Tag : auction-marketer

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Why Facebook’s Big Step Back Helps (Some of) Us Auction Marketers

Almost all of my favorite movies fall into the heist genre. I met my Hollywood crush, Jessica Biel, in The Illusionist. I have been driving a MINI Cooper since soon after I got The Italian Job on DVD. The strategy and choreography of fictional thieves intrigue me, and I love the slight of hand stuff. The end-of-movie reveals make me feel unobservant, even as they wow me.

The Trump presidency has offered a similar unveiling, particularly when it comes to Facebook. I’ll explain that in a minute.

2016 Presidential General Election

First, let’s time travel back five years—two years before Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President. Facebook gave access to Global Science Research (GSR) to do some academic research amongst its users. 300,000 Facebook users opted in to take part in a study. Exploiting an application programming interface (API), GSR grabbed data from somewhere between 50 and 87 million Facebook users who were connected to those 300,000 volunteers. GSR then—against Facebook data policy—sold this data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to create psychographic profile groups it would later shop to multiple political candidates.

Facebook discovered this data breach in 2015, shut down the API in question, and demanded both parties delete the data they had harvested. A year later, having not complied, Cambridge Analytica used its data as part of its digital marketing for the Trump campaign. Once officially gaining the nomination, Trump abandoned their data, having access to the Republican National Committee’s database. (Hillary Clinton refused Cambridge Analytica’s services from the start, instead using the mirrored resource of the Democratic National Committee’s storehouse of data.)

A few months later, candidate Trump became President-elect Trump. As many have sought to explain his uncanny rise to power, intense blame and scrutiny have been levied on all sorts of possible culprits. Much of that blame has fallen on Facebook—whether for Russia’s incredibly efficient interference or for Cambridge Analytica’s data deal.

Over the past month, tens of thousands of Facebook users—including Elon Musk and Will Ferrell, Pep Boys and Playboy—have left the platform in protest. Pundits and journalists have been whipping consumers into a frenzy, telling them their data isn’t safe or private, that the proprietary algorithms that run Facebook need to be shared with the world. Few of the stories I’ve heard or read have made much of the fact that this data breach is half a decade old and that it wouldn’t be possible to duplicate today and hasn’t been since April 30, 2015.

Mark Zuckerberg

In response, Facebook brass has recently invited regulation and offered some seemingly-draconian proactive changes to their platform. One of the biggest measures Mark Zuckerberg offered was the phasing out of Partner Categories. If you’re not familiar with this data set, it’s information from third-party sources like Acxiom, Experian, and Oracle Data Cloud. Facebook has been taking up to 15% of advertiser spending to buy matching data from these sources. That data includes all the stuff in your credit report and other public information. That’s how Facebook knows users’ income, net worth, cash accounts, home values, purchase history, and likely-to-move status (among hundreds of other data point). When matched with its user accounts and/or advertisers’ uploaded lists, this data helps create highly targeted lookalike audiences. These free lookalike audiences have allowed small businesses to compete with Fortune 100 companies in the marketplace.

While removing these data sources seems like consumer protection, the opposite might actually be true. That’s where the slight of hand comes in. See, that data is still available. Right now, I can buy a lot of this third party data from my mailing list broker for $100. I can buy even more robust data from Experian and Axciom, too. Then, I can upload that data to Facebook to create custom audiences to use as filters for my other lists.

With this new move, Facebook now doesn’t have to charge advertisers for these third-party data sources, and they can show regulators that their advertisers are using only audiences based on user-revealed interests and the advertisers’ proprietary lists. That third party data will still get leveraged in the advertising system, and now it won’t raise any red flags.

As a consumer, I don’t care either way. Personally, I prefer my ads tied as closely to my interests and realities as possible; and I know this data is pooled as anonymous aggregates that no advertiser or hacker can see. As an advertiser, I’m a little bummed that I’ll now have to buy that data separately and at prices not negotiated by one of the biggest companies on the planet.

Because Facebook currently allows your lookalike audiences to remain in tact even after your original audience criteria has been removed, those of us who’ve been leveraging this third-party data for years should have an advertising advantage until Facebook closes that loophole—should they eventually close it. Either way, I don’t mind suddenly getting a new advantage in Facebook advertising.

Mark Zuckerberg took days to respond to the uproar online and on TV news networks so that he could follow the advice of J Daniel Atlas, the protagonist of Now You See Me, a flick that featured illusionists plying their craft to perform Robin Hood-type heists: “First rule of magic: always be the smartest person in the room.” Zuckerberg offered an olive branch to the media, the government, and Facebook users. Along with that he secured Facebook’s place as the most advanced, intuitive advertising platform for the foreseeable future.

Even Terry Benedict’s casinos aren’t sophisticated enough to have seen this brilliant move coming. But now your company is. You’re welcome.

Stock photos purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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167: 4 Marketing Trends Driving eBay’s Auction Decline

In my 16 years in the auction industry, there’s been a healthy debate as to whether or not eBay has been a positive force in the auction community—and even whether it should be considered part of the auction industry. The company that now sells more than $2 billion in assets per year has also led to multiple discussions as to what the definition of an auction marketer actually is.

ebay Revenue

Those on both sides of the debate, though, have noted that the eBay marketplace isn’t as focused on auctions as it once was. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a white paper that studied the trend of eBay sellers moving away from the auction method, while still leveraging the site’s marketplace. They found that over a span of a decade, auctions fell from 95% to just 15% of eBay’s share of active listings.

eBay Shift Chart

The authors of the study concluded that:

  1. The auction method of price discovery was losing importance because of the robust search capabilities available on the Internet.
  2. Seller margins were dropping significantly, as auction prices had fallen dramatically compared to posted-price sales for similar assets.
  3. Auctions “are favored for used and idiosyncratic items, and by less experienced sellers.”

It’s important to note that eBay wasn’t pushing these trends. They make money on the transaction regardless of method of sale, and they want items to sell for the highest price possible. These trends are adaptations of sellers to the marketplace’s buyers. That’s why these trends should be instructive to all of us who sell things for other people—no matter what method of marketing we use.

We have the most educated buyers of all time.

Buyers can research more about the asset you’re selling than at any time in history. So, it’s important to disclose as much information on our website as possible—and not force buyers to on-site inspections or phone conversations. We need to publish lots of pictures or even videos—and all the documentation and description possible.

We need to give buyers options.

eBay offers four ways to buy: fixed price, reserve auction, absolute auction, and Buy It Now. We need to know what method works best for our various asset categories and their respective marketplaces—and be able to articulate the pros and cons of each to our sellers. Some real estate auctioneers I serve already advertise a Buy It Now-style option on their auctions; and I know of at least one equipment auction company researching that feature on their online bidding platform. Regardless of the method we use, we need to compliment it with robust, targeted, efficient advertising that adds value to that method (something eBay doesn’t do).

We need to retire “Auction is fastest way to get cash for your asset.”

One of the reasons for eBay’s auction decline that wasn’t mentioned in the white paper is the instancy of purchase available on the Internet. Culture has blown past even one-click ordering to the new Dash buttons for buying items. While these obviously wouldn’t serve the asset categories we typically market at auction, we need to understand that auctions aren’t always the fastest way to buy—and thus not always the fastest way to sell.

The marketplace should drive our marketing decisions.

If eBay had determined to remain an online auction company rather than an online marketplace, it would be generating a fraction of the revenue it does each year. Instead, it adapted to buyer trends to benefit its sellers. That wasn’t an altruistic decision, and I’m sure that cost them a lot of time and resources to accomplish. If our companies are to continue and grow in their success, we must adapt to the culture. We have to ask questions like:

  1. What media do our buyers and sellers most consume?
  2. How do they consume that media and each medium’s advertisements?
  3. What do the terms and purchase processes look like where people most often purchase the asset in question?

None of our companies will ever be eBay. (I would guess that most of us don’t even aspire to that.) What works for eBay may not work for most of our firms, but we can learn from the trends that their scale and ubiquity illustrate. If their sellers are adapting to cultural changes, we need to help our sellers do the same.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

eBay revenue charted linked to its source.

eBay auction chart acquired from the referenced study“Sales Mechanisms in Online Markets: What Happened to Internet Auctions?” by Liran Einav, Chiara Farronato, Jonathan D. Levin, Neel Sundaresan

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158: How Auctioneers Can Be Like Presidential Candidates

This presidential election season has been the most annoying and befuddling of the six for which I’ve been eligible to vote. This is the third one with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; so, it’s more than social media stoking the fire.

The candidates have changed their opinions and platforms over their careers enough that Stephen Colbert could even use one candidate’s footage to debate himself. Others have assembled similar video presentations for other candidates, as well.

For two hundred years, American politicians have told one audience what they wanted to hear and another audience something else. Because all of us voters vote for our interests or our perspective of the interest of others, it makes sense that politicians play the chameleon game.

The problem now is how easily that deceptive pandering is captured and how easy it is to search for those captured moments. You’d think it’d behoove a candidate to be authentic and consistently honest, but politicians know that all Americans think most politicians lie for political expediency. They also know that if they uphold enough of their party’s platform, the zealots will look past their foibles.

Similarly, many auctioneers often play two crowds with different messages. Amazingly, they rarely get caught. At the same time, the industry as a whole scratches their head as to why the profession comes with a bit of a stigma in the marketplace.

Conflicting MessagesOn one hand, we market auctions to buyers as a place to get good deals (especially at absolute auctions). One auction industry blogger recently candidly admitted that he’d wait for an auction instead of buying an asset for a fixed price, if he had the time to chase the potential discount.

On the other hand, we tell sellers that only auctions will achieve the highest market value. I’ve had to copy and paste that into more proposals than I care to count—including proposals for absolute auctions.

“Well, a talented auctioneer working the frenzy of competitive bidding can get a crowd of people, who registered to bid thinking they’re going to get a deal, to pay more than retail for something.”

That’s true. I’ve witnessed that in person, especially with guns, sporting goods, cars, and collectibles.

What happens when there aren’t enough bidders or the right bidders to get that frenzy started, though? I’ve seen that happen, too: assets selling for pennies on the dollar.

Don’t get me wrong. A number of auctioneers consistently do better than the market with their sales. I’d hire them, if I had to unload the type of assets they sell.

That said, you and I both know that a lot of auctions are contracted not for superlative financial gain as much as an expedited end to a headache, a triage for the bleeding, or quick cash to allocate to another opportunity.

We can sell “high risk, high reward” with integrity. We can sell the time value of money with honor. We can sell superlative results with statistical evidence of our prowess.

But let’s stop selling one thing to our sellers and another thing to our buyers.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

106: 4 Things Every Business Proposal Should Say

Even if you haven’t watched reality television or romantic comedy movies, you know some of the standard visual and verbal ingredients of a marriage proposal. There’s a guy (or sometimes a gal) on one knee. At some point, he goes through an awkward narrative around the following four basic points:

1.    “I love you.”
2.    “I want to spend my life with you.”
3.    “I got you this ring.” [usually non-verbally communicated]
4.    “Will you marry me?”

Image Used With Permission Through Purchase From iStockPhoto.comThese steps prove so common, they smell of cliche; but there aren’t too many ways around that outline. That’s just how marriage proposals work.

Believe it or not, those same four steps work well for business proposals, especially auction proposals to sellers.

“I love you.
Translation: “I value what you bring to this relationship.”

Sellers know we want a commission and that we wouldn’t be offering our services without a price tag. What they’re hoping is that we care about their assets—and not just another pay check—and that we’ll handle their sale with the care we would give our own sale.

One way to communicate this is to discuss the attributes of their assets that will interest buyers—what makes them unique or valuable. Follow this with explaining what part of your plan is connected to these attributes. Here are some examples:

“Due to the location of your property, signs will be more critical to the advertising campaign than our typical campaign. We recommend spending a higher percentage of the budget on banners that cover your building to attract attention.”

“Because of how new your restaurant equipment is, we will reach out to our list of restaurant chain developers in addition to our recent bidder lists of three similar Outback restaurant auctions that we held last year.”

“Not all auctions are newsworthy; but with your recent interstate PowerBall win and now famous tweet about your move to a private island, the human interest part of this auction’s story can be leveraged for maximum exposure. We’re going to bring in a public relations consultant to help us craft a press release that will attract members of the media.”

“I want to spend my life with you.” 

Translation: “This could be an ongoing, mutually-beneficial reality.”

Clients, like spouses, crave long-term security. Sellers want to know that we’ll stay attentive to their project amidst our others during the marketing campaign—especially for absolute/no-reserve auctions.

Put them at ease by describing all the expectations to which your willing to be held. Show them a detailed timeline of what you’ll do and when. Note when or how often you’ll communicate with them about market response and the progress of the campaign. Explain specific actions you’ll take to make their situation less stressful, less complicated, or less prolonged.

Empathy is huge for trust. That means letting people know that we realize that this is their treasured collection, their lifetime achievement, or their financial security that’s at stake. Each situation will determine what is professionally appropriate to say; and this doesn’t have to be a verbose section of a proposal, but intentionally moving into this perspective for even one sentence can be enough to separate ourselves from the competition.

“I got you this ring.” 

Translation: “Here’s my indicative deposit on good things to come.”

I remember a dude in college going room to room in our dorm building, asking for donations to help him buy a $500 engagement ring. He must have gotten enough donations. She said, “Yes,” and he’s still married to her more than a decade later; but it wasn’t the ring that sold her on life with him. Sometimes, we get the auction in spite of the proposal instead of because of it.

If our proposals look like cheap and easy templates—especially Word documents with a few variable data mentions bolded like a mail merge letter—we communicate to sellers that they are just a number, a transaction, another notch on our belts. The amount of time and effort and even financial investment our proposal connotes (whether real or assumed) reflects on the level of individuality, creativity, and professionalism we’ll bring to marketing their assets.

One sentence that regularly makes its way into my clients’ proposals reads something along the lines of, “We hope this proposal illustrates our level of commitment not only to book your auction but also to get you the most bidders and highest sale proceeds possible for your asset.” Would you be confident enough to make that statement in your cover letter?

“Will you marry me?”

Translation: “Does this look like a good deal to you?”

A difficult reality of business proposals is that we’re asking a seller to marry us on a first, second, or even blind date. Because a history with us can’t inform the future with us, we need to build the case that it will be a good deal. By using graphs of past results, samples of advertising from similar auctions, and pull quotes from people in their shoes you’ve served in the past, you can establish a track record that casts for them a vision for the future.

Unlike a résumé, though, this all needs to be framed by their benefit. Only a fool would drop to his knee and tell his girlfriend, “I was voted ‘Least Likely to Divorce’ in high school. I graduated from college with both academic and humanitarian honors and got the lone internship offered by Mark Zuckerburg this year. I have written over 450 love letters in my dating career and have attended the Certified Lover Institute. I’m a member of the National Association of Romantic Beaus. You can trust your married life in my hands.”

How many times do auction proposals read like that?

If we talk about what we bring to the table, we need to do so in a way that gives them more confidence than it gives us. For instance: “Our membership in [national franchise/alliance/affiliate network] connects us with more industrial real estate investors and the collaboration of multiple auctioneers who have sold paper production plants like yours.” Or: “Our hundreds of state and national marketing awards mean that our sellers get the best advertising available. We want our clients not only to get the biggest-possible settlement checks but also to be proud of how their assets are shown to their peers and the general public.”

Yes, all of this means more work; but that extra work on this end might just be the difference between you getting the work on the other end of the proposal.
Throughout the Bible’s newer testament, Christians are told that we will some day marry Jesus and be his bride.  As a dude, that’s still weird to me. At the same time, it’s utterly humbling.

The bride is supposed to be the beautiful half of the wedding and the ensuing marriage. Jesus, our promised groom, lived a perfect life, a selfless existence. He did more good than any human will ever replicate.  Everything about him is beautiful. Nobody can even aspire to the beauty of his soul, the transformative gaze of his eyes, the gentle healing of his touch.

Contrastingly, we smell of unfaithfulness. We have been muddied by sin and disfigured by guilt. Our teeth are decayed by gorging ourselves on the delicacies of selfishness. We walk our life journey with a limp.

Still he loves us. He wants us. He cherishes us. He’s preparing a wedding even David Tutera can’t imagine and then an eternal honeymoon in a magical city on the other side of the universe. And he invites all of us through an eternal proposal into his mercy, grace, and redemptive power.

I don’t deserve it, and I definitely don’t understand it. But, man, am I grateful for it!

[footer]Image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

102: Competing For (And Against?) Potential Clients

Image purchase from iStockPhoto.comWhen someone added me to a private Facebook group for auctioneers, I didn’t expect the conversations there to look much different than the rest of my relatively-peaceful Facebook stream. So, it came as quite a surprise when it turned into the most acrimonious auctioneer environment I’ve ever encountered.

Proxibid, a longstanding vendor for third-party online bidding, had announced a change in their structure. From what I gather, Proxibid was now going to allow non-auctioneers to sell their wares through the Proxibid system—a system that had been assumed as an auctioneer-only environment. Some viewed this expansion as a deceptive change of plans; others defended Proxibid for attempting to grow the potential buyer base.

I don’t have a dog in the fight. Some of my clients use Proxibid; some use one of several Proxibid competitors; others use proprietary systems for their online bidding. My job is the same no matter where the bidders bid—whether onsite or online: find as many prospective buyers as possible and entice them to bid.

When I joined the National Auctioneers Association in 2003, there were thousands more members in the association than we have now. While the auction industry’s collective revenues are holding—if not growing—the number of full-time auction practitioners in the country seems to be shrinking. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence to confirm this rapid constriction in the profession at large. That leads me to believe that there’s a lot of competition for work. In this Proxibid shift, it’s apparent that some auctioneers are worried about the pool of professional auctioneers shrinking further due to sellers being able to help themselves to online bidding and the buyers that gather at Proxibid.com.

As a sole proprietor who depends on family-sized businesses to hire me instead of helping themselves to online vendors, I understand that worry.  It’s real and deserved concern that fewer and fewer auctioneers will deem Biplane Productions worth its fees, that they’ll keep the work in-house instead of outsourcing—or that they’ll outsource to a hungrier freelancer.

I’ve had stout competition since my first day in business in 2002.  There are far more graphic designers in the country than auctioneers, and that ratio grows every graduation season. As of 2008, there were almost 300,000 designers in the country. As just one of the trade groups in my industry, the American Institute of Graphic Artists alone has multiple times the membership of the National Auctioneers Association.

I’ve been outnumbered by my competition for a long time. So has every auctioneer for whom I’ve worked and every auctioneer I’ve ever met. Auction marketers have competed with sellers and non-auctioneers since before we had a national association. That won’t change, and Proxibid won’t be the last Internet market place to help sellers help themselves.

The challenge, then, for all of us marketers is to create and prove value to potential clients—value they can’t achieve by doing the work themselves or by posting their wares on a website, even one built on the backs of innovative and successful auctioneers.

For me, that value proving included a transition into selling and delivering on my auction advertising knowledge base as much or more than my reputation for graphic design speed. My revenue efficiency has fluctuated, as I’ve contributed to more complicated campaigns. I’m serving auction companies that regularly now combine 10, 20, even 40-some properties in single auction campaigns. I’m accepting job orders in late afternoons that require overnight designs.

It’s not martyrdom. It’s most definitely not exclusive to Biplane Productions. It’s adapting. The Darwinian nature of capitalism requires it, and technology is accelerating the need for it.

I’ll let other people debate whether Proxibid’s move was harmful or advantageous to the auction industry and whether or not their expansion happened in good faith. That’s not my fight.

What is my fight is making auction advertising so attractive and effective that people keep hiring auctioneers to sell their assets.

At church, I’ve been on a team exploring the book of Ecclesiastes in which the wise Hebrew king, Solomon, pronounces no value to accomplishment in terms of wealth, power, or pleasure. Over and over, the sage proclaims the meaninglessness of chasing success—probably because it’s a moving target that doesn’t move with us into our next lives.

On my recent vacation, one of my pastors and I were chatting about my record workload over the past eight months. He asked a simple pair of questions that keeps reverberating inside my head: “Can you just get rid of some clients? Is it as easy as that?”

I told him that after I finish eradicating the rest of our non-mortgage debt, I’ll be considering strategies for sifting my client list. I told him that, right now, I just brace for the seasonal and unpredictable nature of my work, taking my career’s lumps with its advantages.

At some point, though, there will be an intersection with my faith and my insecurities. At some point, I’ll stop worrying about losing business or losing a career to my next stage of life. At some point, I won’t care if you consider me an expert instead of a freelancer in a basement.

Each time I read Ecclesiastes or close InDesign at 2:00 A.M., I’m getting closer to that point.


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

100: The Pinterest Effect

My Current Pinterest BoardsI take notice, when I hear a question over and over again.  And one question I’ve heard a lot lately is, “What is ‘Pinterest’?”

In short, it’s a social media environment that pulls inspiration from the bulletin board at your local coffee shop or the pin board in your college dorm room.  It’s a live stream of images—called “pins”— pulled from other websites and categorized topically both by the website administrators and again separately by its users.  Each image comes with three optional interactions: like, comment, and re-pin (to your board of pins).

Whereas other social media are based on users generating their own content, Pinterest‘s ease of use and popularity is mostly because its users don’t create the original content.  In fact, approximately 80% of posts are re-pins.†  To avoid copyright violation, the pictures are almost all linked back to their originating sites—be they travel, lifestyle, or entertainment websites.

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

Women typically account for a higher percentage of users than men do on social media*, and they account for anywhere from 68% to 90% of the activity on Pinterest—depending on where you get your stats.  Most posts are often associated with fashion, decor, cooking, crafts, and inventive solutions for household organization.

Pinterest Board: Inspiration for Biplane's New OfficeUnlike Facebook, it’s not intended for conversations.  Pinterest has grown so much and so quickly that Friendsheet.com, a site that makes your Facebook stream look like Pinterest, has garnered the favor of Mark Zuckerburg††—and might someday be a native Facebook option.  Unlike Twitter, it’s not intended to keep users updated on current events.  Unlike YouTube, it’s exclusive.  You can curate your own pin boards and list of followers only if you are invited by someone who is already a Pinterest member.  Unlike Google+, it’s growing like a weed both in number of users and the amount of time those users spend on the site (more than four times longer than Twitter users per month and almost 30 times as long as Google+ users average per month***)—exponentially expanding to over a million average daily visitors.*

So, why do we need yet another social media site?  And what does Pinterest have that we can’t get anywhere else?

Visual simplicity.

Facebook has images.  Twitter is succinct and sortable, too.  Pinterest, though, simplifies everything to one thing: pictures.  No profiles to manage for its content creators and little, if any, reading required by its consumers.  It lets our short attention spans be satiated quickly—or drawn into the bowels of online daydreaming.

If Pinterest were running for president, it’s campaign supervisor would be explaining its surge in the polls emphatically: “It’s the photos, stupid!”

Facebook, the major social media player with more average minutes of use per month than Pinterest understands our culture’s draw to images, as it sees 70% of its users’ activity centers around its photos.**  But that pales to the photo-centricity of Pinterest, which by default, has pictures at just under 100% of activity.

There’s a lesson there for every marketer.  What makes content quickly absorbable is compelling imagery, imagery which Pinterest users tend to pull from predominantly-commercial websites.  Words—even headlines—are secondary.  As a culture, we don’t’ care about explanations and slogans, if we aren’t drawn to them through the picture(s) they accompany.  As a marketer who helps other marketers, I can tell you that if the design of our marketing media centers around large, singular imagery—and those images are professionally staged and captured—our advertising will be far more effective than the current average of small business advertising media.  That goes for small business at large and the auction industry, which I serve, in particular.

Message is important.  And honing your message is crucial.  But Andre Aggassi was right: image is everything.  And, last time I checked, advertising is part of everything.  If the first thing your media recipients and viewers sees is text—no matter how large or bold or colorful—chances are good that you’re doing advertising wrong.  If they see a solid background with a collage of pictures, we are making them work harder (than if we had used one big, full-bleed image) and, in many cases, watering down the primary draw.  Look at advertising for Apple, Nike, Ford, TNT, and BOSE.  They get it.  So should we.

If potential buyers don’t like what they see in the primary image, what makes any retailer, wholesaler, or auctioneer think potential buyers would care what other pictures we have or what the advertisement has to say?

The Bible says we humans were created in God’s image (one of the ways homo sapiens were differentiated from the rest of creation).  As believers of The Way, we are to be pictures of Jesus in our culture.  While we are wrapped in individual personalities and exclusive physical containers, the essence from the new core of our souls should shine through those translucent shells.

In contrast, the entropy and temptation for us all is to talk religious words, add Jesus stickers or fabric on the outside, and gather with those who codify and police exterior criteria the way we do.  That’s lazy and destructive.  Jesus didn’t come so that we could shine through the filter of him—or worse: the filters of religion, church, and spirituality.  He came to give us life, to change our core, to change the lightbulb—not the lamp shade—in the fixture.  He wants his truth and love and other attributes to radiate from us.

If today were a snapshot of who you are, and you handed that snapshot to a stranger, what would they see?  If you had to hand it to Jesus as a photo illustration of him, what would you have changed about your day before taking that picture?

†” Why Is Pinterest So Addictive?” by Stephanie Buck, Mashable.com. March 24, 2012.

†† “Friendsheet: The Zuck-Approved Pinterest-Style Facebook Photo Browser” by Josh Constine, Techcrunch.com.

* “A Very (P)interesting [infographic]” by Tim, DailyInfographic.com. March 9, 2012.

** “In Age of Pinterest, Instagram, Marketers Need An Image Strategy” by Chas Edwards, Adage.com. March 15, 2012.

*** “The Mounting Minuses at Google+” by Amir Efrati, Wall Street Journal. February 28, 2012.

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An Auction Bidder’s Wish List

I’m the oldest of six children, and my wife was the first of five offspring for my in-laws.  So, I’m thankful that both of our families exchange names for “secret sibling” Christmas gifts.

My side of the family makes it even easier by creating a message thread on Facebook where we post our respective wish lists for our secret sibling to use for reference in their holiday shopping.

To keep you reading, I’ll show you what I posted.

(in this order):
anything from here: http://www.gfa.org/gift/home
gift cards from iTunes, REI, or Dick’s Sporting Goods
solid-color winter beanies
Smart Wool® socks
black Crocks (size 10)
solid color fleece sweatshirts or hoodies
athletic ankle socks
100g Jetpower micro-canister

What you’ll notice is that I didn’t write, “Something nice,” (though everything on this list is nice to me) or “Great deal for the money” (though I hope my sibling finds the deal of a lifetime).  Why?  Because those are ambiguous requests—unhelpful direction.  See, when they go to a store, there won’t be an aisle for “something nice” or “a sweet deal!”  If they Google search for “something nice,” they will get these random acts of results.

This makes sense on a personal level; but, for some reason, auction marketers disregard this common wisdom when advertising the assets in their auctions.  Their headlines, line ads, and websites lead with information that buyers will not type into their search engines, apps, or wish lists.

Raise your hand, if you’ve seen an auction advertisement that said “Investment Opportunity!” Now keep that hand raised if you think anyone is searching for an office building, flatbed truck, bass boat, or 1950’s Texaco sign with those two words.  In our search culture, advertising needs to focus on the facts, not the pitch—even for offline media.  You might be able to schmooze bidders at open houses or at the auction, even though our culture is growing less tolerant of the commissioned sales schtick.  But you’ll be hard pressed to find advertising that works that way.

Recently, I was asked to rewrite some sales copy on a luxury home, since [I assume] it wasn’t getting many bites.  I couldn’t change the facts, just the adjectives and syntax.  Even if I were J.K. Rowling, I couldn’t rewrite that paragraph in a way that would change someone’s mind about that house.  Either they wanted what it had or they didn’t.  If they wanted four bathrooms and an in-law suite, only a house with those specifications would work.  If they wanted an in-ground pool, stables, and a riding ring, they were looking for those words in whatever media they’re using to shop.

Fluff text is inefficient use of space and attention.  There’s no search criteria field in Trulia for “cute,” no check box on Realtor.com for “cozy,” no ebay category for “like new.”  I just checked: LoopNet doesn’t have a menu selection for “potential.”  Pictures, dimensions, location, age—immutable, objective data—will tell someone if an asset matches their wish list; their own emotional and financial situation will translate that information into subjective evaluations.

I’m regularly amused by auctioneers telling their audience that an address is conveniently located in reference to places a half hour or more away from the subject property.  Convenience is a relative value.  Oh, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Unlimited potential!” as a real estate headline or bullet point.  I don’t have a real estate license, but I’d imagine legal boundaries and zoning commissions significantly restrict infinity.  But even if the future development of a property were somehow unlimited, who’s searching for that ambiguity?

Whether searching for Christmas gifts, farm equipment, or a strip mall, consumers will echo what Detective Joe Friday said on Dragnet, “All we want are the facts.”  It’s insulting to tell a buyer what the facts mean.  Buyers will most likely know if what you’re selling is a collectors item, if a home is designed for entertaining, if an address is a good business location—based on the facts at hand.

Does this mean advertising should be reduced exclusively to a list of bulleted descriptions?  No—even if in many media, that’d be the most efficient strategy.  Write your sales copy as long as space and budget will allow.  Emphasis, though, belongs to the facts.  Headlines should tell people if what they want might be described in the next section.  Top billing should go to the unarguable.

Make it easy for potential buyers to compare your sale item(s) to their wish list.  That ease of comparison reflects on your brand, whether they bid or purchase from you or not.

Taking It Personally

Outside of sports programming or sitting in a waiting room, I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched TV news.  Beside how partisan each of the networks have proven to be, I’m disenchanted by the 24-hour news network ecosystem’s need to fill so much of their time with commentary.  I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should feel about a congressional bill, a televised debate, an oval office speech.  I think that’s why I’m drawn to Twitter so much as a news source.  News sources there have to dump the main point and a link in 140 characters or less.

News never has been objective; I don’t know how it ever could be.  So, I don’t ask it to be.

Maybe that’s why after sitting through literally over 5,000 sermons and Bible lessons, I’m so drawn to my TruthWorks Bible study, where I’m pointed to a passage of Scripture with three questions: “What does the writer actually say?” and “What does that mean—in a big picture context?” and then “What do I do right now with this truth?”  It’s good to have wise, educated people bring light to Scripture; and I believe teachers can be agents of the Holy Spirit.  But we need to be careful not to rely on other people to tell us what to believe; we need to be like the heralded Bereans, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

84: Will Self-service Websites Impact Your Business?

Self-checkout LaneThe other day, I had a rousing conversation with one of my buddies in the auction business, talking about whether real estate auctioneers will be replaced by self-serve auction websites like AuctionPoint.com (commercial) and ebay.com (residential).  He pointed to the cattle and auto auction professions and how bid callers are getting downsized left and right, being replaced by online bidding portals.

It’s happening all over America: technology replacing the labor force, particularly the least adaptable portions of it.  And it’s undeniably happening in the live auction industry.  Candidly, as someone who wins his bread from advertising live auctions, I wonder where I’ll be a decade from now.

Thankfully, many of my clients are ahead of the curve, running to beat this technology to the pass.  And I don’t think full-service auction marketing will grow extinct in my lifetime.  For hundreds of years, people have needed fair, transparent, accelerated marketing.  That need will be here after my obituary is written.  How that need will be fulfilled, though, will require adaptation by the entire industry.

A decade ago, during the dot com bubble, billions of dollars were spent on the idea that self-service Internet would replace full-service brick and mortars.  In many cases, that happened—if not for whole industries at least for specific segments of it.  Most sports card and comic book stores either moved their inventory into online stores or closed their doors.  Most travel agents either moved to niche markets (and many have successfully) or moved onto new careers.  You get the idea.

Industrial adaptation isn’t exclusive to our online generation.  Pontiac Spring and Wagon Works prolonged its death for roughly a century by switching to automobiles and eventually selling to General Motors.  The Pullman Company, at the decline of the passenger rail era in America, diversified to trolleys and buses, and then transitioned to automotive parts manufacturing and specialty contracting.  Nokia, a small manufacturer of galoshes and rubber products, acquired Finnish Cable Works and subsequently became a dominant world player in industrial and consumer electronics.

These companies stayed alive or even grew exponentially by asking, “What growing needs can we effectively meet?” instead of “How can we keep making wooden wagons, railroad cars, or rubber boots?”

The question for the auction industry is not, “How do we convince people of the value of a bid caller?”—any more than it’s, “How do we prove the value of horse-drawn wagons?” No, the question will be, “How do we market property in a way that someone can’t do on their own—or at least in a way that someone is willing to pay someone else to do for them?”

I’m inextricably biased, but I see the core value of the professional auction marketing process to be the ability to gather motivated bidders through a multi-faceted advertising campaign.  If the right buyer doesn’t know about the auction, he won’t be there in person or online to bid.  If the right bidders or referring agents aren’t reached through compelling media, they won’t drive the sales price.  Throwing an auction on a website or network of affiliated websites may find a buyer for someone in the self checkout lane; but it’s less likely to find it’s highest price.  I’ve always been told that a successful auction—especially an absolute one—requires only two bidders; but sale price is often relatively-proportional to the quantity of bidders.

“Well, the difference in price I could achieve with a full-service auctioneer isn’t any more than the double-digit commission that leading auctioneers charge to make that difference,” a self-service seller might retort.  And this is what my industry friend asserted.

But I know an auctioneer who once proposed 100% commission and got the auction under those terms (because the sellers just wanted the subject property off their hands).  I remember helping one auctioneer with a proposal, when he knew the proposal against which he was competing would be requesting half the commission percentage.  My conversation with him was indelible.  He told me, “We just have to prove we’re worth twice the cost.”

Proving where we add value and enough value to equal our fees will be one of the main challenges facing auction marketers in the future, as self-service websites attract more and more MLS agents and FSBO (For Sale By Owner) properties.  Different auctioneers will have different valid answers to the question of value.  It might be their unparalleled experience and connections within a geographic or asset market.  Their worth might come in their reporting and CRM (customer relationship management) infrastructure or in their affiliate network’s cumulative reach.  Maybe it will be the incorporation of multiple, simultaneous bidding platforms.  It might just be the bandwidth of staff and auction events to handle the headaches others want to unload or the size of portfolios being liquidated.

On the flip side—in the absence of sufficient provable added value—the answer might even be lower commissions and/or fewer marketing fees.  (I still shake my head when I see “sale day labor,” “A/V rental,” “photocopies,” and similar charges in advertising budgets.  Shouldn’t that be covered by the double-digit commission?)

The solution won’t be a one-size-fits-all number or universal defense.  It will be a case-by-case adaptation.  And it won’t be easy or static—just necessary.  Are you ready to answer those questions?  Can you prove you’re worth your hire in an increasingly self-served, connected economy?  If not, what color is your parachute?

On a regular basis—including this week—I lose jobs because I’m more expensive than other vendors in the marketplace.  During most of the year, when I can’t stay late at morning basketball and Saturdays are regularly workdays, I chalk it up to supply and demand.  During the slow winter months and occasional summer doldrums, I’m tempted to worry, to second guess myself, to question whether I’m just wrapping arrogance with supply-side economics and a decade’s worth of track record.  Even during my busy seasons, I typically don’t have more than three to five days’ worth of work on my desk; some days, like this week, it falls less than that.

My wife and I have paid down well over half of the twenty-some thousand dollars we had on plastic 18 months ago.  The end of our forty-to-fifty-some thousand in car payments could happen in another 18 months, if biplane averages what it has since we started the debt-free chase.  As I feel the pull of debt, taxes, and life on one side and the fluctuating income on the other, I’m pushed to healthy, needful questions:

Do I trust God’s sovereignty?
Am I willing to admit my frail mortality during the feasts, not just the famines?
Am I praying for others and thinking about their problems—or just my own?
Am I being a wise steward of Someone Else’s money?
How can I simplify my life and demands?
Do I feel entitled to a certain lifestyle?
Am I doing all I can do?

How ‘bout you?  When stress and uncertainty arise, how do you face that reality—in your time management, your prayer life, your late night thoughts?

Photo credit.

82: Long Distance Marketing

Signs to Multiple StatesOn a regular basis, I talk to auctioneers who are proposing and contracting auctions across state lines—in some cases across multiple time zones.  Whether these auctioneers are selling for distant estates with local heirs or for banks with holdings in multiple states, they are faced with the same dilemma: how do we find buyers in geographic areas outside of our expertise?

I hear that question a lot on the other end of the phone and read it in emails on a regular basis.  While specific geographic areas and specific assets often require a custom plan, here are the five general tips I give for these long distance situations.

Join the local chamber of commerce.
Competing now with online social networking, chambers of commerce are often struggling to gain new members and retain the financial inflows that help them serve current members.  I’ve found the organizers of these groups to be very welcoming to out-of-state firms.  Almost all will allow you access to their membership list for direct mail—some even for free with membership dues.  Some even offer email blasts, publication inserts, and event promotion.  Reaching these member roles is an efficient way to introduce your brand and your auction to an area’s leading business people (many of whom are also community investors) and to get community buzz generated for an auction.

Saturate brokers, dealers, and/or consultants with direct mail.
If you want to get the word out to buyers, you’ll benefit from reaching out to their agents and consultants.  It’s fairly easy and relatively inexpensive to grab direct mail lists of brokers, dealers, and consultants within a radius of your auction.  A side benefit to reaching this audience is that they might have sellers down the road; making a good first impression here will help you compete for business against their local options—for auctions that you would not have been otherwise considered.  Some auctioneers I know also include a radius of lenders for real estate auctions, as they regularly have prequalified clients looking for properties.

Partner with a local auctioneer, broker, dealer, or consultant.
Not all pies are big enough for sharing.  When they are, their expertise can enhance yours and help you reach movers and shakers within their social sphere.  This doesn’t have to be an auctioneer.  It could be a consultant, dealer, or broker.  And it may not be someone local to the auction; it could be a national entity with a narrow specialty and a national database for a specific kind of asset.  With the rising number of affiliate and referral groups in the auction industry, finding a reputable partner is growing easier and easier.  And don’t forget that auctions like these prove part of the value for attending National Auctioneer Association education events—to establish relationships with people who might someday enable you to have a successful sale far from home.

Look for asset-based and trade publications.
When researching new geographic markets, it’s easy to just grab the local daily and weekly editorial publications in an area, overlooking real estate inserts, tabloids, and total market coverage (TMC) publications.  Google search the type of asset and the state or city.  The ensuing search results can lead you to websites and/or print publications that reach a more targeted audience than the shotgun targets of metro papers.  Don’t forget business journals and trade publications—for the same reason you’d reach out to chamber of commerce members.  While the deadlines and publishing dates of some trade publications often make it difficult for auction marketing to be a good fit, these organizations often offer email blasts and/or direct mail lists for more immediate access to their membership.

Look for community events.
Almost all cities and counties list online their community events.  It’s good to know these, so that you don’t schedule inspections or auctions during perennial staples.  These gatherings also make for great times to promote your auction as an insider by attending them and/or advertising your auction at the event or in its materials.  One auctioneer I know obtained permission to post giant posters of their brochure cover (of a waterfront lots auction) at the checkout line of a famous, annual Tennessee fish fry and gave water taxi tours from the dock over to their property, where they had signs facing the boat traffic.  The auction was a huge success in an area that had recently seen similar auctions fail.

Sometimes, extending your brand into a new geographic area is a gamble, but you can make it less of a risk by establishing rapport with the local movers and shakers.  Ask yourself, “What would give me confidence in an out-of-state vendor conducting business in my town?”  Then make sure your marketing plan includes tactics based on the answer to that question.

As Christians, we are called to take our hope to the world.  Literally.  But no one person, church, mission board, or denomination can canvas the entire planet for Christ.  Does that mean we shouldn’t try?  That our mandate is an impossible one?

No, it’s an indirect call to unity—unity of purpose, of message, of spirit.  I’ve heard multiple pastors from different churches express this in a rhetorical question, when feeling called toward new global burdens: “Why would I start something new, when I can come alongside an organization already doing that work?”

Whether it’s evangelism, rescue of sex slaves, or disaster relief, the work of restoration is bigger than any of us—bigger than all of us.  It will have to be a God thing, not a God-helping-us thing.  After natural disasters and terrorist attacks, it’s common to see political opponents unified in spirit and actions for recovery.  That should always be true of the church, the body of one Christ.

My takeaway: as I see efforts to rebuild Haiti and Japan, as well as U.S. areas damaged by floods and tornadoes, doing my part means helping those already there.  And if I get the chance to physically be of assistance, I’ll be looking to connect with those who’ve been sacrificing far more than their post-disaster weeks and months.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

68: Is The Business Card Obsolete?

I walked out to my car one afternoon and found several business cards on my fronts seats. They had been dropped through my MINI‘s open sun roof by a buddy of mine. Now, I already had Aaron’s contact information in my phone [and my Nano] and on my Facebook friends list—even in an Excel® spreadsheet that gets passed around our church‘s parking team group emails. He and I have hiked and prayed together, even shared a (spacious) tent during a lightning storm on a two-day canoe trip.

But his cards have been sitting on my desk for weeks—despite the fact that I will probably never need the services of a civil engineer, even one from a well-branded firm.

Wiley Wilson Sample

In contrast, I took three $25 restaurant gift cards to the 2010 National Auctioneers Association‘s annual conference & show to use in drawings during my two seminars. They worked in that I returned to my office with over 80 different business cards from auction marketers—biplane productions‘ target market. After keying the data from the cards into my email contact database, I stacked them in my stationery cabinet then later threw the vast majority of them in the trash.


Well, I didn’t need them; and nothing made me want them.

I’m not alone. In a culture where our mobile devices carry all of our contacts plus the Internet in our pocket, just about all of the people we need to reach are no further than our pocket or purse. How many times have you asked someone, “Hey, what’s your number? I’ll put you in my phone”? The vast majority of business cards just add to the clutter in our wallets, desks, and cars; and they’re far less portable than the address icon on our iPhones, Droids, Blackberries, etc.

Old School

Our increasingly-electronic world, though, doesn’t make business cards obsolete. They still transfer contact information and marketing messages to their recipients. Business cards can be an indelible medium for introducing and reinforcing your brand to prospects and peers—even if trashed after being loaded into an electronic address book. They can influence that all-important first impression.

So, what makes a good business card?

Not all information is created equal. As a rule (that has some creative exceptions), your information should read from top toward bottom and left toward right—in the order of importance. What’s important will be different for different people; so, contemplate what your prospects should see first. Also, the use of color and bolding should be leveraged in a way that lets a reader immediately see the most important information first. If nothing is emphasized, you’re making the recipient work for what they need. If everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Order demonstrates organizational prowess; margin illustrates self-control; and white space communicates luxury. Rambling lines and text abutted near the edge of a business card connote, “No, wait. I . . . I want to tell you one more thing.” Big shots don’t have to prove they’re big shots; they’ve found that less actually is more. So, transcribe only the absolute necessary, and leave the rest for your Web site, LinkedIn profile, and company Facebook page.

We can all tell when you ordered your cards from an online printer or your local Staples® copy center—or worse yet, when you printed them at home. We know when your “logo” came from a clip art disc or stationery catalog. Conversely, we can tell when you work for a Fortune 500 company. The margins and paper (or other medium) choice, print and trim quality, effects and font choices all tell people how professional your brand is. People hire experts. Do your business cards give the impression that you’re an expert?

You may not need to be as outside the box as some of these business cards, but non-standard concepts will make your brand memorable. Ubiquity will only get your information into a “contacts” app. That said, avoid creativity for creativity’s sake; illustrate an obvious purpose for coloring outside the lines.

I’ve heard from multiple agents of larger firms, who are trying to find a way out from the umbrella company’s shadow. That can be tough. But if your parent entity has a template for all employees, stick to that; or lobby them for a systemic change. You benefit from the branding work in which they’ve invested over the years. For the entrepreneur, make sure that your business cards connect by more than logo with your other media. Fonts, colors, proportions, and feel should strictly match across all your collateral.

The business card as a medium isn’t dead, but yours has to come alive to survive the digital age. If you overlook the value of your business card, so will your prospects.

Business cards aren’t the only tangible, human interaction being replaced by electronic media. This summer I read a great book, “The Church of Facebook.” It discusses the way our definition of community is changing with the influence of online social environments, and it gives multiple tips for adapting to and confronting the tendency toward more instant but more superficial connections with our digitized relationships.

That’s a challenge for friendships, churches, and movements, because humans were designed and built for intimacy. Spiritually, relationally, physically—we are most whole and empowered when we are vulnerable to and then authentically encouraged by others. (Personally, I think those three realms are connected to each other.)

When I find myself getting shallow in my platonic friendships, I often find myself struggling more with anger and apathy. When Crystal and I aren’t connecting physically, stress and insecurity bubble larger within my chest. When my frequency and quality of interactions with God drop, I notice my gratitude and stewardship wane.

We all have “dummy lights” on the dash that are trying to tell us to fill up on true community in our Twitterific world. Do you know what yours are? What do you do when they flash?

[footer]Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.
Business card used by permission of Wiley Wilson.[/footer]

67: Eight Lessons From the Rear View Mirror

Birthday Cake CandleNormally, AdverRyting posts are reserved for singularly-focused articles related to small business marketing.  But it just so happens that today is the eighth anniversary of the day biplane productions opened its doors (in the guest bedroom of a second-floor apartment), designing advertising for an auction in Central Michigan.  It seems like forever and somehow yesterday—maybe because of all the all-nighters I’ve pulled that blur the days.

I’ve learned a lot about life & people, business management & customer relations, accounting & planning, faith & government, efficiency & profitability, auctions & media.  I couldn’t sum all of that in a book, let alone an email.  So, I decided to tell you eight of the top things I’ve learned about auction marketing.

Marketing Without Measurement Is a Gamble
If you can’t prove why you do/don’t use specific media in your marketing mix (and in the proportion that you do), why should your sellers trust your “experience”?  When budgets are tight, you will benefit from knowing which media are the most efficient at getting bidders to your sales.

Advertising Mixes Will Be Constantly in Flux
There will always be new ways to reach prospective buyers, because the makeup of communities and the media landscape changes faster than a Cirque de Soleil performer between sets.  Auction budgets will regularly be adding line item expenditures, even if the bottom lines remain similar.

Consistency Trumps Creativity
Every advertising piece you produce is telling the marketplace either that you work with precision—and thereby reliability—or that you’re too cheap to deliver predictable service and/or quality product.  Creativity gets short-term attention; consistency builds long-term brands.

If You Want to Compete With the Big Boys, Brand Like They Do
Small companies trust their name.  Fortune 500 companies trust their branding.  Look at the national industry leaders.  It’s not an accident they grew larger and more quickly than you, when their advertising looks better than yours.  Perception trumps reality in our culture.

Social Media Is For Conversations, Not Broadcasting
Join the conversation, or be considered the annoying, interrupting commercial.  Be interesting; but even more so, be interested in those in those environments.  Put the “interact” in “interactive media.”  Build relationships, and you’ll build a following.

Photography Is the Barometer of Your Marketing
While I enhance a large percentage of the images sent to me for media, there is a ceiling for dark, cluttered, blurred, and haphazard images.  Low-resolution images snagged from the Internet will handcuff your designer—and the attractiveness of what you’re selling.  Professional design will put your images in their best light; professional images will put what you’re selling in its best light.

Advertising is For the Buyer, Not the Auctioneer
You only have a few seconds to hook a buyer.  Lead your advertising with what’s important to them: the asset and the benefit of that asset.  Sales method and date and directions are secondary or tertiary information.  Estate names are for the fine print, unless people will buy their items predominantly because of who owned them.

Auctions Can Be Made or Broken Before the Opening Bid
If the right people aren’t in the seats, your auction will not achieve its highest potential.  Work on honing your marketing prowess more than your chant and crowd management.  Sometimes, it takes partnering with someone from another company (or network of companies) to give your client the best marketing.

I look forward to learning and growing—with you—in this next year.  I would love to hear from you the top things you’ve learned in your career!

Image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010

66: Mug Shot Marketing

State Farm BillboardOn the way home from a North Carolina airport Monday, I passed a vibrant-red billboard (similar to the one above) with a giant human head pictured next to an insurance company logo and white letters that spelled something like, “You’re a name not a number.”

I found it ironic, since the appeal was made impersonally to a bunch of cars probably sold to the advertiser as “traffic count per day.” It was trite—a line entrepreneurs have made meaningless right next to “We specialize in customer service.”

But it got me thinking about a question I’ve been asked multiple times from small business marketers: “Should I put my picture in my advertising?”

The answer to that question depends on your profession and sometimes—hard truth—how attractive you are.

So, who CAN market themselves with portraits?

Politicians & Professional Speakers
Politics is big business, and your brand is wrapped around your personal image. That doesn’t mean all political materials need to have your likeness to be effective; but you get a pass on marketing with your pearly whites. If you have ever earned a sizable appearance fee, your audience already knows you like the spotlight. In either case, selling your face won’t make you seem any more arrogant—I mean, confident (sorry)—than you already are.

Athletes & Famous Chefs
If you’re trying to extend your financial security in your free time—and leverage your personality or body of work, your image might help sell your product or service. It has already been sold by TV networks and other appearances. You’ve got a photo excuse, even though your name may be enough to sell what you’re selling.

Media Celebrities & Personalities
If you’ve appeared regularly or significantly on screens or through speakers, pictures of you might help sell your work. More than likely, though, you’re not making the advertising decisions and answering the phone, as someone else is marketing your appearance. But if you’re pushing a post-reality-TV career, help yourself to public face time. And if you’re Chuck Norris—well, just know that everyone is too scared to buy what you’re selling.

Gynecologists & Proctologists
Some (though not all) women I know say they prefer women OBGYN physicians over their male counterparts; and maybe guys feel better about prostate rectal exams administered by other dudes—don’t know . . . haven’t crossed that bridge yet. If you work in gender-specific professions, you’ll get a pass, too. You may not always be able to illustrate exactly what you do with stock images, but you may be able to find a creative solution to illustrate the end result. Otherwise, your public proof of gender may be an asset to you.

Personal Trainers & Nutritionists
If you’re the result of what you’re selling, illustrate it. It doesn’t hurt to show the ramifications others have experienced; don’t neglect those—especially if they’re famous. But people want to see that you practice what you preach. That said, your picture doesn’t need to be the brand; so, don’t shy away from logos and other creative campaign imagery.

Baby Sitters & Nannies
Baby sitters don’t buy billboards or wrap their cars. It’s probably best for parents to use other family members or someone from a trust-fostering social group rather than strangers. But if you’re putting fliers in newspaper boxes or selling your child-supervision door-to-door, you might want to show that your face isn’t pierced too much to make it through airport security or framed in skull and evil clown tattoos.

Who should NOT market themselves with portraits?

Bench Seat
People like this local entrepreneur, pictured on a Kroger waiting bench; if you need me to explain, your friends may be carrying secret cameras for Stacy and Clinton. Faith healers who wear glasses—still don’t understand that visual irony. All ministers, actually. (If Mother Teresa wouldn’t, you probably shouldn’t either.) Divorce lawyers like this fellow. People who previously appeared in post office wanted posters. Currently-profitable drug dealers.

And probably you.

Sorry. If you don’t fit squarely in one of the above-bolded categories, your face is probably taking the place of either (1) more and better sales content and/or (2) white space to give your advertising breathing room. I know what you’re going to say: “But I’m an agent trying to sell myself, not just my [umbrella] company.” But does your face sell what you sell? Could you, instead, create a personal logo or advertising theme? Could you brand a creative URL or phone number? If you work for yourself, you hopefully passed on the chance to name your business after yourself and grabbed something memorable. This will give you more flexible branding options. (I have never regretted naming my design company after an open-cockpit aircraft.)

See the problem is that your brand should be uniform and everywhere, and we humans age faster than our logos. Your profile shot can sit next to your bio on your web site and maybe even on your business card, where people interact with it only by choice. But if people don’t want what you’re selling, more than likely, they won’t buy it because “they look like a nice person.” Don’t kid yourself: if your looks don’t get you a free lunch, they probably won’t get you business.

If you are going to market your mug shot, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Vehicle Wraps

  • Pay or barter for professional photography.
  • Have pictures taken from both right and left angles to give future advertising more flexibility.
  • Request both full body (preferably standing) and head shots.
  • Ask your photographer for high-resolution, masked images (those cut out from their backgrounds), and request both .JPG and .PSD versions of such. Even if you can’t open the files, keep them on hand to give to your designer and media outlets. (An advance thanks on behalf of whichever graphic designer you hire to handle these in your advertising.)
  • And go all in. If you do signs, billboards, vehicle wraps, brochures, newspaper ads, etc., you want your marketing to be consistent. Use the same look across all media as closely as possible, and realize that you’ll need to update your materials on an annual or biannual basis.


I’ll just put it on the table: one of the hardest parts of the Christian life is living in full, willing understanding of the fact that our lives our meant for one purpose: when people see us, they should see Jesus. I pray for that on Sunday mornings, when I take my directional antics to my church’s parking lot. Sometimes, I even pray that over my hangar time.

But it’s too easy to work on my Ryan brand, the one I’ve so well crafted and curated for public consumption. As an often-insecure business owner, sometimes I take biplane’s image-building past healthy levels, too. My mug gets in the way.

Thankfully, we are not without example. Christ came and showed us what a self-abandoned life looks like. While people knew him for his miracles and captivating oratory skills, Jesus was able to say with heaven’s approval: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

I’m not there yet, but I hope that each year the people around me can see more and more of the one who planned my birth, my life path, and my gifts—for his glory. How ’bout you? What parts of your life are obstructing other people from seeing God alive in you?

[footer]Vehicle wrap images used by permission from Barbra Bannon of Cranky Creative.
Billboard image from this uncopyrighted gallery.[/footer]

Tampons & Sports Cars

Tampon & Race CarDuring this economic downturn, Audi has grown market share and remained profitable as traditional global automotive leaders wallow in bailouts, recalls, and falling sales.  While many companies cut advertising expenditures, Audi America has reported an increase in its marketing budget by 20% and developed waiting lists in several metro markets for its models.

How?  Well, if you agree with Audi America’s chief marketing officer in this revealing video clip, it’s because they abandoned Detroit mainstays and appealed to more than consumerism.  Rather than relying on drives down winding roads accompanied by headlines of new features and price points, they use traditional and nontraditional channels to separate themselves from ubiquity.  With their clean diesel and green police campaigns, they give consumers something to ponder.  Their vehicles—what they sell—occupy only brief seconds in their spots.  In fact, in some of their commercials, long, shiny lines of their competition’s vehicles fill most of the space.  They take some risks, including racing an airplane at takeoff for viral video and asking ESPN video journalists to film a racing documentary on their race team.

If you’re not into European cars, consider Kotex, which is fighting ubiquity and segment stigmas with its new “U” campaign.  Using candor and self-deprecation, they are bucking the clichés and euphemism their industry has implemented for decades.  Their product packaging now comes in rainbow colors within black boxes.  Rather than talk about product features, they mock menstrual product advertising.  They’ve built social media into their web site that generates donations for a female-empowerment non-profit.

“We’re really out there and we’re trying to touch women and say we care about this conversation,” said Mr. Meurer, of Kotex. “We’re changing our brand equity to stand for truth and transparency and progressive vaginal care.” †

How ’bout your company ads, promotional materials, and “About Us” web page?  Are you just stacking resumé bullet points against your competition’s stack?  Are you making superlative claims then making sure they see your logo?  Are you trying to do what you’ve seen your competition do but just a bit shinier or with better stock images?

Or are you evoking something that makes prospects stop, think, and maybe change their preconceived expectations of your industry?

To be fair, I ask those questions about my company, too.

As a result, my company brochure isn’t full color.  I abandoned print ads years ago.  biplane productions isn’t even in Lynchburg phone directories.  There are no galleries of my award-winning work on my web site—instead: a link to a clearinghouse of free marketing advice and a map of auctions to which I’ve contributed.  I don’t rent trade show booths; I engage with my prospect base through seminar podiums, industry lobbying, and trade publication contributions.  Unlike the ad agency industry standard, I don’t mark up my printing or take a commission from newsprint ads.  biplane productions‘ clients see exactly what I pay for media and subcontractors in line item detail.  I open my personal life to clients and prospects through a robust Christmas letter and proactive online social networking.  My company car is wrapped like a race car.

These are each intentional choices, sifted through a specific brand identity.  It’s more than advertising, bigger than graphic design.  It’s letting branding infiltrate my business.

Why?  Because a lot of work-from-home designers are hungry and willing to charge less than biplane productions does.  Because my work isn’t a price point commodity that you can find at the other end of an online shopping cart.  Because I’m not a freelancer; yet biplane productions isn’t a traditional ad agency, either.  I am the only one who does exactly what I do for whom I do it.  So, why use other companies’ marketing techniques to illustrate my services?

As an auction marketer, you’re in the same boat right now.  Your competition is cutting commissions to get the auctions you’re chasing.  Bid callers are muddying the water in which auction marketers like you swim.  They’re offering online bidding and the same web sites you do; they’ve got lettering and a logo on their SUV, too.

So then, how are you leveraging your individuality to gain sales and hopefully market share?  How are you illustrating your competitive advantage beyond the designations behind your name, the plaques on your office wall, and the charts & graphs in your proposals?  None of these are bad things, but they can’t carry the weight of your brand alone.

God gave us unique combinations of pasts, talents, interests, relationships, and burdens. He’s the master of creativity; and we could chock this all up to the same expression of infinity as DNA and snow flakes.

But he handed those “random” cocktails to us for a reason: for us to leverage them for kingdom gain. He needs people to fly missionaries into remote fields and folks to love parking cars in church parking lots, hearts to sit with the elderly and arms to rock the infants, professionals to reach secular strongholds and private-school instructors to tutor the Christian leaders of tomorrow.

Take a look at your life. Maybe scribble notes on a piece of paper. Whom might you be able to reach that the church as a unit might not? The pains from your past—how could Jesus comfort and rescue others through those experiences and ensuing growth? How can you use your hobbies and proficiencies to leave a legacy larger than your own?

[footer]* “Rebelling Against the Commonly Evasive Feminine Care Ad,” NYTimes.com, Andrew Adam Newman, March 15, 2010.

Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

49: Does Your Marketing Suck?

Business Strategy“Your marketing sucks.”

So, says Mark Stevens, author of the book by that title. You might have seen Stevens any number of cable news networks or just on the speaker list for the National Auctioneers Association’s educational webinar series (January 5, 2010) and/or Winter Symposium (February 8, 2010).

Since I’m speaking in Park City, UT, the morning after Stevens, I bought two of his top-selling books for research. I just finished reading “Your marketing sucks.” with highlighter in hand. Over 18% of the pages in my copy now have florescent markings—a lot of salient, practical points between the covers.

Just in case you don’t read it yourself, here are the top five action points we all should take from Stevens’ advice:

  1. All marketing efforts must be sifted through the filter of return on investment (ROI). If your advertising, PR, and sales initiatives do not make more money than they cost, your marketing sucks.
  2. Focus on your primary value proposition. Don’t market generic attributes you share with competitors—only what sets you apart from them. Sell the client benefit, not tag lines or your ego trips.
  3. Exploit your niche. The jack of all trades is the master of none. Same goes with media: not all marketing vehicles are created equal for your (changing) needs.
  4. Create goals before budgets. Don’t premise your initiative with “We want to spend [this amount] and dedicate [this amount] to this medium.” First determine, “How can we accomplish this concentrated objective with the resources we have?”
  5. Constantly monitor, measure, and adjust your marketing to ensure maximum effectiveness. Don’t advertise somewhere just because your competitors do; don’t assume your current effectiveness with current tactics will remain the same.

I disagree with Stevens on one point, though, at least for the auction industry. Stevens claims that brand awareness is not an acceptable goal—only direct sales. The problem for auctioneers marketing their services is that clients only need their services at specific times in their life or the life of their assets. Predicting that would require Minority Report-like mind reading for some retail auction sectors. For individual auction campaigns, though, these points are all right on the money.

If you want to make money, you’ll need your marketing to be an income generator—not an expense.

So many Christians settle for plateaus. I have at times. We know all the right stuff. We’ve seen God do some cool things and even reiterate those stories. We keep showing up in the places other Christians populate, because that gives us some sense of spiritual propriety. But we aren’t growing. And if we’re not growing, we’re not making fruit—just keeping past fruit on display like a business’ first dollar bill on the wall. In other words, we’ve got past revenue but no spiritual cash flow. We’re leveraging memories and accomplishments, toying with bankruptcy.

But rather than ask, “Is this working right now?”—instead of examining our spiritual return on investment, we use traditional, artificial litmus tests. If the markers match, we assume we’re okay. Everyone else seems to be okay in this same spot. Maybe I’m just over thinking this.

If we’re not hearing from God regularly and being challenged by that Voice, we’re operating on rumors and fumes. Are we having a conversation with God bigger than prayer requests? Do we see sovereignty and witness life change around us? Can we recall recent, intimate moments of God’s pleasure or wrestling, insight or discomfort?

[footer]Images used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2009[/footer]

45: Popping the Question to Your Client

ProposalMy wife, a wedding photographer (in seven states), regularly tells me, “Every girl dreams of her wedding day.” And those tend to be expensive dreams. In 2008, the average amount spent on a wedding in the States was $21,814†—more than the per capita GDP in 141 of the world’s 181 countries.†† When searching for that number online, I found resources that could break that figure down to how much was spent on photographers, flowers, jewelry, even the clergy. But nowhere did I find how much was spent on proposals.

Man, I remember all my dorm room discussions about how we wanted to propose—stories we’d heard, tips from guys already engaged, discussions on logistical solutions. (My roommate, Dave, had the best execution on his proposal with fireworks launching over the lake when she said, “Yes!”) I’m somewhat surprised there’s not a cottage industry similar to a wedding planner to help guys with it.

I shouldn’t be.

Over the past five years, proposal work has accounted for about 3.5% of biplane‘s revenue. Auctioneers often depend on their commission rate and company brochure—or their personal sales pitch—to procure business. Once they get the sale, they’ll pay biplane hundreds or thousands to promote the sale—going for all the extras like a proud daddy. So, I’m not complaining, especially since proposals prove more enigmatic to me than do my bread and butter services.

So, since your proposals aren’t going to be using biplane billable time, I might as well give you some free advice on how to improve your pitches.

Kill the resumé.
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Spend your proposal addressing what you are going to do for your seller—especially what you do that nobody else will do. Your company brochure and web site can cover your experience. Only express your credentials in terms of what the seller gains specifically from each one. (Example: “My 14 years with Farm Credit Services introduced me to a lot of the local land investors who buy large-tract properties like your 420 acres.”)

Spend space on the uniqueness of their property.
Impress potential sellers with plans tailored to their property. What non-standard efforts will you make because of certain aspects of this particular subject? Tell them. Incorporate images of their property into the graphic theme of the proposal—and don’t just grab a page from an appraisal or MLS-style sheet.

Replace words with graphics.
Show your sales results with graphs. Illustrate your marketing efforts with screen captures of web sites you’ll use or your email template; show images of sample brochures/postcards or ads. Create a chart showing the demographics of the mailing list you’re going to use. Draw a timeline of the auction process. Show your experience with a map of your successful sales.

Send a print and an electronic version.
Show them you value their business enough to overnight them a printed, bound, professionally-assembled piece. Impress them with your flexible speed by emailing them a PDF.

Give them line-item veto power.
If you can, provide an itemized marketing budget plan (or several in different cost ranges) that shows ad sizes and frequencies, direct mail size and quantity, web sites used and any listing upgrades planned. You get the idea. This empowers the seller and lets them know you care about their opinions and concerns. It also allows them to determine the aggressiveness of the advertising campaign, in case your marketing efforts come into question when the bidding stops.

In short, build your proposals around the potential seller—not your company.

One of the most vivid analogies the New Testament gives us for our relationship with Jesus is marriage. He proposed to us on a cross and now waits, in Hebrew tradition, to retrieve us for the grand wedding. He spent more on his proposal than any aspiring groom ever has. He sacrificed his son on the altar of our sins.

Too many times, I don’t absorb or participate in the love affair. I take his offer more as a business proposal—hoping to negotiate some things to my liking, to set the parameters of the agreement, to get some free kickbacks to sweeten the deal. I treat God as a religious genie or a Teamsters negotiator. I cheapen his love—not its value, just what I would pay for it.

The challenge for me, as I seem to feel more and more of his love and pleasure, is to reciprocate that with the sacrifice of a lover.

[footer]† “Martket Summary,” www.TheWeddingReport.com
†† “List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita,” www.wikipedia.com

Photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2009[/footer]

42: How Do You Choose Where To Advertise?

Shoe ChoicesIt still resonates as one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard from an auction industry professional. “You know, Ryan, this fancy brochure isn’t to sell this property. It’s to get the next one.” That sentiment became one of the intentional building blocks of biplane productions. I intend my work, in part, to give appropriate showcasing of the properties at hand and making their information easily absorbed. But my sustainable value is in building the look and feel of my clients’ respective brands, so that they will get more and bigger deals.

That’s just brochures and postcards. How about the entire media mix? What criteria do you implement to choose the media you will use to promote your auction? How do you determine what new media to try? Why do some parts of your advertising budget get more dollars than others?

It’s not always to sell the item at hand. But that’s okay, even if it’s the sellers’ money. Your media choices should accomplish at least one of the following imperatives; if it doesn’t, you have some media pruning to do.

Attract buyers for your products
Get bidders to the auction by taking the auction to the bidders. If you’re polling your bidders, you know where they hear about your auctions. Spend the largest percentage of your budget there. If you’re not polling your bidders, you’re lost.

Secure clients for your service
Impress potential sellers with the media your buyers tell you is primary, but don’t forget about trade or interest media that reflect your current and past seller base. Your forays into non-primary media do not need to be large, just consistent and professional.

Convince sellers of your effort
Sometimes, a web site or newspaper’s name trumps its real results. But your seller doesn’t care; and the extra expense may make them more motivated to accept your high bid(s) come auction day. It only costs $135-$685 (depending on state) to hit every newspaper in your state, even if it’s just a 25-word line ad. Buzzword web sites often charge little to nothing to post entry-level listings to their databases. Small ads in more media can help you assuage the demanding seller that you covered your bases.

Keep up with (or trump) the professional Joneses
How do ad reps make money? They convince competing companies that the other is sold on their media. Sometimes, you have to advertise where you do and how big you do to get your auctions and company noticed. Other times, you want to establish your brand in a media before your competition does or give the impression that you’re the market leader. Just make sure through polling and anecdotal observation that it’s not an emperor’s new clothes deal, where you all are spending on something that isn’t there.

Build brand awareness
The person who recommends your services may not be a friend or even a past client. It may be someone who only has seen your professional brand consistently and professionally presented. Potential strategic partners should know who you are. The same goes for your trade and community organizations. Your media should match the personality and strategies of your company, regardless of size.

Not all media are created equal. Sometimes the same media, deployed in a different area doesn’t equal itself at home. Knowing why you’re using a specific media will help you determine how much money and energy you direct to it. You can tailor your advertising budgets to have the same reach while still devoting priority to the media that gain you the most impact—just by sifting your strategy through this 5-piece filter.

I’ve endured scores (if not hundreds) of long, drawn-out church presentations for people and people groups who (1) were not in the same place on their spiritual journey and/or (2) were not represented in the building. God’s Word is promised not to return empty, but that doesn’t mean its impact can’t be improved with planning.

At our church (and, I’m sure, others like it), our teaching team sifts every talk through the filter of “the four chairs.” As much as possible, the topic at hand is tailored to apply to the four places from which people at our church come:

  1. the person running after Jesus, wanting to absorb everything they can to grow
  2. the complacent or status quo Christian, who follows God from a distance
  3. the seeker or religious unbeliever, who may even think they’re a Christ-follower
  4. the person who is far from God, who may even be a skeptic or practicing atheist

See, the Bible claims to be profitable for all people in all situations. Church shepherds must guard against disenfranchising one or more of the four spiritual chair sitters, stunting their Jesus journeys or at least wasting their attention. For the rest of us, we need to be prepared to address all four of the chairs filled by those with whom we have God conversations.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

37: A New Hybrid Marketing Tool

AstronautOver the past two years, biplane has purchased dozens of satellite images of properties, especially land tracts and commercial buildings. At about $35-$40 per image, aerial photography from Digital Globe or TerraServer proves one of the most cost-effective tools for capturing a property’s location value for marketing—and a negligible addition to auction advertising budgets.

But satellite images often don’t capture the character of a property, and many auctioneers—particularly multi-parcel marketers—opt to “fly” a property. The ensuing bird’s-eye-view photos, shot through a plane window, show more of the topography and uniqueness of the subject real estate.

A new tool combines some of the pro’s (and con’s) of these two sky-high tools. TerraServer is gradually building the scope of its “oblique” tool. In addition to the standard, straight-vertical (rooftop) shot of the subject, it allows you to view the property from a 40-45º angle. Not all locations are available, but I found access to a good number of addresses. Some of these even allow for this angular perspective from all four sides of the property—for a full 360º view, pivoting around the property.

Downtown Lynchburg
Currently, the site does not allow you to purchase these “oblique” images for download (and subsequent use in printed materials); but you can link to them individually. With an annual site membership ($149.95), you also get a larger viewing window and no watermarking. [This membership also achieves a 10% discount on all standard satellite imagery you purchase.] So, for now, this fits mainly in your Internet and e-mail marketing campaigns. It’s safe to assume, once the available addresses grow more ubiquitous, that purchasing of the digital images will come online.

Pensacola Christian College

Benefits of This Tool

  • Linkable images available for free
  • No pilot/plane/fuel costs
  • Access not dependent on good weather
  • More immediate image capture
  • Access to metropolitan/urban areas where flight patterns may be restricted

Limitations of This Tool

  • Charged per shot (download), instead of for time to take dozens of shots
  • Currently, 360º views not always available
  • Currently, only one available zoom level
  • Most shots taken late fall (no foliage)
  • Lower print resolution of images compared to digital photography from plane
  • Watermarking of image without annual membership

Astronauts and engineers are working to make you depend less and less on pilots. Early adoption of this tool in your advertising can make your prospects more likely to depend on you rather than your less-progressive competitor.

In western culture, at least its American version, we are trained to be self-sufficient and independent. With technology and education, we can now pre-research our medical conditions before visiting our physician. We can quickly book our own travel, comparing more options than certified travel agents could two decades ago. We can take college classes in pajamas, sitting on our living room couch. We can look at our house from an airplane’s perspective—without a pilot.

We are evolving from continents of community to archipelagoes of autonomy.

Spiritually, this is seeping into the culture in our churches. Emphasis on private spiritual disciplines belittles the benefits of intimate, authentic community; and preachers miss that most of the New Testament is written to us in plural. When we struggle with our depravity, fear of judgmental reactions keep us from asking for help. When we get out of spiritual rhythm or discipline, we fear a loss of status to admit our needs and failures. We try to fix ourselves by ourselves. This myopia leads some to burn out, others to develop unhealthy views of God, others to live a double life.

But God created us for community. He exists in (triune) community. He spends the New Testament teaching how to infuse and implement community in our lives for the sake of our individual and collective benefit. The more we invite others into our spiritual lives, the more voices he has to speak Truth, encouragement, rebuke, and application into our hearts.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

31: Using (Negative) Expectations to Your Advantage

Line of MasksWritten on assignment for Auctioneer magazine, March 2009 edition.

If you’ve been in the auction business for any length of time, you’ve had to compete with stereotypes associated with the auction marketing method. Many in the public consider auctions as only a last-ditch effort for distress properties or dire situations. Others see it as a democratic, self-serve [ebay-esque] deal with which they need no help from a professional. Yet others see auctioneers as fitting for a charity fund raiser but not for their personal or commercial assets.

So, how do you combat those preconceived notions? How do you market your profession and your business in light of entrenched skepticism?

To get insight into the practical side of this, I talked to my chiropractor, Dr. Will Likins. While his profession is culturally marred by unprofessional competitors and professional snake oil sellers, his practice was the first and only medical firm to ever earn “Small Business of the Year” in our city–a hospital town with a medical heritage predating its days as a Confederate military infirmary.

“I accept that there are bad chiropractors but recognize they have no influence on my practice,“ Dr. Likins told me. “If I am confronted by a person who has a preconceived idea about what I do, there is nothing I can say to change that.” Then he added, “People don’t care what you say, it’s what you do. Sometimes verbal self defense in itself is suspicious”

You can’t shrug everybody who holds skepticism, though. If you’re like me, you like having something proactive to counter someone’s distrust. Dr. Likins offered me several of his personal guide points that have led him to be rated in the top percentile of chiropractors in the nation.

“Confidence is important, but confidence without compassion is arrogance. If a client describes a horrible experience they had with another professional in your field, resist the urge to immediately begin telling them how wonderful you are—all of your awards and numbers and previous successes. Your fellow professional gave them a sales pitch as well. Acknowledge their negative experience and apologize for what they went through. They want to know you care more than they care about what you know.”

“Give them more than they are expecting. This is where a stereotype can be an asset. In a world of crazy chiropractors, I have a genuine opportunity to stand out. A skeptic who is proved incorrect through compassion, outstanding results, and first class service will become a larger referrer than a client who expected that service to begin with.”

“Never speak badly about other professionals (or anyone). If a client brings up a horrible competitor, resist the temptation to join in and share stories. Listen and empathize, then bring the conversation back to your client’s needs. These conversations waste valuable time and reduce you from a positive professional to a negative gossiper. No one refers to a negative gossiper, even if they initiate the conversation.”

The underlying premise is this: you can redefine your prospect’s perceptions of your industry by being the new, exemplary lens through which they view it. You accomplish this through superlative customer service, and you earn the opportunity to change their minds through superlative branding.

Lexus’ advertising looks higher end than Toyota’s, even though they represent almost identical vehicles. With their recognizable branding, Jiffy Lube earns more trust (and revenue) than the more-talented pole-barn mechanic in most communities. Grocery stores still sell far more name brand items than very-similar store-label products.


In our culture, perception trumps reality. So, as you build a full-service reality, spend equal attention to wrapping that in respect-earning branding.

Guard your logos and colors and fonts like your brand depends on them—because it does. Build templates for each size ad and direct mail type you use. You want them to be practical for the space but clearly connected to the other formats.

Hire a proven professional to design your advertising, so that your work has a consistent, corporate feel—regardless of media. Work with them to develop a range of flexibility within a standardized look.

Use larger images and less text, larger mailers to fewer people, more web content and less small-point type in your print media. Use small pieces/ads for your shotgun advertising and dominating impact for your targeted advertising.

Look at large national brands and their materials. The more your stuff looks like theirs, the less likely you will be categorized with unprofessional competitors. You don’t need Fortune 500 budgets to look corporate. You just need to fight for visual consistency and make sure your look matches your niche.

No matter the size of your company, you can meet and surpass expectations by looking at your company through the skeptic’s eyes. Show them service and attention they do not expect, and illustrate your advantage through intentional, professional branding.

Put these principles into practice, and you’ll need Dr. Likins’ final piece of advice for me: “Be the best at what you do, but don’t let it go to your head.”


Dr. Likins full response shown below, as interviewed for March 2009 Auctioneer magazine article.

The most irritating aspect of stereotypes is that there is typically an element of truth to them. There is no denying that there are chiropractors who abuse their privileges and adopt strange philosophy simply to increase patient volume and business revenues. They have very little basis for what they recommend and in the process alienate themselves from the surrounding matrix of healthcare providers. To ignore this would permit me to develop a negative, defensive attitude which would carry over into patient interactions. If there is no chip on your shoulder, there is nothing for others to knock off. I accept that there are bad chiropractors, but recognize they have no influence on my practice. My primitive side finds solace in the fact that there are some horrible medical doctors as well.

Some important points I have learned over the years on this topic:

  1. No one cares what you say. If I am confronted by a person who has a preconcieved idea about what I do there is nothing I can say to change that. If it is a patient (which begs the question, why did they come in), I will often say “I can talk about this until we are both blue in the face, but until you start to feel better it’s not going to matter”. People don’t care what you say, it’s what you do. Sometimes verbal self defense in itself is suspicious.
  2. Confidence is important, but confidence without compassion is arrogance. If a client describes a horrible experience they had with another professional in your field, resist the urge to immediately begin telling them how wonderful you are, all of your awards and numbers, and your previous successes. Your fellow professional gave them a sales pitch as well. Acknowledge their negative experience and apologize for what they went through. They want to know you care more than they care about what you know.
  3. Give them more than they are expecting. This is where a stereotype can be an asset. In a world of crazy chiropractors I have a genuine opportunity to stand out. A skeptic who is proved incorrect through compassion, outstanding results, and first class service will become a larger referrer than a client who expected that service to begin with.
  4. Never speak badly about other professionals (or anyone). If a client brings up a horrible competitor resist the temptation to join in and share stories. Listen and empathize, then bring the conversation back to your clients needs. These conversations waste valuable time and reduce you from a positive professional to a negative gossiper. No one refers to a negative gossiper, even if they initiate the conversation.
  5. Tell your clients you appreciate them every time you speak with them. This can be a variety of ways: “I appreciate you, I always enjoy working with you, Your a great lady, I wish I had a million more clients just like you.” You are not the only provider they have to chose from. Let them know it really is an honor to serve them. This is important not only for them, but for your own state of mind as well.
  6. Send a handwritten note or personal call to anyone who refers to you and let them know that you appreciate their trust and will take good care of their referral. You never get too busy for this. Let’s say you get on average $1000.00 per service from a referral. If a person walked up to you on the street and handed you $1,000 dollars you would stop and thank them. Do the same for referring clients.
  7. Treat your staff the way you want them to treat your clients. If you treat your staff badly, when your not around they will convey that to your clients. If you treat them with the respect and compassion of clients, they will naturally do the same. Staff is your greatest source of referrals.
  8. Be the best at what you do but don’t let it go to your head.

[footer]Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com ©2009[/footer]

22: Bean Stalk Strategies

Golden EggI just returned from the National Auctioneers Association’s annual “Conference and Show.” The industry’s trade show seems to grow every year—both in cumulative square feet and in the size of individual booths. This summer, the largest players were the mega stations for franchise/referral/joint venture networks. One booth even had a sequestered conference room built into its structure.

The consolidation of the auction industry accelerates each year with more and bigger players vying for auctioneers’ memberships. And I count about as many doing it quietly as those advertising publicly.

It makes sense for some auctioneers: an intra-industry variation of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” What you lose in autonomy, you gain in support. The benefit of expanded branding offsets the cost of sharing. Proprietary knowledge gives way to synergy.

For those of you for whom this model isn’t a good fit, you can project the same image as these national entities. You can brand like a continent-covering giant.

Guard Your Look with Attention to Detail
Conglomerates keep their look incredibly consistent. Some (wisely) even send me style sheets—detailed guides for how to maintain their image. Your brand only roars when caged. So, examine every branded document, every web site, every article of clothing, and anything that can be seen with your company logo, information, or facility. Fonts, colors, layouts, logo treatment, white space—everything—needs to look like it was baked on the same cookie sheet.

Fake the Cooperative Budget
Big companies can afford to run big ads. You and/or your seller probably cannot. So, pole your bidders and especially your buyers. Record where they learned about your sale. After a dozen or twenty sales, compare notes. You could be shifting your ad dollars to the most receptive media (print or otherwise) whose consumers most engage your message. Determine your small pond; then dominate it.

Update Your Look
The seventies called. They’d like their style back. Study your logo. Does it illustrate your company’s personality or just its name? Does it look corporate or corn fed, creative or generic? Your ad and brochure templates communicate your brand as much as your logo. Are you still using clip art borders or gavels? Is the newspaper still designing your ads? Is the word, “auction,” still the largest element on your piece? It might be time to trade in that advertising leisure suit.

Win the Taste Test
Conglomerates pass everything through multiple layers of approval—at least at the outset of brand development. They grab people from outside their executive committee, their company, and even their industry to evaluate their direction. You can, too. Share your ideas over a business breakfast; have family reunion attendees vote on your look; pay a few different graphic designers (from different disciplines) for a billable hour of their respective time to critique for you.

Embrace White Space As Your Friend
Big players spend money on white space to show their size. You can edit your way to white space within the space you’re already paying to use. Simplify your message; insert margin into your templates; and let the internet do the heavy lifting.

Use the Buddy System
If you’re heading into a new geographical or market area and don’t have the budget to blast large announcements of your debut, it might be worth a portion of your commission to find an auction marketer who already is reputable in that area. Adding their logo to your advertising allows you to benefit from their brand investment. Using the media and mail lists that they recommend will save you from having to overspend on wide nets. Value their experience; their audience does.

You don’t have to have a big company’s budget to look like one. You don’t have to change your business model or name to set your local standard or dominate your niche. You can play the game by corporate rules and get corporate results.

The ranks of the “mega churches” seems to grow in number every year, as does their criticism. I go to a church that averages over 2,000 per Sunday and listen to podcasts from churches with 6,000-12,000 weekly attendees. But I grew up in churches from 40-120 people in multiple states.

I’m a fan of big churches, as long as they grow smaller as they grow larger. When the cellular/small group structure is encouraged, these kinds of churches can have a higher efficiency of outreach than the equivalent sum of many small congregations—along with the personal touch of those intimate assemblies. You can have a larger variety of cells that all support each other.

In our church, we’ve got Christ-centered discipleship, community, and/or outreach groups that are just for racquetballers, mountain bikers, canoers. We’ve got senior citizen circles and addiction-recovery pods, breakfast bible studies and skeptics/apologetics environments, life-stage in-home groups and exegetical clusters. Video production squads assist acting troupes. Bakers feed our serving teams. There’s a pack of folks who help you move, another that makes home repairs, another that supplies meals. We have serving teams that make church “work” fun and authentic.

The larger the body, the more specific God can assign the spiritual gifts and personalities that comprise it. Believers can find better ministry fits; unbelievers can be invited to a larger variety of outreaches with much better tailored approaches. It’s a win-win, as we wait for the ultimate mega-worship environment of heaven.

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19: Do Shotgun Advertising Weddings Make Sense?

Utah BrideWith the rising cost of postage, more and more auctioneers are trying to bundle multiple auction direct mailings into one postcard/brochure (or one email). The shared cost efficiency allows for more expanded marketing of each auction, but significant drawbacks can balance those benefits. The answers to the following key questions will tell you whether or not the gains outweigh the losses.

Are these like-kind properties?
Being offered at auction is not enough of a common denominator. I opened my mailbox a few weeks ago to a brochure with a trailer park on the outside cover and a mountain retreat home and luxury golf course residence on the inside spread. I’ve received another with a NASCAR® collectibles sale on the front and investment and historic real estate properties hidden inside. You will muddy your company brand, when your brochures have multiple personality disorder.

Am I weakening the auction spotlight?
One of the advantages the auction method holds over traditional listing rests in the attention it draws to individual offerings—be it a single item or group of related items. The closer your piece looks to an ad or flier from an MLS firm, the less advantage the auction method’s advertising has. Singular emphasis on the first impression panels (the mailer and opposite flap) are easier to read and more likely to take the reader’s attention to the inside of the piece.

Is my mailing list too generic?
If your mailing list makes sending a tractor brochure and a real estate postcard separately redundant (or a hog farm and a horse farm), it’s time to segment your list(s). Some people might be interested in more than one type of property you sell, but most will have only one or a few interests. You create dissonance in your prospects, when they get mail from you which doesn’t interest them. You can become the auctioneer who cries, “Wolf!” And that might lead to them not opening any mail they get from you. Plus, you waste postage and printing on non-prospects mixed in with the interested. Split your lists; give web visitors and auction-goers the ability to sign up for specific categories or lists—for both printed and electronic mail. Then watch your return on investment (ROI) rise.

Does this piece do all of the auctions justice?
I get some brochures with several weeks’ worth of auctions, and I wonder if sellers are comfortable with their property being advertised for a week while the auctioneer’s other clients get longer exposure. Don’t hamstring an auction trying to create budget space. An auction inadequately exposed often leads to an inadequate commission check. People buy properties, not auctions. Don’t rely on the sale method to compensate for the deficiencies in your marketing.

What’s the order of priority?
Most auctioneers use the sale date to determine what goes where on a brochure or ad. If marked as an auction calendar, this makes sense. But calendars are meant for organizing, not advertising. Since everything can’t come first on the calendar, priority becomes an issue. What owns priority grabs emphasis; what owns emphasis grabs attention. Everything else, by default, gets the leftovers. The biggest draw should have the best and/or biggest spot. If giving prominence to one property over another creates an enigma, give each buffalo its own prairie; release them separately.

Are there alternatives?
You can concentrate (and thereby shrink) your mailing list by raising the qualification standard—and then send separate pieces to the same, reduced list on back-to-back days. You can send two smaller pieces using the savings in printing and design to offset some of the postage. You can use separate ads and emails and only combine for the direct mailing. You can stuff an individual brochure or postcard inside another brochure—so that the pieces are separate except for mailing. You can use online printers for short quantities but with postal discounts achieved by inclusion in their daily collective/mass mailings.

Separate mailings will further help establish your brand, if you sell different kinds of items. The key question to mull is this: is what you’re about to send targeted marketing? If not, then what is your competitive advantage? You may not always need or want tailored advertising—just the answers for your sellers as to why you don’t.

It makes sense that the car I share with biplane is uniquely designed, quick to respond, and inherently customizable; that’s my brand.

It makes sense that my firm uses attractive computers and intuitive software; that’s my competitive advantage in the industry.

It makes sense that this attic home school grad would work comfortably in his basement; that’s the sovereign foreshadowing woven into my story.

It makes sense that this Generation X/Y-er goes to a church where tee shirts and jeans are the standard attire and the music beat can be heard in the parking lot; that’s my personality.

I hope it makes sense to those who see me live and who read what I write that I have a passion for God and a growing faith. That’s my goal, and that’s my life. I hope those go together—or at least get closer and closer to congruity.

When someone peeks into your life, does it make sense that you’re living with an eternal perspective? Does what you say and what you do go together? How about your now and your eternity?

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