A cure for wrinkles

Here’s a theme I’ve been hearing from brokers a lot lately:

We’re not growing. We can’t seem to attract new or young agents to meet with our recruiters. The new generation of buyers dismiss our brand. Even our long-time agents have developed wandering eyes.

Over the course of a day’s workshop with a brokerage’s leaders, the realities of why this has happened emerge when someone invariably says:

We’ve become old and stodgy.

Even with steady market share, a legendary founder, the best agents, global connections, best-in-class marketing partners, and a known brand with a highly trafficked website, many brokers are feeling the pinch.

These brokerages have everything any buyer, seller or agent could ever want. Depth. Breadth. Wisdom. Social advocacy. But it’s often hard to recognize that by how it’s presented.

The competition

On an early morning jog before a workshop meeting with a new 1000WATT brokerage client, I was stopped by a sharp new storefront. A real estate company.

Its colorful logo set against the white painted brick was stunning. The typeface was sleek and modern. All at once it conveyed something timeless yet current that required no explanation.

A small sandwich board on the sidewalk out front held a simple invitation to “Come in and say hi”. Inside, the decor was inviting and purposeful like the lobby of a chic Miami hotel.

This brokerage was a fierce competitor to a client of ours, and a new market entrant. They had no history. Yet young buyers were flocking to them. As a result, sellers had begun gravitating to them as well. And they’d begun sucking in agents like a new Dyson vacuum.

In that early morning moment I could see why. Their visual appeal was undeniable. It created a belief that this company and its agents were just as sharp, if not sharper, than the brokerage with years’ more local experience.

Day 1

In 1997, Jeff Bezos penned this letter to shareholders in response to a question about what Day 2 might look like for Amazon. He wrote:

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

I often reflect on this letter each time the old-and-stodgy discussion begins as a way to remind brokerages why they ended up there. They allowed it to happen. While age is often cited as the incurable culprit, the fact is, age should be a brand’s greatest strength.

Levi’s. Burberry. Hunter. Stella Artois. Old Spice. Lego. Each one shows us each year how mature brands can appeal to new customers. Each has used its lifespan as a branding element.

This Lego video, which was produced to celebrate the company’s 80th anniversary, is a great example of how a brand embraced its age to build brand sentiment. Passion for the brand seeps through the voice of the narrator, who is the founder’s grandson. It’s clear that that the leadership at Lego never scratched day 1 off their calendar.

One eye sees, the other eye feels

After a day spent with our client, I discovered a company with extraordinary agents. A visionary leadership and management team. A bottomless well of local knowledge with five-star services that anyone in any age group would want.

All that stood in their way were the visuals. Their design, their copy, their demeanor, their identity had become dusty. These are often overlooked aspects of a real estate brand that must evolve over time to do the jobs they are meant to do –  invite, awe, impress, attract, and instill a feeling within people.

Swiss-German artist and Bauhaus teacher Paul Klee wrote, “One eye sees, the other eye feels.” It’s always been a reminder to me that words and designs must not only resonate with people intellectually, but also stimulate them emotionally.

If the perception of a company is that it is old and stodgy, it likely has little to do with the systems, processes, training, leadership, and vision its leaders share internally. By all measures, the brokerage is every bit as progressive as anyone else. And really, none of it has to do with how many years they’ve been in business.

Most of this perception comes from how they’ve chosen to present these attributes to the world. Logo. Images. Copy. Marketing campaigns. These are the public’s entry point to a brand. Their job is to shape impression. If they look old and dated, that will shape people’s perceptions.

My advice to those of you reading this and feeling like this rings true at your company: Take a dip inside that design fountain of youth. You’ll emerge invigorated.