There are several small businesses that retain hundred year old traditions. Hand-dipped chocolates, fresh flowers and cloth napkins on every table in a restaurant, or mints and roses on a guest's pillow at a B&B. Loyal customers come to expect these little perks or tokens of quality in the product and changing your traditions might mean the loss of your evangelical customers. These are unspoken signs of a company's value system and devotion to the customer. Then, there are traditions that are a little harder to explain.
There are two curious habits in the real estate industry that have always baffled me. They are age-old traditions and the public has come to accept them as part and parcel of the product. But are they a reflection of company values or just a couple of really bad habits?
The first....Why do real estate agents put their picture on absolutely everything? Real Estate agents are there to sell houses, people come to the agent to buy a house not because the agent has auburn hair or because he is smiling. The image presented through this type of marketing is that of an egoistical, self centered, self serving person.
I have asked many agents why they do it...the answers range from; because the company requires it, simple I don't knows, to I need it to stand out from the competition. (If all the competition is doing the same thing, how does that set you apart?) There are many people who have their own businesses and are sole-propritors from hair dressers to contractors, pool cleaners, consultants and lawyers but they don't plaster their headshot all over everything that relates to their business. There could be some reasons why they don't. Sending the wrong image of self importance is one. Another reason is aging. As people get older they become less satisfied with the way they look, a little less hair, and few saggy chins, smile lines that have turned into furrows. Real Estate agents face this problem head on...they just leave the same picture on their business card for their entire 25 year career, a nice youthful look. Finally, since marketing materials cost money and space is at a premium maybe they think it is better to use that space showing the product or benefit to the customer instead of a self portrait.
The second tradition that seems more like a bad habit is to have flyers and doorhanger bags strewn all over a neighborhood, and scattered on your prospective clients front porch. If it is a particularly popular neighborhood this means you find this stuff at your doorstep 3-5 times a week thanks to 10 or 15 different agents! I've even seen this stuff delivered on Sundays. It's really convenient for thieves..they know you've been away on vacation even if the mail is being held at the post office. How many people pick up those flyers while vowing to NEVER do business with the agents who turn their yard into a landfill's delight! It also is baffling that real estate agents see themselves on the same level as pizza places, gardeners, and the local handy man, all of whom market this way too. I have never seen a professional lawyer, doctor or accountant, market themselves in this manner.
At some point one's values should win over tradition. Respecting the client (and their front porch), making the client's/prospect's priorities your priorities must become the focus of a successful career. Common sense and creativity should come together with customer service, and bad habits should be broken, even if all the competition plans to carry on.
I would like to encourage all real estate agents that might read this. Be a leader, put a picture of a door knocker or house on your business card. I know its a radical idea, but take the challenge! Wouldn't that space be better used talking about your specialties or how long you've been in business? Who knows, you might even generate some goodwill by not cluttering up a porch with flyers that go straight into the trash.
Meredith Gossland is the owner of Lasting Impressions 2, a small business marketing service, in Los Angeles.