How Legacy Real Estate Giant CBRE Went All-In On Digital

cbreDespite being one of the world’s largest commercial real estate firms, CBRE has a low profile in digital media.

Until 2014, all of the 110-year-old company’s marketing was executed through traditional media. Then it hired Paul Suchman as chief marketing officer.

An agency vet with a history at Young & Rubicam, OgilvyOne and BBDO, Suchman was tasked with creating a brand presence worthy of CBRE’s $8.7 billion market cap.

“Marketing was siloed and dispersed,” Suchman said. “CBRE brought me in with a mission to unify the marketing organization and take it from cost center to strategic asset.”

CBRE partnered with m/SIX, a full-service media agency majority owned by GroupM. (WPP, GroupM’s parent, rents and buys a lot of real estate from CBRE.) Together they created a content-focused campaign targeting CBRE’s audience of C-suite executives and real estate investors.

Using CBRE’s first-party data with third-party data from Madison Logic, m/SIX ran basic audience analyses and found that 86% of CBRE’s prospects consume branded content. And it found 65% of the C-suite executives on LinkedIn follow branded content from other leaders in their industry.

By analyzing LinkedIn profiles, m/SIX drew insights on the locations and roles of prospects. It sent customized LinkedIn InMail messages with prompts to download a white paper that would signal intent to convert.

CBRE generated 400 white paper downloads within the first week of targeting.

Next, m/SIX went after native buys on contextually relevant sites. For example, a 300×600 expandable ad unit in Reuters “effectively created a full site experience without the user having to leave the site,” said Ilana Nolte, president of m/SIX. Engagement rates were seven to 10%, depending on the market.

“Using data from a planning perspective to identify those right [publisher] partners is critical,” Nolte said.

With the help of Outbrain, m/SIX switched CBRE’s targeting strategy from vertical to audience-based by suggesting content to prospects on sites they were already visiting. Now, around 90% of clicks to CBRE’s site come through these portals.

For programmatic buys, m/SIX used WPP’s Xaxis trading desk to execute local ad buys and may also use the trading desk to deploy programmatic creative in 2017.

Within two years, CBRE has flipped its marketing investments on its head; the firm now spends 80% of its budget on digital. The commercial real estate purchase cycle can take years, so CBRE hasn’t yet been able to tie these executions back to business metrics. But with continual measurement and optimization, Suchman has made room for further investments in mobile and video next year.

“We’re measuring, optimizing and being very efficient,” he said. “I inherited a broken but very high-potential digital organization.”

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