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The influence of helpfulness with Matthew Shadbolt

With Matthew Shadbolt, The head of real estate products for the New York Times.

The power dynamic between a company and the consumer has changed. As Matthew Shadbolt, the head of real estate products for The New York Times knows - the key to relevance in the current marketplace to is to be as personalised and helpful as you can to a consumer – in ways never imagined. 

By being open to change, The New York Times, like other legacy businesses has maintained its authority and experience as a very strong habit in readers' lives. He says, ”If you can hit the right people with the right content, at the right time and the right place - that's really the best approach”.

Matthew sees relentless helpfulness and the delicate effect of prizing time as instruments for growth.

Relentless helpfulness

Not that he hears it very often around the real estate traps but Matthew truly believes, “I think the key common denominator that really levels everybody is how helpful are you. Helpfulness makes a great realtor, but it also makes a great marketing person. It makes a great brokerage. How helpful were you to your agents as a broker - that's where the real value is”. His belief is echoed by some of the biggest companies in the world. At Cannes last year, Anna Hill, Chief Marketing Officer for The Walt Disney Company UK and Ireland said, “Smart partnerships and personalisation that’s relevant are two of the most important things for the future of marketing.” Matthew’s philosophy is, “The more service oriented we can be, the more answer driven we can be in sharing our expertise and the more visual we make those answers - so much the better”.

Prize your time

On the flipside to being helpful is also turning a critical eye to yourself and stop what you have been doing if it doesn’t help you be in the here and now and the future. Matthew says, “If time is your key commodity, it's the most valuable thing you have and the more of it you can give to your customers in a way that's valuable, so much the better. But having more time requires stopping doing a lot of things - getting smart about what you should not do”. This particularly applies to technology. Matthew says, “You built this thing and it's your baby and you spend 10 hours a week doing it but is it driving your business? Maybe, maybe not. You have to detach yourself from the investment that you've already made and say, “Is this the right thing now and for the future”. If it's not those things can be quite tough. You have to have a tough conversation with yourself about those things, but stopping things is a really, really important thing, especially for the real estate industry going forward because there's a tremendous amount of technical debt around the real estate industry”.

Finding old strengths in a new marketplace

For both agents and The New York Times, the advent of Virtual Reality has presented an interesting opportunity for helpfulness.

For time poor consumers, Virtual Reality can clearly and easily enhance the customer experience. Matthew says, “There's some really obvious places that you can go to with Virtual Reality. The immediately obvious place is to think about home tours and to basically do Virtual Reality versions of what we all do in listings pages online and then at a slightly higher level, maybe with video”. You can go one step further and use VR to sell a suburb. Matthew says with VR you can show, “What does it feel like to walk my dog on a Sunday morning, go grab a coffee? It's those kinds of things and those are never answered in things like listings pages. They're always answered in face-to-face conversations with the realtor because the realtor knows this kind of stuff, I believe. Having that experience virtually and being able to have that guidance and insight narrated to you and to get a really immersive sense of what it feels like to live in a neighbourhood is a really interesting problem to work on. I think Virtual Reality could be really instrumental in solving that for users”. He continues, VR can answer, “is this the right town for me? How far is my walk from the subway station or what is good around here? What will I be able to walk to with my family? It's all of those kind of questions that are really emotionally important for a purchase of a home”.

Interestingly, in a way perhaps the company never realised, Virtual Reality also enabled The New York Times to reconceptualise its strengths and aid its’ customers. Matthew says, “Virtual Reality (VR) is a very, very high tech type experience, very immersive and very forward thinking, only recently has started to really have its moment. Once you start to see ads on TV for Playstation VR or Samsung VR, then you know it's going to be a big thing with millions of these headsets in people's homes. For The New York Times, thinking about Virtual Reality is really interesting based on our core mission of trying to inform readers and make sure that they understand and they can empathise with a story”.

In a really interesting project, Matthew says, “We partnered with Google to distribute over a million Google cardboard headsets through one of the most traditional forms of distribution, the newspaper. We're a 160-year-old organisation with this very vast print distribution network and we bundled the Google Cardboard viewers with a Sunday delivery subscription. As a result, the adoption of Virtual Reailty was so much more significant having been able to put that in the hands of a million people through one of the oldest forms of distribution there still is”.

Matthew says, “For us, it's reconciling what we're really, really good at, which is innovative storytelling and immersive storytelling and the authority of our newsroom with the logistics of what we've always done in a way that creates these really delightful experiences for our readers”.

And there it is again – helpfulness. 

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