Getting brokerage unstuck

A brokerage CMO said this to me about a month ago, almost in passing: 

We do OK marketing property. People know our brand name. But truthfully, they have no idea or interest in what we do. To them we’re just a utility, an obligatory thing. Our future is at stake as a result. 


This was reinforced for me the week before Christmas while hanging in New York with some broker/owner friends, all of whom shared the same lament: things aren’t improving and something’s gotta change.

“Traditional” brokerage is under attack by serious competitors. Compass. KW. eXp. Agents are leaving older brands, and taking their clients and their listings with them.

During the last decade, the most common response to this has been to simultaneously concede company dollars to agents, slash marketing and invest in more tech – a dispiriting rinse-and-repeat cycle.

Respectfully, that’s fighting a 1,000-year flood with a trowel and sandbags. By most accounts, it’s not working. Realistically, it’s unsustainable. 

But what else to do?

During my flight home from New York, somewhere over the midwest and in between episodes of Mindhunter, it came to me. 


Peel back the outer skin of a brokerage. Underneath beats the heart of a local business. A real estate brokerage holds within it a purer essence of place than most other establishments one can think of. Its workforce is local. What it sells is local. The money it generates flows back into the local economy in generous amounts. 

Given the rising awareness and support for all things local, why shouldn’t a real estate brokerage be the pride of its community? Something understood by residents, loved by sellers, regarded by buyers?

What agent wouldn’t want to work underneath such a halo?

While the agent is often the face of a successful transaction, the brokerage is the financial, legal and organizational platform that makes it all possible. It’s the entity from which good work and goodwill are reflected back into the community. 

The branding possibilities here are exciting.

To seize them, though, brokerages will need to let go of the tried and mostly untrue methods of marketing and branding in our space. Marketing departments must be willing to venture down new paths, follow new rules and be open to a new stream of possibilities.

Brokerages will have to identify what it means to be a local business and tell that story in ways that move people beyond obligation or disinterest. This will mean questioning everything from your stand at the local farmers market to asking yourself what else you can do with your brand website beyond a home search utility. 

Fighting fire with love

You’re a local staple. You’ve sold homes to generations of families. But this information has no intrinsic value to anyone. Not today. Not in 2020. 

But give it context, surface why it matters, design it beautifully and put it into the world with imagination and you may just create a connection to the marketplace no newcomer can replicate.

What might this look like? Honestly, offering a generic idea would do this an injustice. Each brokerage is as unique as each community. 

But to get the creative juices flowing, here’s one simple idea to illustrate what I mean: If you have a main street storefront, set up a small section to house and display locally made goods from local creators and makers. Focus the inventory on things perfect for a home. Feature monthly exhibits complete with wine and cheese and make it an ongoing thing. Take the proceeds and donate them to local charities and causes. 

Document it. Tell a story around it. 

This may seem far-fetched to you. It’s merely a suggestion to illustrate the point. And if the way things are isn’t working anymore, who’s to say something is far-fetched anyway?

If you can own local love, you will inspire your agents and recruit new ones — the ones you want. 

And preserve all you have built for decades to come.