Plain white toast

We seem to have a problem in real estate marketing with table stakes. We rarely go beyond them.

Table stakes are the bare minimum offering. They are “first-level” creativity.

When articulating your difference, table stakes would be saying you are professional. Or that your agents are high quality. That you are an expert. Or that you “know” your market.

I totally understand why you’d go there. So many in your market may not be actual experts. They may not act or operate in a way that could be accurately labeled professional. I’ve been around long enough to know the agonizing truth of this.

But the problem is that while this broad-brush language may in fact be true, it isn’t enough to hang your entire brand message and value proposition on. These things are table stakes because people expect them from you already.

Imagine if Uber built its entire brand around the message that their drivers know how to drive, are professional (hilarious, when you picture any random recent driver you had), or “know” the cities. Don’t we all expect a driver to know how to operate a car or get from A to B?

The first rule of branding is differentiation. The first rule of marketing is to be interesting to your customer.

You can’t achieve either of those by relying solely on table stakes. At the very least, you need a big idea layered on top.

This is almost always the first order of business for us at 1000watt when we take on a new client — to push past the first layer and get to a deeper, more interesting nugget of meaning where creativity can flourish.

Sometimes we do end up weaving in the notion of professionalism or quality. I think these themes are always going to be present to some degree in a service-based business. But the difference is in creating top-level hooks and unique positioning that stop people in their tracks and create an impression of your difference.

Your table stakes do matter. But they matter at particular moments that are typically further from the first impression or the quick engagements your brand is out there creating for you every day. They matter in terms of the actions you take that back them up. (E.g., you can’t position your brand as a group of “professionals” and then allow dimestore agents to fill your ranks.)

Even a small amount of digging can unearth a new gemstone that’ll make you more interesting than the company across the street.

As advertising icon David Ogilvy once said, “Unless your advertising is built on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

I think that applies to so many things in business and in life beyond advertising. Like, we have now moved past the age of innovation to the age of interest.

Without interest, you’re plain white toast.

Boring. Uninteresting. Seen it. Heard it. Moving on.

There are too many other things vying for attention these days. It’s worth asking if what we’re offering is truly compelling, and if not, spending the time to go deeper.