Are you awash in marketing initiatives but feel like you’re not getting anywhere? The reason is simple. You may be spending a lot of money going nowhere, because you don’t know where you want to go.
It happened again this week. A call from an enormously successful agent came in a little after 5:30 p.m.
“I’m confused,” the caller said through the crackle of a bad mobile connection. “I’m spending all sorts of money on my brand, but I hate all of it. I need to focus. I’m in the process of developing my website, but I don’t know what it should say. Can you help?”
Yes, I thought to myself, I can help. But chances are you might not like the help I’m about to offer.
“You’re like a lot of agents I’ve met,” I began. “You’re successful, talented, over-achieving and yet, lost.”
I got a knowing sigh on the other end of the line.
“The problem is really simple,” I continued. “You don’t know who you are, and you need to figure that out. It’s not easy to put a stake in the ground and define yourself. It means making choices. You’re unique. You’re different. So you have to define that.”
“Oh, I’m doing that,” the caller said. Then she began to sputter out a complex picture of her marketing ecosystem. “I specialize in luxury properties. I just had a new head shot taken. I’m working on a new semi-custom website. Did I mention my husband is the other half of my team? He says we should just pick up the phone to get more business, but we’re already selling $45 million a year. But we want to sell $60 million.
“So I was thinking, maybe I should just get XYZ CRM to handle all our contacts,” she continued. “Does that work? Do you know if it can connect to email? I’ve got to get a newsletter started. Did I mention I’m thinking about using drones to shoot my latest listing? Or do you think we can just get our assistant to do it? We’re already spending a lot of money on marketing, but it doesn’t seem to draw in anyone new. Almost all of our business comes from referrals.”
What makes you different?
I was exhausted just listening to this. Here was a very successful person. Yet she was so engulfed in the tactics of her marketing program (both the ones she was actually using and various technologies she hadn’t even tried) that she had forgotten the one thing that actually mattered.
Who was she? What was it that made her successful? And most important, what made her different?
Difference isn’t created by following the herd and doing the same things everyone else is doing. You can’t develop difference by tapping into pre-fab content created by somebody else for people who don’t know you or your clients.
Defining your difference is like deciding on a destination — you have to choose where you want to go so you can actually get there. Think of it this way: It’s unlikely that Frederick Cook or Robert Peary (who both claimed to have discovered the North Pole first) would have gotten there at all if they hadn’t set out to discover it in the first place.
Your mission has to be to discover YOUR North Pole. Not someone else’s, even if you think someone else has already covered the territory. Your North Pole has to be yours, and yours alone. Remember this:
It’s impossible to be different if you don’t treat yourself as unique.
Are you negating your differences?
Few agents and brokers will commit to carving out their own difference. Instead, they rely on timeworn homilies that, in all practicality, negate any differences they might have. Though I’ve mentioned it before, words like “excellence” and “unparalleled service” really mean very little to the people you’re trying to win as clients.
Such phrases are easy to use, though, because they’re not demanding. Using words like this to describe you is convenient, because they demand little introspection. After all, who’s going to argue with excellence? It’s more likely your clients just ignore it.
In reality, though, the only time “excellence” counts is when your clients use the word to describe you. When you use it, it’s akin to being one of those hateful guests at a cocktail party that can’t stop talking about himself. Droning on about quality and service practically guarantees that you’re talking to the mirror — not to your clients.
So why do agents and brokers blather on and on, and ignore the opportunity to differentiate themselves? I think there are eight key reasons — and if you’re going to grow your business, you should fight against every one of them until you find your own North Pole.
1. You honestly believe being a real estate agent (or a broker, for that matter) is a parity business.
Here’s how I know so many people believe this — they’re willing to buy all sorts of templated content and technology because they can’t think up anything that would set them apart from their competitors. Now, this isn’t a slam against those honorable vendors who sell products and services to real estate agents that incorporate pre-fab content or design (many of whom I’ve reviewed right here on Eight11). Often these are great services that are just waiting for some TLC from an agent that understands these are tools to be made their own. Rather, it’s about the agents who fail to personalize these tools at all — so that they’re just one of many using the same tools and techniques. Looks alike, sounds alike, is alike — the death knell of creating difference.
2. You use the same tiresome lexicon to describe what you do and who you are.
I’ve gotten on my soapbox plenty of times to say how much I despise meaningless words like “premier” or “full service.” I don’t think they mean anything to the average consumer, which is why everyone (even you, if you’re reading this screed) brushes right over them. In order to embrace why you’re different, you have to use words and take action that reflect that actually make you different. And they have to make your difference relevant to your clients. Expressing your difference is an active proposition. It should work for your customers and clients, in words and actions a three-year old, non-native speaker can understand. Leave the $20 dollar, fancy-pants words behind, and get out there and do something that sets you apart.
3. You’re not passionate about what you do.
This is a massive problem. If you’re not thoroughly enthusiastic about what you do, it will show through in your brand. Passion allows you to succeed against all odds and creates a meaningful impression in your clients’ minds. If you’re phoning it in and have lost the reason you got into the business in the first place, no chipper marketing slogan, website, business card, CRM or other tactical effort will help you distinguish yourself.
4. You’ve never really had a good goal in the first place.
I’m not pointing any fingers, but when your only goal is to make more money or hit a certain level of production, it’s pretty hard to create difference. Goals that are strictly related to money lack a higher purpose. Money goals have nothing to do with adding value to your clients. No client wants to feel that the only reason you’re working with them is to win a commission. Yet if you have a higher purpose — a goal that goes beyond lucre or personal status — it’s obvious that your mission and values will percolate throughout your business, and enrich your clients’ experience with you. You will be different through your actions because they help you achieve your higher purpose. Think Method Cleaners vs. P&G — Method is about making people happy with better, environmentally sensitive products. P&G is about winning market share.
5. You use the wrong technology to go after the wrong goal.
I recently spoke to a group of 500 agents at an industry event. I asked the audience how many people had subscribed to a service that they were still paying for — but had forgotten the password to, and hadn’t logged in for more than 30 days. Some 90 percent of the audience’s hands went up! The reason is simple: It’s an absolute disconnect between your higher purpose and the mechanics of your business. We’re all searching for the perfect solution to manage our businesses, but when the technology is there for its own sake and doesn’t really facilitate your goals, it’s a non-starter. It’s not so much about discipline as it is about reality. We spend our time on what’s important to us. What’s important propels us towards our goal. If it doesn’t support the goal … well, you can see where this is going. I swear it’s the reason so many CRMs are abandoned. Maybe you’re really not that into building a massive database of contacts after all, because it’s just not YOU.
6. You do things the way other people do them.
In real estate, you have to play by the rules when it comes to negotiating a transaction. But everything else you do is up to you. To be different means actually being different, whether that’s via the force of your charming personality, or utilizing technology to support your higher purpose and your business goals. Nobody else can or should do business as you do. Celebrate that difference, carve out your niche, and stick to it.
7. You’re afraid to choose a niche.
Difference is about making choices, just as simplicity is the art of intelligent subtraction. You can’t and shouldn’t do everything under the sun. Specialize in and celebrate what you’re good at, and ruthlessly cut out all the stuff you don’t like to do, or aren’t really good at. Your prospects want to work with someone who is a passionate expert. Be that person and announce it to the world.
8. You’ve built an inconsistent and lousy brand.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been in marketing for close to 30 years, but I REALLY hate it when someone says to me that marketing is really expensive, and that’s why they have an awful brand. I despise it because it speaks to a basic misunderstanding of what a brand really is, and what marketing can do. A brand is an intangible yet valuable promise that your clients will either believe in and buy — or not. Marketing is about getting the word about your promise out into the world. You can have an excellent brand (your promise) supported by a tiny marketing budget (your creativity and actions). What matters is quality, consistency and a commitment to creating difference and preference. If you’re all over the map and your brand is pretty awful, that’s because you haven’t created difference that you believe in and care about.