One of the first phone calls Charlie Young received after joining ERA as president in 2009 was from one of the company’s largest brokers.
“You can take that three-piece suit of yours from Coldwell Banker,” Young says the broker told him, “and put it where the sun doesn’t shine.”
That’s when Young, president and CEO of ERA Real Estate, realized that he’d have to prove himself to his new brokers — and that his achievements at rival Realogy brand Coldwell Banker (where he was chief operating officer) might not be perceived as relevant — or even all that useful — to ERA’s brokers.
Young decided to do something about it, immediately. He hit the road on what he called the “stop, keep and start” tour to meet his new franchisees. Over the course of hundreds of meetings with brokers, he found out what they thought ERA should stop doing, keep doing and start doing.
So what does all of this have to do with ERA’s new brand?
Simply this: While ERA’s new logo and brand materials are handsome, they’re really a reflection of ERA’s evolution over the last five years to becoming an A-list franchisor.
More than Window Dressing
“Since 2009, when I came to ERA, we have completely rebuilt the ERA brand from the inside out,” Young explains. “We have pretty much torn apart every aspect of our business and looked at it, and made improvements where we thought improvements were needed.
For years, ERA wasn’t known for operating in A-List, NFL-type cities.
“We eliminated things we didn’t think were relevant anymore,” Young continues. “We kept the things that we thought were strong and added to the value proposition. That’s been a steady evolution over the past five years.”
The results of the reengineering are paying off. Five of the company’s six largest brokers are new, including major regional players like The Herman Group in Southern California, Legacy Real Estate Group in Fremont, CA, Latter & Blum in New Orleans, and Wilkinson & Associates in Charlotte, NC.
“For years, ERA wasn’t known for operating in A-List, NFL-type cities,” Young explains. “But these days, that’s changed.”
Yet the transformation wasn’t easy.
A Long List of Firsts
Though ERA had a long list of accomplishments (first to go international, with an office in Japan; first to use fax machines to connect offices; first real estate brand to post listings online, first national brand with a website), ERA’s past achievements and internal strengths weren’t supported by the company’s aging brand. ERA’s identity had last been refreshed in 1996.
“The truth is that ERA has always had its own personality, with its own culture and competitive advantages as compared to the other Realogy brands,” Young says. “ERA is significantly differentiated from the other brands — but what we’ve seen lagging in the marketplace is people’s perceptions of who we are. We didn’t see that perception keeping pace with the brand we are today.”
So how do you redefine and reposition a much loved, established brand to 31,000 agents and brokers around the world, in 46 states, 33 countries and 2,300 offices?
You start by revisiting the foundation of the brand.
ERA, which stands for Electronic Realty Associates, was started in 1973 in an office over a barbershop in Kansas City. ERA’s founder, Jim Jackson, wanted to bring technology to brokers to build their businesses. So Jackson put a fax machine in every ERA real estate office.
Young explains that the fax machine, as well as a fundamental belief in the role of technology in real estate, planted two seeds that are still alive today in ERA’s DNA.
“The first seed is collaboration,” Young says. “What started as a way for brokers to communicate with each other and headquarters through a fax machine has transformed into a highly collaborative, communicative culture that helps the tide rise for everyone in the ERA system. But that fax machine also planted a seed of innovation. We’re a brand that is always thinking about what’s coming next.“
A Careful Rollout
Young says the brand refresh has been in the works for about 18 months.
It started with a strategic discussion within the brand at headquarters with a focus on whether the executive team thought the new identity would be an avenue to drive the business forward.
“Once we made the decision that this was a valid option, we went out to the community of agents and brokers we serve today,” Young recalls. “We presented a case that we felt that we needed to go to the next level of growth, even after five years of phenomenal growth. We felt that the rebranding could work as an accelerator for us.”
Once the decision was made to rebrand, Young’s first task was to solicit the opinions of ERA’s National Advisory Council of top brokers. A top New York branding firm, Verse Group, was retained for the project.
From there, dozens of options were created and tested with consumers, agents and brokers before the new logo was selected.
“We went through that cycle 3-4 times until we got down to a group of finalists, and then we worked with our national advisory council to help us pick the design that ultimately became the new ERA logo,” Young says. “It was important to us that we stay true to our heritage and our roots of who we were. You don’t change a logo lightly. This is only the fourth logo in the history of the company. Each one of those logos had the iconic red roof line.”
Since ERA gives franchisees a large amount of leeway in using the national brand in their local marketing efforts, it was no small task to create a flexible library of brand assets that would enable brokers and agents to properly use the new identity across building signage, business papers, and digital platforms.
“We take a very individual approach to our markets,” Young explains. “Every market is different, every agent is different and every broker is different. There is no such thing in real estate as a one-size-fits-all approach. Frankly, a lot of our competition might say, ‘here, put our yard sign in your front yard, and you’ll instantly be better.’ But that’s simply not the way this business works.”
Competitive Forces Drive Redesign
It’s clear that the new identity is designed to reposition ERA to consumers, given that the company is supporting the new identity with a large national marketing campaign. But it’s equally important to Young that the industry — meaning existing and potential franchisees — sees value in the new identity.
“We compete with all real estate brands, whether they’re within Realogy or without,” Young says. “But frankly, we’re also competing against the emergence of third party service providers who are providing bits and pieces of products to a broker owner of a company, and their agents. The pie is only so big, and people make their decisions on where to invest where they think it will make their business better.”
That’s why Young says ERA’s new identity is directly related to the success of the agent, the manager and the broker owner of the company in the local marketplace
“We believe that this business is a grass-roots business,” Young explains. “We say, ‘company first, agent first, broker first.’ Our job is to facilitate the growth of the manager of the local office, and the growth of the brokerage firm.”
Young says that franchisees have universally accepted the new brand, and he’s heard little barking about the fact that the old brand must be retired by March, 2015.
“Our franchisees have been uniformly positive and accepting of this change,” Young says. “They’re excited about it. They’re looking at it in their local markets as an opportunity to tell the story we’re trying to tell on a global basis that there’s something new to look at here. They’re saying, ‘take another look at ERA.’”