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Competition among real estate brokers and agents is fierce. It only makes sense: What other industry can you think of where...

  • Barriers to entry are as low.

  • Such a large percentage of the competition comes from people who enter the market as a hobby.

  • Industry professionals must sell against the reputation often applied to them based on the record of the hobbyists.

  • Often, industry professionals are not aware that they should be selling services, not houses.

  • Consumers often believe they can easily enter into legal contracts related to the largest investment of their lives without professional assistance.

The competitive environment makes branding for real estate brokers and agents a critical issue. However, there are a few common misconceptions about marketing real estate services. Among the real estate agents I speak to, these misconceptions are often expressed like this:

  • "If I get a dynamic-looking logo and publish it on my Web site, yard signs, brochures, and print advertising, I will eventually establish a brand."

  • "I don't have a brand right now, but I am reviewing several graphic designs, and I'll be choosing one soon."

  • "What I really need is a catchy tag line to attract more customers."

The problem with these statements is this: Your logo is not your brand—and a catchy tag line does nothing to strengthen your competitive position unless it clarifies your competitive edge.

Sound like a crazy idea? Let's test it out. What comes to mind when you think about Kmart? Pier 1? McDonald's? Outback Steakhouse?

If you're like most people, you have a very definite mental image that comes to mind when you think of each of those companies. Now, consider these questions:

  • Would your mental image change if Kmart had a big green K on its buildings instead of a big red K?

  • Would your mental image change if Pier 1 were displayed as Pier One?

  • Would your mental image change if the McDonald's "Golden Arches" disappeared?

The point is that a brand is merely represented by a logo. What's the mental image that comes to mind when thinking of a particular brand? It's the result of a lot of hard work by the company to define its brand identity, and to burn that identity into the minds of customers.

Here are some of the reasons that branding is even more critical in the real estate industry than in others:

  1. Generic industry example: A manufacturer can partially differentiate itself based on the features and quality of its products.

    Real estate comparison: All real estate agents have the same "inventory," the listings on the MLS.

  2. Generic industry example: While people have favorites among nationally known fast-food restaurants, the experience is essentially the same no matter which restaurant you frequent.

    Real estate comparison: The experience of working with an agent, even in the same nationally known broker agency, can be vastly different.

  3. Generic industry example: Consumers have three or four choices of where to go to pick up a fast meal, or an inexpensive shower curtain.

    Real estate comparison: The number of people purporting to be real estate agents in a community is seemingly endless.

  4. Generic industry example: People buy enough cans of peas or boxes of cereal to develop a favorite brand, and they often become fiercely loyal to that brand.

    Real estate comparison: People buy and sell homes infrequently. They develop loyalty to a particular broker or individual just as infrequently.

Now that you are convinced you need an effective brand, here are some tips to help you develop one.

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Kathleen Allardyce (Kathleen@BuildRealEstateResults.com) is president of Getting It Write, Inc. For more information, visit www.BuildRealEstateResults.com.