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Real Estate Branding, Post-Google

Do real estate brands mean anything to homebuyers post-Google?

When the MLS was printed in a binder that brokers hid under their desks and consumers had to shop for an agent first, brand mattered to buyers.

Now, buyers come armed with a list of properties that are relevant to them and each property comes with an agent, a broker, and a brand attached.

Consumers don’t need agents in order to shop, so relevance trumps brand on the buyer side. That has huge implications if you are a listing broker or agent.

I manage B2C eCommerce sites outside of real estate.  It is apparent to me that, until the moment a consumer contacts an agent and becomes a “homebuyer”,  listing brokers and agents are B2C eCommerce merchants, and your product is the content you develop around your listings.

Listing content = product. Think about it:  Merchandising is about tapping into learned behavior. Most homebuyers are in the market once every 10 years, so for the last 10 years today’s homebuyers have been buyng books on Amazon and shoes on Zappos.

In their lizard brains, when they are on a real estate site looking at properties they are just on another eCommerce site looking at a product.

But brokers and agents devalue their product by giving all of  it away, for free, in the name of advertising.

There are many best practices from the wider world of B2C eCommerce that can be applied to real estate, and it starts with understanding how to develop product content and how that differs from advertising.  Plus, using an eCommerce framework to understand and influence consumer behavior is the kind of thing you can point to where brand does still matter — with sellers.

Sellers still shop for an agent or a broker. Sellers may feel that one local broker can market their property better than other brokers. Feelings can be influenced by branding, and branding works best when it is backed up by real differentiation.

Showing sellers that you understand how to package their listing as an eCommerce product that is distinct from the adverting that you use to get interested buyers to that product/property detail page is the kind of difference upon which brands can be built, post-Google.


9 Comments so far

  1. Ryan Hartman August 20th, 2009 7:28 am

    Are you embracing the notion that property search functionality should no longer be the focus of agent/broker online lead generation efforts?

    If so, very cool and interesting to hear coming from a Real Estate Search Engine Builder…

  2. David Losh August 20th, 2009 7:41 am

    In a world where all listings are on all sites, you are a step child to the search site. Here in Seattle we have John L Scott which has a great search site for dummies. So when you sit down with a client the papers they have are John L Scott papers.

    That is a question of how you, as the listing agent, can be a part of the branding buyers use. You will never have the technology to compete. Many try to compete with technology and people just get frustrated.

    Can I say that lead generation is the key and site searches are irrelevant?

    For your site you need to give people something. You need to be the resource and Business to Consumer agent. You should be the conduit of all sage advice in a fun and informative manner.

  3. John Rowles August 20th, 2009 8:06 am

    @ Ryan: That’s a good one. No, far from it….

    Another eCommerce best practice is to build your user experience around the tasks that your audience is looking to accomplish.

    For a retail site, that means weighing the popularity and seasonality of product lines, and building pathways to products that speak to the tasks that the consumer for each one of those products is trying to accomplish by purchasing it.

    In my experience, I’ve never had a B2C retail client whose audience is focused on ONE task to the tune of 94%.

    But the reality of real estate is that 94% of the audience shows up primarily to look for listings, and that is a clear mandate to lead with search (and I would argue that you can’t currently do better than combining Google’s technology with broker’s access to IDX).

    What I AM saying is that its time to stop pretending that there is any technological silver bullet (including our own Google-based search engine) that is capable of perfuming the pig of identical, crap content that is spewed out of IDX and replicated ad infinitum across thousands of sites that Google (where most real estate searches start) sees as equally irrelevant.

    Search, especially keyword-driven search like ours and “Big Google’s” is only as good as the content it has to work with. Start treating your content like the product it is and you can start to serve your sellers by using lots of tactics from the eCommerce playbook, including traffic driving via organic SEO and retaining users by producing an enjoyable user experience.

  4. Ryan Hartman August 20th, 2009 8:14 am

    Thanks… for the Ecommerce uninitiated… are there any good places to start to suck up some knowledge… Where’s that playbook? 🙂

  5. John Rowles August 20th, 2009 8:48 am

    It’s a little out-dated (as in pre-Facebook) but when it comes to eMerchandising, I think Intellient Selling: The Art and Science of Selling Online is to eCommerce what Strunk and White is to English grammar: Concise and action oriented.

    There are any number of blogs by eCommerce consultants. from FutureNow is one that I especially like.

    That said, what’s a playbook without a coach? When it comes to picking what can work in real estate, or modifying a tactic for real estate, experience counts.

  6. Robert Worthington August 20th, 2009 2:44 pm

    John, awesome blog post. When you mentioned something about Buyers getting everything for free, were you referring to capturing leads with an idx solution? I like how you pointed out how much the industry has changed from mls books under the desk to all listings on every site. Hopefully robots aren’t opening doors and writing contracts in the next 25 years. Thanks.

  7. David Losh August 20th, 2009 3:20 pm

    I’m not getting it or feeling it. There is a site in Seattle that is trying to get eyes with an IDX search and it will never happen. Never. Ever.

    redfin has the best search. John L Scott is millions of dollars into R&D. Just because some one sits for hours with a cumbersome, and I mean cumbersome, search system it doesn’t mean they know what they are looking at.

    Real Estate is an eyes on property transaction. The pretty little pictures mean absolutely nothing to a Real Estate transaction.

    We are a service, not a store. We can have inventory, but only after we have seen it and done the numbers.

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  9. Maxine August 23rd, 2009 1:49 pm


    I have lived in Saint Paul, MN for the last 5 years and now I am looking to move to Iowa city for work. Do you know a good realtor in Iowa City?

    Thank you for your time!