Brand is a powerful business tool, so how much muscle does the brand bring to a principal’s business? Real Estate Business looks at the value branding can add and how some of the networks and independents are using their brand to cement their position in the market.
When you think of examples of successful brands, you can’t top Coca-Cola.
With a brand value of US$71,861,000, Coca-Cola is ranked number one on the 2011 Best Global Brands list, compiled by Interbrand. Just behind the famous beverage are IBM, Mircosoft, Google, GE and McDonalds. While each brand takes a different approach to its marketing and advertising, what they all have in common is their ability to stir emotion and feeling in their audience.
The common expression, ‘just Google it’ demonstrate how we associate Google with information. McDonalds, with their quick service is synonymous with convenience; Microsoft is interchangeable with technology, and so on.
Siimon Reynolds, a world famous business mentor and advertising guru walks, talks and lives brand.
He was responsible in the 1980s for the fear-driven public health campaign, the Grim Reaper, which warned of the danger of HIV/ AIDS – arguably one of Australia’s best known ever advertisements.
Mr Reynolds is also a master of the art of self-promotion. At just 18, he added an extra ‘i’ to his first name so as to stand out in the crowd.
Siimon is a man who knows the importance of brand.
“Developing a powerful brand can have an amazing impact on your business,” he wrote in Australian Business solutions. “You can charge much more for your products, you can introduce new products easily and you will always have a line of potential customers wanting to do business with you.
“Branding is not hard, no matter what those branding ‘gurus’ may tell you. It is just about choosing a compelling, simple positioning and reflecting it in everything you do.”
So, when Reece Coleman, director of newly-formed agency BHR Your Agency for Life, based in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, enlisted the expertise of Mr Reynolds to help shape its brand, he knew he was in good hands.
“Siimon taught me the irrefutable laws of branding,” Mr Coleman explains. “One of the key things I learned is that a brand is something you should always be focused on; it needs to be current and engaging. A brand never stops, it is always evolving. It has a life.”
Getting your brand out there
Every year, companies spend endless amounts of time and money on creating a brand. Real Estate Business spoke to the people who have helped shape real estate brands into what they are today…
CEO, Nigel O’Neil
Last year, we conducted research that revealed the majority of vendors feel safe choosing hockingstuart because we’re an established brand with a proven track record. For vendors and landlords, our experience and size gives them security, but they also take comfort in our personalised, intimate service. Based on this, last year we developed a new brand campaign (which is still running today) that focused on the message, “You’re in good hands”. The campaign messaging reinforces the perceived benefits of our size and experience in a way that is still highly personal.
Head of LJ Hooker Marketing, John Darrow
LJ Hooker has always invested heavily in our brand and we do have that iconic status, so continuing to invest in our brand is a great priority for our company. There are thousands of touch points when we talk about our brand, and in real estate, it is everything from our premises, to the attire our agents wear to the cars our property managers drive around in. It is also how we appear on the real estate portals; it is our advertising; and our TV commercials. The brand program is a brand refresh, not a new brand. We are refreshing the LJ Hooker brand people already know. It encompasses all those touch points, it is more than just the logo. It’s really just sticking back into the values this company has always stood for and making sure it is presented in a modern way that is consistent with how consumers are communicating with agents. It involves old media like print etc, but is much more about how we express ourselves and how we engage with our customers online.
BHR Your Agency for Life
Director, Reece Coleman
The brand is the business’ personality and its culture; the brand is everything we do. It reflects how we talk to clients, how we hold our auctions and the clothes we wear.
You don’t go out and say I am going to develop my brand; it should be a natural extension.
The BHR brand is the Eastern Suburbs [in Sydney]; it is the people and area we service. So we want our brand to best reflect that. How do we really personify our strength in the market? We have shown it by putting our brand in iconic locations across the Eastern Suburbs. That is why we have our image of BHR at Bondi Icebergs, on the cliffs of Clovelly and in Surry Hills. We specifically chose architectural images because it is about foundation, it’s about real estate. It is about strength. We use those images because it reflects how we want our brand to be engaged in our market.
CEO, Douglas Driscoll
We are constantly running a branding campaign. I look at companies more like organisms rather than organisations, because they are constantly evolving and adapting to an ever-changing landscape. If you don’t change and adapt, you die – it’s as simple as that. In that respect, our brand is always at the forefront. I am our brand, our people are our brand, our marketing is our brand, our website is our brand. It all combines. Essentially, a good brand is one that has those emotional connections and also one that has a connection to the strategy of the business.
Richardson & Wrench
Executive director, Andrew Cocks
R&W has been around for over 150 years, the longest-established real estate business in the country, and as a result we have a great deal of history that comes with the brand. Recently we’ve spent time and effort reinvigorating the brand to make it relevant in the modern market place.
We have worked with one of Australia’s best brand exponents and as a result of that we have re-established all our brand material. The look and feel of all our offices and marketing material has been re-launched over the last 12 months. It will carry us forward and be the foundation of what we do over the next decade. We are undertaking a number of cutting edge branding campaigns online at the moment. The first campaign, ‘See what Sold feels like’, encouraged people who had undergone an experience with R&W to film a video and place it online.
The second campaign, ‘Show us what Sold feels like’, is a similar promotion that encourages our market place to engage and create an emotional connection to our brand online.
Importance of a brand
While real estate networks and independents spend most of their time highlighting the differences between one another, one thing they seem all to agree on is that brand is paramount.
“The LJ Hooker brand is the centre point, the foundation of our business,” John Darrow, head of LJ Hooker Marketing, says. “From third party research, we have found that LJ Hooker has a strong heritage in the real estate industry, and is well known as an innovative company – and a brand Australians trust.
“If the brand is a means of maintaining trust in the market then we need to continue to invest in it. Our brand is the way we open doors and create opportunity, so it is extremely important to our business.”
Similarly, Douglas Driscoll, CEO of Starr Partners, believes the power – or weakness – of a brand can directly affect a business’ success.
“A brand is someone’s emotional connection to our business, so it is very important,” Mr Driscoll says. “People tend to make decisions with their heart rather than their head. So if we don’t have our branding right it will affect our bottom line.”
Andrew Cocks, executive director of Richardson and Wrench, agrees the emotional characteristics of a brand need to be translated across all aspects of a company in order for the brand to be a successful one.
“It is important to have a really strong brand position so everyone in the network can relate to it,” he says. “We are very focused, so that people who come to join us are of the same sort of mindset and have similar brand values to the ones we promote.
“Having a really strong brand and identity is critical. It is the glue that sticks the network together.”
Turn on the TV, fire up your computer or walk down the street and it’s guaranteed you’ll be bombarded byreal estate branding. But why now? Why are so many of the major groups and independents currently pushing their brands?
“Branding has and always will be a key focus for us,” Nigel O’Neil, CEO of hockingstuart, says. “In markets like the one we are experiencing now, the benefits, for both clients and staff, of an established and well-known brand are very important.
“If your brand is recognised and trusted amongst prospective vendors, landlords, buyers and tenants, then you are that one step closer to winning business.”
BHR director Reece Coleman says he is always focusing on the agency’s brand. “Our brand is fresh because of the merger, but we are always concentrating on our brand. We haven’t increased our branding because of the condition of the market – we don’t change that,” he says.
“The brand has to be constantly out there, talking to people. You have to engage with the people.”
Richardson & Wrench, meanwhile, believes now is the best time to reposition itself for consumers. “For us, it was critical in our lifecycle,” says Andrew Cocks. “We are the longest-established real estate network in the country, but there had been a period of time when R&W wasn’t as focused on brand and positioning.
“To really make sure that we have a cohesive network, it is really important to get consistency in the way your brand is communicated and represented in the marketplace.”
Mr Darrow believes brand is something real estate companies should always be investing in: “A brand is an expression of your reputation in the market and can be made or lost in the space of a nano-second, depending on the experience of one customer,” he says.
“Every moment an LJ Hooker sales agent or property manager comes into contact with a customer is a moment of making a brand impression, positive or negative.”
Getting the message out there
There are many ways to communicate a brand’s feeling to a target audience and more and more agencies are turning to online media, including social media, to get their message out there.
“I strongly believe that online campaigns with a very strong push with social media are the cornerstone of what we will do in the future,” Mr Darrow says.
“Obviously, that doesn’t mean we will turn away from traditional means, like newspaper advertising, but our focus is on online and the ability to start capturing a significant presence in the social media sphere as well.
“I’m not a great fan of radio or TV, where we don’t have a distribution that covers all parts of the network,” he adds. “I think there are opportunities to use radio or TV for specific tactical reasons but it isn’t something we are looking at doing.”
Mr Coleman believes mobile media have proved most successful for his agency, BHR: “One of the things that has been very successful with our brand at the moment is our engagement with mobile media,” he explains. “It is all about responding quickly to our buyers and vendors via our e-marketing.
“We want someone to walk past one of our signboards and engage directly with our QR code and our mobi-sites.
“People want information in a different way from how they did three to five years ago and we have to engage with that. We have to find a different way to transfer from one generation to the next.”
Melbourne-based franchise hockingstuart has taken a different approach, using more traditional means of advertising. “The ‘You’re in good hands’ campaign was executed using TV, cinema, online and print media,” Mr O’Neil says.
“TV and cinema were the launching pad for our campaign as we find TV is an effective medium for achieving mass brand awareness.
“However, in order to create trust on a personal level we needed to facilitate communication between our offices and their local markets, so we developed a print and online campaign that could be customised by individual offices.”
Starr Partners uses a variety of traditional and non-traditional media to communicate their brand to the consumer, Mr Driscoll says.
“We follow what the consumer is doing, we basically believe they dictate what we do and essentially wherever they are, we will be,” he says. “We don’t concentrate on any one medium; the internet is where 80 per cent of all property searches are started, so we have very prominent internet usage. However, we won’t put all our eggs in one basket.”
Real estate branding is a classic example of killing two birds with one stone. According to the franchise and network groups Real Estate Business spoke to, branding focused on consumers is also a great way to recruit high quality staff.
“All our marketing and branding is channeled for our offices – we have basically given them the tools they need to succeed and if they are successful, a by-product of that is that other people will see us and then come to speak to us because we are doing something different,” says Mr Driscoll.
In the same way, Richardson & Wrench has focused its branding on the market.
“We focus on making sure the market understands, and can get a feel for what it means to have a relationship with R&W,” Mr Cocks says. “[Clients are] the reasons we are in business and it is absolutely critical that we can send a consistent message through the marketplace.
“All of the other elements, including staffing and recruitment, will come later once you have a very strong market position. They are by-products of having a strong brand.”
LJ Hooker believes the group’s brand can work on many levels: “We have many constituents that we have to relate to, including tenants, sellers, agents, staff, potential staff and investors,” Mr Darrow says. “The brand program is designed to create value and reinvigorate the relationship with all those constituents.
“It hasn’t been designed for one group in isolation; we looked at how our brand can be maintained as a strong and relevant brand for all those audiences.”
“It really is the $64,000 question – you can’t measure a brand because it is non-tangible,” Mr Driscoll says.
“A brand is something you can help steer, but you can’t physically measure it. We do try though – we look at things like metrics and analytics, but I think the only yardstick would be consumer engagement. If a lot of people are speaking to you and listing a house with you then clearly it is working.
Mr Coleman measures the success of the BHR brand based on “the calibre of people it attracts and the results we can deliver for those people”.
“Last month, we recorded some of our best results to date,” he says. “We sold properties that other agents couldn’t sell in the past and I believe that is because our brand has substance. We appeal to people from all walks of life, including captains of industry, models, TV celebrities and sporting legends.”
Despite the challenge, major franchise groups like hockingstuart and LJ Hooker make an effort to quantify the value of their brands.
“In 2010, we commissioned the most in-depth research study we’ve ever undertaken,” hockingstuart’s Nigel O’Neil says. “The purpose was to determine our perceived position in the market, measure the relative effectiveness of our marketing and advertising activities and to help us indentify how hockingstuart should present itself in order to better fulfill the needs of our customers.
“The research findings have been invaluable. We also gauge employee satisfaction by in-house surveys.”
LJ Hooker, meanwhile, uses third party research to assess its branding activity. “According to our current research, conducted by a third party, LJ Hooker continues to be number one in terms of brand awareness in agency groups across all of Australia,” says Mr Darrow. “That is a position we’ve held for a number of years.”
While the knowledge, experience and manner of a good agent can be a deciding factor for a consumer, “the consumer will identify with an agent more if they know they are a part of a strong brand,” says Rob Elsom, director at hockingstuart Carlton, Brunswick, Northcote and North Melbourne.
“Obviously, the individual office and agents will develop their own following and their own alignment just by the way they conduct themselves,” adds Mr Cocks, “but it is very important to have a strong brand position.”
Mr Darrow says the LJ Hooker brand, for the consumer, is a major attraction.
“When consumers think of a real estate brand they are inherently thinking of things that make up market prowess,” he says. “The training we have and our buyer and customer database, the knowledge of the local market, things like that are all tied up into the brand.
“The reputations of LJ Hooker staff, as well as the reputation of the brand nationally play an important part.”
Mr Driscoll, however, says the consumer is not just looking at the brand or the agency’s image in the marketplace. “I think the selling market is getting a lot tougher and consumers have started to look beyond a brand,” he says.
“A lot of people essentially judge things on face value, but now the market is becoming a bit softer, consumers are pressing the agent for more information. They are looking for so much more than just the brand.”
With the huge volume of choices available to consumers, unless you are creative with your branding strategies you will be left behind, says Mr Cocks.
“Being creative is critical to engaging our target audience,” he says. “It is too easy to come up with a generic, typical advertising campaign or strategy, but with so much noise in the marketplace those will get lost, because there are so many other examples, with groups doing the same thing.
“I get four or five flyers in my letterbox from real estate agents offering me a free market appraisal. The idea is not anything special; not only am I hearing it all the time but also it is coming from five different offices.
“We try to be at the cutting edge of how to best relate to the marketplace and it is our ability to use social media that will keep our position in the next 150 years as well.”
A good marketing and branding strategy should rouse some sort of reaction, adds Mr Driscoll.
“It is all about engagement and interaction,” he says. “We try to show that although we are serious about what we do, we are also very fun to deal with and have a sense of humour, so hopefully our marketing and branding puts a smile on a consumer’s face.”
Mr Darrow, by contrast, believes creativity needs to come behind authenticity. “Creativity is important; differentiating in a competitive marketplace is something that has been true to real estate going back decades and decades,” he says. “That challenge has never changed.
“[But] for a brand to be powerful to the consumer it also has to be authentic for the company. To me, yes, creativity is important, but authenticity is just as or more important to a brand.”
Brand defines what a company is really about. When you strip some of the major real estate brands back to the core, what do they indicate? We asked leaders from several agencies to define their brand in ten words or less.
“Passion, innovation and integrity that deliver great results.”
BHR Your Agency for Life
“Boutique, integrity, results – your agency for life.”
“Australia’s most trusted real estate brand.”
“We are a brand beyond a brand.”
Richardson & Wrench
“R&W will always, in all ways, be beyond reproach.”
Raine & Horne
“The Raine & Horne brand essence is focused on positive partnerships.”
Rob Elsom has been with the hockingstuart brand since 1988. Starting off as a sales agent in the Carlton office in Melbourne, he worked his way up to the role of director and now heads four offices: Carlton, Brunswick, Northcote and the newly-opened North Melbourne shopfront.
“It was always so important to me that I could join a company [at which] I could start at the bottom and then work my way up to possibly having my own office,” Mr Elsom tells Real Estate Business.
“I have always seen hockingstuart as a progressive brand. They have always chosen to grow by building up good salespeople and then give them the opportunity to open up their own offices in a territory.”
According to Mr Elsom, choosing to join hockingstuart was all about the power of their brand.
“Brand is just essential,” he says. “From the recruitment end, it attracts great people, great property managers, and great people behind marketing and administration.
“People come and work for hockingstuart because they know it is a secure, innovative and progressive business.
“If you attract the right people to the job, who do the right thing, then you will attract the right consumers to the brand. Our clients can see who we are and what we do.”
When it comes to justifying the franchise fee, Mr Elsom asks himself one question: ‘Do I get more than one in 10 people ringing my office looking to sell their home through hockingstuart?’
“I get people calling me daily because hockingstuart is reliable and they consider us to be no risk because of our track record,” he says. “We are always out in the media winning things like marketing awards, which is important when you are selling or leasing your house out.
“We are trustworthy, we are innovative. They know and trust the hockingstuart brand.”
Raine & Horne is both an iconic Australian property firm and an established superbrand – along with the likes of Qantas, Vegemite and Myer. Established in 1883, the company has three distinct property service brands, including Raine & Horne Residential, Raine & Horne Commercial, and Raine & Horne Rural.
In fact, the company is one of the oldest privately-owned firms in the southern hemisphere and is now into its fourth generation of family ownership, with current CEO Angus Raine at the helm.
“The Raine & Horne brand has been helping Australians buy and sell homes for 129 years and is the most important and consistent asset in our firm’s illustrious history,” Mr Raine says.
Raine & Horne is rated as one of Australia’s highest profile real estate companies, with extremely high recall among buyers and sellers.
Creative, effective advertising and highly visual marketing material have always been the hallmarks, and while campaigns and media may vary to include radio, print, online, social media and television commercials, it is the distinctive brand that has brought people to the agency’s door, according to Mr Raine.
Raine & Horne’s commitment to customer care as an Australian family business is another important element that elevates the brand in the marketplace, he says. For sellers and buyers this consistency of reputation and performance reduces risk –put simply, people are more likely to contact a company they know and have a connection with.
For Raine & Horne agents, the power of the brand comes from the company’s comprehensive approach to business support and development, recruitment and retention programs, and the thorough training programs offered to all Raine & Horne personnel, Mr Raine continues.
The firm recognises the need for a supportive changeover and start-up process for new offices that helps them become established in a competitive real estate marketplace, he adds.
Domain & technology
When it comes to creating excitement around a brand, you don’t get better than the tools available online, says Tony Blamey, general manager, real estate at Fairfax Marketplaces.
“[However], I think print is still a very powerful mechanism to promote branding and is still used around local and metro areas,” he tells Real Estate Business. “Online I think has evolved a lot over the last couple of months, especially around branding options, and the next big opportunity will be around video.”
According to Mr Blamey, agents will increasingly use video to differentiate their brand. “[For example], an agency has video attached to all listings and they use that as way to put forward their brand,” he says.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, the media landscape has fragmented, opening up new and exciting media options for advertisers to tap into, according to Mr Blamey.
“The selection of the media you can use comes down to the objectives of a campaign and also the type of business,” he says. “A local operator in a particular area is going to focus their campaign on that local area and that probably means they don’t go and do broad-based media like TV or radio. Instead, they use localised mediums like online and local print and outdoor.
“With this in mind, domain.com.au now offers more and more innovative branding products around listing online, like our ‘Premier Plus’ listing product.”
Premier Plus allows an agency to stand out on a listing page. “It is all about much more prominent branding, so it has the agent’s brand at the top of the listing and then when you click through to the listing, the entire page is agent-branded, rather than just the strip at the top with a lot of third party advertising around.”
Mobile technology, however, is the way of the future in branding, Mr Blamey predicts.
“I think the other one, going forward, around branding – and it is really in its embryonic stages – is mobile,” he says. “Mobile is now really important in terms of audience, but is yet to evolve that platform in terms of branding opportunities, so I think that will be a future thing.”