Brand-Name Recognition

CCIMs share their strategies for creating lasting impressions in the marketplace.

Establishing a unique identity in today's marketplace is a challenge, particularly in the competitive commercial real estate world. How can you stand out among the bevy of local and national companies vying for business in your market? While service and results long have been paramount to gaining and keeping clients, a well-known brand also helps bring business through your door.

But branding is not just about edging out the competition, according to Jan Marie Dore, a personal brand strategist and marketing coach in Vancouver, British Columbia. Effective branding makes you stand out, but more importantly, it ensures you are remembered, she says.

Commercial real estate pros agree. "Brands are sets of perceptions about companies that all of us carry around inside our heads," says William M. Severi, CCIM, president of North Bay Commercial Real Estate in Santa Rosa, Calif. "What we think of these brands is impacted by logos, product and service quality, price, availability, advertising, word of mouth, personal experience," and much more.

While common-sense rules such as using well-placed signage and meaningful logos still apply, today's most successful commercial real estate brokerages go beyond the basics to create recognizable brands that are synonymous with the businesses they represent. The following strategies can help you build or expand a brand that ensures your company's identity stays at the forefront of existing and prospective clients' minds.

Define Yourself and Your Brand

Whether you're starting a new brokerage or revamping your long-established company's image, choose an identity that accurately mirrors your primary business. "Make sure your company name reflects what you do. If you need another paragraph to explain, it's too late," says Todd D. Clarke, CCIM, partner in NM Apartments in Albuquerque, N.M.

Reinforcing your established identity helps transform it into a brand. Bill Eshenbaugh, CCIM, ALC, owner of bbre/Eshenbaugh Commercial Services in Clearwater, Fla., identifies himself as the "Dirt Dog" for his work with local land projects. Not only does the company's logo, an illustration of an English springer spaniel in a cowboy hat, adorn his Web site ( and marketing materials, but Eshenbaugh also is introduced as the Dirt Dog at local speaking engagements.

To define themselves, local independent companies also have to use their brands "to show what sets them apart from the large national brokerages," says Todd A. Gold, CCIM, president of REOC Partners in San Antonio. His company's logo includes an image of the Alamo to highlight its San Antonio roots. The acronym REOC, which stands for Real Estate Operating Company, conveys the company's true role of operating " not owning" real estate.

"We have the tag line 'Nationally known' locally owned' on our marketing materials to promote our multimarket capabilities and 100 percent local ownership," says Samuel F. Smith, CCIM, SIOR, chief executive officer of Meridian Real Estate Services in Indianapolis. "We want to promote our company as Indianapolis' home team that is independent' not controlled by investors in Los Angeles or St. Louis. We want clients to know that the buck stops here."

However, if a local company affiliates or merges with a national organization, experts recommend retaining the original name and identity as much as possible. The same is true for professionals who leave large companies to start their own businesses. For instance, when Kay Harris, CCIM, principal of Kay Harris Real Estate Consultants in Minneapolis, left a previous employer after 10 years, she didn't want to lose the contacts she worked hard to make. "I was advised to keep my name in the company name so former customers and clients could find me more easily. I did, and they did," she says.

"When you work for 20 years to build a brand in a local market, you must keep that brand alive to keep up your business," says Mary A. Hutchins, CCIM, a broker with Portfolio Properties in Bakersfield, Calif. Instead of affiliating with a national brokerage to boost business, Hutchins networks through CCIM Institute meetings and events, which expose her to national opportunities without compromising her company's established brand in the local market. The strategy has created prospective deals in faraway markets such as Louisiana that otherwise might not have been possible, Hutchins says.

When growing companies branch out to offer new services or expand into different markets, they shouldn't abandon the brand that brought them success in the first place. "Even though our company has grown into property management, consulting, and non-apartment commercial real estate and now [has] an office in Denver, we never diluted the original brand," Clarke says. "Rather, we started new companies as needed and applied our brand to them."

Showcase Your Specialty

Finding a niche in markets that expect versatile commercial real estate pros isn't always easy, but it can help solidify your identity. "Become an expert in your [specialty] and let your potential clients know about it and how it can help them," advises Marc A. Boorstein, CCIM, principal of MJ Partners in Chicago. Two strategies he recommends are writing articles for local and national commercial real estate publications and speaking at industry events. Boorstein, whose company specializes in self-storage, has written articles for industry publication Mini-Storage Messenger.

William M. "Marty" Kotis III, CCIM, president/CEO of Kotis Properties in Greensboro, N.C., agrees that specializing is an important part of the branding process. "We are known as the restaurant real estate experts in North Carolina," he says. To help build that reputation, Kotis is active in the North Carolina Restaurant Association and attends National Restaurant Association and International Council of Shopping Centers conferences. The business branch that handles such projects, Kotis Restaurant Group, retains the family name, a strategy Kotis applied to all company divisions when he initiated a branding strategy in 1995.

Paul Kiang, CCIM, CPM, president of Global Business Alliance in Orlando, Fla., thinks finding a niche is a brand "and business" builder. His company, which specializes in representing tenants for Asian buffet and fast-casual restaurants, quickly is developing a reputation as Florida's Asian restaurant deal maker. Through targeted initiatives, such as e-mail marketing and advertising on commercial real estate Web sites and in Asian publications, Kiang's brand and business are on the rise: Restaurant transaction volume rose to $11.5 million in 2003, up from $4.9 million the prior year, he says.

After operating NM Apartments for five years under a national brokerage's umbrella, Clarke ventured out on his own with the NM Apartments name, Web site, and client database. "When I left a national firm three years ago we never missed a stride because everyone knew us as the apartment authority in New Mexico," he says. He since has expanded to offer multifamily consulting services under the same brand. "We started a sister company that offers housing resources and tells clients we are their resource for housing information," he says.

Stand Out in Your Market

Several CCIMs say offering clients a service they can't find elsewhere is a brand-boosting strategy that singles them out in their communities.

Market-specific research tops many of their lists. While national brokerages have more resources to conduct and compile such research, smaller local companies also can use this strategy successfully. For instance, MJ Partners' nine-person office sends out quarterly reports highlighting Chicago's real estate market. "We do all the research ourselves through a variety of sources, which takes a lot of time but gives us a great response from potential clients," Boorstein says.

REOC Partners also develops in-house quarterly market reports, Gold says. The 60-person company employs a researcher who focuses exclusively on San Antonio's office, industrial, and retail segments. While the company offers free tidbits of local activity on its Web site, it sells the reports to local businesses and other real estate companies. Gold views it as a way to add to the bottom line while reinforcing the company's brand.

Community service is another way to gain marketplace visibility. Smith's company sponsored a day at the local ballpark with SpongeBob SquarePants to raise awareness for a children's charity. "By throwing out the first ball and speaking about [our company] on the radio, we helped raise money for a worthy cause and helped build our brand."

Meridian also assisted Indianapolis' chamber of commerce and its affiliates in relocating to new office space; the company donated its fees back to the organizations. "We believe in giving back to our local community. It's good business," he says.

Sharing your expertise by hosting local real estate-related seminars can get you noticed. Hutchins specifically targets small local investors who are "sitting on wealth in a real estate portfolio and need guidance in evaluating strategies and opportunities available to them," she says. In addition, she often partners with local related-service providers for a double benefit: "We network with other professionals and service providers [to build referrals] and have them participate in the workshops so clients can learn about their services too," she says.

More commercial real estate companies are using creative methods to build their brands and establish their identities in the marketplace. Though their strategies may differ, the ultimate goal for all companies is to ensure that their brands create the right perceptions in clients' and prospective clients' minds. While no one approach fits all, one principle holds true: "Your brand is your promise of value. It's the way to distinguish yourself in your industry," Dore says.

Jennifer Norbut

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