Online shop front

Your business website and social media presence should be thought of as your shopfront during COVID-19 times, says digital specialist Sagar Sethi.


Kate Veteri

Sagar Sethi arrived in Australia from India in 2006 with $500 in his pocket. Despite a rocky start, today his Melbourne-based agency, Xugar, helps businesses across various industries, including construction, grow through strategic placements on social media and search engines. Over the course of three years, the company has grown exponentially and shows no signs of slowing down; in fact Sagar says that this is just the beginning. 

Q: What should builders be doing during their downtime now that COVID-19 may have slowed building activity? 

SS: Like most industries, construction has been heavily affected by COVID-19. Uncertainty is rampant while decision-making is at an all-time low. With people limited to communicating via digital means, every business should understand that a strong digital presence is the best asset they can hold right now. Although strategies will vary across industries, some key basics remain the same:

  • Ensure you have a high-performance website and not just a one-page brochure. Your site should represent an online version of the actual storefront of your business. It should be treated as the only way the world can understand what your company does.
  • Hire an expert to use a data-driven approach to review your current digital marketing effectiveness, customise analytics, set up key performance indicator (KPI) dashboards, SMART objectives, and create a strategy of prioritised improvements to increase leads and sales for your company.
Sagar Sethi, Xugar
  • Increase sales from existing customers by improving personalised communications to encourage referrals and recommendations.

Q: How should builders adjust their messaging to suit the current COVID-19 climate?

SS: When uncertainty is at its peak, trust in your brand and that it can deliver a sense of calm in the mindsets of your customers, staff and potential clients. Digital messaging is so much more than a simple tagline after your logo; it extends to how professional your website appears and the advocacy pieces, such as testimonials, case studies, industry accolades and more.


Q: How important is adaptation to the market?

SS: Adapting to current conditions is not just a perk you offer, it’s a necessity. With everyone now moving toward digital meetings and consultations, there are ways home builders can adapt. For example, showings of model homes via FaceTime, virtual-reality tours where shoppers can change countertops and wall colours, and more. Technology can serve as a buffer to the current drop-in physical traffic to home builders’ sales rooms.

Q: Putting your activities online can leave businesses open to criticism. What can you do about negative reviews?

SS: Firstly, don't become paralysed by it because the longer a negative review is live, the more damage it can do. Next, check if the reviewer is a real customer by confirming their name with your customer records. If you think it's fake reply directly identifying yourself as the business owner/manager. The response should address the complaint, apologise for any dissatisfaction, provide contact details and offer to fix the situation. This response will signal to others that you are trustworthy, and the reviewer's claims will appear spurious. After that, click 'flag as inappropriate' and escalate the issue by calling Google (head to the ‘My Business’ homepage and look for 'Support'). If this doesn't fix things, you have the option to take this further with legal action. Fill out a Google form for a 'legal removal request' – requirements can be pretty high, so grab a legal professional for this route.

Q: How far ahead should builders look when creating marketing strategies and plans? 

SS: Every business should incorporate KPIs when planning their overall marketing. New acquisitions drive growth and need to be quantified. Campaign creation is recommended to take place six to12 months in advance. A successful marketing strategy should lean on reviewing the seven core capabilities: identifying target audience, means to market, user trust, resourcing and structure, execution and timing, integrated communications, and customer experience.


Q: How can industry balance a proactive approach while remaining flexible enough to react to changes in the market? 

SS: The first necessity is to always keep a growth mindset – companies who find opportunities in adversity are more successful. Every industry has leaders and followers, and the quicker your customers view you as a leader, the faster your business will be able to pivot and drive the industry when times are tough. While marketing can help, it’s always a good idea to be inclusive in decision making. This helps your team learn the dynamic nature of business and ensures they can then help you proactively remain in front of the competition and market changes.

Q: Are there digital marketing strategies that are well-suited to the residential building industry? 

SS: The residential building industry doesn’t have an impulsive purchasing market, instead the conversion cycles are longer. To remedy that a healthy mix of pull (SEO, AdWords) and push (EDMs, social media) marketing is needed to promote sales. 

Q: What would you recommend every business have at minimum when it comes to an online presence?

SS: So many companies, large and small, don’t have a written or structured digital marketing plan. Not all have the time or expertise, but it’s absolutely essential for business leaders to know where and how new business will be generated. A clear digital marketing plan will force you through the research process and help you to clearly articulate the aims and goals for business growth.

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