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134: Karin Forster: Branding In Real Estate: A Guide to Defining and Building a Powerful Brand

By |April 23, 2018| No Comments

Every day, real estate businesses and individual agents fight for market share, the attention of their prospects, and sales. Sadly, in the eyes of many consumers, every real estate business does the same thing and only the strongest brands survive and thrive.

Among the strongest are the brands that just “get it.” They know who they are, who their prospects are, and how to reach their prospects in a way that speaks to them and encourages loyalty. But they don’t stop there. Powerful brands always grow. They understand that to stay ahead, they must evolve as technology changes along with the way consumers think and buy.

To explore the steps you need to take to build a powerful real estate brand, I interview branding strategist and advisor Karin Forster.

On this episode of Real Estate Pros, Karin explains the steps to successfully re-branding your business, starting a new brand from scratch or building your personal brand as an individual agent.

About Karin

Karin Forster is a Certified Practising Marketer (CPM) who is a highly motivated and results orientated consultant, with over 15 years’ experience across varied global companies (eg. Sanpellegrino, World Vision, YMCA) and across multiple industries including Finance, FMCG, Not-for profit, Property and more recently helping Residential Real Estate business owners and independent agents refresh their marketing and brand strategies to maximise sales opportunities and brand equity.

In 2012 she founded her consulting business Sodablue that focuses on bringing to life strategies and overseeing the implementation of these to ensure meaningful results. Karin believes that success is not just in developing customer-centric marketing strategies but also the oversight of ensuring the strategies are implemented successfully.

What is branding?

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.

What are the steps to building a successful brand?

Spoiler alert! It doesn’t start with designing a logo or picking colours. Karin believes that truly great brands dive deep into understanding what they stand for, who they are and who their customers are, well before picking a logo or colours for their style guide.

“I believe real estate businesses start with a logo because that’s the tangible part of the brand. It’s visual. But the logo is really the tip of the iceberg and it’s really about understanding and exploring the foundations (of your brand) first that makes it a great brand.”

Karin uses the example of Nike – while their logo is known by almost everyone on the planet, Nike is known for much more than their famous tick or signature tag line “Just Do It”.

It all starts with defining who you are, well before what your logo will look like.

Step 1. Know your objectives

What are you trying to achieve with your brand? Is it awareness? Is it sales? Is it presence?

Step 2. Map out your brand foundations

Be clear about your vision, your personality and your brand essence.

Step 3. Determine how you will measure success

Based on your objective in step 1, what (and how often) will you measure to determine if your brand is actually moving the needle.

Step 4. Keep your organisation accountable

Commit to your brand vision and reviewing the results.

Tune into the podcast for all of Karin’s tips and strategies for successfully branding (or re-branding) your real estate business.


Full Transcript:

Josh Cobb: Hi everyone, Digital Marketing Advisor, Josh Cobb here from Stepps. Welcome to our first episode of the podcast for 2018. We’ve been busy producing lots of shorter video tips and strategies over the past few months, so I’m excited to get back behind the microphone today for a deeper dive into a very important topic in real estate. Today we’re going to talk about [00:00:30] branding and everything you need to know before diving into a rebrand or starting a new brand from scratch.

So if you’re an individual agent or a business owner, or even a business development manager in the property management department, this is certainly a show you don’t want to miss. And to help us make us all smarter about branding, I’m pleased to be joined by a true expert in the branding space. Today I’m speaking with Karin Forster. Karin is a certified Practising Marketer with over 15 years experience across varied [00:01:00] global companies including Sanpellegrino, World Vision and YMCA, just to name a few. And across multiple industries including our beloved real estate industry.

Karin has more recently started assisting residential real estate business owners and independent agents refresh their brand strategies to maximise sales opportunities and brand equity, something I know all of you want more of. Not only that, Karin and her company, Sodablue, have also partnered with us here at Stepps to help [00:01:30] deliver an end to end branding marketing strategy and execution solution for real estate businesses and individual agents. So I’m excited to have Karin join us for a chat today and without further ado, Karin, thanks for joining us on the podcast.

Karin Forster: Thanks Josh. It’s a pleasure to be here and thanks for having me on.

Josh Cobb: It’s great to have you and I gave our listeners just a quick snapshot but can you fill in some gaps from our intro. Tell us a little bit more about you personally and give us a little glimpse into what a typical day looks [00:02:00] like for you these days?

Karin Forster: Oh sure, Josh. I think your intro was very lovely, so I don’t think there’s too much add there. However, I guess from a personal point of view, I’m a mom and I’ve got two little ones which I love dearly, and I love some fitness, time, running, water skiing, jet skiing. I did that over the weekend which was lovely.

Josh Cobb: Lovely.

Karin Forster: Yeah, and I guess for me personally, from a professional point of view, [00:02:30] I have a real passion for helping businesses and more recently real estate agencies build their marketing, and their brands to make them be meaningful and actually matter in the market today. So, that’s my personal passion in this area in particular. But as far as a typical day goes, well, that’s an interesting one, there probably isn’t one. It’s very varied and the work of developing [00:03:00] strategies can take the form of desk research, workshopping with clients, lots of workshops so that takes me to many different destinations and businesses and coaches, which is always interesting.

Lots of meetings with key suppliers like videographers, website strategists, designers, copywriters, and also surveying the public. Because market research is obviously very important when developing a strategy and I [00:03:30] have been known to hit the streets and do some street talk too. So, that always brings a bit of fun to my day too.

Josh Cobb: Very cool, very cool, it sounds certainly the role of a brand strategist, or a branding expert like yourself is very much the … You’re like the puppet master in a lot of ways. You’re looking after all of those different stakeholders to make sure that it all comes together at the end of the day to produce a solid brand.

Karin Forster: Exactly, exactly [00:04:00] and it’s all about really understanding the client and the culture of the organisation that they’re working in, and where they want to go and journeying with them to reach those objectives and goals that they have for their brand.

Josh Cobb: Well, let’s get stuck into it, Karin. Branding is such or brand is such … And we were just talking about this before we hit record, that brand is such a difficult thing for so many people and business owners and real estate agents to get their head [00:04:30] around and get this thing right or even their personal brand if they’re an individual agent. We’ve all heard the saying, “Brand is not what you say it is, it’s what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” In your own words, what is a brand and why is branding a real estate business or an individual agent so important to get right?

Karin Forster: Good question, so for me the simple answer for branding, it exists in the mind of a customer or in this case, vendors or buyers, [00:05:00] so it’s in all their perceptions, their experiences, their expectations, and individual holds in their mind. Which is where the slippery bit is or the grey matter bit is, is that so much can happen in a customer’s mind and especially today in this day and age where the customer is very much in control of the messaging that they want to hear.

So I guess that, put simply, that’s how I see [00:05:30] what is a brand. As far as how and why it’s so important for real estate businesses to get it right, I think it’s because it positions you in the mind of the client or the buyer in a way that will help you deliver the expectations that that client may have be that on your services or results that they perceive are important to experience when they engage you. So [00:06:00] this can in turn obviously affect an increase in sales revenue and your brand equity if it’s done right.

It’s important for the customer that it’s done right so that they’re coming and being attracted to the right agency that will fulfil their expectations that are held in their mind. But it’s also really important for the agency to get it right or the agent to get it right because it will very much help increase sales revenue and brand equity.

Josh Cobb: Well, something that a lot of people start with [00:06:30] when they talk about branding … These are just from the discussions that we have with real estate agents, I’d say it’s universal, Karin, from all over the world, the people that we interact with in our business. The first thing that a real estate agent or a business owner says is, “We need a new logo. We’re going through a rebrand or a brand refresh.” And the first thing, the very first thing that they think they need or they believe deeply that they need is a new logo or a new colour style guide.

[00:07:00] What would you say to business owners and real estate agents that are kind of starting at that point? Where should they be starting? Is that the right place to start or what are some of the considerations that they might need to consider if they might need a refresh when they’re starting a new brand? Where should they start?

Karin Forster: Yeah, look, I think it’s a good question again, Josh. I think the reason I believe agencies usually look to the logo first is because that’s the tangible part of the brand. It’s visual, it’s there, and most people’s [00:07:30] understanding of brand is the logo or the visual identity if you want to make it a broader definition. But brand is actually about the foundations below the logo, so the logo is really the tip of the iceberg is what I usually say to my clients.

It’s really about understanding and exploring the foundations first of a brand that makes it a great brand. Unfortunately, [00:08:00] those bits are the intangible parts which people find it hard, like you said at the start, to get their head around. So this is talking about the vision of the company, the personality traits of the company, the brand promise, the brand essence, and the customer experience which is huge today, the experience side of the brand. Another example I give to my clients is around Nike. Nike is a great brand, we all know it, it’s a very powerful, very successful [00:08:30] brand.

If you look at Nike, their logo is a simple tick, very simple. It’s a well crafted tick, it’s a memorable logo, yes. But if I actually asked you about what you love about Nike, it’s probably not the tick, it’s probably everything that Nike stands for, and the experiences you receive around that brand, and the products and services that they deliver to you. Which all has a strategy and a positioning in mind that they are very [00:09:00] serious about and invest around. There very much is a reason why people buy Louis Vuitton bags versus the Kate Spade bag or a Sportsgirl bag, you know, talking to my own kind.

Josh Cobb: Well, I’m going to pretend for a minute, Karin, that I know all of those brands.

Karin Forster: Yeah, very stylish brands there Josh out there.

Josh Cobb: I’ll take your word for it.

Karin Forster: But also I guess there’s Sportsgirl of the day as well. Obviously, they are different price points [00:09:30] but the reason that they can charge a higher price is because of the experience that they are giving their clients. So we as society is backing … The days that I worked at Sanpellegrino, we were selling water … Well, no, we weren’t, we were actually selling the Italian lifestyle and what it meant to live in Italy. And that was the sections and things that we were trying to sell there, not water. So, unfortunately, most people think [00:10:00] that it starts with just the logo but that’s the tip of the iceberg.

That’s actually the last bit that we look at when we go through a process of a rebrand is the creative execution. The fist bit we want to look at is the foundations, what they are doing, the vision, the personality etc. of the brand, and the company culture. Because that would drive the experience that people will receive.

Josh Cobb: Well, what are some of the mistakes that individual agents and business owners make when they’re either rebranding or starting a new brand [00:10:30] altogether?
Karin Forster: Look, I think it’s a temptation that we all have and that’s to start talking about the, one, the logo, the visuals, but also the things like, “How about we get some new pens going? Maybe we need to get a new mug or a new calendar or …” We go down to the land of marketing tactics, you know, “Maybe we should get onto Instagram and do some more there or maybe our website isn’t working.” So we go into that land of tactics again because they’re so tangible and they’re so much easier to talk about than [00:11:00] these foundational pieces.

So I like to always start the process with the brand and the business strategy and understanding the business goals, then looking at the brand strategy which then follows down to your marketing strategy. And then those tactics that I just talked about, go under that. So they’re quite further down so that again that temptation to go into tactic mode instead of knowing then, “What are we about? What are we trying to deliver to our customer? How are we trying to position [00:11:30] ourselves differently in the market?” Which there’s a huge opportunity, especially, for the property and real estate industry to start looking at how to position themselves differently.

Not just looking at price but going further than that and looking at the things that Australians are actually craving that brands start talking to them about and start engaging them with. Havas, which is a large media group, have done a huge global study and it came out with Australians are [00:12:00] craving for brands to start connecting with them, and bringing meaning back into their lives through the brand. Which sounds a little bit strange to some people, but it’s actually very important. And this study showed 10 sectors, the top 10 sectors that were actually connecting with brands but Australians feel that a lot of these sectors weren’t doing it well enough for what the Australian customer wants.
Unfortunately, property and real estate didn’t even hit the top 10, so let’s [00:12:30] estimate there’s huge opportunity for real estate agencies and agents to understand what Australians are wanting when they connect with a brand and provide that to them, so that they’re positioned in a way that matters.

Josh Cobb: I just want to deep dive into that point just a little bit more, Karin, the idea of not just defaulting to the tactics of marketing and advertising because they’re the easy bits, right? As you said that [00:13:00] they’re tangible, you can update a logo, that you can … Real estate agents and business owners I’ve found they are very visual people, they like to be able to see things in front of them before they make a decision on what they do. So I think defaulting to those things is the easy way out of branding. I really like the idea of slowing down to speed up and having a clear strategy in place, a documented strategy, that the whole business follows.

The one [00:13:30] thing I wanted to ask you is, what have you found business owners and agents that have gone through that process with you and have mapped out a strategy and the brand essence and the brand meaning and all of the above, do they have a lot more clarity moving forward? Does it remove a lot of the guesswork out of should we be on Instagram, should we be on Facebook, do we need a new website? Does it give them a lot more clarity? And what are some of the tangible benefits as a result of that process?

Karin Forster: [00:14:00] Yeah, good question. Look, clarity definitely comes through going through that process and looking at your vision, what your purpose is, what you’re trying to achieve. To then workout whether you need to implement and use certain marketing channels for your brand. Once you know who your target audience is and what they do in their day to day, it becomes a lot clearer [00:14:30] to whether you need an Instagram account because is your target audience on Instagram? They may be, they may not be. Are they on Twitter? They may be, they may not be.

Customers have a preference between social media networks, so I think that it is really important to understand your vision, your purpose, your business goals first and up front and have them very clear. And then look at your target audience and understand them deeply because [00:15:00] you want to be ultimately where your target audience is. So they may be at a conference, they may be at the local school, they may be reading a certain magazine. But until you know what they’re actually doing during their week and during their month, you can spend a lot of time, resources and money and effort creating campaigns and doing letterbox drops, [00:15:30] creating new websites, doing innovative viral campaigns, and things, but they don’t actually reach your target audience.

And it’s your target audience that are going to generate the sales and the revenue and bring business into your door. So I think it’s very important to, as you say, slow it down and look at what you’re actually trying to achieve with your business goals, and whether these marketing tools like these or many out there now that you [00:16:00] can use, which ones actually will help you achieve those business goals that you have.

Josh Cobb: I think but naturally in real estate we look a lot at what other agents are doing and we copy what they’re doing, tactics. We copy their Facebook page, their Instagram account. A story that I’ve shared multiple times, Karin, is we were called in to work with or by a business owner in Sydney, and I won’t mention who it is, but basically [00:16:30] they said to us, “Well, our competition are all Facebook, we know we need to spend more time on social media. They’re getting lots of … They’ve got a huge following, they’re getting lots of comments and likes and shares all over their Facebook posts. We have to be on Facebook, we know we’re missing out.”

We started having a look at the kind of people that live in their local market, the people that have purchased property, their clients, and their obvious prospects and both from sales and property management. [00:17:00] And we discovered that most of the people that have purchased property and are getting them to manage their properties in this area of Sydney are actually not on social media. It is a very small demographic of people in their local market that they service that are actually using Facebook.

So we had a look at what they are doing and what they do do in this particular area of Sydney, is they spend a lot of time at coffee shops and cafes, and at the local gym, and that sort of thing. They’re more very [00:17:30] astute people and they’re very private people, so they don’t tend to spend a lot of time on Facebook. So what this business owner decided to do was very much against the grain of what their competitors were doing, they opened a coffee shop in their local market. And not under their brand name, but basically to service their local market just with good vibes I suppose.

The return on that investment is tenfold, the conversations that they’re having with the community are so much [00:18:00] deeper than their competitors are having just on Facebook with a quote of the day so to speak. So they’ve really understood their customer and they’ve really understood their … And they still do not have a Facebook, a strong Facebook, presence. They have a page to run ads for their listings and that sort of thing, but they’re not investing a huge amount of time there. They’re investing a huge amount of time of where their customers are.

So, Karin, if we look at that example, do you think real estate agents and business owners have [00:18:30] somewhat of an unhealthy habit with kind of just copying the competitors and really not spending the time understanding their audience on a deeper level? Do you think real estate has a little bit of an issue with that?

Karin Forster: Yeah, I do Josh, I do. I think there is a lot of competition out there in the real estate market naturally, and so there is, with that, a temptation to copy, reproduce, and do what others are doing instead [00:19:00] of actually looking at a little bit into the inner self. This is very much applicable to the personal branding side of things for agents, and to be authentic to who they are and who they connect with in the market and who their target audience is. I think this is a really important thing for the real estate industry in particular to really grasp is that if you know and understand your brand authentically, [00:19:30] it will become a lot clearer to what is appropriate to post on Instagram or Facebook coming from you as a person, as someone that is true to your own personal brand.

I find that some agents when we sit down and talk about it, they go, “Yeah, I’m on Facebook but I’m really not comfortable with it.” When we get further into the conversation, it’s not actually the technology that they’re not comfortable with, it’s actually that they’re not comfortable communicating [00:20:00] to their target audience because their target audience isn’t actually that comfortable with it either. Just like the example you gave before, and so it actually becomes a case of them actually not being authentic to themselves and their brand and how they do sales that comes out of that conversation.

Josh Cobb: Let’s move on, Karin, and have a look at some of the steps if we wanted to put it into some tangible steps for business owners or real estate agents whether they’re going through a rebrand or starting a new [00:20:30] brand. We’ve kind of spoken about some of them already but if we can break it down into a few different steps, what would your advice be on getting the most out of that process of either a rebrand or starting a new brand?

Karin Forster: Yeah, I’d look at step one being know your objectives. So what are you trying to achieve with your brand? Is it awareness, is it sales, is it presence? And ask yourself, can you actually do that with your existing brand? Do you need to spend [00:21:00] time, money, or resources on generating a new logo or a new look and feel, or is it actually about, as you said before Josh, slowing the process down? Looking at building a strategy and a plan that can sharpen your focus to your target audience? So, yes, step one would be definitely know your objectives, what you’re trying to achieve.

So step two, have your foundations of your brand mapped out. So, know that strategy [00:21:30] that you’ve got and have it clearly articulated, your vision, your personality, your brand essence. And have that mapped out to know where your brand is heading. So be clear on the benefits and the features that you’re trying to promote, so yes, step two is have those foundations. Step three would be determine how you will actually measure success. Branding can be a hard thing to measure but at the same time with the digital age and the tools that are available now [00:22:00] you can definitely measure and check results.

And then the other thing that is part of that is to work out how often you’re going to check in to look at those results? Is it going to be every quarter or every year, but definitely to put in place that process of an annual review. Because a lot of marketing today is and brand work today is test and learn, test and learn. It’s important to do exactly that, the first idea may not work well and that’s [00:22:30] okay. Work out why it didn’t work and then you can actually test it again, you don’t have to shelve the idea at that point.

But to do that you need to have that process of how you’re going to measure success in place. And then step four finally would be keep your organisation accountable. So strategies that I’ve worked on that are most successful are the ones that have commitment to the implementation process, and exactly what I talked about before, reviewing it over that [00:23:00] two-year process that the strategy would be rolled out. It’s usually a two to five year strategy process but have that commitment upfront to journey along the implementation. Because technology is evolving, the customer is evolving, so there needs to be this checking all the time to see that your strategy is actually achieving and changing the perceptions of the customer that you’re hoping it to.

Josh Cobb: Well, Karin, before we wrap things up, [00:23:30] what is one thing that you want our listeners to take away from our chat today?

Karin Forster: Look, I think the one thing would be just to encourage listeners that Australians are out there and they’re wanting to connect and build a relationship with brands. So I’d just encourage you to go out there and start working on your brand strategy. You’re in a brand, understand it and do that before you go out and create a logo or [00:24:00] a visual identity to support that.

Josh Cobb: I love that. Well, Karin, I’d like to thank you for your time, knowledge and advice today. We’re super happy to have you onboard with doing some work with some of our clients here at Stepps as well. How can people get in touch with you if they’d like to know more about how you can help them with their business?

Karin Forster: Yeah, so thanks Josh for the chat. It’s been great. People can definitely feel free to either email me at, or alternatively, they can give me a call on my mobile. I’m [00:24:30] always happy to chat.

Josh Cobb: Fantastic, and if you’d like to know more please head across to We’ve got all of the information about all of the show notes from today, obviously, on this episode of the podcast. All of the information about the services that Karin can engage with yourself as an individual agent or as a business owner, and it will certainly provide you with a lot of clarity moving forward. If you are thinking about a rebrand or starting a brand from scratch, certainly reach out and Karin would be delighted to have a [00:25:00] chat too. So thanks again Karin, I hope you have a great day, and we’ll talk again soon.

Karin Forster: All right, thanks Josh.

Josh Cobb: You’ve been listening to the Real Estate Pros Podcast. If you’d like to go deeper with your marketing this year, visit to learn about our popular upcoming workshops. And until next time, I’m Josh Cobb, thanks for tuning in.

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