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What happens when the “me, me, me” marketing approach comes face to face with the socially attractable consumer? Real estate agents are about to learn that modern consumers 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.