Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Your Brand Isn’t About You

What happens when the “me, me, me” approach comes face to face with the socially attractable consumer? Real estate agents are about to learn that modern expect their brands to be about the consumer, not them.

Consider the following two photos. First, a screen shot of a REALTOR website that’s still active as of the time of writing this blog:

And this photo of an ad from a visit to Starbucks this week:

This isn’t just a comparison of a few select ads. It’s a collision of two different business philosophies. In the traditionalist view, consumers determine the “best” brand based upon who has the most “awards.” Certainly, consumers today still seek companies who receive recognition these days – such as credentialed physicians or companies who receive the JD Powers Award. But how far does that tradition of “blessing of authority” carry forward with next generation consumers who are increasingly used to being told they are the center of the brands they trust?

We have long argued – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that Apple’s most brilliant marketing move was naming all of its products after its customers: the “i” Pad/Phone/Pod virtually screams who’s the most important part of Apple brand equation. Rarely does Apple rely upon “seals of approval” to promote its products. Instead, it keeps the consumer in the center of the brand, and simply talks to them (instead of at them). Smart companies create brand messages that are more consumer-centric than self-centered. It matters little if they dominate the competition.

Yet real estate struggles with this concept. Internally, Brokers continue to believe that the agent is their customer (instead of their subcontractor). This error diverts millions of dollars in marketing efforts into self-referential marketing campaigns to attract/retain agents rather than consumers.

Yet there is only one customer; and today he demands to be the center of attention.

Consider the time and money spent on agent marketing, agent websites, agent recruiting: Now consider what might happen if companies redirected that effort solely on attracting and engaging consumers. Recruiting and retention would be automatic: agents want to be where the customers are. And customer want to be where they focus is on them.

Yet much of the industry conversation remains on the inside. It would be interesting to measure the ratio of postings on networks like ActiveRain or Trulia that occur between agents as compared to between agents and consumers. My experience tells me it’s an order of magnitude higher between the insiders.

An industry internally focused will find it increasingly difficult to engage customers used to being the center of attention.

Which brings us back to the two marketing pieces above. Is it a quaint artifact that so much real estate advertising is self-promoting itself or is it a real danger? A recent study done by Dan Zarrella, author of the “Science of ReTweets Report” indicates there might be some measurable trouble with this obsession. Consider his survey data of Twitter users: It would appear that the less someone tweets about themselves, the more followers they attract.


This chart seems to indicate that the socially attractable consumer reacts exactly opposite to the goals of the self-promoting traditional marketing techniques used by many real estate professionals. If true, thousands of real estate marketing plans (and agent training programs?) are in dire need of a complete overhaul. As the age of “trusted authority” transitions to one of “involved collaboration” it seems unlikely that “I’m the best!” advertising technique will be effective with consumers whose names are written all over their trusted brands.



  • “Brokers continue to believe that the agent is their customer (instead of their subcontractor)”

    The industry will not shift until brokers take back their brand and get back into the real estate business.

  • Those are great contrast images for classis, Dig Me ~vs~ I Dig YOU. Thanks for sharing.

  • James:

    Awesome comment – and right on! Once brokers return to being the BROKER of the business, we’ll be able to get consumers what they want and offer agents a much better value proposition, too! But that’s going to take some significant “big steps” by a lot of people who right now are still under the impression they don’t control the businesses they built…

    – Matthew

  • Hope you get a lot of use out of them! :>

  • Vickiehonzel

    Thank you! I have the utmost respect for this!

  • Matthew – Another great example of why agents should do their best to educate/inform the consumer before a need arises. Using blogs, e-newsletters with relevant content, Facebook postings with hyper-local information and engaging dialogue (not “monologue”) and delivering a detailed pre-listing packet before appointments is a great way to get the “here’s who I am and what I am about” delivered ahead of time (the way the Starbucks or McDonald’s logos and reputations do for them) so when you walk through the front door of a Seller’s home, you can shine the spotlight where it belongs…on the Seller and their wants, needs and dreams.

    Thanks for making us think today.

    As Eric Hoffer once said, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

  • John Boy

    This concept isn’t new, its simly a classy way to conduct business.

  • You’re right – it’s not new. It’s just significantly under-practiced by many sales industries.


  • Mike Pohlman

    Good Post Matt. It is important to maintain a balance in any type of Marketing, from boastful comments vs. consumer benefit. In any Marketing I do for my company I maintain that philosophy. No one wants to read only about how great you are, they want to know how that greatness will benefit them. For instance when a store has a sale they market it as how much “YOU are saving” and not “This is how much WE saved you”.

    I do, however, question the Starbucks ad. Due to my background in marketing and design, I do get a tad analytical with advertising, but I found their ad to be also self boastful. It isn’t to the extreme of the website screenshot that was shared, but the fact that the “Here’s to You” is on the bottom, with all the ingredients on the top, suggests to me that they are indirectly saying their ingredients, which is their product, is more important than “You” which is the consumer. The actual message I think is well stated, but the visual I question.

  • Mike:
    Thanks for your comments. Actually, I think you’re reading a little too much into the Starbucks ad; it’s a cup with checkmarks for the ingredients. I don’t think the indication of shots and milk are really placing Starbucks “above” their consumer whose name is written at the bottom. And let’s remember that the customer has their “name” called out when their drink is ready, not their “number” which his how it is done at the deli. Starbucks definitely has the customer in mind with every cup. The question for other brands is: where does the customer fit on your page?


  • Dave

    The key is always listening to our customers of what they need, nothing new just keeping everybody focused! Thank’s Matt!

  • Acosens

    Perhaps it IS time for us Brokers to refocus. The customer is the source of our $$
    and the one we truly want to retain

  • Since I’m new to the industry, I’ve been reading up on marketing online, the hows and the whys.  Marketing is to attract customers.  Ad copy has to be carefully worded to elicit an emotional response, and make customers see the benefits.  But it’s also true that reputation carries a lot of weight when people look for a broker.  So I’d say the focus has to be at least 50-50, promote yourself and your credentials, and promote your business by knowing your demographic and their wants/needs.

  • Thanks for your comment. I agree that reputation has a lot to do with
    attracting business. I don’t think that advertising is the best way to
    demonstrate your reputation. Referrals are far better. When your friends
    and past clients refer you to their friends, that’s the ultimate
    “advertisement” of your reputation. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a
    penny on websites or print to promote your reputation. You can do it using
    YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; and maybe a personal page
    associate to your broker’s website (which are usually low cost or free).

    Too many agents spend far too much money “advertising” as marketing rather
    than spending 90% of their time “in contact” with their sphere of
    influence, which usually costs nothing to do (even if you were to just
    pick up the phone…:>)