This is serious stuff, and all seems so self-inflicted by a fiscal event that wasn’t properly funded or backed up to reassure the markets. It’s no wonder they got spooked.
Many will say a house price correction has been needed for some time, following years of unsustainable price rises (further accelerated by Covid-19 and the stamp duty holiday). Meanwhile, the supply/demand imbalance has been a long-term problem in the market. But no-one would have wanted it to happen so drastically.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Those operating in the property sector have become very used to coping with, and thriving in, difficult conditions – whether it be Brexit, Covid, the cost-of-living crisis or the current economic situation. That resilience will be key as things begin to slow down.
And there is also an opportunity for agents, as I’ve said a number of times before, to focus on the leads and potential leads they already have in their database or sales funnel.
This is where customer service and brand reputation play such a vital role, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that these things are even more important for the many independent (one, two or three-branch) agencies that operate throughout the UK.
Why do I say that? Well, people might have reservations about or frustrations with Amazon, McDonald’s, Ryanair, BT, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, EE or Starbucks, but these brands have the influence, power, marketing budget, in-built customer base and pull to overcome these reservations or any scandals that might have affected them in a way that a smaller business may struggle to do.
Let’s take the two incidents that unfortunately shamed the estate agency industry in 2021 – one involving a Savills employee racially abusing England players on Twitter after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, and one involving an estate agent who assaulted the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, in a London park.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the smaller business would have been more tainted by that incident, while Savills – given its sheer size and reach – would have been able to move on from the scandal more easily, even if it brought some very unwanted attention in the short-to-medium term.
There are exceptions, of course – the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has found it hard to move on from the accounting scandal that blighted it last year, while the Simplify group of companies will also have found it tough to move on from the major cyber attack that affected it at the back end of last year, when it was criticised for its lack of communications over a wide-scale data breach.
We can also look at Countrywide and the difficulty that brand had in recovering its reputation once things started to unravel.
But, in general, bigger companies – who have bigger pockets and the ability to go on much wider PR charm offensives – can brush off scandals, move on from them more quickly, and deal with more public criticism than a smaller firm without this clout could.
Purplebricks might not have a very good reputation within the industry, but I don’t think that is the same amongst consumers, who probably won’t have been aware of the scandals affecting the brand in recent times. The firm is very good at PR and marketing, and have given themselves a presence across the country, so in the minds of consumers who see their boards everywhere and the ads on TV, they could be seen as a successful agency even if the current numbers suggest otherwise.
A smaller firm which relies on the goodwill and word of mouth of their local community is unlikely to have that same luxury.
But how can you go about improving your brand’s reputation to ensure you stand above the crowd in what will become an increasingly competitive marketplace? Personal branding is an important one, especially if you are the owner or lead figure of the business.
This could involve being prominent on social media, appearing on podcasts or in video interviews, appearing at conferences, networking or getting involved in the local community. Rowan Waller, Matt Nicol, Beth Rudolf, Sam Hunter, Nicky Stevenson, Sarah Edmundson, Neil Cobbold and Marc von Grundherr are just some of the names that I can think of who have done a very good job of this, and have improved the reputation of their businesses or organisations in the process.
Being proactive is also a great way of improving brand reputation, whether that be – as Phil Spencer sets out in his latest EAT column – sending out touting letters or leaflets, engaging with old leads, writing regular blogs on topical issues, running webinars, sending out e-shots or sponsoring a local fete. Anything that gets the name of the business out there in a positive light has to be a good thing.
Perhaps the best way of improving or enhancing brand reputation is to take part in fundraising or local charity events. If you can show you have a social conscience and that you’re community-minded, this is likely to go down well with customers.
In this sense, smaller businesses actually have an advantage over their bigger, often more corporate counterparts. They can offer that personal, bespoke, local service that a bigger beast might struggle to offer.
Even in this day and age, and perhaps more than ever, people appreciate the human touch, a face they know, a person they trust. It’s why getting out and about in the local community is vital for any new agency business just starting out.
Painting yourself as an authority on subjects, whether it be through blogs, LinkedIn posts or public appearances at conferences or local property events, will also help you and your business to grow.
Of course, brand reputation is important for all businesses – big and small – but while larger companies will inevitably have more means to shoulder any slowdown in the market, smaller companies will have to fight harder to thrive. And that’s where making a positive impression, strong brand awareness and an excellent brand reputation are worth their weight in gold.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.