Can an agent be a brand?

On a cool fall day in 2016, Windermere Real Estate Services CMO Noelle Bortfeld and I walked the challenging streets of Seattle engaged in conversation over the legitimacy of agent branding.

She, a strong believer. Me, a complete atheist.

A brand is defined by a set of commonly held beliefs, feelings and expectations that, when combined, affect someone’s decision. I contend that most agents do not possess the resources, focus, stamina or foundational guidelines to make that happen.

Think about it: how can a single individual offering a limited set of services people use once every decade live in a person’s subconscious mind the way brands do?

I don’t think they can.

Noelle comes from an agency background and is one of sharpest CMOs in our industry. I listened to her argument that a solid reputation is a brand component and that there are agents who no longer have to sell themselves the same way most agents do because they posses this quality.

Mmm.

Hired

Months later, driving through one of Scottsdale’s plush neighborhoods on my way to a meeting, I noticed every sign I passed featured the same agent, Robert Joffe.

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By the time I pulled into my destination, a story about Joffe had taken form in my mind. With no additional information other than the signs, I already believed he owned the neighborhood. I’d probably hire him if I wanted to buy a house here without even bothering to research other agents.

This happened thanks to a few simple cues that elevated Joffe from the position of rank-and-file Realtor (a position shared by 1 million people) to one he alone possessed: the Guy to Hire in Scottsdale.

My conversation with Noelle played back in my head. Is Joffe a brand?

Having honed my craft outside of real estate, I’ve often felt that this industry takes too many liberties when it comes to marketing and branding, often blurring the lines between these two disciplines.

For me, the process of becoming a brand takes time. It requires experiences that add up, consistently, to establish a place inside people’s hearts and minds. This occurs by way of product interaction, repeated advertising, word of mouth and numerous other touch points that eventually lead people to a common conclusion.

Yet I had formed opinions around Joffe that are typically reserved for brands even though he had employed none of these standard constructs of branding.

Was my conclusion based on simple evidence of a man’s well developed reputation? Or, was Noelle right? Is this an emergence of a brand?

I wanted to learn more. So I reached out to Robert Joffe and spoke with him and his partner Amy Joffe, who serves as his director of marketing. The following is a transcript of that discussion:

In a nutshell, what is the Joffe Group?

The Joffe Group represents buyers and sellers who seek a highly customized and personalized level of real estate services in the Scottsdale area.

Define the roles between the team’s principals?

Robert is the public face. His knowledge and expertise is our product. I’m (Amy) his partner and brand guardian. I oversee marketing and communication, ensuring that everything we do is consistent with our standards.

Describe how decisions are made that serve those standards?

Every decision must support who we are, what we believe and how we’re perceived. If anything presented to us distracts from these tenets, we walk. This applies to who we work with, what we are asked to do, where we market, what vendors we work with, etc.

What created such a demand for your services?

I believe it’s a byproduct of what we’ve projected – professionalism at its highest degree, composure and brutal honesty at every turn that serves to protect our clients at all cost. People prefer this far more passionately than their need to just hire a Realtor.

What exercises did you undergo to shape these beliefs in the public’s mind?

As entrepreneurs and marketers, we study what we do, we evaluate our successes and failures and continually evolve as a result. Empathy is a critical component of branding which requires us to continually place ourselves in our clients’ shoes and ask ourselves what we would want if we were them. We know people yearn for great service. By providing that in every way possible, we created this sense of us without ever saying it.

What is Joffe Group’s internal purpose?

To honor the sanctity of the real estate experience. We don’t do “deals”. We are not “top producers”. These terms and ideals are offensive to us and demean people. A Realtor is the one lifeline people have in a transaction and trust in that Realtor is critical. The only way to manifest that trust is to truly honor the role we must play.

What is Joffe Group’s external brand promise?

We promise our clients a customized service across all aspects of our work designed specifically for their needs. Every client is guaranteed to be treated individually rather than fall into a template process for service that works for everyone. This is something people want and it supports our purpose.

If you could state one thing that the Joffe owns what would that be?

Excellence. From copy to design, service, representation, from grand efforts to the simplest detail, everything must resonate excellence. To illustrate, our listing copy never uses abbreviated words for terms such as bedrooms, bathrooms or square feet. These constructs come across as lazy writing and cheapen the idea of what these things are. Similarly, we would never refer to a powder room as a half bath. That’s MLS speak not consumer speak. Powder room looks pretty when written. It sounds beautiful when spoken.

These are simple details most agents don’t consider, but for us they are everything. Our attention to details like this don’t stop there. They apply to every single touch point of the Joffe brand. Excellence isn’t an ideal we try to sell the world. It defines how we must operate at every level.

The Joffe Group operates within a brokerage brand, Launch Real Estate. What factors guided your decision to co-brand with your broker?

Our company owner, John Vatistas. He is our partner, our mentor, our sounding board and a daily reminder to stay focused and true to ourselves. His brilliant mind, clear vision, deep commitment to his agents and his trustworthiness never wain. Association with these qualities adds to the Joffe brand. That matters. It’s hard to project excellence if your broker is an unmotivated real estate automaton or whose mission and values differ from yours.

Behind the signs

The Joffe Group possesses a clear purpose. A defined promise. Values that guide their actions.

Does this make Joffe a brand?

Arguably, not in the same way Maytag, Southwest or Prada are brands. But in its own right, I believe Joffe does indeed qualify.

I’m still convinced the typical agent marketing and so-called branding antics that volley around our industry are not the stuff of which brands are made.

But Joffe showed me a brighter possibility. There was something behind all those signs.

My next conversation with Noelle will be interesting.

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