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If it works, why change it? This argument works for those of us stock piling our incandescent light bulbs in a small act of defiance against the EU diktat. However, estate agents stubbornly clinging to the old and familiar are likely to find themselves swinging in the breeze as they are overtaken by more dynamic rivals. Heritage is good; history is not so good.
Even firms with a strong identity need to paddle faster to compete in these uncertain times. Relying on a brand name which goes back to the Crimean War isn’t going to cut it with clients who are looking for an efficient, modern service.
Rebranding isn’t a cheap option, but a successful roll-out can result in huge benefits. Not just an increase in image awareness, but a shift up the market to higher end property.
Winkworth, with 88 franchised offices, is a strong, instantly recognisable brand name, but they decided to launch a rebranding process at the start of the recession. Still ongoing, some of the cost was subsidised by the franchisor. However, not all the franchisees were 100 per cent sold on the idea, or the expense.
Says Winkworth Marketing Director Amber Rampley; “I had to really work hard to get it through because people were cautious. I had to do a lot of convincing. People said, ‘it is a strong brand, why change?’ and I understood that. But you have to keep a step ahead. We have real heritage – we are celebrating our 175th anniversary this year – and a good reputation, but certain elements were getting a bit tired.”
After inviting five rebranding agencies to pitch for the job, they decided on a small company called fFrost, a company which they already knew.
“We still had to be recognisable as Winkworth, but with a clean and contemporary image. We wanted to keep the corporate colour palette, but the font – which had been quite chunky – was made thinner.”
Following the rebranding, the average price of a property sold by the firm went up by £100,000. “It obviously works,” says Rampley. “It wasn’t an easy feat, but we are there now. The franchisee in Highcliffe, in Dorset, was previously selling property with an average price of £300,000. Now he has 70 per cent of the properties in the area selling above £500,000.”
It’s harder than it looks
Rebranding and modernising an existing firm is more difficult than starting with a new company and a clean sheet of paper, believes Mike Simons, partner at refitting and branding firm, MPL Interiors.
“An existing company has to evolve, but retain the link,” he says. “fOne of the best examples is BP, they reinvented themselves as a green company with the sunflower logo almost overnight. It must have cost millions but it was extremely clever.”
Estate agencies with a less high octane budget can pull off the trick – if it is well done – with colours, fonts and text size. Few brands have been as successful in raising their market position as Foxtons, says Simons. “They raised the bar,” he says. “It is up to us to recognise what is fashionable, but which suits the character and culture of our clients. A strongly positioned company like John D Wood & Co, for instance, is not going to get rid of the old badge because they don’t want to lose their brand value but I am a great believer in freshening a brand every five years, as a minimum.”
Jared Saggers of Kraft agrees, “Every market leading estate agency we work with looks to make branding changes on a fairly regular basis. A successful rebranding project serves both to re-energise a business and increase its public perception. It amazes me sometimes how the simplest of changes can refocus staff, bring new clients in and increase market share”.
Mike Simons also worked on Chestertons’ rebranding and admires the agency’s boldness. “They came up with the aubergine colour, which was a brave choice, different, regal and solid in stature.”
The ‘modest’ budget
Wiltshire based lettings agency Swindon Home Finders decided to rebrand last year, in response to a shift in public demand from buying to letting. Faced with increased competition from sales agencies expanding into lettings to save what business they could in the recession, one-branch SHF felt it was imperative to increase their visibility in the market. To do that, they wanted to emphasise their specialist industry knowledge.
It coincided with a relocation to bespoke offices in the town. They used a variety of agencies for the rebrand, including Jazzbones for the design and website, Aspect Displays for shop design and fitting and Vox PR for the rebrand launch. Their budget was a modest £45,000.
The results, say SHF, have been impressive. Tenant enquiries have risen by 15 per cent, the number of managed properties has gone up by 17 per cent and turnover has increased by 22 per cent. The staff, who were heavily involved in the rebranding process and the relaunch, were rewarded for their efforts by winning the silver regional award in the Estate Agent of the Year Awards.
Says owner Sue Gidney: “The statistics clearly show that the decision to rebrand made good business sense, and we feel our brand visibility has increased hugely. It has definitely been money well spent.”
Cambridge-based rebranding firm Mobas was called in by TuckerGardner, a local independent estate agent with 85 staff. After 21 years in the property sales and letting business they wanted to know what the public and their customers thought of them. The results were not all comfortable reading. A lot of people said they were familiar with the name, but thought it was a legal firm.
Said Robin Bryant, Managing Director of Mobas, said, “We went out on the street and asked questions. We set up mock meetings at properties for sale. We made anonymous cold calls to the branches. There were many positives, but there was negativity too. Then we presented our findings back to the board. Some of the directors nearly fell off their chairs.”
Internal retraining began immediately, while Mobas set about repositioning the brand name.
“We marketed them as the experts on your doorstep,” says Bryant. “During the recession they had toned down marketing to save costs, but now they needed to get their voice out there, banging the drum. We launched a big PR push, which was phase one. We then produced templates for their brochures which we gave them to use. We trained them with the software, it was incredibly cost effective.”
Subtle changes in colour strengths and fonts updated the signage and stationery and reinforced the brand, along with using local landmarks in advertising. In all, the cost was between £60-70,000.
Has it worked? TuckerGardner MD John Adamson says it has. The sum of the value of the properties registered with them in September, just weeks after rebranding, was almost £100M. It was the highest figure they have had.
“It was worth it, without a shadow of a doubt,” he says. “We did the complete belt and braces review, and the filming of the public brought some pretty candid reaction. We use that filming in staff training. But it only really works if you take on board what people are saying about trust and rfespect.
Illingworth felt they already had a good image, but felt it important to project a modern look. “I think we have recovered the investment pretty sharpish,” he says. “We have had lots of positive comment, especially about the signboards. We have also forced the competition to upgrade as we look smart and they look tired.”
Badger Holdings, parent company to Townends Estate agents in the South East, rebranded last year (2010), feeling that, after 10 years, they needed to modernise. It wasn’t a decision they took lightly.
Says Head of Marketing and Technology, Kirstie Ayres: “We wanted to create a modern and fresh look to make to appealing to today’s consumer without alienating existing clients.
“The old Townends brand was very established, with high levels of brand recognition, so making the change was a calculated risk. We also needed to be sure that there were sound business reasons for the change and it wasn’t just a moment of corporate vanity.”
The reaction, says Ayres, was overwhelmingly positive, both in and out of the company.
“Our fresh new look has undoubtedly generated leads and enquiries.”
A merger with another old established name was the perfect time for Carter Jonas to give the image a facelift. In 2009, they merged with Dreweatt Neate, whose offices were rebranded Carter Jonas immediately, expanding the company to 30 branches across England and Wales.
“The old Carter Jonas brand had been in existence for about 20 years and was looking tired,” explains Business Development Director Roger Wheaton. “The rebrand was designed to position the firm as more reflective of where we think it is now. We maintained our solid, traditional roots, but we have become more commercial and dynamic than perhaps clients appreciated. Danger would only arise if you started altering those existing relationships, and we never intended to do that.” An agency was brought in to do the initial design work and once the templates had been agreed, the remaining work was taken in-house. From being regarded as a mainly rural agency, CJ feels they are now considered beyond that core clientele.
“It has definitely resulted in extra business,” says Wheaton. “It wasn’t cheap. But with the need to redesign a website, undertake new sale board and office signage etc., it was a significant investment.
“We recently undertook a survey of some of our key clients. When asked about the brand, the attributes they tagged were ‘professional’, ‘dependable’ and ‘affable’ – almost exactly what we were trying to achieve.”
For Phillips & Stubbs in Rye, on the South coast, rebranding was considerably more than a change of saleboard design. A fundamental shake up was launched in response to the way customers were using online portals rather than local branches.
“That was rendering our outlying village office irrelevant,” says Martyn Stubbs.
“There was a need to reinforce our links with London to combat the growing threat of larger firms. We needed to protect our core market and to push into new sectors.”
Two satellite offices were closed, not – as Stubbs hastens to point out – because of financial pressure, but to channel resources to other areas and new revenue streams.
“A total rebrand offered us the vehicle to revitalise our values and re-energise the company,” he says. “Every aspect was looked at, design, layout, the working environment, green credentials and dress code. It is a cathartic experience. The cost was around £70,000.
As Stubbs points out, a fancy new image can’t disguise a failing brand. “Rebranding also requires a change of culture and re-defining the personality of the company. Unless you take your team with you, nothing changes. Our rebranding met with strong approval and the average price of properties sold has risen decisively. I don’t think that is coincidental.”
The classic look was becoming a bit of a historic look; once upon a time, it seems, almost all agencies were blue and this one certainly didn’t stand out from the crowd.
After a relatively mild makeover, Carter Jonas now looks colourful, confident and inviting, but it retains a restrained classical elegance that fits their market and the location.
Yes, another blue estate agency with properties obliterating the view of the interior which is now seen as a really good way of putting people off coming inside the branch.
The clean clear lines and low rise displays make for a contemporary and friendly atmosphere. There’s no hiding from clients in this new layout – and why ever would you want to?
Making the brand work – practical applications
Once all those branding choices have been made; colours, logos, fonts etc, the glorious new brand needs to be set to work. Besides cascading through your website, your stationery, mailings and of course the shop front, the new brand and look needs to be showcased to the passing public. Get the new look working to increase sales by creating a stunning window and interior display – so review your window dressing.
Customers need to be able to browse the properties quickly and easily. Staff need to be able to change the property details with ease, so what are the choices these days? Cable displays are the old favourite but there are many new and exciting display options out there. Shop-fitting specialists Mid West Displays gave us some pointers.
This display system features an acrylic panel in any colour; the pockets simply hook on and off the panel to allow easy changing of the property details. There is also the option to add logos to the panel itself to reinforce your brand.
Add movement to your windows with rotating displays – perfect for estate agents windows, they attract customers to your window. Low voltage lights which means they can be viewed day and night. Due to the design, they can display twice the amount of product details in a very attractive display. Rotating displays and panels can be made to measure, in a colour of your choice, with or without your logo.
A new display option. Some designs fit directly onto standard cable centres (A4 cable centres= 244mm). This means the light panels can be fitted to existing cable displays. The panels are double sided but only 14mm deep and use low voltage LEDs which have a minimum life expectancy of 60,000-100,000 hours, due to their long life they are maintenance free. They will illuminate any graphic printed on standard 90gsm paper or backlit paper (available from Mid West Displays), which enables you to change the display as often as you like. The graphics can be changed easily by simply slotting them in and out of the front and back pockets, there is no need for tools. The light panels use energy efficient LEDs that are extremely bright and won’t cost the earth to leave them switched on, which will draw attention to your display day and night, therefore encouraging more potential customers to your window.
Mid West Displays offer a made to measure service and can help with the display design. www.midwestdisplays.co.uk or call 01743 465531.