Agents looking for a competitive advantage in their markets need to stop looking for quantifiable benefits and start looking to make an emotional connection with a specific market segment. Greg describes how to find the right niche for you that can't be duplicated by your competitors.
February 2005, By Greg Herder
Agents, both rookies and veterans, constantly come up and ask me what's the hottest new marketing angle that they can use to differentiate themselves? I always tell them the same thing, it's not hot, it's not new, but without a doubt the best way to succeed in real estate is to find a niche that gives you a long-term sustainable advantage over all the other agents in your marketplace. They always say, “Greg, that's exactly what I am looking for! Tell me, what niche will give me a long term sustainable advantage?”
I always tell them, every agent has a different niche that will give them a long-term sustainable advantage, but they have to find it within themselves. I tell them finding it is without a doubt the hardest and most important thing they will ever do in their real estate career and, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. My objective in this article is to guide you along this path so that you can find your niche.
Emphasize the Differences
Start by asking the question “What advantage would an agent have if they had a niche that differentiated them in a way that gave them a long-term advantage over their competition?” Unless you understand the true value in creating a long-term competitive advantage, you will never be able to make the sacrifices necessary and will always be looking for the broadest marketing appeal and end up with marginal results.
Next, ask yourself, “What elements make something a long-term competitive advantage in real estate?” I believe the answer to this is simple. It's offering your clients something that they value and respond to at an emotional level, and that your competitors have a very difficult time duplicating.
Don't Quantify Your Niche
Once you understand this, you will understand why most agents' efforts to differentiate themselves fail miserably. They work extraordinarily hard to offer something new or different, and as soon as what they are doing starts to produce results, their competitors copy them, effectively killing off any chance of a sustainable differentiation. I have seen this over and over again with countless numbers of agents' Service Plans, Guaranteed Sales programs, Direct Response Systems and Advertising Campaigns that quantify some number as proof of an agent's value. The problem is, most agents don't ask themselves, “If I launch this program, how will my competitors respond?” It is always critical to ask yourself where the weaknesses exist in your strategy.
What Drives You
After agents go through this mental exercise, many of them email me and say, “Greg, this is hard. I cannot find anything to differentiate myself with.” So I ask them to think about what their friends and family find most interesting about them. I also ask if they have any specialized knowledge of an industry or hobby that they are totally passionate about. Once you have identified these areas of who you are, think about the niche markets that you could select from in your area. What you are looking for is a target market that will emotionally respond to one of your personality traits, specialized knowledge, or passions that you have. Then you ask yourself how you could serve this group of consumers in ways that amplify these differences, and that agents will have a hard time copying.
Be True to Yourself
One of our early clients at Hobbs/Herder was a horsewoman who had competed in the Olympics in dressage 20 years before she started in real estate. When I met her, she was frustrated with how things were going in real estate. She was a very disciplined agent who provided outstanding service, but was struggling to attract a steady flow of clients. She had been promoting herself as the agent with outstanding service but found that was just not setting her apart in a way that emotionally resonated with consumers. After getting to know her and understanding her personality and background, I suggested that she refocus her marketing efforts to go after people that loved horses and upscale horse property.
We crafted her marketing materials to tell her story of how she used her passion for horses and personal discipline to overcome her shyness and go on to great success as a dressage rider, and how today she used what she learned in dressage to create success in her real estate career. Horse people instantly connected with her story in an emotional way. In dressage, the horse and rider are judged on the elegance, precision and discipline of the horse's movements. All of her marketing materials carried this theme that served to differentiate her in a way that became almost impossible for anther agent to duplicate.
Use Emotion to Your Advantage The most amazing thing to me is that this approach seemed so natural and so right to the client, yet she fought it all along the way. She did not what to talk about the Olympics because she had not won a medal, it was a long time ago, people didn't care about what she had done in the past, and a laundry list of other stuff. She wanted to talk about her service program and her own experience in buying and selling her own homes over the years.
The problem was that lots of other agents provided pretty good service, and had lots more experience in buying and selling their own homes that would allow them to imitate and even exceed her claims. The real problem is that those things simply do not create an emotional connection with consumers and they turn into just more meaningless marketing messages that get ignored, no matter what marketing gimmick you use.
Agents tell me, “Greg, that's great, but I never competed in the Olympics!” That's fine, but I promise there is something about you, your personality or your passions that a segment of people will respond to in an emotional way that will give you your long-term sustainable competitive advantage.
Find Your Connection
The opportunity is to look inside yourself and find that one thing. Until you have that to build on, you are simply spinning your wheels and you will always be disappointed with the results of your marketing efforts. I know it can be hard, even frustrating at times, to figure out, but the payoff is huge. If you can't do it on your own, hire someone who can help you - it's the best investment you will ever make in your real estate career.