The CMO Show:
Shannan Whitney on real estate...

How do you keep it real when marketing real estate? Tune in for the lowdown on why homes are going under the hammer in a whole new way with insights from real estate company BresicWhitney.

BresicWhitney’s CEO Shannan Whitney tells it like it is. In a candid conversation with Mark Jones, he shares his take on the disruptive journey his team of property marketers are on when it comes to spreading the word about hot property.

Shannan started his own real estate company in his late twenties in the 1990s when he identified a gap in the property market. With a passion for going beyond the ‘sell’, he shares his vision for looking at the bigger picture – people are seeking out lifestyles, not just homes or investments anymore.

“Here we are selling a product that people are going to live in, and therefore that’s going to be a big commitment,” says Whitney. “It’s less about the practical logistics and logic to it. It’s more about their emotional interaction with it. Then, being able to present that to them in that way is hugely, hugely impactful.”

Whitney says the company focuses on the key emotional connection formed the first time customers see a property’s photos or videos on a website or other collateral.

“We take a lot of care in terms of presenting that story creatively through the photography visually, and that takes a lot of care and attention. It takes some really talented people to be able to take a suite of twenty or thirty images and then curate an experience for someone who’s going to walk through a home.

“That’s very different than turning up and saying, ‘I have six shots to take in 45 minutes.’”

He says that BresicWhitney’s properties get “three times the engagement” on national portals due to this focus on the customer’s emotional journey.

In the breakout, Darren Pearce from their community team tells us how important it is for companies that deal with communities to look beyond the transaction and why there’s been a shift towards focusing on consumers and community in real estate.

Tune into for an inside track on the narrative of where we live and how to navigate the complex relationships in third-party marketing, with Shannan Whitney and Darren Pearce.

Resources

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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: cmoshow@filteredmedia.com.au.

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Transcript:

Hosts: Mark Jones and Nicole Manktelow

Guests: Shannan Whitney and Darren Pearce

Mark Jones: Clayton Christensen really gets your attention with his book, The Innovators Dilemma, When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Of course that is the dilemma. You have a great company but technology is changing everything. I love this quote. He says, “Disruptive technology should could be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one. Of course as storyteller we know that the marketing challenge is how do I tell the story of this change or this disruption. Where’s it going and what’s it doing and most importantly, what role do I have in this new narrative? The challenge that we all face is not whether or not technology is the problem or what change is going on but how can I understand the story and

How can I reframe this in a way that will help myself, my company and my customers.

Welcome to the CMO show. My name is Mark Jones. It’s great to have you with us again for another fantastic episode. I’m solo today. Flying solo because Nicole is unfortunately sick. She doesn’t sound that great, not great for radio. Nicole actually does pop up in the middle of the show and I encourage you to stick around.

We’re going to speak today about real estate which is probably I think Australia’s … I guess we have a love hate affair with real estate. It’s one of our big passions I’ve got to say. You might be asking why are we doing real estate on the CMO show? I’ve got to say it was something that I had to wrestle with quite a bit. There’s a couple of things that I want to talk about as we sort of set up, “Why are we doing real estate in marketing?” It strikes me that when we go shopping for properties of any type, rather we are renting or buying, there’s always this kind of we’re trying to figure out what’s the story behind the story. I know this from personal experience. It’s not til you actually talk to the agent that you find out a bit about the owner or the vendor of the property. What’s their back story? Why are they selling. What’s the history of this particular place. How can I engage with it.

In many cases that’s where we engage with, “Actually I think I can see myself in this place.” Maybe it’s great for families or for singles or for whatever it might be. We have that emotional connection. It’s interesting, today, my guest is Shannon Whitney, he’s the CEO of BresicWhitney which for anybody in the sort of inner city and inner west of Sydney will know this brand. They’ve really got a name for themselves for a couple of different reasons. One is a very strong community focus, but the other is this story telling angle. The angle is what happens if we take that back story, that thing that you might discover in person, what happens if we actually bring that to the forefront? What about if we actually tell a story, engage the consumer, the customer up front in their materials. If you’ve seen some of their marketing work you’ll kind of know what I’m talking about. They’re really good of telling the story of a property and where it’s come from.

That’s a really interesting angle to engage in here. What can you learn as a marketer from real estate? Of course when you think about real estate it’s all about marketing. The second point we’ll make too, is that there’s an interesting conversation about brand messaging. Your brand, if you like the company brand, versus campaign messaging and which one is more important to you. In some cases brand messaging can get lost as we roll our campaign after campaign after campaign. When you look at real estate of course they are very big on selling the brand of the agency which carries all sorts of feeling and emotions as all brands do but particularly as it relates to qualities and abilities to succeed. Some great ideas to dig into here. I had a great conversation with Shannon Whitney so let’s go to the interview now and hear what he has to say.

Mark Jones:  Thank you for joining us on the CMO Show. My name is Mark Jones, and my very special guest today is Shannan Whitney, CEO of BresicWhitney. Thank you for joining us.

Shannan Whitney: Pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Mark Jones:  For those of us who are not in the know, what do you do?

Shannan Whitney:  We are a property business in Sydney. So, we are located primarily around the inner city fringe. East, West, South. Areas such as Paddington, Balmain, Glebe, Newtown, Alexandria, Redfern, Potts Point. And we sell and manage residential property.

Mark Jones: this is probably Sydney and Australia’s most favourite subject, right? Buying and selling property. Where is it going? I’m interested in this conversation because it’s the story of where we live, how we live, how we talk about that, how we express it. How did it all begin? How did you get here? ‘Cause you’re like me, a business owner, right?

Shannan Whitney:  Yes. I ended up in that space. More out of bad luck than good management, but as a real estate agent in the nineteen-nineties, working for a company called McGraw’s, which were the newest and best thing at the time. I found myself somewhat disillusioned and lacking guidance. And at the tender age of twenty-seven, after learning my trade I decided that there was potentially other things for me. I didn’t quite know what. So, I took the step of actually deciding to put a shingle out and create our business, which was more out of naivete as opposed to being visionary.

Mark Jones: But there must have been that sense of, “Oh, I can do this better. I’m sure.”

Shannan Whitney:  I think there’s a little bit of a sense of that, but I think that comes with a lot of ignorance and probably a lot of bravado as opposed to any sort of real thoughtfulness and strategic thinking.

Shannan Whitney:  So, we were thrust into the jungle of the residential real estate market in Sydney. It was a profound learning experience to go and do that yourself and really have to think about what you’re doing a lot differently than when you were working for someone else.

Mark Jones: What would you say are the fundamental principles of property marketing, how would you describe that?

Shannan Whitney:  In a traditional sense?

Mark Jones:  Yeah.

Shannan Whitney:  As we know it today, the hierarchy is the agent first, the property second, and the consumer third. And, that’s historically how we’ve projected ourself and historically that’s where we’ve positioned the stakeholders in terms of the way we communicate to the broader market. And, I think that has a lot to do with how people receive our service and how we process the role that a real estate agent plays. Simply by virtue of the way that we present ourselves and the priorities we place in the in terms of the way that we do it.

Mark Jones:  Right.

Mark Jones:  Tell me if I’m right. If you imagine a big board out in the front of a property. Big huge logo for the agent, then a photo of the property, and then small text down at the bottom.

Shannan Whitney:  And often a photo of the agent.

Mark Jones: Right. Just for good measure.

Shannan Whitney:  Just for good measure. And, god help us if we sell it.

Mark Jones:  Right?

Shannan Whitney:  Because then there will be a bigger photo of the agent, who then presents themselves on that. So, in terms of the reasons why we’re doing that, of course, is because the role that the agent has, and the way that the industry view our role, is certainly in my day – in the nineties – we needed to consider the level of professionalism in service. And, the way that we try to do that, of course, was to elevate ourselves. And, I think the lack of thought and perhaps the lack of care in terms of how we did that was somewhat reckless. But, I think over the years we’ve continued on that journey and we’ve sort of amplified and turbo charged that somewhat to a point where nowadays consumers certainly feel like they’re not considered at all. And, I think that’s both in visual marketing and also in the way that we present ourselves in the human sense. Which, I think is probably the more important part.

Mark Jones:  And, we know that just from even simple tactical stuff, like really poor copywriting. Right?

Shannan Whitney:  Right.

Mark Jones:  So, that’s a really interesting thing. Again, on a marketing strategic level – we think a lot about brand trust. Right? So, has the thing been that we have to trust the agent first? Because the inherent in that is most people don’t.

Shannan Whitney:  So, it’s an interesting tension and one that’s the industry have had difficulty grappling with the complexity. And, the complexity starts with the legal relationship. Real estate agents have a contractual relationship often with the brand and therefore they have their own personal interests, and those personal interests should be complimentary to the brand, but often are at odds. And so, therefore, as a result of that the individual is working and earning commission for themselves and also for the brand in which they work within.

Shannan Whitney:  However, the individual sees that their value and their worth is directly related to the work that they’re doing as individuals. Not that of the brand. So, therefore you have this complex situation where you have individuals with marketing strategies, if you like, and we see all sorts of weird and wonderful kind of ways that they try and execute that.

Shannan Whitney:  And that often is louder than that of the brand. And, of course, as a consumer, when you’re receiving that it’s extremely confusing and certainly there is this a strong belief and an expectation that the individuals need to take on the responsibility of marketing themselves as well as the brand.

Shannan Whitney:  So, therefore, from a business point of view, that makes it very complex to try and marry those two things and have that integrated in any sort of thoughtful way.

Shannan Whitney:  So, you can understand from a consumer’s point of view or from someone receiving those messages that there is this kind of cacophony of noise between brands, between businesses, between individuals. And, typically, the brands have essentially taken a back seat and said, “This is too hard. We’ll just let them do it.”

Shannan Whitney:  So, from my point of view, I was very sensitive to those sorts of things and I certainly saw that an individual’s commitment and decision making around what they felt was important to them often was at a great detriment to that of basic traditional marketing principles that the business should be considering.

Shannan Whitney:  And, as a result, the people that were being impacted the most was the integrity of the brand and also those receiving it.

Mark Jones: The old model is a bit broken.

Shannan Whitney: If you talk to real estate agents, the model’s fine.

Mark Jones:  Yeah.

Shannan Whitney:  But, I think that in today’s world of social media – the sensitivity around messaging, noise, and perhaps in a crowded market place – I don’t think it’s working very well.

Mark Jones:  Right, ’cause I guess that’s where this conversation’s heading, right? Is that, regardless of whether you’re in real estate or any other industry, you have to have a brand purpose and a promise and a point of differentiation. And, clearly, you’ve worked hard on that. We’ve not talked about that to any degree yet, but you’ve set yourself out on a path to be different. So, can you just describe what that is? And, what’s meaningfully different? If I could be direct.

Shannan Whitney:  I think the most difficult thing is that, in today’s world, we all as business owners feel that providing you have a purpose and a set of values and a vision, then the rest will take care of itself. The most difficult thing is having an authentic approach to that, and that takes an awful amount of commitment. And, certainly, I think, from a founder’s point of view, that’s less to do with the founder and more about the willingness and the collaboration and the preparedness for other people to join on that journey.

Shannan Whitney:  It can’t just be the founder, because if it’s all about the founder, then you’re no better off, right?

Mark Jones:  Yep.

Shannan Whitney:  When we first started, we actually said to ourselves – and we talked eighteen months to work through this – is, “What is it that we actually feel like we are doing?” And, you can’t just say, “I’m different.” What is it that you believe in? And, what is it that you actually feel is important?

Shannan Whitney:  As you can appreciate, in any organisation there’s more than one person. And, therefore, if everyone is willing and is supported to have their say, then you have to work through a lot of conversations about that.

Shannan Whitney:  So, to get to the point of saying, “This is how we see ourselves.” And, in our sense, we didn’t want to just be another real estate agent that clipped the ticket on the way through. Surely, there are more things that we can offer this world than just taking a commission for someone who decides to buy a house.

Shannan Whitney:  So, for us, it was a very challenging thing to say, “Well, if we’re not just real estate agents, what do we think we are? And, how do we feel like we can provide a level of purpose and value, not just to people that are buying and selling, but our community – which, in fairness, we profit from very handsomely simply by people moving into a suburb or moving out?” And, more broadly, “How much engagement and depth do we want to participate in our audience or our market’s lifestyle?” And, that was a really profound opportunity for us to consider and think very deeply about how we wanted to do that.

Shannan Whitney:  And, was that important to us? It certainly was important to me. But, I also work with a whole bunch of other people that have said, “I wanna come on this journey.”

Mark Jones:  So, what did you decide?

Shannan Whitney:  the most important thing is then working on your vision. Over the course of 18 months we decided we wanted to be the leading lifestyle property group in Australia. We wanted to activate and embrace change, and we wanted to inspire the people, our community, and our industry. But we genuinely wanted to try and make a difference.

Shannan Whitney:  For us, our purpose was not just about selling houses, but we wanted to genuinely bring homes to life, because that was the opportunity that we had. And, in the very one dimensional world and one dimensional industry that we felt we were existing in, there was little to no focus on the experience. And, it was all about how many you sold and how much money you made. And, to this day, that’s the central message within an industry like ours. And, that was one that we really wanted to challenge, we really wanted to think deeply about.

Mark Jones: And, then, you’ve got this, you mentioned bringing homes to life. So, can you unpack that a little?

Shannan Whitney:  As a third party consultant that is supporting a transaction, in many ways we’re a broker. So, we’re facilitating something. But, there’s so much more opportunity for us to actually inject life into that experience. And, there’s so many ways we can do that. One of the main ways, of course, is through the human connection. So, moving from a role historically of deceitful, lacking transparency, not having a level of service, lack of honesty and courage, which makes up the stereotypical real estate agent. We really wanted to challenge that and say, “Let’s not be good real estate agents. Let’s focus on being good people. And, let’s try and behave and act how good people would in any normal transaction, right?”

Shannan Whitney:  So, remove all the historical artefacts and all the things that are involved in real estate that we understand today. Tell them the price, be honest with them, help them. And, taking people on that journey, whilst it sounds easy, is very difficult. We do that creatively. The visual experience that we had was one that we really wanted to focus on. There was a focus on the product, not the emotion behind it. The experience for people.

Shannan Whitney:  Remarkably, I’d find that in the digital world that we were entering, someone would spend more time and more investment on selling a pair of shoes than they would a four-million-dollar house. I didn’t think that added up. So, we decided we wanted to challenge that. And, we wanted to try and do that in a way that people would engage and respond to proportionally, the level of product and the level asset we’re actually selling here.

Shannan Whitney:  So, in many different ways, we looked at how we could change this and how we could certainly change that from an experience point of view. But, also from the company’s purpose. To really commit to that. And, that gives us the sort of opportunity to be creative and think about the story telling and think about how we wanna do that.

Mark Jones:  So, what does great story telling look like for you? What are the core elements and the channels that you’re using?

Shannan Whitney:  The first thing that we wanted to do was we wanted to broaden our scope rather than just focus on people who are in a real estate mode. What we wanted to do was, we wanted to participate more in the communities and the lifestyles of the people that we are profiting from and that we’re working with.

Shannan Whitney:  So, therefore, we said, “We want to be more involved and more influential in terms of how you consume and how you exist in your lifestyle.”

Shannan Whitney:  We chose to do that through different ways. We were really interested in the artistic community. The arts are an important part of the inner city fabric of Sydney. We felt that was a way that we wanted to participate in the lifestyles of many of our people who were buying and selling through us. And, we-

Mark Jones:  You sponsored something at Carriageworks, right?

Shannan Whitney:  We’ve done quite a few partnerships through that time, and one of which was getting involved in important artistic institutions like Carriageworks where we wanted to be part of their audience. And, and we really wanted to really commit to saying that the arts are an important part of the inner city lifestyle. And, through those sorts of partnerships, we feel that we’re able to deepen our engagement with our clientele, attract new clientele to us. And, really say that BresicWhitney is a brand who sees these things as being important.

Mark Jones:  So, what about the other elements? Like written storytelling, have you got a focus there? And, how do you do something that is actually different?

Shannan Whitney:  So, I think mostly through our blogs, particularly, and through our creative team, we’ve tried to consider how the messages and what messages are being delivered to a real estate audience. Which, as you said, is a very, very big one. And, typically what we’ve done is we’ve focused – the industry is focused – mostly on messaging around financial gain, or the performance of assets. What we wanted to do is we wanted to reconsider how we’re delivering the role of houses and the role of property in people’s lifestyle. And, having had the creative expertise within our team, we’re able to do that in many different ways. Moving imagery, videos, blogs … We’ve reconsidered the content in which people are wanting to actually understand about how property exists in our lifestyle.

Shannan Whitney:  So, the creative team play a big role in terms of coming up with ideas and communicating to our audience.

Mark Jones:  So, you’ve got a head of marketing, and then a creative team. So, how does that process work in an organisation like yours? What would people learn from your experience there?

Shannan Whitney:  It’s very difficult, because when you go into this area and you really look for creative talent and marketing talent, my experience is typically they’re not interested in real estate. And, that proved to be the greatest hurdle.

Mark Jones:  Just finding people.

Shannan Whitney:  Absolutely. And, I think finding people’s one thing, but finding talented people’s another thing. And, from my experience, going out there and really trying to bring talented people into what people perceive to be an industry and a way of being that certainly isn’t at the top of a lot of people’s lists, it’s a very challenging thing. But, in order to do that, you need to create the culture that provides and allows and supports creativity. That’s very difficult, particularly if I go back to the challenge you have when real estate individuals are almost as dominant to the culture as the brand and the business themselves. So, it’s quite a difficult and challenging thing to do.

Shannan Whitney:  All we’ve done is try to create the space for them to be able to be creative.

Mark Jones:  So, give me an example of what that might look like.

Shannan Whitney:  So, really, what it looks like to start with is to remove the agent from the process and that’s very difficult to do because the agent thinks – or the agent exists – where they own the process. They are the one that have been chosen the facilitate the sale [crosstalk 00:21:31] from the decision making and we wanna have the creative space to help the client and work with the client. And, how can we present, produce and deliver your house to the audience in a way that we think they wanna receive it.

Mark Jones:  Right. So, from a stakeholder, management point of view, you’re gonna say, “Oh, you might have that client relationship, but we’re asking for your permission to delegate that creative decision making.” Right?

Shannan Whitney:  Yes.

Mark Jones:  “And, you might have an opinion, but-“

Shannan Whitney:  They’ve definitely got an opinion.

Mark Jones:  Right. And, so that is a significant mind shift.

Shannan Whitney:  It’s a very big mind shift, and I think that mostly, from a creative marketing point of view, my experience is you’ve gotta have the support of the organisation and people in it that experimentation and failing and trying to get great outcomes comes at a cost. And, they need to go on that journey with you. So, it’s not an easy thing to do.

Mark Jones:  Next question, having bought and sold within the last eighteen months and remembering paying invoices for marketing, your approach sounds more expensive. So, is that true? And, are you looking for clients who are saying, “You know what? That’s a really creative approach to marketing. It’ll deliver a benefit, but it’s probably going to be more expensive”? So, how do you deal with that from the customer point of view?

Shannan Whitney:  Gee, you picked that up quick. You picked that up very quick.

Shannan Whitney:  So, in our industry, which is under an enormous amount of pressure from disruptives, from consumers realising that third party brokers and the value we provide are probably on the way our or coming in. So, you’ve got some huge systemic challenges in terms of fee for service going down, business looking to really strip out any sort of cost they can. So, creative and marketing packages are going down, not up. And they need to do that in order to compete in the market and to satisfy what’s a really high demand audience, now.

Shannan Whitney:  So, unless your product is that good, you shouldn’t even start by trying to say more. So, that level of commitment and investment that we place on the creative discipline, the more you invest the better you get, the better outcomes. It’s that simple.

Shannan Whitney:  Secondly, yes, we’ve got a competitive issue in the marketplace. And, from a marketing and creative point of view, if you are addressing and you’re pure and focused on what’s the best outcome from the customer and you really look at delivering what they want to hear, what they need, typically that’s the best way to deal with a product that’s more expensive.

Shannan Whitney:  If you don’t meet that and people don’t see the value, they won’t pay for it. So, again, if you’re doing these things and you’re creating these things for yourself, typically it’s very hard to sell in the market because the consumer is not on board with what you are. It that makes sense.

Shannan Whitney:  So, we have that issue, but typically the product is strong enough for us to compete with lower priced products.

Mark Jones:  Yeah.

Mark Jones:  So, in many respects, you’re like us at Filtered Media in the sense that you’re a quality brand story telling agency, right? So, you are an agency with a creative story telling, if you like, competitive advantage in the marketplace. And, you’re saying, “As long as I can connect that to a higher return at the end, people will take it.” Right?

Shannan Whitney:  Yeah. And, I’m not in your world, but, from a business point of view, business and marketing to me is common sense. You’re trying to address problems. If you can identify what the problems are and you can objectively understand that from a consumer’s point of view, I think you’ve got a better chance of actually coming up with a solution. The execution part’s not easy, I’ll grant you that. But, I do certainly agree from my experience that if you’re in that space and, from a business point of view, we’re continually disciplined about remaining in that space, we’ve experienced that we get better outcomes.

Mark Jones:  Another thing – going back to your conversation about trust and authenticity and these big, big industry challenges – I read on your site that you’ve got these community reps that are in some way connected to your business. Tell me, how does that work? ‘Cause that sounds like, well, first, I’ve never heard of that as an idea and that sounds quite challenging. Do you just have all sorts of interested community people who wanna come and give you their two cents? Or, is it like a genuine partnership?

Shannan Whitney:  Absolutely, it’s a genuine partnership.

Shannan Whitney:  So, when we talked about our vision, what was important was- If you can consider, we’re in the inner city part of Sydney. We’re spending all our time in these communities making money off the privileged who can buy and sell property. All the while, we’ve got a lot of our community who can’t even live in a home. And, real estates float around on the top of this world kind of picking up things left, right, and centre where we can for our own benefit. And, if we’re serious about actually engaging in our community in a more meaningful way, well, let’s be realistic about that. We’re profiting and then we’ll go and sponsor a school and we say we’re giving back.

Shannan Whitney: But, that’s not really looking at the reality of our community in the way we should. And, if we’re serious about doing this, then we need to look at all out community. And, I think from a story and a brand point of view selfishly, homelessness is a perfect one, right?

Shannan Whitney:  So, therefore, if we’re going to then participate and we’re going to commit to doing that within our community, then one of the key things from a brand point of view is we need to give back and we need to have a community commitment to that within our organisation.

Shannan Whitney:  So, interestingly, from a strategic point of view, there’s various pillars that we have. The community one is the most popular. That’s the one that most of the staff wanna be involved in. It’s the one that they want to contribute, participate, and give their time to. And, remarkably, it was probably the one that we were most frightened about because we didn’t think we’d get that much commitment from a bunch of greedy real estate agents. But, it’s the one that’s been able to galvanise and engage people the most.

Mark Jones: Let’s take a quick break for a moment and we’re going to throw to Darren Pearce, the head of BresicWhitney’s community team. Nicole’s going to have a quick chat with him about what does it take to build a community and how to take this idea of not advertising something but just doing it and hoping that the benefits will follow.

Breakout 

Nicole Manktlow: Hey Darren, so thank you so much for making time for us today. We do really appreciate it.

Darren Pearce:   It’s a pleasure.

Nicole Manktelow: What’s your job title there at BresicWhitney?

Darren Pearce:  I’m actually a residential sales agent so I work in the transactional space. That’s my actual title. And … apart from that I’ve sort of got a title that is official but not official. You can’t see it anywhere. But I’m … I’m one of the sort of heads of the community team there.

Nicole Manktelow:   You’ve got a community team. Now I don’t know they all have community teams. so can you give us a bit of a low-down on what that is?

Darren Pearce:   What that is? Yeah, sure. So about four years ago, when BresicWhitney was going through a bit of a restructure and trying to figure out where we fit in real estate, where we fit in the community, how we can basically make BresicWhitney a great place to work, and we were doing a lot of work and sort of had to take everything back to sort of bare bones. And I certainly found that I just didn’t want to be involved in the transactional space, which is the life of a real estate agent. I’m like 52 now. I’d been doing it for about 18 years and we always, at Bresic Whitney, tried to give to the community but most of the time it was done by just handing over money and people would call us and we’d decide whether it was sort of going to be something that we would like to contribute to or not to contribute to.

Darren Pearce: What a lot of people would ring us for was for donations to support a school fête or to support school outing and things like that, and in return, the typical real estate agent will get a banner on the school gate or they’ll get some signage somewhere and stuff like that.

Darren Pearce: So we thought there was a difference between community work and lending a hand in the community and actual agent promotion. We thought there was a difference.

Nicole Manktelow:  Yeah that’s a really interesting difference. That’s a huge … that’s a huge step to take. What was the impact of making that decision? What have you noticed?

Darren Pearce: So we decided that we would look elsewhere and look at our current relationships. And also too, before we took to the next step, we went out to all our staff and used a survey that was anonymous and we actually asked them what was important to them. This was about giving staff the choice about what they would like to participate in. It was about where can we actually contribute and raise awareness. We actually were really overwhelmed by the amount of people that actually thought this was a really good thing to explore.

Nicole Manktelow: What did they say in the survey? I mean did they come up with some cool unexpected ideas?

Darren Pearce: So the top four or five was basically mental health, for all ages and both sexes. Homelessness and domestic violence, which sort of came in on par. Cancer was an obvious one and it is for many organisations because many people are impacted by that. And animal welfare came up as a really important one as well.

Darren Pearce: So, then we set out looking for partners and people that we could actually work with and be involved with so that staff could basically go out and contribute.

Nicole Manktelow: You’ve had a bit of a crash course in this, in charity fundraising corporate responsibility HR. It seems like you’ve had to learn a lot.

Darren Pearce: We … I’ve never done anything like it. And I really … I do really enjoy it. It’s a really nice space to work in. So last week, we’ve started a relationship with a house called Sanctuary House, which is in Ashfield. It’s a place where women take refuge often fleeing domestic violence and they arrive there with absolutely nothing. Over the last month we asked our staff to just … if they’re having a spring clean, maybe clean out the bathroom cupboards or look at all those things that you’ve collected over the years from all your travel trips and like your hotel room soaps and all of those types of things. And so what we did was that after a month of collecting, we had probably about one metre by four cubic metres of stuff, toothpaste, stuff that basically women would find really useful if they just arrived with nothing.

Darren Pearce: And so, last Friday, we then had a packing spree where we went in and packed all of these toiletry and sanitary bags and next week they’re going to be delivered to the house. So, that was a great initiative that we participated in last week.

Nicole Manktelow: That’s beautiful.

Nicole Manktelow:  Now did one of your staff members suggest Sanctuary House?

Darren Pearce:   It was a lady by the name of Gina [Rotundo 00:09:40] who … Gina found Sanctuary House. The lady that runs Sanctuary House is a really energetic passionate lady. She’s really passionate about what she does and, once again, we don’t advertise any of these types of things. But it just raises awareness of what goes on in the community. We’re pretty blessed in real estate. We get paid really well. We don’t go without anything. And so, it was to contribute and raise awareness.

Nicole Manktelow:  Yeah, you want your team members to do stuff to feel like they’re physically and emotionally giving something. Not just chucking in a few bucks.

Nicole Manktelow: There are a lot of charities in Australia. 55,000 of them, I think was the last tally. You’ve got to find a way through. You’ve got to find a way which ones you want to be supporting and getting people behind. You’ve chosen ones that your team have got connections with or feel strongly about or just seems pertinent. Sort of a charity begins at home, I guess.

Darren Pearce: It does. And we still look at our community as the internal community of BresicWhitney and then our external community. We do try to make it a great place to work.

Nicole Manktelow: Does it motivate people? This sort of work, do you find that the culture’s changed or that the attitudes have changed?

Darren Pearce: I just think it gives them an opportunity to give. And the other thing too is that we very strongly say to people, you can only contribute if you’ve got the capacity to do so. Because a lot of people may be already supporting charities. They might be supporting a parent that is ill. They might be going through a rough time. So it’s really important to us that it’s their space and not frowned upon if you don’t contribute.

Darren Pearce: It just hums along in the background.

Nicole Manktelow: Do you think there are HR benefits to getting people involved in something more than that just their KPIs?

Darren Pearce: 100%. People really … The emails that we get after community events, is really quite overwhelming. It really is. We’re really surprised. it’s probably better if the community events come through community rather than People and Culture or HR as they used to call it because it just means it’s a bit more personal and it’s not like you’re being forced to do something. It’s just a gentler way of getting to people.

Darren Pearce: As I said, not doing this to get a gold star in the community. Just to go about it in a very quiet subtle way to try and help and lend a hand. And hopefully making sure that the staff have a voice and they get to contribute in places that they think are important.

Main Interview

Mark Jones:  So, give me a few lessons. Maybe, three to five, depending on what you feel like. From a marketing point of view, what are the lessons that you’ve learnt that really makes a difference in, in your case, a higher sale outcome, right? So, what are the things that really move the needle, from a marketing, storytelling point of view?a

Shannan Whitney:  Okay, I think there’s two.

Shannan Whitney:  I think, in terms of moving the needle for performance and success, transparency and clarity of information is crucial. If you can give and understand what the key pain points are for our consumer, most of that is, “What price is it gonna sale for? I don’t really care about your creative description about the lounge room. I want facts. I want the ones that are gonna help me make decisions. I want call to action. And, I want key things like price.”

Shannan Whitney:  And, for us, simplifying and being clear about that and being disciplined about that is our first commitment.

Shannan Whitney:  The second thing is, in a very crowded marketplace in the digital world where there are thousands and thousands of our product thrown out to the marketplace everyday, bringing that experience to a recipient and to a consumer has to be around emotion. For someone who has any experience with art, it’s purely about how you respond to it emotively. Here we are selling a product that people are going to live in, and therefore that’s going to be a big commitment. It’s less about the practical logistics and logic to it. It’s more about their emotional interaction with it. Then, being able to present that communicate to them in that way is hugely, hugely impactful.

Shannan Whitney:  And, I guess, from my point of view, that’s probably been the most obvious and the most valuable.

Shannan Whitney: We look at that because on the national portals, BresicWhitney properties have three times the amount of engagement than our competitors. That’s really significant.

Mark Jones:  Is that because they’re seeing the brand the and they get to know alright there’s gonna be some good content here? Or, you present the content in a different way?

Shannan Whitney:  I think firstly we take the visual approach as a storytelling approach. We ask our creative team to try and tell the story of this home. And, to do that takes a lot of care and attention. It takes some really talented people to be able to take a suite of twenty or thirty images and then curate an experience for someone who’s going to walk through a home. That’s very different than turning up and saying, “I got six shots to take. Which six am I gonna take? And I’ve got forty-five minutes in order to take them.”

Mark Jones:  Which is the money shot?

Shannan Whitney:  Which is the money shot? ” I know, I’ll get back here, get in the corner of the room, open the lens, and then go for it.” And, as a consumer that’s not inspiring. And we’re talking about selling to someone who’s gonna live in this thing. So, you’re not selling a box or, say, a pair of shoes. you’re selling a future home for someone.

Shannan Whitney: So, it makes sense for you to consider how you’re gonna tell that story. And, for us, we take a lot of care in terms of presenting that creatively through the capture of the photography visually, and then also curating that story with people that know how to tell that story in that way. And we have a lot of success with that. It’s common sense to me, but remarkably we’ve taken a very one dimensional procedural approach to that. And, as a result, we feel that we provide a lot of value for people to sell through us because we have a lot more success engaging with someone.

Mark Jones:  Very good. Well, I appreciate all of your insights and I think there’s a lot in there that anybody with marketing comms can latch onto and apply to their world, so thank you very much. And, for the insight into what it takes to actually make something that’s really interesting and different in a challenging market space. So, well done on that. Now, Shannon, we have, as part of our – this is a fine tradition here at the CMO Show – some rapid fire questions here. Ready?

Shannan Whitney:  Okay. You didn’t tell me about this.

Mark Jones:  What are you grateful for?

Shannan Whitney:  Grateful for my daughter.

Mark Jones:  Do you like rain?

Shannan Whitney:  Yes.

Mark Jones: In the movie of your life, who would play you?

Shannan Whitney:  Daniel Craig?

Mark Jones:  Yes. I can see that. What’s your greatest career fail?

Shannan Whitney:  Greatest career fail was deciding to be a real estate agent.

Mark Jones:  And, your greatest win? Career wise.

Shannan Whitney:  Greatest win was choosing to stay a real estate agent.

Mark Jones:  Yeah. There you go. It had to be something like that. Beach or mountain?

Shannan Whitney:  Beach.

Mark Jones:  Who is your hero?

Shannan Whitney:  My partner, Juliet.

Mark Jones:  If you weren’t in the business you’re doing right now, what would you be doing?

Shannan Whitney:  I think that I would be a photographer.

Mark Jones:  What was the last conversation you had with your parents?

Shannan Whitney:  I haven’t seen my father for twenty-five years, and I haven’t spoken to my mother for six months, so I actually can’t remember. But, it was a pleasant one.

Mark Jones:  It was?

Shannan Whitney:  It was. I remember. Actually, I do remember what it was. I’m going home to Tamworth next week, and I talked to her about that.

Mark Jones:  Okay. Very good. Well, I might have accidentally unearthed something there for you, so I’ll leave that to you. If you could change one thing about marketing in property, what would it be?

Shannan Whitney:  Sack all of the real estate agents?

Mark Jones:  Wow. I gotta say it’s been a very candid interview with a real estate agent. The most candid conversation I can recall.

Shannan Whitney:  Marketing and real estate just do not mix.

Mark Jones:  Yeah. Yeah.

Shannan Whitney:  Just do not mix.

Mark Jones:  Yeah, but you’re changing it from the inside is what I feel.

Shannan Whitney:  It’s funny, because when we go to these real estate conferences they sit there and they actually say, “You know what, we’re actually marketers.” And you’re like, “Oh, god. We didn’t say that, did we?” ‘Cause we’re not.

Mark Jones:  Okay, so is the answer to this question, which is now not rapid fire, but is it everything? I don’t know.

Shannan Whitney:  Everything. Yeah.

Mark Jones:  Everything. Right.

Mark Jones:  What’s your greatest frustration?

Shannan Whitney:  Greatest frustration is I work too much.

Mark Jones:  Dogs or cats?

Shannan Whitney:  Dogs.

Mark Jones:  There you go. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?

Shannan Whitney:  Ruben.

Mark Jones:  Ruben! Why is that?

Shannan Whitney:  I’ve always liked it. And they were gonna call me Ruben. I kinda wish they did.

Mark Jones:  There you go. Look, you can learn all sorts of things through rapid fire. Thank you for playing along with no notice whatsoever, Shannan.

Shannan Whitney:  I wish you’d told me about it.

Mark Jones:  No, it’s best not to.

Mark Jones:  Shannan Whitney, CEO of BresicWhitney. Thank you so much for being our guest on the CMO show. Really appreciated your insights and all the best to shaking it up from the inside.

Shannan Whitney:  Thank you. We try our best. Thanks for having me.

Mark Jones: There we have it. Shannon Whitney, CEO of BresicWhitney. I’ve got to say I’ve really enjoyed speaking with him and I hope you enjoyed the interview. One of the things that really stuck out for me was this idea of cut through. How can you be different how can you stand above the crowd as it were. In real estate we think that it’s just such a complicated. It’s an interesting time by the way in terms of where the markets at. Are you selling the face of a person? Are you selling a brand? Or are you selling an entirely different way of doing thing, particularly as it relates to the story telling aspect of it. For me that was obviously a big thing is how can you make the story really carry the day. These guys are really trying something quite different. I’m sure it’s got all of it’s usual trials and difficulties when you’re trying something new for the first time it rarely goes smoothly.

The idea of taking this one thing that will differentiate you from the competition and really maximising that to me rings true. I think probably also is maybe another side point is this self deprecation and really being kind of candid about real estate agents. Just saying how can we as professionals, how can we be different. How can we address some of these underlying sentiments in the community. It kind of ties back again to what do your customers think about you and how can you be different in that regard.

A great interview. Something a little bit different for us in terms of a different type of company and an organisation and an industry and I think a great one for the archives. If you’ve not gone back into the archives, by the way, make sure you go and check out our back catalogue. It’s extensive coming up to I think nearly 90 or so by now. Get in there and download some old shows and get some goodness there. Tell your friends, as we always say. Make sure you subscribe. Once again thanks for joining us on the CMO show. It’s been a solo effort for me this week. We’ll have Nicole back next time. We look forward to more adventures in brand storytelling.Until then.

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