Monthly Archives: November 2009

Evaluating Professionals: Imperfect Solution for an Imperfect World

Original posted on The Notorious R.O.B by Rob Hahn.

Judgment Day Cometh

Agent ratings are back in the conversation, thanks to this scintillating op/ed by Kris Berg (link is for Inman premium subscribers only) who is one of the best writers in real estate today.  I have written about this topic before (here and here) and it continues to fascinate and puzzle me still.

Kris’s point essentially boils down to the fact that providing real estate brokerage service is one fraught with emotion, with unpredictable clients who don’t know what it is that a realtor actually does for them, who cannot make rational evaluations of how good or bad an agent really is.  Quantitative metrics don’t provide accurate ratings, in Kris’s view, because those focus on production rather than service.  Customer surveys are flawed because customers are ignorant on the one hand, and nuts on the other hand, and are too often influenced by how the transaction itself went down rather than how the realtor performed.

All of her points are, I think, valid and true.

Sadly, they are all irrelevant to some extent.

Fact is, agent ratings are already here in places like Yelp and Angie’s List.  Consumers will talk, will evaluate, and will rate realtors (as they do every other service provider) on their FaceBook pages, on blogs, on websites, and with each other in person.  It’s going to happen whatever the merits of such ratings.

The real issue, then, isn’t whether such rating systems are good or bad or inaccurate or legitimate, but who will do the rating and how they will do it.

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Evaluating Professionals: Imperfect Solution for an Imperfect World

Judgment Day Cometh

Judgment Day Cometh

Agent ratings are back in the conversation, thanks to this scintillating op/ed by Kris Berg (link is for Inman premium subscribers only) who is one of the best writers in real estate today.  I have written about this topic before (here and here) and it continues to fascinate and puzzle me still.

Kris’s point essentially boils down to the fact that providing real estate brokerage service is one fraught with emotion, with unpredictable clients who don’t know what it is that a realtor actually does for them, who cannot make rational evaluations of how good or bad an agent really is.  Quantitative metrics don’t provide accurate ratings, in Kris’s view, because those focus on production rather than service.  Customer surveys are flawed because customers are ignorant on the one hand, and nuts on the other hand, and are too often influenced by how the transaction itself went down rather than how the realtor performed.

All of her points are, I think, valid and true.

Sadly, they are all irrelevant to some extent.

Fact is, agent ratings are already here in places like Yelp and Angie’s List.  Consumers will talk, will evaluate, and will rate realtors (as they do every other service provider) on their FaceBook pages, on blogs, on websites, and with each other in person.  It’s going to happen whatever the merits of such ratings.

The real issue, then, isn’t whether such rating systems are good or bad or inaccurate or legitimate, but who will do the rating and how they will do it.

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Giving Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving, and despite our culture’s continuous pull to rename this day Turkey Day or some such and shift the focus to the feasting, I’d like to keep the focus on the actual point of the day: giving thanks to the Almighty, and to family, friends, and others for the life we have.

First, I give thanks for my family and for my two wonderful, happy, rambunctious boys who are sure to drive their mom and dad to premature grey, potential alcohol abuse, and poverty as they eat us out of house and hearth.  The joy they give me is unparalleled, and watching them go from mewling human-larvae to little boys is a profound experience that gives meaning to each and every day.

I give thanks that I am an American and live in the United States.  Even as we march steadily towards European-style socialism and decay, there is still no doubt that this is the greatest country in the history of human existence.  It’s something that people who haven’t lived elsewhere don’t fully appreciate.  In no other country on earth could I have started a company as easily and as quickly as I have here, and been given the opportunities that I have been given this year.  Freedom, sweet Freedom… every single American owes thanks that we enjoy a life that the rest of the world only dreams of.

Which means, of course, that I am grateful to the men and women of the American military.  It is not the Constitution that guarantees our freedom: it is our military.  It is not the lawyers and community activists who provide us with freedom: it is our military.  It is not the politicians, the journalists, the pundits, the cosmopolitan know-it-alls who would guide us to a “better future” who give us freedom: it is the poorly paid, oft-maligned soldiers who the elites think are idiots and morons who do.  The greatest human rights organization in the history of the world is the United States military; they have freed more people from bondage, brought liberation and equality to more men and women, and saved the lives of more human beings than all other so-called human rights organizations put together.  They stand on the wall, face the dangers, and pay the ultimate price so that the rest of us can be blithely ignorant of how dangerous and cruel the world really is.  I am thankful for them, and grateful to them.

I am grateful to the clients of 7DS Associates, my little fledgling venture.  All of them have taken chances with a brand new company, on a guy with an unproven track record as a strategy consultant, and I am profoundly grateful to each and every one of them.  We won’t let you down.

I am thankful for my partner, Jeff Corbett, who is often the yin to my yang, and who puts up with thunderous snoring on the road and a constant stream of dumb ideas.  We will build greatness, my friend.

And of course, I am grateful to each and every one of you, the readers of Notorious R.O.B.  I never dreamed when I started this blog in January of 2008 that I would have even a dozen readers.  I figured this is where I’d just scribble about random things on real estate, technology, and marketing and maybe get a few other weirdoes commenting or going back and forth with me on esoteric topics.  Instead, many of you have slogged through things like a 15,000 word essay on military counterintelligence doctrine and its applicability to real estate sales, and some of you have provided invaluable insight and argumentation that have helped me learn and challenge my own thinking.  NROB is still not the highest trafficked blog by any stretch of the imagination — I think I get about 500 visitors on an average week — but I daresay the Notorious community is one of the most engaged, most educated, most insightful, and most active in the RE.net.  You guys all rock!  Thank you.

Some other things I am thankful for:

  • 2009 New York Yankees
  • The entire REBarCamp movement
  • Robin Skouteris
  • Female vocalists, especially in techno/trance music
  • Blip.fm, for creating the single most distracting “social media” toy ever
  • Dunkin Donuts coffee
  • Whoever invented fantasy football
  • The engineers at Apple
  • Mike, Wendy, and Jeff for one unforgettable (even if you tried, and I have) evening
  • The RPR, for providing me with the highest three day traffic total ever
  • Mark Steyn, for writing and continuing to write
  • Glenn Reynolds
  • The Lucky Strike Social Media Club and the regulars who show up, even from California
  • City of Philadelphia, for inventing the cheesesteak sandwich
  • City of Buffalo, for y’know… the wings
  • Mark Sanchez, for reminding me of the limits of expectations on a rookie
  • Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, for reminding me that one year does not make a trend
  • The Discount Yacht Supplies store somewhere in Newport Beach area for exemplifying irony
  • The Hughes brothers for an interesting angle on real estate brokerage business models
  • Verizon Wireless, for not being AT&T

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

-rsh

Reflections from REBlogWorld ’09: Branding in the Social Age

Original posted on The Notorious R.O.B by Rob Hahn.

Greetings from Las Vegas — I’m not sure what time it is, even though I’ve been fully awake for, oh, a few hours.  But some of the discussions at REBlogWorld 2009 have been so great that I wanted to get something posted now.

One of the more interesting sessions for me personally was the Branding in the Social Age session with luminaries like Jeff Turner (@respres), David Armano (@armano), Todd Carpenter (@tcar), and Ian Lurie (@portentint), moderated by a luminary herself, Nicole Nicolay (@nik_nik).  I thought the insights were interesting, and the brainpower on that panel was impressive.

There was one point, however, which I suppose yours truly raised, that could use some elaboration and explication: multiple brand layers and how they function in social media.  I was genuinely curious what branding experts, especially those from outside our industry, like David and Ian, had to say about the issue — and I don’t know that they understood the issue.  Plus, the inimitable Bill Lublin (@billlublin) had his views on the matter, but I’m uncertain that he understood the context.  So the fault is mine for failing to set the stage adequately and explain precisely what I meant, and why I think this is an issue.

Re-Exploring Multi-Layer Brands

I originally wrote about multi-layer branding back in February.  In that post, I talked about what I think is the branding issue for REALTORS: unlike just about any other industry, each individual REALTOR is encouraged to have a personal brand identity.  And yet, the totality of the brand of a REALTOR is comprised of several levels that all try to create its own branding, its own value proposition, and its own differentiation.


I know this graphic is relatively poor, but it’ll have to serve:

brand-layers











Yay, brand layer cake for everyone!


My thought back then was that starting from the base of “licensees” (i.e., people who have a real estate license), each “layer” conducts branding exercises whether through advertising, public relations, communications, and whatever else it has at its disposal.  And because each layer is larger than the elements beneath it, the effect of that branding is transferred in part to the layers underneath.

So for example, NAR, the National Association of REALTORS, brands the term “REALTOR” as a licensee with superior ethics and knowledge.  Then underneath that, the national franchise like RE/MAX would brand its agents as the most qualified, the best educated, most knowledgeable, and so on, including specific statements like: “RE/MAX agents average more sales than other real estate agents. They are better qualified to set the right price for the homes they list, better equipped to market those homes, and likely to find clients engaged in the homebuying process in a shorter period of time.”  And on on down the line, until we get to the individual REALTOR who might boast about her track record, certifications, and so on.  At each level, the entities are trying to brand themselves as distinct from and superior to competitors.

I posited that this wasn’t a major problem with traditional marketing, when wider “reach” (or perhaps wider “focus”) necessarily meant greater generalization, such that the individual agent can build on top of the brand(s) above her, which in turn can build on the brand(s) above them.  But, I hypothesized, that this matrix of brand value disintegrates in social media context where the connection and the branding is far more proximate between the lower layers and the ultimate consumer.  Someone reading an agent’s local real estate blog is experiencing that agent’s personal brand, in the social age.  The brand ‘above’ her might actually conflict with what she’s writing about day in and day out.

What’s more interesting is that because social media could set up direct relationships between the consumer and an organization, the over-brands could end up becoming the primary brand in the mind of the consumer.  A large brokerage company with a superlative blog, Twitter outreach, and so on could set itself up in the consumer’s mind as the go-to company for real estate in a wide area, thereby frustrating the personal branding efforts of the individuals in the ‘underbrand’.

Overbrands and Underbrands

Again, because I didn’t explain the issue/question well enough, let me offer mea culpas all around.  The non-realestistas on the panel missed the point.  Ian’s thought was, “Screw the big brands; work the personal brand.”  David’s thought was something like, “If you work for a company, then be a good corporate citizen; if you’re on our own, then work your own brand.”  Bill Lublin’s objection to my question I think was something like, “NAR’s advertising is member-driven, so it’s okay.”

All very good points — but since my question was about the interaction between ‘overbrands’ and ‘underbrands’ (which, like I said, I didn’t explain well enough), none of them were precisely on point.

But several of their other points are very much on point.

First, Ian Lurie’s story about Alaska Airlines and how they had to fight the “industry brand” of the airlines hit home for me.  His point was that despite having truly superior customer service and social media outreach, Alaska Airlines constantly has to fight the consumer expectation that ‘traditional’ airlines are going to suck.

Second, all of the panelists spoke about how “brand” isn’t just message and advertising, but delivery of value, customer service, and meeting expectations.  Jeff Turner in particularly spoke about understanding, articulating, and then living the organization’s values.

That there is some good stuff! Now, let’s apply it to real estate, and see what falls out.

The first thing that strikes me is that across the board, the panel agreed (or seemed to agree) that actions speak far louder than words when it comes to branding in the social age.  The smallest infraction of the brand promise gets amplified by the social web, as networked and interconnected consumers spread the word.  In the social age, it isn’t enough to have pretty words on the corporate HQ’s lobby walls: you gotta walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

The second thing that strikes me is that like Alaska Airlines, many REALTORS are fighting the existing negative brand of the industry.  The top-level brand, that of REALTOR, suggests that members of NAR are ethical and knowledgeable… unlike those other guys who are unqualified crooks.  And at each level, the unspoken assumption seems to me to be that our people are great in a bunch of ways, unlike those other guys.

But as the panel said, it’s about action — about values, and living those values.  So how does all that work for the overbrands and the underbrands?  That’s my real question: the interaction between the overbrands and the underbrands in the social age, when action speak louder than words….

If Only Personal Brand Matters

Now, it may be that as Ian Lurie suggested, the overbrands don’t matter one bit in real estate.  The conventional wisdom is that consumers hire an agent, a person they know and trust, rather than a company or a brand.  That might be true; the data to say one way or the other is somewhat lacking.

Here’s the thing: if it is true that only the personal brand matters, and that individual REALTORS are therefore the primary locus of the brand values even in the consumer’s mind, then that position has consequences.  For one thing, the overbrands then have no incentive whatsoever to care about raising the bar.  If I’m RE/MAX, I don’t have to live my values of higher quality agents; that brand doesn’t mean anything anyway.  So I might as well maximize my revenues by signing up anyone with a pulse, as long as there’s marginal profits to be had with each such agent.  Because only the personal brand matters.  Ultimately, then, none of the brands, none of the brokerages, none of anything matters except for the individual personal brand.

That isn’t an outcome the industry wants or needs.

And it isn’t an outcome I consider likely because I think the overbrands do mean something.  It isn’t clear to me what each layer means, how much of its brand promise/value proposition gets passed down, how the underbrands affect overbrands, and how all of this works inside the chaos that is social media.  But they all influence each other, and they all do mean something.  The question is… how?

Original posted on The Notorious R.O.B on October 17, 2009 in Marketing and Real Estate.

Climategate & You: The Real Estate Edition

The science is SETTLED, I say!

The science is SETTLED, I say!

If you live in the United States, and rely solely on Pravda New York Times or similar for your news, you’re probably unaware of Climategate.  Basically, the entire premise of the global warming/carbon footprint craze of the past few years turns out to be totally bogus.  From the RealClearPolitics.com overview:

Global warming “skeptics” had unearthed evidence that scientists at the Hadley Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia had cherry-picked data to manufacture a “hockey stick” graph showing a dramatic-but illusory-runaway warming trend in the late 20th century.

But now newer and much broader evidence has emerged that looks like it will break that scandal wide open. Pundits have already named it “Climategate.”

A hacker-or possibly a disillusioned insider-has gathered thousands of e-mails and data from the CRU and made them available on the Web. Officials at the CRU have verified the breach of their system and acknowledged that the e-mails appear to be genuine.

For even more damning evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the world, pervert the scientific process, and cover things up, check out this post from Australia.  Because they still have, you know, “journalists” interested in investigative journalism there.  One day, we might import some of these useful fellows from Australia to the United States….

While Climategate is a scandal of the first order, and all Americans (indeed, all humans) should care about it, as real estate people, we need to take a look at how Climategate will impact the industry.

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