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The Art Of Standing Out

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with Dusty Baker, Sotheby’s International Realty

In 2003, author and entrepreneur Seth Godin released a seminal book ‘Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable’. Godin argued that there is so much clutter and advertising avoidance in the contemporary marketplace, so the only way to distinguish yourself is to be remarkable so your target market sells you for you.

Dusty Baker may not look like a purple cow but underneath his glamorous façade, he is indeed a purple cow. He delivers remarkable, tailored and targeted customer service and he is rewarded with mountains of referrals. Dusty says, “There are a lot of agents in my city and every city, so if you can do anything different, get creative. What are you going to do different? Be the purple cow. There are so many cows. What makes you the purple one that sticks out?”

Being a purple cow is certainly working out for Dusty. One of the top agents under 40 in California, Dusty sells distinguished homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito - the Hamptons of the West Coast of the United States. He lives in a world most of us only see on Instagram and Facebook. Dusty says, “Oprah just bought her neighbour’s property this year for $US28 million because why not?”

As part of his strategy to be remarkable and stand out, this purple cow aligned himself with the right brand. He joined Sotheby’s International Realty because he wanted his career to take on a global focus. He says, “I wanted to join the absolute best in luxury real estate. It's the most distinguished brand, I think, in the world. I don't ever plan on leaving. It's not a stepping-stone, it doesn't really get higher.” He says, “There are a lot of great companies, a lot of great agents at great companies in Santa Barbara - if you want that luxury presence, most people in Santa Barbara have bought something through the Sotheby's Auction House. They know, ‘Okay, well I've bought my vintage Mercedes through the auction house’ or a piece of artwork or some wine or whatever it may be. It's a name that has so much horsepower behind it.”

Like any purple cow, Dusty knows his market intricately. Santa Barbara is a global city and a destination location: it’s a place where people dream to live and may take their whole lives working towards making that dream come true. He says, “Santa Barbara's a destination location so people are coming here from somewhere. They are very young - coming out of college - or very old. They've saved their money, they've worked elsewhere and now they're retiring. We joke, it's the home of the newlywed and nearly dead. You have a lot of people where it's their second, third, fourth home. A lot of people I've worked with went to the University of California Santa Barbara. They went to New York, Miami, Houston - they make their money and then they retire in Santa Barbara - so I work with a lot of out-of-town buyers getting their second, third, fourth residence or getting a placeholder for when they plan to retire in five, 10, 15 years.”
One of Dusty’s colleagues at Sotheby’s has the listing for the late Michael Jackson’s home - the Neverland Ranch for $100 million. He says, “When you're having those kinds of meetings, you have to be the best, you just do.

These types of sellers at $50, $100, $150 million dollars have no shortage of connections. If you're not bringing your A game and absolutely the best that real estate has to offer in terms of marketing and networking and branding, you just don't stand a chance. It's an interesting property because everyone wants to see it. To even get a showing, you have to either show proof of funds for $100m or you have to be such a reputable name that people know that you have a $100m. Bill Gates could just make a phone call of course but even with that, they had hundreds of requests.”

It’s a different ball game with a property such as Neverland. He says, “Usually marketing a home is trying to get it in front of as many people as possible and getting as many people in. With a property of this calibre, it is actually trying to narrow it down and filter to the best of your ability so you're not wasting everyone's time.” Dusty says, when the property first listed over a year ago, fanatical Michael Jackson fans all over the world called non-stop saying, ‘Don't sell Neverland Ranch’ or try and make it a museum or something." He explains, “You run into great publicity which is phenomenal and a big commission check once it sells, but also a lot of hype, a lot of phone calls, way too many showing requests. It's a really, really specific niche within real estate. If you're looking at the whole pie of real estate, this is the top 0.00001% type of marketing but that's the market that I'm in so I have to know it and work it.”

1. Stop advertising and start innovating

At this end of the market, personal connection is what counts – not mass email mailouts. It’s an advantage to stand out. As Dusty says, “If you're buying a third or fourth house and it's in the multi-millions, you're not googling: ‘Who should I work with?’. You're talking to your agent wherever you are and getting that connection.”

Dusty is therefore well versed in the art of making lasting connections. He is emphatic, “I get in front of people as much as possible. I think there's so much value to the B2B, the belly-to-belly. I put a lot of time into that, at least probably one coffee meeting and one lunch meeting a day. It's really something I have to emphasise in my business and I like that.

I like the interpersonal side; it's really fun for me and I think I do pretty well at it.

I've found that the middle is so templated and my client base hasn't really liked it in the past. When I'm meeting with someone face-to-face that's really specific, unique, tailored towards them obviously. I just hate the broad, templatised drip system - I just don't like it.”

2. Watch the numbers

Dusty says, “If you don't know where your business is coming from, you don't know where to invest your marketing equity and that's time and money. I mean frankly, time is more important to me than money.”

3. Maintain an active social media profile

Dusty has a robust social media presence which is part of his purple cow strategy. He says, “I have almost 14,000 Instagram followers and thousands and thousands on Facebook. A lot of my extended sphere see what's going on social media and I closed I think, seven deals with various friends over the past years - friends I don't think would work with me if they hadn't been following and seeing what I'm doing on social media.”

4. Pay attention to detail

Details win business. Purple cows distinguish themselves with remarkable customer service and products. Dusty says, “One of my most successful friends who was also a professor back when I was in college said, ‘Life is about the ends. People notice the watch you're wearing, the tie you're wearing, and the shoes you're wearing - not so much the suit which is most of it’. Even when I cater every new listing to get all the brokers in, instead of water bottles, it's vase water bottles and it's Perrier and it's a very nice catering spread. Instead of a marketing brochure, it's a full 12 page marketing magazine. I mail that to everyone in the area. Instead of even just printing out labels, I'll have someone hand sign them with good handwriting.”

Sotheby’s attention to detail is persuasive as well. He says, “Sotheby's has an amazing listing presentation. It's actually in a real nice, nice book and comes in a bag. It looks like a Tiffany's bag but it's a Sotheby's bag. I don't think all print is dead. In terms of what you can actually give someone physically - people eat it up. They love looking at pretty pictures in a book.” He adds, “Even with the closing gift, I try and make the closing gift as unique as possible. I had some buyers and they closed and the wife is pregnant. I bought her a subscription to something called Bump Box. Every month they get a new package of pregnancy stuff. Someone bought it for my wife; I thought it was a great gift. I try to get as personalised and concierge level as possible.”

5. Don’t forget your buyers

Dusty believes that buyers just want you to find a house and looking after buyers well is a good strategy for differentiating yourself in the marketplace. He says, “I take great pride in my negotiating skills but buyers actually don't statistically care about that; they don't even think about that. They just want someone to find them a house and get it for them. They don't really care about much else. I do a million other things throughout the process. I have brainstormed for hours on how I can make the buyer experience extraordinary and make it something where they would tell their friends about. Every little thing - I want it to be just amazing.”

He knows that people are just petrified with the buying process. He says. “They're just so worried about every little detail. As consistently as I can check in with them, the happier they are, the more calmed down they are, and the less I have back out. If you don't keep in touch, buyers will back out. They'll spook themselves, they'll talk to a friend who has a neighbour who is an expert - something like that will kill the deal.” He tries to ensure that clients talk to him. He says, “Not the assistant or anyone else. I just say, ‘Hey, I was thinking about your deal. Everything's going great. I even checked in with the lender and escrow and whatever, whoever else and all's good. Just wanted to let you know’."

6. An old customer is cheaper than a new one

Dusty says, “Every year these stats come out and they're about the same. 85-89% of buyers say, ‘I love my agent. I would work with them again’. Yet 10-13% of sellers actually use the agent they bought from. That's so much business, it's just mind blowing. I've never had a buyer sell with anyone else, ever. Can't say it won't ever happen but I hound established clients. We've done client appreciation parties in the past where we rent out some yacht and cater it and we just go around the wharf.”

He adds, “My business partner told me, ‘There's no such thing as a past client - it's a client’. It’s the easiest business in the world because you don't compete for that; you've already worked with them, they trust you, it's money in the bank. If you just sell them the house and never communicate and they use someone else, you're making a fraction of what you could be doing.”

Seth would be proud of his student. As Seth says, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible”. Dusty doesn’t fit in – he stands out. The purple cow.

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