By Barbara Zito
To stand out from the rest of the competition, real estate agents and brokers must create a brand identity that resonates with homebuyers and sellers.
The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO) reports there are approximately 2 million active real estate licensees in the country. Chances are slim that you are the only real estate agent in town. If you want to rise above the competition, you will need to create a real estate brand that connects with clients in the market to buy and sell properties.
To establish your brand identity as a real estate agent or broker requires more than just putting the word out in your community that you have your real estate license and are open for business. It’s about showcasing your expertise. What kinds of properties do you specialize in? Are you a native of the city you work in and know every neighborhood like the back of your hand? The answers to questions like these will become part of your brand identity — and ultimately your success as a real estate agent.
Let’s take a closer look at how to brand yourself as a real estate professional.
What is real estate branding?
Branding is a multifaceted marketing strategy designed to create a business identity that will resonate with a particular audience by meeting their needs and appealing to their emotions. Real estate branding is the intentional positioning of your real estate agency in a way that establishes a sense of trust with your target audience of property buyers and sellers.
The importance of real estate business branding
All real estate agents and brokers are involved in the same type of business transaction: the purchase or sale of a property. Therefore, your brand identity needs to go further than simply letting would-be clients know that you specialize in either residential or commercial real estate negotiation. You must dig deeper into your expertise in real estate to find your unique selling proposition: What is it that you do better than/differently from the rest of the agents and brokers in your area?
Here are some specialties or niches that can help real estate professionals stand out from their competition:
- First-time homebuyers.
- Vacation homes.
- Luxury listings.
- Estate sales.
- Industry-specific commercial real estate, like medical or dental offices.
- Downsizing empty nesters.
- Investment properties and 1031 exchanges.
- Out-of-state purchases.
- International real estate.
- Multifamily homes.
- Foreclosures and short sales.
These are just some of the many ways in which real estate professionals can focus their expertise to create and promote their brand. Ultimately, you want to become synonymous with your real estate specialty so that you become the first and only call that a buyer or seller makes.
Examples of successful real estate branding
Keller Williams is a real estate company with a distinctive brand. These days, however, the company is investing heavily in technology. According to The Real Deal, Keller Williams is looking to go head to head with websites like Zillow (NASDAQ: Z) (NASDAQ: ZG) and Redfin (NASDAQ: RDFN). To be clear, Keller Williams’ agents are still experts in commercial and residential real estate, but the company is using technology, including artificial intelligence and a dedicated app, to transform the agent-client relationship for the digital age.
Century 21 is another example of a real estate company that branded itself as a forward-thinking enterprise back in the 20th century. Now that it is indeed the 21st century, the national firm has rebranded itself, complete with a new logo, to show that its agents are still innovative in their approach to doing business in real estate.
But success in real estate branding isn’t only reserved for large agencies like these, which often have strict style guidelines for how their logos, fonts, colors, and other design elements of their brand are used in order to convey a uniform look for their team. Agents at smaller agencies can also find success when they leverage their social media superpowers for good.
For example, Ryan Rust, a real estate agent with Nikkel and Associates, LLC, in Wichita, Kansas, is using Facebook’s recommendations and reviews as social proof that he has a successful track record with clients.
Another real estate professional gathering plenty of likes on social media is Victoria Sandoval, the broker/owner of Select Premier Properties in her native San Diego, California. Her Instagram account has drawn over 10,000 followers with a combination of her residential listings, personal photos, and sights she’s captured in and around San Diego.
How to create your real estate branding ecosystem
Branding is a complex business strategy, but it should also include the flexibility to make adjustments and try new ideas in your marketing outreach to your target audience — as well as ensure that you are in compliance with your real estate agency’s branding guidelines.
If you own your own small, independent agency, you will likely have more leeway in how you brand your business — though it’s an excellent idea to ensure first that your marketing strategies are in compliance with national and state regulations. The State of California Department of Real Estate, for example, has some rather stringent guidelines regarding how real estate brokers and agents must identify themselves in promotional materials.
However, if you are an individual agent who is part of a larger agency, you must stay within the agency’s marketing guidelines whenever you promote yourself as an affiliated agent, be it on social media or other marketing platforms.
To keep would-be clients from choosing a competitor — or even worse, hanging up a “For Sale By Owner” sign instead — you need to make your real estate brand irresistible. Real estate agents who are successful in doing this use a combination of tried-and-true techniques in addition to digital strategies. Here are some examples:
There’s a reason “For Sale” lawn signs are still used in the real estate business: They are effective. Even in the digital era, there is nothing more instantly recognized than a “For Sale” sign with a real estate logo on it. Even if you have the most robust digital branding strategy, the lawn sign is still the traditional way real estate agents show that they are open for business.
Of course, the more “For Sale” signs you have up all over town, the better. The signs are not only advertising your brand, but they are also offering proof that clients are putting their faith in you to sell their home. When town residents notice that home after home is being listed with your real estate agency, they will make the assumption that you are good at selling homes. But there’s something that people will notice even more than a “For Sale” sign: the “Sold” sign that indicates the end of a successful real estate transaction.
Direct mail marketing has not been rendered extinct in the age of social media. It certainly still has its place in the real estate industry, where potential clients are spread out over multiple generations, each with their own preferences for receiving advertising communications.
Of course, it goes beyond simply assuming that the older generations like traditional advertising whereas the younger ones prefer digital promotion. It’s important to remember that starting the process of buying or selling a home is not usually an instantaneous decision for the consumer.
That’s why it helps to distribute marketing collateral that has staying power like direct mail. A promotional mailing from a real estate agent touting a hot seller’s market can give homeowners the nudge they need to put their homes up for sale. They may hold onto the mailing with your contact information until they need it, or perhaps pass it on to someone who already does.
Postcards are one way to announce yourself to the neighborhood as a real estate agent or broker. It’s best to keep these simple with your name, phone number, agency website, and a few phrases about your real estate specialty — think of it as an oversized business card. Business card magnets can also work, as can small magnetic calendars that are convenient and appeal to those who might not always have a phone or tablet nearby.
Don’t assume that direct mail has a direct path into the trash or recycling bin. For real estate agents in particular, this is one type of traditional promotion that should not be overlooked.
It goes without saying that any branding strategy needs to have social media marketing at the forefront. Whether it’s Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), Instagram, Twitter (NYSE: TWTR), TikTok, or any other digital platform, you need to convey the message “I am here to help you sell your home.” Try to secure the same handle across all social media channels to ensure consistency. If you can’t, make sure that your name or your company’s name is searchable so people can still find you easily.
Social media is a worthy experiment for any target audience because you can run organic campaigns for free. Optimize your posts with relevant hashtags and keywords to reach more of your intended audience. However, know that the infamous social media algorithm will only allow you to get so far with organic campaigns. At some point you should consider running paid social campaigns, such as Instagram or Facebook ads, to reach more people, especially around the time of your open houses.
Social media does not take the place of a business website, and this is particularly true for real estate. The popularity of sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com are proof that buyers are starting their property searches online. If you are working with a small real estate agency, you don’t have to have the most complex of websites — even a simple landing page gives a company the gravitas needed for consumers to know they’re dealing with a professional enterprise.
Of course, a more robust website is key when it comes to presenting current real estate listings. Many agency websites tap into the active multiple listing service (MLS) feed that gives site visitors access to the current market in real time. Pro tip: Don’t remove your personal listings from your site as soon as they close. Keep them up for a period of time to show sellers that you have a consistent track record of recent sales.
While not everyone will — or even wants to — become reality TV stars like Barbara Corcoran on Shark Tank or Ryan Serhant on Million Dollar Listing, there is no doubt that their appearances in front of a national audience have boosted their personal brands as experts in real estate and investing.
What is your brand personality? Do you have your picture on the “For Sale” sign so that you are the literal face of your business? Do you go live on Instagram for your open houses to attract a larger audience? Are your social media posts a mixture of business and personal content? Remember that real estate is driven by relationships. If people connect with you on a personal level, they are more likely to want to do business with you.
If you want to grow your real estate business, you have to set yourself apart from your competitors. A real estate branding strategy will help you establish yourself as an expert in the field and help you connect on a personal level with buyers and sellers.
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