RISMEDIA, May 6, 2009-When you launch a real estate brand with a completely clean slate and enough capital to make a difference in the most challenging real estate market in over 100 years, what do you do? How do you tackle it? Couple that with the increasing sophistication of technology, moving at the speed of light, and the rise of several so-called “incubators” across the country-namely, companies that are conducting live beta tests on new real estate business models. Add to the mix a home-buying and -selling segment that is quickly shifting to 70 million “Echo Boomers” who are tech savvy 18- to 34-year-olds. Add on the huge social networking wave that is capturing the attention of hundreds of millions of people around the world-that some believe will be a significant driver of future businesses across various industries. Then what do you do?
You challenge everything, of course.
Next Generation Real Estate
By Sherry Chris, President and CEO
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
When I accepted the mission of president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate, I knew I wanted to not only make a difference, but to break some glass. You have to in an industry that is reinventing itself to stay ahead of the curve. Welcome to the “Next Generation” of real estate.
First off, I assembled a team of leaders who are proven “next generation” thinkers-not only unafraid to challenge the status quo, but who wholeheartedly embrace meaningful change. My team understands that we are currently experiencing a perfect storm that is creating opportunities for some to grow and prosper beyond their wildest dreams and forcing others to fail under the weight of the current recession.
Together, we crafted a roadmap designed to enable broker/owners to become more profitable and to assist agents to become more productive by taking advantage of forward-thinking tools that others may not have thought of, or may not believe in. There is a lot of responsibility and accountability when you adopt the trademark of one of America’s most loved and respected brands, especially when you want to guide it into uncharted waters.
I believe that the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate value proposition, team and strategic vision will help shape the future of the industry. It was a combination of experience, visualization and sheer guts that led me to this leadership role. I believe in the power of sharing, and that when I share, others will share with me in return. This has allowed us to gather best practices across the industry, study them and develop solutions for the best office size and design, culture, talent-attraction tools, branding, social media and lead capture and generation.
Ask yourself a simple question: if you could start your own company today-one that would have to sustain itself for the next 30 years-what would you want it to look like?
When I answer that question, I see the next generation of real estate.
By Wendy Forsythe, Vice President Products and Services
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
In the 17 years I have been in the real estate business, the art of retaining and training real estate professionals has changed dramatically. The old concept of “recruiting” is dead, since recruiting implies a forcefulness or entrapment that doesn’t appeal to today’s workforce. Today, we must attract talent to our companies-and that attraction must remain in order to retain our existing agents. This is the new generation of talent attraction.
Our goal as an industry is to attract new, fresh talent. In order to attract talent from generations Y and X, we must offer a value proposition that is meaningful to these demographics. Many brokers and managers in the Boomer demographic find this challenging, which is only compounded by the current market conditions.
At Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, we are challenging our brokers and managers to think about attracting talent in a different way. We do this through not only the power of our language but by leveraging our exclusive “Talent Attraction Platform.” This ten-point system includes tools and guidance to help attract, bond, commit and develop career inquiries and the skills of the managers and brokers responsible for attracting new talent.
Real estate career searchers, whether they are new to the industry or already licensed and considering an office change, are looking for interaction and engagement online before they make live contact. Most “career” sections on real estate websites offer static information on a career in real estate and why a particular company is the “best place” to work. There is no way to trigger a thirst to want to know more for the career searcher. Often, there is not even an inquiry-capture opportunity for the candidate on these sites, besides a dated “fill in the form” for more information.
Conversely, on www.bhgrealestate.com/careers, there are three distinct career inquiry capture tools-the Real Estate Simulator, an introductory business plan and “Ask a Career Expert” for more information. Franchisors typically take a passive role in helping their franchisees grow through talent attraction. We, however, are taking a very direct role in helping our franchisees grow by actively generating and sending them career inquiries.
Successfully attracting and retaining real estate professionals involves a constant reinforcement of messages, benefits and the company value proposition. But that is not enough. Today’s real estate professional wants to know that the broker has a skill set for success that they can learn from. This demonstrates how the features and benefits are put into action and this creates the value that attracts and retains agents. When the agents feel the brokers and managers do not have a skill set that can help them reach their goals, they leave. Finding and retaining the best in the business is a skill set of its own, and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate has the culture and systems in place for a win-win situation.
Building a team and company culture does not happen in a weekly sales meeting anymore-that is business as usual. In today’s world, brokers and managers have to adopt strategies, such as social media, blogging and video conferencing, as tools to build and maintain the company’s culture. You cannot sell culture; you experience it. Brokers and managers must interact frequently and use various methods.
Next Generation Branding
By Camilla Sullivan, Senior Vice President, Marketing
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
In less than one year since Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate was launched, a new lifestyle brand has been created. A brand that connects with home buyers and sellers on a new level. We believe in offering a fresh perspective as a result of challenging ourselves: how can we market this new real estate company differently and still draw on the heritage of an iconic brand? How is social media changing the way we should do business and communicate with our customers? How do we engage home buyers and sellers in ways that have never been done before? The goal was to build relationships, dialogues and conversations with multiple audiences.
In building this new brand, the first order of business was simply to ask the question: why is it done that way today? Does it have to be? We consulted experts from all marketing disciplines, from design through branding, and a variety of other industries…and we listened. Challenging what a brand in real estate has to look like, feel like, sound like and represent-we decided to apply best practices branding techniques to an industry that has not normally been put forward as a branding innovator.
From there, we charted our course to become a brand innovator and leader. We considered our new brand as a lifestyle promise to consumers. We wanted to offer a real estate experience that was outstanding.
To deliver our brand promise, we needed multiple channels to constantly reinforce and deliver the lifestyle brand message. Touching consumers, brokers and agents directly through online and social media channels is a critical part of keeping the information flow fresh and top of mind.
Our “Clean Slate” blog is one way of doing this with brokers and agents, by offering a pipeline of fresh and relevant real estate narratives on a myriad of topics. The brand’s consumer website, www.BHGRealEstate.com, is a destination portal that embodies the essence of passion for the home. It is not just a catalog of homes for sale, but a fun and interesting offering of “green” design tips, sustainable building materials, design solutions and online how-to videos. The content is fresh; the look is unique. The Web is an integral part of how the brand interacts with target audiences, and leveraging Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools is just the beginning.
In all of our marketing initiatives, it is about creating a countless number of reasons for consumers to be educated about real estate issues, topics and industry trends, and to build an ongoing relationship with our brand. We are earning our place as a trusted advisor.
Providing our agents and brokers tools to market their services is another point of differentiation. Through our partnership with Meredith Corporation (the parent company of Better Homes and Gardens magazine), I have been lucky to work closely with some of the top minds in data mining, analytics and direct marketing fulfillment platforms. They have exclusive industry access-through our customized online tool-to a record 80 million who are part of the Meredith subscriber database that our franchisee network can use to match potential buyers with listings, or find new customers based on highly accurate targeting. In fact, we are working with the largest media database in the country, including six out of 10 women over the age of 18. We have developed a “drag-and-drop” user interface, akin to an online shopping experience, that allows the broker or agent to handpick who they want to market to within a certain radius of a zip code, selecting them not only to have specific demographic features but also specific behavioral attributes (for more information, please see my blog post, “Ready Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire!”-April 6, 2009).
Marketing a new real estate brand is much more than just real estate “as usual.” We are branding the entire real estate experience in a whole new way, and that is what our lifestyle promise is all about.
Next Generation Operations
By Nicolai Kolding, Chief Operating Officer
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
In my former role with Realogy (as head of Mergers & Acquisitions), I was regularly asked to speak to large groups of brokers about how to value a real estate company. These discussions often turned to the broader topic of what financial and operating measurements were most critical-and what strategies the broker could employ to bring these measurements more in their favor. Owners, many of whom were already in a franchise network, were telling me they had never gone through a detailed session like that before and, even if they never acquired a company, they would never again look at their own numbers the same way.
This was eye-opening to me. I came from a world where analyzing your returns was just a way of life.
When I joined Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate as chief operating officer, I vowed to challenge the very nature of the franchisor-franchisee relationship by bringing a disciplined, financial approach to all our dealings with our brokers. Our goal is simple: make our brokers more profitable now and into the future. Period.
Yes, we believe we can provide invaluable advice on Mergers & Acquisitions. We think now is a great time to focus on smaller, “roll-in” transactions. If you talk to any one of our brokers, they will tell you that we spend one-on-one time with each and every one of them on everything from prospecting to analysis to negotiating tips. We bring real-world expertise on what has worked and what has not. But it’s a lot more than just number-crunching (though we’ll bring plenty of that to the table); sometimes it means staying up until midnight to help make sure two parties can find common ground. Sometimes it means suggesting to a broker that perhaps this isn’t the right deal to pursue, even though it would “cost” us royalty fees. It means always, always, always focusing on the bottom line.
But Mergers & Acquisitions advice is just one aspect of our services. We challenged the very basic premise that the majority of brokers wouldn’t want fancy analytics, graphs and charts. We have found quite the opposite, and we’re constantly striving to meet their ever-evolving needs. We built a sophisticated tool, which we call MAP (Managements’ Analytics for Profit), to thoroughly analyze our brokers’ numbers. This system does so much to make in-depth reviews accessible for everyone, including P&L analysis, benchmarking (for best practices), and “what-if” analyses so different scenarios can be tested for bottom-line impact.
All of us know that tools and technology won’t ever replace people and knowledge. While our entire group concentrates on the unique challenges of today, we don’t ever want to lose sight of what is coming; we want to help our brokers visualize what their business will look like in the future and how they can best position themselves for it now. What will their office look like? What commission plans will work best for them? How do they allocate their ever-precious resources so that their company not only survives today but succeeds tomorrow?
Putting all these pieces together takes a team approach from a group that is ready to challenge conventions. As best we can, we’re trying to help shape tomorrow.
For more information, visit www.bhgrealestate.com.