No. Mls.ca helps the parent MLS brand

 

By Ken MacKenzie

 

A rose by any other name…

That in essence is the principal point in the discussion over the branding, or re-branding of the mls.ca web site. The current concerns are focused on consumer confusion about the differences between MLS and mls.ca, and the long-term impact this confusion could have on the MLS brand. To get an independent assessment on the re-branding proposal, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) commissioned a firm specializing in brand valuation (Brand Finance) to assess the pros and cons. This included new consumer research, and a detailed review of existing research conducted by the industry in the past two years. The Brand Finance report concluded the consumer confusion does not negatively impact the MLS brand and in fact, mls.ca has helped improve the overall satisfaction consumers have with Realtors.

One method adopted by brand managers to establish a brand is to find an association or partnership with established brands that share the same market or same attributes. That is why you see Labatts commercials on Hockey Night in Canada, and Coke and Pepsi ads are on MuchMusic and MTV. The market for Labatts’ is identical to the market (audience) of Hockey Night in Canada and by its close association, the audience attributes associated with Hockey Night in Canada “rub off” on Labatts. And the brewery spends millions of dollars to get that brand association. 

In much the same way, mls.ca was built on the MLS brand. However, given that mls.ca has such high use by the general public, it could be said that mls.ca is now helping the parent MLS brand. As the latest set of consumer focus groups indicate, it is also helping the Realtor brand. According to the independent media audit firm Comscore, the mls.ca and sia.ca sites combined average more than two million unique visitors a month.

The existing site also generates business for Realtors. In our own 2005 CREA membership survey, 80 per cent of respondents said it was their preferred way to advertise listings. More than 70 per cent said they sold a property where the client said they first saw the listing on the mls.ca website. More than 50 per cent said they sold a property where the client first contacted them through mls.ca.

Given the goodwill the site generates for the Realtor brand, it only makes sense to trumpet the fact that a re-designed or re-branded site would also be sponsored by Realtors. Both mls.ca and any new branded site will be inextricably tied to the MLS and Realtor brands. The consumer expectations will not change. What can change is the consumer understanding of what the website is for. That can be done through consumer education, and an effective re-design of the existing site. 

The standard reasons for re-branding also do not exist for mls.ca. There has been no catastrophic bad PR associated with the brand (remember the new Coke?). Overall, the brand enjoys good awareness and user level. The expense and risk of a re-brand are not warranted, given current market conditions and the fact that competition on the Internet and in real estate generally is expected to increase. Enhancing the existing brand and building on its success and reputation is what makes sense.

Changing the name creates enormous risk for the MLS and Realtor brand.  Brands are not built overnight. It would take time to build awareness of a new site name. Changing the name or brand of the site mls.ca might give the impression that Realtors are taking away a tool that they had previously provided the public and cause some negative backlash for Realtors. To keep the user traffic we would have to make sure the re-branded mls.ca site has some association with MLS. Yet that association between MLS and mls.ca is one of the reasons given for requiring the re-branding. 

There is no doubt the mls.ca web site is a rose in the arsenal of marketing tools that Realtors in Canada have. We are constantly told by U.S. industry stakeholders this web site gives Canadian Realtors a cost-efficient, effective property marketing advantage that Realtors in the United States do not have. The mls.ca web site today exposes our Realtor members to almost 200,000 unique Canadian home shopping consumers every day. The research clearly shows that does not weaken the MLS brand in either the short or long term. It’s actually helping awareness of the MLS brand, which is the most important marketing tool that real estate in Canada has.

 

Ken MacKenzie is chair of CREA’s MLS and Technology Council, or MTC, which is responsible for the operation of the mls.ca web site.

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