Thoughts on Leadership: Innovation in Minneapolis

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me in Minneapolis for a meeting with BBDO, our advertising agency, along with Stephen Phillips, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Kerry Donovan, VP of marketing and Wendy Durand, director of marketing. We were all gathered in the Twin Cities to discuss the progress we’ve made as a brand since Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices launched in September 2013, where we’re at right now in terms of brand awareness and positioning, and finally, where exactly our brand is going next year and well into the future.

Kerry asked me to kick things off, which I did by telling the team: “Look at every television commercial we’ve ever produced. Look at every television commercial that every real estate brand out there today has produced recently and in the past. Study those television ads then let’s create something totally, completely and entirely different.”

Needless to say, innovation became a key theme of the meeting and we spoke at length about ways we can differentiate ourselves from everyone else, which meant refining and retelling our brand story in a way that wouldn’t just attract consumers nationwide but it would also compel them to action and want them to engage with our brand. As Gary Vaynerchuk, leading social media expert and venture capitalist once said, “Your story isn’t powerful enough if all it does is lead the horse to water; it has to inspire the horse to drink, too.”

Another theme of our meeting was strategic planning. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of planning ahead, and understanding that progress made does not necessarily determine progress to come. As the saying goes, once you think you know it all, your slide to mediocrity has already begun. And this couldn’t be more true than in the world of branding and marketing. You must listen to your audience but with the most discerning of ears. As Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Marketing is really a means to an end. The means? Television advertising, online advertising, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, viral videos … all of the ways you promote your businesses today. The end? Informing consumers and showing them your value. With each piece of marketing you produce and every advertisement you create, you must always be thinking about why your customer needs this product or service in the first place and then, how you’re adding value at every turn. Once you have those answers, you can craft your message accordingly and it’ll be powerful enough to really hit home.

For our team in Minneapolis, this all translated into going back to our vision and mission statement and clearly communicating our brand attributes. During the meeting, Stephen noted that our core brand attribute, communicated time and time again through our television ads, is trust. “If you combine the expertise of our network members with our brand’s approachability, you get trust,” he said. “And to me, trust is the foundation of everything about our brand and that’s what we must convey to our audience.”

What’s the message? Be different from the rest, listen to your customers with a discerning ear and strengthen their trust in you. Those are the things we must focus in the coming year. So while I can’t reveal too much about what we’re planning for 2017—though you should know we’ll have another fantastic television ad as well as an incredible springtime promotion—I can tell you that whatever we produce will be informed by our desire to convey these messages of differentiation, innovation and trust to the consumers who rely on our network members every single day.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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