My face is not my brand

Broker's Notebook

I am not sure why anyone would ever want to get a group of real estate agents all riled up. But if they did, they could just bring up the topic of agent business cards.

Business cards themselves are not controversial. But just ask agents if real estate agents should have their face on their cards.

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Some agents have pictures of themselves on their cards — and on their lawn signs, and all over their websites, too.

Some agents will say that their face is their brand. Others will say that their face belongs in marketing materials because people will recognize them and know who they are. A business card with a face on it is friendlier than one without, they say.

Others will insist that having your face on a business card is just wrong — unprofessional, even.

Real estate isn’t about the agent, they say, it’s about the home buyer or seller. It would be pretty limiting if all we had for branding was our face. After all, every human has a face.

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Some real estate brokerage offices display photographs of all of the agents in the office right near the front entrance. A person can go in, look at the wall and find the name of the agent that they saw at an open house. I notice that the health clinic I go to does the same with doctors. I’m not sure if it is so I will recognize them when I see them, or if it is marketing.

There are websites dedicated to bad or funny looking agent photos, and the topic has been fodder for the Ellen DeGeneres show. It’s just so easy to make fun of because there are so many really bad headshots of real estate agents out there.

Sometimes agents will include pictures of pets on their cards, too. People like dogs and perhaps by extension they like real estate agents with dogs.

I know that when I walk the dog, people are more likely to talk to me. Some of my neighbors never forget a dog’s name, but can rarely recall a person’s name. Some of my neighbors like my dog, but don’t like me as much.

For those of us who started our careers as employees of large corporations and government agencies, the idea of having a picture of ourselves on a business card is repugnant.

I recall getting resumes from job applicants who also provided a picture of themselves. Some used colorful stationery — occasionally it was even scented. Those resumes typically went to the bottom of the pile, because they seemed unprofessional and made me wonder if the applicants were out of touch.

The other disadvantage of attaching a picture to a resume is that it invites those reviewing the resumes to discriminate on the basis of age, race and sex.

We all have biases. I, for one, would never want to be rejected from a position that I am qualified for because I am a short, old, white woman. Yet I display my photograph on my LinkedIn profile — where it can be found by prospective clients and employers — because online profiles without profile pictures are creepy.

I have often said that most brokerage websites look like the obituary page in the newspaper, with rows of agent headshots taken during many different eras. Real estate agents don’t always keep their pictures up to date, and sometimes they don’t resemble the person in the photo all that much anymore. I can tell by the hairstyles and eyeglasses that the photos were taken long ago.

We respond differently to a beautiful young woman than we do to an old man, or a baby. I am not sure how I would tell an agent that he or she is funny looking and should leave the picture off the card or web site. Sometimes a person’s face distracts us from their inner beauty and amazing real estate skills.

I don’t have a picture of myself on my business cards. I use the picture from the banner on my blog for branding, and I put that picture on my business card. I’ve done that for the last eight years. My face isn’t my brand. It is just a face.

If a new agent came to me and asked if they should have their face on their business card, I could not advise them one way or another.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Pictures of agents are still so common on business cards that it is almost expected.

I think the quality of the business card is more important. They should be high quality. Mine are thick, printed in large type, and provide only one phone number, because I think readability and ease of use are important.

A thin, flimsy business card is like a limp handshake. We should have cards that we feel good about. Agents who chose to use a picture of themselves should have a professional headshot taken on a neutral or white background. They should wear business attire, leave the pets out of the picture, and avoid poses. I don’t think holding a cell phone is going to impress anyone in 2013.

Agents who decide to use a photo should update it every five years or so. I predict that the headshot on the business card will still be a controversial topic in 2023.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

 


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