New agents always ask “should I brand myself around my brokerage or should I create my own personal brand?”. There are pros and cons to both, but before we can find out which one works for you, we need to learn the true meaning of a “brand”.
Your brand is not just a logo. The official definition of the word is “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” A good brand should deliver a clear message, confirm your credibility, connect with your target audience on an emotional level, motivate someone to buy, and create loyalty.
There are many aspects of a brand, from the copy used in your marketing material to the way you answer your phone. We’re going to focus on the visual representation of your brand… what your potential clients actually see (such as your website, logo, colors, fonts, business card, print materials, etc).
If you’re a part of a well-known brokerage, such as RE/MAX or Century21, you can benefit from the enormous amount of time and money spent delivering brand messages to the consumer. Your potential clients already have an existing relationship with these brands and their preconceptions. As a real estate agent, you’re in the business of creating and sustaining relationships, and the trust that these big brands have already established with your client base is a good place to start.
Starting With Nothing & Keeping Costs Down
If you’re a new agent, chances are that you’ve started with nothing. No headshot, logo, tagline, font, farm area, niche, etc. At the beginning of any business it’s common to want to keep your initial costs as low as possible until you start making some sales. If this is you, then piggybacking off your brokerage brand is usually a good idea. Typically your brokerage will have pre-made templates for your business cards and advertising that you can use as a starting point.
The challenge is that a large percentage of agents switch brokerages at least once in their career. If you’ve aligned all your marketing to your brokerage then it can be costly and time consuming to make a switch, and it may mean having to re-create all your marketing materials. Big brokerages know you’re less likely to jump ship if you’ve invested time/money into branding yourself in-line with them.
Mandatory Brokerage Branding
Some brokerages don’t allow personal branding at all, or have tight control over what can and can’t be done. If your brokerage is truly bringing you value, that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, then it’s a good idea to play by their rules and reap the benefits. This is typically the case with boutique brokerages that focus solely on a certain niches, whether it’s farm areas, lifestyles, property types or other demographics.
Having said that, some agents see their brokerage as simply a place to hang their license. If this is the case, and they overly enforce their brand, it may be time to weigh your options and ask yourself what value they’re bringing to your business.
The clients you’ve maintained relationships with throughout your career will most likely continue working with you even if you’ve switched brokerages. They’ve typically been referred to you personally, done business with you in the past or known you on a personal/social level but have yet to be your client. This means that YOU are your brand, not your brokerage.
The challenge is that you have to start with nothing. This can be a wonderful opportunity to create something unique and memorable, or it can be a time-suck that takes your focus away from your core business of real estate. Also, professional branding services can be costly. Having said that, as a realtor, you are in the business of creating relationships and a memorable brand can play a fundamental role in differentiating yourself, telling your story and bridging the trust gap with would-be clients.
The Cheapo Approach
Okay, so you understand the importance of your personal brand but you don’t want to spend money, now what? Perhaps start with a logo or word mark (which is basically just your name typed out in a nice font). If you’re the hands-on type, fire up your totally legal copy of Photoshop or Illustrator and start playing around with some fonts. There are numerous online resources that provide royalty-free fonts that you can download and install.
The Not-So-Cheapo Approach
You can always hire a freelance graphic designer to create a logo for you.
If you’re looking for someone nearby try your local art school (they typically put on graduation shows of talented people looking for real world experience), Craigslist or your local cafe (look for the hipster-looking kid on a Macbook).
If you’re looking for professionals, but don’t want to shell out the big bucks, you can always hire someone offshore. Try searching 99designs.com, odesk.com or elance.com. There’s some great talent out there, just make sure you do your homework and look at their portfolio and past-client feedback.
The Professional Approach
Just like you shouldn’t spend hours coding your own website, you shouldn’t be messing around in Photoshop trying to make your own brand. Do yourself a favor and hire a professional. A proper branding company won’t just pick a font (see Trajan Pro), some colors and photoshop your face in front of a skyline. They’ll sit down with you and really get to the root of what your values are, and come up with an overall brand strategy to set you apart.
Once you have your own personal brand that truly represents you as an individual, you have the versatility to change brokerages. Typically it’s just a matter of swapping out the brokerage logo.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s your responsibility to make sure that a consistent message is being shown to your customers across all your marketing efforts. If you switch the headshot on your website but not your business card, that’s inconsistent and creates a disjointed message to your clients. If you’re willing to take your branding seriously then be prepared to protect it.
The time and money savings of branding yourself as your brokerage may be worth it in the short term, but if you’re truly looking to make an impression you need to create a professional, personal brand that will last you throughout your career as a real estate agent.