As a new real estate agent, when you began the process of designing your marketing materials such as business cards, flyers, and web pages, what is the first thing you did? I will bet I can tell you. You almost certainly did what I did.
When we enter a new business, we are unsure of ourselves. We do not want to stick out, or do something stupid, to make it obvious that we do not know what we are doing. We want to do things that work. We want things that are proven. So we play it safe. We begin by gleaning off of those we feel are successful. We do not copy (hopefully), but other people's material does tend to inspire us and guide us as to what we might do. We run around gathering up other people's business cards and brochures, we surf the internet to see what other people are doing. After all, this is the tried and true can't-fail system that has driven real estate sales for generations. And it holds true in virtually all businesses. If you were going to become a barber, a record store owner, start a band, or open an amusement park, the first thing you would do is look around and see what is working for other people who are trying to do the same thing that you are trying to do. That is only smart. But you should also be aware that it can be extremely dangerous.
There are some communities in desperate need of certain kinds of businesses and people. There are communities desperately in need of doctors. Some areas need teachers in the worst way. Some areas need recreational businesses like swimming pools, skating rinks, and baseball diamonds to help keep their youth out of trouble. But do you think there is any community, anywhere in the country that needs another real estate agent? I can tell you that there is almost certainly not. There are more agents than ever getting into the business. The world does not need another real estate agent. Now there are some that will say the world does not need any real estate agents. If you have not run into those people yet, you will. But that is a topic for another discussion. So, you have got your work cut out for you. That is what is wrong with what I call "Me Too" marketing.
First of all, you are trying to make it in a business that truly does not need you at all, and now you are going to look, act, and sound like everybody else in your marketing, too? The key to survival in this business is to make yourself needed in the marketplace by finding out what makes you unique. What unique thing are you the only provider of? The only thing you have to offer your clients that nobody else has is your own uniqueness. You will never find that, let alone be able to express that to others, if your marketing is all of the "Me Too" variety. Look at the real estate signs you see lining the streets. Do any of them stick out as especially good or do they all sort of look the same? Look at a bunch of business cards from other real estate agents. Do any of them stand out and really say anything unique about the agent? Maybe one in a hundred actually do, but the majority of them have the same goofy-looking picture, usually taken twenty years earlier, and the same generic babble...
"#1 in Service", "My Business Is You", "Helping Buyers and Sellers", etc.
Look around your office and see what other agents are doing to market themselves. You will see the same things over and over. The same ads in the newspapers, the same business card magnets being mailed out, the same "I'm #1" claims being made. Have you ever seen another industry that uses how much money they make as a marketing tool? Yet how often do we see "million dollar club" or "multi-million dollar producer" flashed around like a badge of honor? Do you think the customer cares about any of that? No. They care about two things, and two things only. Can I trust you and can you get my home sold. That is it. End of story. "Me too" marketing can eat your budget alive and leave you no better off for the money you have spent. If every single piece of your marketing does not differentiate you and educate your future clients about your uniqueness, you are not using your time and money at anywhere near its best use.
Take a fresh look at every single way you market yourself, from the way your business card looks to the way you answer the telephone. Virtually everything you do in this business has a marketing element to it... even bumping into people you know in the grocery store. Examine all of these aspects of your business and begin to ask yourself if you are doing basically the same thing everyone else is doing. Is it "Me Too Marketing"? If it looks like it is, it is time to get creative! This opportunity for creativity is one of the greatest aspects of this business. Creative people can absolutely thrive in it! Ask yourself what you can do differently to truly stand out from the crowd and be noticed. The trick is to retain your professionalism during the process. A big ridiculous purple fuzzy hat would get you noticed, but would it instill confidence in your clients? Your creative marketing needs to have a common thread running through it. I have seen this done successfully with people who support charities, have certain hobbies, or just have a really great and unique product or service to offer.
You will find that a strange thing happens when you start being unique. The people working around you will not necessarily like it. You will hear things like "We have never done it that way before," or "That will never work... you need to send out refrigerator calendars." People who are addicted to "Me Too" marketing fear the new and innovative. Their biggest fear is that maybe they should be doing that, too, but are not willing to take the risk. You may even get resistance from your broker. A broker who does not support your creative marketing strategy is a "Me Too" broker that is hampering your ability to build your business. If people are questioning what you are doing and its effectiveness, you are on the right track!
The big question is the really tough one. What is unique about you? What do you have to offer that nobody else is offering? What makes you needed in the marketplace? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for this one. It takes some soul-searching and some introspection. You have to go deeper than, "I give the best service". Even if you do, the market is so inundated with agents saying that same exact thing that it has lost all meaning. You have to give your uniqueness a name... a personality... a title... even a gimmick. And then work it into every piece of marketing that you do. See inset at the end of this chapter for my own story of this search for uniqueness. We get inundated with people trying to sell us ways to market ourselves. The "Me Too" marketer will ask him or herself if everyone else is doing a certain kind of marketing and, if they are, figure they had better do it too. The creative marketer, however, asks him or her self if every else is doing it and, if they are, avoid it all costs. You can not stand out from a crowd if you look, act, and say the same things that the crowd does. Ensure your success by truly making this your business, which can only mean it becomes a reflection of who you are.
Defining What Makes You Unique
In the whole history of the world there has never been another creature exactly like you. Now before you think I am getting all touchy-feely here, this truly is just a simple fact. So, if you are the sort that feels there may not be anything much unique about who you are, you are wrong. And considering that you are really only concerned with making yourself unique from your direct competition, the chances of you being anything remotely similar to another competing agent in your market is outlandishly impossible. There absolutely is something in each of us that can be our point of uniqueness. It is simply a matter of finding out what that unique thing is and then giving it a name, a personality, or a face with which to portray it to others.
The difficult part of all of this is that there is no formula to find your unique thing. Each unique quality requires a different formula for finding it. The best way I have found to relate this to people is through some examples of how other people have discovered their uniqueness. Keep in mind that this is a process rather than an assignment. Be prepared to hone in on your "thing" over time, constantly clarifying what it is and perfecting the way to portray it to others. You need not have a perfect understanding of it in order to start using it. Using something that is at least on the right track puts you far ahead of the countless numbers of real estate agents spewing out the same tired old lines and images that have been used for decades past.
My story: I started out realizing that I needed to look and act differently than other agents in my marketplace. But I made the mistake of thinking that different is good just because it is different. My first slogan was "Make the right call for your real estate." My business cards and everything else had this goofy picture of me holding a cell phone up in the air. While probably better than the run-of-the-mill marketing of everyone else, it did not really say anything about me in any unique sort of way. I moved on to "Real Service in Real Estate" in an effort to emphasize my quality and attentive service. Again, another empty slogan that really had no meaning. After all, everyone claims good service. At least I had abandoned the goofy cell phone photo. I finally got around to giving the matter the attention and importance that it needed in its third incarnation. I had been creating my message strictly from a marketing point of view. The only questions I had asked myself were, "What will look good on a business card?" and "What will make my telephone ring?" I realized that I had been leaving out two very important criteria for determining what my marketing message would be...
Criteria One: Remember, It is Not About You
Somehow we can completely forget about our clients in the process of designing our message for them. What we really need to do is forget our own egos, forget our own conclusions about what works and what does not, forget our own opinions on what sounds good, and put ourselves firmly in the seat of our clients. What are they looking for? If you have read any book or taken any class on marketing, the most basic rule to remember is that you are never selling a product, but actually the benefit that your product provides. In other words, a television salesman does not sell televisions. He sells family entertainment, neighborhood gatherings for football games, and romantic movie nights. A copier salesman does not sell copiers. He sells convenience, the ability to deliver a professional image, and reliability.
What do we sell? It is not houses. It is not service. It is not the glossy photos we have taken of ourselves and it is not the cars we drive. That is the question you have to ask yourself. What benefit do you sell? In my case, I truly feel like the benefit that I sell is Peace of Mind. For me, that is the highest benefit I can give someone... the Peace of Mind in knowing that I am working hard for them, keeping my promises, and can help get them through the rough times ahead. Other examples I have seen are from agents who focus on their tenacious negotiation skills, their experience in very specific niche markets, their support of certain causes or charities, etc. Your benefit should be as unique as you are. Taking into account Criteria #2 will help shed some more light on this.
Criteria Two: Who Am I, Really?
Now it is time for introspection. Begin to look back on your life and identify times and places where you were really in your element. When and where were you at your very best? Of course take into account previous business successes, but go even farther back than that. What thrilled you as a kid? Where were your natural abilities evident throughout your life? You should begin to start seeing threads of similarities showing up. For some people it is in leadership roles. For others it is in creative and inventive roles. For still others it is in organizational and motivational roles.
For me, it dovetailed well with my previously identified benefit. I had always been somewhat of a peacemaker. I had always seemed to be the one who could calm a difficult situation, cool off an overheated co-worker, and find creative solutions for high-tension problems. It was exactly these skills that helped me feel confident that I could deliver Peace of Mind as a benefit to my clients. You will find that, as you get closer to what your uniqueness is, the two criteria will meld together like that. Your unique product or service will be a meshing of where your natural abilities lie and what your market responds to.
Give It A Name
Now that you are on your way to identifying your uniqueness, you must also begin to give it a name, a personality, or a gimmick. What we are really talking about is a tagline or motto that sums up what makes you different from your competition in a matter of just a few words or, at the very most, a single sentence. This likely will not be an easy process, or at least not one that you will get on your first crack at it. Look at some of the marketing slogans you see around you. You will quickly find that most of them really mean absolutely nothing. A truck passed me the other day that had this printed in large letters on the side: "We're Number One In Satisfaction!" What a complete waste of some valuable vinyl lettering. It gave a potential customer no idea of what business they were in, what kind of satisfaction they were talking about, or even whose satisfaction for that matter. They were senseless words that were meant to sound good, but were so generic and overused that they meant nothing.
Here is a sampling taken from my local real estate market of agents' slogans or taglines:
- Let us help with your real estate selection.
- We specialize in real estate!
- Our focus is on you.
- My specialty is you!
- Helping buyers and sellers.
- Number one in real estate!
- Your real estate professionals
- For all your real estate needs
- We've got the home for you!
- At your service
- Whether you are buying or selling...
- We're the agents for you
Do any of these taglines really tell you anything about the agents or offices who use them? Do any of them stand apart from the others? Would you call one agent over another based on one of these taglines? They are all generic, marketing babble. They sound nice, but they do not really mean anything. What is even worse is the number of agents and offices who do not use a tagline or slogan at all. This has the effect of their slogans being "We are pretty much the same as everyone else." You are investing thousands upon thousands of dollars during the life of your business in business cards, signs, ads, websites, and the myriad other avenues of marketing. Take advantage of every marketing opportunity by coming up with a great tagline that truly tells your potential client something about you. Agents often fear getting too specific with their tagline because they feel like they might exclude potential clients.
For example, a tagline focused on communicating that a particular agent is a very aggressive negotiator might turn off people who fear or are timid around negotiations. But it will also appeal highly to people who are looking for a shrewd negotiator. The more targeted your marketing and your tagline, the more directly you can find the type of clients you are looking for.
I noticed in my business that I tended to work the best with (and enjoyed working with the most) people who were in stressful situations. They were people who needed to sell quickly due to a job change, loss of a loved one, or some other big event in their lives. They were also people who were very emotional and nervous about buying a home... first-time home buyers, widows, and people on a tight income. My tagline, "Your Peace of Mind REALTOR" targeted these people directly. What they were looking for most of all was somebody they trusted, and that they felt could handle a stressful part of their lives for them. They were in a place in their lives where, above all, they needed some peace of mind. And I was wired to serve these people the best. I am sure there were some clients who did not connect at all with my tagline... people who were not at all intimidated about real estate sales, or who were not buying or selling due to a stressful situation. I imagine my tagline may have given these people the impression that I was not the right agent for them. And I may not have been. But it absolutely sent a powerful message to those clients I targeted it towards, and they responded in big way.
When you find the merging point of what you have to offer with what your clients are needing, you have found a powerful place to do business. Your tagline is all about communicating that match to your potential clients. Do not fall in love with a tagline too quickly. We often think our first crack at it is just what we need. But take some time and think it through. Like in all marketing, it is something you will need to commit to and use consistently. Change your tagline too much and you will begin to send the message that you do not know what you are or what you really do. In fact, it is best to come up with two or three taglines that you feel might work and test them a little. Talk with your very best customers, some of the more creative agents in your office, and even try asking some perfect strangers what their opinion is (the internet is a great place to do this, by the way). What message do they get from your tagline, regardless of the message you were trying to send? Once you have narrowed it down to a few, do a little internet research. Type your tagline, enclosed in quotes, into your favorite search engine and hit search. You will almost certainly find other agents in the world who are using that same tag line. That does not mean you cannot use it, but make sure nobody close to you is using and, more importantly, make sure it is not overused. If you find that many agents are using the tagline, that is a red flag that you are not being specific enough yet. Once you have decided on your tag line, use it everywhere. Just like a website address needs to be on every advertising piece that you create, so does your tagline. You want it used so often that, when people think of your name, they think of your tagline right along with it. Be prepared to take some good-natured ribbing from other agents as you launch your new tagline. Anything new and creative will be met initially with opposition, especially if the opposition thinks your techniques just might work! Remember, your goal is to separate yourself from the competition. Do not be surprised when that competition attempts to undermine your efforts and confidence.
Consistency in marketing
Many of the greatest lessons I have learned in real estate I learned the hard way. Oh, I had been told and taught time and time again about certain things, but I still seemed to have to go out and found out for myself. Consistency in marketing was one of those areas. I heard a great saying once that really stuck with me.
"At the time that you are getting sick of the type of marketing you are doing, the public is just beginning to notice it."
Marketing will likely be the area of business you spend the most of your money and resources on. Every day we are inundated with the "latest and greatest" ways to spend our money on marketing ourselves. Especially with the ever-increasing use of the internet in real estate, new marketing opportunities are popping up every day. And a lot of them are good... some are even really good. A lot of them appear to be the new must-have or must-use approach that will leave everything (and everybody) else behind.
New technologies and marketing opportunities are great. They help us stay on the cutting edge and give our clients confidence that we are on top of things. Where most agents fall down is in the lack of consistency.
Consistency is important in two aspects of marketing.
The first is consistency of media. How many of us have run a single advertisement in a local paper and, when the phone did not ring off the hook, pulled the ad? How many of us have played with a radio or television ad for a few weeks or a month and pulled it due to lack of response? I am willing to bet it is the majority of us. We have limited resources in this business, but unlimited opportunities to spend money. We tend to "taste" different marketing opportunities, but never really commit to any of them.
We also tend to give almost no thought to who we are trying to target with our marketing before spending money. It is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that "everyone needs a place to live, so everyone is my market." While there is some truth to this, there is more truth in the fact that we each have certain markets or niches that we enjoy more and that respond better to us. Before you spend another dollar on advertising, ask yourself these important questions about the method of advertising you are considering.
- Do the type of people I want to work with listen to this station, read this newspaper, watch this station, etc?
- Is there another media source out there that targets my market more closely, even if it is more expensive?
- If someone in my market needs my services, would they intentionally use this media as a source to find me?
- Am I committing to a level of advertising that I can continue consistently for many months to come in order for it to be effective?