By Adam Smolyar, Chief Marketing and Technology Officer, Urban Land Institute
In 1654, London’s famous fruit and vegetable market opened in Covent Garden. The market has since moved, and the original site has been transformed into one of the most successful urban re-generation and heritage preservation examples in the world. Six thousand miles away, developers in China are using the Covent Garden story to learn how to protect cultural heritage in Shanghai.
Covent Garden is just one of the many successes that has been brought to life and shared across the globe by Urban Land Institute via its new, Sitecore-powered Knowledge Finder website. With real-world experiences, best practices, lessons learned, and recommendations to solving complex land use issues – such as the delicate tensions between preserving and repurposing important heritage sites – ULI is using technology to bridge knowledge and geographical gaps and help communities around the world learn from each other.
For example, if you are wondering how waterlogged cities overcome specific challenges, you can find out how Amsterdam has been doing so for centuries. We bring that case study to life, and it provides a highly relevant lesson for flood-prone U.S. cities and states, and the many communities in Europe and Asia that are facing increased flooding.
Lessons learned; mistakes made
“Lessons learned; mistakes made,” is a phrase that has come to define the work we do at ULI in finding solutions that enable people to live, work, play, and enjoy urban environments. ULI is a global, non-profit education and research organization headquartered in Washington, D.C, with over 45,000 members from 80 countries, including developers, engineers, architects, lawyers, and financiers.
We are the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world from both the public and private sectors. Our mission is to shape the future of the built environment for transformative impact in communities worldwide. Critical to that is enabling members to improve their expertise by sharing knowledge and experiences. That is why we called on Sitecore and its business partner Velir to enhance how that knowledge and best practice exchange takes place.
Climate, housing, and future builders
At the top of ULI’s to-do list are three key challenges and Sitecore’s technology is instrumental in helping us raise awareness, marshal relevant content, and share it with members. The first of these issues is urban decarbonization and making progress toward net-zero urban environments. The second issue – and one of the founding principals of the ULI – is housing affordability and attainability. The final area is bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion into educating and fostering the next generation of real estate practitioners.
Obviously, there is a lot of work to do on these and many other important issues which is why it is so important for ULI to have technologies like Sitecore on board to help us tackle these challenges. The industry leading digital platform enables us to share highly relevant content, including the Equitable Investment in Infrastructure and Housing report, Broadband and Real Estate webinar, and Proptech: Changing the Way Real Estate is Done report.
Already our investment in Sitecore is starting to bear fruit. Sitecore has helped us deliver a 400% increase in visitors to Knowledge Finder in just one year. In addition, users are spending on average almost 10 minutes per session, nearly five times longer than before, and during that visit they view almost five pages. Importantly, 70% of users are revisiting the site monthly. Helping members find and consume the content they need improves member retention, and Knowledge Finder users are consistently more likely to renew. Just a year after it was launched, Knowledge Finder is now a core member benefit.
10,000+ relevant, meaningful content assets
ULI has built up a wide portfolio of content of 10,000 assets including books, case studies, courses, podcasts, reports, videos, virtual tours, and webinars. Previously, many of these resources were non-digitized and spread across over 100 web properties, so finding relevant information was challenging. With Sitecore technology in place, we have built a digital platform that offers members a more enjoyable, intuitive, and scalable search and browsing experience. Now available in six languages (English, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, and German), Knowledge Finder is a global resource of real estate development and financing trends and best practices, delivering information that is actionable, improves decision-making and outcomes, and helps members succeed…anywhere, anytime.
Sitecore’s personalization capabilities are key to our platform’s success. The site is available to full members, so we already have strong profiles which include specific interests. We have married these with onsite journeys and behavior, which means we can use Sitecore to deliver highly accurate, personalized content to each individual. A predictive search engine powered by AI and machine learning helps members find the most relevant industry knowledge from thousands of resources and thought leadership pieces.
Sitecore’s ability to incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence is critical to keep Knowledge Finder relevant. For example, as autonomous vehicles impact real estate activities around the world, Sitecore and Coveo ensure Knowledge Finder recognizes same-meaning terms such as driverless cars, as well as the next ‘phrase du jour’. Meanwhile, an exploratory experience offers related and popular content of interest to each individual site visitor. There is also a single click to launch an email to a ULI librarian to help with content search.
Building on the back of personalization, Sitecore’s powerful data analytics coupled with email marketing tools enables us to deliver personalized, automated email campaigns to members based on content consumed and browsing history. With Sitecore functionality, ULI delivers members a personalized monthly digest of topics and content-types that match their interests, including segmentation by degree of member engagement. The platform proved indispensable during the Covid-19 pandemic, when it hosted a series of themed webinars that replaced ULI’s annual conference. Since then, webinars have grown from about 12 to over a 1,000, with Sitecore technology allowing webinar content to be searchable and automatically translated.
Sustainability will play a crucial role in shaping future cities and urban developments, so not only is it vital for communities such as the ULI to highlight issues like climate change and affordable housing, but we must also embrace innovative thinking and develop new talent. The value of Sitecore is in helping ULI amplify the trends, innovations, technologies, and solutions communities need to learn, share, and gather the knowledge to build a better future.
Adam Smolyar is the CMO and CTO at Urban Land Institute. He leads the strategy and execution of brand management, marketing, communications, technology and member experience.