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The more undifferentiated your offering, the more you need branding. The more competition you have, the more you need branding. Realtors face competition from hundreds or even thousands of competitors and seem to sell an undifferentiated product. Arguably more than any other industry, a Realtor must brand themselves in the market if they are to be truly successful.
In my business as a publisher, it is my job to know many Realtors. My publication is a great resource for them. However, out of the 1200 or so Realtors in my area, I could probably only name a few dozen. The rest have so completely failed in branding that even I, a marketing professional whose job is to seek them out, am not even aware of them.
Of course, it’s not their fault. They’ve been taught by countless seminars from companies that offer property marketing services that marketing their properties is much more important than branding and marketing themselves. While marketing properties is vital for doing your business as a Realtor, branding yourself is crucial for building your business.
In this article, I will provide an overview of branding for Realtors as well as four key platforms for branding your own Real Estate business.
While this article is primarily intended for Realtors, many of the general branding principles are universal across industries, so I encourage your read on whether or not you are a Realtor.
Realtors don’t sell houses
When I say that Realtors sell an undifferentiated product, I mean that the home buyer can buy the same house from any number of Realtors, so it seems that Realtors are interchangeable. But are they really? When we realize what a Realtor really sells, we see that their offerings are highly differentiated.
Realtors don’t sell houses. Realtors sell home buying and home selling services. This understanding is crucial to be successful in real estate. If you believe that you sell houses, then you will only advertise and market the houses. But you can never brand the houses because you only have one of each to sell. You can never develop market presence. You cannot build a following for the houses. This leads to the phenomenon of “hero to zero” wherein you must start from scratch every week, every month, every year in building your business. Of course, it is important to market your properties. That’s why a seller hires a Realtor, but do not mistake doing your work for building your business.
Once you embrace the mindset that you are a professional selling home buying and selling services, now you have something to build a business upon. Buyers and sellers can hire any Realtor. Most cost the same or very close to the same. So, why would they pick this Realtor over that Realtor? The answer is that they would choose one based on knowledge, experience, ability to negotiate for them, home marketing resources, general reputation, and more.
What is branding?
There are so many variables to keep track of when choosing a provider for anything. Price, experience, quality, reliability, distance, and more. We make dozens of purchases every week, and to analyse every decision would be massively overwhelming. So, we patronize businesses that we believe to be overall the best. This may be because we did the analysis in the past. More likely, however, it is a mix of opinions of friends, brief comparison, and gut feeling.
Branding is creating an image of your business in the potential customer’s mind intended to make them feel that you are the best. In much the way that you might play up a good friend’s strong points while overlooking their flaws, a strong brand causes people to think the best of you and even forgive an error should it occur.
A 2017 Insights for Professionals article explaining Coca-Cola’s branding success discusses a concept of “Brand of Product.” In other words, the idea of the business becomes so much more than merely the product that the company offers.
As a Realtor, you manage and market listings, provide market information for pricing, advise on negotiations, help avoid pitfalls, guide clients through legal and financial thickets, and so much more. You do so much, in fact, that there is no way you could possibly explain it all through most marketing platforms.
This is where branding is important. People need things to be simple to retain them, which is why effective Realtor branding focuses on one or two aspects. Often you aim for some variation on “your friend who will take care of you and not let anything bad happen.” If you have a trusted friend taking care of things, you don’t worry about the details, because you know your friend has it under control. Do you think a seller or buyer who had that perception of a certain Realtor would ever go to anyone else? Of course not! A 0% commission wouldn’t pry them away.
How a Realtor can brand
Branding is vital for any business, but how does a Realtor do it? You work for a larger brokerage, and sharing their name and logo doesn’t build your business.
As a Realtor, your business is a bit different than those in other market spaces. Your brand is your name. Your logo is your face. Your identity is your brand. People are not going to work with someone in your organization. They are going to work with you. They are hiring your skills, your experience, your network, your attitude, your energy.
A business wants to put their name and logo everywhere. You must put your name and face everywhere. But the point is not where you put yourself, its who sees you and how often. Branding occurs when the same person sees your brand message 12-20 times. That takes persistence and consistency. To penetrate an audience, you must target that audience and reach that audience again and again and again, not for days or weeks, but for months, years, and even decades. That is the only way to, long term, build a great business in Real Estate.
Branding by giving away knowledge
Ultimately, when someone hires you, they are hiring you because they believe you are a reliable expert. How does someone know you’re an expert? Usually because they have somehow experienced your expertise. If you are a decent Realtor, then you have a powerful wealth of knowledge on everything from pricing to staging to marketing, but none of that will build your business unless you share it.
You need to let people see what you know, and you do that by taking all your knowledge and all your expertise and giving it all away for free. That’s right. Give it away. Everything you know should be in blogs, articles, podcasts, and even books. Some people are afraid to do this because they think that the clients won’t think they need them. This is a foolish way to think. Buyers and sellers won’t read your articles and become confident. They’ll read them and become anxious as they realize how much they don’t know. They will be happy that they have the opportunity to hire the expert whom they are learning from to take care of it all for them.
Put another way, as you read this article, is it making you confident that you can run out and build a branding campaign to push you to the top 25 of 1200 Realtors or is it making you think about bringing someone in to help you. I’m sharing everything you need to know to develop your own strategy, but I expect that I might get a few calls from some among you who would rather not try to figure it all out on their own.
Four key platforms to brand on
A brand is so much more than a logo and a business card. Here are four powerful platforms that will allow you to create a name for yourself in the industry and to become a major player in the local market.
Pros: Done right, it can be very affordable. Highly effective for maintaining contact with existing fans and followers.
Cons: Very time intensive to do right. Less effective for drawing attention from outside your existing followers.
We hear a lot about social media, and most of it is hogwash. I am highly skeptical of Internet snake oil salesmen who tell you that their algorithms can get you in front of the right people right at the moment of decision. Does this work? Well, ask yourself how often it works on you. How often have you been at the moment of decision and just the right ad appeared to cause you to buy from them. Sometimes, but not bloody often.
Sure, some of these wizbang technologies really deliver, but the vast majority of the are nothing more than flimflam. The truth is that branding has always worked and will always work, and branding is nothing more than you in front of prospects as often as possible.
So, when I say social media, I mean strong and consistent relevant content delivered digitally. This not some generic posts auto-generated by some service. This is you and your knowledge delivered to your audience every day.
Seaport does an excellent job of gathering, curating, and disseminating market information. They are building a strong presence in the market as experts in market conditions.
One + Company pushes personality and energy through their social media offerings with high quality video and engaging human content.
Of course, as an individual Realtor, you may not have access to the analytical capacity of Seaport or the production facilities of One+, but you do have a Facebook and a face. Use them. Even something as simple as a taking a selfie every day and posting it with a quick tip can build your brand. Include hashtags relevant to your business like #RealEstate, #HomesForSale, and #Housing. Include hashtags of towns and neighborhoods you service as well.
Remember how I said “every day.” Depending on the platform, more than once a day is better. Regardless of platform, your audience needs to see you every day for you to stay in their mind, and, as is true for every form of branding, they may need to see you every day for months or even years before they have developed enough trust and confidence in you to hire you.
Doing this right is time intensive, and must be a marathon, not a sprint. You’re not creating this content to get a listing tomorrow. You are creating it for the fifty listings you’ll have in 2025.
Pros: Pre-built audience. Much less work to maintain audience attention. Consistently reaching target market.
Cons: Larger investment.
The Internet devastated traditional local community resources. Neighborhood newspapers and newsletters failed in astounding numbers in the 90’s and 00’s, their advertising revenue drawn away to the shiny new Internet. Of course, the Internet, with its core platforms focused on scalability and uniformity failed to adequately replace the resources they displaced.
Residents of once well-connected communities found themselves feeling more alienated from their neighbors. Local events struggled as they lost the centers of community information that had kept neighbors informed.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a new kind of community publication developed. Not a legacy publication struggling to find its way, but a new kind of community publication, taking advantage of modern technology to create visually appealing, high quality magazines which were wildly popular in every community they arrived in. Their popularity is easy to understand. Neighbors in affluent communities want to be connected to their neighbors, and these publications deliver exactly that.
Today, the community publication industry is over a billion dollars in annual revenue and growing at a spectacular rate. Industry leaders Best Version Media and N2 Publishing have experienced spectacular growth, and have spread all across the United States and Canada.
This success has come largely because they are such an effective platform for their sponsors. A key to branding is to put yourself where your audience is already looking. If they can be smiling while they are looking there, all the better. Monthly neighborhood publications make people smile, and the local, community content brings them back again and again, meaning that their smiling eyes pass over the sponsor’s ad over and over.
Best Version Media offers a particularly powerful content marketing program. They allow selected, qualified sponsors to be category experts which allows them to write articles. Because the readers are so attached to their publication, they tend to read it cover to cover.
By reaching every corner of the market, you achieve top of mind awareness in both readers who are about to enter the market and those who are far from it. Saturation means you reach them all.
This means that a reader who is as far from the housing market as they could be will still consume your real estate content because it is in front of them. Even if they are not in the market, your name and information is now in their mind for the day they run into a friend who needs a real estate expert.
The best thing about sponsoring a community publication is that it takes so much less time than a social media/web presence. The reason for this is that an online strategy requires you to build your own audience entirely from scratch. With a neighborhood magazine, the strong market is already in place. You just need to create compelling and educational content which your publisher will deliver directly to your target market.
Pros: High visibility, lower cost per audience count, broad community awareness.
Cons: Limited available platforms, broad untargeted audience, low percentage of potential clients in audience, overall cost can be high
If the key to effective branding is to put your name and logo (or face) in front of people consistently, then why not find a place people go and put yourself there.
The most common form of persistent advertising is the billboard. There is something powerful about a 20 foot all photo of your face smiling down on thousands of cars a day as they drive by. But billboards are not the only way. In my area, a local grocery store McQuade’s Marketplace gives businesses the opportunity to sponsor not just shopping cards, but also the rack that the baskets sit in and the hand sanitizer dispensers. This is similar to a billboard, but people tend to be travelling more slowly as they pass by them.
You can also achieve a persistent advertising effect in many sports facilities. Many little league fields allow businesses to sponsor a sign on the outfield wall, both gaining exposure and supporting the great cause of little league.
All of these forms of persistent advertising are good ways to get broad exposure: the kind of exposure that increases the chance that a random person in the checkout line will recognize you. The downside is that this form of marketing is untargeted. While some are regular commuters or visitors, many people may only ever see your ad once.
Not all impressions are created equal. One impression each to 15,000 people is much less effective than 15 impressions each to 1,000 people. However, if persistent advertising is part of a larger strategy, then it can be very effective for branding. If someone sees your sign at the baseball field, sees you photo on Instagram, then reads your article in a local magazine, they will develop a perception that you are everywhere, and that’s a good impression to give.
I’m talking about speaking
Pros: Builds expert credentials, direct contact with potential clients, feedback increases your expertise
Cons: Difficult to find speaking venues, public speaking skill required
Experts in front of audiences is a powerful thing. When someone sees your ad, they will become aware that you are a part of the community. When they read your article, they will see that you are an expert. But when they see you speak, they connect with you as a person.
Getting in front of audiences is one of the most powerful ways to build your brand and your business. While it lacks the mass brand building power of the other three platforms I have discussed, it creates an opportunity for conversion that I felt made it worth mentioning.
The two ways to get in front of an audience are to create an audience yourself or get in front of someone else’s audience. Both of these methods are assisted by other branding methods. It’s much easier to draw an audience for a known speaker, just as it is easier to be booked as a speaker if you are better known.
To create your own audience, you might host a seminar on a topic you are expert in such as first time home buying, short sales, home staging, and more. It is often possible to find free or low cost venues such as libraries, senior centers, etc. You can then promote your talks through your existing email lists, social media platforms, and community publication calendars.
The easier way to find an audience is to connect with an existing audience. Many social organizations such as Rotary and Lions often have outside speakers come to their meetings to educate them. Of course, you are not there to sell. You are there to teach, so be sure that you have a topic of broad interest.
One of the best things about speaking to an audience in person is that you’ll get to learn from them. They will ask questions and provide feedback, and you never know what you might learn from the people in the room. While some will be way off base, others may be tapped into a development in the market or piece of local news that you were not previously aware of. This connection with the community can give you a unique advantage over your competition.
You almost can’t brand wrong
Branding is about getting your face and logo and name in front of people. While there are better and more effective ways, there are very few wrong ways to brand. As long as people are seeing your name and face in a positive context, branding is occurring. If you can attach specific concepts like expertise, persistence, and caring to your identity, all the better, but the most important thing is to be out there.
While it’s best to do the right thing, the best thing is often the thing you can start now. You’ll develop a good branding identity over time. I talk to so many people in many businesses who make the mistake of not advertising until their web site is ready or until they have their new logo or their new slogan. They are making a huge mistake. Time lost is money lost. If your business is open today, brand it today.
Michael Whitehouse is available to speak to your real estate office. Contact us today for details. For offices in New London and Washington counties, appearance fees can often be waived.