Does “the suit maketh the man” or “the man maketh the suit?” Coldwell Banker’s answer to this perennial fashion question is: both. The century-old real estate brand has been rolling out new logos and attendant campaigns for its various consumer- and commercial-facing divisions over the last two years.
CMO David Marine, who likens the refresh to a new suit of clothes, says the look helps modernize and more clearly express the corporate image and values that have been there all along. He tells Brand Insider these logos have been thought through to tell an effective story about the brand. And that signature can have an impact downstream on media effectiveness and online chatter. Ultimately, the media and partnership plans are charged with proliferating the new image. Or, to answer that classic question another way: It is what the man makes of the suit.
MediaPost: How do you organize marketing for your multiple brands and divisions?
David Marine:It's kind of unique in that it is not a siloed organization where this person is only in charge of doing luxury, this person's only in charge of doing commercial, and this person is only residential. It is very much a matrix approach. And I've seen it from a CMO perspective. I don't need a specific PR person just for luxury, I need really good PR people who can flex across commercial, luxury, residential. Same with the marketing: great design and the unification of our brand allows that ability to pull the different levers across the org to help wherever it’s needed.
MP: So just about every real estate entity that I talked to usually has to handle multiple targets at once: property sellers, property buyers, as well as agents. So what is the media and marketing strategy behind allocating across all of those different targets?
Marine: Why make it simple and have one target audience when you can confuse things and have two target audiences that you're trying to reach with different messaging? I mean that's been an issue throughout my entire career with Coldwell Banker.
From a brand perspective, we look at our media approach as creating the air cover for our agents. So our national advertising initiatives are typically focused on establishing an increased perception of the brand, perception of our agents, driving leads to them as well. And then from an agent perspective, how are we supporting them and being more productive in their business?
And we're seeing those who are using our tool set are two times more productive than those who are not. For the last nine years running, we've had the number one most effective advertising in the entire industry, according to Ace Metrics.
MP: Tell us about the media allocations here. What is your media strategy for building that brand, what channels are you leaning into? What's changed, say, in the last year or two?
Marine: So we've seen our marketing and our media mix shift significantly. We've seen a lot of success in using streaming partners like Hulu over the past couple years, and seeing great results from a social standpoint as well. In fact through the rebrand we saw that the effectiveness of our creative in our social paid media outlets was three times the industry average. So that was the signal is that not only was the rebrand having a positive impact, but was also making our spend more efficient. The visual identities were parlaying into those increased results.
MP:What signals the need for a rebrand?
Marine: One thing that had been talked about since day one that I joined the company was what are we going to do about this logo? We just had this box square logo, stodgy. It’s been around for 40 plus years. It looks like it belongs on a refrigerator. And so, let's do some research. We found was that what we were doing at our core, our technology offerings, our consumer messaging, effectiveness of our advertising - all was reading extremely high from a perception standpoint. But then when they saw the logo, they said yeah that looks like an established company, but old. And so that was a signal that hey we don't need to change everything that we're doing, but we need to change how people see us. It's almost as if we need a new suit. And the success is in the numbers - a 60% increase in positive perception of the Coldwell Banker brands, 250% increase in social mentions. People are talking about us because we've given them a reason to.
MP: What are those, what are the key differentiators for Coldwell?
Marine: We added this star to our logo, we kind of updated our font and reframed things a little bit better with the scene. The five pointed star has been the universal symbol for excellence dating back to Ancient Greece. But it's also symbolic of the North Star that has been a fixture in the sky guiding people home for hundreds of thousands of years, and that is what we've been doing since our inception. It's not just we think it's prettier. There's a story and a reason behind it, not only connected with consumers, but with our agents as well.
MP: How do you contend with D2C competition?
Marine: The D2C players have really changed the complexity of the real estate industry. But where we see a unique difference is in our approach and the service that we provide to our customers. There's still this idea, this is the most significant transaction you will likely make in your lifetime -- or an investment for your business -- and you still want a guide to take you through that process. And connecting back to the North Star -- that's what Coldwell Banker has been doing, guiding people through the real estate transaction for more than a century now. There's still that reliance on, I want an expert who's done this before.
MP: But from a media perspective, these guys are advertising heavily, driving up costs and glomming mindshare.
Marine: There used to be this mindset: what is our visit count versus another? Are we the number one site out there? There was this dominance, where we want to be the most whatever online.
And what we found now is that our listings are available anywhere and everywhere. So it really comes down to focusing on market share. If we're losing the traffic wars, that is not an indicator of business failure or success. It's really happening on the sales side of things, and so that's why we have a concerted effort on recruiting agents and continuing to grow our market share. However, I will tell you that Coldwell Banker as a brand, not an individual site, is the most-visited national real estate brand online.
I like to tell people all the time, the most worthless statistic that the National Association of Realtors comes out with every single year is, they tell you that 98% of people start their home search online. Well, no duh, of course they're starting to home search online. The question is where they ultimately ended up.
MP: So, with that in mind, what media strategy do you take to drive that ground game of signs on lawns?
Marine: I think there has to be a balanced approach. One of the things that legacy brands like Coldwell Banker often do is rest on their laurels, [assuming] we've been around a while, we don't need to continue to promote ourselves. And that is how you've seen a lot of those legacy brands die off, especially some of the direct to consumer.
So there needs to be a balance. So the mix of lead gen, whether it be through paid search or social paid media as well as larger advertising, whether it's on Hulu or March Madness, as well as partnerships and associating with like-minded brands --are all things that any marketer needs to find that balanced approach. You're going to ultimately find out that one way is going to die out and you need to be able to have that marketing mix across the spectrum to be able to balance what you want to do.
MP: Partnerships are a big part of the mix for Coldwell. How do you measure their impact?
Marine: Throughout my career we've looked at different partners who are probably not what you would typically expect with a real estate brand: Major League Baseball or even 20th Century Fox for an X-Men movie.
But what it comes down to is, does this brand align with your brand? I'm a big believer in the power of storytelling and how that can influence people probably better than anything else that's out there today. But what's also unique for us is we're looking for partnerships that can help our agents as well, and what they are they passionate about.
St Jude Children's Hospital is possibly one of the greatest partnerships any brand can have, an exceptional organization where every single person you meet is passionate about their cause of finding a cure for childhood cancer. And so in 2020 we kicked off a partnership with them. What we did is say our agents will be able to sign up every home that they sell, they're going to put a donation towards St Jude's.
What we saw is that the brand lift that you receive from partnering with St Jude is immeasurable. So therefore associating together has provided a lift for our agents and has helped us to do good. Coldwell was named New Partner of the year by St Jude's Children's Hospital. We set a goal for fundraising and we doubled it in our first year.
MP: How has the pandemic impacted your marketing allocations and approach?
Marine: Rebranding during a pandemic seems like one of the worst ideas possible, but it's actually probably one of the best. Our message at its core was found to be pandemic-proof. We were talking about the value, the emotional aspects of homeownership and how we, as a company with our rebranding through the North Star of guiding people home since 1906.
And that messaging was still something that people resonate with even as people were sheltered in their homes. In fact, the campaign that we were planning to launch on March Madness was canceled the week before. We made one small adjustment to it. We were going to end with “Only one real estate brand has been guiding people home for 115 years, Coldwell Banker Real Estate.” We decided to just make a change to the end card. And instead we said “Home. It's now more important than ever. Stay home, stay healthy.”
And that ad turned out to be the number-one highest-rated ad out in real estate for 2020. And we just had the good fortune that in our ad the main characters we featured was a nurse, and an airline pilot, and a truck driver. And we took that campaign and turned it into a hometown heroes campaign as well, where we created social templates to allow our local agents and businesses to customize and showcase their own heroes in their local markets.
In the first week alone, we saw it had been shared over a million times. But the key to that story is that when your messaging perfectly aligns with who your brand truly is at its core, that is when you know that your messaging is pandemic- and recession-proof.
It can be used in any vehicle that you want to put it on.