108: How Do You Advertise an Online-Only Auction?

Written on assignment from Auctioneer, the official magazine of the National Auctioneers Association.


It seems that I’ve consistently received one question at almost every auctioneer gathering that I’ve attended over the past couple of years.

“How do you advertise an online-only auction?”

I usually answer that question with one of my own, “How do you advertise an offline auction?”

With the rise of both simulcast auctions and online-only auctions in both quantity and percentage of live auctions, there’s an assumption that an entirely separate pool of prospective bidders remains to be found.  That’s only partially true.  In some markets, the buyer demographic doesn’t frequent the Internet; and in some markets, potential bidders spend their lives online.  For the most part, though, those two groups are the outside slivers of a Venn diagram with a pretty fat overlap of online and offline media viewers.

Venn Diagram Buying Public

Whether the bidding is done with a raised hand or a clicked mouse is just a matter of auction location. Nobody asks me, “How do you advertise an off-site auction?” They don’t ask that, because they advertise off-site auctions like the way they advertise on-site auctions.  Online auctions are just off-site auctions held in a virtual venue.

Auction marketers should be covering all of the offline and online bases that their budgets can afford—for every auction, regardless of bidding platform or location.

So, then the question becomes, “Where do I advertise any auction?”

The answer to that question is, again, another question, “From which media are your current bidders hearing about your auctions?”  If an auctioneer can’t answer that, they’re losing market share to auction marketers who can.

The best way to know this answer is to query bidders at auctions. At an on-site auction, it might be a clerk verbally asking those in the registration line; or it might be written on the back of free entry tickets at a small raffle prior to the start of bidding.  For online auctions, it can be a set of multiple-choice toggles on the registration form.

Warning: polling results will most likely surprise you.  Also, expect the results to vary from location to location, from asset type to asset type, and even from one time of the year to another.  That’s why it’s important to poll every auction and not make media purchasing decisions based on only a few polls.

This polling data, when stored and categorized becomes a powerful tool at future seller presentations.  How much do you think it will impress a prospective seller to see a chart or spreadsheet and read, “Over the past 12 months, our online bidders for [type of asset] in [geographic area] have heard about our auctions primarily from these three media.  Over that same time frame, our on-site bidders have come from these three media outlets.”?

It wouldn’t surprise me if those top three media were the same for both auction types. Even if not, you’ll be able to answer the question many auctioneers—including some of your competitors—cannot: “Where do you advertise an online-only auction?”

[footer]Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]


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