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jeff corbett

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Defining a Brand Through Business Strategy

Comparing real estate to companies from very different industries (like Apple) when referencing how branding or marketing should be done is very en vogue and very misdirected.  Highly successful ‘Big Brands’ are created in tightly controlled environments that have been developed over many years and are almost always backed by superior products or services.

The industry of real estate doesn’t quite lend itself to those conditions.  Its generally a loose, revolving door, part-time hobbyist infected environment that yields a highly uncontrollable and thus poor product.  As a result the biggest Brand in the space, ‘Realtor’, is currently in epic fail mode.  Corporate Brands like Coldwell Banker, Re/Max, Keller Williams etc. mean far more to agents (favorable commission schedules, franchise fees, tools provided) than they do consumers.

A Brands persona will not change (or continue to mean anything) in the consumers eyes until the underlying business model, day to day practices and purveyors of such are commanded/committed to such.  For too many traditional Brands, this is just not possible without the risk of alienating a majority of their contingency.  To which I’d say:  Good riddance.

With this in mind, a more relative comparison between Brands in the real estate space would be between the traditional names and Redfin, the Great Satan of real estate Brands. Redfin does what few others in this space do, they define their Brand through Business Strategy:

  • Focus (and follow up) on exemplary customer service.  Hold agents accountable for their actions, or lack thereof.
  • Provide rich, relative, intuitive data. Consumers fundamentally are searching for listings first, all of them.  Redfin provides many types:  Traditional, For Sale By Owner, MLS and Bank listed foreclosures as well as Sold data.
  • Employ consumer centric business and revenue models based in logic rather than antiquity.
  • Remain unusually nimble and open to change, as opposed to standing still and posturing into irrelevancy.

Any agent that flies under their flag is bound by these principles…The Fin tightly controls this environment, developing  an overwhelming positive experience for professionals and consumers along the way.

Can any other traditional Brand represent a 97% consumer satisfaction level?  Do they even know how to measure such?  Are they willing to try?  Me thinks no.  Is there great opportunity for those that dare?  Absolutely.

While there are individual agents and brokers that practice and achieve success employing similar business ideals, they are far more the exception than the rule and are often lost amongst the ‘rest of the crowd’ in such a way that Corporate Brand actually diminishes their efforts, having to instead build and rely on Personal Brand.

When Redfin launched, many industry folk quickly dismissed the company as ‘another discount brokerage’ doomed to failure.  Others have made it their personal vendetta to see that they stumble and fall…spooking, steering and slandering the Company as an impostor, a heretic…which must cause Mr. Kelman to smile more than just a little bit.  Despite all the mud-slinging Redfin apparently is turning a profit (in a ‘down market’ nonetheless), coupled with their high consumer satisfaction ratings, they’ve become a testament to building a Brand via business strategy and the greater industry can’t stand it.

The real estate industry would be well served to study and implement the major aspects of what Redfin is proving out, as opposed to perpetually denying their validity.  I’m not suggesting everyone breakout the Redfin blueprint and copy it verbatim, rather study their successes in comparison to the consumer voice which generally says that Realtors Suck.  Too idealistic?  Probably.  Why?  As suggested above, it would banish ~80% of actively licensed ‘real estate professionals’ to another industry because the bar would be raised off the floor.  Not to mention that too much coin would be left on the table in the near term for many short sighted C-Suite traditionalists to stomach, though continuing down the current road is a proven path to irrelevancy and ultimately insolvency.  Alas, suggesting that a business be run like a business is apparently crazy-talk…

While all the current rage resides with selling strategies that permeate the landscape with noisy propositions using ‘Social Media’ as some magic bullet to more business, what’s really broke and needs to be fixed first is The Business.  Dumping time and dollars into Social Media, SEO, a new website or the next cool shiny thing to (re)define Brand in hopes of more business without refining the core to become more in-line with the changing, demanding, educated marketplace is just plain ignorant.  They are utilities in the marketing tool belt, not long term solutions.

My 13 year old cousin could be a Social Media pundit.  WordPress (many a blogsite platform actually) provides 85% of the SEO, design elements and disparate data portability one will ever need…the rest is pimping out your ride…accessorizing, if you will (which is fine).  Consistently refining fundamental business strategies, setting the bar higher with regards to agent acumen level, transparency and accountability will positively define a business, a Brand and an industry with an identity crisis.