Friday Flash: After Inman

The most interesting, attention-commanding thing at last week’s Inman Connect show was a real estate brokerage that is in most ways quite common.

This brokerage’s primary customer is its agents. These agents are independent contractors on fairly standard commission plans. This brokerage provides them with technology, training and marketing support.

This brokerage believes that real estate agents as we know them today will be here tomorrow, that consumers will continue to pay them the way they’ve been paying them, and that “discounters” are offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

This brokerage has great agents and not-so-great agents. This brokerage has leases. This brokerage doesn’t own what it sells. This brokerage scraps for every basis point of company dollar.

But this brokerage, Compass, ordinary in so many ways, is also the object of widespread fascination, attraction and, among its competitors, fear.

Why?

The money helps. Of course it does. Big time. And competing against that, moving past or around it, seems daunting.

But Compass’ secret sauce isn’t all green. It’s also flavored with things very near and dear to our hearts at 1000watt:

A clear story.

A rock-solid brand identity, executed flawlessly.

Great design.

This is what makes Compass – a brokerage richer but not fundamentally better than most others – something very, very sexy.

These things were on abundant display at Inman. It was sort of a brand and design petting zoo. I got to touch their obviously impractical but beautiful yard sign prototype; snap photos of their agent branding work, displayed openly on huge boards; shake hands with Robert Reffkin, who seemed to spend most of the week just hanging out in his branded lounge area, pressing the flesh.

 

Think about it: when NRT was throwing around money buying brokerages like crazy from the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s and branding them to Coldwell Banker, some weren’t excited about it. But I don’t recall the sort of freakout associated with the Compass juggernaut.

I think a lot of the difference lies in the qualities I listed above. It’s like the difference between me and George Clooney walking into a bar and buying a round of drinks. One is deeply unexciting, the other wildly attention-grabbing or threatening, depending on where you sit.  

There are plenty of great brokerages out there. We work with some of them. None have $800 million, but they do have the capacity to tell a great story, create a brand that attracts people and design beautiful things and experiences.

Sexy isn’t just for Compass.

This was not just the biggest, best Connect ever – it was also the most focused. Among the 100+ speakers and dozens of sessions was a pretty clear narrative: the residential real estate business is at a crossroads and sides are being taken. You’re either doubling down on the Realtor or you’re trying to diminish, replace or reinvent the Realtor.

This tension has always been activated at Inman, but this time it was far more real. Everyone seemed to be feeling it. I say that as someone who’s been to every Inman show since 1997 and tends not to read too much into the buzz at any one event.

The fantastic face-off between Gary Keller and Brad Inman was tons of fun, and very easy to look at as a prize fight. But it was the the perfect crystallization of the moment we’re in right now: fractious, passionate and high-stakes. The audience was the true winner.

For all the money and buzz evident at the event, I did not see a lot of interesting smaller, younger companies. The seed-level people. The software application that makes you think “that’s gonna be big, someday.” The juice seems to be concentrated in an array of big players and startups right now. Am I wrong? Email me at brian-at-1000watt-dot-net.

Have a great weekend.

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