Thanksgiving Eve, 2012.
An hour before dinner, my phone rings.
Impulsively, I pick up.
This is the best decision I make all year.
Tension resonated through her introduction. After all, we’d only met once. Long enough to shake hands and chat briefly.
“I’m starting my own brokerage and need to commit to a name now. I would love your blessing,” she said.
Funny. I reached for my Papal cloak and thurible. “What’s the name?” I asked.
“I want my brand to be known for providing an elite level of service, so I want to call it Elite Real Estate.
I prayed silently to the gods of real estate branding, then offered a tidbit of advice:
“A name doesn’t make a brand. Experiences do. If you want people to think of your company as elite, provide elite experiences. Your name needs to be a word or words that embody that aspiration for you. This is how brands manifest.”
“How can I get this right?” she asked.
A common error people make when conjuring up a name is to focus on finding a word then squeezing meaning into it rather than establishing meaning then finding a word that embodies it.
Turkey dinner was an hour away. But I couldn’t leave Susana hanging. So I launched headfirst into a rapid fire discovery process.
I began with Susana’s Spanish accent – an obvious and differentiating trait from the standard New England inflection. Susana’s story intrigued me. She’s originally from a coastal Spanish town, a place where community and family are mixed together like paella. Rich experiences and memories poured from her as she described this place. I could taste the spice her past life. I could visualize it.
As she spoke, I began searching the Web for inspiration. On a whim, I Googled Spanish doors and studied the resulting images – vibrantly painted wooden gateways of red, blue, green and black. I also noticed the unique door knockers – iron forged and adorned with distinctive symbols.
I began to imagine life behind those doors. I pictured interior walls of aged plaster and their natural reddish patina. I heard music, smelled food, envisioned the art that hung off the walls. I summoned up the conversations that took place around the dinner table.
These were the creative nuggets to be discussed. I had a feeling there was something here.
I asked Susana to focus on these experiences and jot down anything that came to mind and share them with me over the next few days.
She was on it.
Many emails followed over the next twenty four hours. It was my day off and I was working for free for a stranger. Yet it felt right. I was struck by her ingenuity. Her passion. Her story. Her desire to collaborate on this rather than argue and defend her original idea.
I had to pursue this.
Friday evening, a message from her appeared in my inbox:
What do you think of…
The word stood bare against Gmail’s white background. I had no idea what it meant. But I loved it. It rolled off my tongue. Susana explained that Alante is a word she heard as a child growing up whenever someone knocked on her parent’s door. It means welcome. Come in. Move forward. You get the idea.
I sketched the word on a pad.
Next to it I sketched a door knocker.
An identity was born.
A love story
Alante lit my creative fuse. It was right. On the surface it would seem to many an empty vessel, yet it was rich with intention.
Assets came fast and furious. Full identity design. Words that articulated Susana’s commitment to deliver a truly remarkable real estate experience. I set the tone for how this brand would connect with the world.
Meanwhile, Susana took out a line of credit to lease and design a one of a kind space that could house 30 people.
The Alante brand began to take shape.
Susana envisioned the special types of people that would fill the space. She described them to me well before she hired anyone. At this phase my involvement ended, and I wished her luck. I believed in her and had a feeling she was going to stick to the plan.
Over the last two years, I’ve watched Susana’s brand come to life. We’ve connected occasionally to brainstorm.
Recently, while visiting the east coast, I drove 90 miles out of my way to visit Alante. I strolled over from my hotel at 8:45 a.m., toured the office and met the eleven members of the firm – people who embodied the very essence of Susana’s vision.
I was speechless.
Susana didn’t just build a brand. She’s composed a love story infused with passion for her community, her agents and her industry.
It’s special. It’s beautiful. It is “elite” in every good, warm, delectable way possible.
As I turned to leave, I posed for a group photo. I tried to say something meaningful, but emotions got the better of me. Great love stories tend to have that effect.
Had I been able to react in time, I would’ve said: