Kick off the fall with Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. We’re going deep on agent branding and best practices for spending with Zillow, realtor.com and more. Top marketing executives drop by to share their newest tactics, too. It’s all you need to take your branding and marketing game to the next level.
Rebranding is an enormous effort that requires an eye for design, a mind for marketing, and most importantly, an intimate understanding of the unique value your company offers to consumers making the purchase of a lifetime.
Veteran chief marketing officer Cara Whitley and independent broker-owners Vanessa Bergmark and Kofi Nartey know first-hand the challenges and rewards of a successful rebrand, such as how to reflect your company’s future, staying on budget, getting agents and staff on board with changes, and making sure it resonates with buyers and sellers.
Here are their tips for getting it done:
Step 1: Determine the “why” of your rebrand
When many people think of rebranding, there’s a focus on designing a new logo, choosing a color scheme or crafting a snazzy new motto that attracts buyers, sellers and new agents to your team.
However, the first and most important step of rebranding has nothing to do with what your brand looks like — it comes down to a solid understanding of where your brand is and where you want it to be.
For Red Oak Realty broker-owner Vanessa Bergmark and Century 21 Chief Marketing Officer Cara Whitley, their rebrands stemmed from the fact their branding was outdated and no longer reflected the company’s growth.
“[Red Oak] been around since the ’70s. It started in ’76, to be exact,” Bergmark said. “There have been iterations of the original logo, but nothing had really been changed in over 40 years, so because of that alone, we knew it was time. The company had evolved so much and the branding hadn’t really evolved with it.”
Whitley had a similar explanation, saying Century 21 had undergone an extensive “repositioning” to better meet the wants and needs of consumers navigating an increasingly digital and competitive housing market. The rebrand, she said, was a natural next step in announcing C21’s new value proposition and mission to the world.
“We’ve had and have bold ambitions for challenging existing conventions in real estate relationships and to progress the industry in ways that favor the consumer, yet directly help our agents and brokers break through the clutter and noise and win in the markets they operate in,” she said. “In order for the Century 21 Network to be relevant in today’s world and moving forward, we needed to have a visual representation that signaled our relentless mindset, so we completely overhauled one of real estate’s most recognizable icons.”
Meanwhile, Globl Red broker-owner Kofi Nartey’s rebrand didn’t necessarily stem from an outdated look or feel, as his company was only a year old when he left the Society Brokers name behind. Instead, it came from the need to reflect his brokerage’s explosive growth outside of its home turf of Los Angeles.
“Within 12 months, we had branding and marketing and sales deals with developers in seven different countries,” he said. “We quickly realized the brand we created had a little bit more of a local feel, where we needed something with a little bit more international.”
Step 2: Think about your brand’s story
After making the decision to rebrand, Bergmark and Nartey said the next part is digging into the story of your brand — how it started, where it’s been, where it’s at, and most importantly, where it’s going.
“We had to talk about our values,” Bergmark said. “What were we? A brokerage that focused on quantity? What geographical locations were we serving? What types of people were we serving? Were we super diverse? Were we luxury? We had to answer all of those questions.”
“And we thought about how we ran the company. Why do we have so many resources for agents? Why are we a company that has such a huge staff team? Why do we believe in that? Why do we think it’s important? What does the consumer get from that?” she added. “How do we handle a transaction differently than, a broker that may have 20 times the transactions?”
Once Bergmark reflected on the brokerage’s past and present, she began thinking a lot about Red Oak’s future, which she said is the key to creating a rebrand that has longevity. “It’s not just considering where you are, but where you want to go,” she said. “You have to think bigger than just where you are today.”
“It took us about six months of just meeting with agents, talking with management, going through our story going through our values, and really kind of distilling down who we are as a company,” she added.
Nartey embarked on a similar process that focused more on Globl Red’s future since the company was only a year old. “I think a brand at its core, is really an extraction of the core values and value proposition of the individual that’s creating it, and translating it into a logo and into a system that other agents and ultimately the consumer will buy into.”
“You have to understand the core competencies of your brand, understand the messaging of your brand and what you’re trying to convey,” he said. “I thought about the kind of clients I had, and whether they’d be happy to travel the world with the Globl Red brand on their backpack or go to the gym with a Globl Red shirt.”
Step 3: Get started on the redesign
After determining your “why” and getting your story down pat, it’s time to turn all of that into tangible products, such as a logo, social media graphics, new signage and marketing materials. Although fun, Bergmark said this is the most difficult part of the process and often requires professional help from a marketing firm that knows how to translate your values into a brand that resonates.
“We hired 1000 Watt, which is a pretty popular name in the industry,” she said. “Our biggest challenge was taking our story and figuring out what does that story look like on paper and on digital. Frankly, when we had our original branding, it was powerful and well respected in the East Bay, but it didn’t translate into digital media very well.”
“What looked good 20 years ago on prints and on a sign didn’t necessarily translate into Instagram and all sorts of digital platforms,” she added.
Bergmark said she and 1000 Watt spent three to four months going through various iterations of the Red Oak Realty logo, color schemes, social media graphics, signage, marketing materials and other items they’d have to replace, such as branded pens and notepads. “It’s fun, but it’s a little bit emotional having to figure out and distill down who you are, into pixels and fonts and colors and content,” she said. “We hadn’t done that in a long time.”
The logo was the first thing Bergmark wanted to change, which used to be a boxed-in red tree with the brokerage’s name. The tree, she said, didn’t translate well on social media and didn’t provide the flexibility to make small changes for special causes or events.
“We’re in a very diverse market. The Bay Area is known for its cultural diversity, equity and inclusion,” she added. “We’ve actually gotten sort of a reputation for switching up our logo, even though we have a very specified logo that our agents have to use.”
“Whenever we’re trying to make a statement to our community, we’ll just infuse the logo with different colors, without saying anything. I think it makes a statement locally,” she added. “Red Oak is very outspoken about the way we feel and so we’ve used our logo as a platform to share our support for certain issues.”
Nartey took a more DIY approach to the renaming and redesign process, with him running through brokerage names, color schemes and logo ideas with his wife, Mimi, a successful entrepreneur that’s led a few branding processes of her own.
“I have a very small test group that I typically run things by. They’re called wife and kids,” he said with a laugh. “I am able to trust my gut a little bit more because I feel like I have a hidden talent for brand creation.”
Although much of the process was done alone, Nartey pulled in Side Real Estate, which runs the backend for Globl Red to refine the final designs for the logo and other marketing materials.
“I would send them my ideas and when it came to actually executing the logo, I described what I wanted and they sent me back different versions of it until we found a winner,” he said.
Both leaders conducted some brand testing with senior agents and consumers but were sure not to take on too many opinions.
“We did go to some of the agents when we were more specific about the direction we were going. I just asked for subtle input on fonts and signage,” Bergmark said. “But we really did keep agents out of it. At the time we had 100 agents and we would’ve gotten 100 different opinions.”
“We just basically listened to the company that we hired, who was very smart and had been down that road before,” she added. “We followed their advice and followed our gut instinct.”
Step 4: Roll It Out
Here’s where the rubber meets the road — rolling out the rebrand to the public. Bergmark and Nartey said the rollout process is more time-consuming and expensive than most broker-owners think, as you have to not only pay for the cost of producing new materials but the cost of pulling every single marketing material with the old branding.
“First of all, [rebranding] is never just the cost of hiring the company and coming up with the new materials,” she said. “It’s then getting every single piece of your production that you already have out there, out of production, and putting all everything new into production.”
“There’s a timing and logistics issue. There were so many things I didn’t even remember we had out — calendars, pens, swag items, our signage all over the streets, for-sale signs, a-frames, business cards, headshots, websites, social media accounts and other printed items. I think there was something like 172 items we had to get back,” she added. “Everyone was just like keeping a few [old] things, and we said, ‘Nope, nope you’ve got to hand over all of that.’”
Swag from Red Oak’s rebrand launch.
Although the initial rollout of the new branding happens over a couple of months, Bergmark said a full rollout takes roughly a year, as you find more things you have repurchase to fit new branding materials.
“We changed the whole postcard layout to tie with the brand, and we then realized the new postcards wouldn’t fit in the packages we had,” she said. “The signs were bigger, so we had to purchase new sign riders and get them all over to the new companies all across the bay area. The logistics are crazy.”
She said broker-owners also have to figure in the cost of any special events they want to do around the rebrand, such as a launch party, and future rebranding costs for any brokerages you may acquire.
“It was no joke. It was a high six-figure number to do the entire rebrand,” she said. “It’s a significant amount of money. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I think of it as renovations or remodeling. You don’t want to keep old windows or old sinks because you’re trying to save. If you’ve got to rebrand, I think you’ve got to go all in.”
The rollout process was a little simpler for Nartey, who relied on his brokerage partner to do the heavy lifting of getting the new branding materials into production. However, Nartey did a lot of the work of updating his and GLOBL RED’s digital presence, which he said broker-owners often forget to do.
“Remember there are so many places where your brand will live — the website, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and other sites that reference your professional biography, such your membership with affiliate groups,” he said. “It’s a task, but you have to do it.”
Step 5: Follow-up on the rebrand promise
Rebranding doesn’t stop with the rollout of a new logo, website or yard sign. In fact, Century21 CMO Cara Whitley said that’s only the beginning of a rebrand that will pay off for years to come.
“The rebrand was the first very visible step [of our repositioning] and we got tremendously positive feedback from both our existing agents and brokers, as well as prospective agents and brokers about that,” she said. “But we must continue to clearly articulate who we are for and what we stand for.”
Whitley said, ultimately, rebrands only work if a brokerage actually lives up to the story they’ve told through branding and marketing.
“We’re really about the agent who has a relentless mindset, and that’s very much about the mindset that we live and breathe every single day,” she added. “We launched our ‘Brilliant Statement’ with our standards of service. Our agents and franchisees are about delivering the basics really well every single day because if you are going to deliver an extraordinary experience, that really means that you are intentional where others aren’t.”
“That’s about being very consistent and going a little bit beyond every single day throughout that entire journey of buying and selling a home,” she added. “Over the past decade, the most innovative companies have raised the bar on consumer experiences. On an industry front, we believe the standards need to be raised for real estate consumers, they should never settle for less than 121 percent.”
Furthermore, she said brokerages must use a rebrand to raise the bar on their level of service to consumers and agents.
“You always need to chase excellence and elevate the standards and expectations in the residential real estate business,” she said. “Coach, train, and measure [your] people so they can master the art [of real estate] and bring it to life every day for consumers.”
Email Marian McPherson