Rebranding Century 21 to reach Generation X and Y

Real Estate Agent

Dear Mr. Tom Kunz,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to analyze the Century 21 brand position, and to let you know what I think you can do to position Century 21 as the real estate brand for this era. First let me congratulate you and your team for building Century 21 into one of the largest and most recognizable real estate brands in the world. As you can see in the graph below the term "Century 21" is the third most commonly searched real estate brokerage keyword, and seventh overall keyword phrase for the real estate industry.

With this strong base and some other key brand assets that I will address later in this letter, I believe you have an opportunity to win the brand loyalty from the most important new segment of home buyers and sellers: the twenty and thirty somethings: Generation Y, and Generation X. 

Winning over this market segment will take a lot of work, innovation, and most importantly courage, however I believe that the financial rewards this group offers will be worth the effort. Lastly, I know your time is valuable and limited so I will not mince words in this report. I promise to deliver my opinions to you straight, but please remember these are my subjective views and do not represent any formal polling.

Brand position, historical/corporate: Century 21 was founded in 1971 and named after the 1962 world's fair: "The Century 21 Exposition", aka "Seattle World's Fair". The major themes of Seattle's World Fair were space, science, and the future. The naming heritage is and has always been an important element in establishing the Century 21 brand and culture. The focal point of the brand over the last 37 years has been "the future".

*Screen-shot of the current home page.  Notice the black based "futuristic" motif.

Current brand position amongst Generation Y and Generation X: Most of my peers have yet to buy or sell a home, so at this point they hold little to no brand loyalty. In fact even more elemental than brand loyalty, most of my peers have very little brand awareness and are rarely able to name more than one or two real estate brokerage companies.  Usually Century 21 or RE/MAX are listed, along with possibly a regional real estate brand. Some of my peers found it difficult to name even one real estate brand when questioned! Most were able to recall RE/MAX's balloon when prompted, but none were able to connect Century 21 with any meaning or brand image.

For more perspective on this market segment please read this post on "Century 21, the first choice among young, first time buyers" authored by Marc Davison of 1000Watt Consulting.

Current brand position from an industry insider perspective: Having practiced real estate almost exclusively in the Seattle real estate market, and being shielded from most television advertising, my perspective of the Century 21 brand is very limited and I am sure skewed.  However with that disclosure, I must say that Century 21 is amongst the bottom on my list of the most respected real estate brands. 

Here's why:

  • Every Century 21 real estate office I have visited has been large, dated, and lacking almost any culture.
  • I equate Century 21 with flat fee desk rent for lower producing agents.  (It is important to note here that RE/MAX is positioned in my mind as flat fee desk rent for high producing agents.)
  • Realogy's step child to Coldwell Banker's first born.
  • Technologically lacking.
  • Dying brand, slowly being phased out. 

It doesn't have to be this way...

My brand recommendations for Century 21: Go Modern!

Century 21's brand was built around being "futuristic".  This worked in the 70's and 80's when, "Back to the Future" was the #1 movie, and we all thought of the 21st century as the future.  Now it comes across as dated and out of touch. The most hip brands of today (W Hotels, Ikea, PinkBerry) are tapping into the modern theme; a theme that Century 21 is positioned perfectly to capitalize on.

Making this transition is the right long term decision for your company.  Whereas Futuristic design is constantly changing and evolving, Modernism is timeless and will allow Century 21 to create a brand feeling, or culture, that can be built upon for the decades to come.  As an example view the black and white video below where the Eames Lounge Chair was first introduced in a 1956 NBC television broadcast. Then notice the picture below that where the same chair fits in perfectly to it's stunning new and "modern" surroundings.


The good news is that secretly, and perhaps inadvertently, Century 21 has been cultivating this brand position since the beginning. For example notice the architectural elements of the house in the Century 21 logo?  The lines are recognizably "mid-century modern":

It is this element that you should build your re-branding initiatives on.

Other things to consider:

1. Color: Please, please, PLEASE drop the black from all of your marketing, and tweak the shade of gold.  Modern design is all about being clean, and simple.  Look to the modern house above, or the Eames Lounge chair, and design your marketing to reflect them.  If your designers don't understand how a website or a flyer can be designed to reflect the look of a house or a chair, get new designers.

2. The Gold Jacket:

  • I like the idea of the Gold Jacket.  It is a visual cue that can help to differentiate Century 21 agents from the herd. 
  • It is most effective as a branding tool within the industry and should not be highlighted on consumer facing advertising campaigns. Establishing national/worldwide consumer brand recognition is one thing; connecting that brand recognition to a gold jacket is not necessary or cost effective.
  • Go back and get the jacket redesigned.  I know that you just had it redesigned by "fashion futurist, Geoffrey Beene". However the jacket is not cool.  Aligning with Geoffrey Beene will not win you any points unless you are a member of AARP. (I know, most of your agents are older and like the comfortable fit of the Geoffrey Beene jacket. I don't care and you shouldn't either. A true leader will take their followers where they need to go. Your agents don't need you to lead them to the status-quo. They are already there.) *The suit pictured below (right) is Ralph Lauren Black Label.

  • The most important element of the Gold Jacket is that it means something about the person that's wearing it.  What it means is a topic for a different letter.

3. Authenticity:

Generation X and Y buyers value authenticity above all else. They do not want to be marketed to or sold. They want to come into relationship with your brand: your people. The easiest way to do this is stop trying so hard, be yourself. Realize that they are smart and can make good decisions. Generation Y especially has a profound ability to sniff out the unauthentic. As an example I would like to draw attention to a recent Century 21 television commercial that goes through all of the motions, and yet still fails to connect.


It is difficult to explain why this ad doesn't work.  I think a Will Smith scene from the first Men In Black movie can explain best what I am getting at here.

[in a shooting range, confronted with numerous menacing-looking targets, Edwards shoots a cardboard little girl]

Zed: May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?

James Edwards: Well, she was the only one that actually seemed dangerous at the time, sir.

Zed: How'd you come to that conclusion?

James Edwards: Well, first I was gonna pop this guy hanging from the street light, and I realized, y'know, he's just working out. I mean, how would I feel if somebody come runnin' in the gym and bust me in my ass while I'm on the treadmill? Then I saw this snarling beast guy, and I noticed he had a tissue in his hand, and I'm realizing, y'know, he's not snarling, he's sneezing. Y'know, ain't no real threat there. Then I saw little Tiffany. I'm thinking, y'know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit, Zed. She's about eight years old, those books are WAY too advanced for her. If you ask me, I'd say she's up to something. And to be honest, I'd appreciate it if you eased up off my back about it.

4. Web Presence:

Hire Jonathan Hicks to do your graphical design, and find a way to get Galen Ward to build your home search. They are both proven producers and will deliver to you a product far superior to all of your national competitors.

Please do not hesitate to call or email me with any follow up questions. I have been thinking about your company for a long time and wholeheartedly believe in what Century 21 can become.


Jonathan Washburn


*Please note that Tom Kunz, Century 21 Chief Executive Officer, did not actually engage me to write this letter.  This is all my own doing and the opinions expressed on my blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ActiveRain Corp.

Comments (66)

Missy Caulk
Missy Caulk TEAM - Ann Arbor, MI
Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate

Ditto to everything said and in the comments. Actually C21 in Ann Arbor is nothing, don't know if they wear the jackets but the agents working there are not quality. ( except one ) Since coming to activerain, I have met some great C21 agents and it has totally changed my opinion of the company.

Hey, I think you should do a critique on all the big companies, it is obvious you care. Trust me they all have their quirks.

What did you think about the Bug one at Inman, Yea we would be laughed off the street if we drove VW's around decorated like lady bugs. gold jackets, balloons, bugs...

Aug 04, 2008 11:16 AM
Jon Washburn
Seattle, WA

Missy, I loved the Bug Realty company at Inman.  I thought it was very eye catching.  I got enough flack for covering C21, and I am not sure if I could handle covering more of the big companies.

Aug 04, 2008 11:32 AM
Michelle DeRepentigny
Success Realty - Athens, GA
Broker Athens, GA

Jon, you are so on target with this post.  I am a former C21 broker and have a gold jacket and antique cookie jar still available, if anyone wants to make me an offer. We were always know as the training office in our neck of the woods - give me an agent for a year and I could show them how to own their niche, then they left for a 100% company, as the other the other owner didn't believe in an agent centric office.  I opened another independent brokerage 4 years ago. 

I really believed in the power of their brand, but could not get another franchise with them in this area, due to lack of population.  Ironically my former office just closed their doors in town just after I merged with another of  Realogy's step-children, a local ERA office, supposedly the high tech brand - but I see some glaring gaps in their platform already. Like Missy, I'd love to see your take on the other big brands!

Aug 04, 2008 03:09 PM
Colleen Fischesser Northwest Property Shop
NextHome Experience - Chelan, WA
A Tradition of Trust in the Pacific NW since 1990!

Jon, LOVED it....unless someone at C-21 actually steps up and begins to take notice.  And as a personal note, I think your fee for reading is right on ;-)

Aug 05, 2008 03:09 AM
"The Lovely Wife" (Broker Bryantnulls Wife) The One And Only TLW.
President-Tutas Towne Realty, Inc. - Kissimmee, FL


We are in the twilight years of our Career. I think now would be a good time to spend a few bucks and shove Blogging Bertha in a Gold Jacket just to see if it sticks :)

Don't look at me like that...You're the one giving me points for my nonsense :)


Aug 05, 2008 05:26 AM
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

Jon, after opening up my email this morning, I can tell you that C21 has noticed this post...  And I'm not there any more... and they noticed that, too. 

I agree that C21 has the capacity to be THE biggest jewel in the Realogy crown... but it would take a major shift in architecture.  But it is the same shift that almost every big RE company needs.

Aug 11, 2008 07:16 AM
Matt Fagioli
Dacula, GA

Hey Jon,

We're betting that the "big guys" (yellow, red, or whatever color) are not going to be nimble enough -- or change fast enough -- to take advantage of the seachange that's happening in the business right now.  In fact, it may just take them down if they are not careful.

Sharp new brands like Diamond Dwellings & Redfin & Sawbuck and so many others are where it's at (uh, I guess I'm biased just a bit)

(also, please note that I'm not commenting on business models -- just tech savvy & edgy marketing, etc)

I think the technology actually lends itself more to boutique operations that can create micro-culture & change quickly to meet demand, etc.

So, we're creating "scalable tech culture" (and I'm sure we're not alone)

Part of me is afraid to ask, but I'd love to see your advice & commentary about companies like Diamond Dwellings.

Aug 11, 2008 10:01 AM
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

Matt, I'd almost be afraid to ask... but that would also make us stronger... 

Aug 11, 2008 12:23 PM
Andrea Tsakanikas
KT Consulting International, Inc. - Fort Lauderdale, FL

You have some interesting points and ideas.  I do agree that so many companies get stuck in a rut and need to "step out of the box" and revisit their business/marketing strategies. But from the graph it seems that Century 21 is already doing great on their name recognition.  I give them major points for surviving for so many years in the Real Estate Business.  Congrats Century is actually refreshing to see some "old time companies" still staying at the top of their game.  There is something even more refreshing about the old days when top notch customer service, ethics, professionalism, credibility and caring for others that is missing these days.  Those are simple items that I work with so many companies in my coaching to remind them of.  Those basic ideals can quickly increase their sales and production volume without additional marketing costs.  That right there says alot without having to make such drastic business plan changes to target the Generation Xers & Ys. 

Aug 12, 2008 02:36 AM
Patrick Healy

Hi Jon,

I found your post interesting but I have found the comments even more so.  I have to side with my colleague Rob in that I think that it is not an issue of modern marketing as it is experience, effectiveness, and authenticity.  For a brand to really be effective it has to be consistent and hold value for the customer. 

In terms of "modern" thinking I think that the focus on the gold jackets that everyone up here seems to be fixed on is a bit askew.  Forget the jackets for a second and look at what really matters - results.  To effectively market a home - which is after all what brokerages do - you have to show the value of that home to the end user.  Remember, you are not buying a home you are buying a life.

At the risk of sounding biased towards C21 (I am their relationship manager here at Onboard Informatics) one of the things that their new site has done in addition to being modern is taken the idea of local information to levels that most real estate professionals just don't get.  You have the ability to search by town, zip code or neighborhood on this site.  There are several features on this site that just are overlooked by most folks when building a website like driving directions to the open house and a rough estimate of what your mortgage would be if you were to purchase this home. 

I guess what I am trying to say is when cirtiquing things it is constructive to focus on what is good and contrast that with what needs work.  There are things that can be tweaked with this brand however there are several things that are very right which is why everyone knows who they are.  I wouldn't count this brand down and out just yet.

Aug 13, 2008 04:35 AM
Doreen McPherson
Homesmart ~ Scottsdale ~ Tempe - Tempe, AZ
Phoenix Arizona Real Estate ~

I have to come back later to read this when I have a little more time... 

Aug 13, 2008 12:54 PM
Everard Korthals
---Preferred Lifestyle Advisors--- - Lancaster, PA
Mountain Realty

John, This is awesome. Not only is a great testament for Century 21 but there were a lot of underlying things one can pull out of that great article. For us the comment you made about the century 21 website "Notice the black based "futuristic" motif", stood out.

This gives us great insight into the thinking behind Localism and your own product. You guys are on the right track. Keep up the good work. Active Rain members appreciate everything being provided to us. 

Sincerely, Active Castellum ( Castellum Realty llc - lancaster PA Real Estate )

Dec 29, 2008 10:25 PM
Everard Korthals
---Preferred Lifestyle Advisors--- - Lancaster, PA
Mountain Realty

It's amazing no Century 21 agent has reblogged this yet. Still one of the nicest looking blog articles on Active Rain. Great job once again john.

Feb 15, 2009 06:10 PM
John Grasty
for real estate results in the Tri-Cities. - Port Moody, BC
Your Tri-cities REALTOR, neighbour and volunteer.

Using this 2008 post as a benchmark, I am curious to see what has been done and whether progress has been made the past two years.

I was particularly interested to learn that C21 were the first (1973?) to advertise on TV, and more recently, the first to publicly state they would not be doing anymore print advertising.

Does anyone have any insights?

BTW Jon, I've REBLOGGED to try and get some dialogue.

Aug 04, 2010 04:28 PM
Ken's Home Team LLC. | 360.609.0226 | Portland, OR & Vancouver, WA Real Estate Team
Ken's Home Team LLC. - Vancouver, WA

We all need an update sooner or later... You are right though todays buyers and Generation (upcoming generation) you need to have a bit better brand we all do)

Aug 04, 2010 04:29 PM
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY

Try as I might, I couldn't see anyone wearing a gold jacket on the pic on the right. 

Aug 15, 2010 09:55 AM
Adam Brett
The Adam and Eric Group - Fullerton, CA
The Adam and Eric Group, Fullerton's Finest

amazing post. great ideas!

Mar 25, 2011 01:08 PM
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Jon~ So how does the Faster, Bolder, Smarter campaign currently being launched measure up in your opinion? The website has also been redesigned.

Apr 21, 2011 02:06 PM
Pike Porter
Castle Porter Real Estate - Burlington, VT

I think many agents, and even more consumers, now that we are actually in the 21st century, understand that the traditional real estate franchise business model is out-dated and unnecessary. Century 21 is twentieth-century , but so are Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, and the other franchises. I was a top northern New England Century 21 agent before opening my own company in 2009 and the difference is like the difference between an IBM System/360 and a Nexus One cell phone. The Cenant behomoth is never going to be faster, bolder, or smarter than a small, nimble and tech friendly agency. Each year C21 comes out with a new advertising campaign, not designed to sell homes, but to sell the franchise to agents.

Burlington Vermont Real Estate



Dec 22, 2011 05:24 AM
Laura Murray
Weichert - Silver Spring, MD
Search Montgomery Co., MD for homes

Interesting, not until you change offices do you really begin to understand what a difference the right/wrong office makes in yor career progression.

Jul 17, 2012 04:27 AM