Duff Rubin oversees a Coldwell Banker office in the trendy, upscale Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where there’s a lot of foot traffic from locals and international diplomats alike. It was the ideal location for Coldwell Banker Real Estate to test out its redesigned logo and brand image.
“We don’t want a new brand; we want the experience and history of Coldwell Banker. But the truth is, it’s nice to have a refresh and a modern, sleek design,” says Rubin, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Mid-Atlantic. His company includes 30 sales and rental offices in the D.C. metro area with more than 2,100 independent agents.
This is the first rebranding for Coldwell Banker in more than 40 years, and the company has been transparent about the process with its franchise owners and agents. Coldwell Banker announced the overhaul during its Gen Blue conference in March, then conducted dozens of focus groups with affiliates and consumers over the next six months to get a read on what they like and don’t like.
The company landed on a modern, cleaner version of the Coldwell Banker name with a sans serif font and a new logo accented with a star in its upper right corner. The brokerage calls it the “North Star” because it represents the company’s mission to guide clients. The new look will be rolled out to all Coldwell Banker affiliates in 2020.
Rubin’s Dupont Circle location was one of four test sites chosen to display the redesigned signage. Coldwell Banker offices in Plainfield, Ill., Madison, N. J., and Greenville, S.C., were the other test sites, rolling out new branding over the summer. Being offered the opportunity to try out the updated look was perfect timing for Rubin, who was already planning to move 100 agents from his Georgetown location into the Dupont office. “It was a marriage of two offices where no one felt like they were there first,” he says.
Rubin would display different versions of signs in the office so agents could vote for their favorites. The goal was a branding that would be representative of the company going into the future; something that’s both visually appealing and forward thinking. “People love our 113-year history, but showing that we can be current and trendy and still have that legacy is important,” Rubin says.
Ellen Williams, an agent with the Coldwell Banker office in Plainfield, Ill., says the company was proactive about getting agents involved in the rebrand. Working at a test location, Williams appreciated the chance to comment and vote on iterations of the signs and logo. Her 3,000-square-foot office also received a significant design update, getting rid of traditional cubicles, dropped ceilings, and green carpet in exchange for a more open, modern concept. The office upgrades also included a high-top computer bar, kitchen table–style computer bank, improved lighting and conference space, and more TVs to display agents’ listings.
“When clients are in the waiting room, our listings are on the big screen,” says Williams, a residential specialist who got her start in 2000. “The office feels young and fresh, like something you could see in downtown Chicago.”
A few clients also told her the redesign gave them inspiration for updates in their own homes. “The way our working space is laid out now is more comfortable and welcoming. The space is inspiring; it motivates us. There’s a buzz and energy,” she says
Here are five lessons Coldwell Banker learned during its rebranding process that could help other brokers considering a company or personal brand refresh.
Assess the issues. The configuration of imagery on mobile devices and social media has largely been square or vertical, which was problematic for Coldwell Banker when trying to fit its horizontal logo into online branding. “We felt the visual representation was holding us back,” says Coldwell Banker Chief Marketing Officer David Marine. It wasn’t indicative of the forward-thinking nature they were trying to communicate, he adds.
It’s important to figure out what you want your brand’s aesthetic to say to potential buyers and sellers. But a logo isn’t going to solve every issue. “A logo doesn’t sell the house; you still have to prospect and get in front of customers,” Rubin says. “The logo might get their attention—the logo can help tell your story—but you better have substance to back that up.”
Look outside real estate for inspiration. When Coldwell Banker leaders began the redesign process, they examined how other major corporations have done it. Marine says they were particularly inspired by Apple’s rebranding when they pivoted from the rainbow to a monochrome apple logo.
Conduct focus groups. All four of Coldwell Banker’s test sites have a high level of traffic and visual attention in their marketplace, but each office serves a different consumer base and includes agents with different perspectives.
“Use your agents throughout the whole process,” Rubin says. “We used the phrase ‘transparent rebrand’ because we were interacting in the decision-making process.”
Whether it was about sign size, layout, or colors, agents contributed to final decisions. A big part of the rebranding’s success was getting agent buy-in. “Companies that declare a rebrand is happening and don’t leave room to test in real-world scenarios put themselves at a disadvantage,” says Marine.
Provide real-world application. Coldwell Banker officials reviewed more than 50 yard signs with different layouts, color schemes, and designs, but it was all happening indoors. They decided to put signs outside of their Madison, N.J., headquarters and drive by to get a consumer’s perspective. That exercise gave them a whole new perspective and resulted in different preferences. They ended up choosing a sign that originally wasn’t their frontrunner because it looked better outside. Marine actually put the sign in his own front yard, and after a few days, his neighbors started asking why he’s moving. Getting a real-world perspective of what your redesign would look like is imperative. Marine says the yard sign rebranding was the most successful aspect of the redesign process.
Respond to feedback. Coldwell Banker made adjustments to the logo after receiving consumer feedback that the logo against a lighter background looked like it was floating. Later, when the refreshed icon was added to Rubin’s office, clients described it as “sophisticated, modern, clean, and sharp,” he says. “This learning phase gave us invaluable insight before we roll out the new look across our entire network in 2020,” Marine says.