A brand is born

I received an invite to attend the launch of a new brokerage brand.

“Brand?” I inquired. “What makes you say you’re a brand?”

Beyond the ordinary

The real estate industry teems with undifferentiated companies. Some are prominent, provide good services or have sterling reputations. These are each important attributes, but by themselves don’t constitute a brand.

Consider this example. City Cleaners is my neighborhood dry cleaner. They do a nice job cleaning garments, have a great reputation and provide excellent service. While these attributes support their ongoing business, there is no City Cleaners brand.

To ascend to brand status, they would need to be defined by things beyond the obvious traits shared by everyone else that does this job in their space.

They’d need something special.

Brand or bust

The life of a non-brand is a struggle. It lives a commoditized existence, a replaceable cog in the consumer machine. It grinds to acquire, serve and retain customers. If it has something special, it doesn’t leverage it.

There are numerous ideas about what makes a brand a brand. I’d like to offer what I believe are the three critical qualities required to achieve that status.

1. Something no one else can claim. City Cleaners cleans garments, hangs them on wire hangers, wraps them in plastic, and charges the same as everyone else. They do this competently, just like hundreds of other shops in my city.

If there’s something unique about their operation, they’ve told no one.

A similarly bleak parity exists in real estate. For example, we see numerous tech vendors that offer brokers products they promise will reduce costs, increase productivity and help recruit and retain agents. We see brokerages that market using the same tactics, the same messages and the same processes as everyone else. If there is something unique about their companies, they’re not leveraging it well or at all.

What brands own can often be complex. Proprietary IP. A secret ingredient. A unique process.

But it can also be simple.

Living Room Realty is a Portland-based boutique brokerage that illustrates this. Despite the glut of cool, hip, new, urban brokerages that have become the norm here, Living Room brands around its knowledge.


God is in the simple details. In this case, given the bidding wars, skyrocketing prices, off-market listings and freaked-out buyers, knowing the neighborhood matters a lot. Surely, other brokerages know the market. But they’ve chosen not to tell anyone.

Living Room knows NW Portland. That’s a brandable statement.

Non-brands don’t own things. They lease time from the public that expires when something more interesting emerges.

2. A refined physical and visual layer. Your name is an asset. It’s a word people will say, think and respond to. A name must support your unique claim.

The name City Cleaners is lost in ambiguity. It’s uninteresting, flat and generic.

Living Room Realty, on the other hand, is clever. It’s anchored in a universally understood and appealing sentiment. It also pairs nicely with the claim of neighborhood centricity.

Names also need a visual and verbal language to support them.

Non-brands place little effort on these things. Standard typefaces, bland color choices, banal copy – while these are cheap to execute, they cost their owners dearly.

3. A promise delivered. Your name, message and identity create an expectation that must be met.

Suppose City Cleaners rebranded as Pure Dry and introduced a new, proprietary cleaning method. Progress.

But if their location still looked like this…


A disconnect occurs. A drawbridge opens. The consumer falls through.

A catchy name, cool logo and compelling message can only go so far – especially when used to mask the reality that there is really nothing special going on. People see right through that.

Real brands offer a complete experience – the emotion and the substance.

Everything they do is in sync. Philharmonic.

A brand is born

“I built Launch Real Estate on one premise,” the broker who invited me to his party replied. “We provide a Four Seasons experience to our agents and their clients. Every agent in this company is handpicked based on exacting criteria. No rookies. Dabblers. Part timers. Or self-absorbed mavericks. We built a home for consummate professionals with indisputable track records.” They are treated like royalty, as are their clients.

In a market where brokerages recruit agents of varying skill sets and levels, this bone may have some meat on it.

51 outstanding agents were invited in. All 51 joined. The marketplace is buzzing with interest. The press covered their opening. The brokerage isn’t even a week old.

A brand has been conceived.