Two messages to Planet Property from Planet Tech

February 2014

$19,000,000,000

Nineteen Billion Dollars! Even if you say it fast it still is a big big number.

50. Now that is a small number. But what is the connection between the two?

Well, 50 is the number of employees that the company behind the smartphone app WhatsApp needed to build a business that they have just sold to Facebook for $19,000,000,000.

What therefore is equally small is the amount of office space they require. And whilst they are perhaps an extreme example the message that should be screaming out to the property world is that Planet Tech does not need all that much office space. Or people.

So even when the economy really recovers, office demand, from this sector at least, is going to have different characteristics from ‘the old economy’. Even the big names aren’t big in terms of their space or people requirements. Take Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon out of the equation and the typical tech company is, relatively speaking, a tiddler.

Couple this basic characteristic with the rise of robots and software that comes close to mimicking human capabilities, and one does have to consider the effect on property demand with a degree of trepidation. The recently published ‘The Second Machine Age’ by Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee is a worthwhile read in this context.

The second message is all about messaging itself, and the difference between old (or ‘traditional’ if you must) and new ways of communicating.

A few days ago on Twitter a billboard surrounding a new development was causing much hilarity through its use of marketing bullshit. On one panel we had ‘Vision’, ‘Destination’, ‘Landmark’, ‘Vibrant’ and (for the kids?) ‘Community Hub’. For those used to the much more ‘real’ world of social media (such as WhatsApp’s 450,000,000 users) the inherent insincerity of this old school approach piqued amusement rather than interest.

The commercial property world has to date barely engaged with social media and when it has done so the approach tends to be a bit stilted, a bit corporate. As with old school marketing the approach is very ‘Talk at’, very broadcast. Social though is ‘Talk with’; the principal is to engage with one’s audience, often on a one to one basis and in language that is real. If you can’t imagine yourself saying the words, then try again.

Remember: your audience has in their pocket a computer of astonishing power. Your message should be aimed at that device. And the message should be human, useful and enticing.

Antony