SAN FRANCISCO — What does it mean to provide service so exemplary that the word “service” itself becomes synonymous with your brand? Scott Stratten of UnMarketing shared a story on stage at Inman Connect San Francisco about the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain and how real estate agents can use the same philosophy to become the “un-Realtor” in town — the authentic one who turns skeptics into friends.

  • "If you are your unique self, if you are your authentic self, you have no competition."

SAN FRANCISCO — What does it mean to provide service so exemplary that the word “service” itself becomes synonymous with your brand?

Scott Stratten of UnMarketing shared a story on stage at Inman Connect San Francisco about the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain and how real estate agents can use the same philosophy to become the “un-Realtor” in town — the authentic one who turns skeptics into friends.

“When I see the Ritz-Carlton logo,” Stratten said, “I think of two things. I think of the last time I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, and I think of Joshie.”

Joshie’s vacation

Joshie is a stuffed giraffe who was left behind at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island resort by his child.

“What happens when your kid loses his favorite thing?” Stratten asked. “Your day is done. It’s like if you lost your phone — which isn’t funny, is it?”

So to placate the little one, “the father did what any good father would do and lied to his son, and said that Joshie was on an extended vacation and would be sure to return home soon,” Stratten explained. And now he had a bigger problem: finding Joshie.

“He called the Ritz-Carlton and they’d found him rolled up in the sheets.

“Not only did they find him and not only did they overnight him back to the awaiting child at no charge to the family, but they also sent back photos of his extended vacation.”

Joshie visited the spa and the pool, made some new friends and worked loss prevention to help out around the hotel. The Ritz-Carlton even made him a laminated loss prevention ID badge.

Joshie by the pool

“What do you think the father did when he received the package?” Stratten asked. It wasn’t hard to figure out: He told the whole world. “The best part about word-of-mouth — at least the good version — is it costs you nothing,” he noted.

Becoming an ‘Un-Realtor’

“People think I don’t like Realtors, and that’s just true,” Stratten joked.

“That’s really not fair at all but it’s exactly right — and it’s not that I don’t like Realtors; I just don’t like what you stand for, or do … or you.”

The reason? He takes issue with the focus on lead generation and advertising instead of building relationships and being active in the community.

“You know how I know you’re not active in your community? You have to tell people you are,” he noted. “That’s the problem; I want you to do things, not say you do things.”

What does that mean in practice, though?

Stratten introduced the audience to his own real estate agent — and friend — Petrus.

He met Petrus because the agent heard Stratten speak, and during the talk, Stratten shared a tale of a doughnut shop called Ronald’s Donuts that didn’t look like much from the outside, but had a gorgeous interior — and, not-so-incidentally, produces delicious, sugary baked goods.

“Fast forward about a month after the talk I gave, and there’s a ring at the doorbell,” he remembered. His wife answered the door and showed him a dozen doughnuts from Ronald’s Donuts that Petrus had delivered with a card. He’d enclosed his business card and wrote, “We hear you love donuts! Thanks so much for the talk you gave.”

“I sent him a tweet, and I’m like, ‘Dude! Donuts … what happens next? This is my first bribe; what do I do? Am I supposed to buy a house now?’ And he writes back ‘No. I loved the talk, enjoy the donuts.'”

Stratten shared the story on his podcast and was added to the agent’s mailing list — so when the time came to move into a new house, Petrus was top-of-mind.

“Here’s the thing: He never pressured us; he never offered to buy us coffee and hang out. He just talked about it — sent us an awesome magazine and attached a letter to it — but he left us alone. It was just drip, drip, drip and he was always there.”

And then when they needed him, “he was immediately there and immediately killing it.”

He said that Petrus had the real estate skills to back up his marketing game, and after the sale closed, he went out to dinner with the agent and his family.

“My friend was like, ‘Why did you go out to dinner with him? I thought you didn’t like Realtors.’ And I said, ‘He’s not a Realtor. He’s my friend.'”

‘But …’

“Now you’re thinking ‘but,'” Stratten told the audience. “But I can’t because of this. Really?”

Petrus was new to the continent the week he saw Stratten speak, having immigrated to Canada from South Africa. “I’m sorry — he’s new to the hemisphere,” Stratten corrected himself.

He had no network and had no previous experience as a real estate agent; he’d worked as a real estate lawyer in South Africa. His brokerage also didn’t have a big brand presence where Scott lived. “I didn’t know Sotheby’s sold real estate; I thought they auctioned off Fabergé eggs in England,” he said. “That’s my brand recognition. So he overcame that.”

And he was competing against 1,400 other licensed agents in a town of 70,000 people. Stratten had lived there for 30 years and had seen all of their ads for years. “And I went with him.

“You know what his picture looks like on his sign?” he added. “It’s not on the sign and it’s not on his card, because it’s about the home, not about him.”

‘You’re all vultures’

Stratten shared another story about his agent. “He told me about going to an open house, and the neighbor came out. He’s putting out his signs and she walks out, and she’s like ‘All you people are vultures,’ and he’s like, ‘Hi! What?'”

The neighbor told him about a constant barrage of door-knocking from developers who told her they wanted to buy her home. Still annoyed, she returned inside after Petrus told her she didn’t need to worry and he wasn’t there to bother her.

“He came back a week later and knocks on the door and says, ‘Ma’am, I heard you and I feel for you.'”

He’d visited the town hall and pulled the zoning rules for her neighborhood, then printed them out and put them in a packet for her. “If a developer ever comes to your door again, show them this, and they’ll realize they can’t get the zoning and they’ll leave you alone.”

Inside the packet, Petrus also included a stuffed toy vulture.

‘What should I do?’

Stratten collects examples of “bad” marketing (quite a few surrounding QR codes), and he shared a story about something he saw on Facebook: A real estate agent who drove by a home. “The morgue was wheeling out a body. As a Realtor, what do I do?” he asked.

Some of the responses:

  • “Keep driving.”
  • “See if they need to list the house!”
  • “Keep driving … but follow up by mail or phone later.”
  • “Send condolences and food; they’ll love you!”
  • “Lawyers go to the funeral; so should you.”
  • “I’m sorry, my friend; I have morals. There are some things I just won’t do.”

How a Realtor in Texas behaves is going to ripple out to Realtors in Ohio and California and everywhere else in the country, Stratten noted. What kind of messages about the industry are you sending?

The Un-Realtor after the sale

“If referrals are the no. 1 source of business in real estate, then what should you be doing? Working on making your current clients so happy that they give you the referrals,” Stratten said. “Clients don’t send new referrals. Ecstatic clients do.”

After he and his wife bought the house — “which means we’re never moving again,” Stratten noted — Petrus didn’t stop his relationship building.

Around Christmastime, the agent reached out to Stratten’s wife and asked what he might like for the holidays. “He learns that I’m a comic book geek — have been since I was a kid,” he remembered. “My first business was a comic book store. It sold one comic. It was in the basement. I didn’t tell my mom.”

His favorite character is Wolverine, and he also had told Petrus what his tattoos signified — the most important to him personally is the word “unlearn” across his forearm.

What did Petrus get him? A one-of-a-kind illustrated picture by a local comic book artist. It features Wolverine slicing a QR code, and he shares Stratten’s tattoo.

“Your biggest asset — your only asset — is you,” Stratten argued.

“I’m going to say something, and it’s really cheesy, but it’s really tweetable: If you are your unique self, if you are your authentic self, you have no competition.”

Email Amber Taufen

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