Real estate companies battle the brand issue daily. It’s a fight to connect a company message to the customer’s actual experience when the brand’s soldiers — the agents — are trying to build their own brands. Brokers fail because the message hardly ever matches the experience.

Flawed campaigns

Agents have been taught "branding" by sales coaches. Sometimes it works, but lately, most of it seems woefully out of date. Take the agent-posing-with-a-child campaign. It’s compelling, and would work if the agents carried it across their models. Imagine providing childcare services for parents while they go searching for homes, or creating a playroom in the brokerage office stocked with video games, Foosball, plasma TVs, and Dora the Explorer videos. But that doesn’t happen. It ends with the gimmick.

You would be wrong

You would be wrong if you think Southwest Airlines built its brand around being a great airline. For this company, the brand is about customer service. From the mission statement down to the personality-infused fight attendants, everything they do, every decision they make through every single brand touch point is looked at through that lens.

You would be wrong if you think Starbucks built its brand around great coffee. Starbucks is about elevating the coffee drinking experience. It’s an experience built from corporate right down to the barista who foams your morning latte. The very minute the brand began to do things that did not support that experience (Does a turkey sandwich really belong in Starbucks?) the company began to stumble.

Zillow: A great lesson in branding

If you think Zillow is about Zestimates you would be wrong. If you think they’re about displacing agents, you would be equally wrong.

Zillow is a great lesson in branding. As a brand, Zillow elevates the real estate experience through anonymity, innovation, transparency and connectivity. Its product line supports and fulfills these tenets on every level. You might argue by saying that Zestimates are not accurate. But that’s not really the point. Zillow strives for accuracy, but that’s not the brand promise.

It’s the four-brand horsemen above.

Zillow Mortgages

If you’ve been foggy on this issue, stroll over to the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace and take it for a spin. You might find, as I have, that this is the most succinct expression of the company’s brand to date. It hits on all brand cylinders as well as delivers a solution to a very real problem.

While not totally new in concept (the idea owes a lot to both LendingTree and HomeGain), Zillow’s mortgage offering allows borrowers to solicit loans anonymously then compiles each quote along with the lender’s profile in full view.

Lenders are encouraged to solicit feedback thus building upon their reputation – a major issue that has up until now been gnawing at the flesh of every online lending experience.

Peach fuzz

Up until now, Zillow has been a baby brand with a diaper full of controversy, a teething business model, and some wobbly products. But each and every one flawlessly supports its mission of providing the consumer with a real estate experience through anonymity, innovation, transparency and connectivity.

It’s on that note alone and by expression through each of its touch points that the Zillow brand works.

Zillow’s Mortgage Marketplace I’m sure will have some flaws and its detractors. It’s part of the brand journey as they leave the baby phase and cascade forward into adolescence.

As time goes on, they will shave off each issue like peach fuzz and continue to move forward, providing a Zillow experience to real estate.

Real estate brokers: Put the controversy down for now. There’s too much to learn. Go to school on Zillow. Study how they’ve weaved a cohesive thread from one brand touch point and one product to another. Study how that message is delivered by Zillow evangelists.

Zillow is a case study in branding that is worth your time.

Marc Davison is a partner at 1000watt Consulting. He can be reached at


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