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July 2013

Because Mr. Wynn Doesn't Want You to Smell Smoke!

NWREporter July 2013

Participating in a recent industry conference in Las Vegas brought with it the requirement to take the semi-annual walking tour of the famous Las Vegas strip. The center piece of this amazing architectural, cultural, and, OK, tacky, destination is a mile or so of astounding structures, blazing lights along with hundreds of men and women each of whom seems to have ordained themselves "sexy," no matter what. Something about the environment draws many, including this non-drinking, non-gambling tourist at least into the periphery of many of two dozen casinos, each one clogged with tobacco smoke and strangely dressed folks that have their own system to beat the game.

At the east end of the "strip" lays a property that is generally recognized as one of the finest examples of a Las Vegas casino. Approaching this property from the street provides a subtle notice that this is not just another casino. Responding to the cues I made my way into the interior of this grand palace and into the casino area. I immediately observed something was wrong. There was absolutely no scent of smoke in the casino.

Habitually the curious one, I approached a well dressed young fellow and asked the big stupid question that, like similar questions have so often, turned out to be the portal to great knowledge. "Why is there no smoke in this casino," I asked. His answer was brief and to the point. He said, "Because Mr. Wynn doesn't want you to smell smoke." Well how about that.

Well, I quickly learned that Mr. Wynn is Steve Wynn, a virtual global legion in the casino world with ownership of properties from Europe to China. However, what I also learned is that Mr. Wynn personally exercises continuing and exacting care relative to virtually hundreds of details within his operations from sleeping room arrangements and decor, to food and beverage selections and even the birds that sing in his hallways. Apparently it is this appreciation for the details of the perfect guest experience that has made him an icon in his industry and a billionaire a few times over.

What does this have to do with our real estate industry? Well, actually, everything. In the March 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review writer Jeffrey Rayport published an exceptionally informative article entitled Advertising's New Medium: the Human Experience. Mr. Rayport's article makes the point that in a media saturated world (like ours), persuading consumers through interruption and repetition is increasingly and almost completely ineffective. What today's consumer is responding to is the "experience." The challenge is for business entities, including real estate brokerages, to understand where and when the consumer will be receptive to having an experience and how to deliver that experience.

Rayport goes on to identify four zones in which this experience receptiveness occurs. He cites public, social, tribal and psychological as key locations. By way of definition the public sphere is where we interact with one another in mass settings. Not much of an experience here. The social sphere is where we interact with one another on person-to-person basis to fulfill our social needs. Not much of an opportunity to create a real estate service experience here unless that friend is a raving fan of your brokerage. The tribal sphere is where we interact for the purposes of establishing our common interests or unique identities. Now this sounds like an opportunity. Finally the psychological sphere is that place in our brain where we associate specific language "slang" with specific situations. This is a long shot with some definite possibilities.

Recognizing that the last paragraph may have taken us too far off the beaten path of real estate, let's return to the question on each reader's mind. What does this have to do with the marketing of real estate? Simply put, it is all about the experience. It is about investing our marketing message where the rubber meets the road, where your brokerage actually touches the consumer. Where that isn't is in a print or Internet ad, a beauty shop restroom, the side of a bus or a yard sign.

Start looking for those places and circumstances where your brokerage actually comes into human and articulated contact with the consumer. The closer you look, the more you will realize that by virtue of both specific events and gross statistics, the primary sphere that you should be focused on is measuring the experience that your firm is delivering when and where your agents have direct personal or conversational contact with the consumer followed by those interactions in which your office staff interacts with consumers.

The first realization at which a brokerage executive might arrive is that, intentionally or not, the prime opportunities to create consumer experiences may have been inadvertently delegated. While there are still a few old fashion practitioners who drop in on closings or make an effort to touch bases with their customers such has become increasingly rare. Executives in larger firms would suggest that it has become impossible. (Not according to Mr. Wynn apparently).

Given this reality, the next question that brokers should ask is whether or not they have provided those to whom the consumer experience has been delegated, adequate instructions relative to how they want the consumer experience handled. Our research suggests that by and large this isn't happening that often. In fact quite the opposite. While some front office representative training is being delivered, it appears that few brokers are working with their agents to reach some agreement relative to the consumer experience with which the firm will be associated. Moreover there is evidence that suggests that many brokers consider it inappropriate to even raise the issue, let along negotiate a common agreement.

This situation becomes even more difficult in firms that have taken the position that their customer is the agent and the agent's customer is the consumer. Although, given the situation that many agents have negotiated for themselves, one would surmise that brokers are really good at creating experiences.

What Mr. Wynn and Mr. Rayport are saying carries the exact same message. In today's marketplace, firms that are not controlling, or at least negotiating for and monitoring, the consumer experience for quality and efficacy, are simply not advertising. What then is that awesome figure that appears in the monthly financial statement under marketing costs? Perhaps it would be better to book it under contributions to non-profit entities.

It's a new world out there we can meet this challenge too.