Century 21 CMO: Social games are prime property for real estate marketing

Today, Century 21 is wrapping up its latest marketing campaign in the social game scene; a branded fireplace The Sims Social’s players can put in their Sims’ homes in order to earn virtual currency and expand their property. The campaign is the second partnership between Century 21 and Electronic Arts (the  first occurred last year in SimCity Social), and we recently got to sit down with Century 21 CMO Bev Thorne to talk about her company’s recent push into social games.

Although the recent campaigns within SimCity Social and The Sims Social are certainly Century 21’s highest-profile forays into expanding its brand into games, this isn’t the first time it’s done so. The first time Century 21 was involved in a social game was with ngmoco’s We City. Thorne doesn’t go into detail about the campaign, but she tells us the initial results were very strong and motivated the company to stay involved: “Our first play, if you will, in the gaming space worked out very favorably.”

Prior to these campaigns, Thorne hasn’t been involved with video games, neither in terms of marketing or as a user. However, she sees games as a huge resource to tap into, calling them one of the biggest venues where Century 21’s target customers are. “We all buy, rent, sell and lease homes. Our target customer is absolutely engaged in gaming,” she tells us.

Social games are particularly rich with potential Century 21 customers. Thorne says social gamers are 27 percent more likely to buy a home in the next year than other users on social networks. Likewise, at the time of Century 21’s first campaign, the game had roughly 10 million monthly active users, which is a good indication of a game’s reach across a social network. According to Thorne, about a third to 40 percent of the players in the game fit into the primary audience it was targeting: Individuals between the ages of 25 to 34-years-old.

“There’s an intersection between our target consumer and the person who’s looking to buy their first home,” she tells us. “One of the nice things about the gaming opportunities we’ve been engaged in is it puts us front and center with the consumers.”

Century 21 also benefits from building brand awareness outside of this audience. Most game developers tell us their typical players are middle-aged women, which is also an important demographic for the real estate firm. “The Female homebuyer is a key target for us,” Thorne says. “The mom tends to have an important voice in the selection of the new home.”

Thorne also notes, though, that Century 21’s campaigns are more focused on keeping the brand in the public eye, instead of trying to convince them to spend money right away. “No one’s going to buy a home because they saw us in The Sims Social,” she acknowledges. “But it’s important for a brand to be relative to the next generation. This helps prove the Century 21 agent is smarter, bolder, and faster.”

When asked why her company decided to go with a social game like SimCity Social, Thorne explains, “We really looked at a lot of options … we were intrigued by the Facebook platform and the popularity of Facebook games. The intersection of the two seemed like a good next step.” As a result, Thorne says Century 21 partnering with EA in the future is “a likely possibility”, but she can’t say anything definite at this time.

Although SimCity Social isn’t nearly as popular as it was last year — it peaked in July 2012 with 1.8 million daily active users, the game now has 370,00 DAU—  getting involved with the game made a lot of sense at the time. SimCity Social had over 10 million MAU and almost 192,000 Century 21 branded structures were placed by users. Meanwhile, Century 21’s Facebook page saw its number of Likes jump by 225 percent during the span of the campaign. While she doesn’t have final numbers handy for how many branded fireplaces have been placed in The Sims Social, she can tell us more than 200,000 have been placed in virtual homes and that Century 21 has roughly doubled its Facebook fans as the campaign’s continued.

As opposed to many marketing campaigns in social games, Century 21’s presence hasn’t been to get users to immediately buy homes or rent property. Instead, it’s to get them familiar with the company’s brand so they’ll be more likely to go to a Century 21 realtor when they’re ready to make that next step. Since clicking on the fireplaces directs users to the Century 21 website, things are definitely paying off for the company. Thorne tells us ComScore‘s analytics show the campaign is seeding throughout the web and — by November — that Century 21’s website traffic was up 40 percent year over year, making up a total of 4 percent of the real estate industry’s total web traffic.

Although social gaming is currently being subjected to a fair amount of criticism from both mainstream media outlets and financial analysts, Thorne says those criticisms aren’t affecting Century 21’s desire to be involved with the space. “Those conversations and naysayers have a completely different objective than we do. For us being engaged in the game, we look at the return for being engaged. For us, there’s every reason to continue being engaged.”