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By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, May 8, 2008-It sounds simple, really. Nike and iPod do it. So do Infiniti and Bose, and Ford and Microsoft. Here’s the recipe: Take two successful companies that attract similar customers and take it a step further-create a product that speaks to both companies’ demographic audience. Then, magically you sell more shoes to iPod owners and more iPods to runners. To real estate professionals, it might sound like a novel approach; to Corporate America, it’s called borrowing brand equity.

“The idea is that when you have two brands that are congruent-like Nike and iPod, for example-you can usually figure out a way to sell more,” explains Slade Combs, vice president of marketing for Utah-based Obeo. “In this case, they’re looking to sell more iPods and more shoes. They have a commonality-music and exercise. The idea behind borrowing brand equity is that they’re taking consumers who have a common interest and creating a product that can benefit everyone.”

At Obeo, the success of this practice has not gone unnoticed. Why not take the already-available photos of a home on the market and combine them with the brands that buyers would be interested in introducing into a new potential home? For this reason, the company has created StyleDesigner, a Web-based program that gives users the ability to change various aspects of the components in the image-the color of the walls, the type of flooring, or the make of kitchen countertop, for example.

“Corporate America gets it,” says Glade Jones, Obeo’s president and CEO. “Certain market segments behave certain ways. You can take that behavior and figure out how to maximize its value.”

Obeo looks at this and understands what buyers are looking for-and how to borrow brand equity to deliver it, says Jones. “For us, it’s about borrowing equity from a larger brand,” explains Combs. “For example, a prospective buyer could change the wall color to their favorite navy blue from Ralph Lauren. We’re leveraging the Ralph Lauren brand on behalf of Obeo and the agent.”

“We could never be Home Depot. However, by borrowing brand equity, we are able to own our marketability and brand,” adds Alan Earl, Obeo’s senior vice president of sales. “Instantly, we become the brand they are. Because of Obeo’s empowering platform, consumers can view a house online and say, ‘through my real estate agent, I can purchase XYZ brand of paint and know what it is going to look like on my walls before I even start.'”

Getting Emotional

When you look at shows and products by Martha Stewart and HGTV, they’re driven by emotions-“How would you live in this space?” explains Combs. “So the question becomes, ‘How can we take the same types of emotions and feelings from those shows and associate them with the real estate business?'”

There are strong brands that consumers identify with when it comes to personalizing their home. However, there’s generally a disconnect in real estate when it comes to visualizing what that house might look like with the buyers’ own style put to it, says Combs.

“That’s where Obeo comes in,” he says. “We’re leveraging the brand equity of other consumer-type products for our agent-clients. Instead of just changing walls to red, they can pick out a brand of color-Ralph Lauren Wine, for example.”

Getting the Message Across

One of the biggest marketing problems agents face is that the message gets lost, says Jones. “The power of corporate brokerage marketing doesn’t trickle down to the agent,” says Combs. “By the time the corporate message shows up in the marketing, it looks nothing like its original intent. The branding and messaging easily becomes diluted.”

Unfortunately, many agents operate by the three Ps philosophy, “Put up a yard sign; put the listing on the MLS; and pray that it sells,” says Jones. “You’ve got 20 percent or fewer of the agents selling 80 percent or more of the properties out there.

“But there’s so much more agents can do,” he continues. “We get that and understand it. We realize that the agent needs to create an atmosphere-a way to view a home the way it is and the way it could be both during the sales process and beyond.”

With StyleDesigner, Obeo has created a platform through which the agent can provide a virtual firsthand look at what a buyer’s favorite branded product will look like in their new home. “Imagine being able to see what an Eddie Bauer Home Edition paint color would look like on the walls or Corian countertops in the kitchen,” says Jones. “This creates an environment where the buyer can dream a more compelling dream.”

This is also where the ability for flexibility and change comes into play, says Earl. “The consumer believes, ‘Don’t tell me what I want; I’ll change it and customize it to my liking.'”

“It’s all about customizing the product to each individual,” adds Jones. “Consumers are buying things this way every day. On, you can design your own team uniform…You can even customize the options on a boat or car online, changing the upholstery or interior bells and whistles. Customizing the product is the best way to make it your own. Why not be able to outfit the most important purchase most people will ever make-your new home?”

“Buyers don’t want what you give them; they want something different,” adds Earl. “They want the ability to customize and tweak. It’s really a matter of individual expression and personality. That’s what consumers crave.”

Homes don’t move or change-you have to take it as it comes or leave it, he explains.

“By leveraging the brand equity of these consumer products, we’re able to show people that they have the flexibility and creativity to actually see what they might envision in the home,” he says. “This allows the agent to be a consultant. They can show the buyer that no matter how outdated the colors on the wall look or how old the countertops may be, this is what it can look like-‘Here’s what the changes would make it feel like. Here’s your dream.'”

Like Calling Your Doctor

“What we would like to imagine is that our agents are homeownership lifecycle experts,” says Jones. “We give agents the necessary tools to help keep the consumer engaged while researching their next homeownership decision, selling and buying a home, and during the personalization phase of adding those unique touches to turn it into their ‘home sweet home.’ Obeo’s platform becomes an indispensable tool to find a new home and then a valuable gift they can keep using throughout the homeownership tenure. The consumer uses this platform before spending money and it is always displayed as a part of the agent’s offering.”

When that homeownership cycle starts over again, contacting their agent then just becomes a natural extension of the home-buying process, similar to calling on your doctor, lawyer or accountant.

“The majority of people are happy with their agent at the closing table,” says Jones. “However, only 11% of those people who sold their home use that agent again.”

“It’s an interesting quandary that agents have,” he says. “It’s imperative that real estate not just be a transaction. Agents need to be identified and remembered as someone whom the consumer trusts. By leveraging brand equity, we’re able to make the agent that authority that the consumer will come back to time and time again.”

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