Thanks to travel, blogging is a bit light, but I did want to get this post out because more and more, I feel it’s a painful message that must be heard.
There are quite a few things that a real estate company can do to improve operations, but many of them will take immense amount of work, cultural changes, and rethinking the practice of real estate brokerage itself. There is, however, one thing that any company can do that will immediately pay dividends: design. All it takes is spending some money.
Start by reading this post by @Issue web magazine. It is an excerpt of a book “Rules of Thumb” by Alan Webber, the cofounder of Fast Company magazine. The excerpt speaks to Rule 28: Good design is table stakes. Great design wins:
Not long after that trip I went to Denmark for a conference that brought together architects, industrial designers, and graphic artists. I walked around Copenhagen, admiring the shops and stores, the comfortable restaurants, the overall ambiance of the place. Then I had a cup of coffee with a friend who had organized the gathering.
“Denmark has high wages, high taxes, and an expensive social safety net,” I said. “But your manufacturing is moving to cheaper countries. What’s the strategy for the future?”
“We’re not worried,” she said. “We intend to compete on the quality of our design. Denmark is famous for our design.”
Read the whole thing; it’ll be worth your time. Then think through the implications for real estate with me.
Design is Differentiation
Alan Webber writes:
Today design is differentiation. Companies use design to create distinctive products and services that capture their customers’ imaginations; to restructure their corporate operations; to unveil new logos and uniforms that express a fresh corporate identity; to develop new communications tools that connect with customers and shareholders; to build corporate offices that encourage and enable collaboration; to collect and share information across a global platform. Design is a way to solve deep-seated social problems. And design is a money saver, a way to simplify products and make them easier and less expensive to manufacture.
In a previous post, I tackled the topic of Design vs. Technology — which was more important to a company’s longterm success. While I concluded there, and still believe, that technology was the more important, that does not denigrate the importance of design. And good design is a heckuva lot cheaper to get than novel technology.
So if design is differentiation, let’s take a look at how that might be expressed in real estate.
One of these website belongs to the 7th largest brokerage in the country with $7.2b in Sales in 2006, and over 1,200 agents working out of 24 offices. The other one belongs to the brokerage ranked 655th with $119m in Sales, with 37 agents working out of a single office. If you didn’t know the names of the companies, didn’t know their sales rankings, could you differentiate between the two based on design?
How can an industry giant like Alain Pinel, working in a luxury market where their average transaction size is $1.2m, have a website that cannot be distinguished from that of a single office brokerage working in an area with a $200K average transaction size? If you zoom into the bottom of the website, the answer appears:
“Powered by e-agents.com“
Really guys? With $7.2b in sales, which translates to roughly $180m in GCI and probably around $48m in company dollar… you went with a templated website maker for your corporate website? Oh, maybe you sprung for the “customized brokerage homepage” option. Saved some money, I guess?
Alan Webber, again:
My guess is that most of you already get it. You already know that the design of your Web site says more about your brand than any thirty-second TV spot. You know that little—and not so little—things such as the design of your logo and letterhead, the design of your business card, and your office space all communicate instantly what your operation is all about, whether you’re a company of one or one hundred thousand.
Well, my guess is that most of you in the real estate brokerage business don’t already get it. You don’t realize that the design of your website says more about your brand than all of the glossy brochures produced at great cost to sit on the coffee table in your reception area. You don’t know that the design of your logo and letterhead, your business card, and your office space instantly communicate what your operation is all about.
Far too many of you decide to skimp on design across the board, save money (which is always a good idea) but at the expense of brand, of differentiation, of competition (which is almost always a bad idea).
I don’t mean to pick on Alain Pinel, but it is such a clear example of not investing in things that make a difference. It isn’t as if the websites of the top 50 largest brokerage companies in the country are filled with great designs that will be winning AIGA awards anytime soon. Even the companies that have spent the money with a web design firm haven’t necessarily produced great design. They have merely produced good design, which is table stakes.
I can’t help but be struck by just how badly designed so many real estate websites are. So many of them are cluttered, far too busy, filled with useless tripe, or merely indistinguishable from a thousand other websites. Print materials don’t fare any better. I’ve seen listing presentations which look like they were designed by a dyslexic color-blind baboon, and clients are supposed to assign million dollar properties to the care of an agent based on these documents?
Spend Some Money on Design, Yo
I feel I can say this with confidence, because I’m not a designer. My little company, 7DS Associates, is not a web design firm or an interactive agency. (Though we can do a lot of that for you <– see how I worked in a nice pitch there?) [ED: Yeah, real slick, Rob. /rolleyes.]
Spend some money on design.
Design means more than simply a pretty look and feel. And it doesn’t only mean website. Take a look at your logo. Your business cards. Your stationery. Your signage. Your yard signs. Hire a professional designer to come in and conduct a design/brand review for you and all of your brand materials.
I realize that budgets are tight, but you don’t necessarily have to spend a million bucks to get a clean, user-friendly, and unique design for all of your materials. Websites don’t have to have cool Flash movies and doodads and fun tools to be great design. (In fact, removing a lot of the clutter may be the hallmark of great design.)
Find a designer whose work really moves you and connects with you. Design is personal in many ways; what you find incredibly compelling might make me yawn, and vice versa. So find something that makes you go “Wow!” For me, there are a few websites that I find incredible that others don’t. I love the cleanliness and simplicity of Pentagram, of Subtraction, and of Cravath. But I also dig the razzle-dazzle of Pelli Clarke Pelli, of Goldman Sachs, and of Incase. (These are just websites, since I can link to those easier.)
Once you’ve found the right designer, be a great client. You’ve hired the right people, no? You believe in their skill; you have faith in their aesthetic sense. Let them be creative for you. Give them business goals you need to achieve, but then let them flex their creative muscles and come up with solutions you could not have imagined. And give them enough of a budget to make things possible — as much as you can possibly afford.
Implementing a great design doesn’t require a total overhaul of your internal processes. It doesn’t require that you reinvent your business model. It doesn’t force you into rethinking your structure. It doesn’t require coming up with a brand new disruptive technology. In that sense, creating and implementing great designs is the least expensive thing you can do to improve your business.
Think about it. Spend some money on design.