Chances are, if you’re a REALTOR® or an entrepreneur, you have sat in a room with at least one other person and bounced adjectives against the wall to try and clearly identify your “Brand”
But do “Cutting Edge”, “Exuberant”, “Trustworthy”, “Youthful”, and “Pristine” really embody your brand? What is your brand? Is it simply the name associated with the product or service you’re selling? Is it what David Ogilvy describes as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes”? Is a brand the collective of thoughts and feelings that pass through someone’s brainwaves when they hear your company name or see your logo? Where does a brand come from and how does one reinforce it’s strength, then harness it’s power for growth? Stay out of the shadows, I’m about to go full-ninja on the subject.
A brand is a living organism that begins to cultivate the moment you direct your attention to a business project (note: I didn’t say “when you begin working on the brand itself”). Your brand is not something that you have supreme control over. Don’t get me wrong, you and your team have complete impact on your brand, you just don’t always have control over it. Your brand lives in two places – the soul of your business and the mind of your consumer – thus you can never control it in it’s entirety… it doesn’t fully belong to you. It is as much a perception in other minds as it is any name or adjective.
Whether you know it or not your brand is present in every interaction you have in a professional capacity. An old, shoddy gas station along a lonely highway that is known for their huge Cinnamon buns has a very unique brand, even though they probably never had any high level marketing & operations meetings about it. Your brand is the soul of your business, and in the case of many entrepreneurs, your business is you.
Your brand can have very much to do with physical appearance . I think that’s pretty obvious, even to those who aren’t particularly interested in business and marketing. It’s very easy and very common to get lost in the idea that “If it’s pretty and shiny and new, people will buy it”… but do you actually believe that Apple Inc. sold so many iPhone 6’s because they have slick packaging and a nice website? Unfortunately it’s not that simple…
Enter the comparative concept of Quality vs. Style. As far as the Ninjas are concerned, where there is quality there is intrinsically also style. Unfortunately the reverse is not always true – just because you have style does not mean you have quality. I’d like to define both of these words below so that we’re 100% on the same page about their meanings:
Quality (noun): the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.
Style (noun): a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed.
If we distill those terms one step further we can say that Quality refers to degree of excellence and Style refers to distinctive appearance. With these two key terms considered, let’s look at a few real life examples of how quality and style stand alone in various scenarios:’
- Style: You approach an attractive person at the trendy local cafe. They smell good, are very well dressed and well groomed, they have stunning features, and something about the way they are put together attracts you. You approach and strike up a conversation, only to realize that they are poor conversationalists, rude, self-absorbed, and not interested in friendly chit chat. Maybe you remember at this time not to judge a book by it’s cover.
- Quality: You approach an intriguing person at a trendy local cafe. They are dressed in hiking boots, Merino wool, and a hand-knit toque while carrying an outdoorsy backpack. They are on a mission and you want to learn more. You approach and strike up a conversation. You and this person end up drinking your coffee together and discussing the adventures they have been having, you share stories about your travels and collective appreciation for nature. You exchange phone numbers and head your separate ways.
When you single out Style, you are often left with very little substance. But when you single out Quality, that inherent Style usually tends to follow. For your consideration, another scenario:
- Style: A relatively new Chef really wants to make a splash when opening their new restaurant. Chef hires an interior designer to make the space reflect their amazing vision and a graphic designer to create a trendy-chiq logo. Chef hires a live band, gives beers away at 50% off, advertises in all the local papers and blogs, purchases a fancy ice luge, hires the most charismatic staff, and personally walks into all of the neighboring establishments to invite them for a bite and a sip. The place is booming on opening night, until the first round of meals go out to customers. Frozen meats, packaged goods, produce that has been sitting for days, tiny cuts of steaks that are overcooked and smothered in a cold sauce, salads that are drowning in dressing, stale bread, weird ketchup, and so many more small food-related disasters. Needless to say, many people will not be returning to this restaurant.
- Quality: A relatively new chef really wants to make a splash when opening the new restaurant. Chef finds a small space that fits the budget nicely. Then Chef invites family and friends to help restore and decorate the space, and prep it for a professional kitchen and customer seating. Chef creates an exclusive invite-only list that contains only 50 names, and some plus-ones, among which are some notable food-writers and critics. The morning of the grand opening, Chef heads down to the local produce market and hand-picks the ingredients for that day’s menu. Then heads to the fish market to pick up fresh seafood. Chef returns and creates small versions of each dish, and let’s the few staff members taste and learn about the items. When Chef opens the doors, customers are charmed by the unique space, and are excited to try the food. Once they have a taste of Chef’s grilled halibut mini-burgers, their hearts have been won over. The restaurant receives stellar reviews and 50 initial customers turns into a line up out the door each evening.
Would you rather eat in the Stylish restaurant or in the Quality restaurant? It just goes to show you that you can’t mask a lack of quality with an over-abundance of style points. But when focused on quality, style tends to follow closely by default – almost without added effort.
If you’ve never read the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig, we highly recommend it – a valuable quote from it’s pages reads:
“… typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of “style” to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony. Put the two together and you get a pretty accurate basic description of modern American technology: stylized cars and stylized outboard motors and stylized typewriters and stylized clothes. Stylized refrigerators filled with stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized houses. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while. It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style. Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.”
How does this Quality vs. Style topic tie into Brand? Let me bring it full circle…
As I mentioned earlier on, your brand is intrinsically part of your organization whether or not you have attempted to refine or accentuate it in any way. That is why Quality is so important to a brand and the experience a customer has with said brand. The quality of the tools you use in your every day tasks; the quality of the team behind you; the quality of the sum of ingredients that make up your product or service; the quality of life that you are ultimately producing for yourself and others… this is your basic brand.
Now, you could be a brand that is known for it’s lack of quality to some degree – yea, that’s a thing. Very, very few people eat at McDonald’s because of their top of the line burgers and nuggets (the ones who do are experiencing perception glitches). Yet, millions of people worldwide still eat McDonald’s every day, because it serves their purposes. Perhaps these people don’t have time to eat a proper lunch one day, or maybe they need a late-night snack after a night of celebrations, or they could be getting a quick after-school treat for the kids. McDonald’s serves their purposes differently. When McDonald’s began in the 1940’s, it was the first of it’s kind in that you could ONLY drive through to order – there was no indoor seating. At this time, this was a major factor in the McDonald’s brand. Twenty or so years later they introduced their first Dine-In location, which shaped their brand once more and in a major way. In 1967 when McDonald’s went international, once again, their brand shifted. Again their brand shifted in 1971 when they introduced Ronald McDonald’s posse featuring the kid-friendly likes of Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar. In 1987 they added fresh salads. In 1996 they launched their website. In 2009 the McCafe went National. All of these small business modifications intrinsically shaped and progressed the McDonald‘s brand over the years.
But did their salads include market-fresh lettuce and tomato? Was their McCafe reminiscent of a latte from your preferred local roaster? Was the Hamburglar really the highest quality individual for your children to be engaging with? The underlying brand beneath the McDonald’s veneer of bright reds, vivid yellows, happy clowns and giant golden arches truly reflect quality? Not really. And yet, McDonald’s is one of the biggest enterprises on earth. What I’m ultimately trying to say is that there are two ways to interpret a brand: Character & Soul -and- Marketing & Design.
I can speak for all of us at RealtyNinja when I say that the organizations of the future – the true Ninjas – have found the perfect zen between these concepts above. These companies have brought the waves of intangible quality crashing perfectly into the sands of discernible style. It’s a marriage that creates positive flows of work and energy both internally within the organization and externally with clients and suppliers. It’s a perfect symbiosis – the beauty and the beast.
I am going to use our awesome organization, RealtyNinja, as an example of how style and quality are currently working together to create a perpetual force that pushes us all, and the company, forward.
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When you visit www.RealtyNinja.com, you are greeted with a beautiful, easy to navigate website. There are photos, videos, screenshots, and all of the information you could need, presented deliberately so that it guides your eyes and is easy to decipher. Our Design Ninjas are easily the most talented members of our team, and this reflects on our website, and on our client’s websites absolutely.
We provide some of the most powerful tools and integrations in the Canadian real estate website industry. We draw data from every real estate board in Canada, as well as DDF, and we wire the data directly into your website in the form of custom MLS® searches. Enter your agent ID and all of your listings are automatically imported for you. Sign your IDX/Reciprocity agreement and you can share other agent’s listings. Built in SEO features to optimize your website ranking. Simple editor to maintain and upkeep your website with little to no technical experience. Outstanding customer support via live chat, email & phone, and an ever-growing library of support documents to keep clients happy… the list goes on.
If you’re still with me, thank you! I know it’s been a long read, and you’re almost done. Before I let you go, I wanted to leave you with a quote that the Ninjas have been keeping an ear on for years. This is from Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk:
“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
Earlier I had said that your brand is the soul of your business – I also believe that the soul of your business is essentially the “why you do it”. Humans inherently want to identify with something or some group. They want the brands that they deal with to reflect their personal brand, and make them feel more like them in a way. Think once more… are your customers really buying “Cutting Edge”, “Exuberant”, “Trustworthy”, “Youthful”, and “Pristine”? And if they are, is that really what you’re selling?
I hope you keep some of this stuff in mind next time you find yourself in a room with one or more people, bouncing adjectives off the wall, trying to identify your “brand”.