They use your listings.
They attract your customers.
They charm your agents with technology solutions.
But there is one thing they will never have.
This irreplaceable, powerful thing is your greatest asset.
What you do with it, what you don’t do with it, how you manage it and how you express it can make all the difference in the world.
Heart. Soul. Spirit.
The heart of a brokerage doesn’t lie in tools and technologies ubiquitous in the marketplace. Where it ranks on Google doesn’t measure spirit. A collection of social likes hardly conveys soul.
Sure, these things matter. But not profoundly. They are not, in the final analysis, what keep a brokerage together.
Brokers also know.
Now more than ever before in my almost 20 years in real estate I’m witnessing brokerages focused on building something more meaningful than just sales organizations. With a passionate and inspired leadership, they are building stronger brands.
Here’s one brokerage story.
A Partners Trust
Nestled deep in the competitive luxury market of Los Angeles, Partners Trust was founded in 2010 by four people with storied careers in LA real estate. They believed they could build a special real estate company.
Fast forward to 2013. Partners Trust was the fastest growing brokerage in Los Angeles. The LA Business Journal named them a “Best place to work” three years in a row.
But at the turn of 2014, with soaring sales volume, offices in all the sexy LA destinations, and with all the lights, cameras and action focused on the firm, the founders took pause.
They chose to focus inward.
“Nothing is sacred,” their CEO confided to us during our first meeting. “I’m opening up my company to you for complete scrutiny. Where do we succeed? Where do we fall? Where are we truthful? Where are we spinning bullshit? Find the cracks and help me fill them.”
It was a tall order. The tallest any company can request.
Over the course of two days we interviewed more than 60 associates, the executive team, affiliate partners and managers. We asked them all questions ranging from “why do you work here?” to “tell us a story about the company that supports this word listed here in the core values.”
It was revealing. At times, it was challenging for the interviewees. But many expressed a sense of relief and clarity.
By the end of the two days one thing was clear: the answers to why each person was at the company were strikingly consistent.
As we poured through our findings, we discovered a company filled with outstanding agents who supported each other in ways we had never seen before. A sense of true partnership was revealed.
Partners Trust. It was real. This was good. But what we came to believe strongly was that there was no systematic way for this company to articulate this inwardly and outwardly, no identity that manifested the unique qualities of the brand.
Our findings also revealed that “A Real Estate Brokerage” was an inadequate description for this company. Arguably, if you are what everyone else is, you aren’t much of a brand.
Now the hard part – slaughtering the sacred cow.
Few brands are immaculately conceived. The best ones evolve consciously over time discovering who they are as they grow and how they are perceived, felt by and engaged by the marketplace. Shaping the brand to reflect these things often matters more than a blind protection of the founders’ initial vision.
These founders told us nothing was sacred. Their mettle would be tested.
But before we began developing a new visual identity for the brand, we had to define Partners Trust. We knew what it was, but we wanted to definitely express who it was and why it existed. The words we needed to write were spoken to us in many shades during our interviews. We simply needed to memorialize it.
A brand manifesto if you will.
Here’s a glimpse:
We presented this brand story to the founders. It immediately ignited a new level of positivity throughout the partnership. They now had a distillation of their meaning that could be clearly and forcefully shared first with their agents, then the wider world.
A new identity was next.
The old brand identity wasn’t bad, really. But it did not serve the larger purpose so we needed to create a fresh new look. Our task was to embody, visually, the meaning of this company.
Working with their internal marketing team over the course of several months of intense collaboration, we created a new identity that not only embraced and respected the company’s heritage, but also reflected their reinvigorated story.
From the outset, we set a high bar for ourselves. It had to evoke a level of peerlessness in the industry.
The identity we created accomplishes this. It is stylish, effortless, reserved. Just like the company’s associates.
The emphasis is on the partnership, but it is built on the foundation of trust. Trust is in motion, as it is an ever-changing, evolving quality. They are forged together by the company’s forward vision.
Late last year, we brought together 200 associates in a theater in Los Angeles to unveil this work. The audience roared with excitement upon the reveal of the new and improved Partners Trust brand. But most importantly, every one of them recognized aspects of themselves and the sentiments they shared with us in their interviews in each of the components we created.
Then came the campaign to take this brand to the market with new vigor.
We came up with a new tagline – “A commitment to you” – to reinforce the brand’s value and its competitive differentiator. But we still needed to illustrate what those words truly meant. We then hit on the idea of using the company’s clients as the focal point of the campaign.
We convened a photo shoot and began rolling out ads in market to begin telling this story.
What Partners Trust did will serve to protect its future and absolve them from concerns about the things others do that they can’t control.
This is what branding is. This is what brands do.