Whether they are cognizant of it or not, most law firms and appraisal companies have brands that are recognizable in their particular markets. When an analyst for the Assessor sees a law firm’s brief or a particular appraiser’s valuation report they will likely already have a preconceived notion of that firm even before they look at the evidence.
A marketing professional will tell you that the object of branding is to create a distinctive product image, linked to favorable qualities— tangible or intangible. Consumers often instill brands with human qualities—honesty, funny, sexy, nerdy, cheap, unprofessional or virtually any other descriptor. For our purposes, we are considering the consumer to be the Assessor’s office or their analysts. Ideally, an appraiser’s brand reflects competence, diligence and credibility.
In selling a product, one is also selling an image with which the consumer identifies. In buying the product, the consumers also incorporate the brand into their self-image/self-concept, consciously or unconsciously. This is one reason why sponsors spend lavishly for the right to associate their products and brand with sporting events or for celebrities who can project their persona onto a brand.
Consumers attitudes towards brands exist in elaborate associative networks (Tesser & Shaffer, 1990). An individual may or may not be consciously aware of all these connections. A change in one attitude affects other attitudes, beliefs, opinions and values. The potential impact of brand damage from cobranding can be difficult to measure. The Tiger Woods infidelity scandal reportedly cost his three major sponsors, Est Sports, Nike, and Pepsi, 4% of their market value (Knittel & Stango). While direct comparisons to our tax universe are not possible, Tiger Woods’ tarnished credibility inevitably damaged consumer attitudes toward his associated brands. If the Assessor’s analysts perceive the appraiser or attorney as overly aggressive, disreputable, sloppy, intellectually dishonest, unprepared, outdated or generally having weak arguments, it is difficult for them to align their beliefs with a brand whose credibility they doubt.
Psychologically speaking, people strive to remain consistent in thoughts, words and deeds (Sher & Cooper, 1989). Minor discrepancies create minor dissonance. Major discrepancies create major dissonance. The many corners that lower quality appraisal shops cut should be a source of concern. What image is conveyed when an appraisal’s boilerplate hasn’t been updated in 15 years? Granted, the definition of fee simple estate in The Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal
has not changed since the 3rd
edition in 1993, it looks stale next to a citation from the most recent 6th
edition in 2015. The data may be the same; but, the fresh appraisal appears better informed and invites less skepticism.
An appraiser with an MAI designation, for example, has more credibility than one without. The MAI designation requires vastly more initial appraisal education, experience credits, demonstration of appraisal reports and continuing educations above state licensing requirements. To be certain, there are licensed appraisers that can rival the skills of some MAIs.; but the MAI brand carries a cachet that says knowledge, integrity, experience and judgement. The MAI brand simply has more value than state certification. Perhaps the most potentially harmful aspect of cobranding is the impact on an attorney’s briefs when an appraiser may not even be involved
. Consumers tend to underestimate the influence of advertising on themselves and over-estimate its effects on others – a tendency called the “third-person effect” (Davidson, 1983) (Jensen & Collins, 2008). In a twist on this concept, I think firms also tend to overestimate the strength of their own brand, thereby underestimating the potential negative impact of associating it with weaker brands.
An attorney who hires a lower quality appraiser with lower quality reports, just because they are cheaper, may be practicing false economy. Additionally, they risk tarnishing their credibility by associating their brand with a lower quality brand. An analyst does not feel good about agreeing with an attorney or appraiser they do not respect
Over the long run, attorneys may get worse results than they otherwise would by associating with lesser quality appraisal shops. It is very difficult to measure, but given the money spent by firms to associate their brand with the popular star or from the halo effect from some other credible affiliation, cobranding has a very real impact. Likewise, it is not difficult to imagine that if one’s own brand becomes associated with lower quality appraisals, the cumulative effect over time will be diminished returns from assessment appeals.
We are all in this for the long haul. Credibility, reputation and our brand is what we and the Assessor rely on when considering our analysis and arguments as we try to serve all of our common clients – the public. Brands are built over years and credibility is earned through reasonable and thoughtful analysis. Low quality appraisal’s true costs are not reflected in the fees charged, but in the damage by association to the attorney’s brand, credibility and the results you may not be getting due to a faded reputation.