Brand-Building in a Time of Crisis

Unlike any other business, in real estate, you are your brand. In this Side Evolution panel, Side’s Brand Strategist Dre Koval discusses the challenges of maintaining an authentic real estate brand with three expert brand builders: Michael Slate of Elevate Palm Springs, David Oliphant of Ocean Blue Real Estate, and Kevin Gueco of Kinoko Real Estate. These remarkable partner agents share company-specific examples of how they strengthened their businesses to continue delivering on their brand promise during COVID-19.

Read highlights below or watch the full session below.

Double down on your digital strategy

Real estate brands often come to life in the physical world, through face-to-face interactions at open houses or client appreciation events. But in the new world of social distancing, Kevin Gueco has had to cancel scheduled events, while continuing to pay rent on an office that's been vacant for the past six months.

“We've been able to overcome [these challenges] by really doubling down on our digital strategy...doing things that we knew we always should have been doing, but never really prioritized,” says Kevin.

For Kevin, that’s meant creating content to humanize Kinoko Real Estate as a brand. “What we realized is that although I think the public trusted our brand, we skipped the two steps that should come before trust, which are ‘know’ and ‘like’...Now that we've been posting content of not just our properties, but also the agents on the team, it's easier for the consumer to also know and like us,” says Kevin.

David Oliphant of Ocean Blue Real Estate also decided to double his marketing budget, even though other top producers were halving budgets to save money.

“I pulled [money] from other areas and I started creating custom ads that were timely with what the country was going through.” David believes this move has contributed to him having a busier summer this year, as compared with last year.

Be a visible connecter and pillar of support in the community

Like Kevin, David had also recently opened an office on Main Street in Half Moon Bay three weeks before COVID hit. Fortunately though, Ocean Blue Real Estate already had great local cachet through David’s branded 1968 Volkswagen bus, which he often drove up and down the coast.

“We started a little campaign that if you see the VW bus around town….put it on social media, tag it, and I'll give you a $50 gift certificate to any one of our local services that was still open.” Not only was the promotion fun and timely, it reinforced David—and Ocean Blue Real Estate’s reputation—as an active, supportive connector in the community. “Half Moon Bay is a small little town...people trust people that are part of their community,” says David.

Focus on positivity rather than negative noise

The proverb “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is especially true during this time, when a significant percentage of home buyers and sellers may be experiencing a combination of fear, dread, and confusion.

Michael Slate of Elevate Palm Springs heard from several clients, who told him, "Oh, it's a hell of a time to launch your own company." But to Michael, it was the perfect time.

“It gives me an arms-length space. We know this isn't going to last, we know we're going to be getting calls from people and we're going to be able to support them and keep that. He took advantage of the time to bring in experts like title individuals and lenders to keep his clients educated, using the resulting micro-content to give people something positive to focus on in his social media feed, rather than the negative vortex of noise.

Projecting positivity applied to his in-house team as well. He started having multiple meetings a week with his team to instill a consistent sense of self-confidence.

“We're going to keep having these conversations with our clients, but your team may feel scared or frightened, or they might not have money set aside in the bank,” says Michael. He adjusted his communication style with staff to “a real personal level, to just let them know it's going to be okay.”

As the market evolves, remain open to revisions

When the market in San Francisco changed as a result of COVID-19, Kevin Gueco quickly course-corrected. With 30% of the buildings he was selling sitting empty, he saw that “it's definitely become a buyer's market, so as a listing agent, you need to come correct all the more,” says Kevin. “You need to have systems for communication in place to hold a listing for potentially three to six months [whereas] before, we were used to our listing selling after zero days on market.”

Adds Michael Slate, “When you're used to pivoting into what's best for you and thinking ahead, it's not necessarily about what the current climate is. It's just staying ahead of your own personal challenges and figuring out what it is that you're doing in the current climate no matter what.”

Having an agile mindset and approach helps agents to weather a constantly evolving climate.

Seize newfound opportunities

In addition to shifting markets, the pandemic has also reprioritized personal timelines. “A lot of my clients are expediting five and 10-year retirement plans and heading out to the desert,” says Michael Slate. “And my anticipation is after a couple of summers, they're going to be like, "You know what, the city is cool. I'm going back. Can you sell my house for me?" 

He is ready to capitalize on this, knowing that if things do indeed shift, his investment in clients can pay off. “You can always turn [your home] into an income property because with Palm Springs, we have that global exposure. There will always be people that want to come to the desert.”

COVID-19 has also provided newfound clarity for Kevin Gueco. Talent acquisition is now a primary focus for him because he recognizes that recruiting the right agents and administrative staff will maximize his own crisis management capabilities in both the short- and long-term.

The crisis has also accelerated Kinoko Real Estate’s plans beyond San Francisco. “We always planned market expansion,” Kevin says. “COVID has only accelerated that. We now have agents on the team who are writing offers in Palo Alto and Tiburon and Danville.”

During this time of crisis, being able to amplify and deliver on a strong brand promise is more critical than ever. Side would like to express our tremendous gratitude to Michael Slate, David Oliphant, and Kevin Gueco for sharing their imaginative insights and invaluable expertise. We know that there are thousands of real estate agents struggling to find answers during these challenging times. Big thanks for showing us how thinking and behaving outside the box can bolster a truly authentic real estate brand.

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