Blurred Lines: Building a Personal Brand, While Keeping your Life Personal

A guest post from our friends at Burke by Burke.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “brand”? Nike? Starbucks? Lululemon? I’m sure the word, “Ancient Egypt” doesn’t come to mind. Yet commercial branding’s history reaches that far back, with the branding of cattle. 

Today’s branding practices look just a little bit different than they did in Ancient Egypt. There was no SEO optimization for hieroglyphics, for one.

But what does branding have to do with REALTOR® marketing? After all, agents are selling properties – not pyramids. 

While many brokerages have strong and recognizable corporate brands, a savvy REALTOR® who wants to stand out in the sea of competitors should also consider developing a personal brand for themselves. A personal brand is something that you own, no matter what brokerage you’re at, or if you decide to switch brokerages in the future.

Because like it or not, when you’re a real estate agent, you are the brand. 

Real Estate Branding of the Past

REALTOR® marketing, much like the real estate market itself, has evolved significantly over the years. After all, there were no real estate agent websites in the 18th century.

The first ever printed real estate advertisement was reportedly in 1704, published by the Boston News-Letter. 

Eventually technology like the telephone, radio and television would start playing a larger role in the real estate marketing space in the 19th and 20th century. Shout out to Mr. Bell and Mr. Tesla.

Later in the 20th century, popular REALTOR® marketing practices would include things like bus shelter ads and mailing out listings or sold brochures around the neighbourhood.

I bet Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons had a great bus bench.

When I was a teenager growing up in a Vancouver suburb, I remember seeing one real estate agent’s face a lot on the bus stops going to and from school. One day, I went to a new friend’s house and was welcomed warmly by his father – the same man on the bench, but about 15 years older in real life. I guess he didn’t want to update his bus ad.

It’s easy for me to tease about the marketing practices of the past, but to give credit where it’s due, at the time these were innovative and forward-thinking ways of getting your personal brand out to the public without the internet. I can’t even go to the bathroom without my phone nowadays.

Real Estate Branding Today

Fortunately for us, someone finally decided to invent Wi-Fi. Shout out to Ms. Lamarr. 

The age of the internet has changed the landscape of the real estate marketing game. Where a REALTOR® once had only a few options to market themselves not even 30 years ago, technology today has opened up the proverbial marketing floodgates. Social media, influencer marketing, digital advertising, real estate website building, podcasts… the options feel seemingly endless.

And while there’s more housing inventory along with the growth of Canada’s population over the years, that also means there’s more agents out there competing for the same clients. Creating a unique and memorable personal brand is more important than ever today. 

Not every REALTOR® needs to strive to become an influencer along the likes of Ryan Serhant and Grant Cardone, and nor should they have to. Developing and implementing a personal brand doesn’t mean you have to give up your privacy or devote every waking moment of your life to your business. You can still have a thriving personal brand alongside a thriving (and private) personal life.

Check out these tips on how to build your personal brand, while still keeping your life personal.

Tip 1: Develop Your Brand Identity

Personal branding is more than just a pretty logo, a catchy slogan, or an aesthetic REALTOR® website. A brand is a representation of who you are: your values, your principles, your unique qualities.

When developing your brand identity as a real estate agent, it may be helpful to ask yourself some questions: 

  • What are my goals?
  • What are my values?
  • Who is my audience? 
  • What colours and visuals resonate with me?
  • How do I see myself?
  • How do I want others to see me?
  • What is my story?

The last question, “What is my story?”, is the one that’s most difficult for our clients to answer. I mean, what does that even mean anyways to a REALTOR®? You’re selling homes, you’re not Harry Potter.

Here’s an example of what a story could look like for a REALTOR®:

(Like Harry Potter, this agent doesn’t actually exist)

Harry, a REALTOR® based in Mount Pleasant (a neighbourhood in Vancouver) loves food. When he started developing his personal brand, he initially branded himself as the “Mount Pleasant Expert”. Harry soon realized that this brand wasn’t unique enough – there were plenty of agents in the area who also marketed themselves as such.

He started thinking about what he truly wanted his personal brand to be. Then it hit him: food! He could combine his love of food with his real estate practice: thus, “The Foodie Agent” was born. Harry started posting social media content showcasing different food spots in Mount Pleasant, especially around his listings. He also collaborated with local vendors to create unique closing/possession gifts for his clients: his “Foodie Goodies” baskets would become a huge hit.

Tip 2: Choose Your Marketing Channels

Social media? OK, yeah, that sounds simple enough. But between Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Twitter (sorry, I mean X), Threads, SnapChat, Reddit, Discord, WeChat… and whatever is about to be invented 10 minutes after the time of this writing, it can feel overwhelming for any REALTOR® who’s deciding where to market themselves.

But, Spoiler Alert: you don’t need to be all of them!

As a real estate agent, put yourself in your potential client’s shoes when choosing your marketing channels. Do you cater mostly to first-time home buyers? They may be more likely to go on Instagram or TikTok. Relocation expert? YouTube might be a good option to consider. When it comes to social media, choose two or three channels that you enjoy or are most familiar with – chances are, it’s where your prospective clients are too.

But while having a strong social media presence on at least a few channels is beneficial, having a real estate agent website is almost a non-negotiable today. A polished and functional website is like your brand’s digital signature: it’s the first place that a potential prospect will find you online. After all, it only takes a tenth of a second to make a first impression.

Tip 3: Set Your Boundaries — and Stick to Them

Now, if I haven’t made this clear by this stage, I’ll say it again: having a personal brand doesn’t mean you have to give up your entire personal life. 

Boundaries can sometimes be a tricky thing for agents to navigate. After all, most open houses and showings are on evenings and weekends, writing offers can happen… well pretty much anytime, and negotiating deals can run for hours (if not days). That being said, many REALTORS® get to enjoy the flexibility and autonomy that comes from being self-employed. 

Take that same mindset of flexibility and autonomy when it comes to developing boundaries around your personal brand. 

A personal brand is exactly that: personal. You get to decide how much (or how little) or yourself you want to share.

Want to portray yourself as a “family man”? Absolutely. Does that mean you have to share photos of your children’s faces? Absolutely not. 

With creativity and thoughtful planning, you can still have an effective personal brand that rings true to your essence. For example, that “family man” could portray this brand through other means, like talking about family-friendly events in his community or showcasing how your listings are beneficial to growing families.

Tip 4: Be yourself 

“Just be yourself!” might be cheesy and out of a Saturday morning cartoon special, but it’s a cliché for a reason. Because it’s true.

Even through a digital lens, authenticity shines through. 

Today’s audiences are more savvy than ever. Through exposure to a bounty of online content, it’s easy for a consumer to spot a fake, a phony, a fraud, an imposter, a charlatan, a con artist…. You get it. Fake isn’t “in”. Being yourself is.

I get why “being yourself” might be a little alarming when it comes to personal branding. As a REALTOR®, you probably want to help as many people as physically possible. But let’s face it: not everyone is going to like you.

And that’s OK.

Think about it: there’s only so many hours in a day. And at the end of that day, there’s only so many people you can help. You would want to attract the people that are most attracted to you: those people are the ones most likely to like what you’re about, and therefore be more inclined to trust you as their agent.

So go ahead and be the “Foodie Agent” or the “Family Man” or the “Pink Lady” or whatever “You” looks like. Not everyone will like it. But the ones that matter, will. 

Case Study: A Marriage and Business Come Together

Now, I’ve done a lot of talk about the power of personal branding while also maintaining boundaries. But I definitely (try to) practice what I preach.

Take my marketing agency, Burke By Burke. I started this business with my husband Eddie in 2023. We never intended to work together. I was a Strata Manager when we met, and he was a Graphic Designer. But as fate intended, we have found ourselves as partners: both in life and work. 

But when we developed our business’ brand, we were very intentional about one thing: maintaining our privacy as a couple. Yes, our brand is built on our partnership: our unique strengths and how we collaborate together to bring out the best in each other. But it was extremely important to us to keep our marriage itself as our own. You won’t see us posting selfies of us kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas. That’s what our personal (and private) Instagram accounts are for. 

You will, however, see us posting photos of us working together on our business Instagram account or the occasional shout-out on LinkedIn where appropriate.

I’ll never kiss and tell.

It’s a fine line for us when it comes to navigating our brand. We want to be authentic with our audience while still maintaining the integrity of our private life. But by setting a strong brand identity with a clear delineation of boundaries, we feel that both our business and personal lives are thriving ― without one having to compromise the other. 

Livestrong Lives On: How A Personal Brand Influenced Business 

Now let’s take a look at a brand that both benefitted and struggled with personal branding: Livestrong.

Founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong in 1997, it was originally known as the “Lance Armstrong Foundation”. Those infamous yellow bracelets were everywhere at that time: I couldn’t remember a time walking down the halls of my high school where I didn’t see someone wearing one. 

But that all changed in 2012 when Armstrong’s doping scandal came to light. The brand, so strongly associated with Armstrong’s personal brand, was heavily impacted by the scandal. The brand had to disassociate from Armstrong himself: he was removed from his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors, the foundation’s name was changed to Livestrong, and Armstrong’s imagery isn’t to be found anywhere on their website today. 

While this is an extreme example of someone’s private life going public in a bad way, the Livestrong story serves as a reminder of how strongly a personal brand can be tied to a business: both the pros (a peak of $41 million in donations in 2009) and cons (the doping scandal). 

Now, Go Own Your Brand.

Branding isn’t a brand new concept (sorry for the bad pun ― bad puns are actually part of my own personal brand). 

But maybe the Ancient Egyptians were onto something. 

From cattle branding to social media, branding has come a long way from the time of the Pharaohs. But the fundamentals are still the same: be unique and recognizable.

When it comes to personal branding, being unique is crucial to the success of a real estate marketing strategy.

Whether you refine your Instagram page, use a real estate website builder, or simply just decide to be more authentic in your presence, remember: you are the brand. Now go own it. 

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