September is Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. Tips for better branding and in-depth features on how to take advantage of marketing tools provided by Zillow, Redfin and other platforms are all in the works in addition to insights from experts. You’ll find it all at Inman, as well as our two-day virtual, flagship event, Your Playbook for the Fall Market, in October.
This article was last updated Sep. 2, 2022.
The discerning luxury buyer or seller has a host of requirements in mind when considering which real estate professional to work with. Luxe buyers might be focused on security, discretion, negotiations, specialized skills or all of the above.
How can you stand out from the competition and convince luxury real estate clients that you are the right agent to help them with their transactions? By defining yourself and your services through a thoughtful and beautifully executed brand strategy.
Table of Contents
- Defining luxury branding
- Supporting the brand
- Mapping out your brand
- Creating your client avatar
- Crafting brand collateral for luxury brands
When you think of branding, you might think of concrete elements like a choice of font, a color scheme, a new logo or a business name. Time and again, however, in talking to luxury agents and branding experts, we find that luxury branding is more about the service you provide and the expertise you convey.
According to Jack Cotton Jr. of Sotheby’s International Realty, Cape Cod Osterville Brokerage, “Brand is your promise to the marketplace. It’s what people say about you when you’re not present. Branding is the collateral material, images, logos, printed materials, et cetera that help create, communicate and reinforce your brand.”
Thus, the first thing to consider when developing your luxury brand is the message you want to convey and the image you want people to associate with you. That means it’s not enough to have a graphic designer make a snazzy new logo — you need a thought behind that logo and every element of your brand identity.
Business vs. personal branding
For real estate agents, branding is both a personal and a business proposition. According to Stacey Cohen, CEO and president of full-service marketing communications agency Co-Communications, a personal brand conveys the individual’s values, talents and skills. In contrast, a corporate brand speaks more to the mission and vision of the company.
As a luxury agent, you might center your marketing on your identity, or you might choose to adopt the image associated with the brokerage you work for, representing its brand to elevate your personal image. However, the most effective branding will probably combine an effective business brand strategy with your narrative, expertise and experience.
Don’t forget: Most luxury brokerages have brand standards and policies in place related to branding and marketing. Cohen said it is essential to keep these in mind and adhere to them when developing your branding strategy.
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As you define your brand, you’ll need to get buy-in from the people you work with and clients, friends and family in your sphere of influence. Impeccable service and a well-defined, easily communicated brand can turn those you work with and for into brand ambassadors.
Whether you are a broker or a team leader, it’s vital to get cooperation from your group members. Every agent becomes a representative of the brand in every interaction. It’s essential that you effectively communicate your branding guidelines to your agents and ensure their branding is consistent with the larger company or team brand.
Whether they are public-facing or work primarily with the agents themselves, your support staff should understand the brand as well and develop the ability to communicate it to others effectively. Remember that when they go out into the community and tell people where they work, you want them to have a great story to tell.
Sphere of influence
Whether they are personal friends or former clients, it’s crucial to ensure that you communicate with your sphere and add value to every interaction. Create calls to action and content that your sphere will be happy to share with friends and neighbors. Offer exceptional service, then gather testimonials and reviews from former clients so they can help you increase your visibility with other high-end clients.
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According to Cohen, a branding strategy proceeds through three distinct and necessary phases to properly identify and define the messaging behind the branding.
The discovery phase is foundational and involves asking the following questions:
- What is the brand’s personality and core values?
- Who is their target audience?
- What makes the brand stand out from the competition?
- What are the key messages?
For luxury agents and brokerages, the target audience may be well-defined, but differentiation from the competition might be more of a challenge. In other cases, you can narrow down your pool of luxury buyers and sellers still further by specializing in a particular niche such as athletes, celebrities or international buyers and sellers. It’s not enough to know what you want to say — you have to know who you’re talking to.
The development phase for a brand includes packaging marketing assets, especially content. Cohen said that content should both reinforce the brand, and be relevant and relatable to the audience.
For real estate agents, content may include any or all of the following:
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Press releases
- Bylined articles
- Expert source quotes
- Listing and buyer presentations
- Property descriptions
- Market reports
- Social media
- Offer packages
- Commercials for broadcast or streaming platforms
Development is an ongoing process as you incorporate the latest market information and marketing strategies into your content and continue developing new platforms for its distribution.
Delivery amplifies and distributes the materials you are gathering during your ongoing development phase and will include promotional materials for you and your company as well as marketing materials for the properties you represent.
Getting your voice out there — through social media, media appearances, speaking engagements or leadership positions at the local, state or national level — helps you communicate your brand and build brand authority.
Cohen said that these are not one-time activities but should be revisited and adjusted again and again as you determine what works and what’s “moving the needle.” Outline specific goals and objectives, and identify key metrics that will help you determine the effectiveness of your materials and initiatives.
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To develop an effective branding strategy, you need to start by determining who your audience is and what it values. You need to understand what will resonate with your audience visually and narratively so that your messaging and medium will be as effective as possible.
Cohen suggests starting with basic demographic facts about your ideal client: age, gender, personality and profession. This exercise is not an exclusionary one meant to leave out potential clients who don’t conform to these qualities. It is merely a way of better identifying and understanding how to communicate with potential clients by determining who they are likely to be.
Begin to ask yourself a series of questions that go further into identifying your ideal client:
- Where does he/she shop? Take a look at the branding and marketing of other luxury companies you’ve identified. Look at their social media and their websites. Check out their mission and vision statements. All of these offer clues to effective messaging and aesthetic appeal for luxury consumers.
- What are his/her pain points? What keeps this client awake at night? Identifying these elements can help you address concerns upfront in your content and communications.
- What are his/her hopes and needs? What is an ideal outcome for this client? Again, this will inform the message that you eventually deliver through your branding and marketing.
Remember, your brand is not just about you. It’s about what you can deliver for those luxury clients — and how you can make them feel during the process.
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It has been said that “money shouts while wealth whispers.” Although luxury branding is individual, most luxury agents seem to agree with this sentiment. “Less is more” was a phrase that popped up again and again.
Lissa Lebel, of Sotheby’s International Realty Los Feliz Brokerage, said, “I see the old style of, say, the color gold, over-embellished fonts, over-decorative design look old fashioned and dated. Simple and clean is more modern and tasteful.”
According to Troy Palmquist, founder of Doora Properties, simplicity and a minimalist aesthetic appeal to today’s sense of elegance, timelessness and sophistication. Palmquist recently purchased a Konica Minolta commercial printing press to ensure that all of his brokerage’s promotional materials look consistent and are of optimal quality.
For most agents, digital and print material used to market the client’s property is just as impactful from a branding perspective as that used to promote the agent or brokerage — and just as definitive. For example, The Address creates custom signage for each listing featuring photos of the home itself. This marketing type reinforces the brand’s focus on the listing and the seller, and it communicates the brand’s philosophy to potential clients.
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of expressing your brand, our luxury experts offered the following insights:
Cotton said the current trend in logos is a stylized graphic image of an agent’s initials. All of the luxury agents we spoke to stressed consistency and simplicity in logo design.
Craig Hogan, vice president of Luxury for Coldwell Banker Real Estate, said luxury is “very edited. We’re moving in a direction of a lot of ‘less is more.’ People are going to throw thorns at me for saying that, but it’s a time for less is more, it’s a time for one thing to make a statement. It’s a time for a few images to make a statement instead of the busyness that real estate marketing has been in the past.”
Many of the agents we spoke to discussed the quality of both print and digital materials, emphasizing design as a marker of luxury. “Any tech platform can be made luxurious with the quality of the imagery and message that is conveyed,” Cotton said.
He finds that high-quality, full-color printed materials are still essential and can be produced at a reasonable cost with today’s technology. “There is no excuse not to give a 10-, 15-, or 20-page, magazine-style brochure to every prospective buyer who visits your luxury listing.”
“At the end of the day, when high-net-worth individuals review the materials they’ve gathered from a day of looking at properties, which one will stand out?” Cotton said.
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Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.