Broker Owners: Be Informed When Using Aggregator Sites

After listening more to this aggregator debate I still need a few answers, and thanks Victor Lund at Wave and others that added insight.

My general feeling is that franchisors and market leading broker-owners should not send listings to aggregator sites. But I do see the reasons mentioned that brokers that can’t market their own brand effectively may opt to use aggregators more heavily.

Here are some reasons for my opinion:

86% of households move within the same city or county, according to the 2010 United State Census. So taking dollars that could be going into YOUR local web sites, or buying a competitor, or training your agents makes sense to me instead of building up Zillow with your listings and marketing dollars. As Zillow said, they have some of their highest traffic in your local market. Brokers and franchisors, how did you let that happen? Focus on being the best brand in YOUR city-county, and national leads will find you. You don’t need to spend dollars on Zillow, Trulia or to make that happen, and send your listings only if there is a good strategic reason, not indiscriminately.

Again, in the end, I think building the aggregator brands have taken value from the Broker-Owner. Not the agents that work for that broker, but the person who owns the firm.

Your real value is in your local brand, and that value is measured by what you would be able to sell your business for. Two industries that have been really beat up by aggregators (hotel and airline brands) are now fighting back. In the Jan 12 2012 Wall Street Journal, competing hotel brands have created their own new national site to drive leads directly to their websites.  A major reason for this is stated as “if the third-party sites control relationships with customers, it can limit the brands’ ability to cultivate customer loyalty.”

While I buy a lot of Zillow’s CEO, Spencer Rascoff’s argument about how great Zillow is, I think the real estate industry, especially those with the talent that have built great realty brands in their regions, should carefully consider where they put their listings and marketing dollars.

I mean, if Zillow and Trulia and saw just 10-15% of their listings disappear because brands like Edina who decided pull their inventory, then consumers will look to the best local brands with great web and mobile sites, with ALL the listings, to get their information.

Trulia and Zillow like to say this is a “consumer issue”, but whether a consumer gets their info direct from brokers or from aggregators, I don’t see the difference. What I do see is that currently, the aggregators have thought more about building their consumer experience, and brokers have made decisions the ROI is better on aggregator sites than doing it themselves?  So, I do get Victor’s comment that some brokers who do enhanced listings right can get good ROI. But the ROI I think still has to be measured against the loss in value of the broker-owner’s firm. 

Why loss of value? Because the broker-owner who gets leads from Zillow and Trulia and are losing first access to consumers and brand loyalty. So I don’t think you can just use straight lead generation to assess sales ROI, without considering the total and potentially long-term impact on your brokerage.

Do you think Steve Jobs would have let Microsoft control a part of the way he got customers, just because he knew consumer would end up using his iPhone? NO. He wanted to control the consumer experience as much as possible end to end! So do most great brands.

~ Brad Blumberg, CEO