As the leading edge of the millennial generation ages into better careers and begin the young family phase of their lives, homeownership still tops the list of their “want-to-have’s.” Growing up in the thick of the Great Recession and coming of age in the “Uber-ization” of everything, more than 75 million millennials have a combined purchasing power of $170 billion. You bet brands are paying attention, but how are they staying relevant and, more importantly, authentic to a new look consumer? We spoke with Cara Whitley who’s taking an iconic brand to new heights and helping to keep the brand relevant to these coveted first-time home buyers.
CMOO: You just had your global conference. What was the prevailing feeling among brokers and agents about the future of the industry?
CW: “First, it was not a conference. We called it our “One21 Experience.” We did that to better reflect the fact that our System consists of a global community of real estate entrepreneurs who collectively have “each other’s backs.” Together, our 110,000 sales professionals leverage our industry-best platform to deliver a combination high-tech, personalized
experience with a human touch that helps home buyers and sellers confidently navigate the transaction process. The “One21 Experience” also shined a light on how consumers who walk into CENTURY 21® offices or visit us online, as well as industry professionals who choose to affiliate with us, come to our brand self-prescribed knowing that we are the very best of the best. In fact, we are the only national real estate firm that has swept the highest ranking across all four customer satisfaction segments in the annual JD Power Home Buyer/Seller Satisfaction StudySM. Not only did we accomplish this feat once, but we did it three years in a row in 2014, 2015 and 2016. We own who we are, and are proud of the collective work in the last six years to position the CENTURY 21 System as the brand of choice for real estate consumers who seek the best of both tech and human experiences, and for industry professionals looking for growth, long-term success and a new place to call home.”
CMOO: So how does the CENTURY 21 brand stay authentic to a generation that many say are brand agnostic?
CW: “I do not agree with the premise. The biggest misconception is that Millennials are somehow different than any other generation, especially when it comes to owning real estate. Homeownership is homeownership, and it remains the American Dream for the 75 million Millennials who are growing older and turning their interests to settling down and buying a home. Like prior generations, they too, will seek out the skills, knowledge and market experiences of a CENTURY 21 sales professional. In addition, in a study we commissioned by Wakefield Research, Millennials—despite being incredibly tech-savvy— place real importance on establishing a personal relationship with an experienced real estate professional. The survey found that an overwhelming 92% believe it is important for a real estate sales professional to get to know them personally before choosing to work with them, with two-thirds indicating that their home buying negotiating skills are not ‘very strong.’ As a brand, our sales professionals value millennials (like all generations and segments) and they appreciate and understand them, and respect their life choices. That’s authenticity and we deliver to market programs that are transparent about elevating first-time buyers and helping them reach their personal real estate goals. That way, home buyers, sellers and investors know that they can rely on CENTURY 21® professionals today and when they have a real estate need in the future.”
CMOO: Home ownership is very much seen as a leading economic indicator. Where else do you see growth opportunities for the brand in this economic climate?
CW: “Like our president and chief executive officer Rick Davidson is fond of saying, ‘It’s not the market that dictates success; it’s our people.” Industry leaders realize that growth is tenable no matter the economic climate. It’s about developing a strategy and sticking with it. For example, some of our System members focus solely on a recruitment and retention effort, while others look to grow through partnerships and mergers and acquisitions in markets within their current localities and in some cases, they grow their companies in other states and countries as well. We are fortunate to have business owners who know that growth is critical to remaining relevant, to staying ahead of innovation, and for leveraging change that is inevitable in today’s digital economy.”
CMOO: What are some of the innovations you are rolling out to attract the millennial home buyer?
CW: “Undeniably, working with consumers who were born with a smartphone in their crib challenges us to think differently and communicate in the ways these first-time buyers desire. We’re constantly looking to evolve and to stay ahead of the market by providing our sales professionals with access to mobile- and web-based resources that they can use to stay in touch with their network, cultivate relationships and capture repeat and referral business while staying ahead of the competition. The irony here is that consumers are ‘pushing forward’ the value of working with a person, not us. We leverage the digital revolution and help to scale the importance of human knowledge and shared experiences. Our Platform delivers to market tools and technologies that help facilitate human-to-human connection, augment the abilities of our sales professionals and serve to enhance the human involvement consumers demand and deserve from their real estate company. In doing so, our sales professionals can deliver the personal service millennials expect while helping to make a complex transaction simpler and more transparent.
We believe that our System members earn the trust and affinity of home buyers and sellers better than anyone in the business, and the three-peat sweep of J.D. Power 2016 helps to affirm that. Now, to showcase the CENTURY 21® affiliated agent as the professional equipped with unique local market insights and the innovative technology tools and skills to help consumers reach the best real estate decisions possible, we deliver digital media campaigns that engage and connect with first-timers. For example, we recently announced our “C21 Adulting” digital and social activation that is designed to engage, educate and create preference for the CENTURY 21® Brand, especially among consumers encountering the home buying process for the first time.
The CENTURY 21 brand will position itself as a resource in the following key areas: 1) House – The ins and outs of the home buying process that help validate the decisions of the millennial consumer who has decided that home buying is a viable option, 2) Money – Both general and real estate specific insight into investing, saving, budgeting and everything in between, 3) Work – For both the millennial consumer starting out in the workforce and the prospective sales associate, this section is designed to touch on important professional topics in the millennial demographic, and 4) Life – Provides the basics of being an adult by implementing a combination of video content and quizzes that help audiences learn how to be an adult, and avoid pitfalls in better understanding adulthood. We are also gearing up an influencer marketing campaign with Maker, a Disney company. The Idea is to utilize a total of 7 social media influencers in the Maker portfolio to help the Brand to: 1) Communicate that CENTURY 21 is a trusted advisor, 2) Drive traffic to century21.com and highlight its unique features, 3) Generate excitement for our content available on c21adulting.com, and 4) Share the fact that CENTURY 21 has swept all four JD Power Customer Satisfaction Segments three years in a row.”
CMOO: How did your past marketing executive roles prepare you to lead the marketing for CENTURY 21?
CW: “The multi-national corporate leaders that I worked for previously helped to provide a seamless transition for me here at CENTURY 21®. For example, Hilton® Hotels Corporation Worldwide has a similar structure in that it is a leading franchisor with independent franchised companies and offices who, as franchisees affiliated with the company, had access to brand marks, an educational and technology platform as well as comprehensive marketing support. At Hilton, as well as at American Express®, it was critically important to understand customer preferences and decision-making processes to better meet and exceed their expectations with every interaction and touch point with the brand and its hundreds of thousands of sales professionals. The same holds true in the real estate vertical, and these similarities helped prepare me for my current role as CMO of Century 21 Real Estate LLC.”
CMOO: What’s unique about your leadership style?
CW: “While not necessarily unique, I believe in putting together a team of professionals who, armed with an understanding of my vision for the brand coupled with a commitment to understanding the needs of our customers and our customer’s customer, leverage their skills and know that they are encouraged and are free to ideate, share and execute on the projects we collectively decide to move forward on. We are all entrepreneurs, each with a unique set of skills, and it’s up to me to create an environment that allows for that creativity and inspiration to flow freely without the fear of criticism and failure.”
CMOO: Why do you think the brand has endured and what are your plans for growth for the foreseeable future?
CW: “CENTURY 21 Real Estate® has earned its stature as an iconic global brand by focusing on its core values: honesty, integrity and the highest standards of quality service. People around the world know us, and view our professionals in very high esteem. Our goal is to continue to remain relevant in the hearts and minds of consumers and real estate professionals alike by staying ahead of the trajectory of the market, and by being leaders in innovation rather than followers.”
CMOO: What do you focus on with your team and how do you drive the brand forward?
CW: “Real estate by its very nature is a transaction-oriented business. Our focus is simple: to help our System members attract and secure new business, to be market leaders and to recruit and retain the industry’s best talent.”
CMOO: Three previous CMO’s interviewed by CMO Outlook have gone on to assume the presidency at their respective brands within the last year (Stacey Anderson, CMOO Nov. 2016, Susan Lintonsmith, CMOO March 2016, and Heather Neary, CMOO Dec 2014). What do you think that says about women in marketing leadership roles and marketing as a path to the presidency?
CW: “The best talent always seems to rise to the top, whether they are women or men. I’m not discrediting the work and sacrifices of the generations of women before me who helped to break barriers and to shine a ‘bright light’ on discrimination against women in the workplace. Rather, I’m focusing on the strides we all have made in allowing women the same opportunities as men, and the women you reference in the question did not get to these positions because of their gender. They are now presidents because they are the best at what they do. Period. And that is the path to follow for anyone looking to become a president.”