So Many Signs

In a sea of competition, how can residential realtors stand out?
Illustrations by Tony Healey
Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at and

A search today on Zillow shows more than 2,600 homes for sale in the New Orleans area. A small fraction is for sale by owner, with the vast majority of home sales handled through realtors. A similar search indicates there are more than 900 realtors in the area. This is a crowded marketplace if you’re on the agent side. So, how do you stand out?

The process of buying or selling a home can be daunting. Some studies show this time can be one of the most stressful in a person’s lifetime. Buyers and sellers both want to work with someone they feel they can trust to make their sale as smooth as possible, someone who can understand them even when they don’t have the words to explain their desires and hopes.

The challenge here for realtors is existing, long-standing, well-known competition in the New Orleans real estate market, so much so that the players can all start to look the same. As a realtor, branding yourself is more than designing a great logo or coming up with a catchy tagline. Successful branding is about a coherent message that speaks to the wishes of your clients. It’s also about meaningful differentiation, built over time through content, media and engagement with your target audience.

I believe brands are built from the bottom up, so your first step is to understand who you want to be. You must also be able to articulate your position BEFORE you get started.

I recently chatted with Ben Tarantino of WiseMove Real Estate — an upstart, disruptive real estate outfit making waves in the New Orleans market. He says he saw a way he could be different and meaningful.

“The first thing we did was ask ourselves, ‘How do we compete with the established realtors?’ he says. “We knew that there was a segment of the market that was looking for guidance in their real estate transactions. They felt the existing commissions were too high, but they also didn’t want to go the for-sale-by-owner route. We knew that if we could construct a salary-based realtor model with realtors that were dedicated to the practice FULL-time, we could be a different kind of broker.”

As part of its brand strategy, WiseMove makes an investment in the realtors (so that they will be dedicated to the work as a full-time job). Additionally, they developed a flat-fee structure that recognizes that many buyers are taking on a traditionally significant realtor task, narrowing the search historically done by realtors by using a wide variety of web-based search engines.

“The days of showing buyers 30 to 40 houses before making a purchase decision is pretty much over,” he says. “We based our brand on that premise.”

The next step is a strong understanding of a buyer’s persona. Knowing your target audience — whether it’s first-time home buyers, constant relocators, or life-stage migrators — will help you hone in on which experiences and benefits will resonate. You need to anticipate their needs. In many ways, emotions can often rule the day because, while we have very logical reasons for purchasing a house, it’s the heart that always decides when it’s a home.

Once you understand the things that will support your brand, the logo and ads are a little easier if you remain focused on these things. They will serve to telegraph your brand and expectations. Who sells the everyday home? Who sells the McMansion? Who sells the estate manor or urban chic condo?

Ask yourself: What are you saying with your sign?