Your personal brand is your most important asset. But is it a diamond in the rough?
If you’re working full time in real estate, and are making a living at it, you run a bona fide business. That’s because you are likely an independent contractor who must generate your own business — and pay for your own expenses, like taxes and healthcare.
As such, your business is worthy of being treated as a business. It deserves to have a brand and business plan that will help you grow it. So what if you work for a large broker with an impressive brand? Can’t you just leverage your broker’s stuff?
Sure, but YOU still need a brand.
That’s because 66 percent of buyers interviewed just one agent before deciding which one to work with, according the National Association of Realtors’ 2014 Profile of Buyers and Sellers. In the case of sellers, 70 percent contacted just one agent and sealed the deal then and there. The broker’s brand was an afterthought.
You don’t have much runway to create a second impression. You’ve got to knock it out of the park before that first meeting. That’s best done through branding and marketing, which is a combination of a promise and a value proposition that is inexorably tied up with the way you do business.
Can’t I Just Use My Broker’s Brand?
You can leverage your broker’s assets, and you probably should if they’re right for you. But you can’t lean too heavily on your brokerage to define what makes you different from the next agent at your brokerages. One look at your brokerage’s “our agents” page will surely prove the point that your broker is interested in showcasing all of the agents at your firm on an equal basis.
It’s up to you to swim in your own lane and develop a brand that will spotlight you, no matter which brokerage you work with. It’s worth noting that many of the top agents and teams in the country work for brokerages — but they still have their own brands within their brokerages.
Top Agents with Their Own Brands
Sue Adler runs a nine-member team within the Keller Williams Premier Properties brokerage in Short Hills, NJ. Her website is highly functional. It clearly positions her as the top KW agent in New Jersey, and it’s ridiculously easy to get in touch with her with a prominent phone number, lead capture form and even live chat.
What’s particularly interesting is how Adler is utilizing a pre-defined IDX search (provided by iHomeFinder via Virtual Results) for various communities on the New Jersey to Midtown train lines, including commute times. It’s an ingenious way to help consumers visualize where they want to live in her service area — and pays off the fact that she’s a local expert. At the very top of the site, Adler makes it clear that if you’re looking to live within 45 minutes of New York City, she can make it happen.
Take note that Adler’s personal brand clearly dominates KW’s brand. Although she promotes the fact that she is KW’s number one agent in New Jersey for 10 years running, it’s not the highlight of the site. The Keller Williams logo is in the footer. Rather, Adler focuses on what she and her team can deliver for clients: Valuable local insight and extraordinary customer service.
Same Market, Different Approach
Judith Weiniger is Adler’s competitor. She’s ranked as one of RE/MAX’s top ten agents in New Jersey, and has built a site through Curaytor Systems that is focused on her track record and expertise in the area. From the moment you land on the site and see Weiniger walking through a listing on video, everything about The Weiniger Group feels warm and friendly.
The site is built for conversion, with obvious contact features, dynamic IDX search powered by Homes.com, and a well-populated blog filled with community information and open houses. But the star of the show is always Weiniger and her team, as well as a deep well of local resources designed to help buyers and sellers understand the community.
The RE/MAX logo is subordinated to the footer of the site, and isn’t even a clickable link back to RE/MAX Premier – Warren (her brokerage). Weiniger is clearly counting on the fact that The Weiniger Group has enough market presence to persuade prospects that her team is the right choice.
Investing in a Brand Called YOU
What Weiniger and Adler have in common is an obvious commitment to building their personal brands, so that they can build their livelihoods.
This approach makes lots of sense. But what if you’re not a top agent and in a position to create a brand? Poppycock. Of course you are. Everyone can create a brand; it’s just that few actually do. Here’s what you need to be successful.
- Understand what a brand is: A brand is a promise, plain and simple. It’s not a logo, website, font treatment, farm mailer, platitude or ad campaign. It’s a genuine promise to your client about the way that person can expect the business to behave. For example, consumers expect Apple to introduce innovative products. That’s a brand promise. When Apple fails (and it does fail every so often), people expect Apple to admit it, fix it and make it right. For the most part, Apple has done exactly that — introduced groundbreaking products, fixed things that weren’t right, and created fanatical, evangelical customers. Apple could have introduced me-too products, like Dell Computer. But that’s not Apple — and it’s one reason Dell Computer has been marginalized in the technology business. How does this apply to you? Figure out what you’re passionate about, and deliver it to your clients. A brand without passion is crippled from the get-go. Brands are passionate promises made by individuals like you.
- Nourish your brand: Even if you never build a fancy website or create a whiz-bang logo, your brand is expressed in the details of the way you do business. From the way you respond to web inquiries to the care you take in presenting a listing, it’s all in the details. But it’s also about building a passionate, fully integrated life that enriches those around you. In real estate, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a separate personal and professional life. That’s also what will help your brand thrive, because when you’re passionate about delivering on your brand promise, everyone around you feels it. Nourish your brand by engaging in business activities that pay off your passion. Kill those things that take your eye off the ball, and don’t directly contribute to building your brand.
- Raise your brand like a baby: You don’t have to launch with a grand scheme and have every detail worked out far in advance. You can, and should, take baby steps. But always remember that you want your baby to grow up big and strong, so don’t cheap out and spend money on poor quality tools that detract from your brand promise. For example, you can get a crowd-sourced logo for $25 and a template website for $12. But if you’re not willing to firmly establish your goals, get a proper brand identity that works everywhere, and populate your website with unique and purposeful, useful content, your brand will be tarnished. It’s like feeding Ding-Dongs, Slim Jims and Cheetos to a baby, and expecting it to grow up healthy. Garbage in, garbage out definitely applies to brand building.
- Have a plan: The reason you may not be willing to invest in building a brand, or that the idea of creating one feels extraordinarily difficult, is that you may not have done your homework. Have you honestly assessed your business, and figured out what your brand (or you, for that matter) stands for? If you’re having trouble, it’s probably because you don’t know what your unique value proposition is, so it’s nearly impossible to articulate and support. And if you can’t articulate what you’re trying to do, you’ll throw money away on marketing tactics that have little chance of working. A good plan should include an analysis of your existing business, your plans to grow (a real forecast with real numbers!), and a realistic number you can invest in marketing on an annual basis. Whether that number is five cents or $50,000, it’s an investment that can be made effective by determining which marketing tactics can best support and express your brand. If you can’t commit to a budget, how can you realistically commit to your brand and your business? (And by the way, your time is worth money too. Even if you don’t have cash to spend, every hour you invest in building your brand is real money. Everyone has a time budget — what’s yours?)
- Examine your broker’s brand: How does your brand square with your broker’s brand? If you’re trying to build a luxury team but you’re working at a low-end brokerage, that’s an obvious disconnect. But have you looked at the more subtle aspects of your broker’s brand? How are incoming leads handled? Is there floor time, and who works it? Who are the other agents — and do you like them? Do other agents at your company bolster your reputation, or harm it? What is your brokerage’s reputation in the community, and among your peers at other companies? Is it progressive, or alarmingly old school? What about presentation materials, transaction management tools and advertising? Are you proud to be associated with your broker’s brand, or do you discount it and just view it as a place to hang your license? If you feel that the way your broker does business doesn’t fit with your brand, it’s time to move on. Although your brand should supersede your broker’s brand, it should also synchronize with it. Here’s what’s important: When people realize you’re associated with your brokerage, no one should ask “why are you there?”
- Think about all the tools available to you. Now that you have a brand, business plan and a sound relationship with your brokerage, you can start thinking about tools. Think like a startup. You can use a variety of marketing channels to build traction for your business. Consider paid search, SEO, public relations, blogging, events, social and display ads, offline ads (billboards, bus shelters, print), email marketing, speaking engagements, community building, content marketing and even viral marketing. All of those options don’t include things you can do to build your business internally, like adding buyer or seller agents, transaction coordinators or investing in a CRM to manage your business processes. Which of these avenues will enrich your brand, draw clients and help you retain them? It’s not just about lead generation. The National Association of Realtors Profile of Buyers and Sellers says 88 percent of homebuyers would use their agent again … but most don’t because the agent loses touch over time. That’s loss — and easily preventable.
Your Brand is the Engine of Your Business
So how much should you invest in building your own brand? Everything you can. Your brand offers the very best opportunity to attract and retain clients and build the business you want.
Only you can know what exactly you can and should spend on marketing tactics based on your revenue and business plan (although typically, traditional marketing expenditures can range from 10-35 percent of your gross commissions). But remember that marketing tactics are only part of the story.
Think holistically about your brand. It’s the engine of your business. So allow it to flourish by spending money to improve how it works for you — and hold it accountable. With a plan and an understanding that a brand is a lot more than a logo, you’ll be poised for a whole new level of success.