Branding in real estate is a challenging mix of personal brands and large corporate brands. It can be challenging to know your place in the industry and how to best leverage all your brand assets to sign new clients.
When we talk about building your brand, we are talking about:
- Brand awareness (how many people know of your brand)
- Brand depth (how willing those people are to engage you as an agent.)
In another era, people would say that a real estate agent’s success is based on his or her reputation. That is as true as ever, but it was in a time where agents had to manage only their relationships and Rolodex.
But we now refer to reputation as “brand.” A real estate agent’s success is based on his or her brand.
Now that there are so many media and advertising channels available to real estate agents, it is more helpful to think of your reputation as a “personal brand.” Using the word “brand” changes our mindset from something passively developed to something actively managed.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to become an expert in branding. You can engage experts like us at Nordeau, or brush up on only what you need to know.
Below are the essentials bits of knowledge you need to grow your brand as a real estate agent:
- Your brokerage brand gives your personal brand credibility.
- Your face is the logo of your personal brand.
- You need to be known for a specialty.
- Develop your inbound marketing.
- Prompt referrals.
Note: All of this presumes, you are a great agent providing professional service; you cannot build a brand on an inferior product. But I am an expert in branding, not real estate transactions, so I will leave it up to you to diligently do the work and learning required. I want to help you with marketing.
Branding Tips for Real Estate Agents
Below are the most important strategies and tactics to be aware of as a real estate agent who wants to manage their personal brand.
You are the brand. Your brokerage gives you credibility.
Buyers and sellers look to do business with people, not faceless corporations. Real estate companies bolster your professionalism.
Many real estate agents believe that the big brands in Canadian real estate (Sutton Group, Royal LePage, Re/Max, Century 21, Coldwell Banker) are what draws people into the office. This belief is false.
A big brokerage merely reassures potential clients that you are credible. These companies’ logos are mental shortcuts in people’s minds to “safe and trusted in real estate.”
A well-known and trusted brokerage has the same effect as a top-tier university. “I don’t know this lady, but she went to Harvard, so she must be smart.”
People do not have the same preference between Royal LePage and Century 21 in real estate as they do between Cadbury and Hershey’s in chocolate. They’ll do business with any of the real estate companies if they personally connect with the agent.
If you are independent or building your own organization, then you need to build credibility in other ways: endorsements, testimonials, a fantastic logo, etc.
Your face is your logo.
While a personal logo is helpful, it will never be as recognizable as your face.
What is the purpose of a logo? A logo is a mental shortcut between a visual and all of the opinions, associations, feelings, and memories has with a brand.
Organizations use a symbol because it is the best thing that they have available to them. No person can represent the organization over the decades, but a logo can remain constant through leadership and personnel changes.
It is mind-boggling we respond to symbols so well because they are so abstract. But our ability to engage with symbols pales in comparison with our brain’s ability to recognize, remember, and associate feelings with faces.
And our brain’s ability to visually process faces is also unprecedented. We can recognize a face from very far away, and when it is a tiny patch on our visual field. Graphic designers wish this were the case for symbols; many company logos are hard to recognize when they are too small or far away.
So a photograph of your face is better at doing everything we wish a logo to do for a brand. A photo of you will enable people to remember you and possibly work with you.
Use photos of yourself whenever possible, and use your personal logo only when it is impossible to use an image (like a piece with two-colour print, or a sponsorship banner.)
Putting your face out there may be challenging for some of you. I know there are those out there who are self-conscious and want to minimize your appearance. Or you are a visible minority and are worried about discrimination.
There are people out there who will judge or discriminate against real estate agents who don’t look a certain way. But don’t let those few people push you into hiding yourself away. Haters are going to hate whether your face is on your branding or not, and someone dumb enough to discriminate was not going to be your client either way. They can get their second-rate representation elsewhere.
Remember, people are hiring you for your expertise, perspective, and people skills… not your looks. While you should do everything you can to present yourself well in your promotional photographs (professional clothes, make-up, and lighting), you do not need to be a model.
Your face will have all the memorable and associative properties we want for your personal brand, whether you are gorgeous or not.
There are riches in niches.
Be “the guy” or “the gal” that can sell a particular type of property.
Personal story: I grew up in a Toronto neighborhood where the house values tripled in my first 14 years of life. There was one real estate agent that everyone knew as “the guy” in my neighborhood. He knew exactly the work that needed to be done to these turn of the century houses to appeal to outsiders, and he knew exactly the price to list a property to get great returns in a few weeks on the market. He insisted people put much of their furniture in storage to make these small houses present as spacious.
My parents did not go with that agent. Instead, they hired a husband of a co-worker of my mom’s whose practice was closer to downtown. He put the house on the market without modification and for the price my parents suggested. It sat on the market for months, and eventually, my parents had to accept an offer that was $100,000 under market value.
Real estate agents do not want to present themselves with a narrow focus because they do not want to give potential clients a reason not to call them. “I would call, but it says he is the king of Main Street retail, and my property is a warehouse.”
But the reverse is true; people need a reason to call. Marketing needs to motivate them to act, not try to eliminate every reason they might not do something.
The behavioural science is clear; we decide (or at lease narrow down our options) with emotions, and then we need one logical reason to push us to action.
Your niche expertise may be the logical reason someone needs to reach out, even if your niche is tangentially related to their property of circumstance.
Focus on people who already value your services.
Real estate agents spend too much time on people who aren’t in the market or don’t want to work with them.
There are people who you just aren’t going to convince.
You’ve got them on the line, and that guy on the seminar said “push through the no,” and you spend 40 minutes and all your energy for the day on a call with a person who will never engage you. Meanwhile, your inbox, text message app, and voicemail have messages from people already working with you.
Staying top of mind with people who are not in the market now, but will be in the future is one thing. I want you to do things in service of staying top of mind: email newsletters, mailers, annual reach outs, etc. But those activities should be 90% automated and take almost none of your time and energy.
What I am warning you of in this section is spending time energy convincing people who are unconvinced or not in the market.
Remember, a client’s decision to choose an agent is unconsciously made on an emotional level first and then backed up with logical reasons.
By trying to convince someone who has emotionally decided not to go with you, all you are doing is pestering them, which entrenches their emotional decision. You can’t convince them with logic because they haven’t crossed the emotional hurdle yet.
So, how do you cross the emotional hurdle? It starts with design and branding, which Nordeau can help you with. But it is also being kind, courteous, and answering their questions. The relationship-building speaks to their emotional side, and they may come around. They may not; it’s mostly out of your control.
The trick to signing clients is selling to the people who have emotionally bought in. This is called inbound marketing [PDF]. Inbound marketing is setting the environment up to encourage potential customers to take the first step to engage the brand. Executing an inbound marketing strategy provides pre-qualified leads for salespeople.
Inbound marketing for real estate agents means appropriately setting up a website, Google My Business profile, social media, and light paid promotion. All of these have a primary call to action (book a meeting) and a secondary call to action that requires slightly less emotional commitment (attend a seminar, sign up for a mailing list, free web-based appraisal, etc.) Nordeau can help with all of that.
To steal Will Smith’s line from the movie Hitch:
“Go ninety. Whatever you’re doing, just go ninety and let the other person come ten.”
Although, ideally, the client comes ninety, and you come ten.
Referrals don’t happen from excellent service alone.
Light prompts for referrals can double the amount of business you receive from them.
Brand awareness is how many people are aware of a brand and know what they are about. Real estate agents build this over years of practicing in a locale and with promotion.
On the other hand, brand depth is how willing the people who know about a brand are to engage it. A strong brand like Apple does not need to convince people to buy their products, follow them on social media, etc. People are suspicious of poorly managed brands, like Kodak or Facebook, and need extra convincing to engage over other brands.
Referrals are the best indicator of brand depth for real estate agents.
A customer who will refer you will also engage you when they are back in the market. They value your work so much that they will stake their reputation on that you will surely help their friend or family member.
A real estate agent earns this by providing quality service. They set reasonable expectations, meet or exceed them, and have a process and demeanor that makes clients feel comfortable throughout.
But referrals don’t happen with excellent service alone. Some people love your service, but it would not occur to them to refer you. Usually, this is about three quarters to half of all people.
A subtle but visible prompt will spark the idea to refer you.
These prompts could be:
- A line in your email signature,
- A note on your Christmas mailer
- A fridge magnet in homes that closed
- A plaque on your lobby
The other part of encouraging referrals is to reward people who refer you. If someone has referred you once, then they have demonstrated the willingness and the network connections required to refer you, and they are more likely than the average person to do it again.
The thank-you gift can be a gift card to Starbucks, sending flowers, or even just a friendly phone call. Being appreciated for the referral will encourage future referrals.
Money or discount-incentives are inappropriate in the Canadian real estate market; you can make people feel slimy, discouraging them from recommending you. It’s not a part of Canadian culture.
The trick to encouraging future referrals is to consistently ask: “Did someone refer you?” and if yes, then “Who referred you?”
If you do not know someone is referring you, then you cannot encourage them to keep referring you.
You can also keep track (if only mentally) of what percentage of your clients come from referrals. If this number is rising, then your brand depth is improving. You are on your way to a healthy brand.