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 Compete.com 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 Century21.com 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.
- 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.
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.
*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.