While it might sound counterintuitive, my family has always had a difficult relationship with the concept of Ray White as a brand.
As a teenager, I can recall my father bristling at the thought of the business being described in such terms. He couldn’t identify himself or the company as being defined by any specific image or design. He thought we had far more important qualities that differentiated us from our competitors than any particular image or design.
Instead, he believed that our business was defined by its people, impacted by all the twists and turns that life brings to all of us, of chance and of struggle. Ours was different to businesses in other industries that promoted their brands, he said, as we did not sell a physical ‘product’ and what we delivered was a result of the combination of the personality of the individual representing us and the unique requirements of each customer.
We were a business defined by the ambition and creativity of our members first and foremost, not a brand.
Of course Ray White has always needed to have a strong name and identity. Fortunately, over the years we have benefited from having both. But up until recently, our decision making in the marketing space was ultimately determined by what would allow our members the freedom to chase their potential, not what would be best to give integrity to our ‘brand’.
Looking back, the concept of ‘brands’ emerged out of the US in the 1970s or so, becoming part of our language in Australia. The term certainly developed long after we began in 1902 and had expanded our business throughout Queensland.
Many of our competitors at the time (much larger than us back then) latched onto the concept, quickly identifying themselves as a brand. Citing various customer survey results, they listed their brand as their primary reason for agents and principals to join their company and for customers to engage with them.
We attacked this as a sign of complacency and arrogance, one that comfortably ignored our belief that our success would be defined by leadership and deep engagement with the hard work and challenges that come with supporting small businesses to thrive.
As a result of the position we took back then, we grew rapidly, becoming the largest real estate group across Australia and New Zealand by a significant margin. Brian’s scepticism of brand idolisation was a cornerstone of our success at a critical time.
During this period, a problem was emerging though.
With this mindset of personalisation, many of our members (lots of them lovers of all things marketing) continually added their own touch to our marketing materials and logos. While each represented only a small change, over time and as we grew much larger, these changes led to many obvious inconsistencies that we realised had become confusing to both our members and our customers.
Worse, social media exposed previously hidden brand inconsistencies across different suburbs, states and countries. These variations naturally became more visible the more we grew.
Eventually, perhaps five years ago, we had to revisit our earlier position. And ultimately, we realised that while our fundamental principles and values remained true, the inconsistent way in which we were representing ourselves was now damaging outcomes, both for our group overall and individually, for each of our members.
We looked unprofessional and inconsistent, undermining our message to our clients that a broad international business was behind each of our members helping deliver them the best possible result.
At this point, we became more serious, engaging various marketing professionals to help us portray our brand in a way that would be authentic, while ensuring that we struck the right balance between the interests of our customers, the promotion of the individual members and offices in our network, and the positioning of our logo.
After our most recent brand refresh two years ago, despite the challenges, I can’t count the number of times people have said to me “I love the current brand style”. So it seems we have been successful in the mission to create a physical representation of our brand that people like. That feels like us.
We now know that Ray White is not only a business defined by its people and family values, it’s also a brand. And that the brand is somehow independent of the business. It stands on its own. The more integrity it has the more value it delivers to all of our members.
So now, we have another mission.
It’s time for each of those who operate under the brand, including my family, to respect the brand as something outside of ourselves, understanding that it’s not ours to tamper with. Of course, it needs constant consideration and review, the continued proliferation of social platforms alone demands this! We have so many members that love marketing and our brand that there are no shortage of suggestions for our marketing team to consider for the creation of new material that carries our brand.
But with all of that said, this is our new position. Brand integrity is our destination, no matter how arduous the journey might be. Many will doubt our resolve. As with other difficult journeys that require change, some may struggle to join us. But we know that the benefits will be worth it.
We realise that a strong and consistent brand alone will not guarantee our future. It will be determined by our ability to create an environment in which ever member can thrive and reach their potential so they can consistently exceed customer expectations. Although important, our brand is just one component of this environment.
We now realise that we no longer have to choose. We can have a great business made up of great people, who will benefit even more from a consistent brand.
Dan White, Managing Director