My favorite restaurant near our home in Connecticut is called Serevan. In an old farmhouse in Amenia, New York, it serves brilliantly imaginative Persian/American food created by the chef, our friend Serge Madikians. Whenever we eat there, Serge comes out not only to chat but also to debrief us on the success of the food. Did these spices work well? Was that cooking methodology successful? Too much cinnamon? Did the preserved lemon successfully flavor the dish?
Feedback is also critical to my job as the president of a real estate brokerage. I too have to be consistently debriefing my constituents to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And they don’t necessarily all agree.
To begin with, I have two constituencies: my agents and the public, the latter being specifically the universe of potential buyers and sellers of New York City properties. To serve both, I have to do the hardest thing for most CEOs: I have to know what I don’t know. And hidden within this one point is another, even more difficult: I don’t always know what I think I know.
How effectively Warburg markets its brand, internally and externally, determines our success in the marketplace. I have a clear idea of the brand identity I seek to promulgate, which is above all about training, market knowledge, and integrity in the luxury marketplace. But to know how best to reach my constituents with this message, I need to listen to them. I need to ask them what is working. That is the only way to know if the dish is being spiced correctly.
This message is carried three different ways – first, through my communications with Warburg’s agents (and with my readers), second, through my agents’ communication with their customers and clients, and third, through our marketing. Each requires careful calibration. For the first, I need to be clear and confident but still approachable with feedback. My message in turn drives the second, the message my agents extend to clients and customers, although each of the agents adds his or her personal perspective on the marketplace. And then there is marketing. Is it time to refresh the website? (It is ALWAYS time to refresh the website!) Do we need more print ads, since while we know they don’t actually sell property we also know sellers love them? How many? Where can we reach the right demographic without becoming lost in a sea of similar ads? How is our search engine optimization?
My instincts tend to be good, but I don’t always know what I think I know. So I need to be listening all the time, listening to my agents, listening to our sellers and our buyers, the ones who choose Warburg and the ones who did NOT choose us. Confidence about our fundamental message, clarity in communicating that message to our whole team, and flexibility about the evolving ways of getting the message out into the marketplace – that’s how a leader builds a brand. And that’s my job!