals outside our sphere will be interested in high-end Manhattan property as well as local brokers who are highly engaged on Instagram. We anticipate the campaign lasting a few weeks and getting in front of 5,000,000 unique followers.”

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Mariela plating an absolutely mouth-watering dish of seared scallops and plantain mash.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Party goers digging in and snapping selfies.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Home decor or exercise equipment? A social media influencer checks out some wooden rings at the event.

Experiential Marketing Case Study: The Steinway Suite

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Event: The Steinway Suite
Listing: The Harrison, San Francisco
Listing Agents: Compass Development
Brokerage: Compass
Brand Partner: Steinway Pianos

While new developments are highly sought after by most brokerages, selling the actual units has some unique challenges that resales don’t. First and foremost, most developers want to get buyers in the door sometimes before there even is a door. Construction noise and trying to get buyers to “imagine” what their currently raw space will look and feel like once it’s (finally) finished.

In order to make life easier, brokerages that market new developments usually stage a few units that share the same “line”— in other words, apartments on different floors that have identical layouts.

Compass Development decided to help bring their model units to life with the help of an experiential marketing activation in partnership with Steinway Pianos.

Eager to get their high end instruments in front of well-heeled homebuyers, Steinway offered one of their top of the line Spirio player pianos. They then hired a concert pianist to play the piano at their launch parties, and also got to show off the piano’s (amazing) self-playing features on showings.

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?

Experiential Marketing Case Study: Los Angeles’ First “Doggie Open House”

Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?Event: Open house for dog owners
Listing: Not disclosed
Listing Agents: Aaron Kirman Group
Brokerage: Compass
Brand Partner: A local animal shelter

Proving that creativity, not deep pockets are what makes the best experiential marketing, Beverly Hills superstar Realtors Aaron Kirman Group decided to throw an open house for their client’s furry friends and to help spread the word about pets in need at a local animal shelter. Because the event was private and at the listing wasn’t disclosed to protect the owner’s privacy, we don’t have any pictures from the event itself, but we did manage to track down Aaron with help from our friends over at Wicked+ and get a quote from him about the event:

aaron kirman headshot“We recently held LA’s first “doggy open house” at one of our finest listings in Beverly Hills. It allowed us the opportunity to partner up with a local animal shelter and invite people to take a look at our listing, and have the opportunity to interact and potentially adopt some beautiful dogs. We tend to avoid “gimicky” sales tactics and we focus our energy and dollars on advance tech campaigns or one-of-a-kind events that target buyers and sellers around the world. We want our efforts to create sales at the end of the day, and our clients interest is our first and foremost motivator.”

Experiential Marketing Case Study: Client Appreciation Event Featuring Tesla

chris small tesla experiential marketing

Event: Client Appreciation Party
Listing: Kensington Park, Richmond Virginia
Listing Agent: Chris Small
Brokerage: Small & Associates
Brand Partner: Tesla

Although free cocktails are often enough to get your former clients to come to your event, when it comes to getting traction on social media, you need to step up your game. 

That’s why Chris Small, a Richmond Virginia Broker Owner, decided to partner up with Tesla for an appreciation party for his clients. Since Kensington Park, a new development he was promoting happened to have Tesla chargers for each unit, the location and partner were a no brainer. 

Here’s Chris on the event: 

“To help further the luxury branding for the listing, we contacted Tesla to come out and be a part it. Each home is equipped with an EV charging station so we knew Tesla was the perfect choice. This is not the first event we have had with Tesla, but it’s a relationship we are excited to continue to build. These beautiful, eco-friendly cars are a big draw for people who are interested in taking a test drive and seeing one up close and personal!” 

chris small experiential marketing tesla

Experiential Marketing 101-Best Practices

Now that you’ve seen how some Manhattan and LA heavy hitters use experiential marketing to market their listings, here are a few best practices.

1. Document Everything

The days of throwing up a velvet rope and keeping your event a secret are long gone. There are just too many opportunities for content creation that can greatly expand the ROI for your event. Instead, use the Gary Vaynerchuck model for content creation and document everything from the planning to the setup, to the headaches that happen along the way. This way you can get a dozen or more pieces of content across multiple channels from your event instead of just one YouTube video or Instagram story. Here’s Gary:

Gary Vaynerchuck - Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?“Documenting your journey versus creating an image of yourself is the difference between saying “You should …” versus “my intuition says …” Get it? It changes everything. I believe that the people who are willing to discuss their journeys instead of trying to front themselves as the “next big thing” are going to win.

2. You Can Use Experiential Marketing to Sell Listings at Pretty Much Any Price Point

One of the most common misconceptions about experiential marketing is that it’s only for $10 million brownstones in Manhattan or oceanfront mansions in Los Angeles. The reality of course is that you can (and should) leverage experiential marketing for listings at every price point.

If you’re marketing a 4 bedroom ranch in a family friendly area, why not throw a barbecue or hire a local restaurant to cater an event for kids? An event catered by a beloved local hot dog shack will have just as much (if not more) pull than a high end brand.

3. Carefully Curate Your Invitations to Maximize Online & Real World Engagement

Who you invite to your experiential marketing event is just as important as the experience you create. Since not every neighborhood is going to have dedicated social media influencers, try inviting the local media, as well as a mix of former and prospective clients and neighbors.

4. Take The Time to Create an Experience, Not Just a Party

Since your goal here is engagement both online and off, you need to create an experience for your guests, not just a party. Here’s Colin Mckenzie, Head of Client Services of Gradient Experiential to explain:

Colin Mckenzie - Can Experiential Marketing Save The Real Estate Industry...Again?“Today, consumers want to feel the brand, not see the brand. And that is done through creatively optimized human connection: thinking through the flow of the visit, the moments of discoveries, the elements of surprise, the smells, the tastes, the shareable moments…”

5. Take the Long Scale View of Success

Don’t freak out if you spend some money on experiential marketing and don’t see an immediate ROI with an offer on your listing. Instead, take the long-term view. First, you’re naturally going to get better at this over time, and second, building a brand is a long, and convoluted process. Who knows, you might score a multimillion dollar listing a year from now based on your creative marketing for an entry level home today.

The 30,000 Foot View

Experiential marketing isn’t exactly new, but requires a bit more creativity and planning to have a big impact online today. So can it save real estate from the iBuyers and cut through the noise of traditional social media? Let us know what you think in the comments.