Billboards, Branding and Internet Trolls — Giving it All Away with Kris Lindahl

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If you live in the Twin Cities, you know Kris Lindahl.

His arms-out billboards are as Minnesotan as snow and Juicy Lucy cheeseburgers.

But before he was a local celebrity, Kris Lindahl was your average midwesterner.

After graduating from Mankato University with two education degrees, Kris went to work for a water softener company. But in 2009, he couldn't help but notice the real estate opportunities popping up all around him. So, he dove in and got his license.

"At the time, the majority of agents were coming from a strong housing market—they weren't willing to do short sales and foreclosures. My average sale price back then was $100,000 to $120,000 and it took about eight months to close a transaction."

Kris built his business on short sales—and he wouldn't trade it for anything.

"That's where I started, so I'm not afraid to go back there," he says.

Today, Kris owns one of Minnesota's leading real estate teams. So, we're guessing he won't have to go back there anytime soon.

Here he gives us an inside peek at how the man behind some of the real estate industry's most innovative ad campaigns got where he is today.

Table of contents

  1. Building a brand-based real estate business
  2. Becoming a servant leader
  3. Dealing with haters
  4. What's next?

Building a brand-based real estate business

In 2013, Kris closed 147 transactions, with an assistant. 

In 2014, he did 175.

Mentally, he was worn out.

"I was like, I'm doing so much business that I'm sort of losing my identity. You know, I mean selling a house every two days is absolutely insane."

So in January of 2015, he finally buckled down and started a team. "What I've realized over the years is that doing real estate alone sucks," laughs Kris.

"What's troubling to me is that you’ve got so many younger people entering the industry and they're exiting so quickly. They don't even realize that there are better opportunities or different opportunities out there, and so they put themselves in a situation where the company that they join is just turning human capital and it's just constant."

Frankly, Kris is tired of watching great talent leave the industry due to poor leadership. And that's one big reason he decided to build his business around inbound marketing.

An area that's changed quite a bit over the past few years.

When Kris first got started, Facebook was a BIG source of business. But according to Kris, the days of getting rich off Facebook leads are least, for now.

"It's a great spot to nurture. Just slowly share, pull the curtain back like this is what it looks like behind the scenes at Kris Lindahl Real Estate and give people a peek in. It's really good for that," says Kris.

But for listings? Not so much.

Kris and the team kick back on the St. Croix River via Facebook

"The problem is because Facebook gave so much organic reach to people's personal profiles, a lot of people had really big success early on. Then what happened over time is team leaders and technology platforms started to jump into Facebook and now the leads that come from Facebook are really low quality."

For Kris, the combination of gated listings and a biased algorithm makes Facebook a place for lead nurture, not lead gen.

In an age where the average real estate buyer is better informed than ever before, he's got a point. Rather than burn-out his team on cold calling paid or shared social media leads, he takes a "super omni approach."

"We're absolutely marketing and advertising everywhere. People see us, they hear us…They can't miss us."

But it took a long time to get there—and the reality is, most teams don't have the resources to do what Kris and his team are doing.

And that's fine. 

Because according to Kris, all you really need to do is:

"Just own something."

"You have to take something over, whether that's a platform, whether that's radio, whether it's TV, whether it's newspapers, farming, postcards, past client, whatever it is. Start small and just own it, like to the point where the people that are associated with whatever platform or media you're working on, everyone who consumes that type of content will know and see you…"

After that, you just keep adding marketing platforms or "pillars" until you've got so much equity in the brand, the ROI is a given. 

It's a classic strategy used by some of the world's best and brightest brands but rarely applied to real estate. At least, not at this magnitude.

"That's branding and that's what most people in real estate are scared of. It's like, 'If I throw all this out there and create some branding I don't even know if I'm going to get any business from it. And that's how it was for years for me. We put things out there and we had nothing coming back in return...other than we were building a brand."

Over the years, Kris has led a ton of standout campaigns.

Speaking of campaigns, did you know he's running in 2020?

If not, check out his 'Campaign of Convenience' video—it's a must-watch.

"The reason why that one, I believe, was so impactful is everyone's talking about politics and everything else. You know I've always been a firm believer to not take a stance on politics and not engage in it. And this was close enough, but far enough away, where we're not taking a stance. It's just that when you put 2020 on anything right now it catches attention," he says.

And it seems to be working.

Kris's video has reached 1.2 million unique views locally—that's roughly 25% of the Twin Cities market.

"It's a pattern interrupter in the way that we designed it. People are like, 'Is he really running?' I think we have enough equity in our business now where I think some people wouldn't put it past me and that's why it was so good," he says with a passing smile.

But Kris is serious about marketing, and he's been known to interrupt a pattern or two before and he's launched plenty of fun campaigns along the way. 

"The one I care most about emotionally was Maya Moore."

In case you don't know, Maya Moore is the MVP for the Minnesota Lynx basketball team—and she did a campaign with Nike that looked kind of familiar to Minnesotans.

Source: Kris Lindahl via Twitter

To be clear, the pose was an homage to basketball legend Michael Jordan—not real estate guru, Kris Lindahl.

But come on, what are the chances?

Unfortunately, the billboard was only up for a short time—and the fans were not happy. They reached out to Kris and asked him to save Maya's billboards.

"I didn't even think twice about it. I went to Jordan Brands and I worked with them and the Lynx and I was able to get approval, so I donated my billboards."

With a young daughter at home, Kris is a big proponent of gender equality.

In fact, his entire leadership team is made up of women.

Source: Kris Lindahl Real Estate

"What I've learned is that we have the ability, with the platform and the marketing and branding that we've created, to do greater good."

And Kris and his team are finding some seriously cool ways of doing just that.

Be generous: Turning a t-shirt into a nationwide movement

"We just recently created our 501(c)(3) for our Be Generous campaign and we have the entire non-profit all up and running. We're in the final stages of building out the entire platform from A to Z. We have this huge plan and an initiative on literally how we're going to change the country in terms of generosity. And it's not going to be what anyone thinks, we're gonna completely spin it upside down."

From day one, 'Be Generous' was the team's number one core value, and it still is.

"It really took on a life of its own," says Kris.

Thanks, in no small part, to his amazing team.

"When you're part of an organization where you all share the same mission and values like, anything's possible. I think that's the thing that most people are missing in business is they don't have an organization where everyone believes the same thing."

What started with a couple of t-shirts for the team has turned into a nationwide campaign to get people to give more.

Details are still under wraps, but Kris did drop some hints for us.

Armed with a whole new approach to running a charity, Kris and his team are determined to change the world for the better. Watch this space!

Becoming a servant leader

If you're thinking 'Be Generous' is just another clever marketing campaign, think again.

Kris is determined to walk the walk by being a leader who truly serves his team—not the other way around.

"I can tell you that the people I have around me are just super strong and they challenge me all the time."

Kris has seen plenty of high-level real estate leaders and according to him, it all comes down to one core question:

"What does success look like to you?"

For Kris, it's about more than money. It's about empathy.

He runs his team with full transparency. "I'm 100% open book on anything, at any time."

According to him, that's the only way to get ahead of the challenges. 

"Sometimes, I pull out my phone and shoot a video right on the spot and I say, 'Hey here's what happened. Here's what's going on.' You know, maybe we made a mistake, maybe something wasn't right. Here's how we're going to fix it. I just want to let everyone know what's going on."

It's a small thing most leaders simply aren't willing to do.

"But what I know is that if a leader doesn't do those things the whole organization's talking about it—they're just not telling the leaders. So there's all this chit chat and it creates drama and then you've got everyone distracted talking about 'Oh my gosh, did you hear so-and-so did this or that?' and everyone is gossiping and talking about the wrong things. And everyone's so distracted that no one's doing any business…"

Distraction. It's a business-killer. 

"One thing that I really love about Follow Up Boss as opposed to some other systems is the simplicity of it. And I can tell you from using Salesforce on the admin side, and in all of the other platforms we've used over the years—it's really complicated for the agent. And at the end of the day, we have to service our agents the best that we can and make their lives as easy as we can," says Kris.

He's also a big believer in using tech to help fill the skills gaps with agents. 

You know, things like staying organized and (cough, cough) following up

"One of the areas where most real estate agents I've seen aren't great at is follow up. And they're not great at organization. So the more simple you can make things, the better the process you have in place for them. It will allow them to do more transactions and accomplish everything they want in their life."

Between his marketing efforts and his rock-solid lead management system, Kris Lindahl Real Estate now runs like a well-oiled machine.

But that doesn't mean it's always easy.

Listen to how Kris got his start in the business (plus, hear his ominous prediction for real estate teams moving forward):

Dealing with haters: "I'm willing to take all the shots."

With a larger-than-life personal brand and a no-holds-barred opinion on what works in real estate, we wanted to know how Kris keeps his head in the right place.

"I've had to make a lot of critical decisions under a lot of pressure," he admits.

Kris is well-aware of the fact that he's made some unpopular decisions in the past.

"I don't always have the right answer and I've made mistakes along the way. But one thing I know for sure is that I will make a decision."

According to him, that's where most people get stuck.

"The majority of my most challenging moments revolve around people. It's not tech decisions, it's not marketing initiatives, it's life showing up. It's trying to figure out how we best support someone who's having a challenge in their life. Those are the toughest ones because there's so much more emotion associated with that. I would say that's the part that I wasn't as prepared for when I decided to go from an individual agent to a team—the way that life would show up, not only for myself but for everyone else in the organization."

Kris knows how quickly life's circumstances can change. He's grateful to be in a position where he has the ability and resources to support the people in his community. 

Source: Kris Lindahl via Twitter

He also sees this as the #1 thing most teams get it wrong.

"When I look at some of the teams, not only in my market but around the country, I can tell you that some of the biggest challenges I see are related to the way their leadership structure is set up. There's no human element. There is no empathy. They treat their employees and their agents like objects. They turn and burn 'em."

"So yes, there's a ton of pressure on me. I mean everyone knows who I am locally and a lot of people in the industry know who I am nationally. But I live for that pressure," he explains.

In the beginning, Kris used to spend way too much time getting caught up in the comments sections.

"I went from this super likable person to a person everyone hated."

"Even though I only read the 10 negative comments that said that my mindset was that everyone felt that way. Over time, what I realized is that if I'm not getting those negative comments, that means we're not making an impact. We're not getting the attention that we need to take it to take our company to the next level."

"It's interesting when you flip your mindset and you start looking at negative comments as a positive."

If you ask Kris, no one should spend their time writing hateful comments online—and no one should spend their time reading them, either.

But in these days of Twitter, Facebook and all the rest of it, the haters aren't going anywhere. 

The best you can do is take a page from his book and get excited the next time someone hates on your brand. Take it as an indication that you're doing something right.

"I worry about the day when we don't get those notifications because that means that we are no longer getting the attention that our company needs to help our clients, our agents and their families."

What's next?

Kris's latest marketing weapon-of-choice is podcasting.

And it's also the one that's grown him the most as a leader.

"You know, everyone sees the billboards...but I want people to see behind the scenes, like me as a human being."

"But what I actually found out after a year into the podcast, is it's actually helped me as a person and as a leader to the point where I feel like I'm getting a Ph.D. in leadership. I've learned so much from so many people that it's just unbelievable."

With Behind the Billboard, the team leveraged the platform they'd built and made some BIG asks for show guests. Kris has interviewed people like Media Bridge Advertising CEO, Tracy Call, Anytime Fitness CEO, Chuck Runyon and President of the Minnesota Wild, Matt Majka.

He's leveraging the audiences of influential partners and collaborators while getting an advanced education in business.

Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

But for Kris, whatever move he makes next, he's going to keep it human.

"As I've grown I've realized that this isn't about marketing, this isn't about technology. At the end of the day, if I don't have great human beings that can help carry our mission and take care of our clients and our supporters in the right way, it doesn't matter how much business we generate."

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