Expert Interview with Sotheby’s International Realty CMO, Kevin Thompson: A Change is Occurring in the Luxury Real Estate Industry Now

For the latest expert interview in our series, we had the chance to talk to Kevin Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer for Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC. With an impressive background in education, high-end fashion, and luxury real estate, Kevin is the mastermind behind all digital marketing, advertising and PR initiatives for the Sotheby’s International Realty brand. Kevin stepped up the brand’s marketing game by coming up with a digital first approach, an endeavor that revolutionized the Sotheby’s International Realty network’s reach and brought it a Silver Creator Award in 2018.

Kevin shared with us his take on the relationship between luxury real estate and digital marketing, and what the future holds for the two.

Read on to find out more about how to accelerate your brand, how to keep an edge on the market, and how to approach the next generation of home buyers.

Kevin Thompson, CMO at Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and the journey which led you to Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC.  

It’s been a very interesting journey, but over the course of my career in education, high-end fashion and now luxury real estate, there is one common thread that connects everything — storytelling. My journey has really focused on how to create new and engaging messaging around a brand and to connect with consumers in a meaningful way.

My journey started while I was pursuing my Master’s in Education at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I was part of an education program with a core mandate of rewriting curriculum for inner-city schools. The idea was to take the old, dated curriculum and make it modern and appealing to make kids want to come to school.

I got recruited from that program by a Gates Foundation think tank and the New York City Board of Education to come to New York City to solve the many problems facing the board and to ultimately, fix a broken brand. After my first year of teaching at one of the city’s oldest schools in the South Bronx, I wrote a grant proposal to start a school, and it got approved. There were five of us and we started an arts magnet high school, offering introductory art, music, and dance as the hook to get kids interested to show up.

I felt a huge accomplishment with the work I had done in the schools and decided it was time to pursue my lifelong passion in retail. I transitioned into retail and marketing and opened my own men’s clothing boutique in SoHo. That eventually led to various roles with Gucci, Barney’s New York and Montcler where I had the opportunity to join those organizations at a pivotal point during which they were all reimaging the brand and customer experience.

After being in high-end fashion for a few years, I was approached by Simon Property Group, which owns hundreds of shopping malls all over the world. The new opportunity presented a similar challenge – how do we get people to come to our mall instead of shopping somewhere else? The idea there was that if you can create a brand that speaks to consumers in a way that they value, they’re more likely to shop with you.

And that’s how the opportunity at Sotheby’s International Realty came up. I wanted to work for a brand that wasn’t trying to rebrand, relaunch or fix something. Sotheby’s International Realty was already doing everything right, so it was more about being able to come in and put my foot on the gas to accelerate the brand after many years of success.

Q: How has the evolution of digital marketing impacted the luxury real estate market?

In the same way that digital marketing has transformed the retail space, a change is also occurring in the luxury real estate industry now. It is causing agents to rethink what marketing means to them and how to access their sphere of influence. If you are not marketing digitally, you are not really marketing. Digital marketing allows agents to target, retarget and influence an audience that they couldn’t reach before. For a small investment, agents can now reach core audiences in a targeted way to show them a home.

At Sotheby’s International Realty, we are constantly feeding amazing digital content to our agents to help them more effectively market their properties. Our goal is to drive audiences back to our website. We had 31 million global visitors to our website last year, up 14 percent year-over-year. There is a real hunger for our content, and digital marketing has allowed us to reach a bigger audience faster, and more effectively than we could have ever done before.

Q: What are some of the innovative and modern techniques and tactics for marketing a home that didn’t exist even ten years ago?

Agents can now develop an entire digital marketing plan for a property, which they were not able to do 10 years ago. Today, agents can be more creative in their marketing approach rather than relying solely on print collateral and advertisements. The advancement of technology also allows agents to speak to consumers in a more thoughtful and meaningful way about the life they want to live in their home, as opposed to just providing a list of property features on a print flyer.

Our brand has created some new and innovative marketing tools, including Curate by Sotheby’s International Realty(SM), the first real estate-branded virtual staging augmented reality (AR) app. Curate allows consumers to visualize a home as their own, before purchase, by taking virtually staged images from a flat 2-D screen into the house itself through the power of AR.

We also launched 3-D and virtual reality content on our website, which is tailored more towards the new affluent end of the millennial consumer. In addition, we also have the Sotheby’s International Realty® Apple TV app, which showcases properties currently represented by the Sotheby’s International Realty® brand worldwide, giving consumers the opportunity to explore homes on a screen larger than ever before.

Q: What do you see the year 2019 holding for luxury real estate marketing?

We are relaunching our website this year, which is a big undertaking. We currently have great assets that work for our agents, but we want to create an even better tool. We plan to create a true luxury lifestyle hub for consumers that love real estate. It will be a brand-new space where people can spend time with us. We are creating content that is meaningful. It will become a place for engaging, deep and rich content that we know consumers will want and have come to expect from our brand.

Q: Is there anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working towards?

Research, research, and more research, always. To stay ahead in this industry, everyone should constantly be asking questions. Whether you are talking to agents, affiliates, colleagues or consumers, research never stops. Ongoing conversations are critical to knowing the needs of your audiences, and how to meet those needs today and in the future.

Q: How have the needs of the consumers changed over the past years and how do you plan to attract the next generation of homebuyers?

We know that real estate is becoming an entertainment platform – look at all the real estate shows on TV today, from “Million Dollar Listing” to “Selling Sunset.” Luxury lifestyles and the idea of the home have become an entertainment portal. We continue to position ourselves as a luxury lifestyle brand that is aspirational for consumers. Affluent consumers want richer content, and it feels genuine for our brand to have conversations about fashion, art, travel, lifestyle, and how that all ties into the idea of home and a place where all of that resides.

Q: Any other insights you would like to share?

When it comes to marketing to luxury consumers today, focus on how you can create levels of personalization and unique experiences for individuals. To stay ahead of the curve, you must think about the demographics of today and the demographics of tomorrow. It’s important to consider each individual demographic – their wants, needs, and desires. It’s all about finding meaningful ways to connect with today’s affluent consumer and the emerging affluent consumer – the millennials. Millennials will make up a large part of the global economy for years to come. Find out what your brand means to them, start acting on it now, and don’t forget that your marketing must be digitally driven.