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Pilot or Passenger: How real estate agents can differentiate...differently.

Each year, realtors (and professionals from every other industry imaginable) set off to workshops and conventions, hoping to find inspiration from someone else who’s killing it. Naturally, we want to know their secret to success and apply it to our own business. In the crowded arena of real estate agents, it makes sense that realtors have a desire to differentiate.

At these conventions, we learn social media tricks, customer relationship hacks, branding tips, the latest in product developments. We leave inspired, ready to become the next industry guru.

A few months later, we find ourselves swimming once again in an ocean full of other professionals all doing the same things: trying to stand out from the crowd.

Essentially, we’re passengers aboard a giant airliner, piloted by the experts who have successfully stood out.

So this might sound unsettling; are these events that we pay for and travel to worth the investment?  If everyone else is doing the same new things, will I ever be able to stand out and find my niche?  

I’d like to argue that the answer to both is a rousing YES!  But you’re gonna have to focus!

There’s No Difference

First, you need to understand that the gurus making these industry headlines are not much different than you. The only difference is that she took a creative risk, tried something different, committed to an idea, and made sure that it would pay off. Metaphorically speaking, she got up from her window seat, walked right past her colleagues, kicked open the door to the cockpit, and bumped the pilot from his seat and took the controls.

The question is, do you have the guts to do the same? Here’s what happens after people jump into the cockpit of a jet airliner: the plane starts to dive, it shakes, and it plummets straight back down to earth. A successful outcome seems impossible.

One of my favorite quotes on entrepreneurship comes from Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn: “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.”

Now, let’s assume you’re currently a passenger. How do you truly separate yourself from the other passengers and take off on your own direction? I’d like to suggest a process. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you break away from your clones and redefine your identity in real estate.

Determine your gift (and un-lame it if necessary)

First, realize that we all have our own gift. Your gift might seem lame. You might realize that the only gift you have is that you can make a ridiculous strawberry cake. Uh oh. It’s up to you to unlame the gift.

For many, our first response to this realization that our gift is ‘not cool enough’ is to very quickly end our work in this process.  Like ripping off a band-aid, we take care of the (potentially) disappointing possibility that we are simply not cool enough to compete with the gurus in our industry before we can allow ourselves to realize it!  Sometimes, accepting our gift and deciding to use it is not a comfortable process.

I’m going to argue that a killer strawberry cake, as irrelevant as it might seem, could become your secret weapon (see below).

But if you’re not happy with that outcome, copy this email and send it out (privately) to your best of friends and family:

Hey Brad (or Natasha, or Stewart, or Dad, or Mom…),

I feel a little silly doing this, and I promise I’m not just looking for an ego boost, but I’m doing a bit of a marketing exercise right now.  Without telling you too much about it, it’s requiring that I reach out to some people who know me well, who can tell me what’s exceptional about me.  I have no idea. Does anything come to mind?

Talk to you soon,


Read whatever responses you get.  Often, we perceive ourselves differently than our peers.  

What if you realize that you’re pretty average?

First, not true.  But if you seriously can’t think of the one thing that makes you special, take a different angle: brainstorm ideas of what a gifted agent might do to separate from the competition.  Does it feel like I’m stating the obvious? I am. But have you ever sat down and brainstormed anything? Let alone brainstormed how to be different?  Most likely not recently.  We get consumed by our daily tasks. But if you agree that this is a critical success factor, then I’d like to encourage you to make time to get away, have a date with yourself at your favorite coffee shop, and dedicate an hour to brainstorming.  Write a list of ideas. Need more help? Here’s a great article about how to brainstorm.  

Take control of your idea

Now that you’ve got your idea, it’s time to plan; what’s one thing you could do with your gift?  

Let’s go back to our strawberry cake example.  Mmmm it’s such a good cake. Everyone loves it.  But it has nothing to do with real estate. Welcome to the pilot seat. You’re now spiraling down to earth. Better think fast or die.

If you must, do it again: sit down with a good old fashioned pen and sheet of paper and start writing out (more brainstorming) how being a foodie could tie in with your career as a real estate agent.  You might find more than you’d ever imagine:

How could your strawberry cake define you and your brand?  By reverse engineering the problem, I’m seeing an influx of happy buyers, celebrating the close of their new home, digging into an ingeniously-presented strawberry cake in their new, empty kitchen. I’m seeing hundreds of pictures of happy customers posting to social media (with hashtags galore) photos of themselves holding a strawberry cake.  By the way, we just discussed something similar in a previous blog post, 5 Cool Ways Real Estate Agents Can Use Instagram.  Take note: a photo-worthy gift is a powerful gift.

Be consistent

Is making a strawberry cake every time you close on a house going to catapult you into the big leagues of real estate?  Probably not. But when you apply that one unique identifier to your business over and over again—compounded months and months and years down the road—that’s when you develop your signature differentiator.  That’s when people start noticing and talking. That’s when you become familiar in your area. Compare that to the millions of other agents who are all spending their time doing the same thing: Facebook Live.

Let it evolve...

I said it—everyone’s on the Facebook Live kick.  The message here is not to ignore the other marketing tactics that your competitors are doing.  Facebook Live is hot for a reason. But rather than going live for the sake of being live, give yours a theme; only film Facebook Live videos in your kitchen as you’re pulling your next cake out of the oven, and talk about how excited you are to leave it on the counter for your client.  The excitement of knowing you’ve got another transaction will become apparent to your audience.

True story: One of Colorado's top agents, Monica Breckenridge of Pink Realty separated herself from the masses by embracing her favorite color, and using it to completely identify her brand!  It's a perfect example of how a seemingly insignificant idea can become powerful differentiator when you apply commitment with evolution. What started as a small idea, over time has evolved into a rock solid brand from her pink web site design to the pink infinity that she cruises around to each of her appointments.

Monica is definitely not a passenger in her business.  She grabbed the controls and probably faced plenty of fear and doubt in the beginning and is now soaring fast and high, just as we all deserve!

So, what’s your gift?  Tell us in the comments below.  

There's more to this story: "Like" this post if you'd like to see a part II!


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