Private parts

Our lives are public now. Our faces, our surroundings, our opinions and our preferences are known to anyone who cares enough to look.

In the last several years, we’ve seen the consequences of this play out in bad ways for some people.

Remember Justine Sacco, the young PR professional who made insensitive remarks on Twitter during a trip to Europe and Africa? (We all knew she was fired before she did.) And recently, Inman ran a story about a Realtor who was cut loose by Keller Williams for a meme she posted on Facebook that insinuated she was cool with running over protesters.

I won’t get into the weeds of whether or not the degree of consequences and public shaming that happen after such incidents is right or wrong. I’m thinking more about the connection of our own opinions to brands – the ones we work for and represent in our professional lives, and the ones we support with our money.

Branding – for a real estate company, a team, or a single agent – is the practice of creating meaning linked to your organization (or person). It occurs at every touchpoint you have with the public. And now that our lives are so entwined, there are a lot more of those touchpoints to think about every day. Every image, every word, every meme that goes live is inextricably linked to the meaning that people place on the person or brand behind it.

We all know this, right? Maybe, or maybe not judging by the things we see out there.

So, does this mean that brands should not say anything? That we, as a matter of being human, should not have a point of view for fear of backlash? I think absolutely not. But there is a rigor required here. Words really do matter. Thoughtfulness is king. And while we can’t ever be 100% certain that no one will be offended or put off by what we say or do, we owe it to the brands we represent to think and choose words and “content” carefully.

We are seeing a growing push for a point of view in the world of brands. Some brands simply can’t be silent on certain issues that affect their employees, partners and customers.

There’s an argument to be made that some people might even expect brands to take a position. For instance, what kind of brand would Patagonia be if it sat silent on climate change right now? A very weak one. We expect this brand to take a stance, given its values around sustainability and its target customer, an outdoorsy, environmental-loving adventurer.

A less obvious example is Budweiser. Why would a major American beer company run a politically charged ad about immigration during the Super Bowl? Because it was on brand. In the ad, we learned Budweiser’s origin story, that founder Adolphus Busch came to America from Germany and embraced the American spirit of entrepreneurialism. Essentially, we learned that one of the most American products on the market was created by an immigrant. It was no accident that the company decided to highlight this story when it did.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I certainly expect a real estate brand to care about housing issues. But what about more polarizing issues like immigration and same-sex marriage? Maybe, maybe not. If you have developed your brand around a core purpose that is clear and true, then it should be easy to answer questions of when to offer a point of view and when to stay silent.  

Same goes for individual agents. Since the advent of personal branding in real estate, there’s really no argument that agents have separate public and private lives. Hey, none of us do anymore. But when you are your brand, you have to put that brand’s lens on every time you open your mouth – almost anywhere.

Now more than ever people have the power to seek out and find a brand’s point of view. And now more than ever they are weighing that point of view against their own before making a decision. Articulating a point of view requires understanding a brand’s core foundation and discipline in following through. You can shape it and use it to your advantage. Or you can ignore it and just speak off the cuff until your wake-up call arrives.

Point is, when you’re building a brand, there are no private parts anymore. Think long and hard about what you’re showing the world.