Brand matters in agency. A potent brand drives consideration and thus leads; it helps substantiate higher prices or fees as we call them; it acts as a halo during and after the valuation; it helps attract and retain better staff. As the saying goes, ‘the customer buys the person and they buy the brand.’
Given that you know all this and that agents are not exactly shy, why are so few residential agency brands differentiated? To take this further, why is only one brand in the UK truly differentiated?
Mainly as it is difficult. It takes blood, sweat and ideas to differentiate a service brand. Most estate and letting agents surrender to the wind-tunnel of perceived customer preferences and end up reinforcing industry norms. They look the same, act the same, have the same window displays, marketing tactics, cars, property particulars, vocabulary and clothes.
One brand took the path less travelled. It was/is unique, infamous and the subject of envy and no little schadenfreude at times. It spent money on its offices like no other agent; the Millwall positioning (‘Nobody likes us we don’t care’) was like no other agent; it did hard sales harder than any other agent. It. Stood. Out. Yes, we are talking about Foxtons. The brand promise ‘we go to war for our clients’ reminds me of Michael Jordan talking about his aggressive agent, David Falk: “Yes, David is a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass.”
Before you choke on your skinny mochaccino, isn’t Foxtons famous for poor service? At times. Brand nirvana = positive fame + differentiation. They ignored the ‘positive’ bit for decades and it has been weird to see them try and catch up, a bit like Michael O’Leary trying to be pleasant. Indeed, have decades of punchy sales tactics sown distrust among legions of their ex buyers and tenants who are now vendors and landlords? I still think it’s a fantastic business.
‘What about Savills?’ I hear you cry. Indeed, the only agent lauded by Superbrands in 2019 and it is such a phenomenal business that UK residential – for which it is famous – is only 9% of its income. But we need to think in terms of brand, not business, and my belief – for which I may be shot for heresy – is that the brand itself is not truly differentiated. Famous? Yes. Positive? Yes. But is the DNA that different to Knight Frank for example? Read the Superbrands verdict and question if other brands can claim these qualities:“[Savills’] values capture its commitment not only to ethical, professional and responsible conduct but also to the essence of real estate success; an entrepreneurial, value-embracing approach.” (I liked the quirky and unconventional Savills TV ads but felt they weren’t followed through in the business – just being on TV isn’t evolving a brand).
Property is not the only sector with famous not-totally-differentiated service brands. Do Barclays and NatWest stimulate different feelings for you? The Big Four accountants spend millions on marketing but end up claiming similar worthy territories: expertise, professionalism, agility, intelligence and, increasingly, diversity. It is the same with the law firms and wealth managers – so much marketing jargon and so little stand out.