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When it Comes to Branding, Get Real

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By Gee Dunsten

RISMEDIA, August 28, 2010—The term branding is certainly no stranger to the real estate industry. But in 2010, the concept of branding has evolved…because America has evolved. As economist John Tucillo recently said at RISMedia’s Social Media Summit, the number one trend in America right now is skepticism and the result has been an increased degree of speculation in all types of decision making…including selecting a real estate associate or company to work with.

Thanks to social media and social networking, branding is morphing and taking on an additional life. As the “Socialnomics” video Allan Dalton showed during the Social Media Summit pointed out, “word of mouth is now world of mouth.” When looking at the building blocks of effective branding in today’s culture, the very first thing to consider is that communication today is no longer one-to-one but one-to-many.

The other essential component of effective branding in today’s market is clearly defining your identity…and sticking to it! Branding should define who you are, what you do, and what you represent. And what you represent should be aimed at enhancing or improving the life of your consumers. Effective branding leads consumers to accept and validate who you are and, in turn, refer you to others.

While many agents make their names the focal point of their brand, the most effective agents are identifying themselves with not only their names, but a slogan or logo that further differentiates them from the masses.

Amy Cherow, for example, a Realtor in Hartford, Connecticut, has a brand that speaks for itself—“Tech Bytes.” Using Tech Bytes in addition to her name not only familiarizes people with who Amy is, but what she’s associated with.

Your brand must be part of your entire marketing plan—it has to fit and it has to be relevant to the niche or niches you are trying to serve. I have seen so many agents claim to specialize in this or that, but their behavior patterns exhibit that they are generalists—they may list a multi-million dollar home one week and then be just as happy to rent a mobile home cross town the next week. Unfortunately, in a market like we’re in now, many of us are operating in scarcity mode and have diluted our expertise…and, therefore, our differentiation and the effectiveness of our branding.

For branding to work, you need to narrow the areas you like to serve so that you feel personally confident and energized in serving your passions. Who you are must be a part of your brand and your brand must exhibit who you are—consistently. Everywhere I show up—either in person, in print, or online—I have to make sure that the same image of Gee is portrayed. That’s the only way your brand will work.

During my real estate sales years in Ocean City, Maryland, I would dress up in an appropriate holiday costume and have my picture taken on the beach each month; I was a bunny for Easter, a hot dog for a summer month, and the stork for Labor Day. I’d create a postcard with the picture of me and a funny slogan to go with it. This might sound corny, but I like to have fun and to make fun of myself so this campaign helped show my personality and reinforce my brand. I was selling property in a resort area and resorts are all about having fun…and this helped me sell a boat load of property!

Whatever your approach, you have to be real and this was me.

About 30 years ago, a top agent joined my office who had just left another firm. In making the change, she decided to completely makeover everything she was doing, including herself! She had glamour photos taken that made her look like she could be on the cover of a magazine. However, that’s not who she was in reality and when people met her, they couldn’t believe it was the same person they saw in the marketing materials. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t getting listings but the reason was that she wasn’t living up to her branding—and people don’t want to work with someone who presents themselves as something they are not. It speaks to their credibility.

So while you may use your branding to attract attention, if you’re not showing up as the same person your brand represents, then your credibility is brought into question. Today, whether it’s through our videos, our blogs, or our social media posts—which are all critical tools to leverage for branding—we have to be consistent and we have to be real.

We must also build credibility for our brand by listening to what the community is saying. If they’re skeptical and cynical, we must connect, engage and educate. As Rosemary West, a Top 5 in Real Estate member from Chicago, says, “You don’t learn unless you get out and reach out so that you can discover for yourself what your clients and customers need. These are not prospects or leads, but relationships.”

Once your brand is out there, it’s important that you’re aware of what’s being said about you. Amy Cherow recommends using Google Alerts to find out what is being written and said about us. Amy also recommends namechk.com and knowem.com, which monitor hundreds of social media sites to find out what people are chatting about. The bottom line is, thanks to technology, there is no choice but to be completely transparent in your branding because the truth will reveal itself. As Warren Buffet says, “you can tell who’s swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

The potential for utilizing technology to build your brand and reach consumers is huge, but only consistency and transparency will validate your brand. You must use vehicles such as video and blogging to substantiate the brand you put forth. You must engage people with advice on buying and selling real estate or information about your community. You must make posts that cause consumers to comment. Consider enhancing your brand through a mobile business card, which builds your credibility even further. Your goal is to encourage consumers to interact with you so they can see that you are, indeed, what your brand proclaims you to be…that you’re the real deal.

George “Gee” Dunsten, president of Gee Dunsten Seminars, Inc., has been a real estate agent and broker/owner for almost 40 years, and a senior instructor with the Council of Residential Specialist for more than 20 years. He is currently broker/owner of Legacy Realty of Salisbury, Inc., and president of Legacy Development Corporation. To reach Gee, e-mail, gee@gee-dunsten.com.

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