I will always vividly remember riding to a meeting with a large broker in Marin County, California back in 2002ish. We were discussing the brutal competition among brokers in Marin County. At the time, Keller Williams did not have much of a presence in San Francisco or Marin. I wondered why Keller Williams had failed to grow as they have in other markets. Moreover, Century 21 was conspicuously missing from the market altogether. Coldwell Banker was huge, along with Pacific Union. A bunch of independent brands like Frank Howard Allen and Melissa Bradley Real Estate were performing well in upper Marin. Decker Bullock held their own with the large firms in Southern Marin.
The answer to my question about Century 21 was profound “no self-respecting agent in Marin County would ever walk around in a gold blazer.” In that short sentence, this broker captured everything that challenged the Century 21 brand. Even Tiger Woods could not pull it off.
The brand got a big lift with the Smarter.Bolder.Faster campaign. It was backed by enormous advertising spends with the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics, IndyCar, March Madness, Latin Grammys, Little League World Series, National Spelling Bee, and US Soccer. They provided excellent marketing materials for digital, print, radio, and television that allowed their franchises to leverage the brand marketing in their local marketing efforts. It was “glocal,” global brand with a local presence.
The leadership under Rick Davidson did another thing that was asymmetrical. They started cancelling franchise agreements with brokers that were underperforming. Rick is gone now, but he delivered the type of change during his tenure that set the company on the right track. If anything, you can easily assess that they executed brand communications and marketing very well and protected the brand by cutting ties with partners who were undermining the brand. However, they did not go far enough with refreshing the brand. At the end of the day, the Century 21 brand still looked old. It looked more powerful, but still old.
Nick Bailey is now the leader of Century 21. Until this year, I think that they were the largest franchise brand in the world until they were passed by Keller Williams this year. They just rolled out an incredible brand refresh. I am sorry that I was not at the annual convention to feel the enthusiasm from their brokers. But our large broker clients who are Century 21 Franchises reached out to me immediately. They are each about to invest in new building signage, and tens of thousands of yard signs. It is going to be a significant investment in changing everything. Normally, franchise brokers are understandably irritated when their franchise compels them to change everything. It takes a lot of time and is very expensive. This was not the case with this re-brand. Nick Bailey and the team delivered a brand refresh that is embraced 100%. It is awesome, and exactly what Century 21 needed to do to remain competitive and relevant. I would bet that Century 21 will be added to the list for many brokers who are looking at partnering with a franchise brand.
Investing in a brand refresh is hard and expensive. But I think we can all agree that it is well worth it when you get it right.