Who is the brand? The real estate agent? Or the real estate agency?
There are strongly held views on both sides of this debate but the reality is this is not a conversation we were having in Australia just a few years ago.
A real estate agency has traditionally been the brand in which a consumer associates with their real estate needs. When they needed a real estate agent, sellers, buyers and renters traditionally thought of a business/agency name first.
But in more recent times, with the growing number of tools such as social media – which allows agents to reach an audience on their own – consumers are becoming more familiar with the individual names within a real estate business. When it comes time to sell their property, a growing number of consumers have an agent’s name front-of-mind ahead of the brand they work for.
Some would argue that the agent works for the agency and therefore should put the brand ahead of themselves and not act like ‘rock stars’. There’s been some heated discussion on this exact topic in the media and I recall during an industry event in 2019 where the principals in the room were literally shouting at the representatives of one of our major property portals during their presentation, questioning their tactics over prioritising the agent ahead of the agency brand on their platform.
The argument was this: “We, as the owners of the business, are your (the portals) client. We pay your invoices, not the agent so, therefore, why would you be pushing agent profiles on your platform but provide less exposure for the agency brand in which they work?”
Since that time, the portal has released their agency profile platform, but nonetheless it was a very heated debate in the room that day which shows the sentiment from some business owners that the agency brand should come first.
Agency Brand Vs. Agent Brand
Some believe the agency brand is, and always should be put, first and that agents should align with the agency brand style guide and use the tools provided to them to champion the agency brand in which they work under rather than attempting to position themselves above the agency brand.
But some brands have gone in a slightly different direction and have given their agents much more freedom to run their own brand within the agency brand, providing support in the way of marketing, graphic design, software, analytics, AI (artificial intelligence), training, coaching (business and life) and much more.
Take Compass for example – the juggernaut that really championed the ‘agent first’ model in the modern era.
The company, now valued at more than $6.4 billion, is said to be the first company to have built a proprietary mobile app for real estate agents. The tools, resources and support provided to every agent are impressive to say the least.
Here are just a few of Compass’s unique offerings:
Called the Pinterest of real estate, this curated visual workspace allows agents and clients to collaborate in real-time. Agents and clients can easily organise homes, centralize their discussions, and monitor the market by receiving immediate status and price updates.
This personalised dashboard contains all the key data points agents need to craft a winning marketing strategy around audience and traffic information, uncover new lead-generation opportunities, and invest accordingly in the positioning of their listings.
The Compass digital design studio features a library of sophisticated designs so that Compass agents can create customised, personalised and localised marketing materials in minutes.
Compass Markets for the first mobile app that puts real-time residential real estate data at an agents’ fingertips, allowing them to instantly access the most recent transaction data as well as historic sales trends.
Compass CRM is a customer relationship management platform that empowers agents to nurture relationships, close more sales and stay one step ahead with insights powered by artificial intelligence.
In markets like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles where the dominant market share was traditionally held by some very large and long-standing brokerages, Compass has made a big dent in their dominance since starting the company only 8 years ago, not to mention the migration of many prominent agents who have ‘jumped ship’ to Compass.
There have been similar business models launched in Australia that we’re all now familiar with, such as The Agency, in that they are putting the agent squarely at the forefront with the belief that the agency brand succeeds when their agents succeed.
Small things matter.
Not a day goes by that we don’t have conversations with agents all over Australia who are leaving their agency brand because of, what they say, is a lack of innovation or underinvestment in the tools, training and support they say they need to compete in their market.
We regularly hear from agency principals within franchise groups who, in some cases, have been with a particular brand for 15+ years and are leaving the franchise to go independent or join another franchise for similar reasons as to why agents are switching agency brands – a lack of innovation.
Something as simple as not being able to control the content on their website is seeding doubt in the minds of agency principals as to whether their franchise group can provide them with the tools they need to compete at their best. It might be small, but it matters – and that is the point.
The conversation will continue in real estate as to how much freedom an agent should have to market themselves or how they should position their own brand from within an agency brand. But something that is not up for debate is that individual agents and agency principals within franchise groups want to know that innovation is a constant, not just a few little projects or software implementations. And especially not any pie-in-the-sky ideas that never come to fruition.
The Compass approach to empowering agents and giving them resources to market themselves in their own unique way is a compelling proposition for those agents who like to be independent and run their business within a business with ultimate freedom on how they can position their own personal brand.
But then there are agency brands with a constant focus on innovation, with a strong presence in their market, great data management, a commitment to providing their agents with the latest in technology and their agency brand equity reigns supreme over any individual person within the business.
Both of these models can co-exist with equal success and there are obviously matters such as commission splits, team culture and many other recruitment/retention strategies that need to be factored into this discussion, but the point here is this…
Don’t ever let anyone in your business feel that they don’t have the tools, resources and support to perform at their best. No matter how small their request is.
What do you think?
Is the trend toward agent-empowered business models the way of the future for real estate? I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.