Real estate's bubblegum hits keep on spinning

They are broker/owners. Trying to make sense of everything.
They’re driving down the interstate. Pressing scan on their radios. Getting blasted by the zoo stations beaming with 50,000 watts of power. Broadcasting the hits of the day, rapid-fire.
Like you, they tap their feet to the infectious beats spun by the DJ’s of real estate. QR code hip hop. Social media rap and roll. The ambient pulse of video fanboys peddling ecstasy-laced drinks that make people believe shooting video of properties with an iPhone is a good idea.
The hits keep on coming. Pounding the brain. Strong beats. Weak lyrics. Bubblegum. These brokers keep scanning the airwaves. Hoping to find something different. An album track. Depth.
They are no different than you.
Collapse of distinction

There were about thirty broker/owners in attendance. Large and small.
They’re profitable. Smart. They’ve adapted. And each year they convene to brainstorm, plan, and debate.
I was with them to steer them clear of the Collapse of distinction – a plague upon many industries filled with brands between which consumers see no difference.
Apple, Virgin America, Nike, Whole Foods – these are brands that escape the undifferentiated mass. What they mean, how they speak and the way they condition management decisions set them apart.
There aren’t a lot of brands like this in real estate.
Throughout the day I presented ideas to the broker/owners to get them thinking about how they might attach more meaning to their brands. I asked questions of them and gave them tasks to complete.
One of these tasks stood out above all others. It began with a display of brand logos on a screen. I asked attendees to speak the first word or phrase that came to mind when looking at each.
Here’s what I got:
Zappos: Happiness
Southwest: Freedom
UPS: Reliability
Dyson: Innovation
Ferrari: Wealth
Jordache: Sex
Victoria’s Secret: Hot Sex
Viagra: All night long
30 people of different ages from all over the country, thinking the same thing. That’s branding.
They blinded me with silence
They were all in good spirits after that exercise. The bonhomie would be short-lived.
I presented another task. Each broker had to go around the room and assign a word or phrase to each of their colleagues. One that came to mind immediately.
Silence. Not a single broker could articulate anything other than “they sell real estate” despite the many years they’d known each other. When asked if they could do it for their own brands, the silence that ensued was blinding.
“Imagine if all of you were competing in the same city,” I posited. “Thankfully you aren’t. Not with each other anyway. But trust there are twenty other brokerages in your markets that have no identity either. How do you compete? How do you make decisions? How do you recruit and retain? How can you do more than delay your own extinction?”
What brands don’t do

The morning bled into afternoon. I pounded them with examples. Tasks. Techniques. I showed them how their core beliefs might be made manifest.
The deeper I dug, the more crud I exposed. The group got more comfortable the more we scraped. When the open Q&A session began, some of the real problems burst forth.
“What do you think about setting up a Facebook page for my brokerage” one broker asked. Before I could answer, another broker echoed “Yeah what about that? I’ve been getting a lot of pressure from my agents. Me too yet another added. “And what’s with all that QR code nonsense? That’s all I hear these days. And blogging, tweeting, making video – must we be doing all of that? Everyone is telling us we either do this or we’ll be out of business in five years. What do you think?”

Nods galore.
We rolled on. Their hands on the dial. Searching the airwaves. What they needed here was a little Frank Zappa.
Conceptual continuity
Zappa evolved a compositional approach called conceptual continuity where each individual composition ties to a larger project. Everything is connected. Musical themes and lyrics would surface, then resurface in altered forms on later albums. Every thing he did was tied to a posting that was his and his alone.
The Zappa brand endures.
If what you do is tied to someone else’s hitching post, then nothing you do will have lasting value. You’ll be part of a herd. A stampede. Thundering along the plain on your way toward oblivion.
Don’t crank up this or that hit of the moment because you’ve been pressured to do so by those who are passionate about such things. They have no stake in your success or any clear understanding of your brand.
If you shoot crappy video or slap QR codes on things because everyone else is doing it, then do it because shooting crappy iPhone videos of property or slapping codes on things is somehow tied to what your brand is about.
If not, don’t. At least not without serious deliberation. Despite what anyone says.
My world, which, believe it or not, isn’t quite as kooky and bizarre as Zappa’s, is a world defined by calculated motive. It is a world defined by originality. A world defined by one size fits one.
It’s great that people are out there presenting new and interesting things. It’s not so great when they feel inclined to proselytize your doom should you not buy their pitch.
If you never set up a Facebook page, if you never tweet, if you never once inform the world of where you are right now, if you never place a QR code on anything, not only will you not go extinct, you might actually have more time in your business life to focus on the things you actually need to do to thrive.
Like figure out who you are. What your brand means. How it stands apart in a field of sameness.
Do that first. Then think about the hits as they flow from real estate’s radio.
Everyone in the room felt comfortable with that. Relieved actually.
I hope you will be too.