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When to let creatives be the creative.


Some things sell themselves, like water during a fire, lift tickets after a deep powdery snowfall, and the iPhone. Apple will continue to pour money and effort into really high-quality branding because the Apple brand is itself the competitive product. But what about other products that have high demand and traditionally poor branding? Like, housing?

​Real estate marketing has been pretty traditional, with the hanging bread board at the curb with a name and a phone number, maybe a head shot of the Realtor. Sure, mega brokers like RE/MAX will make an effort to establish some quality creative with stick, the way Apple would, because their name is competing with other big brand names. But it's a B2B dynamic. They're not really competing for consumers necessarily, but instead just against each other, if that makes sense. And they're competing for agents, because the more agents they have, the more percentage splits they get.


But in the weeds of individual agents pushing individual homes, the broker-supplied marketing tools are utilitarian at best, and good enough to sell in a hot market where the product sells itself.

"This house has ghosts and some kind of radiation coming from . . ." SOLD!


To sell a house in this market, branding isn't actually necessary, especially if one doesn't really see the direct effect between branding and sales, nor the value of having a unique personality in the business. It really comes down to pride.

But what does this look like from the view of creatives? Answer: crazy, because they're still putting something in the place of good creative, and it isn't even real tuna.

Case in point. A few years ago I was pulled into a meeting between an agent client, and a builder, an Eastside developer that had ventured into some projects in Seattle. At that point in time, I'd brought that client's brand and content strategy above and beyond what their broker had going for their agents. Naturally, I was called in very late to the game in this project, and the "creative" work, being the naming of the multi-home project, had already been done.

I sat at a table and studied the name. Lake Pointe Cove. This was on Lake Union's East Side, a lake I have paddled miles and miles around for years. Regarding the name, they had the Lake part right, but there was no Cove, nor any Pointe. In fact the project was a solid eight blocks from the water, up on a hillside. If there was a name to be had based on location, "A Block Off I-5" would have been more appropriate. My client blamed the builder for the name.

So I asked the builder's marketing duo how they came up with that name.

"We put up a suggestion box in the lunch room," one of them said. Fingernails on a chalkboard would have felt better to hear than her answer.

The name alone sounded good, I think, to a Bellevue crowd. But Seattle's a bit edgier, and its culture more deserving of the kind of grit it lives every day. Lake Pointe Cove wasn't something I could create a narrative for that would stick with a Seattle buyer, and so the name just stuck out from the visuals I created for it like a broken nose.

In another instance, a different client, a builder this time, asked that I get involved marketing a new multi-unit project, and when I set eyes on the deal, again, some name had already been given. English Garden, this time.

Think English Garden, and Downton Abbey comes to mind, with rose bushes, fountains, and maybe a duchess fainting in the background from exposure to direct sunlight. But these were cutting-edge modern home designs, in a famously Swedish town. No English. No Garden. Just tons of Swedish, and modern, and edge.  Furthermore, the 8-foot tall dual signs on the curb provided by the agent made no mention of the builder at all. Not  the builder's name or logo. Nothing.

"Who's idea was this?" I asked my client.

"It was the. . ." he hemmed and hawed a bit. "It was the Realtor." He was hesitant to say because it wasn't the first time the very same client had handed over the branding opportunity to someone else (against my better advice) who had absolutely zero interest in them at all, forfeiting a fantastic opportunity to leverage their work to promote their own brand.

In both examples, my clients had vested interests in their names being associated with branding that would ring true with an evermore judgemental consumer base, and to compete against other entities who just may make that move with superior branding efforts of their own. And when the market cools, the stronger brands will become apparent. 


They needed not just someone to come up with decent creative, but to at the very least protect them from being exposed to bad creative. Though real estate has been a traditionally conservative and vanilla-flavored genre, there have been breakthroughs that have successfully broken that mold.

But someone keeps rebuilding that mold.

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