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I’ve read with great interest this year’s Swanepoel Trends Report. Stefan Swanepoel and his talented team of co-writers have again done a stellar job of describing where the real estate industry is, or should be, headed. And the trend that really caught my attention was trend #5, the value proposition of brands.

It’s a critically important topic. I typically attach it to conversations centered around vision and values. And it’s a topic of frequent discussions between me and my friend and mentor, Bill Leider, author of Brand Delulsions.

The Swanepoel Trends Report cites the chief problem facing real estate brands:

“When asked to describe a real estate brand most consumers’ response is: They’re a real estate company or they sell real estate but I can’t describe any unique feature, market niche, position statement, etc. that relates to the brand.”
 And even though I spend a good deal of time interfacing with brand leaders, it’s true for me as well.

Why is this true? The answer seems obvious to me and it appears obvious to Swanepoel. The report states, “The service delivered in almost every national real estate franchise office will differ significantly from office to office within the same stable, and even from agent to another agent in the same office.” Bill Leider labels this phenomena, a brand within a brand within a brand.

As I’ve often said, people love to blame “the model,” or the independent contractor status of the individual real estate agent, or the inability of real estate franchises and brokers to lead effectively. Or they use the state of real estate professionalism, Trend #6, as a scapegoat. Furthermore, they use all of these as excuses for failing to establish a truly consumer-centric brand.

The real culprit, at every level, is a lack of vision, no clear actionable values, and a misguided understanding of what brand really is. “Your brand,” writes Leider, “is a widely held set of beliefs and expectations about what you deliver and how you deliver it, validated by customers’ experiences.”  And it’s that “customer” word that seems to be throwing real estate brands for a loop.

“The reason behind this,” according to the Swanepoel Trends Report, “is the fact that real estate franchisors themselves disagree as to who their client really is.”
 It’s impossible to build a consistent brand experience when you aren’t sure who your customer is.

All of this highlights the fact that, for many, there is no clearly defined path.  It’s hard to get people to follow your lead when you don’t know where you’re going. This is why I’m so excited about what’s happening at RETSO this year. RETSO is moving away from delivering tips and shifting its focus to strategy.

This is not a knock on other conferences. Quite the opposite. There is a place and a need for tips, and for conferences that focus on new technologies and how to use them. I enjoy learning about new technologies as much as anyone. But that conference field is saturated. The problem with tips is that while they generate excitement, they usually don’t have staying power, or real change power. They wow us, we pause to reflect on what has just been said, but after the tweetable moments pass, we go back to living in the present and doing things and relating to people in the same ways we did before we heard the tip – and nothing changes.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve been one of those speakers and I’ve been one of those listeners.

“Change requires a conscious plan (even if it’s oral, or written on a napkin),” Leider wrote to me last week in an email. 

“Change requires a concerted, sustainable commitment. Change requires the requisite skills, disciplines, and accountabilities to do and become what you aspire to be. Change requires cultural shifts that reward the desired behaviors and discipline the undesired ones – the ones that people presently practice and that may have been successful in the past. Change requires the willingness and ability to say goodbye to people who refuse to come along on the journey. Change requires patience, long-term commitment and a willingness to hang in there when things go temporarily awry and to get back on the path.”

A Path

A key word in that paragraph is “path.” Strategy is a path. The path is likely to be different than the one you’re on today. So, staying on the path also requires a clear vision and an explicitly stated set of core values. It’s not something that can be accomplished in a day, in a large group, but it’s something that can begin. You can lay a foundation.

Defining a value proposition requires that you answer a few important questions.

What customers’ problems are you solving?  What needs are you satisfying?  What services are you offering to each Customer Segment? If you’re a Broker, there are likely two distinct “Customer” constituencies: end user clients; and real estate agents. There are different value deliverables for each of those groups. By answering the questions you will establish your real value deliverable. And the beauty of the Business Model Generation Canvas, (which is the basis for how RETSO is organized this year) is that it provides a framework for having meaningful discussions around these questions. It becomes even more valuable when these diverse customer segments are defined, because otherwise it’s easy to lose focus in those scenarios.

You must take a hard look at the characteristics of your value proposition, like newness or uniqueness, performance, status, or simply “getting the job done.” There are many characteristics to consider. How you answer the questions will require that you address the various characteristics of value that come into play. Of course, all of this is in the context of your overall business model, “the rationale of how you create, deliver and capture value.” This is simply one very important part of the model.

Why is this important to you? Because you make better decisions about your business when you have a more complete and accurate understanding of your value proposition and the context in which that proposition is delivered. You better direct the actions of everyone associated with your business and they execute more successfully when they have a clear understanding of the value proposition that they are expected to deliver. And everyone extends from the receptionist at your front desk , to your newest real estate agent, to the managing broker responsible for it all.

On April 4, 2013 at 1:00 PM, I will be leading a general session defining  The Value Proposition block of the business model canvas. In this session we’ll outline the process of defining your own value proposition and how to answer those questions. Then you’ll be able to start working on answering them for yourself and your organization.

And one thing is certain, if value proposition is to truly be “a trend transforming 2013 and beyond,” it’s going to require some intelligently focused effort. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you, Stefan, for naming this a 2013 trend. It is that and so much more.