26 Nov A Formidable Beast That’s Lost Its Way.
"A formidable beast that's lost its way".
Said of the behemoth agency group that is Countrywide.
By another of those media pundits - this time Simon Leadbetter, currently Head of Marketing for my least favorite agency, Keller Williams UK. Previously, for a short spell, engaged as Global Chief of Marketing for Knight Frank and prior to that, another short spell, 2016-17, as National Head of Marketing for said Countywide. A couple of years on the job hardly qualifies as a battle-scarred marketing veteran.
"What would you do if you were parachuted back into Countrywide tomorrow - would you reduce the number of brands?" was the question asked of him.
" I would absolutely reduce the number of brands. Being the Group Marketing Director with 63 brands means your advertising dollar is spread very thin. They could have 4 to 5 super-brands in the UK with national reach of different segments of the market, with one or two in very niche areas."
So, let me be clear about this.
The proposed strategy is to sell-off or close a vast number of well-known brands simply because "the advertising dollar is spread very thin."?
We've seen this argument before from the likes of Russell Quirk's eMoov, Yopa and from PurpleBricks. Throwing chunks of change on ineffective advertising to create attention. All the while, ignoring the fact that attention alone doesn't convince and convert. It simply fills the coffers of the lucky media owners.
Two things have to be in place for that ill-conceived marketing strategy to succeed.
There has to be a clear and compelling message to the advertising campaign. But, there never is!
Then, consumers have to make an about-face and decide that advertising is actually worthwhile and that they will choose not to ad block, file carefully crafted flyers under W.P.B, or fast-forward the TV remote.
"Young people, not to mention people of all ages, really really don't like being annoyed. And ads, almost always, were annoying. There is nothing beautiful, let alone useful, not to mention authentic, about being distracted or annoyed by something you didn't choose to see." - Andrew Essex, author, The End of Advertising.
Rather than shrink the number of brands, might it not have been more judicious to reduce the marketing spend until they investigated how to better communicate with their prospective audience.
There is a wealth of free, or near-free media opportunities that can position any agency at the heart of their community. Blog content has replaced many of the newspapers. Podcasting has done the same to radio. On-demand video has replaced scheduled T.V slots. All it requires is someone with the desire and ability to stand centre stage.
And have something interesting to say!
That's been the root of the problem with most estate agencies.
Not having a clear and compelling reason to choose them, over another.
More passionate. Better service. We're listening. Skilled negotiation. Value proposition!
The problem for Countrywide, like it is for many large U.K agencies, is that it is afraid.
Afraid of losing 'control' of its staff.
Allowing them to think for themselves. To be creative. To have a persona.
An option that requires of them to be more selective in who they recruit.
And to nurture that talent.
Instead, they are 'trained' in the art of selling. In handling objections. In closing deals. In hustle.
Small cogs in a digital landscape, using outdated selling techniques such as door-knocking and cold-calling to 'prospect'.
Instead of talent that would build relationships. That would be an ambassador for the brand. And contribute to the long term growth of the business.
And so the culture at Countrywide, over the years, has floundered on shortcuts.
Shaped by the behaviors within that are promoted and rewarded.
Results, however they have been achieved, mattering more than customer satisfaction.
Yes, the once formidable "beast" has lost its way - but the direction given by this latest media pundit, along with his sidekick, The Ego from Essex, will only end up tearing down a cathedral and replacing it with a pre-fab. Simply because the congregation has gone missing.
Estate agency is fast changing.
And technology isn't the driving force.
No amount of technology; no matter how amazing , can by itself ignite the shift from good to great. No technology can turn the wrong people into the right people. No technology can instill faith and trust.
As soon as the job becomes creative, reading intentions and emotions, technology goes out of the window.
So, we are asked to consider a plan that kills off branches and good people, introduces technology that further distances the consumer from the supplier. Embraces online agency that supposedly moves the brand into the 21st Century. And a plan that utilizes data from those super-brands to better impact results.
A plan that attempts to fix something that is clearly broken. A nice, steady, pat-on-the-back plan that still leaves the company at the mercy of its competitors. Instead of replacing what's broken with something entirely new.
Here's radical marketing.
If you haven't got TRUST, you're always chasing attention.
Along with many other brands, there is no trust at Countrywide. There is no trust with each of their 63 brands.
Much as they portray themselves as such.
If you truly have trust, you almost don't need attention.
So, they're simply another estate agency brand - hustling for their worth.
Instead of a rock-solid member of each local community.
One that is invited, rather than one that interrupts.
Turn around the culture that rewards simple, quick transactions and replace it with one that encourages relationships.
Countrywide isn't a 'patient' that needs a malignant growth removed in order to survive.
It's sick because it has been fed a poor diet of being 'better', fed a belief that they must compete. Of winning at all costs.
That's why it has lost its way.
Fearsome it may have been - but only in the eyes of those it sought to conquer.
Those it sought to serve?
Never gave them a second thought!
Now is that time.
Time to rely on the good people it employs. Time to allow them some freedom.
Time to bet the farm for having employed them in the first place.
Time to really put them to work.
It doesn't matter how much Countrywide spend on advertising - how thinly spread is their marketing dollar.
If the marketing strategy is default dead.
A cursory glance at some of the websites within the group and the message on the About Us page is near identical:
Your trusted agent since....
Knowledge and experience from your local team...
Peace of mind that your property is in the safe hands of our local exerts...
Homogeneous copy that fails to inspire because it lacks transparency.
More of the same? Or a completely new approach?
Time will tell.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Love to hear your thoughts, especially if you're still employed by Countrywide. Those that have deserted the sinking ship need not bother!