1000watt Blog

Writings about real estate, branding, marketing, media and technology from the principals of 1000watt.

Irony and poetry in the syndication debate

Amid the roiling syndication debate, I’ve been struck by the irony of a giant-sized brokerage located in a region to which relatively few people relocate spending millions with national sites, while a pint-sized brokerage in one of the most desired places to move bails out completely.

Real estate is one heck of wild and wacky business. I love it.

In the end, each brokerage got their fifteen minutes of YouTube fame. And Zillow and Realtor.com cut sweet deals.

Poetry in motion.

I’ve also been thinking about what I would do with a couple million marketing dollars if I ran a brokerage.

I probably would have cut a smaller deal with the national sites and put the balance towards optimizing my website to ensure users – coming from any source – have a delightful, useful, confidence-building experience.

In other words, I’d focus on conversion rate on my own site before spending more at the top of the funnel.

I’d also invest in tools for my agents. Not trendy social media bullshit. Things like Cloud CMA or Open Home Pro that help my agents do what they’ve always done more efficiently.

I’d think local. Deeply local. And work to stir emotion inside my market, where the bulk of my business comes from. The national sites can do a lot of things a local broker can’t. But if I’m not capable of rocking local content and media better than them, shame on me.

Perhaps I’d take a tip from Long Realty and run a contest to prime the local media pump. Since I’m an artist and musician maybe I’d solicit sketches of local landmarks and use them on my website landing pages instead of stock garbage. I’d print them on t-shirts I’d give away. And I’d give a cash prize to the most-liked piece.

I’d lean on the local indie band scene, seeking submissions for a new theme song to be used in a series of neighborhood videos. If a city can have a font, my company can have a song. Then I’d help that band get their act together with a cash prize. Infuse myself into the next generation. After all, helping a starving artist eat could one day lead to them buying a home.

Marketing is all about angles. These are a mere few.

I’m not discounting the value of national traffic. But in some markets, traffic only loosely ties to conversations, closings and company dollar. In those markets, as I have come to understand, the real business comes from skilled agents and the clients they bring to the table. I’d spend what I can to help them get more.

So that’s my line cast in the sea of opinion.

Different strokes for different brokers.

[Disclosure: Move, Inc., which owns Realtor.com, is a 1000watt Consulting client. We have also performed work for Long Realty in the past]

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45 Responses to “Irony and poetry in the syndication debate”

  1. twitter_kevinkaplan says:

    Thanks for the Long Realty mention Marc. There are lots of ways to market locally and do something different. By the way, in case any of your readers want it, the direct web address to Long Realty’s online photo contest is http://www.whyilovearizona.com . the hyperlink in your post is through an affiliate site. Always appreciate your words of wisdom.

  2. Ken Brand says:

    Yes! Match macro disruption with feet on the street, brains in your head, heart on your sleeve, glowing with imagination, local market (city, town, neighborhood) knowledge that only you and the locals can know, disruption for the disrupters and status-quo crowd. And spend YOUR marketing money, or most of it, on building YOUR version of a lust worthy experience for your clients and your agents who serve and deliver.

    Amen and 10 thumbs up.

  3. Jim Flanagan says:

    Marc,

    Thanks for bringing a little ballast back on the ship (after your Columbus voyage). I love your ideas and Long Realty’s implementation. Just need to check New Jersey’s “anti-inducement” laws as they relate to these contests…

    Welcome back,

    Jim

  4. Marc Davison says:

    Jim,

    Contests are cool and what Long Realty did was wonderful. But contests don’t always have to have a cash prize. Or for that matter even be a contest.

    Imagine:

    A brokerage curate art work from local schools. Elementary school. Little kids. Who paint things in a way adults don’t. Their idea unencumbered by concerns. Having 4 kids of my own (two of them are artists) I’ve seen and been so moved by what they and their school mates drew in art classes.

    There is no reason a local brokerage couldn’t feature that artwork on a special Facebook page. Or a Pinterest board. Or turn that art into colorless outlines and create coloring books from it that it gives away.

    This art can featured on coffee mugs. Yearly calendars. Printed on letterhead. Envelopes. Hung in the entrance to the office.

    No contest.
    No winner.
    The prize is being recognized. Appreciated. Having this artwork showcased.

    Broker makes kids happy.
    Happy kids make happy parents.
    Happy people make brand loyalists.

    You can spend a million dollars to increase traffic. Or squash your local competition. Sure, that’s one path. But $1,000,000 doesn’t buy love. or respect. And leaves the cracks wide open for clever competitors to do other things. Free things. Lovely things. That’s were the brand wars are fought and won.

    IMO.

  5. Agi Anderson says:

    Marc, I love that you always see the extraordinary in every situation. Only you could see poetry amid a mess. I have been torn by the syndication debate, I see the good and the not so good.

    When all is said at the end of the day shifts and changes are being forced, sometimes force is necessary to bring about change.

    Real estate is changing at a fast furious pace, it will be interesting to watch how it evolves over this next year.

  6. Ross Kay says:

    A thought like marketing Apple products on a Microsoft site would put either CEO out the door with a boot well positioned somewhere.

    It is only the misinformed real estate professional who would even consider placing their products on a site they did not own or effectively have 100% control over.

    Anyone who understands search and consumer behavior would have concluded years ago the damage they are doing to their business and their clients privacy by allowing their listings to be posted, indexed and searchable on any site they do not own.

    This a little like Apple building an Iphone and then selling it at cost to Microsoft who then sells it the consumer under the Microsoft brand.

    Search changes every day and unless you have a proactive Google integration policy, unfortunately your business will be taken over by others.

  7. Mike gibbons says:

    “I’d think local. Deeply local. And work to stir emotion inside my market, where the bulk of my business comes from.”

    I read this and had to ask for some feedback on a new idea…the Homestory putting a personality on each listing and sharing it’s story…love some constructive feedback

    Could a bespoke blog post really help sell your Charlotte home?
    http://www.southofsouthpark.com/could-a-bespoke-blog-post-really-help-sell-your-charlotte-home/ thanks to all!

  8. Marlow says:

    Those are all great ideas. I love to engage artists and musicians in marketing and have done a number of unique promotions that are so much fun, they don’t seem like promotions at all.

    Last Christmas, I had a virtual Gingerbread Dream House contest online, where I invited readers to send in photos of their gingerbread creations, with a prize provided by Kodak (may they rest in peace.)

    For the past 20 years, we’ve created holiday cards, either something we’ve dreamt up or we commission local artists to create something unique. People often comment how they look forward to these cards each year.

    And then in the music category, we do a new theme song every few years: http://360digest.com/2011/12/29/pumped-up-real-estate/

  9. Brian Tercero says:

    Marc,your article is spot on. $1,000,000 could have gone a LONG way for a brokerage wanting to separate themselves from the rest of the competition. Heck, with even $100K they could have done wonders.

    The problem is that doing the things you suggested takes work. It takes someone creative and passionate about marketing to manage the program and spend the money wisely. How many brokerages have the talent or the knowledge to create a marketing plan like you described and actually implement it?

    Throwing money at the national sites is the easy thing to do and they can get some PR play out of it. It arms the agents of the company with another line of bullshit to pitch Sellers when their agents go out to get listings. Who cares if it actually provides real value to their clients, just as long as they get the listing right? (I’m being sarcastic here by the way).

    I actually hope the big brokerages continue to hit the easy button and keep burning their money. It gives the little guys a chance to break into the market and the opportunity to innovate and shine online.

    • Drew Meyers says:

      “The problem is that doing the things you suggested takes work. It takes someone creative and passionate about marketing to manage the program and spend the money wisely. How many brokerages have the talent or the knowledge to create a marketing plan like you described and actually implement it?”

      None. Well, realistically, less than 10 in the whole country.

  10. Marc Davison says:

    It sure does Brian. But 1,000,000 could buy a company 20 of these creative people to make it happen. The cool thing is, all you need is one. And with a little 1000watt help from time to time, that 1 person could light up a whole city.

    I hear what you’re saying about the big brokerages hitting the easy button. But it’s not the easy button they are hitting. It’s the partial button. I believe in syndication. But I also believe in not placing 1,000,000 eggs into it either.

  11. Drew Meyers says:

    Love it Marc. Powerful ideas here — for brokerages, its about picking their unique angle and executing. I don’t think a broker could buy 20 of the passionate marketing types, but if they found 2 AMAZING ones, paid them each $75k per year, and gave them the other $850k to spend over the course of the year…that would be a fun job for a marketer so long as they were given freedom to make their own decisions and not just taking orders from the exec team (that would not be fun).

    I, too, am a fan of syndication. But I can certainly think of a few better things to spend $1 million on that build some long term value for the broker. I’ve actually been working on a branding post for geek estate for quite awhile..this gives me a few more things to incorporate.

  12. Rob Hahn says:

    As usual, Marc, a great post full of great marketing ideas.

    However, and I figure you knew a “however” was coming from me… I’m curious about something.

    I’m rethinking things these days on the premise that — as repeated loudly, often, and frequently — by those who should know (brokers and agents I respect) that the AGENT is the thing that counts, not the brokerage. That no matter what sort of awesome marketing a BROKERAGE runs, consumers simply do not select an agent based on his/her brokerage brand or company affiliation. NAR statistics appear to back this up, as does Redfin’s recent move into one-to-one relationships.

    So what I’m curious about is whether you’ve seen things differently. For example, you mention Long Realty. What percentage of their customers choose to do business with a Long Realty agent because of Long Realty’s name or brand? In fact, if Kevin Kaplan is still monitoring this, could you provide any lift in ROI after your campaign (I believe it was a “I love Arizona” photo contest)? Did that result in any measurable increase in transaction sides or in price points or average commission rates? (I understand you got some really nice art assets from the campaign, and traffic probably spiked, but any financial results?)

    To Marlow and Brian Tercero and anyone else who commented positively here, I’d like to pose the same question. Have you seen any quantifiable metrics suggesting that your agents got more business due to the marketing efforts of the BRAND/BROKERAGE? Has any of your agents ever LOST a listing or a buyer assignment because of the brokerage brand? Has any of them gotten a listing or a buyer because of the brokerage brand?

    NOTE: It is important to separate the brand effect from simple leadgen effect for this. If XYZ resulted in more LEADS to the agent, that doesn’t speak to brand effects — as far as the agent is concerned, a lead/inquiry is a lead/inquiry whether it came from her own IDX site, the brokerage, Zillow, or Craig’s List. The issue at hand is broker brand marketing, which is exactly what something like a photo contest or a local indie band promotion or whatever is.

    This is, in a way, the critical struggle of our time in real estate, no? The tension between Agentcentric and Brokercentric as it comes to marketing is what drives so much of this debate.

    Improving conversion rates on the broker’s own site is a fantastic idea, and one that more brokerages should pay attention to (and hire Marc and 1000Watt to help them with it, since they’re great at it). But improving conversion rate simply makes the broker website more effective as a lead generation source; it does not, at first blush, improve the brand, or even improving the brand, have much of an effect on an Agent’s ability to make, build, and maintain relationships.

    • Marta Walsh says:

      Rob, your views may be correct down at the lower price points.

      But at higher price points there is no doubt that the agents own branding must be somewhat supported by their brokers brand image. If not start your own boutique brokerage.

  13. Mike gibbons says:

    Rob, know it’s a little out of context and not to the point you’re making…but isn’t this really part of the problem “…the critical struggle of our time in real estate…The tension between Agentcentric and Brokercentric as it comes to marketing”

    We all need to market and it is a business…but it seems to me marketing have become less & less client – centric….lots of noise out there, syndication etal….think we’d all be better off finding ways to use the web and social media to connect with clients in a more organic, personal manner. Thoughts?

  14. Victor Lund says:

    As you may expect, Howard Hanna, like Long Realty and others are plenty focused on conversion and user experience on their websites. In this case, both of these companies share best practices and benchmark against each other, and other top brokerages around the country. They help each other get better. The focus on every component of operational excellence.

    I would like to see more benchmarking and effectiveness research in our industry. So often, what looks good is not necessarily what works good. Lets have a battle of the bands (brokerages)!

    Visits per listing
    Visits per agent
    Page Views per Visit
    Consumer interaction per 1000 visitors
    Minutes to respond
    Conversion to sale
    Customer Satisfaction Rating (survey)

    • Marc Davison says:

      Interesting comment Victor.

      I have no doubt that HH does its share of testing but I have to question the tests given the UI on http://www.howardhanna.com. Much of what’s there bucks a lot of conventional UI and UX wisdom and best practice in visual design.

      While we listed HH in a report we did 4 years on as one of top ten broker sites then, the site hasn’t changed much since. Considering what has transpired over the last 4 years in terms of new platforms and devices to view sites on, this is of real interest to me.

      It would help our readers to better understand for instance, the logic behind placing a moving flash elements in the top left hand quadrant of the site which is the most viewed and clicked section of a website when Flash can’t be viewed most modern day Apple products and that user testing has determined that moving, rotating objects confuse, annoy and distract the user.

      Also, it’s considerably hard to locate the primary calls to action – the things that drive eye to proceed further into the site since the calls to action appear almost non existent or, for the ones that are there, defy the best practices of how CTA buttons should be designed. (size, color, copy, etc).

      Since HH are clients of yours, if would be helpful to the discussion if you could expand on your comments and share with the group your approach to testing.

      A few questions I would ask the readers here in an effort to conduct a simple user test is:

      1. On first blush, define what makes this brokerage special?
      2. Is the site perceptive your needs as as consumer?
      3. On a scale of 1-5 (5 being great and 1 being really poor) how user friendly is the site?
      4. Describe using one word how the site makes you feel when you view it?
      5. Do you believe their brand promise?

    • Victor Lund says:

      I have nothing to do with the HH website – our focus for brokers in on strategy development, effectiveness research, policies, data quality, and analytics. I could not design my way out of a paper bag. WAV Group leaves that to the experts like 1000Watt ;-)

      BTW – I forgot something in my list – Bounce Rate.

  15. Marc Davison says:

    Rob,

    I’ll quote your comments and follow with a response. Seems like the best way to respect this conversation.

    [RH] I’m rethinking things these days on the premise that — as repeated loudly, often, and frequently — by those who should know (brokers and agents I respect) that the AGENT is the thing that counts, not the brokerage. That no matter what sort of awesome marketing a BROKERAGE runs, consumers simply do not select an agent based on his/her brokerage brand or company affiliation. NAR statistics appear to back this up, as does Redfin’s recent move into one-to-one relationships.”

    [MD] The agent is “a” thing that counts. A big thing. But they do not have to be everything. I’ve asserted in this post that much of the $’s spent on the HH syndication deal could/should have been invested back into everything it takes that helps the agent do their job because of how critical the agent is to the sales cycle. But therein lies what makes a brokerage special. I fundamentally believe that a brokerage who invests heavily in their agents (broad definition to the term “invest”) accomplishes several things that make them a brand people want to do business with. Those things include:

    a) The recruitment of better agents
    b) An enhanced service offering to the customers through these agents.

    Both combined create a powerful synergies between agent and brokerage that permeates the marketplace.

    This is why brands like Russ Lyon, Michael Saunders, Houlihan Lawrence, Sotheby’s, Pacific Union, Corcoran, Good Life Team, and so many others that I am failing to mention here are sought after by consumers who want their agents and these brand yard signs planted in their lawn.

    [RH] So what I’m curious about is whether you’ve seen things differently.

    [MD]. I have. In Naperville for example, a small brokerage went from #5 in the marketplace in 2009 to #1 in 2011 by following a cohesive set of brand and marketing tactics which also won them a people choice for best and most favorite local brokerage in 2010 and 2011. Same agents. Same customer base. Same ownership. The only thing that changed was how they spoke to the community and how they acted. By following a very clear, tactical brand roadmap, they did what many think is impossible – creating a brokerage that matters and became profitable again after several years of serious losses.

    [RH] For example, you mention Long Realty. What percentage of their customers choose to do business with a Long Realty agent because of Long Realty’s name or brand? In fact, if Kevin Kaplan is still monitoring this, could you provide any lift in ROI after your campaign (I believe it was a “I love Arizona” photo contest)? Did that result in any measurable increase in transaction sides or in price points or average commission rates? (I understand you got some really nice art assets from the campaign, and traffic probably spiked, but any financial results?)

    [MD] The act of branding through tactical marketing events not specifically tied to direct response, are often hard to measure in ROI in the short term.

    But Rob, what brands are discovering is hard core, direct response, pabulum filled advertising isn’t effective anymore and no longer creates instant ROI either. This explains why we are seeing more and more brands marketing differently – conversationally and socially – a far more passive but actually quite effective approach.

    This is a somewhat foreign concept to real estate – the art of passive marketing – but at least in the trenches where I work and am hired to craft these branding campaigns – we are seeing considerable improvement in brand affinity and increased interest, inquiry and business as a result.

    I’ll let our lurking clients chime in if they so desire but they know that isn’t necessary.

    What brokerages have predominantly focused on marketing wise, is targeting agents only and therefore failing to create any real brand affinity with the public. The public sees their signs, passes their bricks and mortars but can’t distinguish one from the other. These tactics are lost opportunities and certainly seed the argument for why brokerage brands don’t seem to matter. My belief is that while they haven’t mattered in the past, they can matter going forward.

    What a wonderful challenge that is by the way – to tackle the impossible and win.

    By rewiring how brokerages think in terms of marketing and showing them how they could market to the consumer properly and lift their name out of obscurity, better connections with the consumer are created which ultimately attracts betters agents to join these brokerages as a result.

    Whether or not Long Realty can or chooses to reveal the ROI on their campaign is up to Kevin but what he could or should reveal is whether or not this campaign created “fans” because that harder to accomplish but critical for the long terms play. Customers are not that hard to create. Customers also come and go. But fans – they become great long term investments.

    [RH] The issue at hand is broker brand marketing, which is exactly what something like a photo contest or a local indie band promotion or whatever is. This is, in a way, the critical struggle of our time in real estate, no? The tension between Agentcentric and Brokercentric as it comes to marketing is what drives so much of this debate.

    [MD]. Indeed it is the issue. Our belief – remove the tension. Close the chasm. Become consumer centric and ultimately give the agent what it really wants which ultimately rewards the broker.

    [RH] Improving conversion rates on the broker’s own site is a fantastic idea, and one that more brokerages should pay attention to (and hire Marc and 1000Watt to help them with it, since they’re great at it). But improving conversion rate simply makes the broker website more effective as a lead generation source; it does not, at first blush, improve the brand, or even improving the brand, have much of an effect on an Agent’s ability to make, build, and maintain relationships.

    {MD] Respectfully, improving conversation rates on its own can easily be accomplished by architecting better Websites – which is both art and science. But there is a big difference in increasing conversation rates by creating a better lead form, using a more effective color for a CTA button or reducing the content noise on a page which, to your point, makes the brokerage more effective a lead gen source.

    But let’s go beyond the first blush Rob and think about how that can lead to an enhanced brand experience that will impact the agent tremendously.

    Once a conversion occurs, meaning an inquiry is made from a brokerage site – the way that inquiry is handled, processed and cared for is just one very powerful way in which a brokerage brand can blow the user away and create a connection between themselves and ultimately the agent that user is handed off too which does wonders for both broker and agent.

    Final comments to readers – bear in mind that my blog posts are mere observations that include a few succinct takeaways rather than long, drawn out strategic plans. While brevity rules our editorial policy, questions like the ones Rob asked allow me/us to expand the conversation and for that I find this contribution incredibly valuable.

    But as you Rob and others think through the question of whether a brokerage can matter to the point where the marketplace is drawn to them as equally as they are to an individual agent – my hardcore belief if you are a broker is YES YOU CAN matter. Absofreakinglutely.

    For those who believe that and act upon it and execute with incredible precision – the results will astound you. And often have. It’s why we’re still here.

    Thanks Rob.

    • Rob Hahn says:

      Thank you, Marc. The response is nearly as good as the original post. Let me dive in further to advance the conversation.

      [MD] The agent is “a” thing that counts. A big thing. But they do not have to be everything. I’ve asserted in this post that much of the $’s spent on the HH syndication deal could/should have been invested back into everything it takes that helps the agent do their job because of how critical the agent is to the sales cycle. But therein lies what makes a brokerage special. I fundamentally believe that a brokerage who invests heavily in their agents (broad definition to the term “invest”) accomplishes several things that make them a brand people want to do business with. Those things include:

      a) The recruitment of better agents
      b) An enhanced service offering to the customers through these agents.

      Both combined create a powerful synergies between agent and brokerage that permeates the marketplace.

      This is why brands like Russ Lyon, Michael Saunders, Houlihan Lawrence, Sotheby’s, Pacific Union, Corcoran, Good Life Team, and so many others that I am failing to mention here are sought after by consumers who want their agents and these brand yard signs planted in their lawn.

      I have Krisstina’s assertion that 62% of her Agents’ incomes comes from “business generated by The GoodLife Team Brand”. I’m going to pick on that down below, but for now, I’d love to know the actual % of business generated by Russ Lyon, Michael Saunders, etc.’s BRAND. Not their websites, not their lead gen buys, not their Google CPC ads, but by their BRAND.

      Because the broker-vs-agent tension comes out quite clearly if you ask any agent if she has ever lost a listing or won a listing because of her brokerage brand affiliation. The answer is always, always, NO. I would love to hear from agents who can say, “When I was with Broker XYZ, my good friend from church refused to list with me because he didn’t want the XYZ yard sign planted on his lawn, but as soon as I switched to Broker ABC, he changed his mind.” I know that I’ve never heard that sentiment.

      What I HAVE heard — and what you point to — is that agents often switch brokerages because they “invest more” in their agents. This is your part (B): the idea being that agents are provided various and sundry tools to make them more compelling to the consumer with whom they have the actual relationship. A good example is your former client, At Properties. I’m certain the other companies you’ve named have invested in such agent tools.

      But I think — this is a “technical point” perhaps — you have to admit that none of those various and sundry tools are intended to create or maintain the BROKER’s brand in the mind of the end-consumer, any more than WalMart’s incredible IT system is intended to create WalMart’s BRAND in my head. Those various and sundry tools are intended to, and when effective in fact do, make the agents more effective at selling their services, providing those services, leading to more transactions and more GCI.

      If you will, those tools are aimed at helping agents brand themselves better. Would you agree?


      [MD] The act of branding through tactical marketing events not specifically tied to direct response, are often hard to measure in ROI in the short term.

      But Rob, what brands are discovering is hard core, direct response, pabulum filled advertising isn’t effective anymore and no longer creates instant ROI either. This explains why we are seeing more and more brands marketing differently – conversationally and socially – a far more passive but actually quite effective approach.

      This is a somewhat foreign concept to real estate – the art of passive marketing – but at least in the trenches where I work and am hired to craft these branding campaigns – we are seeing considerable improvement in brand affinity and increased interest, inquiry and business as a result.

      I’ll let our lurking clients chime in if they so desire but they know that isn’t necessary.

      What brokerages have predominantly focused on marketing wise, is targeting agents only and therefore failing to create any real brand affinity with the public. The public sees their signs, passes their bricks and mortars but can’t distinguish one from the other. These tactics are lost opportunities and certainly seed the argument for why brokerage brands don’t seem to matter. My belief is that while they haven’t mattered in the past, they can matter going forward.

      When I asked you about Redfin 3.0, it was because of this point you’re making exactly. We’ve spoken about how few brokerages have done marketing and branding “correctly”. And Lord knows, you’ve helped and tried to help them with the conversational style of marketing.

      What’s making me rethink thing is that I always felt Redfin excelled at “conversational” marketing. Redfin also did a whole lot more of targeting marketing to consumers. In fact, they produced a highly effective Common Craft video speaking directly to consumers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDY-3VSdMXg They have a track record of having some fairly fanatical consumers.

      They just went more agent-centric than before. To keep on talking about brokerage brand, about consumers having an actual relationship with a brand, etc. in the aftermath of that requires some explanation, I think.

      The conversations that you and Victor are having appear to drive at the idea that traffic = brand strength. Victor points out that HH is #1 in Pittsburgh, and Top 3 in their other markets. And you believe that has to do with power of the brokerage brand. Why do you think that?

      If Howard Hanna were blacklisted tomorrow by Google, do you think they’d maintain their top traffic ranks? Would their strong agents stop getting business if that were to happen? If not, then what is the strength of the brand vs. the strength of their agents’ personal brands/reputations?

      That is why I think what HH did was brilliant. And Victor alluded to it: “Part of the strategy involves listing tools and recruiting tools”. That’s precisely correct, IMHO. It is, I think, a better use of $2M to help their agents list more, and to recruit more and better agents, than it is to use the $2M in various branding campaigns to boost the corporate brand. I think HH will see a higher ROI from their $2M spend over the next few quarters than they would have from just about any brand-related campaign.

      Unless I’m wrong about that, which is entirely possible. And if I am, then we should have a plethora of data showing that. Thus far, between Redfin’s move and the various NAR studies and the success of companies like Keller Williams… the scorecard is rather lopsided in favor of agent brand over broker brand.

      Finally, on Krisstina’s comment… I guess I’d like more detail. The 62% of income from “business generated by” might speak to the wide range of tools that GLT provides. I know a bit about the level of effort that she and her team puts into those tools. For example, the local marketing/farming tools on the agents’ behalf.

      What I’d like to know is business attributable to the GLT BRAND, in the way that much of the business going to a Nordstrom’s associate is attributable to the Nordstrom’s BRAND.

      Because what I think is happening with GLT is that the company does an EXCELLENT job at making its agents efficient and effective at promoting their own personal relationships and own personal reputations, not that the company itself necessarily has a dominant brand with consumers.

      Ach… more later. This is too interesting a conversation, but I do have my own post to write :)

    • Drew Meyers says:

      With the rise of social media, I believe every industry – not just real estate – is shifting toward the individual and away from the brand. As many have said before, people like talking to individuals, not brands. The companies that help their employees succeed in this new environment are the ones that will see the biggest gains — though certainly some of them will lose talent as a result of their employees brands’ getting bigger than the companies. But that’s inevitable no matter what business environment is present; some of your best employees get poached for better opportunities.

      The industries where individual-consumer relationships are not prevalent will start to see the shift in the coming months and years, some more slowly than others.

      Sorry if that was an off topic tangent..

    • Kevin Kaplan says:

      “Because the broker-vs-agent tension comes out quite clearly if you ask any agent if she has ever lost a listing or won a listing because of her brokerage brand affiliation. The answer is always, always, NO. ”

      Always, always is a strong statement especially coupled with a capital NO. Sorry to disagree, we have had this happen, repeatedly. As I mention below, we have recruited agents over this specifically. We even have had cases when an agent leaves (not an everyday event) where the seller does not follow the agent to the new company but instead prefers to stay with Long Realty Company and get a new agent assigned. Pretty powerful stuff. Again, maybe we are the exception but your statement is not 100%.

    • Rob Hahn says:

      Very powerful stuff indeed, Kevin. For the record, this is the first time I’ve ever been told such a thing by either a broker or an agent. New information = recalculation, of course.

      So I take it as a given that you completely disagree with Keller Williams and its videos on how brokerages and brands don’t matter.

      You guys ever estimate the “brand impact” on one of your agent’s earnings? Meaning, Agent Smith, doing 6 deals a year, earning $X in commissions, would do how many more and earn how much more simply by being affiliated with Long Realty and being able to carry your branded business card?

      (And yeah, 85 years in a given locale is quite an asset; you guys might indeed be one of a few.)

    • Kevin Kaplan says:

      and Rob don’t take my word for it. quote from one of our agents “I started as a brand new agent and with all the help, training and support I received I was the top agent in my office in 3 years. There is no way I could have achieved that at any other company. Clients come to us because of the strength of Long Realty’s name and our market share.”

    • Rob Hahn says:

      That quote isn’t on point though on this issue. New agent talking about help, training, and support does not actually speak to brokerage brand and customers relating directly with the brand.

      Now, if you have quotes like:

      “I left Long Realty a few years back, and my business dried up immediately. All my customers, who I thought were MY clients, just left me and stayed with Long Realty. I had to come back or go broke.”

      or

      “I had a seller I tried to list when I was with XYZ Brokerage, and didn’t get it; that same seller just listed with me because I was with Long Realty.”

      or

      “It’s just so much easier now that I’m with Long Realty; buyers and sellers just assume I’m a great agent when they see my business card and see the Long Realty logo on it. Awesome!”

      Those types of quotes would be directly on point. And if that is the kind of power your brand has in your marketplace… might I ask what your market share is in transactions and in agent headcount? How far behind is the #2 brokerage? (I assume you’re #1 with that kind of brand strength.)

    • Rob Hahn says:

      Nevermind, you answered the market share question below. :)

      I’m surprised you’re only at 30% market share with the kind of brand strength you have, and 55% in luxury. What’s wrong with the other 70% and the 45% in luxury? Is there another brokerage in your market with a stronger brand in the customer mind?

      But the second part: how far behind is the #2 brokerage?

    • Kevin Kaplan says:

      Rob – read the last line of the quote. seems on point to me. And really re: market share? But to make the point the next brokerage in luxury has 11% to our 55%. And overall market next is 12% – with a headcount not too far behind us. Consumers always have choices. Why does Apple not have 100% market share in the smart phone category?

    • Raligh says:

      Poster: Because the broker-vs-agent tension comes out quite clearly if you ask any agent if she has ever lost a listing or won a listing because of her brokerage brand affiliation. The answer is always, always, NO. I would love to hear from agents who can say, “When I was with Broker XYZ, my good friend from church refused to list with me because he didn’t want the XYZ yard sign planted on his lawn, but as soon as I switched to Broker ABC, he changed his mind.” I know that I’ve never heard that sentiment.

      Raligh:
      Maybe not your “good friend from church”, but in our area we have 3 high end brokerages, and it happens to us all the time when going up against an agent from X. We’ve lost agents to them for that reason.

  16. Krisstina Wise says:

    Oh, what I could do with a million marketing dollars. I can tell you, The GoodLife Team could jump over several competitors pretty quickly. Our biggest constraint to growth as a small independent is limited marketing dollars. And, our $$$ would not be spent with the syndicates. Well, maybe a small bit of those $$$, but not much in terms of percentage allocated.

    And, Rob — again to disagree with you. My stats say otherwise — 62% of of my Agents’ incomes comes from business we generate from The GoodLife Team Brand. Even on our public Reviews, the customer raves as much about our company as the agent. Sometimes they don’t even mention the agent.

    Great post, Marc.

    • Drew Meyers says:

      I’d love to know if there are any other brokers seeing those kind of numbers.

      I’m sure they are out there, but few and far between — and obviously not really on the rader of the RE.net..

  17. Victor Lund says:

    Another note – In HH’s top market – Pittsburgh – they have more traffic, page views, and longer time on site than any other website – beating Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, Homes.com and ALL others. As you and Krisstina point out – brand goes a long way toward that success.

    Last time I checked Hitwise, they were in the top 3 in all of their primary markets – Cleveland, Harrisburg, Akron, Erie, Columbus, etc. They crush all of the franchises and other brokers. Only the top National sites are hanging in there with them. I think that we all agree that it is really, really hard to do that.

    Another big challenge for sites that have this amount of traffic is managing change. It must happen slowly so that power users in the purchasing cycle do not have their saved searches and other tools disturbed.

    Incidentally – you should check out the HH agent websites and other business tools that agents are provided through the broker. They manage something like 4700 of those too. It is pretty awesome. I am a big fan. They represent where a lot of brokers need to be today. They place the consumer in the center of the process and surround them with agents all using a common service platform. The brand is solid, the technology is easy to use and transparent, the agent shines in the direction of the customer.

    I do not understand how brokers could ever let the agents go out and buy their own websites and tools. They are allowing the creation of a hodgepodge that kills the brand.

  18. Marc Davison says:

    Victor,

    I love these things that they are doing and clearly, they fall in line with what I believe to be what brokers should be doing. Thanks for supply all that info!

    And yeah, what you wrote clearly plays to the power of the brokerage brand – which for whatever reason Rob struggles with. What I struggle with however, is why spend $2,000,000 to buy national traffic when you command the local market – a market that unless I’m mistaken or reading the wrong reports, is one that doesn’t rank high as a destination for relocation.

    With all that market share and web ranking, I’m somewhat baffled as to why. I also realize it’s none of my business and I may never find out. And that’s ok. Part of my love affair with this industry is the mystery behind much of what takes place which often defies my personal logic which by all accounts if often askew and left of center.

  19. Victor Lund says:

    Part of the strategy involves listing tools and recruiting tools :-)

    Do a search one r.com or z.com. In the markets they service. Its cool

  20. Alon Chaver says:

    Spot on Marc (and Victor)!

    Thank you for helping to “reduce the tension” between:
    - National portals and local sites (spend both on traffic AND on conversion)
    - Brokers and agents (spend EVERYTHING you got on consumer-centric initiatives)

    …and thank you Rob (see my challenge post for you below :-)) – for diving ever deeper and sharpening the issues further for all of us.

    At the end of the day, everyone in our real estate ecosystem must focus on their own niche.. and collaborate effectively with everyone else to survive.

    Those brokerages who excel, in competing locally AND collaborating globally will not just survive, they will thrive.

    On a personal level, I believe that “think local. Deeply local.” is the key for conversion…all the way to Close Of Escrow. No one is better suited to excel in that niche than deeply local brokerages with knowledgeable agents who can build trusting relationships with consumers and shepherd them all the way to COE.

    But that is not enough to win in the new world – the successful (deeply local) brokerage must also excel in collaboration with category leaders outside their niche.

    Today, they must figure out who (among the national portals) to collaborate with and how to do so effectively.

    Tomorrow, they will have to figure out how to excel in collaborating with emerging innovators (in Social, Mobile, etc.).

    The sooner we all focus on what we can excel at and resolve tensions with those who excel in their own niches so we can collaborate effectively with them, the better.

    We all have more than enough challenges so please, let’s declare “Peace in our times” and focus on what we can do to overcome our own challenges AND what we can do to collaborate with others who can help us overcome the challenges we cannot overcome on our own.

    – Alon

  21. Alon Chaver says:

    Rob,

    I have been (appreciatively) digesting your “Broker V Agent Brand” posts on your own blog as well as your excellent comments here…so hopefully my response/comment here can touch on the post in both places :-).

    SO, after 15 yrs of serving local brokerages, I don’t agree with your thesis – I think that broker brand is very, VERY important to consumers on its own.

    At iHomefinder we serve only 1,000+ brokerages but we see consumers pick agents based on “broker brand” all the time.

    Why (and I will keep this post short :-)), because consumers associate trusted broker brands with:
    - Well managed, well supported, and high integrity agents
    - Well managed (and well insured) transaction managers
    - Carefully screened network of ancillary service providers
    - Long term investment in the success of their customers and their local real estate market
    - Well managed investment in carefully selecting innovators and diligently executing implementations
    - Solid track record of successfully recruiting (and retaining) competent and high integrity agents

    In short, Broker Brand matters to consumers (esp repeat consumers) because they associate broker brand with highly successful investment strategies in delivering consistent business excellence over the long term.

    Sure, on the surface, every consumer selects an agent primarily on the basis of personal trust.

    BUT when it comes down to it, even if you trust your mother completely, would you let her sell your house if she was working through a no-name brokerage operating on the fly?

    Once consumers identify all the “DoWe CheatEm & How” brokerages, they end up with a very small number of high integrity brokerages from which they then choose an agent they can personally trust.

    And if they are savvy, (I personally believe) they will choose such an agent from their most “Deeply Local” brokerage… because that brokerage the most likely to give their agents the local support and local knowledge required to deliver a smooth and successful COE.

    – Alon

    • Rob Hahn says:

      Thanks Alon — you always educate and edify the common mind, like mine. :)

      Some responses and questions back for you.

      1.

      “At iHomefinder we serve only 1,000+ brokerages but we see consumers pick agents based on “broker brand” all the time.”

      Could you elaborate on this? What do you mean by “see consumers”? How are you able to track why the consumer chose one agent over another? Are you guys conducting some sort of “entrance interviews” with consumers?

      2.

      “Why (and I will keep this post short ), because consumers associate trusted broker brands with:
      - Well managed, well supported, and high integrity agents
      - Well managed (and well insured) transaction managers
      - Carefully screened network of ancillary service providers
      - Long term investment in the success of their customers and their local real estate market
      - Well managed investment in carefully selecting innovators and diligently executing implementations
      - Solid track record of successfully recruiting (and retaining) competent and high integrity agents”

      How would a consumer know any of these things to associate a broker’s brand with them? I work in the business and have been asking for years about what makes one agent better than another, and have never gotten a satisfactory answer.

      How would a consumer — who’s in the market once every seven years — know that the agents of Good Brand Broker are well-managed, or well-supported, or have high integrity? How would they know that the ancillary service providers are “carefully screened” instead of “owned by the broker”? How would they know that the GBB has a solid track record of recruiting competent agents, nevermind defining a “competent agent”?

      We work in an industry where agent ratings are resisted mightily on the one hand, and completely useless due to every single rated agent being 5-star. We work in an industry where people threaten lawsuits if someone publishes the “performance metrics” of real estate agents.

      So how would a consumer have any such idea about a brokerage, how it’s managed, how it recruits agents, how it implements innovations, etc. etc. from its “brand”?

      3.
      “BUT when it comes down to it, even if you trust your mother completely, would you let her sell your house if she was working through a no-name brokerage operating on the fly?”

      Thing is, in the KW Video, you have consumer after consumer telling us that they could care less about the brokerage — it’s all about the individual agent. Are they simply lying? On a comment on my blog, there’s a consumer who says s/he has never chosen an agent because of the brokerage. NAR surveys to date show that broker affiliation is a very, very, very minor reason for why someone choose to work with an agent.

      I have had literally every single REALTOR friend tell me that the brokerage or the brand doesn’t mean jack diddly squat when it comes to getting and winning business. It’s their personal sphere, personal relationships, personal marketing, personal word-of-mouth, personal reputations that get them their clients. (Granted, I haven’t spoken to any Long Realty agents, or GoodLife Team agents, so exceptions may very well exist.) I’m willing to consider contrary evidence — such as provided by Kevin Kaplan on this thread — but I’m just saying I haven’t heard too much of that yet.

      And what I do know is that close friends who are REALTORS, who have no reason to lie to me, do relate stories of how they worked with some buyer for 2-3 months, only to have the buyer apologetically do the deal with his cousin, or sister in law, or whatever. This is not an uncommon tale in the industry. So I guess it doesn’t matter whether I would use my mother or not, since consumers actually do this all the time.

      So I guess I’m asking the rationale for your disagreement. :)

    • Alon Chaver says:

      No need to be so humble (about your “anything but common” mind) Rob :-)

      1. We often see consumers sign up for various services directly from the broker and only select an agent when they are much further along in the process.

      We also see many consumers asking the broker to recommend agents they think would be a good fit for them to work with.

      2. I think most consumers recognize the “highly reputable” brokerages in their market.

      In focus groups we’ve done (with consumers, agents, and brokers) over the years, we’ve gotten consistent feedback that Sellers in particular, do a significant amount of research to understand the services they will be getting from the brokerage AND often validate the competence of the brokerage (how quickly did they sell the house, how good was the price, how smooth was the transaction) with other sellers.

      3. I agree that consumers often use incompetent agents based on personal relationships, but those often end in disaster.

      Based on my experience, seasoned consumers will often pick an agent based on personal relationships…but do so from a pool of select firms whose brand they trust.

      The point I was trying to make is that they simply may not be aware of the fact that they have ruled out brokerages they have never heard of, heard bad things about, or have not heard good things about….but I absolutely believe that consumers have a strong cognitive bias for “trusted broker brands” in their local market when they go about picking an agent they like.

      sorry for the long delay in responding,

      – Alon

    • Rob Hahn says:

      I do believe that we have a set of questions that we’ll be really digging into for HearItDirect Dallas. Because the only way to find out is to research the question.

      I don’t think consumers “asking brokerages” to recommend an agent is what it seems, without more detail. For example, someone just landing on a brokerage webpage and sending in a form isn’t truly reflective of some sort of brand relationships, IMHO. What I think might be dispositive is something like this:

      Consumer calls brokerage, and asks to be assigned a listing agent. He has a good experience with the listing agent, successfully selling his house. That consumer then calls the brokerage directly and asks to be assigned a buyer agent to help with the purchase of his house, without talking to the listing agent with whom he had such a good experience.

      If we see that sort of pattern repeated time and again, then I think we might conclude that there is something to this idea of brokerage brand.

      The reverse pattern, however, is well-known and well-established: a consumer might start out by calling a brokerage, but once they find an agent, that agent is who the consumer has a relationship with. If said agent were to transfer brokerages, the consumer would go with the agent. The personal book of business is a major asset of producing agents, after all.

      But the more important question is the one I’ve asked and you haven’t yet addressed:

      How would a consumer — who’s in the market once every seven years — know that the agents of Good Brand Broker are well-managed, or well-supported, or have high integrity? How would they know that the ancillary service providers are “carefully screened” instead of “owned by the broker”? How would they know that the GBB has a solid track record of recruiting competent agents, nevermind defining a “competent agent”?

      The focus group answers to how quickly did the house sell, at what price, and how smooth was the transaction — those actually go to the agent-in-charge, not necessarily to the brokerage. I’m still curious how a consumer, who can’t discern what makes one agent better than another from an objective standpoint, is able to determine the management and recruiting standards of a brokerage company.

  22. Kevin Kaplan says:

    Rob,
    In our corner of the world, our brand generates business – no question. We receive inquiries every week from consumers who say they know & respect our brand and want our help- they have not yet selected an agent. Here is a personal example: I had someone from CT last Fall email me (and I am not even the company contact for inquiries) saying he visits Tucson, knows our brand name, and wanted help finding an agent to meet his very specific needs. I can rattle off a number of agents (top producers) who joined our firm b/c their sellers demanded the Long Realty brand. they were tired of losing business to our agents. It helps when you have 30% overall market share like we do, and then 55%+ in the luxury segment. So if your brand has deep penetration like we do, yes brand can matter to consumers. However we don’t view it as brand vs agents, it only works when we work together for a common good. I will add, it is not just market penetration, to Marc’s point it is about who your brand is, what it stands for, how your agents shape your brand, etc

    To that end our photo contest was not intended to be a direct response, lead generating machine. We have other platforms for that. It’s purpose was different – to engage the community in a positive message and garner exposure for our brand and agents. We did something unique, we partnered with the local media who also backed the campaign and provided our brand millions of impressions on TV, Radio, Online, Print etc. Radio alone I had over 1,200 on-air mentions. The community response was very positive, and just as important was how well our agents embraced it and used it in their businesses to reach out to their sphere. It created a strong sense of pride in our agents. We even recruited an agent off the campaign. So did I get a good ROI on it? I think so, the media exposure alone I received was substantial, never mind the good will. And what did it cost me? some time and creativity. Marc is right, branding campaigns can be hard to measure but from what I can it was a no brainer.

    Maybe we are the exception. Maybe there is some level of scale that makes it all work. Maybe you need something like our 85 years to let the brand percolate into the grains of the community. What I do know is your brand can matter to consumers, but it’s not a cake walk. It takes a lot of hard work and focus, and you need to take care of the consumer. Brand is nothing without some trust.

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