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Personal Branding a Boondoggle? -Dear Ginny WTH

dear ginny series

Dear Ginny WTH,

I’m a relatively new real estate agent with a well-known brokerage “brand.” I see many agents who have created a brand mark or a personal brand for themselves. I’m never sure if this type of thing works for real estate agents or not. Should I invest in this for myself? Does this help me be better remembered or recognized? What do you think?

Struggling Newbie

Dear SN,

I’m so thrilled that you asked this question. If I see another photo shot of a Realtor with standing next to a city monument, looking like some gargantuan Goliath, I think I’ll throw up. You know what I’m talking about, it’s the ubiquitous arm cross or telephone in the hand or whatever, they are all bad!

I’m not sure where all this and that got mixed together, but someone – double H – put it into real estate agent’s minds that personal branding themselves would help them get mindshare with consumers and allow them to maintain a brand outside of their broker, god help them they should ever leave their broker and no one would know them after that. And to further confuse, the personal brand got connected with attempting to be transparent and showing the consumer a softer side.

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I remember seeing a brochure that on the cover had these two real estate agents, a married couple, standing next to a piano. The brand mark/logo for their name, which ended in an S, let’s call it Smith, featured a treble clef. I thought they were piano teachers. I didn’t see anything about how they helped clients buy and sell homes differently than any other local Realtor in the brochure at all. It didn’t even mention real estate until the second page of the brochure. Tisk, tisk. Bad marketing.

We won’t go into how that representation isn’t transparency at all; rather it’s all ego marketing. I’ll stay with the question about creating a distinct brand for you.

Attempting to have a brand within a brand takes a certain finesse to be successful. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but let’s start with why you joined the brokerage you joined? I hope it was in part due to the brand and image of the company in the marketplace. Certain brands have distinct images with consumers. I hope you are thinking about your brand association in those terms because it is true that consumers form certain opinions about brand, even real estate brands. And your association with that brand conveys impressions to you, good and bad.

With the assumption that you are proud of your brokerage association, why would you want to downplay or confuse the consumer by placing another logo within all of your marketing materials that in essence competes with your broker’s brand? Distinct brands take time to create and strategy to craft what they mean and represent to consumers. Trying to back into a brand just won’t work.

You position yourself with the consumer in so many more ways than a logo or mark. Your name itself positions you. Your activity in the community positions you. Your interaction with clients and their resulting satisfaction positions you. What you do differently during the process positions you. And remember a happy client says your name first to their neighbor, and then the broker affiliation (if at all).

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Embrace your broker and position yourself and gain mind and market share with your words and actions. Yes, your marketing material must represent you and your broker well, but I can emphatically tell you that it is not necessary to spend money getting a personal brand logo.

Ginny is a 360 degree marketing specialist with over a decade of experience in real estate-related fields. She’s held senior level marketing positions at Alain Pinel Realtors and Prudential California, Nevada and Texas Realty. She left the corporate world in 2007 to start her own marketing communications company, Cain Communications. She markets to segments that matter using media that matters. Follow her on Twitter @ginnycain.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Christine Rich

    May 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Since starting in this business two years ago, I’ve dropped almost all of the things (like logos) that I initially used to prop myself up. I’ve been thinking about embracing my brokerage name instead of fighting it, for the very reasons you mention here. Thanks for confirming my decision, just at the time I needed it.

  2. Joe Loomer

    May 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Ginny – spot on – other than a somewhat memorable “Spouses Selling Houses” moniker under our signature line, my wife and I stick to touting our services, not some yuck-yuck gimmick (however well polished) to separate us from our firm name. We have a robust referral business that still chugs along despite the fact that we moved to a more prominent brokerage firm a mere 15 months ago. We still get the odd call off our old business cards that was in someone’s wallet and handed out at a dinner party. They remembered us, and could give a toss what firm we where with.

  3. Doug Lindstrom

    May 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Ginny,

    I could not disagree with you more. The agent needs to position themselves as the brand. The brokers brand benefits the broker and who knows, some brokers may not make it past next week. The agent needs to set themselves apart with their brand. Yes, I agree that some brokerages add extra credibility but buyer and sellers do not buy the company, they buy the product. In this case, agents are the product, a commodity that is transferable from one brokerage brand to the next. Make your brand stand out and it will not matter who you affiliate with.

    Blessings!

  4. Brandie Young

    May 27, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Good topic from the newbie! Leveraging the assets of a established brand (especially if they offer marketing support) is smart.

    Personal brand and advocacy is built by delivering service clients consider exceptional, NOT by developing a logo.

    Great example: I’ve never referred anyone to the agent that sold me my place. She didn’t do anything wrong – she did her job. She was there during the inspection. The transaction closed on time. Why no referrals? I dont’ remember her name because she was not exceptional. Plus, the day I closed was the last time I heard from her. That said, a logo, or cleverly staged photo would not help.

  5. Ken Brand

    May 27, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I concur Doctor. You picture, Boa/hat/pet/hungry child free and a recent and not so photo shopped cheezy is your brand logo. Be proud of your corporate brand logo or move somewhere you can be proud and lastly, “your reputation and what/who you are perceived as” is your “Brand”.

    Thanks for the insight.

  6. Lani at Agent Genius

    May 28, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Ginny, tell me if my math is right:

    FirstnameLastname.com + Existing Broker Logo = ideal branding

    ExsistingBroker.com/YourOwnCompany + Your Own New Logo and Existing Broker Logo = unideal branding

    …using your own URL with your existing brokerage info and log is ideal whereas building on your own identity on top of your broker’s (plus your local board’s, state association’s and national association’s identities) is not only ego marketing but potentially confusing, right?

    Freakin’ Genius! It seems to me if you joined a brokerage and don’t like their brand and want to disassociate, it’s time to go independent anyhow, would you agree?

    • Nashville Grant

      February 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm

      That’s exactly what I did about 10 months ago, I had to buy the domain GrantHammond.com from a squatter for way too much money, but it has been completely worth every penny. People remember my name and cannot remember my brokerage instead of the other way around!

  7. Ginny Cain

    May 28, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Lani, your computations are correct. The use of your name, whether it is in your email address, web site URL, print ad or otherwise, is the brand of you. Use it in conjunction with your broker’s brand and the math works every time.

    I also want to add some thoughts about this comment of “my broker could be gone tomorrow so why should I promote his brand?” This screams bad broker relationship to me. If your broker might be out of business tomorrow why are you there? Did you go for the cheapest deal? If you joined a brokerage because of the dollars and cents without regard to other criteria like brand value, then bonne chance.

    Brands have value and meaning to consumers. They give the consumer feelings of strength (Prudential, rock solid), trust (Coldwell Banker with their longevity in this business), competence (Alain Pinel Realtors in luxury real estate), community (Baird & Warner longtime Chicago area brokerage) and on and on. It’s true that in real estate the relationship is between the agent and the consumer and like Brandie said if the agent doesn’t leave the consumer delighted, then there is slim chance that the consumer will go back to the agent or the brand. But when you walk in with your marketing materials and the consumer sees that you are associated with a certain brand, they then associated those brand attributes to you. Am I missing something here or what? Wouldn’t you want to take advantage of the brand building your broker did gratis for you? Come on peeps.

  8. Doug Lindstrom

    May 28, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Love this! Does one buy Coke for the name or the product (contents of the packaging)? Numerous ReMax, Coldwell and Prudential offices have closed across the country in the last year. I suspect more will close in the near term. Did the brand keep them afloat? Nope, the agent and management have to perform to keep the brand going. Being independent is the only way to go in my mind. I recently left ReMax and can honestly say that the brand had little to do with my success or failure. Fortunately, my brand has sustained me and I have not a drop in my business. Just one peeps opinion. 😉

  9. Mark Eckenrode

    May 29, 2009 at 11:14 am

    lani had to get all geeky and throw some math into the discussion. now my brain hurts but i’ll do my best…

    i see both sides here and both have a valid point. it’s really a matter of timing…

    many newbies jump onto logos and color scheme and cute taglines as a way to differentiate themselves and they couldn’t be more wrong by doing this. differentiation doesn’t come from a logo – it comes from positioning and an emotional theme.

    once positioning is established the experienced realtor (marketer) can go ahead and start creating their own business ID with logo and such (which will tie in with their positioning).

    in a very small nutshell… positioning first, logo second

  10. Linsey Planeta

    June 10, 2009 at 12:12 am

    I still would be careful to jump on with the company brand. I never immerse myself with anything that if changed, would jeopardize my position. (My position as an independent broker may be showing here – but I was with some of the big dogs for many years.)

    That being said, totally agree. Branding is fun, sexy stuff…for the agent. People care about substance and branding alone is a far cry from that.

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