Reputation is everything: What are Chicagoland agents doing to build their brands?

by Mary T. Prenon

Five years ago, Yolanda Jeffries was practically unknown in the residential real estate industry, having earned her license in 2016 on a whim just so she could sell her own house. Today, she’s a team leader at Baird & Warner in Chicago and is known all over town as the Realtor who is “chasing deals in heels.”

With a background in commercial financing, Jeffries was always negotiating deals. “Real estate soon turned into a passion for me,” she said. She is now licensed in both Illinois and Indiana and became the first Indiana agent for Baird & Warner.

A tag line to remember

Her now-famous tag line came about fairly easily. “When I’m working with clients or out anywhere on business, I’m always in heels, so it just seemed to fit,” said Jeffries. “It really resonates with people, because when they see me, they always look for the heels!”

Jeffries’ successful branding and marketing strategy relies on a combination of social media, live events and outdoor advertising. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are all part of her promotional toolkit. “If you provide meaningful content, people will read it and start to follow you, and that always gives me that boost of confidence,” she explained. She also has a billboard located off Interstate 80/94 before the Torrence Avenue exit in Lansing.

Her most successful method of marketing just might be good old-fashioned networking. Working with local venues, Jeffries hosted weekly “Money Talks” networking events at different upscale venues, offering panel discussions on various topics, with food and cocktails. “I’d invite investors, developers, attorneys, inspectors and anyone who had a lot of great information for homebuyers and sellers,” she said.

Jeffries moderated the panels and arranged for sponsors to cover the cost of the food and drinks. “It was a free event and people wanted to be there — especially first-time homebuyers,” she added. “There were always new faces, and the events really grew by word-of-mouth.”

She worked solo the first few years, but Jeffries recently launched her own team, The Yolanda Jeffries Team, and is helping its members to build up business. “It’s getting so busy that I can’t handle it all myself now, and it’s a great opportunity for me to work with some of our newer agents,” she said.

Jeffries and her team handle deals in both the city and suburban areas and into Indiana, as well. In addition, she has created a secondary niche market by working with first responders and military personnel on the move, helping to get them good mortgage rates and extra incentives when house hunting.

For Jeffries, the right marketing is important, but the bottom line is developing the best people skills. “Besides knowing your business, you also need to have a connection with your client so that they trust you,” she said.

As for her footwear, she has no intention of ever chasing deals without her heels. “The only way people will ever catch me with flats or sneakers is if I’m walking somewhere before I change my shoes,” she laughed.

Social media a must

Leigh Marcus, @properties

For Leigh Marcus of @properties, social media is a must for his marketing efforts. You’ll find him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok. He also writes a blog and is noted for his humorous YouTube videos. “There are very little costs involved with social media, and it’s a good way to show clients how we will use it to market their properties as well,” he said.

TikTok, one of the newest platforms, allows for short videos (maximum of one minute), and Marcus uses them to offer a lighter, more personal look at what his business has to offer. “People can see a different part of you, and TikTok tends to attract more young people who may be looking to buy their first home,” he added. “Sometimes you hit on something and it can go viral, but you can never predict the outcomes. I always strive to put out a lot of relevant content.”

As the broker of his Roscoe Village branch on the city’s North Side, Marcus has made it a point to get involved in all aspects of the local community, including chambers of commerce, schools and neighborhood associations. With the winding down of the pandemic, he’s also been gearing up for more social events, including a recent afternoon ice cream social held outside of his office.

Like Jeffries, Marcus agrees that while social media marketing is important, it’s still about personal connections. “I try to talk with at least 20 people a day from my database, including past clients, new prospects, contractors and other business people,” he said.

Marcus also offers his team a mentorship program to help them become top-producing agents. “It’s about constantly meeting people — at open houses, in the community, schools and networking events. “Everybody eventually will need what we’re selling,” he explained “So I tell them, ‘Don’t be a secret agent.’ Let everyone know what business you’re in.”

His branding message is simple but effective: “Start packing!”

“We want people to know if they hire us — whether they’re buyers or sellers — they’ll have the confidence to start packing right away,” said Marcus.

Just as important as networking and social media, he said, is making sure the agent’s name is on the for-sale sign. “It’s the single best branding for an agent to have your name right on the house sign.”

While he relies on some traditional marketing such as print ads, his focus is to keep people interested and entertained. “Think about what they want, and put your personal side out there, as well,” he noted. “Think of how many different roles you might have — father or mother, businessperson, wife, husband, community member, etc. People will start to feel like they know you. It’s a very emotional business, and people want to know that they can count on you for the biggest decision of their lives.”

An iconic look

Mimi Luna, broker-owner and leader of Luxe Group with RE/MAX Legends, takes marketing so seriously that she offers her agents the services of an in-house marketing professional to help each agent create his or her own brand. ICONIK Marketing, owned by her husband, Nick Yassin, actually develops a unique look with a different color scheme and mission statement for each agent and helps to promote them as influencers through social media, video and advertising.

Mimi Luna, Luxe Group – RE/MAX Legends

“Our process is unique — we introduce an agent to the market through branding — we build trust. It’s a long-term approach, offering neighborhood advice and then transitioning to sales,” said Luna. “I can speak to this personally, as 50% of my business is generated through free social media by building relationships and being authentic.”

“We didn’t want to stop just with design,” added Yassin. “We wanted to take it further with customized branding, because the agents are the owners of their personal businesses. We treat them like they’re a Nike or Starbucks.”

Located in Oakbrook Terrace, Luna’s office won an award in 2019 for being the fastest-growing RE/MAX agency. With it currently at 30 agents, her goal is to have over 100. Recently, she recruited the No. 1 agent in Illinois, Steve Koleno, who is also the No. 1 RE/MAX agent in the country. Luna credits their personal marketing efforts, as well as the unique look of their office.

“It’s definitely not your typical real estate office,” said Luna. “Some people tell me it looks more like a hotel.”

Sleek and modern, Luna’s RE/MAX office features a black-and-white color scheme with marble flooring, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, a complete kitchen and a welcoming reception area with large, comfortable chairs. For their grand opening two years ago, her office featured a “launch with a purpose” and raised donations for the Children’s Miracle Network. “We had over 500 people attending, and we’re hoping to host more live events now that things are starting to get back to normal,” said Luna. A breast cancer survivor herself, she is dedicated to giving back to the local community.

Luna has also served on both the board of directors of NAHREP Chicago and the Global Council for the Chicago Association of Realtors, and has been involved with real estate radio shows in Chicago.

While she and her husband agree that social media is key to keeping potential clients engaged, they both also agree that real estate is still a personal business. “We also help our agents to connect with people because we believe it’s 80% personal and 20% business,” said Luna.

Their marketing budget includes some traditional advertising like billboards and direct mail pieces. “It’s important to do a mix of both,” she added. The tag line they use for everything: “Always Be Legendary.”

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