September is Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. That means we’re talking to the chief marketing officers at major brokerages about how the pandemic is changing their jobs and what it means for agents. We’re publishing a suite of tactical Inman Handbooks for marketing on digital portals. And we’re looking at what pages of the traditional marketing playbook still work. Join us all month long.
Annie Switt, the vice president of marketing at Keller Williams, has spent the past 15 years helping one of the nation’s largest real estate holding companies continue to build upon the brand identity established by co-founder and current CEO Gary Keller nearly four decades ago.
Lately, that’s taken the form of an ever-increasing emphasis on technology and helping agents and franchisees navigate a global pandemic.
Switt spoke with Inman on the unique role of being a marketing executive at a franchisor, as well as ensuring all brokerages under the Keller Williams flag have the right tools and systems in place to be successful.
Inman: What does a marketing executive do for a franchise business, where it’s not directly a top-down structure and you have small business across the country?
Switt: The way that we look at brand is a little different than the way that a lot of the other players in the industry look at brand. From our perspective, our brand is actually driven by our agents. We certainly have a duty to ensure that we’re providing them with the tools and values that they need to drive those brands. But we put those paramount over the Keller Williams brand, if you will.
I believe the Keller Williams brand stands for agent-centric for sure, and I think that shows up through-and-through from the way we make decisions in our company through the IALC, to the way that we develop products through labs. The advent of the profit share program so many years ago. We’ve always shown up as an agent-centric company.
I believe the Keller Williams’ brand has always stood for a strong culture — one that people have poked fun at, but continues to attract like-minded agents every day and one that we’re proud of. And as of late, I think we’ve affirmed our spot as the home of the tech-enabled agent. To me, that’s what the Keller Williams brand stands for.
As far as what that looks like, what my job to do every day is, it’s to make sure that we’re providing the tools that our agents need to build their local brand and that’s always been the case. Research still shows that consumers are choosing agents, not brands, when their looking to do a real estate transaction. Our job is to ensure that ours are empowered to do that at the highest level. Consumer’s expectations have changed and so do the tools that we deliver in order to meet those expectations for our agents.
What does your job look like then when you’re at your most successful? Is it increased agent count for Keller Williams Realty International, is it individual franchisees having the best quarter of their business career?
We’re at our most successful when our market centers are able to attract agents to the value of Keller Williams. That is certainly a priority of ours and it’s one that we believe we’ve proven and continue to do as the largest real estate company in the U.S., the world now. And we do that by partnering with our market centers, not necessarily marketing through our franchises.
It’s not just by agent count, but by the increasing engagement around our tech platform, our training and culture and the successes they achieve as a result. And we’re seeing that.
When you ask, what does your best look like, the way they do that, when I say partnering with them, that’s a weekly Zoom call now with every leader in the entire company, talking about, what are the most important initiatives that we have right now in order to power their agents’ businesses and how do we ensure that we get those into the hands of the agents.
Is it more difficult to market to agents to join Keller Williams when there are so many different business models out there these days?
My job isn’t to reach out to those agents. What we do is put those tools in the hands of our leadership. Rather than marketing to recruits, we have conversations. Those are consulting conversations, so that when we are talking to agents, we don’t believe Keller Williams is a one-size-fits-all kind of company, we have an enormous toolbox that our team leaders can use in conversations with agents.
If I were having a conversation with you, I’d be saying, ‘so tell me what your business looks like right now. What are you struggling with? What do you want more out of? What does your technology spend look like? Are you having some of the conversations around people looking to build teams because they need more leverage in their lives?’
There are consulting conversations that we have with recruits to ensure that we’re not just saying, here’s what Keller Williams has to offer you, rather, tell us about the business challenges you’re facing and let’s get prescriptive around how Keller Williams can serve you.
Does it get difficult to control the brand’s narrative when you have so many different franchise organizations operating under the Keller Williams flag and you don’t have direct oversight over what goes on in every business?
The way that we’re structured — we have regions that our market centers belong to — our market centers are buying into the Keller Williams models and systems. We’re not just handing them a Keller Williams logo. We are handing them models and systems.
What they choose to implement, at what level, in their market center because they’re independently owned franchises, is certainly a decision they make. But when you’re purchasing a Keller Williams franchise, you’re purchasing the model and getting into a partnership with Keller Williams and the models and systems they provide. We don’t necessarily see market centers that are operating completely out of brand.
This isn’t just a, ‘brand-chise.’ We’re giving them, ‘these are the plays you run, the tools you have access to,’ and it works successfully.
You’ve been with Keller Williams for 15 years. How has your role changed with the recent emphasis on technology and the ‘tech-enabled agent?’
Our distribution channel has just gotten so much bigger and more exciting, because now my team actually sits with the technology team to ensure that we’re building out these marketing tools and also providing them with the assets that will be fed into these tools. Whether that shows up as design assets for marketing their listings, or the creative that gets implemented in Facebook ad campaigns. Or even the smart plans that help automate their business.
Our marketing team has a big hand in ensuring that the content that we’re providing is first class and is in alignment with the Keller Williams brand standards and also completely editable to ensure that an agent, if they choose to, can completely redesign it to fit the brand that they’ve built locally.
How do you find the right marketing tone during a global health crisis and what advice are you communicating to the agents and brokers who are wondering the same?
What we did was go out and talk to agents about what is working right now. What we found was that our agents are showing up the way that they show up every day, which is, not just somebody who is trying to get into business with you for the sake of a transaction but rather a life-long relationship for your real estate needs. That brings forth the responsibilities to care about your clients beyond the transaction.
We coached them through our BOLD program and Keller Williams University. We did the entire Pivot program when we saw COVID-19 was first starting to shut down the country. A lot of the training that we provided was around making care calls to your database. This isn’t the time to necessarily be trying the hard close. This is the time to make sure the people in your community have somebody that is reaching out to them and offering help. That was the tone that we really saw our agents take to their communities.
Keller Williams has a massive global footprint, so how do you expand the reach of your message to hit globally from a marketing standpoint?
We actually work with the master franchisees of each country in all the different countries we’re in, and what we’ve found is that the Keller Williams story and the value proposition resonates worldwide. What we do is — and I’m not driving worldwide marketing efforts necessarily — they are taking assets — just like with our market centers in the U.S. — and taking our system and models and deploying them in their countries.
What we’re seeing is that, many of these countries are very hungry for the systems and the models that Keller Williams brings. Many other companies have deployed a brand and not necessarily a system by which to run a franchise.
What we’re seeing is that our culture is a very attractive magnet for agents looking to get into business with our company, as is technology.