Kick off the fall with Marketing and Branding Month at Inman. We’re going deep on agent branding and best practices for spending with Zillow, realtor.com and more. Top marketing executives drop by to share their newest tactics, too. It’s all you need to take your branding and marketing game to the next level.
Abby Lee, RE/MAX’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, has been with the brokerage for more than two decades.
The marketing whiz has been through the evolution of media from cable television to targeted ads to social media and beyond, and continues to evolve the brand’s strategy with the times. According to Lee, the brokerage’s brand awareness has nearly doubled in her time at the company, which means she’s doing something very well.
Inman recently spoke with Lee via Zoom to ask her about how she got into marketing, what she does all day and what she’s got in store for the brand in 2022. What follows is a version of that conversation edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: How did you get into marketing?
Abby Lee: When I graduated from college, I got a job with a media agency, and it was kind of an interesting time because I worked for the first real, true media-only agency. I learned a lot about media and marketing and worked with a lot of clients like Home Depot, Bali [lingerie company], Walt Disney and Albertsons [grocery store company] and got exposure to a lot of political campaigns as well.
I was in the agency world for five or six years, got married, wanted to start a family, and anyone who’s worked in the agency world knows that the hours you put in are not very conducive to family life and having kids. So I had a good friend who introduced me to RE/MAX and I moved over in August of ’98. And I’ve been with RE/MAX since then.
I did take a short stint in 2014 and became a chief marketing officer at a health and wellness franchise. I had been with RE/MAX for 15 years, and marketing and media and everything changes, so I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and make sure that my skill set was still relevant and that I was still on top of my game — and I found that I was. And fortunately, RE/MAX had a spot for me to come back to. I loved everything about RE/MAX and missed it so much when I left. It was a good thing personally and professionally to do, but I was so happy to come back.
I’m a third generation real estate agent myself. My license is inactive right now, but my grandmother owned a brokerage outside New York City, my mom was a real estate agent, I’m married to a RE/MAX agent (he’s been at RE/MAX for 20 years), and then I’ve had my license since about 2007. I got to mesh my love for advertising and marketing with kind of a family business.
That’s great. You’ve been with RE/MAX for over 20 years, as you said, which is really impressive. What is it about that brand in particular that has been a good fit for you?
What’s fun for me is, there are two kinds of awareness: unaided and aided. Aided is when the consumer is asked, “Have you heard of X?” and it’s a simple yes or no answer. To me, the more important one is unaided, which is what brands come top of mind. If someone says, “Name a brand,” you want to be that top one.
And it’s really interesting because when I started in ’98, the total aided awareness of RE/MAX was less than 50 percent. Now it’s about 90 percent, which is about your peak. And then we lead the way in unaided awareness. So it’s been really fun to see that growth because obviously that’s the thing that attracts a lot of people to the brand, whether they’re a consumer or prospective franchisee or prospective agent.
I think the other thing that’s been really cool is, as I mentioned, the media landscape has changed so much and so dramatically. I remember when I left agency world and came to RE/MAX, the biggest thing in the minds of every advertiser was, “What’s cable television going to do to the format of advertising?” And now we’ve seen the progression of over-the-top television, especially with the pandemic, the binge-watching on streaming services and just seeing how that’s changed and then also seeing how the digital space has changed.
I have so much autonomy at RE/MAX for the brand strategy and the marketing strategy. It’s allowed us to get a lot smarter, whether it’s digital, or now things like addressable TV, where you can literally go down a street and target a specific home based on their online behavior. It just makes everything so much smarter. Back in the day, it was spots and dots [short on-air ads] and you bought by demographic. But now it’s really people-based, based off of specific things like what their intentions are online, what they’re showing online, what life triggers are happening.
It’s enabled us to get smarter in the media, but it’s also [allowed us to get] much smarter and more targeted with the content so that we’re not just sending out the same message to every person within that demographic.
What’s a typical work day look like for you?
For me, overall strategy. We’re right in the midst of planning for 2022. So, a lot of meetings with [RE/MAX President] Nick Bailey and the head of regional operations, finding out what their goals are, what they’re thinking about for 2022. And their focus is more on the agents, and recruiting and retention, franchise sales, making agents more productive. I think about how that cascades down into what we’re going to develop and adjusting our strategy.
I also meet with my leadership team. I have a vice president of marketing, someone directly over advertising and the media, and a VP of luxury who oversees RE/MAX Collection and then all things communication. A lot of my day is talking with the team.
It’s a lot of brainstorming of where we can take things, like for Megaphone [the brokerage’s social marketing tool for agents], what is the one-, three-, five-year plan for that and what can we do that’s really out of the box and going to be next generational. And then also looking towards other vendors that we can plug in.
I [also] do a lot of office presentations. A lot of brokers will ask if I can come into their office or Zoom with them and do a presentation explaining where [the agents’] marketing fund dollars go, what the strategy is. Because, it’s funny, over the course of time, of course, whether we were doing spots and dots on ABC, CBS, NBC, [the agents] all saw the ads, or the billboards, or whatever.
But now that we’re being hyper targeted in who we’re reaching out to, it’s hard for them when they’re like, “I’m not seeing the ads.” That’s intentional. Unless they are that ideal RE/MAX client, they’re probably not going to. We still do traditional [ads], but as we’ve made that adjustment, it just requires a little bit of education. Once I go through it with them, they kind of have this “aha” moment.
It seems like a lot of your more recent ad campaigns were very focused on the agent and the importance of human connection. Will you build on that in 2022, or are you starting fresh?
We’re taking a little bit of a different approach. I do think that during the pandemic, home has a little bit of a different meaning to everybody, in terms of connection. So for 2022, there’s going to be more of an emotional thread throughout [and] nice storytelling.
Our digital is still going to be fun and thumb-stopping. I think it will be a little bit different on the digital side than on the broadcast and long-form video side. It’s going to have that emotional connection, but something that people can relate to, not something that’s intended to get the Kleenex box out.
In the past, we’ve kind of had a little bit of fun with humor, which has done well for us, but we just kind of thought it was time to shape it up. There’s going to be a little of that, but there’s definitely going to be some emotion in it as well.
In terms of the the upcoming year, do you have any main goals you’re hoping to achieve with your marketing strategy?
Main goals are obviously to continue to keep our strength and awareness, but also getting adoption of the tools that we have and making agents understand how it can help them with their business and make it easier.
We always say we’re a business that builds businesses and all of these tools can help them get more transactions. So, the real estate industry is sometimes somewhat slow to adopt technology, and I get that [agents are] busy, but if we can make it super easy for them to adopt it, see the value in it, and then increase their business, that’s a big goal.
What is the approximate agent adoption rate of RE/MAX’s marketing tools?
We just launched Megaphone in early 2020 [and it’s] gotten a 20 percent adoption. We don’t have every region on it yet — we have independent regions, so not everyone’s on it.
After the acquisition of RE/MAX Integra [which was completed at the end of July 2021], we’re bringing that group on this fall. So that’s obviously going to increase our adoption there, but I think we’ll be over-achieving that 20 percent adoption goal by the end of the year.
We typically see, just like anything else, somewhere around a 30 or 35 percent adoption rate of any tool, so we feel like if we can get over that, we’re going to be making great strides in the next year.
Anything else of interest coming up at RE/MAX you’d like to share?
We do have all of our fall retreats coming up with our broker/owners, so this is our time to go through this stuff with them and talk to them about successes and get the feedback on what they’re hearing from their agents, what they wish they had.
Because sometimes they think of something once they’re [working] in these tools, and we love to get that feedback because typically, it’s really easy things that we can do that we just hadn’t thought about. So that’s what I’m really looking forward to starting in October.
The best ideas come from the field and we always try to see how we can implement them.