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Branding for Realtors in 2021

Operating as a predominantly in-person business based on face-to-face transactions, Realtors have undergone seismic shifts in how business is conducted during the pandemic. Though COVID-19 catapulted Realtors into having to rely solely on digital means to communicate with their networks, the truth is, this change has been happening since the dawn of social media. The difference is that those Realtors who were slow to adopt these tools are faced with no choice and many are running to catch up. Realtors in 2021 must understand that they need to have a digital brand presence that requires a thoughtful strategy, and they will have a leg up if they hire help.

At its core, marketing hasn’t changed in thousands of years. If you have a business or service you want to promote, you need to find a place where people are congregating and project your message there where (hopefully) someone will hear you and be convinced that your service is right for them. What has changed over time is the medium. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name the big players, all have large communities that Realtors would benefit from spending some time in to spread their message. This message is, “you can trust me with your real estate transaction.” How you get that message heard is through developing a strong brand.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a brand is a public image, reputation or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted. For Realtors, that brand is you.

Pre-social media, a Realtor needed to have a few pieces of marketing material for a brand: a logo, some printed materials and the rest they would be able to portray through in-person communication. How they spoke on the phone, how they conducted themselves in an initial consult, how they dressed, their personality, all supported their brand identity and their positioning.

Social media provided the opportunity to publicly portray this brand identity for all to see. Early adopters have most likely had a much easier time since the pandemic started. Those who did not use social media over the past few years most likely had a much harder time over the pandemic as they faced a much steeper learning curve.

What would you say if a prospect told you they didn’t need a Realtor to list their house because “the market is so strong right now”? You would undoubtedly feel that there would be a missed opportunity for that prospect. Their lack of skills and expertise would result in a house sale but also could leave thousands of dollars on the table. There is no way that the DIY approach to real estate sales can be compared to one of a seasoned Realtor.

The same goes for Realtors that attempt to do all their digital branding and advertising alone. It can be done, but is it the most optimal way? What opportunities are being missed? Those who have decided to hire skilled digital marketers will sprint ahead while those who have not will struggle to keep up.

The speed at which Facebook/Instagram has evolved over the past five years can make one’s head spin and there are no signs of it slowing down. This evolution has added many great features (Reels, Lives, Stories, Guides) but it has also made it a more complex platform to navigate. Add on top of that Facebook Business Manager and its advertising rules and it’s no wonder many Realtors feel a little overwhelmed. Although it may seem impossible to just start diving in now or at least taking it more seriously, it is not impossible and the catch up can be quick with the adherence to a few guidelines.

1. Be honest with yourself

If design isn’t your area of expertise and you are more of a numbers person, hire someone who can help you with designing your brand appearance for social media. Branded templates and stories are now par for the course for any business posting on social and it’s best not to DIY something as important as your first impression if you know it’s not your strong suit. On the flip side, if you do have a good understanding of the look you are going for and how you want to be seen on social media but your attempts at launching a Facebook ad have resulted in it being rejected by Facebook, then it’s best to pursue the areas that naturally interest you and hire someone with proven skills in Facebook advertising.

Another good question to ask yourself is whether social media is something you want to learn more about and get involved with. The vast majority of us use it, but do you want to train to get better at it? And will you commit yourself to learn about it every month (because that’s how often things change)? If that’s something that you see yourself enjoying, there’s a world of helpful tutorials, podcasts and social media courses that will whip you into shape within a matter of weeks if you are committed. If that’s not the case, hiring a professional agency or a freelancer is probably going to save you a lot of stress and get you in a much better place.

2. Understand your brand positioning

A brand can create and stand for loyalty, trust and/or luxury, depending on how the brand is marketed, advertised and promoted. Defining your brand is like a journey of self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the following questions to help determine your position:

  • What are the benefits and features of your services?
  • What do your customers and prospects already think of you?
  • What qualities do you want them to associate with you?

What you post on social media needs to support your brand position which will, in turn, create the trust that will convince someone that they need your help with their real estate transaction.

3. Develop a brand strategy

This may sound complicated but it’s not with the right planning process in place. Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating your messages.

For example:

  • How many times do you want to post on social media weekly?
  • Where will you be posting (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or all of the above)?
  • To whom? First-time buyers, young families, people downsizing or a bit of everything?
  • What will you post? Testimonials, listings, real estate news, statistic, tips?

Creating a place where you can collect and organize this information such as a social media planning tool is highly recommended. There are many online tools such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Zoho, Planoly and Sprout Social that will help you organize, plan and post. Design tools such as Canva can support the creation of branded materials and are generally user friendly.

4. Advertising is a must

If you have managed to create a great-looking brand and you are consistently posting but you are still struggling to see any sort of meaningful interaction on your page, it may be because there is an important piece missing: ads. All social media platforms are businesses and they want you to pay to play. They do that by suppressing content from business pages (they say it’s so that their users aren’t spammed) but will help you show your content if you pay for it.

Don’t let this discourage you. The great thing about social media ads is that they come with much better data than any advertising of the past.

Think of the mail-outs Realtors have commonly relied on; how many of those went straight into the garbage? You will never know. Social advertising is superior because you can see link clicks, opens, engagements, reach and impressions. These all give you valuable insights into how people are perceiving your brand and how you can improve it. This is the area that most Realtors should hire someone to take care of. Advertising requires skill and experience to understand and adjust according to the analytics. If this is something that really interests you, go for it, but take a course or you will be frustrated with the experience and with the lack of help from Facebook.

5. Consistency is key

When it comes to brand building, you can never stop working on it. You can’t take a month off and expect that it won’t have a negative impact. Just like a workout, if you want to see results, you need to stick with it. If you plan on doing live videos, create a plan for a year, not just once or twice. Consistency is what will create brand “stickiness,” the memory that needs to form in order for people to associate your brand with a feeling or impression that lasts in their mind.

6. Rome wasn’t built in a day

Because of the speed at which Facebook happened and the many changes it has gone through in a short amount of time, there is often an impression that results happen quickly over social media. They don’t. Particularly for Realtors. Real estate transactions can sometimes take years to occur. Trust takes years to foster as does loyalty. There is much that needs to go in to nurture relationships that develop over social media. Often, Facebook and Instagram followers need to first be transferred into an email database (through lead generation ads) and then an email marketing plan needs to nurture these leads even further with regular contact.

Think of social media as a bustling marketplace. You can’t just walk up to someone you’ve hardly met and say, “Let me sell your house, I’m the best.” You need to strike up a conversation more than once and invite them for coffee (possibly more than once).

Social media is no different. Your brand needs to be experienced in several ways; softly at first with your regular posts, adding some insightful information (blogs are great for this), introducing yourself (video content works great) and getting them to like you with your personality. Then you ask for their number, which in this day and age is their email.

Realtors today have many great tools and mediums at their disposal to help build their brand and convince a prospect that they are the best option for them. Taking full advantage of these tools does require quite a bit of learning and in many areas, added skills. I may be biased but I do know that the work we put into marketing our Realtors demands that we constantly learn and train ourselves on new features that can be used to market brands online. We put in a lot of time to do this every day and I struggle to see how any Realtor can do this alone. My advice for any Realtor wanting to build or improve their digital brand is to not just learn a bit about the mediums that are available to them but to also hire someone with the expertise in areas that you may fall short. I wouldn’t know how to list a house, that’s what a Realtor is for. When it comes to digital marketing, hire a digital marketer because that’s what they are for.