Why brand communities matter to real estate brokerages

When a brokerage firm creates a targeted brand community within an existing social network (such as Facebook), it enables that firm to understand the psychological motivations of its targeted clientele that underpin brand loyalty and brand love. According to this research paper, Brand communities embedded in social networks, brand communities have three traditional characteristics: consciousness of kind, shared rituals and tradition, and moral responsibility.

 iPodCommunity_ThomasHawkPhoto

Consciousness of kind relates to social identity theory (see discussion below); essentially, members feel connected to each other (in-group) and separate from outsiders (out-group). The feeling of in-group belongingness creates an identity, individually as it relates to the group and for the group itself. Through shared rituals and traditions members create their own meaning of community experience. Shared histories, brand-related stories, core values, and a common language create cohesion and resonance. Moral responsibility centers around such activities as members coaching other members on the proper uses of the brand and integrating new members into the community.

There are three aspects of social identity: cognitive (noting similarities with members of the group and differences to members of other groups), evaluative (perception of group self-esteem), and affective (positive emotions towards other group members).

In the study, the researchers profiled the Canon Digital Photography Facebook group and Canon Camera Malaysia Facebook business page. The researchers found high degrees of feelings of belongingness and brand love; for example:

“… I am loyal to Canon though. They have been the leader for a very long time. Plus, if I switched to Nikon, I would have to leave this group.” And, “If you could choose [one Nikon and one Canon product] which would you go for—The 7d, because the other one is Nikon”

Further, the communities had a set of rituals, brand love stories, established jargon, self-policing activities, and gentle chiding on proper communicative decorum and etiquette; for example:

“What is SS?”—“Shutter Speed. Sorry about that.” And, “In all the time, I have never seen anyone in here displaying the attitude and ill manners that you have displayed in this series of posts. In spite of this, everyone has treated you with dignity and respect and done their best to answer your question. Please mend your way.”

Moreover, moral responsibility as it related to integrating new members, conducting product support activities, coaching on buying decisions, and technical discussions were prevalent; for example:

“Please, be SMART CONSUMERS […], don’t just rush go out buy 550D […]. You own it today or you own it next week, it’ll still be around.”

Finally, there was a high degree of social identity within the two communities; for example:

“Thank you all so much for this invaluable advice!! It is so nice to have a helpful group to pose questions to […]” And, “This forum has been amazingly helpful-worth being on Facebook for it.”

The managerial benefits of leveraging existing social networks to facilitate targeted brand communities are several:

  • Easy and low cost access to huge numbers of consumers.
  • Ability to build long-term relationships between and with groups of members.
  • Highly efficient customer-to-customer based information exchange and learning.
  • Brand insight and intel.

With respect to real estate, a brokerage firm could consider creating a brand community targeting millennials transitioning from renting to first-time home buying. This community would focus on the core services offered, the process, transactional issues, and lending and financing issues. This community could facilitate conversations around success stories, pitfalls, and testimonials. It could also include pictorial representations of new first-time happy home owners and operate as a go-to forum for continued engagement post-transaction. Of course, with any community, there will be negative and potentially legal issues raised, but this is nothing that a properly trained community manager cannot manage or take offline. An example of a vibrant brand community started by a brokerage is DreamTown’s Pride of Ownership community.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

What real estate professionals can learn from Dominos Pizza

Domino’s Pizza owns the pizza conversation over its competitors, literally, with a continuous rollout of its progressive mobile app and web presence. Want to order a pizza via the in-car, voice-activated console of a Ford? No problem, go for it. Want to order a pizza via your mobile device via “Dom,” which is the Domino’s version of Siri. Done. You want to see the progress of your pizza order on Dominos.com, you’re all set. Listen to this NPR story, Domino’s Becomes A Tech Company That Happens To Make Pizza, for an excellent overview of Domino’s tech dominance.

Domino's Pizza order stats board
Domino’s Pizza order stats board

According to the NPR story, Domino’s has adopted a “Silicon Valley” approach to its technology deployment process. Essentially, Domino’s is in continuous rollout mode using agile development methodologies (for an overview of these methodologies, read Inspired by Marty Cagan). This process has allowed Domino’s to leap-frog its competition.

So how does this Domino’s story relate to real estate? Several entities in the real estate space have leveraged these software development methodologies to great gains; for example, Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin. And brokerages have amazing opportunities to do the same.

If a brokerage manages an in-house development staff, then it behooves this brokerage to send its key developers and managers to a Marty Cagan conference on agile processes, and then fundamentally change—if necessary—the way in which it manages this department. Moreover, this brokerage should consider creating a product manager layer within its org chart to further facilitate this internal product development process. Finally, this brokerage should consider creating internal mission teams like Spotify created.

These agile concepts are fundamental “Silicon Valley” like processes, where deployed properly can definitely create a culture of customer-centric internal product development and rollout. Alternatively, if a brokerage does not manage an internal development staff, then this brokerage should hold its development vendor accountable to delivering products and services in a manner that aligns with the agile approach. Otherwise, this brokerage is likely to be at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the marketplace in terms of technical capabilities and offerings.