Tag : branding

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214: Two Words That Define Your Auction Brand

I applaud how auctioneers have been using this mandatory slow down to focus on retooling some of their company promotion. It’s a healthy, positive response to this extra time on our hands. Auctioneers have been emailing me about marketing to sellers and even just generic brand messaging for buyers.

I’ve yet to create a single promotional piece, though. So far, everyone has been stumped with one question I’ve asked in the first email or two.

How is your organization uniquely better than your customer’s other options?

(I got that question from management guru, Andy Stanley, founder of Catalyst, a TED-style leadership conference at which thousands of for-profit & nonprofit professionals have gathered every October since 1999.)

Uniquely better proves a two-fold challenge. First, you have to be better than the competition in at least one aspect of your service. You don’t have to be the biggest or the cheapest or the most known. Better can be small & nimble or large with impeccable systems. Better can be extensive auction experience or impressive tech-savvy with a fresh approach to auctions. Better can be a generalist in a small geographic area or a niche specialist across the country. Better can be a cloud of cash flow or the hungry motivation of a sole proprietor. The same holds true for corporate solutions or family feel.

It’s important to note that what makes you better for one audience might make you unappealing to another. That’s where the unique part comes into play. Appealing to a specific audience makes your prospect pool smaller but deeper. So, what makes you different from all the other companies in your space? Unique is how you accomplish better, what your specific brand message is in the marketplace. “Auction” isn’t unique. Even “online auction” isn’t special anymore. (Those have been answers I’ve received from prospects.) What’s notable about how you solve the seller’s problem or meet the buyer’s desire? What extra miles do you walk? What is your distinctive brand personality?

All sellers want faster money, easier money, and/or more money. All buyers want a marketplace that reliably has what they’re looking for. Buyers and sellers need proof that you can deliver on those goals. Hopefully, you have that proof. And hopefully, that proof supports your uniquely better claims.

Without being unique, your service or marketplace falls to a commodity. Without being better, your company has to compete on cost. So, what do you do if you’re new in the business or well behind established brands? Determine a narrow lane in which you are proficient. That could be an asset category, a geographic area, a specific technology, or a dedication to Fortune 500 consistency in visual media—to name a few. Next, work on different messaging to your target audience until you start to see results from a specific approach. Or test your core message on different audiences. Then, do more of that message to the audience that connects most with it.

In the meantime, work on the “better” part. Watch online tutorials. Take classes. Read nonfiction books. Study how other vendors talk to your shared prospect pool; note the images they use. Join forums and groups on Facebook, and engage in the conversation. Ask lots of questions. Leverage surveys and analytics. Track everything. Maybe even hire a business coach. 

You can catch confident brands and pass complacent companies around you, but you’ll need to accelerate down the uniquely better lane. Thankfully for you and for me, that’s typically a place where there isn’t a lot of traffic.

Stock image(s) purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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194: What Would You Do With a Marketing Do Over?

For whatever reason over the past few months, multiple auction companies have emailed me fliers, postcards, and banners designed by other vendors and asked me to redesign them.

In case you’re wondering, I love those kind of projects. I thrive under competition. More than that, though, I celebrate the chance to upgrade someone’s brand image, give them more credibility to potential buyers, and possibly get them a bigger commission.

Art is subjective. Frankly, my design style isn’t necessarily an upgrade. But certain improvements can objectively make your advertising easier to read. Specific edits can make it look more professional. Technically, these changes should not cost you a dime; and you can find them in what I changed in the samples below.

Lead with photos, not text.

Photos are more efficient at communicating than text. So, show; don’t tell. Rather than insert small photos around text on a background, use pictures with light or dark areas where text can can be shown in high contrast. Never use ghosted images, as they don’t sell the asset but do reduce readability. Note that association logos are not illustrations and aren’t recognized by most buyers or sellers. Make them small, and put them in less-prominent locations.

Create an obvious hierarchy of information.

Is there an obvious flow of information? If not, make only the most important text biggest and boldest. Draw down the size and emphasis as you provide more information for the interested customer. Whatever minimum terms your state requires do not need to be as easily read as your call to action, which doesn’t need to be as big as your headline. Don’t bury the lead. For asset auctions, the lead is the asset, the location, or the celebrity seller. For benefit auctions, the lead is the cause, charity, or headliner.

Cut redundant text.

If you’ve already said it, especially in large print, avoid saying it again. Good photos make some text redundant. (For instance, a photo of real estate or an aerial image with tract outlines negates the “REAL ESTATE” in “REAL ESTATE AUCTION.”) Removing unnecessary words will free space for photos, larger font size, and/or visual relief. One of the few exceptions to this rule would be your website address. You want the buyer’s next step to be easy to find at all times.

Use a masked version of your logo.

Few design elements scream “unprofessional design” as loudly a logo in a white box or on a rectangle of your website’s background. That means the advertiser didn’t have the right kind of logo files to give their designer. So, before your next project, make sure you have either a vector version of your logo (.ai or .eps file extension, which you’ll also need for large-format signs) or a raster version on a transparent background (.psd file extension). There are work-arounds for JPG logo files, but don’t rely on plan B unless absolutely necessary.

No matter who designs your print media, hold them to these standards. First, though, hold your brand to these standards. I know it’s hard. Entropy and familiarity fight us. Our ambition to sell and our exuberance about the auction makes restraint difficult. The more we remember that each piece is just a tease to the next step, though, the easier it becomes to trust less content to do more work. When our media consistently follows these cultural expectations, sellers and buyers will feel more at ease in the auction marketing process and with you managing it for them.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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Why You And I Must “Uneducate” Ourselves

Has someone ever asked you why what you do is even necessary?

That’d be a “yes” for me. The most recent time was in a booth at a small-town Applebee’s. One of my auctioneer friends asked why my brand management module at the Auction Marketing Management (AMM) designation is included in the course. He softened the question by adding “as a friend” and “no offense,” but he didn’t need to do so. I didn’t take offense to it. In fact, that’s a question I’ve asked myself, which made it easier to answer.

AMM has gotten the reputation that it’s a Facebook seminar, when less than 25% of the content addresses Facebook. Others (particularly the graduates) have expanded AMM’s description, calling it advanced marketing education. While we do teach tools and technology like Google Analytics and Facebook re-marketing, the bulk of the education is actually spent on advertising principles that were true during both the Reagan and the Lincoln administrations. The resource mentioned most often from the front of the room was written in 1932.

I can’t speak for John and Robert, the other AMM instructors; but I would contend that we spend much of our time uneducating the room. By that I mean that we have to lead people out of counterproductive advertising strategies and practices that have become engrained into the industry. We do that because using new technology with old approaches just multiplies the audiences for bad advertising.

So, the simple answer is that rebuilding a holistic approach to marketing has to start with replacing or upgrading the footers. That’s where my module comes in handy. That’s also why my content comes first—before the fantastic tools and tactics that John, Robert, and I demonstrate. It’s not that my module is the best. (It’s not even my favorite.) It’s that brand management determines what auctioneers do with the rest of the content.

For those who haven’t attended my AMM module, it can be summarized with one sentence: every business decision is a brand decision.

What you sell is a brand decision that leads to marketing choices and specific advertising selections. Whether your auction is online, simulcast, or offline will change your calls to action, your advertising timelines, and maybe even your target demographics. Your online bidding platform will determine your goals in Google Analytics and create interesting strategic conversations about links in digital ads. The ethos of your brand will influence how much you spend on design and photography—and the visual styles of both. The personality of your brand will guide your headlines and advertising copy. Your personal and company goals will impact the systems and priorities of your business development, including your social media and marketing roles.

In short, brand management gives you the filters through which to view everything else in your business. It’s healthy for all of us—me included—to be regularly reminded of that truth and shown how to apply it.

I recently got a visual representation of my AMM module’s role. Two exterior walls of my house had sunk into Virginia’s “shrink swell” soil and created substantial damage on the interior of my house. Before we could resurface the concrete floors, repair the drywall, and repaint the walls, we had to make sure my house wouldn’t sink any more. Last week, RamJack installed nine helical piers under my foundation. After securing my house, the crew then used jacks to recover some of the distance my house had dropped. 

We had to get the foundation back where it should be before we could work on the aesthetics of our home. Knowing that this process was coming, my wife and I have held off of some of curb appeal projects for our house—how our house is advertised to passers by, if you will. The professionals recommended that we now wait six to nine months before making interior changes, too. Apparently, it takes that long for our house’s structural components to settle into their new normal. In other words, we can’t do the advanced things until we’ve got the underpinnings re-secured.

The same is true of our businesses, our marketing models, and our advertising—advanced or rudimentary. That’s why I teach a brand management module at AMM, and that’s why I hope to see you in my class someday.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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113: Branding Lessons from a High-Rise Crane Operator

I had the privilege to climb a 15-story construction crane and interview its operator. He graciously answered a bevy of my questions, some of which probably sounded mundane or elementary to him. While I learned about his fascinating world 57 meters above the other workmen, one of his answers surprised me as much as any.

Rudolph in Action

We were standing next to the counter weights on the machine arm—the short boom on the back of the crane opposite of the long boom (called a “jib”) from which the hook descends. I asked, “How heavy of an object can you lift with this thing?”

“Out on the end, one and a half tons—maybe two tons. Close to the middle, I can lift three tons,” Rudolph answered in his heavily-accented English.

He might have meant tonnes (2,205 pounds) instead of tons (2,000 pounds), but the proportions are the same. Either way, the closer he got to the central mast, the more he could lift. The closer he got to his core strength, he got more efficient and more capable—with less risk. He could take fewer loads to move the same amount of material or take on loads otherwise impossible.


Where Rudolph Works

I highly doubt Rudolph realized the inherent advice that he was giving. It’s the same advice I give college juniors and seniors who ask me how to build a successful business and the advice I give nascent auctioneers in the halls at conferences: “Focus on your core competencies. Find what you do best, and focus on the niche market that values that.” It’s advice I had to learn from experience.

Early in my career, I took on work at the end of the jib. Technically, I managed to move whatever the material I was asked to move; but I wasn’t efficient at it and, candidly, probably not even effective at it. Eventually, I got out of web design, then logo design. I stopped taking on projects from companies outside the auction industry (except for barters). I’m now even considering dropping a service for which I’ve won an award—because my hook seems at the end of the jib every time I provide it.

The difficult part is giving someone the direction to head from that advice. You can’t always follow your heart; it often leads you to hobbies and/or unemployment. It’s more than honing a natural skill. If a lot of people have the same skill, you’ll struggle as a commodity. It’s unfair to depend on serendipity; but somewhere in the mix, it seems like most entrepreneur tales and success stories hinge on it. Mine does, too.

That said, once you find that sweet spot—that area of specialty, that niche of proficiency—stay there. As soon as you can, discover where you’re an expert and stray as little from that prowess as possible. Why?

  1. The more efficient you are, the less you’ll have to work for the same income.
  2. You’ll waste less time & energy and give fewer excuses & apologies to customers—some of which can be very expensive.
  3. Customers prefer experts, and they’ll usually pay an expert more than they’ll pay a general practitioner.
  4. By default, you’ll have fewer competitors, the farther away from generalist you can brand yourself.

The adage is true: the jack of all trades is the master of none. You can’t specialize in six different auction (or graphic design) markets. That would mean that you average 16% expertise per segment. If someone is looking for a specific specialization, they’re going to look for someone whose expertise averages as close to 100% as possible.

When I tandem hang glide, I don’t ride with just any pilot—even though my church buddies fly helicopters, experimental aircraft, 767’s, and acrobatic stunt planes. I ride with a licensed, tandem hang gliding instructor. When I want my MINI inspected for a track day, I take it to the only BMW racing specialist in town—not one of probably a dozen DMV-licensed inspection centers in the Lynchburg area. And if I ever had to lift 5,000 pounds of rebar ten stories and drop it next to a South African contractor, I’d ask Rudolph.

Taking It Personally

I benefit from people who have heavily invested themselves into one hobby and can help me experience them, but I tend to dip my toes in multiple adventures rather than dive into any one of them. I’m the same with vacation spots, as I generally prefer to explore a new destination rather than revisit an old one. From what I’ve read online, the stimulation from new experiences keeps our brains active and more creative.

In other words, diversity is good for most of us. While I teach others to stay in a professional niche, I tend to encourage acquaintances, friends, and family to broaden their horizons off the clock. The world is too big of a place to leave unseen.

This morning [January 16], as I walked the streets and sidewalks on a continent I’d never seen before yesterday, I thought of a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

*SPECIAL THANKS to Ian Immelman for granting me access to the WBHO crane and to Rudolph, its operator!*