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When Courtney Chakarun joined eXp World Holdings last year, she was asked to fill a crucial role: guiding digital marketing strategy at an entirely cloud-based brokerage.
Chakarun, the company’s chief marketing officer, hit the ground running with eXp in June of 2020 as the home market was roaring back from its early-pandemic doldrums.
Her marketing career led her through stints with GE, CoreLogic and Roostify before she joined the brokerage company. Since her arrival, eXp Realty has undergone a visual rebranding and expanded into a number of new countries.
Chakarun took the time over the phone to answer Inman’s questions about helping a rapidly growing brokerage market itself during the COVID-19 pandemic, and into the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Inman: When you joined eXp last year, one of the things you were tasked with was driving digital strategy for the company’s growth. What have those digital efforts involved, and how have they been going?
Chakarun: If you take a look at the digital assets and the importance of enabling agents with digital assets, you’ll see several different tools that we continue to refine.
One is eXp World [software], which is an opportunity to get agents together [and choose from] over 80 hours of training a week. We have numerous coaches, as well as mentors, meeting and operating, including [CEO Glenn Sanford]. So there’s a lot of access to different leaders on different topics, and a lot of events also take place there. It’s really the foundation of a lot of what we’re doing.
From a digital perspective, we do have and continue to refine and improve assets such as Express Offers — that’s our iBuying platform. We also have an element called Success Experts. It’s a lead generation platform that we piloted. That, to us, is a key value proposition, because our agents, they value the ability to service their customers. So any time we can get together and collaborate and collectively move toward getting them leads, we’re working on that with them.
Take us through a typical day in the life of a chief marketing officer. What are the things you’re hoping to accomplish and the questions you’re seeking to answer?
A typical day for me would be going into the World, having a meeting with the marketing team, talking about what tools are available, what we’re building for agents. We have a new innovation technology group that’s led by Seth [Siegler, vice president of technology, innovation and real estate services].
Typically I would also be connecting with an agent, and that could be just situational. A good example right now is talking about events. I think people are really keen to see what’s happening for the latter half of the year, and how are people conducting these events. So I am often talking to several agents and asking for their opinions on the agenda [or] the format.
We’re fortunate because we’re agile. We’ve had to several times in the past pivot to a virtual event, which is a platform we have, so it’s pretty straightforward to do that. But that sort of decision making on how we meet and how we deliver value is led by conversations we have with agents.
This historic inventory shortage has created one of the most unique real estate environments we’ve ever seen. What have eXp’s top marketing priorities been while navigating these unusual times?
It comes down to continued collaboration, brand-building and enablement. If you take a look at this, we’re at 62,000 agents and growing. They are amongst the most savvy marketing salespeople in the world. So as far as I’m concerned, being able to put what our agents need to be successful at the forefront of what we’re doing — that’s No. 1.
The brand is a unique component to this, because most companies aren’t creating a brand with their agents, but we believe our agents’ brand is “hero.” Last year we created the visual aspect of the brand. We refined the brand logo. Here’s how we did it: We first asked the agents how they felt about refining the logo. We, second, created a design area where they could come and help co-create and submit designs. We narrowed the designs and we let the agents vote on which logo they liked the best, and that’s the logo we launched. And when we launched this at [an] eXp shareholders’ [meeting], with agents getting on stage sharing what their new collateral looked like.
So in terms of how the marketing strategy changes, or how the messaging may evolve, it would be done in a co-creation manner with our agents, based on what they need for their customers.
Did the COVID-19 pandemic change the way brokerages like eXp have had to market themselves?
Not to the extent that it has impacted others in the industry. One thing that has not changed is our business model. We had a digital brokerage before the pandemic. So the pandemic just reinforced that this cloud-based brokerage is agile, and it’s a game-changer for the industry and our agents.
[We also initiated research that] was trying to understand, what’s the impact of the pandemic on consumer psyche about homeownership? So very, very relevant, especially as we’re entering a second phase [of the pandemic]. What the research told us is that owning a home is more important now than ever before. What we found is that the majority of homeowners in the survey said, “Real estate agents are either important or very important to the process.”
The nuance that I think is interesting — and it underpins the strategy that we have in digital, and what we discussed earlier — is that it’s all about making sure that the agent is tech-savvy. Consumers expect that. The majority of consumers that we researched said they would be asking a real estate agent about the technology that they had. We are connecting agents with the best-enabling technology that we have to serve their customers.
How do you see eXp’s marketing strategy shifting or evolving as we head into 2022?
One area that I think will continue to take on importance is international expansion. We operate in 18 countries now. We launched Germany [in August]. When I started in June of last year, we were operating in four countries. And now, we’re in 18 — without getting on a plane.
So if you think about pre- and post-pandemic environments, we continue to find opportunities that you think wouldn’t be available, by the way we operate. So there will be a continuation of and more emphasis on international expansion.
The shift that is happening right now, it’s really more of a continuation of a strategy that we think is winning already.
Do you have any closing advice for real estate agents as they work to market themselves in their communities?
Continue to put the customer first. Our agents know their customers best. And focusing on their customers is always going to be important.
Another element that I would recommend — and this is something our agents are already doing — be authentic. It’s important, especially in an environment where you are using a lot of digital assets, for people to be able to trust and instill their confidence in something, in a process that can be very challenging, which is buying and selling homes.
Focus on the customer needs, be authentic and build trust.