In the world of real estate there are few brands as iconic as CENTURY 21®. However, instantly recognizable branding can be both a blessing and a curse. While you may be top of mind with potential customers, there’s the risk your competitors may evolve and leave your brand in the past.
CENTURY 21 was faced with a dilemma, how to evolve as a brand without disrupting their tried and true brand identity. We spoke with CMO Cara Whitley to discuss the CENTURY 21 brand’s massive rebrand and what’s changed since her CMO Outlook profile in 2017.
CMO Outlook: The CENTURY 21® brand has consistently had the most recognizable name in the real estate industry YOY. What were the discussions internally regarding the risks and opportunity for changing this iconic brand mark?
Cara Whitley: Across the world, consumers know the name “CENTURY 21” and know us as an iconic brand. As with any company with such a rich history, branding can become outdated as the corporation and consumers continue to grow and advance. In our 47-year history, we’ve only made minor changes to the brand identity, so we knew now was the time to make a change. If we really wanted to dust off the brand’s identity and disprove the misconception that the CENTURY 21 brand is “your parent’s real estate brand,” we couldn’t just push for an evolution. We needed a revolution. While maintaining the iconic name of “CENTURY 21” and gold and black color palette, we burned down the house, literally, by removing the outdated house silhouette completely. What we were left with was a sleek and modern design that, while new, remains true to the iconic brand.
CMOO: There has been talk of making this change for many years. What was the data set or decision inflection point that said “this is the time to change” and I’ve got the team to make it happen?
CW: The real estate industry is at a turning point. Consumers can instantly search through hundreds of listings at their fingertips from any smart device without ever leaving the couch. While the way we look at homes has changed, the role of the agent has not. A real estate professional is a much-needed advisor and partner during the experiential process we call home buying and selling and in today’s world, that approach appeals to the experience-minded consumer. This approach also challenges the status quo and puts the focus of our System’s brokers and affiliated agents on prioritizing consumer satisfaction and delivering an extraordinary experience. Most people think homebuying ends upon signing the contract on the dotted line, but, all totaled, there are as many as 180 steps in the transaction that your agent may have to manage on your behalf. With this shift in the industry top-of-mind, as well as the global strength of our CENTURY 21 System members, we knew the time was right for our own revolution.
CMOO: Can you walk us through some of the discussions that led to the decision to rebrand?
CW: Overall, we knew we had to leverage our legacy as the most trusted and recognizable brand in real estate with a customer-centric focus. The discussion centered around creating resonance and relevance in a mobile-first world, and identifying the technologies and personal attributes that are truly most important for the CENTURY 21 brand to deliver to home buyers and sellers while staying true to the core of our DNA as the originator of the real estate franchise business model and the first company to surpass 100,000 agents. A lot has changed since 1971, and a focus on quantity over quality has given rise to mediocre performances, poor experiences and lots of disappointment, causing many to question the value of the agent over automated digital platforms and apps. We decided to break from this ‘sea of sameness’ and address this problem head-on by finding better ways to enable the success of our people, inspiring them to give 121% and ensuring the brand looks and feels as amazing as the services they provide. Ultimately, it begins and ends with our new mission: “to defy mediocrity and deliver extraordinary experiences” and that comes to life in our identity as a brand as well as the tools and resources we develop in the future.
CMOO: In our last discussion, we focused heavily on how brands can connect with millennials. Did the desire to appeal to a younger generation play a role in the decision to rebrand?
CW: Millennials, as well as iGen, together represent the largest growing market of homebuyers, so they remain important target demographics for the entire real estate industry. However, when implementing the first major brand overhaul in our company’s history, we knew it was critical to connect to our entire consumer base. While homebuying and selling might be top of mind when you think “real estate,” the work at over 8,300 CENTURY 21 offices worldwide goes far beyond just residential sales. Our more than 119,000 System members are also leading professionals in commercial, luxury, land, rental, and other real estate transactions. The new brand I.D. needed to represent the full scope of our System’s power and purpose.
CMOO: Was there any resistance to changing the logo? How was that addressed?
CW: Real estate agents understand the importance of standing out in a crowded and competitive industry. As marketers themselves, they know it’s critical to their businesses to project a unique and compelling personal brand in their communities. While creating new agent assets, we knew C21® System members would be thrilled to see they can customize the new materials. The idea was to deliver on an overall identity that allows for flexibility so that every individual broker and agent can choose what elements make sense for them and allow for their personality to shine thru. This allows C21 System members the power to show their personalities, while remaining true to our brand’s look and feel on a global level. It was a highlight of the year when we unveiled the new brand identity at our annual System-wide One21® Experience gathering in Orlando, Florida and saw the agents instantly embrace our new mission to “defy mediocrity and deliver extraordinary experiences.”
CMOO: Let’s explore this mission to “defy mediocrity,” how has this rebrand set the CENTURY 21 brand apart from the competition?
CW: Complacency and mediocrity have taken hold of the real estate industry, and consumers have become distrustful and indifferent toward real estate professionals. We commissioned a Wakefield survey and found that 63 percent of respondents thought buying a car would take longer than finding a real estate agent. When asked if planning a vacation would take longer than finding a real estate agent, 55 percent said it would. Plus, nearly 40 percent thought selling their home would be worse than getting a root canal. Again, the CENTURY 21 brand is about defying mediocrity and delivering extraordinary experiences, and providing its affiliated agents with the tools they need to differentiate themselves and thrive in the competitive real estate market.
CMOO: Can you tell us about the integrated cross-channel media partnership the brand has established with ESPN? Why ESPN and what is the long-term goal?
CW: With our new identity, we wanted to find a modern platform where we could break away from the typical endemic properties like HGTV and stand out from our competition in a meaningful way. ESPN was a natural fit for showcasing the relentless CENTURY 21 sales professional, unveiling our new identity, and positioning ourselves alongside real-life trailblazers and midnight oil-burners who are obsessed with better and giving 121%. Athletes who put in the necessary time to excel at the fundamentals and possess that unique desire to win share a lot of the same qualities of our System members. We believe that a relentless mindset is needed to succeed, and both athletes and C21® real estate agents need the drive to always be better and never settle for anything less than 121%. Aside from a similar go-getter mindset, ESPN offered us the opportunity to truly integrate ourselves within all their platforms for a comprehensive, 360-degree approach across TV, digital, social, and even “Out of Home” with our upcoming sponsorship at the 2018 ESPY Awards.
CMOO: What is next for the CENTURY 21 brand?
CW: Looking ahead, we will move beyond the brand identity campaign and put in place a series of actions that help our System’s brokers and affiliated agents live our new mission every day and connect the extraordinary experiences they deliver to home buyers and sellers who deserve more on the journey, that we know is for most, the single largest investment they will make in their lifetime.