Two weeks ago, Realogy shook the industry with its rebrand to Anywhere Real Estate. Alongside the new name, CEO Ryan Schneider unveiled a new logo and reiterated his plans to go toe-to-toe with Zillow for the loyalty of millions of consumers yearning for a streamlined homebuying and homeselling experience.
“Someone from the traditional brokerage industry needs to break away from the pack and actually do more to solve consumer problems,” Schneider said during his May 19 Connect Now session. “That’s where I need to lead our company to over time.”
Although dethroning Zillow is a titillating proposition, six branding, marketing and digital advertising experts told Inman Realogy’s rebrand strategy the company may be in for a bigger challenge than they realize in capturing consumer recognition and loyalty.
“Going after Zillow, it’s a lot harder than it looks or sounds, right?” LION & ORB founder Audie Chamberlain told Inman. “Technology companies do something very special that is not easy to replicate and I learned this firsthand at realtor.com.”
“Everyone likes to complain about Zillow or other portals but you could flip that coin and say, ‘Look what just happened to Zillow when they tried to become a broker,’” he added. “A technology company that thought they knew everything about the broker could not pull off being a broker.”
Added Co-Communications founder Stacey Cohen, ” Zillow is a trusted brand, it’s almost like Kleenex. What they’re battling for is the mindshare of the consumer, and they’re going to have to go deeper than before. They have an extraordinary challenge ahead.”
Is Anywhere’s gradual rollout a signal of unpreparedness or innovation?
Although most people are used to rebrand announcements once everything is ready to go, BrandFace founder Tanya Eberhart and LucidPress CEO Owen Fuller said Realogy’s decision to “soft launch” their transition to Anywhere isn’t as odd as some may think.
“In the world of technology companies, it’s becoming more common to give this preview or announcement that a rebrand is in process to give people some time to get acclimated,” he said. “It also has an element of reducing the risk of a rebrand. When you’re talking about a big, big organization and all that has to be done in a rebrand process, you actually create I think a higher degree of risk if you are determined to change it all at once.”
For a company as big as Realogy, Fuller said there’s plenty of opportunity for something to go wrong with switching domains, securing new social media handles, updating email addresses, producing and distributing new collateral, and all of the other small, often overlooked details that need to be brought under the Anywhere brand.
“When you flip those switches, sometimes something will break,” Fuller said while chattering about the many hoops he’s jumped through helping companies navigate rebranding snafus. “So doing it in a gradual way makes sure that each part happens in a smooth and seamless way.”
Eberhart echoed Fuller and also said the gradual rollout also gives Realogy’s brands and subsidiaries time to get used to and embrace the new branding, which will be key in successfully introducing Anywhere to consumers as the parent company of their favorite brokerages.
“I believe they’re leaking [the new brand] out to the industry folks first and allowing them to embrace it,” she said. “The Realogy name was really only known by people in the industry, so the pacing of the rollout doesn’t matter quite as much to the consumers because it’ll be a brand new company to them.”
On the other hand, LION & ORB founder Audie Chamberlain and Co-Communications founder Stacey Cohen were a little less gung-ho about Realogy’s approach, simply for the fact that consistency is key to making a new brand stick in the consciousness of the public.
Both said it takes at least 15 to 20 times for someone to latch onto new branding and waiting — even if it’s for a month — to roll out the key aspects is potentially precious time lost.
“I think they did a great job rolling it out that day — if Brad Inman gives an opinion piece on the rebrand, that’s a great way of getting their announcement out to the industry,” he said. “He raised a few questions that probably, you know, got people talking.”
“But, like it said [in Brad’s article], there’s a slick logo from an ad agency, but there’s no consumer strategy, as far as we know,” he added. “Where’s the meat on the bone, right? [The announcement] was very superficial, but I would say it caught our attention and they communicated the change.”
Cohen said she understands it’s “very hard” to debut everything at once; however, the ability to do that enables the company to have a “consistent drumbeat” that helps the public navigate the initial confusion that comes with a rebrand.
“You can’t just turn on the volume and walk away. You need a consistent drumbeat,” she said. “There are definitely bumps in the road, but the public has come to expect that and tends to be more understanding about those mishaps.”
She added, “Branding really goes so much deeper than the company name, a tagline a trademark, or logo. It really includes the brand’s strategy, vision, mission, core values, identification of target audiences and key messaging. A brand is a promise of an experience, and the rollout is part of that.”
Is Realogy making a mistake with the Anywhere.re domain?
In addition to the rollout, Anywhere’s unique domain — Anywhere.re — has drawn questions as well.
Although industry members are used to various domain options, including .realestate, .homes, .realtor and .mls, Fuller, Eberhart, Chamberlain, Eberhart and domain expert Joe Uddeme all said .com is still king with consumers around the world.
“If I’m going to search for Anywhere online, I’m going to instinctively type in anywhere.com, and as a consumer, if I see anywhere.net or anywhere.re, it screams off-brand,” Chamberlain said. “As a publicist and as a digital marketer, your experience of sending someone to Anywhere’s [website] already and explaining to your friend or family, it’s not dot-com, it’s dot-re, it’s already a fail.”
Domain expert Joe Uddeme said Realogy’s domain choice would be like a seller giving away a multi-million-dollar beachfront estate for a one-story bungalow blocks away.
“Your .com domain name is typically going to be what we classify as your beachfront real estate, and in front of you is a nice ocean and nobody can build in front of you,” he said. “And then all of the additional extensions that are available at this point, there are more than 5000 additional top-level domains that are available, are going to be inland.”
“The reason that we classify domains in that regard, primarily is because on the internet, which is about 35 years old at this point, people are 100 percent programmed to usually navigate to the.com. And what that does is add credibility, typically, to your brand.”
Uddeme said Realogy has a “stable organic website” with a “pretty high” search engine authority score of 56, which will take years to build with the Anywhere.re domain. Even though Realogy said they’re simply going to redirect Realogy.com’s traffic to the new domain, Uddeme said that will still negatively impact the work they’ve spent years doing.
“They can start porting that traffic over and moving stuff and 301 redirects, but I don’t like it from a marketing perspective,” he said. “You’re spinning off pretty good, stable traffic from an SEO perspective to a website that has zero authority score, very limited backlinks, not much traffic. I’m perplexed.”
Chamberlain, who led realtor.com’s social media marketing strategy for six years, said it took his whole tenure to have realtor.com show up on the first page of Google’s real estate news search results. If it took that long with an industry-specific name, he said, achieving that with an ambiguous name such as ‘Anywhere’ will be nearly impossible.
“I foresee it being very challenging trying to own Anywhere online,” he said. “In your last article, you pinpointed the issue in one sentence. It’s ambiguous.”
Uddeme and Chamberlain said Realogy may be able to purchase the anywhere.com domain from the current company that owns it, which is a small travel company that plans trips to locales in the Caribbean, South America and Asia.
“Looking at the marketing budget for this organization and looking at how much money that they’re generating, I’m completely perplexed why they wouldn’t even at least potentially go after anywhere.com.,” Uddeme said. “I would tell you it will, minimally probably cost $100,000. But it’s a no-brainer to purchase it.”
Finally, Fuller said he also prefers the dot-com domain, but an increasing number of tech companies are embracing unique domains.
“I think it’s an interesting and kind of bold choice for Anywhere to go with a dot-re,” he said. “It does make me wonder how much they want to try to build that out, as, you know, to be the leaders in the dot-re realm. We’ll see what kind of happens there.”
How about social media?
Alongside owning Anywhere on search engines, Realogy also has to think about owning the brand name on social media as the public often turns to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube as a starting point to learn about a new brand or product.
Social media expert Katie Lance said Realogy will have an easier time owning the Anywhere name on social media since the process comes down to documentation and some negotiation. The @Anywhere and @Anywhererealestate handles are already taken on Instagram; however, Lance said Realogy could easily grab the latter handle since the owner only has four followers and rarely posts.
“It shouldn’t be too difficult for Realogy to request through Instagram to have that handle be deactivated and then given to Realogy/Anywhere,” she said. “They will have to show documentation of their business name, and I’d recommend they try to get control of the @Realogy handle too.”
On Facebook, Lance said the Anywhere and AnywhereRealEstate URLs have yet to be claimed, and they can easily get the @AnywhereRealEstate handle on Twitter as well.
“I would recommend they start this process ASAP if they haven’t already,” Lance said. “There are also other handles to consider which I would recommend they consider at least reserving for LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and perhaps even Snapchat and TikTok — at least they would have them if needed down the line.”
Although most of the focus is on the domain, Cohen said creating continuity on social media is equally important in helping Realogy move from a Wall Street brand to something more consumer-friendly that their 300,000-plus affiliates can leverage in their day-to-day business operations.
“They need to humanize their brands, and video and social media is the way to do that,” she said. “Think about Ryan Serhant. He’s a performer at heart and he does a really good job of humanizing his brand. He does video better than anyone, and video is the great humanizer.”
“What they really need to do is create customer and employee brand ambassadors who can share Anywhere’s story on social media and prove their brands are listening and understanding consumers’ challenges and their needs,” she said.
Although the experts were split on Realogy’s tactics with Anywhere, they all agreed the company’s storytelling over the next six to 12 months is what will make Realogy’s rebrand a rousing success or crushing failure they’ll spend years repairing.
“What they’ve said is that they felt like Realogy was just not adequately telling their story anymore, and so they’ve got to develop that story over time,” Fuller said. “I know they’re making a big push in this quarter, but I think there’s going to be more that happens over time.”
He added, “Ultimately, how consumers feel about it will be in large part based on what is packaged around that Anywhere brand. They’ve got to tell a much bigger story than just the name.”
In addition to sharpening their story, Cohen said they’ll have to go through a cultural shift that will force its executive team to take a more personal touch on how they communicate the value of Anywhere, its brands and ancillary services.
“Humanizing the brand is more important than ever, and if you think about it, that’s why certain companies have consumers who truly love them,” she said. “It’s about their personality, it’s about showing your customers your authentic self, your passions, your beliefs and leaving all that corporate and robotic jargon on the side.”
“Humans do not want to connect with a logo, they want to connect with other humans and it enhances trust,” she said. “Ryan [Schneider] is already doing that in his leadership. They just have to take it a little bit further.”