Back in the summer of 2018, I remember reading about Chipotle’s new chief marketing officer outlining a lofty vision for the burrito-and-taco chain, and the feelings he hoped the brand could one day evoke in its customers.
I went back this morning to pull his exact quote:
“Our ultimate marketing mission is to make Chipotle not just a food brand but a purpose-driven lifestyle brand.”
That stands out for two reasons.
First, it sounds REALLY PRETTY AND IMPORTANT — so surely we ALL as brands must aspire to such things?! — and second, equating a fondness for burritos with something greater MIGHT make us want to roll our eyes a little.
Just a little?
Maybe you’re like me. You hear people talk about “lifestyle brands” or “societal brands” or “purpose-driven brands” or what have you, and it sounds like a crock of marketing spin.
Because any good brand does all of those things.
Still, there’s value to the mumbo jumbo and Realtors need to talk about it, too, particularly in a space where being a “real estate lifestyle” brand feels unfairly reserved for the messaging of Big Fancy Luxury Realtor brands and their Big Fancy Campaigns.
What about The Rest of Us?
Let’s break this down more, because conceptually, the “lifestyle real estate” brand concept IS accessible to any agent, as it is to any brand with personality and intention at the fore.
Because Chipotle ain’t the only one with a lofty lifestyle vision.
Shortly after Chipotle started talking big, Godiva started dropping memos about wanting to leverage their culinary expertise “beyond chocolates”…
When Coke wanted “to teach the world to sing,” as the 1971 jingle put it, you bought a Coke…
And when YOU walk down the street with a Starbucks cup, it’s a badge for you. And you’d best believe that Starbucks leverages your love of the badge within every square foot of their marketing.
What does that even mean?
In the examples outlined above, alone, what we’re seeing is, first of all, a company-wide move to think differently about the brand, transitioning the product/service to an actually meaningful role —
An evolution from having people be FANS of your brand (most good brands just stop here) to having people actually become FRIENDS with the brand and feel intimately or emotionally connected to it.
“Deeper connection with the audience.”
That’s how the strategy would read on the official slide deck, at least.
What about in the world of real estate?
I see a lot of attempts at lifestyle differentiation in Realtor taglines:
“BEYOND REAL ESTATE”
“MORE THAN JUST A TRANSACTION”
“IT’S NOT HOMES, IT’S A LIFESTYLE”
Not that this messaging is wrong or lacking resonance. But words are words, and brand ACTIONS are brand actions.
If you’re presenting yourself as a “lifestyle real estate brand” in your web copy, IG bio, and tagline, but *aren’t* positioning yourself with actual brand/marketing activities that help naturally interweave your business into the fabric of people’s everyday lives…
Then it really is just marketing-speak.
Beautiful, but half-baked.
Still, we put those messages out there and hope they work. Heck, I’ve done it myself at this studio.
Years ago, when first starting out, I branded BLUEPRINT as “lifestyle branding for lifestyle Realtors” and yes, I was indeed as haphazard and shortsighted in my application of what that actually meant as you might be currently in your real estate business.
But we say those things as business owners, because we want our humanity to translate to others and we want to be taken seriously in what we do.
You and me, we ARE more than transactional businesses and we truly do have meaningful, personal connections with our clients.
So at the risk of all that goodness being overlooked, we use “lifestyle” as a marketing tool, an apparent antidote to our anxiety.
What are we anxious about?
That our brands will fade into the background, slowly losing saturation and vibrancy until we start losing customers and our very relevance in a crowded marketplace, too.
It’s a frightening thought.
But really, as we already know, branding is a long game and lifestyle branding is, in my humble opinion, the longest game of them all.
You have to be consistent. You have to create messages that connect with people on a personal level. And you have to do it over a purposeful period of time while aiming for hearts and minds.
As an example — back to burritos! — Chipotle once ran ads on shows to help generate chatter like “Real Housewives,” via a sponsorship tied to Fortnite players. It was a way to champion what made them special, without talking about, showing images about, or DIRECTLY SELLING ANYTHING ABOUT burritos or queso.
It worked well.
Let’s take a real estate example.
I once worked with a Realtor from New York, who wanted to leverage her big-city hot spot connections and relationships in a way that would appeal to a wider audience.
This Realtor loved to cook and in a past life, she’d worked as a chef.
She started doing NYC pop-up events with cooking classes, then spun THAT off into a cooking blog and mini course.
It was more than a Realtor “side hustle.” This woman understood that food is emotional and an identity that defines how people eat and live.
She leveraged the personal nature of the cooking and eating experience to market her own personality, and by extension, her Realtor lifestyle and work. The concept in application became an automatic lead generator for her real estate business, and her social media following tripled in her first quarter as well.
Another example would be a Realtor friend of mine from back in Texas, who — already a talented and personal writer on her blog — once started an email series to her audience re: what it’s like to build a business on the back of mental illness.
She’d been a longtime sufferer of depression and anxiety, and wanted to start a conversation about how, for entrepreneurs, mental illness can be both a roadblock AND an unlikely tool for growth.
She even interviewed some of her own clients who were friends of hers, and willing to share.
Her series took off. The vulnerable, compassionate Q&A nature of the series — featuring honest individuals struggling through the ebbs and flows of emotional business journeys — struck a chord with hundreds of people in her audience, and suddenly her “voice” as a fellow human, not just a Realtor, became a part of their everyday.
What’s the big takeaway here?
In the end, sure, this all makes sense.
We understand the need to form tighter bonds with our clients and customers.
We get that being just a functional brand is not enough anymore.
But if you’re wanting to really build up the lifestyle appeal of your real estate brand, and have no practical clue where to start?
Here are some practical tips.
First of all, find inspiration by scanning your environment for examples of brands you love, either real estate-related or not, who are “doing lifestyle branding” well.
Ask yourself: why do I feel so personally connected to this brand? What invitations are they giving me to engage with them, that have created this feeling in me? How can I use MY own voice, to leverage similar marketing ideas for real estate?
Don’t replicate, and also, there’s nothing new under the sun. Everyone is iterating on each other. We’re all just doing it our own way.
How can you become more intricately involved in the lives of your audience?
How can you invite them into the narrative of something that’s personal to you?
Sometimes, MANY times, that means amplifying the voices of other people, not just your own.
For instance, interview-style content series can be wildly effective.
Ever thought about running a social media + email content campaign that is strictly a series Q&A, feature-style chats with local business owners?
Or, could you “interview” a specific group of people who also intersect with you in a specific way, so it’s relevant (e.g., you’re a single Mom in small business, so you run a series interviewing other single Moms in small business and how they do life, work, and parenting)?
That’s free, organic, personal. And stories sell themselves all day long, way better and way easier than your paid campaigns ever will.
Two final encouragements as we wrap up…
Lifestyle brands are lifestyle brands because they’ve successfully redefined what “valuable content” can be for them — and you can do that, too.
I find this idea especially poignant in Realtorland, where we’re told over and over again to “add value,” “be known for overdelivering on value,” and “it’s all about defining your VALUE.”
You know when a word is so damn familiar it just loses its meaning?
(I’m looking at YOU, big brokerage new agent onboarding classes and your big thick binders on “how to add value” — WE ALL DONE DRANK THAT JUICE. #koolaiddays)
I don’t disagree with the concept of value — we’re all glad we came here for something, we all want to be worth someone else’s time + attention — but it’s made us scared to present, create, and just BE as brands.
Myself included. Like this very post itself.
Will it bring enough value?
WILL IT SKYROCKET YOUR REAL ESTATE BRAND AND GROWTH?
Will it deliver, deliver, deliver?
If I can’t squeeze in enough magic, maybe you’ll stop reading, and maybe then you won’t follow me, and then you won’t LIKE me, and then I’ve lost you and the rest forever.
You know that spiral?
It’s just not true.
I’m here to tell you, as I try to remind myself often, that you can provide value in real estate through your blog, newsletter, social media, all of it, through things as simple as:
- Making me laugh
- Getting me excited about a concept
- Telling me something random, but useful or relevant, that I just didn’t know before
- Making me crave something
- Inspiring me to do something better
- Making me feel like I’m Not The Only One
- Making me feel nostalgic
- Making me feel like an insider
- Recommending a place, book, or movie that should be my new favorite
- Annoying the heck out of me (honestly, yes, because the goal is either to attract OR repel, right? Either one puts you front and center)
This goes hand-in-hand with my final point, another great way to think about becoming a Realtor lifestyle brand:
Don’t always set out to “solve a problem” for your audience. Many times, it’s enough to simply fill an emotional need instead.
If your real estate marketing is only and always about “problem-solving,” then I’m willing to bet that your real estate marketing is…only and always about real estate.
Which is — dare I say it — BORING.
What if you decided to bring in a fresh content perspective that, in addition to solving problems for your buyers and sellers — like, in addition to the helpful how to’s and checklist posts on your IG feed (you need these!) — aimed to stir desire and bring joy instead?
The best lifestyle brands, from Oatley to Pizza Hut, Nike to Red Bull, put WAY less pressure on themselves to “solve problems,” and that’s working WAY better for them.
The best lifestyle brands are doing things like:
- Entertaining us
- Helping us relax
- Uplifting us
- Giving us chances to give and feel generous
- Complimenting our choices
- Rewarding our choices
- Helping us feel more attractive
- Surprising us
- Inviting us to escape reality
- Making us stand out from the crowd
None of that is solving a problem, and all of it is personal, joy-sparking, and oh-so-relevant to our Monday-through-Friday busy lives that crave more white space for curiosity, happiness, beauty, satisfaction, relief.
Don’t get tripped up by traditional marketing wisdom.
You can become the lifestyle real estate brand you want to be, and probably easier than you’re making this out to be.
But it will take time. That’s okay.
Start with what you already know to do.
Draw inspiration from lifestyle brands you admire, redefine what “adding value” can look like for your marketing, and remember that it’s not all about solving audience pain points.
Be yourself. Flaunt your flaws, even, as a rich fabric for you to weave stories within.
Invite us to be ourselves, and own our own everyday stories, alongside you.
I’d follow that real estate brand.
I’d probably think of the Realtor behind that brand first, when it’s time for me to pack up my home and move somewhere else.
How does all this land?
What real estate brands have you seen that are doing the lifestyle thing right?
Talk to me.
As always, thanks for putting up with my posts that are LONGER than the length of the last contract you wrote —
P.S – What’s BLUEPRINT, again?
We’re a gaggle of designers, writers, and creatives on a mission to change the branding narrative in real estate.
➝ Communicate their worth;
➝ Become the obvious choice;
➝ Tell the right stories to stand out + SELL more.