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Thank you to our contributor and PCBC advisor, Jimmy Diffee of The Bokka Group, a research-driven digital agency for home builders.

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What does the future of digital look like for home builders? In a field not always known for being on the leading edge of technology, it’s exciting to see the construction industry now embracing the these digital trends for home builders. From virtual reality to digital marketing trends to experience-improvement apps, home builders have accepted the challenge and are looking to 2017 as a year of digital transformation.

Here are what I see as the most important digital trends for home builders in 2017:

1. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are no longer novelties. If there’s one digital trend for home builders that seems to be the hottest, this is it. Google Cardboard and Google’s Pixel phone have brought virtual reality to the masses. Companies like Builders Digital Experience (BDX) have made it accessible and practical for most builders. Studies show buyers are willing to strap on a pair of goggles to enhance their experience both at home, and at in a sales center.

2. Millennials shake up the buying process and demand a better experience. In a previous article I explained how Millennials are fast becoming a catalyst for change in the home building industry. As they become buyers, they won’t settle for the status quo when it comes to the sales experience. As a digital generation with unlimited information in their pocket, they expect a different customer experience. The result: builders will be forced to reexamine the current home buying experience, which has remained relatively unchanged for many years.

3. Responsive web design shifts to mobile-first. Most builders have realized the importance of mobile usage on their web sites. As mobile/tablet site visitors outpace desktop, it’s no longer a matter of just having a web site that works on mobile. It has to be designed for mobile. Just as we’ve seen in telecomm, banking and other industries – expect builder web sites to feature bigger buttons, larger text and hamburger menus as they move toward designing the mobile experience first and desktop second.

4. Marketing Automation gains traction. No longer just a trendy buzzword, top builders are getting serious about trigger-based emails, and slowly finding their way into marketing automation. It requires building customized workflows for different users at different touch points in the process, but the planning is worth it when users get a customized experience without the need for salesperson action. As cost-effective software solutions have entered the market, cost is no longer a barrier for most builders. Read more about marketing automation for home builders here.

5. YouTube replaces broadcast TV budgets (for good). We’ve been talking about it for ages: the death of television. Well…it’s not that extreme. We still have television. And commercials. But most builders no longer see the value in broadcast media placement. Instead, they’re dedicating significant production budgets to creating high-quality video. And then slating them for digital distribution such as YouTube pre-roll, set-top advertising (think Roku, AppleTV or xBox), or social media outlets.

6. Personalization goes beyond email. Most people are familiar with the concept of personalized emails, but newly embraced technologies like personalized video, social media advertising and display retargeting are fast becoming staples in the builder’s marketing arsenal.

7. Experience apps guide buyers through the building process. In the past, most builder apps have been designed more for the builder than the buyer. Now, builders are seeing the potential of apps as a way to guide buyers (after contract) through the process of construction, which can be a confusing ordeal with multiple points of contact and complicated schedules. Not only can these apps improve communication, but they lead to improved satisfaction and trust. And they don’t have to stop at delivery – warranty requests can even be handled directly through the app.

8. Paid placement becomes the go-to for search and social. Organic SEO is not easy for home builders to dominate, considering the competition (resale), location-based nature, and ever-changing search algorithms. As a result, many builders are turning to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising where it’s much easier to quantify the ROI. They can also turn it on and off as communities need to ramp up/close out neighborhoods. Likewise, social media paid placement is proving to be an invaluable investment, now that they’ve dialed in the targeting and monetization of the network.

9. Smart Homes get user-friendly. One area where the construction industry has been investing R&D dollars is in smart home technologies. Over the past few years it’s been fragmented at best, requiring multiple (clunky) user interfaces to control different features in the home. What’s been missing is a ubiquitous central home app that’s easy to use and works with all devices. Now that Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the Apple Home app have become mainstream, the technologies have begun playing nicely together, for the benefit of the user.

10. CG renderings blend with drone footage. Over the last few years, the quality of computer-generated (CG) renderings of homes and communities has blurred the line between virtual and reality. And with drone aerial footage more accessible than ever, companies like Focus360 are combining the 2 in a way that provides a real sense of location for projects still on the boards. Expect to see a lot more of these seamless “flyovers” from builders and developers in 2017. See an example here.

11. 3D Interactive Tours let users control the experience. Gone are the days of installing a quicktime plugin to get a fisheye view from a single point in a room (remember iPix?). Now, builders have access to technology that gives prospects a true virtual tour of a home or community. Users can seamlessly “walk” from room to room (and floor-to-floor) on any device simply by clicking-and-dragging or using arrows on the keyboard. It requires special equipment to shoot, but this company will come shoot and package the UG3D tour at a price affordable to even the smallest of home builders.

12. Guided video tours get a lot more interactive. If you haven’t heard of Google’s 360 Video yet, you will. With this technology, builders can shoot a video which not only guides the user on a video tour, but allows them to pan around the video for a 360 view of each scene as it plays. It adds an entirely new dimension to video. It also requires special equipment, and can be costly since the technology is so new, but the potential it offers home builders is pretty exciting.

13. User-generated content gets another look. Ok, I have to admit, this one is not as much a bold prediction as it is an observation, but it’s a very promising one. As builders warm up to the idea of encouraging users to post real reviews of their home buying and building experience (substantial, authentic reviews like Amazon’s or Yelp’s), they will see the value with respect to referrals and improved Customer Lifetime value (CLV). It’s a long-term play, but it’s going to be critical to sight-unseen home buying. It’s the inherent power of Zero Moment of Truth – more about that here.

So there it is, some of the hottest technology and digital trends for home builders you can expect to see in 2017.

If there’s one thing that ties all of these digital trends for home builders together, it’s that they focus on improving the user experience for home buyers. This is something we’re very passionate about at the Bokka Group.

 

As an industry advocate, Jimmy keeps his finger on the pulse of home building. He has the fortune of seeing and judging the best technologies and digital content for new home builders, most recently: the 2017 Pacific Coast Builder Conference (PCBC) Speaker Sessions, 2017 International Builder Show “Nationals” Awards, and 2016 International Builder Show “Best of IBS” Awards. He also is the author of the annual Home Buyer Conversion Report, the industry’s leading research showcasing technology’s influence on new home sales.

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