My shirts are monogrammed, my sweaters are cashmere.
When I fly to Scotland each year to play St. Andrews, I come back with at least a case of the good stuff. In May, my wife and I head to Louisville for the Derby, where we talk about interesting things with other couples while sipping mint juleps.
Sometimes, when I’m down in Palm Beach, I get a pedicure.
Life is good.
But I am not a man. I am a fiction.
A finely tuned instrument of lifestyle branding.
Silly and smart
I got the BrooksBrothers holiday catalog in the mail last week. It’s a big glossy thing with pictures of square-jawed guys wearing nice clothes while doing things like polishing saddles or chatting in dens.
To me, it feels kind of silly. I’ve bought a bunch of shirts from Brooks Brothers, and a couple suits, but I don’t have a den or a polo pony.
But there was something else in this catalog I thought was smart. Every few pages, there was an offer for a Brooks Brothers “experience.” For a several thousands dollars each, a handful of lucky people could spend time touring mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, playing golf at St. Andrews or enjoying a weekend of southern gentility at Churchill Downs.
It’s an interesting extension of the brand into a lifestyle. The company is pitching clothes, yes, but also a way of living.
As a result, Brooks Brothers seems more genuine. It makes the vision conjured in those goofy poses more possible.
I don’t aspire to the Brooks Brothers lifestyle, but I bet a lot of other guys who got this catalog do. They will buy more because the company connected with them on this level.
The real estate lifestyle
Perhaps a real estate brand can’t be a true lifestyle brand like, say, Nike.
And it seems like a stretch to even try during a time when housing is laden with negative associations, the economy is punch drunk and many real estate companies are struggling to keep their heads above water.
But I think there are opportunities for real estate brands to seize upon the spirit of lifestyle branding without going broke or appearing counterfeit.
Think about it: real estate is tied to home and community. These are the places where lives are lived, sensibilities are shaped and truth trumps glossy dreams.
While Brooks Brothers is a retailer owned by a massive global conglomerate with no organic connection to the lifestyle it conjures, a real estate company or a real estate agent – the good ones – are tied meaningfully to the way of living in their communities.
The trick is to strengthen those ties.
Living the dream
My family spent Thanksgiving week visiting friends in Portland. The friend with whom we shared Thanksgiving dinner picked up dessert at her real estate office.
Her real estate office?
It seems her agent works for a company that hosts an open house and coordinates a dessert exchange every Thanksgiving. Throughout the year, they organize work parties for community service projects.
This company has embraced the service ethic that defines the neighborhood that surrounds them. They reflect and define the lifestyle.
In Oakland, where I live, the small brokerage RedOakRealty declares that it is Seriously Local. But they go deeper than a tagline. The East Bay lifestyle is brought to life in photos, videos and customerstories on their website. They invest in the community. The owners live in it.
The emotional and psychic connections between living in the East Bay and working with Red Oak are a little smoother because of this.
The company had lost market share the past few years. The brand was like an old couch, comfortable but worn.
But in the course of digging through old marketing materials, an ad was found. It featured a photo of dad wearing an “I love Naperville” button on his lapel.
It was a note of truth.
Dad loved Naperville. His son loves Naperville. The company was all about understanding this community better than anyone.
So the company reinvented itself on the notion that it was a champion of this small city. In marketing and in deeds, John Green, Realtor Loves Naperville.
The company has been voted Naperville Magazine’s “Best Realty Company” for the past two years.
I know: this stuff seems like a long route to improving your bottom line. It’s a little soft. But I think that in an industry where differentiation is difficult and marketing is often uninspired, there is a lot to be discovered by looking right outside your window.
If Brooks Brothers can get guys to buy dress shirts with preppy fantasy, you can make people feel better about your brand by showing them you understand how they really live.
[Disclosure: 1000watt Consulting has performed work for Red Oak Realty and John Greene, Realtor]