Branding

Brokers caught between a rock and a virtual hard place

Author
Marc Davison
No.
314
Date
02/03/09

It began innocently enough. A broker sent me a link hoping to get my thoughts on his new website. When Brian or I get these requests we’ll scan the site quickly and, if time permits, respond with some quick observations. Sometimes we’re drawn to do more. Especially when the broker’s good intentions are nowhere to be found in the results.

Between a rock and a hard place

Meet Eirik Olsen. He’s a broker in the Pacific Northwest caught between the rock of excitement surrounding the launch of his new website and a hard place of concern he now feels as he comes to terms with what he actually has.

We are all too familiar with Eirik’s dilemma. As a broker he was handcuffed to a Website product that cost too much and provided too little. And a vendor that bound him to a ball-and-chain contract trusting that their system was so deeply woven into his business he could never leave.

This problem afflicts many brokers. And most choose to hang onto a dysfunctional vendor relationship because they are fearful of what happens if they move on — of the possibility that they can’t do any better.

Eirik gambled and moved on. He contracted a new vendor. And all seemed fine until he went live. And began to seek opinion outside his corporate cockpit.

I called Eirik after looking at his website. We covered a lot of ground. At the conclusion of our call he voiced concern for all brokers caught in his position. Out of sincere desire that others learn from his mistakes, Eirik volunteered to let us publish a high-level assessment of his new site here. The list of issues below is not exhaustive, but will hopefully help some of you thinking about making a move.

Browser compatibility

This is Eirik’s website. For those of you viewing this on a PC, you will miss the very first impression I had viewing it in Safari. It looked like this:

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Making a site compatible with Safari isn’t rocket science. And Eirik is based in one of the most tech-savvy cities in the country: Seattle. Ouch.

Brand

Eirik’s online brand is Green Real Estate Center, a moniker that alludes to environmental education within the context of real estate. I expected the site to contain content about energy efficiency and environmentally friendly materials for the home. I imagined the site would also list green homes for sale and provide lifestyle information.

Those impressions dissipated seconds after I scanned the homepage and found no evidence of any such information. I explained how this creates confusion for the user and leads to distrust caused by discordant branding.

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Other site copy states that this center serves to protect consumers. Yet no where on this site could we find content to support that claim. Unsupported claims are a bad idea in real estate these days.

The RE/MAX branding at the top of the page added to the confusion since RE/MAX has not, to our knowledge, ever branded itself as being environmentally friendly. With the absence of any text stating a unique value proposition that would help explain what Green Real Estate really is, we were left on our own to weed through jargon that seems to do everything but explain what Green Real Estate Center really is.

Search

How is it that three years since Trulia taught real estate how search should be done, this sort of thing still exists?

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The instructional screen that hovers over the default map-based search was disconcerting. Why does search require a tutorial? Adding to the confusion were mysterious terms such as  “Focus Mapor verbiage that reads “Select the Draw Zoom tool, then click and drag to create a rectangle within to focus the map. Why is the map out of focus to begin with?

This search defaults to a map even though most online real estate sites have abandoned the practice for a simpler list display. Here’swhy: Type Seattle into the one search field and hit go. Numerous little house icons appear. The user is required to hover over each one to view the image of the home.

It’s not a good idea to play hard to get with the user.

Eirik’s search solution has a significant anomaly: No refiners. Other than price there were no fields for beds, baths or square footage.

More ouch.

Other content

Agent Roster. We found little use for the agent roster other than perhaps viewing photos of 50 people we don’t know or particularly care about. The agents all have the option of publishing details about themselves. About half the agents chose not too.

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The shining star in this group was George Caudill, whose page should be a beacon for all the other agents.

Contact Us. Here the user is presented with form, but is given no idea who it goes to or when they might expect a response. To the right of the form is a video from Eirik offering a commitment to full service that is with you every step of the way. The irony was hard to miss.

Video. I love video. I love it when CEO’s make a video and stand behind their brand. But as I pointed out to Eirik, throwing out terms like full service and client protection is great — provided you explain them in detail and articulate them in terms of benefits to the viewer. His intentions were pure, but very little of what he described sounded special or different than any other broker’s commitment.

Forward!

Eirik knows how to run a successful brokerage, but something got lost in translation on the web.

But he can fix that. Eirik is going back to square one with his IDX provider. He’ll source a few alternative vendors he had not been aware of. He’ll reformulate the site content and think through how his company is positioned on the site.

He’ll get it right.

Thanks to Eirik for sharing!

Marc Davison Twitter: 1000wattmarc