Coming Soon: Wholesale Changes to Keller Williams Signage

First, watch this video.  Note that it’s produced by Keller Williams Realty, Inc., the corporation that actually franchises the name.  This is the official position of the franchise, not of an individual agent or an individual office or franchisee.  And KW says, the brand doesn’t matter.

I wrote pretty much the same thing on a blog comment once, and was promptly threatened with dire financial consequences. The omerta is strong in the real estate industry, paisan.  But when one of the largest franchises in the industry says the same thing, I’m going to assume it’s safe to tag along without having people jump down my throat simply for discussing the topic.

In any event, I assume that the KWRI people produced this as a recruiting tool, to convince real estate agents to move from wherever they be to the local KW franchise. Most consumers wouldn’t give a hoot about this sort of inside-baseball stuff. Having said that, I have a couple of questions.  [Ed: Yeah, what else is new, Rob?]

What’s the Deal with the Signs, KW?

As my title says, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, given this video, I’m going to assume that there are wholesale changes coming to the Keller Williams yard signs, as well as changes to the official Standards and Identity Guide for Keller Williams (link goes to a password protected intranet site for KW people only).

After all, if the brand doesn’t matter, and only the agent matters, then why must all Keller Williams yard signs be red?  Why have the KW logo be so prominent, if not required by law to be a certain size?

Even though I, not being a KW agent, do not have acces to the Standards and Identity Guide, I do have the publicly available Policies and Guidelines Manual (pdf) for Keller Williams.  In said document, I find this section: Sign Policy

Our image is one of the most important assets we have. Protecting it is one of our most important jobs. In order to maintain a consistent and professional public image, the following will apply when using signs to market properties:

1. Our associates will only use standard KWRI for sale, open house, directional, rider and any other so-designated signs. Any deviation must be approved by the Regional Director, with final approval by KWRI.

3. All personal name/phone rider signs placed on Keller Williams® signs must be in the Keller Williams® standard color scheme except for signs or riders using an associate’s personal logo and photo which have been approved by the local TL or the Keller Williams Regional Director. No former company name riders may be used. If an associate does not own his/her riders, then no rider shall be used.

4. All for sale signs must have a Market Center phone number unless the listing associate has been given the exception to do so by his/her TL…

Suffice to say, I don’t understand…

“Our image”?  What’s this about “our image” when the video clearly says that consumers don’t care about the brand, only the agent?  All personal name/phone riders have to be in the KW standard color scheme?  Why?  Didn’t I just watch a video going on and on about how the brand doesn’t matter?  All signs must have a Market Center (KW term for local office) phone number?  Whatever for?  Once again, did I not just watch a video talking about how it’s agent, agent, agent?  Why would any agent want to send leads to the office instead of to her cell phone?

Based on KWRI’s own philosophy on the issue, I look forward to seeing the revised Keller Williams Standards and Identity Guide in the next couple of months.  It can be one sentences long, and be the shortest, easiest-to-understand franchise Identity Guide in history:

You may do whatever you wish, as long as you are in compliance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations concerning real estate signs and branding.

But, uh, don’t hold your breath waiting, okay? Because…

Reality Check

The reality is that brand recognition and brand familiarity does matter. It may not be the most important factor in why a consumer would chose one agent over another, or even a consciously important factor, but given what we know about human psychology, the impact of familiarity, and the importance of brand in choosing between same-price commodity goods, I think it’s probably a stretch to say that it doesn’t matter at all. National advertising, no matter what you may think of it from a ROI standpoint, does have an impact of some sort.

As we see, Keller Williams itself recognizes that “our image” does in fact matter.  There’s a reason why all KW yard signs are red and white. The CMO of Keller Williams would likely have an apoplectic fit, and for good reason, if the Standards and Identity Guide were revised to my one-sentence guide.

So, here comes the next series of follow-up questions, which are ones I’ve been asking almost ever since I started blogging about real estate and marketing.  “Our image” matters; the brand matters in some way. That’s fine.

  • What, then, is the brand promise of any particular company brand?
  • And what, if any, is the relationship between the said brand promise (if one exists) and the recruiting practices of said company?
  • Does agent count matter to the brand promise?  Are larger companies more or less likely to project and deliver on the right brand promise? Why or why not?

I leave it up to you to puzzle over these, and would love to know your thoughts and answers on them.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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112 thoughts on “Coming Soon: Wholesale Changes to Keller Williams Signage”

  1. Rob-

    That was a very short post for you. Is everything OK? 🙂

    In all seriousness, I think you’re spot on: brand and brand identity does matter. We hear it all the time from our clients and potential clients. At Nest Realty, we get phone calls and emails all the time from people along these lines: ‘I like what your company stands for. I’m looking to buy/sell. Can you match me up with an agent?’

    That’s proof that brands matter IF the brand actually stands for something that is different (i.e. stands out) from the competition. At Nest, we work hard to build our brand to help our agents become more successful…and it’s working.

    Here’s my quick take on the agent/brokerage brand relationship: A strong agent will be more successful if they team up with a strong brokerage brand. On the flip side, a strong brokerage brand will be more successful if they team up with strong agents.

    I’m not going to beat a dead horse with this because there are obviously differing opinions on the topic…but I just wanted to throw in my two cents…

    • Heh, well, as it happens, I’m modifying my blogging habits a bit. The longer, more in-depth stuff will probably be headed to from now on, as I’m in the midst of redesigning the site and plan on doing more of the “heavy” stuff over there, to make room for more snarky/personal stuff on this site.

      But since you brought up Nest… what’s your brand promise? How are you enforcing it? How delivering it?

  2. Interesting stuff, as usual. I’m not so sure I’m answering your questions, I have questions of my own. And general comments too.1. How to raise more without doing anything – 101. Entice all the agents to reorder all their signs (even though the average KW has X listings, minimum sign order = X+. KW Agent count + listing count X Signage Reorder Profit = $$$$$$. 2. When a consumer calls a number, do they want to talk to someone immediately (which happens when the call is direct to the office) or does the consumer mind waiting until the agent feels like responding – like they do with email inquiries? I don’t know the answer, I know what I want when I call a number. 3. The listing agent represents the seller (I know, actually the broker does, but play along), when the buyer calls in do they understand the in’s and out’s of representation and their relationship with the listing agent?4. Yes. The Brand Promise is important. With some, the Brand Promise to the consumer is you’re on your own, in which case they are delivering on their promise, which is – We don’t promise anything to the consumer except compliance with NAR and local rules, we make our money by sell stuff to our agents and they decide what you get or not and when and if you get it.5. The Brand Promise to the recruit is most likely in alignment with the Consumer Promise. If the Brand Promise to the recruit is don’t break any laws, and deliver what you want, how you want, when you want, then both promises are in alignment. 6. Lastly, my opinion on competition. I believe we are living smack-dab in the middle of a trust starved and skeptical society. In the short and long run, a focus on consumer sensitive services that can be relied on to produce results, will trump the Deadwood Style of anything goes. Saying the Brand does’t matter is like saying that in professional athletics only the athlete matters. Everyone knows that team work matters, strategy matters, coaching matters, marketing and promotion matters. Another way of saying that the Company Association/Brand Promise doesn’t matter is saying “The Consumer Doesn’t Matter.”Weird, not the sign call issue, it’s not a big deal, but like you shared, saying it doesn’t matter, then having rules to protect what doesn’t matter (ie. sign colors, etc.) I guess it sorta matters, but we don’t want you to think it matters.I’m glad my competitor is all about the agent, I’m sure consumers agree;-)

    I think both the agent and consumer will win when the focus is on the consumer.

  3. That Keller Williams explanation is exactly why when I became a Realtor I opened my own shop. Not going to have so big corporate fat cat explain to me how I can and can’t market something without waiting for their approval.

    As far as the video goes… Again, I wouldn’t go waiting around for my company to produce content for me to use, I go out and do it myself… Obviously KW is bit hypocritical but, what do you expect? I would like to know if they think the listing that sign sits in front of is the Company’s or the Realtor’s Listing?

  4. Love that video, it supports what I’ve felt and been saying since Day 1.

    But yeah, the signage requirements seem quite the contradiction. We’ve had KW agents join us who said one primary consideration was being able to use custom signage — which KW doesn’t let them do.

    I’ve got much more to add, but will have to come back. Busy integrating a new agent…

  5. I wonder when brokerages wake up to the danger of double talk today?

    Building RealtyV2 brand does matter at some level. The company has to be ethical, do the right thing, and strive to provide excellent service. Beyond that in my mind branding is mostly about the individual agent. Associates in my Company are free to market themselves as they see fit as long as they are compliant with DRE regulations, local laws, and MLS rules and regulations. Ultimately the brand is the agent, which is who the consumer hires to buy or sell property.

    I recently meet with a KW agent that was starting to wonder if the company was really into the business of charging for all the “family reunions” and company RA RA events. So while on one hand KW says the Company does not matter, there is a whole like of Kool Aid dixie cups being downed toasting to the best of the best.

    You have inspired another post coming soon about one of my favorite topics.

    • Looking forward to it, Jeff. 🙂

      But as I mentioned in the “Reality Check” section, which many people commenting here apparently haven’t read before commenting, I completely understand why KW has those standards and guidelines. it’s important to protect the brand; the brand DOES make a difference. The studies that NAR and others have conducted are to be questioned unless we know the question asked, the method of collection, and how the data was analyzed.

      My take on it is that brand _awareness_ by itself probably provides very little differentiation, except against a totally unfamiliar brand. That’s the point of brands. Familiarity does matter, even at a subconscious level. it just isn’t the MOST important factor in consumer choice.

      • Rob, read your post at length.

        What we are talking about here is a video that promotes the agent as the brand,then a policy that restricts agents using a certain color, style of logo, and phone number. This is contrary to what the message of the video is.

        It is the last hope of the franchise to offer something of perceived value. Brand should be controlled from hiring policies, standard of care procedures, and core values – not by having everyones for sign the same. As we all know the top producing agent gets to break these rules while the 2nd and 3rd quartile agents pay the bills. Of course if the franchise abandons this what else do they truly offer for a 6 to 8% off the top cut?

        Brand matters when brand matters. If you hire and associate yourself with agents of high ethics and service performance, won’t you get the results you want rather than trying to make a “Big Mac” mentality of the industry?

        I guess there are followers and leaders in our industry. I would much rather have the autonomy, mastery, and passion to provide excellent service to what really matters…THE CLIENT.

      • Don’t necessarily disagree. I just think maybe you and I have different reactions to a video made to recruit agents to KW vs. brand standards created to preserve value (however high/low it is) in attracting consumers… I don’t think it’s such a big deal to say one thing to consumers and another to agents. 🙂

      • I disagree that the brand should be telling agents one thing and consumers another. The whole point of why that practice will not survive ability of consumers to strike back and voice frustrations with social media.

        There has been a lot of talk regarding agent ratings. I don’t think it is too far in the future that a frustrated seller with post on his or her facebook page or twitter account what a lousy job the agent is doing with communication. To survive you’ll need to deal with this immediately or start looking for another vocation.

      • Jeff,

        In response to your last sentence: “…to provide excellent service to what really matters…THE CLIENT.”


        As Glenn Kellman of Redfin said it:

        “The industry can’t fix its relationship with consumers because it’s still so busy arguing with itself: about what agents should pay brokerages, about what brokerages should give agents, about who promotes whom. Every time I start to think that real estate will sort itself out, I go to a conference of brokers and panic, because I’ve never seen so many professionals invest all their passion in topics that have nothing to do with the customer.”

        And we wonder about why our industry is such a mess?


  6. I wonder when brokerages wake up to the danger of double talk today?

    Building RealtyV2 brand does matter at some level. The company has to be ethical, do the right thing, and strive to provide excellent service. Beyond that in my mind branding is mostly about the individual agent. Associates in my Company are free to market themselves as they see fit as long as they are compliant with DRE regulations, local laws, and MLS rules and regulations. Ultimately the brand is the agent, which is who the consumer hires to buy or sell property.

    I recently meet with a KW agent that was starting to wonder if the company was really into the business of charging for all the “family reunions” and company RA RA events. So while on one hand KW says the Company does not matter, there is a whole like of Kool Aid dixie cups being downed toasting to the best of the best.

    You have inspired another post coming soon about one of my favorite topics.

  7. PS. I’m pretty sure I could get a few dozen people in Austin to share that they’ve seen Big Foot, Space Aliens or Unicorns. That doesn’t make it true, or does it? Keep Austin weird you know, it’s no joke. #justsayn

  8. I have been using custom signage for a long time, in fact since the day I moved to KW. I guess I am a violator. I owned a Gold’s Gym Franchise for 12 years. Protecting trademarks is serious business. If you allow your marks to be used in any old manner you can lose your protection under TM law. We had to deal with that as a franchisee in the gym business and I can understand the guidelines, I use the marks in their color scheme unaltered, but the sign is custom. The sign is not the registered mark.

    I think you are missing the point of a uniform brand identity for the larger companies, If you continually see Prudential, Century 21 or Keller Williams Signs dominate a market area, that is good. I hear from friends and clients that they see my company everywhere. If that helps keep me top of mind great. I do know that I ultimately get the call based on what I do not what the company does.

  9. Rob,

    I will tell you to look at Krisstina Wise and The GoodLife Team as a brokerage that is balancing the agent and brokerage very well. They are obviously not national but I think they understand that the brand and the agent are equally as important.


    • What’s actually interesting, Derek, is that unless Krisstina has changed her modus operandi completely, the agent is almost wholly unimportant in her model. She’s bringing the old pre-REMAX broker-centric model back, but with technology as the basis for broker-centricity. A lot of people miss that fact.

      I happen to think she’s right. I think she, and KW, are two of the four or five viable models for brokerage going into the future. But it’s a mistake, imho, to think that GoodLife Team values the agent and the broker equally. There is a reason why Krisstina rarely recruits realtors, and prefers people with a corporate sales background and no experience in real estate.

      • Rob, as your know Krisstina is from the KW model. You are very insightful.

        She is not promoting the individual agent, but the team concept of working together. One way to certainly get the job done and build a brand that you can scale and sell. BTH I think she is really really smart, but disagree with her model.

        It is so hard to serve a Client with 15 different people involved no matter the technology. I would rather take my time and service each Client like they deserve. This is serious business and we all need to slow down and take the time to make sure each client is fully represented.

        The Zip Realty idea of employed sales staff has failed. This job takes someone with the ability to get it done, no matter when or where, or how long it takes. Not someone looking to punch out on the time clock.

  10. When I was with C21, I can’t tell you how many times I’d meet a client face-to-face for the first time (after conversing via phone and email) and I’d hand them a card and they would say, “Oh, you’re with Century 21?”

    What does that tell you? It tells me they had no idea, and more importantly they didn’t care. They’d already chosen us to represent them without even knowing who we worked for. They. Don’t. Care.

    Stop someone on the street and ask them if they have heard of C21, KW, or RE/Max, and the vast majority will say, “Of course”.

    Follow up with the question, “Tell me the difference between them” and see what you hear.

    I’m thinking crickets chirping….

    NAR studies show *very* few people chose an agent based on brokerage affiliation. KW is saying exactly that in the video.

    Does brand matter? Apparently not to the vast majority of real estate buyers and sellers. Does it matter to an agent? Some think it does. Others know it does not. Sure, mandating sign color, font and composition delivers a consistent message. Problem is, the consumer doesn’t know, or care, what that message is.

  11. I see quite a few customized KW signs here in New York. I agree with Ted Mackel, some continuity with signs does indicate market share, and that does sway many consumers.
    Those that disagree here are people with strong personalities that probably overshadow any brand, but many licensees need to be under that umbrella psychologically.

    Also, don’t forget the recruiting aspect of this. KW is all about recruiting, and many agents who see all those red signs can be influenced by the statement of market share they represent.

  12. I’ve asked Krisstina to read and review, since I don’t think the Goodlife team’s perspective is represented correctly here. We do think the agent matters. We believe that the brokerage must focus on producing the systems to enable agents to be highly productive and experts in their space – and be willing to fire agents that can’t provide highly competent help to the consumer.

    Nationally, KW produces agents that on average transact 5.1 times a year. I’d like to know if the readership of this blog believes that an agent that does 5 transactions a year can possibly be competent to help a consumer buy or sell the largest asset they will ever own?

    Krisstina has chosen our answer to that question, and I believe the consumer will as well.


    • Jack, I know many luxury agents that do only 3 to 5 transactions per year and they are the most professional,knowledgeable, and competent agents that I know. Volume in its self does not necessarily make a good agent, and the higher the volume the more chance the transaction was rushed through.

      • Jack, not sure of the question, but no these would be established agents. My point was simply that high production does not always mean great service.

        We all know the agent that underprices listings, announces in the hallway what that the seller is desperate, and churns through clients. While the outcome is the property gets sold and it appears from the outside that everything is great, the reality is money is left on the table and clients are not fully represented.

      • Jeffrey-

        My point is this: In any marketplace, there is a standard of excellence that is usually correlated with frequency of performance. To apply this in another space: If you need to have a particular kind of surgery where the consequences to you were substantial, would you want the surgeon who does the operation a handful of times annually, or do you want the surgeon that performs that kind of surgery 100 times a year?

        Applied to Luxury: I know luxury agents do less units. I also know, from working with luxury agents that they are experienced agents who are specialists and have spent a lot of time learning their craft and developing their business around their audience’s specific concerns. They’re good, often much better than many agents in the market place, because their clients are generally more demanding and won’t put up with non-performers. Now, all things being equal, the luxury buyer or seller I believe would still prefer to do business with the agent that does 5 luxury deals a year vs. 1.

        So no, units don’t always tell the entire story – but I think they are highly correlative, and also performance relative in their market segment (luxury, commercial, non-luxury, etc).


      • Jack, real estate is not brain surgery. No one dies in our business but each “surgery” is different. One of my good Clients is a brain surgeon which helps me keep our vocation in perspective.

        A successful real estate agents has to be able to negotiate, understand psychology and personalities, be able to solve complexed problems, and market themselves. They have to be a salesperson, an advisor, be available, and always put the clients interests above everything else. Your model suggests that person cannot be the same, and with volume that is true. My point is volume does not always serve the Client well. CHOICE.

        I don’t disagree with you that from practice comes mastery as long as your purpose is to serve the Client, rather than be the “top producer” of the office.

        Anyway we are way off the topic of Rob’s post, but I could not help one last response to your doctor analogy.

      • I disagree on Volume. Volume is important. Are you a practitioner of your Trade or a hobbiest?

        When I went for my hernia operation I found the surgeon that does them every day for the last 20 years. Experience matters. Real Estate Sales is not cookie cutter, every deal is different. Curve-balls show up in front of the most seasoned agents, reaction is critical.

        Then take those seasoned agents who take the time to help others in the business and you have a very skilled practitioner working for those clients.

      • Ted, Once again equating our real estate industry to a doctor is laughable.

        Your second paragraph seems to conflict with your first? Every deal is done differently, therefore repeating a single procedure would not produce better results. This is experience for the unknown which is different than volume.

        Clearly there is a balance between volume and competency. My point simply is just because an agent is a “top producer” does not mean he or she is the most competent or that the Clients got the best advocate for themselves. Having a cell phone on there skull the entire time they are with Clients may be productive, but does it serve the Client?

        This is where the Good Life comes in if you want to scale excellent service and specialize the team members. The only way to provide good service on a volume level.

        At the end of the day my choice has always to do it myself and take less volume and spend more time on each transaction. High producer is a status that is usually driven by high ego.

        I can assure you that there are many excellent practitioners that don’t care about the shiny plaques office accolades, and secret handshakes.

      • Jeffrey,

        Absolutely not. Every time a doctor opens up a patient each surgery is not exactly the same. Nowhere near rote. While many of the components of a Sale have similarities, there is always circumstances that can change and it is the experience and the regular practice at the craft that makes the difference. I am a top paid negotiator, regular practice at my craft keeps me at the top of my game. Sorry I have a clear advantage over those that close 3-5 deals a year.

    • Jack,

      The GoodLife Team’s focus – on providing the systems to highly productive and experts in their space – is both obvious and genius at the same time. Obvious because, well, it just is. Genius because no other company of which I am aware – and certainly none of the large franchises – is doing it.

      Keep doing what you are doing. Your company is poised for tremendous future success.


    • Jack, that’s an unfair comparison because Goodlife is a brokerage but is more comparable to a team who brands themselves. Its like taking any top team and comparing production per agent to a national company. The consumer is choosing The Good Life Team because of your exceptional brand as they would choose a top KW or CB team which has it’s own branding and identity separate from the national franchise.

  13. Hi Rob, I am with KW, and I have my own signs, designed by my daughter and although I use Red, White and Black they are different. I wish I could upload one for you, maybe I will go to your Facebook profile and do it.
    As it said in the post, it is up to the Team Leader to approve.
    “4. All for sale signs must have a Market Center phone number unless the listing associate has been given the exception to do so by his/her TL…”

    When Re/Max closed here, I went to KW, wasn’t sure I would like it or stay so you will see that KW is very small on mine, (in case I needed to cover it up and went on my own) My own cell phone number is there, not the Brokers.

    The video I suspect is done for two reasons
    1) To say that KW lets an agent promote and brand themselves; whereas some companies promote the Company, especially in the local traditional companies. At least in my area, the Company name is front and center and the agents on a sign rider.
    2) To say that agents come first, that they can truly be independent contractors, run their business, build their teams within the umbrella of KW. KW does not spend money on TV, corporate advertising, but invests back in us.

    Brand matters to some folks, and not others. But, like the dude in the video said, “a company is made of people.” You work with one agent or team. There are good agents in every brand and not so good ones in every company.

    The last 3 years KW has won the JD Power Award for customer satisfaction. I’m not sure how it is arrived at, but it is awarded.

    I could leave tomorrow and not skip a beat in the level of business I do but I choose to stay for many reasons.

  14. @Jack Miller – “…in the fight?” What fight? This is a discussion, not a fight. Of course, brokerage owners want agents to believe brokerage brand provides benefits to customers and agents. Does it? I don’t think so. (Some) brokerages want to (try to) justify higher splits. Thank goodness, all of us can CHOOSE where WE hang our license. I find it interesting when brokers/brokerages talk of “hiring” and “firing” agents. Yeah, right. THEY want the monthly fees/splits. I agree strong personalities & entrepreneurs create THEIR own brand insomuch as they can within state/brokerage guidelines. I have reviewed all brokerage models (in my area). They claim benefits justifying the high fees/splits BUT they don’t deliver. For agents not able/willing to become a tech savvy agent, they will (unfortunately) go the way of the dinosaur as they rely on brokerage promises/assurances to hand them leads. Interesting “discussion.” Mike

    • Mike-

      I do believe it is a fight – the market place is a competition, and the promises & offers that companies make and keep to the customer are the weapons that we fight with. What I see being debated here is whether the brokerage is helping with that fight or not. KW is pretty clear that it has no aims of using its brand in that regard, but then has standards for its brand that might appear hypocritical to the recruiting message in the video. There are reasons for them to have these standards, discussed at length in many of the comments.

      The capacity that most agents have to make promises and deliver on them for the customer are different depending on who they are in business with on the brokerage side. This is fact, demonstrated by lots of brokerages that offer help to associates in lead generation and servicing the customer. KW would have you believe those offers are all false promises, and that agents that come to KW always make more money than those that don’t. This is misleading when you observe a system that produces 5 transactions per agent annually.

      KW’s approach is to let the agent bear the risk of developing their own business, and to cap what they take from them in return. That’s a totally valid approach, no issue with that. I also think that for many agents, KW is a completely valid choice from both a business perspective and from a branding and marketing perspective. However, I’m not willing to assign KW’s model special powers in the marketplace – at the end of the day, we’re still all competing for the consumer with our offers in our local marketplaces.

      One of the claims of the Goodlife team is that the cost and risk associated with all of the things that must now be done to satisfy the modern consumer – with the web, social media, marketing, follow up systems, lead incubation, negotiation, and completing a successful transaction are now beyond the capacity of one agent to execute at a high level consistently. It’s too much, requires many skills and competencies, and developing and working on those skills and competencies takes time away from an agent’s productivity. Our response is to offer our company’s practices, systems, and tools that operate in those domains for the purpose of 1) servicing the consumer at a very high level 2) helping our agents stay focused on dollar productive activities so they actually make more money. Our company shares in the risk and in the reward.

      No model fits everyone, and I would be the first to tell you that most agents can’t work at the Goodlife team. At the end of the day agents must make an assessment about what they want from their company, and whether they believe the company can deliver – same as the consumer does with their agent.


      • Jack, Very well said. My only issue is with companies or brands that say one thing and then do another. Thank heavens there is a model for every type of agent and personality – competition is always a good thing.

  15. When I was at KW it was not mandated that the market center number had to be on yard signs. All the agents put their cell number on their signs. Some agents used different colors, and their own logo, in addition to the “kw” script logo or typeface. Obviously the market center I was at did not enforce KW’s sign policy.

    Having said that, IMO, the KW culture is not about agents selling real estate. It’s about recruiting and keeping up an image and selling all the tools and gadgets they want their agents to buy. If an agent sells 5 homes a year, as Jack Miller mentioned, that’s just groovey, or I should say, gravy, to the individual Market Center.

  16. 1) Each brand makes their own promises. It is not uniform. Although there can be some cross-over in the promises.
    2) Whatever their brand promise is, they do use it in recruiting.
    3) IMO agent count doesn’t matter or change the promise. Every company large or small offers different things (or promises) so it doesn’t matter. Most agents leave companies or go to other ones, for personal reasons, looking for something different, or a dispute at the company, better splits etc.

    • Thanks for actually trying to answer my questions at the end of the post 🙂

      My issues with almost all RE brands, large or small, is that while one could say, “Each makes its own promise, and is not uniform”, I don’t think many RE brands make ANY promise. And the ones that do, often do absolutely nothing to actually KEEP that promise, from recruiting to rules enforcement to communications. That’s my issue with the whole topic of ‘branding’.

      It’s as if brokerages think of branding as being equal to brand awareness, and stop there. As long as their yard signs are everywhere, as long as more agents in the market have their logo on their business card, as long as surveys show that consumers can identify your logo correctly, the job is done. How much attention is paid to whether the brand promise — whatever it is, whether it’s “excellent customer service” or “deep local expertise” — is actually being delivered on by those who carry the brokerage’s logo?

      I know there are brokers out there who take it personally if one of their agents screws up a deal, or behaves in a manner contradictory to their brand promise. Sadly, they are few and far in between from what I can tell. All the “#RTB” talk in the industry is about government regulation on the one hand, or NAR requirements, or individual agents who suck. If brokers started taking their brand beyond simple awareness to actual promises to consumers that are enforced… the whole RTB thing likely fades as an issue.

      That consumers do not choose an agent based on the brand is not, I think, something to be celebrated; I have no issue with KW using that competitively vis-a-vis other franchises or brokerage brands to recruit agents. But as an industry, should it not bother us that the brand is so bereft of meaning?

  17. I’m going to try to answer your questions. Brand promises, are just that, promises. The caveat is the delivery of the promise is left to the agent to workout. The brand promises if agent does x y z, then the promise will be delivered. If the agent does not perform x y z, then it’s the agent’s fault, not the brand, the promise wasn’t delivered. The problem is, x y z are practically impossible for any human to carry out.
    Recruiting practices are tied to the brand promise, the reason for being, and much like a sales pitch, hooks the buyer in to the promise. If an agent chooses a brand for the promise, they may end up sorely disappointed.
    The irony in all this is KW’s video, because KW is all about brand and image, and their message of the consumer choosing an agent over brand is their brand. They want agents to think it’s about them and not the KW brand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Methinks you doth protest too much: Agents continue to be viewed as the necessary evil in a brokerage.
    Agent count does not matter when it comes to delivery of brand promise. Small or large brokerage, the promise is either realized or not, and as I said earlier, is thrown on the backs of the agents, not the brand. Larger companies tend to have their brand promise rehearsed down pat in comparision to smaller companies, who may be struggling to coming to grips with a clear message of promise.
    For me, it’s about the individual, whether client, agent or broker, not brand.

    • The majority of franchises require you only to hold a real estate license and be able to fog a mirror. Otherwise it is about collecting franchise fees, transaction fees, E&O payments, fancy signs, and brand propaganda.

  18. I think what people say they do, and what they actually do are often different. When interviewed, they may say the company didn’t matter, but that’s usually after the fact, and after they worked with the agent. Before they spoke to anyone, they are often subconsciously drawn to a particular company because they “see their signs everywhere”. Once they work with a particular agent, their perception of why they chose that agent may be different than what actually attracted them to that company. Most consumers do no real analysis of why they should pick one agent over the next, and either pick one because they were drawn to a big player with lots of signs, or through a recommendation or family member. Sad, but true.

    We’re fighting it in our market now, since the largest brokerage in Northeast Ohio is not KW or Remax, it’s a company that’s a no-name on a national basis. They have about 2600 agents in our MLS, with KW next at about 800 then Remax with around 650. The big company gets a lot of business just because of sheer mass, and the fact that their signs are everywhere. If you look at what they actually do for the consumer that might be better than other brokerages, there’s really nothing unique that I can see, but consumers are still attracted because of the perception that they must do something unique because they “have so many signs out there”.

    @jeffreydouglass – Seems to me that KW is following the same strategy that built Remax; one of bringing in as many bodies as you can, then charge them for “stuff” in as many ways as you can, without actually doing anything different to help them sell homes. Agents are like sheep, and right now in our market the sheep seem to be crossing the road to the KW side in droves, just like they did a few years ago with Remax. They’re drawn by the promise of profit sharing, multi-level profits, and the ability to “cap-out” and only pay the brokerage so much. The reality is that most of them never cap-out, and from the numbers I run it doesn’t seem like the offices are making enough to have a profit, let alone profit-sharing, but I obviously could be missing something. Most agents don’t track their own numbers to know if they are making a profit in their own business, let alone to know whether or not their brokerage is making a profit or surviving.

    I just watched it happen this year, when the Remax I left to start my own company went under. They brought in over 100 agents in a couple years and opened three retail offices. Once the market tanked, many stopped paying their monthly fees and the company couldn’t cover their overhead. I saw it coming in 2008 and got out of Dodge as fast as I could, but most all of their agents didn’t have a clue and were completely blindsided when Remax pulled their franchise. I have no idea what KW’s real numbers are, but the way the market is performing right now, I wonder if their current strategy of bringing in anyone and everyone they can will lead to the same problems. Only time will tell.

    My company is unique in that we don’t charge our agents a penny. No fees, E&O payments, or other junk. We are only paid when our agents close a transaction, through splits that are listed right on our site. We even provide them with free custom signs, build the single-property sites, take all their pictures, and print their brochures. We’re taking a step in a different direction than KW and Remax, where we’re actually getting involved with helping them sell more properties, instead of bringing them on and then soaking them with fees until they can’t afford it any more an leave.

    • John, very insightful reply, I think you are right on in many issues. Most are built on smoke and mirrors and lots of spin. Profit sharing, capped splits, and recruiting perks don’t really pan out in an industry with so low profit margins.

      I often ask agents what split they have and they will reply 80%. I then ask if they have a franchise fee and many reply oh yea that is 7%. So in actually they have a 73% split not accounting for transaction fees, tech fees, E&O insurance, etc.

      The point of this discussion is the importance in my mind with the brand walking the talk. If they do that I have no issue with the Company as everyone should have a choice of who and why they work for a particular brokerage. The truth is simply that the franchise is a “brand” myth is most of the value that they bring to the table.

      Your point about signs everywhere is a relevant one. In the San Diego market we have very strong companies and agents in communities that command the market share. If you are a seller in one of these areas it is likely that you’ll pick up the phone and call a few of the visible agents. It also is likely that you’ll will seek recommendations from a friend or neighbor with a referral to an agent that gets the job done.

      These market leaders move from company to company with little effect on there business regardless what color or logo is on the for sale sign.

      On a side note does not your model attract agents that may not be productive?

      • Jeff – We are small (17 agents) and not quite two years old, and our model has attracted both productive and non-productive agents. My goal is that since we do not bury them in fees and junk charges, they can now focus more attention on spending that same money to market themselves and grow their own business. Plus, we actively help them sell more listings by taking professional photos, creating the custom sign, website, etc., instead of just signing them up and ignoring them, and waiting for their invoice payment to arrive each month.

  19. Rob,

    Since I watched that video, my brain has been caught in an infinite loop – and I mean that LITERALLY – which I would describe as “1 + 1 = 3.”

    Then I read this blog post, and what you said just just sped up that loop.

    I have now written three – THREE! – unique blog posts in response to that video, none of which feels quite right as of yet. In fact, I just sketched out an outline of a FOURTH post.

    At some point, my brain will radar lock on the optimal line of “response logic” and I will be able to publish something.

    In the meantime, I’ll say this:

    * That video reminds me of something I’ve seen somewhere before. Oh, yeah, here it is:

    * It’s hard to create a “brand that matters” in the eyes of the consumer when your publicly stated focus and your overt franchising strategy is predicated on being “agent centric,” which MOST of the established industry appears to be

    * I believe the next trend in real estate will be in the direction of the companies that ARE focused on THE CLIENT, NOT THE AGENT. I’ve written a number of posts about this, which you can read at

    * I know there are brands out there – Krisstina Wise at the GoodLife Team, Jay Thompson at Thompson’s Realty, and Garron Selliken at M Realty – who are focused on creating real brand value, and all them are focused on “client first” (or at least client and agent EQUALLY), as opposed to being overtly agent-centric.

    * This “client first/client and agent equal” focus is the philosophy that I see as being the winning strategy in the future, particularly as ‘agent rating’ and Social Media word of mouth become even more prevalent, which all agree is inevitable.

    OK, now I’ve thought of a fifth line of response logic. I better write it down before I forget it…

    Great post, Rob…


  20. Rob,

    Since I watched that video, my brain has been caught in an infinite loop – and I mean that LITERALLY – which I would describe as “1 + 1 = 3.”

    Then I read this blog post, and what you said just just sped up that loop.

    I have now written three – THREE! – unique blog posts in response to that video, none of which feels quite right as of yet. In fact, I just sketched out an outline of a FOURTH post.

    At some point, my brain will radar lock on the optimal line of “response logic” and I will be able to publish something.

    In the meantime, I’ll say this:

    * That video reminds me of something I’ve seen somewhere before. Oh, yeah, here it is:

    * It’s hard to create a “brand that matters” in the eyes of the consumer when your publicly stated focus and your overt franchising strategy is predicated on being “agent centric,” which MOST of the established industry appears to be.

    * I believe the next trend in real estate will be in the direction of the companies that ARE focused on THE CLIENT, NOT THE AGENT. I’ve written a number of posts about this, which you can read at

    * I know there are brands out there – Krisstina Wise at the GoodLife Team, Jay Thompson at Thompson’s Realty, and Garron Selliken at M Realty – who are focused on creating real brand value, and all them are focused on “client first” (or at least client and agent EQUALLY), as opposed to being overtly agent-centric. This is the philosophy that I see as being the winning strategy in the future, particularly as ‘agent rating’ and Social Media word of mouth become even more prevalent, which all agree is inevitable.

    OK, now I’ve thought of a fifth line of response logic. I better write it down before I forget it…

    Great post, Rob…


  21. Speed reading this morning, so pardon the rather pedestrian, probably redundant comment.

    Brand matters, but only when it stands for something. Generic, same-o, standardized brokerage signs stand for something — they stand as a testament to size, perceived success, and name recognition. They matter in this case only to the brokerage, because the only brand promise they offer is “We have lots of agents,” and the goal is about recruiting more of those guys, not appealing to or serving the customer.

    Other companies see their brand promise differently (fewer, unfortunately), and it truly is about providing better service to the customer, which brings us back to the big versus small debate. Big needs to be primarily concerned with agent numbers, and the promise that really counts — the one to the consumer — gets necessarily diluted. It doesn’t have to. I think you can have both, but it requires giving the agent autonomy while setting standards (and yes, establishing standardized collaterals).

    That sounds like a lot of babble, I know. But I’ll offer Exhibit A, our custom yard signs. These brand the company. They are about the most recognizable thing in the areas we serve. But in the case of the home seller, they also serve the client, because it is mostly about them, with photos of their home and words about their home. And as for the buyer, we don’t have to tell them what we stand for, because our signs (and everything else we do to market ourselves and our listings) do the talking for us.

    The problem I see with the “brand promise” is that people get it backwards. Deliver on the promise first, then build a “brand” around it. It can’t work the other way around — by just making promises and then worrying about how you might deliver if and when you get around to it (and get out of your next recruiting happy hour).

    As to number of agents? I will channel Jay. Does. Not. Matter. It doesn’t matter to the customer, that is. It matters a great deal to the revolving-door brokerage who has to present his bottom line at the next management retreat.

    “Are larger companies more or less likely to project and deliver on the right brand promise?” This is a gimme, and we have beat this horse before. The key is in the delivery. IMO, less. Much less. Because while larger companies are out “projecting,” beating their chests (We’re number 1!) and watching their agents multiply like bunnies, the silliest, least ethical, most poorly equipped rabbit in the bunch has just articulated the true meaning of the brand.

    • “The problem I see with the “brand promise” is that people get it backwards. Deliver on the promise first, then build a “brand” around it. It can’t work the other way around — by just making promises and then worrying about how you might deliver if and when you get around to it (and get out of your next recruiting happy hour).”

      To be fair, Kris, the meaningful brands — Apple, BMW, UnderArmor, Disney, etc. — build the brand promise from the top-down. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Steve Jobs is the brand manager for Apple; he defines what it means, what the brand promise (high quality, high design, ease of use) is, and then he ensures that the entire company enforces it. He worries how the company might deliver it, but instead of thinking about “if and when they get around to it”, living up to the brand promise becomes the North Star of working at Apple.

      While it seems obvious that smaller companies would have an easier time with delivering on the promise, I do think larger companies would have an edge (if they chose to) by having resources and staff that would be laser-focused on the brand, its meaning, and delivery on the meaning. For example, many larger companies have a Director of Marketing. It is my opinion that a brokerage that cares about the brand would empower this individual to fire any agent who is not living up to the brand promise. If the brand promises “service with a smile”, then any surly, rude agent would be fired on the spot even if she’s a producing agent.

      If Nordstrom’s can do it, if InterContinental Hotels can do it, if Zappos can do it, I see no reason why a real estate brokerage of size cannot do it.

      • Rob, We have all been down this road and you know the answer to that is independent contractors.

        I think Kris makes a very good point that for a real estate brand to matter they need to have really great agents doing really great things. That will build the brand in a positive way, one agent at a time.

        Once you shift and leave your core purpose and culture it’s only a matter of time before things look like a wild herd of cats, each confident they have the answer to what is best, and each going its own way.

      • Rob,

        Call me crazy, but perhaps it’s because Nordstrom’s, InterContinental Hotels and Zappos have a solid barrier to entry and that they don’t welcome with open arms literally anyone who might want to work there?

        I dunno…it’s just a theory I have… 😉


      • That has to do with what Jeffrey mentioned. Nordstrom’s, InterContinental, and Zapps all pay their employees.

        Having said that, brokers can elect to treat the agents like an employee, as far as the brand is concerned, and cut ties with those who aren’t representing the brand as they want it represented. Of course, that requires thinking of the agents as “people who work for me” instead of “people who pay me”….

      • Rob,

        I agree. Just because agents are typically independent contractors does NOT preclude a brand from (1) having real standards, and (2) enforcing those standards.

        I see SO MANY PEOPLE in this space who just roll over and say, “Oh well, agents are independent contractors, there’s nothing we can do, it is what it is.”

        Brokers and brands need to take back control of their brokerages and brands. Letting the inmates run the asylum (and allowing ANY inmate into ANY asylum!) is largely what has taken the industry to the bottom of the Harris Polls and real estate brands to the level of irrelevancy NAR’s own study highlights.

        And to those who so often say, “There are good and bad agents in every company,” let me say this: that is only true if every company recruits and then tolerates those bad agents.


  22. The real message of the video, is that real estate agents drive real estate business….not real estate companies. The big scam of the real estate industry has always been that real estate companies wanted to make real estate agents believe that customers wanted to hire them because of the company they are affiliated with….which is totally false. It has been proven time and time again, when a real estate agent switches real estate companies…THEIR clients follow them.

    The stats don’t lie. KW is now the #3 largest real estate company in N. America, and within 12 months we will be passing both Coldwell Banker and Century 21 to be the #1 real estate company….yet we don’t spend any money marketing our brand to the consumers? Look at the numbers, last year, all of the other top five real estate companies spend millions and millions of dollars a year marketing their brand to the consumers, and yet they lost millions of dollars and lmore importantly, arge percentages of their agents. The bottom line, is when you treat your agents(who drive the business) like partners, and you share the profits with them, open the books to them, offer the best commission splits and create a culture where there is an incentive for the agents to share ideas…why would they ever leave your company.

    When you don’t have to worry about your agents leaving, i.e, there is not a better model out there for them to run their business at:
    – You don’t have to spend millions of dollars a year marketing your brand to the consumers, but rather invest in the agents(training, education & technology)
    – Now you can teach them how to market/brand THEIR business instead of your company’s brand. This actually makes it easier for them to leave your company because they are not tied to your brand.

    You can believe the myths about KW are you can profit from the truth!

    • Aaron,

      “Why would they ever leave your company?”

      Since you asked, I will answer.

      I am a former KW agent. Here are the reasons I left:

      * Because there was too much emphasis on growth for the sheer sake of growth. I am a quality guy, not a quantity guy. I worked in an office that had around 300 agents at its peak. Of those 300 agents, the highest number I ever heard in terms of agents “capping” was 44. That meant that a very high percentage of the agents in that office were not overly successful.

      * Because the profit sharing never really produced meaningful results for me or anyone else I knew. The real proof: just take the total amount of the annual profit sharing and divide it by the number of agents in the company. The numbers SOUND big until you do this simple calculation.

      * Because the company lacked a “why.” I wrote a blog post about this at Being “number 1” and “having the most agents” is NOT a why. These are the kinds of things companies use to promote themselves when they don’t have a why. I am completely turned off when ANY company uses that type of boast as a recruitment approach, because I am such a believer in affiliating with brands that DO have a why – Apple, BMW, etc.

      * Because I never bought into the agent-centric focus. I am all about the client. Even now, as the owner of a company, I am all about the client. Having this philosophy guarantees that I will NEVER be large, and I am totally OK with that. My opinion, right or wrong, is that you cannot be both huge and completely dedicated to the client. And I know that MOST agents will read what I just wrote and be repelled by it, because they have become SO accustomed to being catered to by most real estate companies. That is fine. I want to attract professionals who agree with me that the entire organization should be focused on pleasing the buyers and sellers who ultimately keep us in business.

      Also, just FYI, a number of my agents are ex-KW. So, I think it’s a wee bit strong of you to state “when you don’t have to worry about your agents leaving.” Agents do leave KW. I’m pretty sure The GoodLife Team – located in Austin, TX – is comprised primarily of ex-KW people. They were named Inman News’ “Innovative Brokerage of the Year” in 2010.


    • Aaron – I definitely give KW credit for the way they’re adding lots and lots of agents. My point is that it reminds me of what ReMax did in the early 2000’s when they were adding lots of agents too and eventually were the larges in the country with over 100,000 and at that time more than Coldwell and C21. The problem I see is that if you’re adding that many agents, and have the overhead of offices, staff, and franchise fees paid to corporate, you better have big profits or all the talk of profit sharing and other incentives is meaningless.

      I obviously don’t know KW’s actual numbers, but I do study the competitors in my market, and can do some basic back-of-a-napkin math. Looking at the production numbers for KW offices in my area and using average commission rates, agent splits, etc., many of the offices appear to be netting only $6,000 to $7,000 per month before paying their rent, staff, and other related overhead. That doesn’t appear to me to be enough to actually generate a profit, and with the market continuing to slide and prices still eroding, I just wonder if it’s all smoke-and-mirrors and are they just setting themselves up for catastrophic failure, at least at some of the offices? Again, only time will tell. Most likely, in a few years the next big idea will emerge and the next KW or ReMax will climb the ladder and play the game of “we have the most agents” but not enough profits.

  23. NAR stats say that less than 2% of people will choose an agent because of the company they work for; they choose to work with you because of the relationship you build and the knowledge you possess. A sign in the yard does help a bit with brand recognition, but it really comes down to you and what you bring to the table. It doesn’t matter which company you hang your license with…just know your market, know your stats and know how to run a business…you’ll do just fine.

  24. I guess I don’t understand if it is all about the individual agent, then why are you as the individual agent giving up 30% of your commission or whatever the split may be?

  25. I have 2 points of view on this. My first is I have to agree with Jay supported by the NAR video, that my clients hire me not my brand. With that being said, the reason I am with a brand is the tools and services they provide that compliments what I do as an agent to grow my business.

    I believe that there should be a variety of choices for business models for agents. If I decided to go on my own or with a brokerage based on personal brand I would expect to not see consistency in signage and the typical marketing that brands offer. I still try and be optimistic that there is an expectation that the agents will act with the highest level of professionalism.

    I can only speak from driving around the city of Chicago and dealing with KW agents. There is no consistency of signs. The majority of time I would know it is a KW listing except when I pull the listing up in the MLS. From dealing with them as fellow agents, the same applies. So my question is why do you affiliate yourself with a franchise if you aren’t going to take advantage of the “brand”.

    BTW, I was just interrupted while writing this. I am in my office and someone who has used Sotheby’s in New York walked in the office looking for someone to represent her in finding her home in Chicago. There are brokerage offices all over the neighborhood. What brought her in was being familiar with the brand. Although I don’t depend on any brand to give me business, sometimes the brand brings it to me:)

    • The more interesting question for me, Andrea, vis-a-vis Sotheby’s is what Sotheby’s does to enforce its brand promise of “luxury”.

      For example, are minimum price requirements uniformly enforced? I’ve heard quite a few stories where they are not, and 3BR/2BA starter homes end up with a Sotheby’s sign in front of them.

      Are photo standards routinely and uniformly enforced? (Because as a consumer, if I sign up with a luxury brand like Sotheby’s, I’d be expecting very high quality professional photography of my $5m mansion.)

      What sorts of mandatory training are Sotheby’s agents required to successfully complete? Classes on wine tastings perhaps? Art appreciation? Other finer things in life?

      Does Sotheby’s only recruit agents who understand how to serve the high-end luxury customer? (My experience with Bergdorf Goodman was that BG never hired anyone it did not think could understand, empathize with, and deal with the often-nasty, often-demanding, and often-demeaning luxury customer.) Do they fire the ones who project the ‘wrong image’ no matter the production level? (That’s the real test of a brand’s meaningfulness, isn’t it?)

      I think Sotheby’s (and other luxury brands) is a good place to start because there, the brand does mean something. The brand at least tries to evoke a lifestyle that the luxury consumer understands and is used to. Now the question is what the company — not just the agent, but the brokerage company — does to communicate that brand promise, and what it does to enforce said promise across the board.

      • As Realogy’s “Luxury” brand there are several requirements that are different than their other brands. I am address residential sales here. All listings must have high resolution photography with a minimum of 10 photos. They have a quality control department that audits the listings on the Sotheby’s International Realty Site. No pictures of bathrooms with pantyhose hanging from the shower rod.

        They are very protective of the Sotheby’s trademark.

        As a former CB agent I can attest to the more stringent guidelines. That is one of the benefits of being with the brand. Quick, easy and affordable high quality marketing pieces. For the most part there is nothing cheap in the markets I work. The quality and design of the print materials is much greater than their other brands.

        There are online classes for marketing and other tools.

        In regards to the price point, my understanding is that they will only approve offices where average sales are at a certain price point in a group of zip codes. When I was in management for the company, I know we were turned down for a new office because of that.

        There is also a whole price structure in place for print and interactive listing distribution of what listings feed to what sites and other types of exposure. $300K, $1 million, $1.5million

        The variable in all this is if local affiliates use other means for online listing distribution such as their MLS feed instead of going with the program and giving all control to Sotheby’s corporate. There is where you see the inconsistency.

        In terms of education, Sotheby’s promotes quality but that falls into the hands of the local affiliates.

        One would think Realogy as a whole would promote more education such as Fair Housing and Anti trust to try and avoid a $100million lawsuit.

      • I knew that Sotheby’s was protective of the trademark — especially the trademark owner, who is not Realogy. For example, I could not get Sotheby’s to auction my used cellphone. 🙂 But as a real estate brand, I’m not sure what the brand promise is, and what is actually done at Corporate to enforce that brand. To wit:

        “The variable in all this is if local affiliates use other means for online listing distribution such as their MLS feed instead of going with the program and giving all control to Sotheby’s corporate. There is where you see the inconsistency.”

        This is where I think the brand has to be managed at the corporate level; just like a MLS has Compliance, a brand that wants to mean something probably should have Brand Compliance departments who ensures that local affiliates are adhering to standards, and taking steps to enforce the brand.

        Again, I’m just picking on Sotheby’s because it does mean something (or should).

      • In my four years with Sotheby’s I have found them to be too slow to react to the needs of the affiliates(with this brand they are not called franchises”) in a fast changing marketplace. I think the best example of that is the big change over the past few years in listing distribution. By they time they either figured out or decided how to proceed the affiliates have already gone off in their own directions so they can best service their agents and their clients and grow their market share.

        Usually by the time they put something out the ship has already sailed.

        The easiest for an agent to give themselves a raise is to increase their average price points which the brand does.

    • John – I just looked through the Admin screen, and I see nothing that’s been flagged as spam or anything like that. I see one long comment from you (which is approved and active), and one short one where you just provide a link to your website I think? Was there another comment?

      For the record, I never delete a comment unless it’s obvious spam. I’d even let flames stand — might step in to ask folks to cool it, and start closing the entire thread, but I wouldn’t delete a comment that’s been posted without a court order. Better to post a correction, or have others pound the inappropriate commenter.

  26. You are all right and you all wrong.

    And that’s ok.

    Rob, , mentioned Nordstrom. Which I was not aware of this brand until moving to the Seattle area. Guess what? They are profitable. They are high end. The price tags on their merchandise having really high dollar amounts.

    Wal-mart is also profitable. Very different model, but it works.

    Target, kind of the middle maybe of Nordstrom and Wal-mart…guess what? They are also profitable.

    It seems ridiculous to me to sit around and argue what business model is right. There can be different business models. Really! There can!

    If your model is profitable, I would shut up and not share it with anyone.

    And if you are really for the consumer, stop saying “My way is the only way to do it!!!!” The consumer wants choices which is evident by the fact that I just named 3 retailers that are all profitable in a time period where people aren’t spending money on consumer goods.

    If you are truly for the consumer, you would welcome different models and more competition, cuz ultimately that is what the consumer wants. Choice.

    • Good points, Darin… but… why does every discussion about brand turn into a discussion about business models? 🙂

      Nordstrom’s has a strong brand that it protects zealously: superior customer service. Walmart also has a strong brand that it protects: low prices. Target has its strong brand: cheap chic. Those guys are fine. You know who’s not fine? Macy’s. JC Penney’s. Bon-Ton. The Gap. Companies whose brands are all muddled up, mean less and less (I mean seriously, what the hell does The Gap stand for now?), and whose managers are more concerned about internal politics than about competing in the marketplace.

      All of these guys have the same business model: buy wholesale, sell retail. In real estate, a brokerage/brand can say, our business model means we don’t care about our brand. That’s fine; it’s their company, they can do what they want. I just happen to think it’s a stupid strategy is all. Business model and brand identity are two separate, if interlinked, things.

      • Rob,

        You wrote: “In real estate, a brokerage/brand can say, our business model means we don’t care about our brand. That’s fine; it’s their company, they can do what they want. I just happen to think it’s a stupid strategy is all.”

        THAT is one of my favorite things you have EVER written. It’s like saying “the power of our brand is that is has no power.”



  27. Keep on mind friends that regardless of the “Brand” each company/office is independently owned and operated. Not all National Brands, nor Independents, nor small boutique real estate companies approach their business as a meat market and many have very professionally ran agents and companies. I would hope in today’s consumer driven world, all smart brokers are reevaluating their business models. On the other hand having a hodgepodge of “What ever you want on the sign” defeats the purpose of National brand and is a big mistake. It will hurt in the long run. Keep raising the bar. 🙂

    • Let’s get back to the base concept of signage. What is the sign supposed to do? I really don’t think the average consumer / home seller feels seeing the agent’s name, or picture, dwarfing the brand, or full body photo on the sign out front drives traffic to them, and more importantly, do you?
      Our industry is so unsophisticated and inefficient., and we bemoan the fact people won’t embrace our professionalism.
      Our marketing is a jumble of mixed messages and self promotion and we try and disguise it as being in the best interest of our sellers for US to be front and center.
      The sign should be a window for access, a way for an interested consumer to quickly and easily get information and content about the property, not a billboard for the listing agent.
      There are a host of ways to do this, and yet the vast majority of signs are basically the same as the ones that were in yards and windows 50 years ago, only now more shamelessly promotional of the office and / or the agent.
      So, back to the sign. I am not a KW agent, but I am willing to bet this video is setting the stage for getting past “the past” and having their signs actually do something for the client.

      • Dave – Just click on my name and look at what we’re doing at Liquid Blue Realty. We’re small now, and just starting to grow in the Northeast Ohio market, but we’re doing just what you mentioned. Using the sign as a centerpiece for marketing the home, not our agents. Of course, we brand our company with our logo, as we do feel that’s important for generating market momentum, but our signs are designed to advertise our clients’ properties.

      • It looks good, John. Check out the Microsoft Smart tag program for what might be the next big thing with signs. smart phones can scan the sign, and the tag takes the consumer to whenever you wish. I would suggest to a virtual tour and property feature page, but hey, I am just a simple guy trying to sell a house.

      • I can chime in here.

        What John is doing is just top notch super great stuff. I love his signs. They are an ad for the house- the house IS, after all, the product for sale. John’s signs would impress me as both a buyer and a seller.

        Dave, those codes are QR codes and don’t just come from Microsoft. They will be big in some way for Real Estate. If I were an agent I’d have some fun (in the right market) and run a print ad with JUST QR dodes– no other information except my name and logo and let the tech savvy property buyer have some fun.

        And as far as being a simple guy trying to sell a house– that’s the only way to go. NOTHING will ever replace dotted I’s, crossed T’s, and good customer service. Word of mouth is now and will always be the number one driver of new business for most agents (now HOW that word of mouth occurs is sometimes a question of technology.)

      • Thanks Berry and Dave for the nice comments. The QR codes really intrigue me, and are something we can easily add to our signs, directly linking the buyer to our individual property page. Dave – the QR ad idea is brilliant. I just have to figure out where you advertise it so the tech-savvy crowd finds it and can grab it with their phone. No one seems to read the newspaper or home magazines any more, at least in Cleveland, so we’ll have to get creative!

    • Going to reply here, Nick, so others can follow along too. 🙂

      I did read your good & passionate post, Nick, and I think it’s worth a read for everyone who is interested in this topic. But as far as your answer to my post on Notorious goes… I don’t believe I’ve ever said that the brand matters to any agent, good or bad. It does, however, matter to the brand owner. It should, I think, matter to the brokerage/franchise whose brand it is.

      So I was pointing out that despite the YouTube video, intended to recruit real estate agents to KW, since agents don’t care about the brand, KWRI does in fact care a great deal about the KW brand, the KW image, and so on, as evidenced by the Policy Manual.

      I also don’t believe every agent, or for that matter, ANY agent can be trusted with your brand. No brand manager, no competent brand-focused company, trusts anyone with the brand; they watch each other like hawks to make sure that the brand promise and meaning are preserved. My issue is with companies in real estate who do not, and then wonder why the brand is meaningless to both agents and consumers.


      • What I was trying to say is it only matters to the brand owner as it is seen in the eyes of other agents. I know Gary really doesn’t care if client A preferred the agent they worked with over the company. In fact, he would want it that way. He does care if an agent however, decides for some unforeseen circumstance to start wrecking the name of Keller Williams which in turn hurts agents who need a brand from joining. (Most agents have been programmed this way)

        So Keller Williams is trying to illustrate to the agent that you can be better/greater/ or however you want to put it in the clients eyes by joining Keller Williams. Keller Williams, for obvious reasons, is not going to allow Jeffery Dahmer have a sign that says “I’ll eat you out of house and home!” on a sign, so the team leader has the ability to make Jeffery use a company approved signed.

        Look at the policy as if it is a the 3rd branch of government. It is a check and balance to the free will of an agent left up to their own devices. Not a our brand is important so you must use our sign.

      • You can see it that way, if you wish. I’m just looking at the plain language of the policy. For example, of the Policy Manual:Authorization to Use Company NameAll material using the Keller Williams logo, must be used in compliance with the Standards & Identity Guide for the Agent and Standards & Identity Guide for the Franchise. Should your Regional Director or KWRI determine that any item is in violation of the standards or quality of Keller Williams® Realty, they will require that use of the item be discontinued immediately.That’s a top-down standards compliance regime. You the agent don’t get to have much say in determining if the item is in violation of not; that’s the RD’s call to make, period. A company that says the brand doesn’t matter does not make policies like this.Plus, you have, in which the Policy Manual states very clearly: “Presenting a world-class image to the public is an overriding concern to all at Keller Williams Realty.” And the section I discussed opens with: “Our image is one of the most important assets we have. Protecting it is one of our most important jobs.”Note #1: Our associates will only use standard KWRI for sale, open house, directional, rider and any other so-designated signs. Any deviation must be approved by the Regional Director, with final approval by KWRI. That little decision has to go all the way to the Corporate office for final sign-off.Nick — this is a company that cares very much about the KW brand, the KW image, the KW color scheme, the public image not just to agents but also to consumers. As they should. The marketer in me applauds that decision.I rather see it as KW intelligently marketing itself to agents on one of their hot buttons: “It’s about ME, not the company”. But the reality is that it has policies in place, and takes steps to ensure that the ME can’t ruin the Company’s brand and image. That’s just smart.But move on to the real heart of the matter. Fine, so KW brand is important to Gary and the others at KWRI. What the hell does KW mean to the consumer? What does it stand for? You can’t say it means nothing, because the Policy Manual makes it perfectly clear that it does mean something really, really important. So how are those things enforced in light of “You are the business, not us” environment at KW?Or at any brokerage/brand? That’s the real question.

  28. The brand matters to KW that is why they have the rules about the sign and logo. Each office is independently owned and operated and there is a vast difference in how they run. KW has the best of both worlds. If the franchise is doing a bad job it is because it is independently owned and operated. Some consumers are brand conscious when it comes to choosing an agent but only because they don’t understand that real estate company brands do not represent any kind of uniformity in service mainly because real estate companies don’t sell real estate but have independent contractors do it for them under their brand.

  29. I don’t think y’all disagree as much as you think you do.

    My experience with Keller Williams has been that the brokerage focuses on how they can help the agent serve the client.

    In my market, local KW agents are *encouraged* to have signs that stand out, and are not the standard KW red for sale sign. The Operating Principle of our office goes around telling agents that they need to build up THEIR brand, not promote KW’s brand, which is in contrast to the “old school” brokerage promotion model still peddled at some national firms.

    Boutique firms like Kristina’s and Jay’s are great, and I really love what they’re doing (and the people running them – hey guys!). When they roll out to hundreds of offices and thousands of agents, then you can compare how they brand and run to how KW, C21, CB etc run.

    From Canada, @benjaminbach

  30. That video was aimed at recruiting agents who believe THEY matter more than the brand. Maybe they do – that’s up to you to decide – and I agree some clients think its the agent that matters, and some do think its the brand. Both are important. I am a KW agent myself, and I previously worked for Coldwell Banker. The thing I hated at CB was everything had to have CB on it big, my name tiny, and the CB office number on it. Although the KW policy manual says what you posted, here’s whats on the password protected KW site for agents: “It is highly recommended that agents use an approved vendor for signs, but the choice is ultimately the agents’ decision. An approved vendor is familiar with regulations and restrictions and is better able to ensure that signs will be in compliance with KWRI requirements. You can find vendors on the home page of MyKW.” It goes on to give KW logos and let us design our own signs and advertising. I actually have black (*gasp*) sign panels with red and white lettering. KW is loose about enforcing that policy manual and really does have an atmosphere that encourages the agent to brand themselves first and the company second. As long as KW is on there somewhere, I don’t think they much care. 😉 Of course the brand is there for a reason – but ultimately KW gives us the freedom to use their logos and brand ourselves AND KW – integrate the two – and I love having that freedom.

  31. Hi everyone!

    As the Executive Director of Marketing here at KW, let me first say how much we respect the passion that has been displayed around this post and the video! This type of response is exactly what we want – good and bad. It shows the interest, curiosity and enthusiasm that many people have for Keller Williams Realty. While we can’t address every point brought up by all the comments, there are a couple of things I’d like to add:

    Gary Keller founded our company on the brand philosophy that “we stand behind our agents – not in front of them.”  We encourage our agents to brand themselves in their local market to differentiate themselves – so, one way to look at it is that while other agents are constrained by what their franchises and brokerages allow them to do, our agents have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

    As a company, we have to protect our trademarks, and to do so our policies and guidelines must exist. For many of our agents, their boards require that they identify their brokerage name (in many cases that is Keller Williams Realty) so our official stance is that agents and brokerages need to ensure they are operating in compliance with their local board’s rules and regulations and work with their local leadership for approval.  Rob – you raise a good point, and we’re going to reexamine the language in the P&G to ensure alignment.

    Brands aren’t just logos and trademarks and colors. Brands are the sum of the experiences and perceptions that your audience has about you. We train our associates so that they provide the highest-level of service to their clients – and when they succeed, we succeed. And at the end of the day, consumers are choosing our agents AND recognizing our name. (

    The bottom line is this – we don’t see a conflict between an agent-centric and consumer-centric approach.  Agents who have access to leading-edge education, training, technology and culture from their company are equipped to serve their clients at the very highest level.

    Keller Williams Realty is not a “brandchise.”  We are a franchise. We are wholly focused on delivering the models, systems and training that our offices and agents need to be productive and profitable. 

    If agents want to be with our company, we welcome them with open arms and everything we create is guided b our mission and our promise to agents to help them in “building careers worth having, businesses worth owning and lives worth living.”  When we strive for that, and our agents strive for that, consumers get the service and the results they want and deserve from their real estate agent.

  32. A bit late to the conversation, sorry. I saw this video posted elsewhere (I think @techsavvyagent) and didn’t get the connection of the video to KW at the end. There are many excellent KW agents and it is all about KW. Interesting to see the changes.

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