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If you’re still trying to beat the company down the street, you’re wasting your time. Today’s customers expect a higher standard of performance – one they’ve come to expect from the companies outside of your bubble.

How focused should you be on your competitors? If you’re Blackberry, well, you probably should have paid more attention to Apple and Google all along. Coca Cola worries about Pepsi, because consumers can instantly change their minds in the supermarket aisle. But for service industries like real estate, the process of engagement is not immediately interchangeable. Most customers can’t quickly switch to “the other guy” – for a variety of contractual and emotional reasons.

In fact, most real estate companies don’t lose business “to” their competitors. They lose it to themselves. More than two-thirds of sellers only interviewed one agent, according to the National Association of REALTORS. This tells us that they had made a decision – mostly by recommendation from a trusted friend or family member, but also from a marketing event – and met with the company to validate their expectations, not make a selection. Even when a seller changes firms because their listing agreement expires, it’s not because the other company lobbied them with a better offer (the industry actually employs cartel agreements against such practices).

Expired listings are internal performance failures, not competitive losses.

So who is the competition in real estate? One thing it’s not: it’s not internal to the bubble-world of real estate. As a recent question posed by TechSavvy Agent’s Facebook page demonstrates, too many agents are still sending postcards to local neighborhoods to be focused on the real challengers. They haven’t noticed that most of those recipients are too busy checking their iPhones to notice they received something from the Pony Express.

Today’s competition comes from outside our usual purview. In the race to capture the customer’s attention, his imagination, and his loyalty, it won’t be the “other guy’s” so-similar-listing-presentation and cookie-cutter-IDX-website that will set you apart. It will be how well you compete with Corning, Spice and Gaga that matters most.

Who are Corning, Spice and Gaga? They are the ones who have changed the customer’s expectations for sales presentations, marketing and customer relationship management. They are old, older and new companies that have raised the bar on the performances necessary to capture new business. They conduct presentations, perform marketing and stay in contact with their customers just like REALTORS do. But they do it unlike most REALTORS do. Thus, they change the playing field.

Corning is the Owens-Corning guy who showed up at our door recently to sell us their basement refinishing system. We’d asked friends on Facebook for recommendations on finishing our concrete basement, and we ended up contacting someone by referral. Just like most real estate consumers. But when the salesman showed up at our door to sell us his wares, it was unlike the usual presentation you’ve seen from most REALTORS. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he reached into his tool bag filled with tape measures and papers, and removed his iPad. Instead of the traditional page-turner presentation, he tapped an icon and we watched a three minute video featuring Bob Vila, America’s trusted home improvement guru, installing and discussing the Owens-Corning basement refinishing system. When the video ended, the salesman said, “So, shall we go measure your basement?” Sale complete.

Spice refers to the Old Spice Guy, whose YouTube video has been watched by more than 33 million people. That means some 33 million people saw a commercial for deodorant on their televisions, and then watched it again online. And not some super-duper-amazing new deodorizing technology: Old Spice was founded in 1934 and you’ll still smell like Grandpa. But the Old Spice Guy commercials have upped the ante for marketing performance. How will REALTORS sell their postcard marketing plan to consumers who have personally shared the Old Spice Guy’s video on their Facebook page? Moreover, how will they explain their Viewmaster-plus-muzak style home tours to a society consumed with online movies? Old Spice has changed the competitive landscape for marketing.

Gaga refers to, well, if you don’t know,  you’ve been living under a rock. With more than 10 million followers on Twitter, Lady Gaga is more than simply a musical sensation. She’s a customer relationship management expert of a new era. If the Lady wishes to talk to 10 million people right now – and again now – then again now – she can do it for free. She can reach them wherever they are on the planet, because Twitter goes directly to their smartphones – and even dumb phones by text message. She’s always on, always connected, always influencing her sphere of influence. And they’re always referring, retweeting, recommending her to their sphere of influence. Needless to say, when Lady Gaga wants to complete a sale, it only takes 140 characters. She can do it in less characters than a newspaper classified ad. And while Lady Gaga uses Twitter like a pro, she wasn’t actually born that way.

Corning, Spice and Gaga are your new competitors. They change everything. They make the vast sameness of real estate practices, across all local competitors, look, well, un-modern. They set a new standard of performance for getting, servicing and keeping customers. But they all essentially do the same thing: present their sales offer, market products, and manage customer relationships. That’s the new competition; the one customers have become accustomed to; the one they will compare you to when you at the kitchen table, on your website and every few seconds.

It’s time to pop your bubble.