Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.
Branding Your Way to Online Success
Here's how to imbue your site with your unique ID.
November 1, 2000
Dear Mr. Internet,
I've had a Web site for several years, but I'm frustrated trying to make it stand out from the thousands of other real estate sites out there. What do you suggest I do?—Michael Bray, ABR®, Prudential BKB, REALTORS®, El Paso, Texas
Differentiation is the key to successful marketing. This is especially true on the Internet, where it's easy to get lost in the vast, digital ocean. One of the most powerful ways to differentiate your site is to create your online brand, a unique identification your target market will recognize and associate with valuable service.
Applying a well thought-out branding strategy isn't only a sure-fire way to set your site apart from the growing herd of salesperson sites, it's also a key step in creating a profitable exit strategy when you retire.
More on that later. For now, let's look at how three successful real estate professionals use branding to set themselves apart. Rick Miner and his wife, Joyce, are the branding geniuses behind the tremendously successful Duckin.com. From the webbed feet that form the "www" in the logo and URL to his site's trademark duck-yellow look, visitors know instantly this site is a duck of a different feather.
Miner’s approach complements his target market: Seattle waterfront properties. And, his branding efforts don't stop at his Web feet, er, site. Miner and his team hand out rubber duckies emblazoned with his URL, as well as yellow duck-embroidered, duck-billed baseball caps. They drive duck-yellow VWs, all touting the Duckin.com brand.
Even his e-mail messages to clients and prospects are peppered with endearing “quack-talk.” Wondering if this branding stuff is all it’s quacked up to be in terms of generating business? So far this year, Duckin.com is responsible for 90 percent of Miner’s business.
Chester the dog is a central part of Judy McCutchin's successful DallasHomes.com Web site—one that generated more than $13,000,000 in closed online business for her in 1999.
In addition to supplying an endearing branding theme, Chester provides context within the site. He appears as a school boy, complete with knickers, when visitors view Dallas private school information and as a maitre d’ when users search for fine dining in Dallas.
For more information or to set appointments, visitors can chat with “Chester” via a service called Live Assistance. McCutchin customized the service to show Chester in the chat window and instructed chat operators to think and act like Chester.
Top producer Alice Held uses anthropomorphic cacti to give her Come2az.com site a sense of charm and personality. Like McCutchin’s dog, Held’s cacti are depicted appropriately to each section of the site. Like Miner, Held approaches branding in a way that complements her target market: people relocating to the Scottsdale, Ariz. area.
Held has closed more than 100 transactions through her online efforts: another reason her friendly cacti characters are so green.
These three sites share four qualities of successful branding. Each is
- Idiosyncratic. They reflect some aspect of their creator's personality.
- Memorably unique. They’re presented in a way that isn't easily forgotten or copied by others.
- Attractive. They’re pleasing, warm, friendly, reassuring, and fun.
- Congruent with the target market. The look and feel of the branding elements speak to the target audience.
A fifth branding quality missing from most all the examples is an identifiable logo. A logo is a graphical element, including stylistic use of type called a logotype, that becomes a site’s primary identifier. A well-designed logo is unique, memorable, and consistent with all other branding elements. Ideally, the logo incorporates the site's domain name as well.
How to Find the Brand Within You
Creating an effective brand isn’t an easy process. The most successful brands reflect the personalities of their creators. In fact, one way to approach branding issue is to ask yourself, "What makes me unique from all others on the Net?" The answer is the same as what makes you different from all the other people on the planet. It's your personality, your passions, your sense of purpose—all that makes you uniquely you.
Here's a simple, yet powerful three-step process to help you develop your online branding:
- Conduct a three-minute personal brainstorming—no editing allowed, and give yourself the freedom to be outrageous—to list all your passions, regardless of whether they relate to real estate.
- Do another three-minute brainstorming in which you list all the unique ways your site can speak to your target market. (Think Rick Miner's yellow ducky.)
- Now evaluate which of the ideas from these two brainstorming sessions may be a possibility for a full-blown branding effort. Make sure your choice is one you can be passionate about. You'll need that kind of energy to see it through.
Is all this worth the effort? In addition to significantly boosting your current online business, a well-executed branding effort can pay off big when you retire.
Branding Your Way to a Profitable Retirement
At some point in your life you probably expect to retire from the real estate business. For most salespeople, this simply means no longer collecting commissions. But what if they could sell the goodwill they generated over the years?
Typically, there's nothing to sell, because most salespeople make the business all about them.
When you turn your business into a recognizable brand, however, that's a whole different story. There'll always be investors looking to enter into a business that provides instant market share through brand awareness. For example, if Rick and Joyce Miner continue to refine their branding efforts, when they're ready to sail into the sunset, I wouldn't be surprised if they received something around seven figures for Duckin.com.
There are no magic bullets to generating consistent business online. There are, however, sound strategies--and creating an effective online brand is one of the most powerful I can think of.
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