Inman Connect invited NextHome’s CEO James Dwiggins on the main stage to share the story of NextHome and how we continue to strive every day to elevate the experience for real estate buyers and sellers.
Branding is really about the experience and creating an emotional connection to the business. James explained that where people get branding wrong is they think it’s about the logo but it is not. It’s the entire experience from the minute a customer sees the logo, then working with an agent, and all the way to the end of a transaction and beyond.
An important component in understanding branding is to realize that the real estate industry is struggling for relevance with buyers and sellers. Customers are questioning the value proposition of brokers and agents including the rates that they charge.
“When we set out to create NextHome, we had a focus on creating a brand that was relevant for the customers themselves. It’s about what the buyers and sellers want from the experience,” explained James.
That is easier said than done in an industry that is myopically focused on what agents want or need. James and the NextHome team partnered with Pentagram, a prestigious design company in New York City, to research and study how to change the brand experience and create a connection.
“For example, one of the things that we created was a really cute French Bulldog mascot named Luke that was designed to change the conversation,” elaborated James about NextHome’s friendly icon. “When a customer walks into an office, we want them to say ‘what’s up with the orange dog?’ because it sets a whole different tone and interaction from the very beginning.”
For James, branding should be viewed as a shift in focus from what real estate agents do to generating an interaction with customers that is distinctive. NextHome encourages agents to hand out a plush version of Luke to kids, who then take the little Frenchie through the entire buying or selling process.
The real estate industry, in James’s opinion, is awful at promoting branding as an experience for customers. He pointed out that if people look at some of the biggest brands in real estate, they will see 17,000 different versions of a company’s logo including versions with different colors. Without consistency, there is not a cohesive message about the company itself and people don’t make a connection to it all.
Maintaining consistency across a brand is not easy. NextHome makes sure that everything the team has worked so hard to create goes all the way through the brokers and agents to the customer without getting diluted.
“We took a stance at the beginning of the company,” James confirmed, “about the minimum standards that we would do. Business cards, for example, come from one organization so agents can’t create their own at a local print shop.”
NextHome preserves the quality of their beautiful, rounded-edge cards, and while agents and brokers can customize some of it for autonomy and their own personal branding, it must tie back into the national brand. The same goes for all their products from stationary to yard signs.
“For us, we want to make sure that 3,500 members across the United States maintain the same level of professionalism out in the market whether it’s in Portland, Oregon or on Madison Ave in New York,” James explained.
NextHome stands behind that philosophy but they understand that it’s not for everyone. They are clear about their expectations and what they do. If someone doesn’t want to be a part of it, then there are lots of other companies out there to work with.
“What we have found by maintaining our high branding standards,” James reported, “is that we are attracting a lot more professional people into our company. As a result, customers do not question what we are providing as a service because they don’t see mediocre material.”
The level of consistency doesn’t just stop at stationary and business cards but continues all the way through their business model. James remarked that the same amount of effort that an agent puts into listing a $500,000 home should also be made when listing a $100,000 home. Customers will notice the consistency of effort or lack thereof. Consistency within your own personal brand is another component to creating that brand experience.
In today’s world, real estate companies are either all about their agents or, like Zillow, customer-centered. In the end, it will be the companies that are focused on the needs of the customer that will win according to James. Listening to what the customers want is integral to long term success.
“Take yard signs as an example. Most real estate yard signs advertise the agent. However, that’s not what customers want. Sellers want their house promoted while buyers want to know the pertinent details of the listing as they drive by,” James commented.
NextHome listened and designed their signs to display the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and garage spaces. The agent’s information is secondary. It’s a relatively simple concept but it has a very big impact on how a company is viewed by customers.
“The industry has to start shifting to a customer-focused model or entities like Zillow will continue to disrupt us and change the primary person a customer will talk to,” advised James about the direction the industry should be headed.
At the end of the day, NextHome measures their branding success in smiles. James doesn’t want NextHome to be a company that people use for only a period of time but instead, be a brand that people keep thinking about and connecting with long after the real estate transaction is complete.
Great branding is about changing the real estate conversation to a customer-centric experience through the use of consistency and a little mascot called Luke.