How Self-Branding Drives Real Estate Agents’ Success

Chicago-based real estate leaders Tommy Choi and Matt Laricy weigh in on how to stand out in a crowded market.

It’s no secret that having a strong personal brand drives professional success in 2019. From the rise of the Instagram influencer to national and international social media campaigns, it seems that everywhere you turn, brands and individuals are telling stories about just who they are and what they have to offer.

While this trend defines our cultural moment as a whole, it’s particularly relevant to the real estate industry. In a competitive market where current and prospective clients’ opinions directly impact a realtor’s career, the savviest realtors know to self-brand clearly and boldly.

Tommy Choi is a Chicago-based real estate leader, co-founder of Weinberg Choi Realty and president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. Matt Laricy is the managing partner of Americorp Ltd. – Matt Laricy Group, an agency that primarily services the River North neighborhood of Chicago. Both spoke with ESTATENVY to share their insights on how realtors can self-brand to stand out in a crowded market.

Referrals Drive Business, But Only If Your Digital Footprint Backs Them Up

“How clients get to us, first and foremost, is still good old-fashioned word of mouth,” Choi said. “90 percent of our annual business year-over-year is referral-based. But another piece that’s evolved over the years is online presence.”

Choi explained that this extends to both lead generation websites, like listing services Zillow or Trulia, as well as to one’s social media footprint.

“[Listing services] are set up so that consumers can click and immediately connect with realtors. But then you also need a professional, up-to-date website with relevant content and strong social media,” Choi explained, “to be your resume and to validate the consumer.”

Choi continued: “Those two channels [referrals and social media] work hand-in-hand. The first thing that happens when your friend says, ‘I work with Tommy’ is you google us, or look us up on Instagram or Facebook.”

Laricy added that online reviews also contribute to the reputation and perceived clout of a realtor.

“People want to work with people that stand out a little more. And reviews from people they don’t already know…other people have already vouched for you, so that establishes your value,” Laricy said.

The need for a compelling, clean online presence for real estate professionals has had a meaningful effect on the industry at large; one Laricy characterizes as “trimming the fat.”

“Realtors for a long time may have been able to skate by [doing a mid-level job]. In the future, maybe there won’t be 40,000 realtors in this market; maybe there will be more like 20,000,” Laricy said.

In the Age of Data, Brand Yourself as a Thought Leader in the Industry

The real estate market is one that’s always evolving and changing. Having a pulse on those changes, and staying knowledgeable, is critical to positioning oneself as a thought leader in the industry.

“The biggest way to stand out in a crowded marketplace is to stay learning-based,” Choi said. “There is so much data online now that wasn’t available 10, 15 years ago. Consumers are coming to us with a lot of data and knowledge, so our job is to take that data that they’re coming to us with, and to make it accessible.”

Laricy echoed this point.

“There’s too much info out there, which actually makes our jobs more valuable. You read things that contradict each other and feel like ‘What am I supposed to believe? What does this mean?’ People come to me to tell them what it means. It’s an investment people make and they want answers—they want to go to a person with all that info who knows,” Laricy said.

In addition to keeping abreast of industry movement, realtors should also make sure they remain experts in their local markets, Choi and Laricy advised.

Embrace Social Media as the New Storefront; Invest in Kickass Content

“Having a strong online and social media presence is nowadays equivalent to, prior, when you’d walk through the mall or down Michigan Avenue, and you'd look at storefronts—that design and attention to detail,” Choi said. “Social media is our new storefront.”

Laricy emphasized that, in the modern marketplace, the key to standing out is the soft sell.

“I follow thousands of agents, and 80 percent ask for sales. To stand out, provide value without asking for anything in return,” Laricy said.

Agents and brokers can do so by sharing tips, posting high-quality photos of interesting properties and sharing videos or stories that showcase industry knowledge.

“When people browse or go look at your stories, they should know that you're providing content that proves that you know what you’re doing without asking for business,” Laricy said.

Asked about how he parses the value of a strong social media presence, Laricy was emphatic.

“It’s a digital billboard! You're spending the money on it so that people remember who you are. That’s branding. And branding is just as important as getting a lead, because you’re staying top of mind when it comes time [for a client] to invest in property, or when they have a question,” Laricy replied.

Stay Passionate and Stay Honest

Laricy and Choi are both familiar with what can be a cutthroat and transaction-obsessed industry.

“We are in sales, and we make money if we get a transaction,” Laricy said, “so a lot of people will tell you what you want to hear, do a poor job and get paid well. You stand out by being honest and being a straight shooter.”

That means prioritizing the unique needs of a given client and tailoring their property buying or selling experience to them.

Choi built on this by explaining that, along with honesty, a real estate leader needs passion.

“When I see a lot of people fall short of their desired level of success, it’s because they’re trying to be something they’re not. So it’s about understanding: ‘What is it that you’re good at?’ ‘What do you enjoy doing?’ ‘How do you master that?’,” Choi said.

Choi and Laricy both concluded by emphasizing that real estate professionals should bring their own personality, hobbies, interests and style to their self-branding efforts. This keeps you interested in your work, Choi and Laricy said, which in turn keeps consumers interested.