These are tough times for the real estate professional. There's no need to regurgitate just how tough. What is needed is some clarity about what is happening, some idea, some indicators so that Realtors and their clients can make better choices. What we are seeing is a shift in the business world, and those who cannot adjust to this shift will quite frankly be left out in the cold. Let me explain and give some examples.
Using digital technologies as tools, the Internet for sales and marketing, mobile communications to speed our every thought into the sphere of other people, all this is old news. However, the news that has not captured everyone's attention yet - well, this news is about competition. I got your attention didn't I? Your competition, especially during tough economic times, could very well bury you - that is, if your business does not have your market, your endeavors in it, do not have your undivided attention. This is something most business people already know - fear a bit in their gut - but sometimes do not want to admit.
Taking this idea, this reality, to the next logical step - your agency, your past basking in property sales glory, could disappear in an instant. For many, I am sure this has already happened. Using as an example, Chicago's market - let's look at some businesses there through a sort of "digital crystal ball" - a possible indicator of the strength or weaknesses of Realtor's there. Digital engagement is, after all, often a good indicator of brand and public engagement. At the end of this little assessment, I will ask a very pertinent question - the answer to which your business is going to have to answer.
If we take a look at Google's main search pages for what are known as "key phrase queries" it's fairly easy to find the businesses most prevalent in engagement of people via the Internet. This is true whether those businesses "buy" their position, or obtain it organically. Discounting the massive SEO impact of sites like Realtor dot com, and other broad reaching "services" - looking at individual realty companies provides great indicators - here are five with suggested variables.
Baird & Warner is clearly the most respected, most visible, and after a bit of scrutiny on my part - most digitally aware of Chicago's real estate companies. For over 150 years this Chicagoland real estate giant has dominated the space. And just as clearly, given today's evaluation, they dominate the digital landscape as well. We need not get into this company's history here - it is the future of real estate in Chicago, and across the country we are interested in.
Getting down to the "brass tacks" here, Stephen W. Baird is (I believe) the 5th generation of Baird's to head this company. As a digital brand the company is in the first position for any reasonable search. Their website, while not my style, is cutting edge - tailored, professional, it exudes credibility and capability. Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Mobile, rich media, you name it - Baird & Warner invested in providing it. And their "real engagement?" Let's say they did their work here too - Baird & Warner does more than shout at the world. There is value offered to gain conversion. This press release tells the tale, the company's website has already been judged cutting edge.
Rising Realty is the second result for most searches on Google. And here, I am going to be as gentle and kind as possible. Menash Zadik, Co-founder of Rising looks like a good guy. Just how the website got into the top ten of Google results? Well, this is a mystery. The site is not so bad really, but in all honesty even the agents look as if they just walked in off the street. I think that even "every man" would like to think his or her agent is a professional.
As a brand, as a marketing tool, as a symbol of who you are and what your business can do for customers - nothing is more critical than perception. I will leave off further assessment here. Rising Realty must have issues we know nothing about.
Of the five companies evaluated here, Rising's site gets the least traffic (no one basically) -
Koenig & Strey Real Living is a bit down the list beneath the cookie cutter Coldwell Banker and other national insertions. Company President Doug Ayers appears to be abreast of digital trends, and Mark Pullinger, Vice President of Media, Marketing & Technology at one point put in place a fairly nice integrated strategy apparently. Sadly, something seems to have stopped or reversed this company's forward momentum - probably budgetary concerns (economy)?
Suffice it to say Koenig & Strey appear to be resting on the laurels of their Christie's affiliation at the moment, at least where online home sales are concerned. This is a shame, as they spent a good deal of money on their website and to initiate digital communications. See my end comments and "the question" on this one.
Prudential Rubloff Properties is at position number seven for the query "Chicago Realtors" - but a query for "Chicago Real Estate" actually tells more. Rubloff is nipping at the heels of Baird & Warner, at position two here. It's pretty simple to see why too - the company has spent a bundle battling B & W apparently. Facebook to Netvibes, and YouTube, even way beyond, this company is competing (since 1930 evidently). The company even has an up to date blog, something the others seem negligent about.
Arthur Rubloff, the founder of this company, would be proud on the one hand, and maybe a bit disappointed on the other. If there is one flaw in Rubloff's formidable online brand it is lack of a face. The partnership of Howard Weinstein and Tom Horwich, who bought the residential side of the business back in the 90's, and the merger with Prudential - leave the visitor with a bit of a coolness - there is no one to identify with.
CEO Chris Eigel needs to get someone to spread his nice smile all over this site (or a new one) - Rubloff needs to put a smile where their money is, or they will never catch the leader.
An additional note - using Yudu for refined media to show properties, while adequate, shows the original landing as being a bit chopped up. Sort of like one of those houses people added onto until they became downright tacky. Besides the clinical feel of the Rubloff site, there is this component. Suggest new site design.
@properties says they are Chicago's No. 1 real estate brokerage. Well, they were named as one of the Inc 500 fastest growing companies in America. Founder/owners Michael Golden and Thaddeus Wong at the very least knew how to grab a domain name. A tailored site design, with very nice elements, probably would have done nicely during the dot com era too. Tailored executive profiles - some useful information - inventive ways to connect you to your (their agents) - this does not a surging digital brand make. Let me quote from Co-Founder Michael Golden's about:
"Based on a shared vision for a real estate company that would set the precedence for superior service and professionalism, Michael Golden has created a new real estate brokerage model for the 21st century. Along with @properties co-founder Thaddeus Wong, Golden has built a multi-billion-dollar real estate business from the ground up by raising the bar of professionalism in residential real estate, and employing modern technology to manage high sales transaction volume."
Who wrote this? Unless the 21st Century Realtor goes back to chiseling their property announcements in stone, it occurs to this humble web dignitary BS just replaced shoe leather here. Sorry, just read the summary. How this agency got in the top 10 Google results is mystic. Probably via adwords?
The method used for this evaluation is obviously not so scientific. If the reader notices Google listings above or in between those shown, this is for good reason. The large national and international so-called "cookie cutter" entities have massive SEO efforts or adwords campaigns in place, pushing them up in the rankings. So I omitted them. Another thing should be made clear here too - I personally, and our company as well, want these companies to succeed. This is a critique for this purpose only. Now on to that pressing question - the one dealing with competition.
"Why would anyone consult with, or any home seller list, a home with anyone but Baird & Warner?" When a clear winner is so evident, all things being equal, who in their right mind would be so altruistic as to trust another agent? Remember I talked about competition? Well, digitally, or in the bricks and mortar world, this is the inevitable fate of every professional reading this. Is your coffee better, or do your office chairs comfort the butts of your clients better? What is your differentiating advantage? Price? I don't think so.
Arguing with this logic is a sure sign of impending doom folks. The digital world is a reflection of the real one. Any company that cares less for their own name and brand - is quite simply a dinosaur - hovering on the brink of the tar pits. I just covered The Flintstones of Pittsburgh at our Everything PR News site - in disbelief at how low Pittsburgh's realty biz has sunk. Now we are in Chicago and find similar engagement? The moaning and gnashing of Realtor teeth should cease and professionals should get busy. More later.