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The Greatest Brand Builder


The Greatest Brand Builder

Some years ago a British real-estate chain decided to implement a reverse formula when selling houses and apartments. We all know the usual real-estate jargon, using words like breathtaking, stunning and exquisite in every sentence when describing even the most miserable apartment: “This stunning apartment, presenting an exclusive panorama view of a breathtaking backyard in the central city is a must see…”

The interesting fact is that we all know the descriptions hardly reflect the reality but rather a realtor’s imagination.

The reverse formula? Describing reality…yes you read it right – as it is!

Gone were the clichés replaced with realistic snapshots of the real apartments of houses of the streets of London. “This bump of a house needs more than love to turn it into something anyone can live in. The hall is less attractive than the worst you possible can imagine in Bangladesh – the walls are flooded with water and the floors are hardly visible due to the dirt spread across the whole house.”

Yes this was in fact the way the ads looked. Would you dare use this strategy?

The success was enormous – suddenly people actually began reading the ads, they were in fact so motivated by this new writing style that people were looking forward to reading them, sometimes as good entertainment but in most cases as they were real and honest.

But the most interesting fact from this campaigning was that the sales increased, the real estate agents in fact loved it, as they didn’t have to lie or exaggerate. The customers loved it as they were not wasting their time and the clients loved it, as the people visiting the properties were real customers – not customers lured to visit the property because of some deceptive description.

I receive about 500 spam emails a day in my public email address inbox – most of the headlines are lies – trying to attract my attention – and every time I or my assistants are lied to – to secure our attention – it downgrades our perception of the sender. No need to say, more and more emails are misleading to attract attention -most likely 80 percent do!

But no brand has failed so far by being honest – I’m not asking you to down sell your proposition – but to be truly honest – tell it like it is – and to add it with a twist of humor when relevant and required.

Do you know what – it builds trust. It actually makes people believe you if not everything you tell people is picture perfect – but realistic. Tell it like it is. Tell the consumer if the battery time in your cell phone is 2 hours – and don’t say 3. If the delivery time is 14 days don’t say 10 days. If you come back with more information within 24 hours – do it – or else tell the customer the realistic truth.

I’d rather downgrade the consumers’ expectation – and make them positively surprised than disappoint them – and make them an enemy of my brand for life. The Internet has become a medium for lies – just like the real-estate industry and the used-cars salesmen. If you intend to differentiate your brand from the rest of the online content – stick to the honest truth – I promise you – it’s the greatest brand builder.

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Denis Baldwin on March 05th, 2009 said

It seems like this approach could be more detrimental than helpful, at least in some industries. I know in my industry (trade show displays), there are a lot of ins and outs, and every display has some fault. If you dote on the faults, it seems you won’t sell a single one.

Brandon R Allen on March 05th, 2009 said

Authentic marketing. I think we will see more of this style of marketing and branding in the coming years. people will definitely resist it as we are so used to the direct sales approach. People want the steak they don’t want the sizzle anymore. Branders and marketers who don’t pay attention to this will fail. Great post. I think it really captures the landscape that we are in today.

Derrick Daye on March 05th, 2009 said

Denis and Brandon,

Thanks for your thoughts –

Simply put, brands should be built on the the truth. The weakest links are where the truth is stretched.

Be what you are – it’s a position you can defend. If you don’t like what you are, don’t change your marketing message – change your offering.


John Furgurson on March 05th, 2009 said

Thanks for the proof! I’ve been trying to get a couple of real estate clients to do this for years, but no one’s had the balls. Maybe now that the economy’s down, and the Realtors are more desperate, they’ll break from the hum-drum convention and follow suit. Bravo!

Ed Roach
Twitter: edroachbranding
on March 12th, 2009 said

I’m wondering if culture has something to do with it’s success. The Brits have a dry sense of humor. I too love the honesty somewhat.

I’m thinking that exaggeration of the faults to gain readership will have the same net effect as exaggerating the benefits. Greed sets in and makes cynics of us all once again.

What was the movie that did exactly this? (Many years ago in the 80’s I think)

Knowing the real estate market in North America, agents have about the same high values as used car salespeople. Not a great brand from any perspective. If they want to be “completely” honest it must be across the board, not just in their advertising copy.

Hoo See Kong on March 14th, 2009 said

In Thailand (especially Bangkok), I believe this formula most likely is not going to work well for the real-estate properties targeting at the “Hi-So” buyers.

For the more ordinary buyers looking for average real-estate, I believe this strategy will work. Firstly the approach will have a good cut-through among all other ads using the typical real-estate approach. That will trigger the interest to find out more about the property. Secondly “Honesty” is a value very much appreciated by Thais. Thirdly the “Honesty” approach has no risk in creating an expectation that the property can’t deliver during the property inspection.

All in all, as long as the quality-price equation is tuned to a good balance, I believe this reverse formula should work well for the average real-estate.

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