Here'a A really well written post by Inna Hardison. We can all benefit by taking a hard look at how the public views us and the "Brand" that we put out there!
It seems one can’t attend a seminar or read a marketing newsletter nowadays without being told that the most important thing you can do is brand yourself, your company or your service offering. You are told that the only way you’ll make it is to stand out, to be (with apologies to Godin) that purple cow, that one Realtor that everyone will recognize as the alpha dog of your niche or territory. It’s the universal panacea for the decline of your business, market, sales and, by inevitable side effect, a guarantee of success.
For the ardent seekers of easy fixes and magic bullets – you’ll find none of them in this post, or any others by me, for that matter, but there are plenty of those offerings permeating the Rain; look for them in any marketing or branding group on here. For those who choose to stick around, this is my educated opinion, based on years of ad agency and marketing experience, and as such, is open to any dissenting opinions on the subject.
Preamble over with, here are the most common misconceptions on the subject:
1) Everyone NEEDS a brand. On a very basic level, those who pitch this to agents presume that a brand is something you create and own. 99.9% of the time, it is simply not the case. Your brand is the creation of the minds and hearts (hearts mostly) of everyone exposed to your narrative in any form, and as such you ALL already have a brand of some kind.
2) You must be the Purple Cow. Sometimes people and by inevitable side effect their companies are, indeed, ordinary. In fact, most of the time people are ordinary, and do ordinary or mediocre work, whether they sell real estate for a living or anything else. Yes, an ordinary agent or company can hire a designer or marketing firm to create an image that will tell the consumer a story drastically different from the mediocre practices or service offerings, but that image will NEVER be sustainable, and there is nothing worse than being found out.
To expand on this – I don’t believe we are all suited equally well for standing out. Some people are pensive, and introverted and they run their business quietly. They will not comfortably inhabit a loud catch phrase any more than they would be comfy donning a risqué Halloween Costume. The thing that upsets me the most with the Purple Cow pitch is the simple fact that by urging everyone to do the very unique thing and stand out, we forget that our audiences are also made up of human beings, as diverse as we are, and that for every pensive agent who floats gently in pastels and whispers – there are people who are most comfortable with the soft hues of thoughtfulness, and that these are the people that agent will be most successful both targeting and working with.
3) Branding is a Gimmick. While no one actually says that, it seems that the perception of what a brand actually is fluctuates between brand as a logo, brand as a tagline, or, in most cases, brand as a gimmick. A brand is neither. As mentioned previously here and in my comment on Andrea’s post, a Brand is an all-encompassing perception of everything you put out there, whether deliberately (your just listed postcards, for example) or accidentally (your most recent FB status update). It is NEVER how you see yourself or your company, and always what others think of you. It is a continuous narrative that everyone you come in contact with builds subconsciously about you. It is the story that is created about you by people you do not know. Which leads me to the risks associated with branding:
4) Branding is all about guts myth. Taking risks is admirable, especially if done for a cause. It’s scary to throw your name and personal narrative out into the blogosphere, for example, and scarier still to speak your mind. Even on AR the few dozen bloggers who do that are the ones who stand out. They are the people who have in some ways branded themselves, and in this sea of voices, theirs are heard above the din. That said, TLW does not bring a whip to a listing appointment or a fundraiser, to the best of my knowledge, but she is always uniquely herself, and her brand is not in the black leather or redneck counteroffer as much as it is in the knowledge that she is unabashedly truthful and tells it like it is. Her brand is transparency in all things, and that is authentic. When branding your service, however, there is a lot more to consider than simply standing out. You must accurately predict the response of people you do not know and who do not know you. You must anticipate all the connotations and associations that will form in the mind of someone upon seeing your brand for the first time in any form, and you must understand what sorts of things trigger which reactions.
Everything that goes into your direct mail campaign, web presence or social media strategy has to reinforce and support the perception you want to create, and has to do so consistently. And I don’t mean that if you have a tag line – throw it on every piece of marketing. What I mean is that every element of everything you do when you have a brand is not something you can avoid paying attention to. Let’s say you sell luxury homes, and you paid handsomely for a logo that denotes luxury in some way. You start putting that logo on your postcards, in your email signatures and every place else you can think of, but you’ve not changed the rest of your marketing materials beyond that, and are still using some online service or Publisher to put it together and print it out on your Laser printer. The overall impression of your brand will suffer, and the connotations of that perfectly decent logo will suddenly turn from ‘luxury’ to ‘plebian’. Or, to expand on the same luxury property scenario, you brand yourself as the luxury agent of choice, and you list a very inexpensive foreclosure and actively promote that listing. You will hurt your brand in the same way Banana Republic would have if they sold their Old Navy merchandise under the Banana Republic umbrella.
5) Anyone can do it. This is true. Anyone can brand their own company or service, but there is a very good reason why even ad agencies hire outside companies (yep, their competition) to brand them. The reason for them is simply that they know they are in the bottle, so to speak, and hence their perception of who they are, their perception of their narrative is inevitably tainted. As a business owner, you are also in the bottle. The advantage of being in real estate is that you know your market, or at least one would assume that you do. You know what sorts of people you are trying to attract as sellers, and you should know what kinds of people would buy the kinds of properties you sell. That knowledge will be the most important bit of information that you can pass on to any professional assisting you with your marketing. For the agents who can’t afford to hire a professional to assist with their branding – my recommendation is to hold off on it. Wait until you can do it right, even if you are creative and graphically inclined. There are simply too many things that go into forming that all important picture of you in someone’s mind to risk putting across the wrong image.
It’s not about pretty or not, or sophisticated or not. We can’t control another human being’s emotional response to a narrative, but we can certainly be in control of whether or not the narrative is promoted.
To promote a narrative that is half-baked is not courageous, it’s irresponsible.