Got Knowledge?

In the world of transitioning business competencies that face today’s broker, few have proven more difficult to overcome than the concept of knowledge. For more than half a century, most North American firms have focused their efforts in the area of agent and manager education. Unnoticed by most is the fact that at some point between 2007 and 2009, education silently slipped into history and a whole new challenge took its place.

Welcome to the word of knowledge services and knowledge management. This article is designed to help brokerages understand the who, what and why of this transition as well as to understand how to adjust business operations to embrace knowledge as a product for managers, agents and consumer.

The REALTOR® love affair with education can be traced to the post World War II era when the industry set about to create a whole new configuration to deal with a new consumer, the returning veteran and a new marketplace. In a process that saw the pre-war dirt peddler transition into the post-war real estate broker, a whole new approach to real estate marketing was created.

The concept of professionalism in real estate can trace its roots to that point in history. Among the several elements that REALTOR® leaders focused on with respect to their new creation were the concepts of ethical behavior and education. Both were seen as being essential to any group that wanted to capture the respect of the public and an appropriate market share. defines education as follows:

The act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

In fact, this definition defines both the history of education in real estate and the current dysfunction. The REALTOR® culture has spent the vast majority of the past 60 years trying desperately to accomplish each of the three functions inherent in the above definition. These efforts manifested themselves in the identification of perhaps two dozen basic courses that survived as the real estate “3 Rs” for some 30 years and the delivery of the educational process through a system of classrooms, lectures, examinations and designations all of which enjoyed the presumption of lifetime memory.

It is not necessary for the purposes of this piece to pass judgment relative to success. It is, however, necessary to make the point that in today’s real estate marketplace, there is no time nor resources and should be no need to develop powers of reasoning and judgment nor to set about the tasks of preparing REALTORS® intellectually for a mature life.

Today’s REALTOR® knowledge traces its origins back to 1985 – a year generally seen as the beginning of the information age. Since that date, three things have occurred. The first involves the development of informational technologies that allow us to collect and distribute information and knowledge. The second is the development of a consumer that, over that period, has evolved from knowledge dependency to knowledge sufficiency and is now on his or her way to knowledge addition. The third is the development of an information culture that has slowly but surely recognized over the past quarter century that the aggregation of information is a very positive thing and that sharing these aggregations or “databases” is an even more important thing.

There is so much information flooding into the real estate space that the mere act of bringing it to the industry’s attention and converting it to knowledge will require all of the industry’s intellectual resources. It also requires creating standards of practice that define minimum levels of knowledge to meet the expectations and demands of today’s consumer.

The summation of this analysis is simple. The real estate industry must realign its resources away from education and into knowledge services (the act of determining what one should know) and into knowledge management (the act of effectively distributing information and knowledge so that REALTORS® know what they need to know about and can find it when they need to know it).

An excellent example of this phenomenon is currently making its way through the system. In November 2009, the Meredith National Media Group research unit shared the results of its summer research in an incredible disclosure white paper entitled “The Rise of the Real Mom.”

As a starting point, the question could be asked, “Why would anyone in real estate care about what Meredith has to say about anything?” The answer is simple. Meredith is one of North America’s leading media and marketing companies with businesses centering on magazine and book publishing, television broadcasting, integrated marketing and interactive media.

The Meredith National Media Group features 23 subscription magazines. Meredith owns 12 television stations. Meredith has approximately 150 books in print and has established marketing relationships with some of America’s leading companies including The Home Depot, DIRECTV, DaimlerChrysler, Wal-Mart and Carnival Cruise Lines. Meredith has 32 websites in operation.

Meredith’s consumer database contains more than 85 million names, is one of the largest domestic databases. In short, Meredith is in touch with a lot of people and it asks them questions and measures their consumer related behaviors every chance it gets

If these qualifications don’t impress the reader consider this. In the research leading to its “Real Mom” white paper, Meredith discovered that in today’s leading 18- to 43-year-old consumer segment, only 46 percent of men consider buying a home important versus 86 percent of women.

“The Rise of the Real Mom” white paper explores what multiple generations of American women want when it comes to family, work and life in the 21st century. It focuses in depth on Generation X (ages 30 to 44) and millennial (ages 18 to 29) mothers (65 percent of the real estate market demographic) and how they differ from their older counterparts. It also examines how marketers can and should improve communications that target this demographic.

Now, six months later, Meredith is here again—this time painting an even more exacting portrait of today’s female consumer in another white paper entitled “The Reality of the Working Woman; Her Impact on the Female Target Beyond Consumption.”

“Working Woman” drills down even further. This discussion begins with an observation regarding the historic precedence set by the cover of the January 2010 Economist magazine that announces, “We did it.” This exclamation refers to the fact that in its fourth quarter 2009 labor statistics, the Bureau reported that women held 49.8 percent of American jobs. This is a big deal for America and even more so for anyone who would attempt to market to workingwomen. For the Y generation, this statistic and all that it stands for will be a seminal event.

The impact of the information contained in these two publications on the real estate industry and its practitioner is nothing short of profound. Yet in the ordinary course of REALTOR® education, the information would not reach either REALTOR® seminars nor classrooms for at least 24 months.

Another even more immediate example of the challenge will be found in the soon to be released results of the 2010 census.

Information and knowledge is bursting through the system like a spring runoff. The issue for REALTORS® is whether it will run like a torrent and flood and end wasted in dry river beds or whether it will be captured by knowledge dams and storage areas to be distributed to working REALTORS® in order to keep them relevant to the marketplace. The challenge starts with your brokerage. We can do this.