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You can't buy brand — you have to build it and be it
  • The concept of the real estate brokerage brand is shifting. Between the prevalence of listing portals like Zillow and the commoditization of many primary brokerage functions, the playing field is increasingly level.
  • Brand is not just a logo or slogan, but the sum of a company’s actions and the resulting perception.
  • The agent community is as powerful a stakeholder as are buyers and sellers. Technology, culture, support, design, and marketing are areas of differentiation that represent real value to our agents, and in turn, their clients.

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As founder and CEO of technology-driven real estate platform Compass, I can tell you that many of the real estate brands you know are a facade. Most brokerage firms offer their agents little more than a company logo, outsourced technology and limited support.

Although plenty of people subscribe to the belief that advertising spend directly informs brand strength, a cultivated veneer alone has limited impact. As our head of design and marketing always reminds me, brand is not just a logo or slogan. It’s the sum of a company’s actions and the resulting perception. You can’t buy brand; you have to build it and be it.

In the unique industry of real estate, the agent community is as powerful a stakeholder as the buyer and seller. Although clients are clearly significant in our business, attracting strong agents is equally critical to our brand’s success.

As a result, we have chosen to invest most actively in technology, culture, support, design and marketing — areas of differentiation that represent real value to our agents, and in turn, their clients.

Here are the core principles we’re using as the foundation of our brand.

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Respecting our agent community

Compass is highly selective in our agent outreach. We recruit from the top ten 10 of each market we enter and extend offers to only 17 percent of those who apply.

Investing so thoroughly in the strength of our workplace evokes a sense of internal collaboration and defines our brand within the agent population; after all, the best want to work alongside the best.

Not surprisingly, it also fosters a culture built on drive, optimism, and mutual support. When it comes to hiring, I am very proud to say that Compass has a 98 percent retention rate, a rarity in an industry built on the business of independent contractors.

Optimizing agents’ business

When I speak with agents, they consistently tell me that what they need most is more time. To that end, our in-house engineers and product designers develop technology to reduce the time spent by agents on certain administrative tasks by up to 90 percent and provide up-to-the-minute market and data insights.

Not only do we improve function, but we also work to optimize form and aesthetic. The result? Endlessly efficient, beautifully packaged solutions that improve every step of the agents’ processes and reinforce our brand’s aesthetic.

Addressing our agents’ concerns

A primary fear among agents who consider switching brokerages is damage to their bottom line. As it turns out, this is rarely the case; in my experience at Compass, 99 percent of homeowners opt to shift their listings to our platform.

Also, the average agent’s business grows 22 percent in their first year. Ultimately, it’s the agent’s brand — and not that of the brokerage — that matters to clients.

Regardless, we respect these concerns and want our agents to feel supported from day one. Launched last month, a new initiative, titled “The Compass commitment,” offered 25 newly recruited agents the option to keep 100 percent of their commission for one year. If agents are willing to invest in our brand, then we’ll invest in theirs.

Striving for constant improvement

When we look at our products today, we know that they are not the best that they will be — and we accept that because we fully expect to improve and adjust with every iteration.

Our agents know that these are not the final answers either, and they also recognize the crucial role they serve in this evolution. By instilling a culture of constant optimization and developing all of our products in-house, we continually learn, improve, build and release as our brand develops.

This cultural concept is one that has remained ingrained in our core values from day one, and it holds true across every aspect of the company — from operations, finance and marketing to the technology products we develop.

Just as our agents continually strive to succeed, so do the supporting arms of our operation. This attitude is what distinguishes us as a modern brand that will continue to evolve and grow with today’s fast-paced world.

At the end of the day, instead of crafting a thin visage of what the company might look like under the surface, I’d rather focus on building a brand on the mutual empowerment of both agents and consumers.

By investing first in our internal culture, we’re able to portray our company authentically based not on image but on substance. By constantly pushing ourselves to be better and developing our in-house expertise, we are creating a business that can grow with our changing industry.

In realizing this, we will achieve something that does not exist today — a national real estate brand that resonates with agents across the country and around the world.

*This article has been edited from it’s original version.

Robert Reffkin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Compass. You can follow him on Twitter or Linkedin 

Email Robert.