Tag : brochure

post image

The Most Important Mailing List (That Auctioneers Aren’t Using)

For years I’ve preached that the most important mailing list for an auction company to use is their list of past bidders. But I’ve been wrong—at least partially.

The line of thinking was that the most qualified prospects are those that are familiar with the auction process and have shown past interest in a specific asset category. Also, with Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, you could leverage the email address column of this in-house list to find tens of thousands of similar people just like your bidders (in any geographic region). For one of my clients, that Lookalike Audience technique has led to a noticeable increase in his average quantity of registered bidders.

Here’s the problem, though: if you do enough auctions, that list is going to become unwieldy—too large to efficiently send direct mail in the entirety. I’ve worked for a handful of auction companies who regularly mail 6,000 to 10,000 pieces to in-house lists; and I’ve consulted auction companies that mail tens of thousands of pieces per auction. I’ve regularly been asked how to sort a proprietary list down to the best candidates.

You can sort that by recent participation or number of auctions to which they’ve registered. If you specialize in personal property, you could also sort by expenditure levels. The problem is that there’s no way to tell—outside of maybe the art/collectibles or charity/benefit markets—if someone who bought something in the past wants to buy more of the same.

We can’t know who the satiated buyers are on our lists. If a past bidder was searching for a specific asset at a specific time, there’s a good chance they found what they wanted at the auction and/or somewhere else between then and now. This is especially true of lists I’ve seen auctioneers curate for a decade or more—something they not only often do but also advertise as a selling point. Because of this high probability of satiated buyers, our in-house lists have only a slight advantage, if any, over a purchased mailing list or Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool.

There’s one direct mail list I would trust more than both a purchased list and a generic “past bidders” list. Other than time, it should cost nothing to capture. It’s a list of possibly the most motivated and qualified candidates for your next auction of a similar asset.

Your recent runner-up bidders.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an auction company that recorded that segment of their buyers. Online bidding platforms keep this information. These bidders shouldn’t be too hard to discover at on-site auctions, either—especially real estate ones. These folks are already in your clerking software. All it’d take to pull this data is an extra column in your database to indicate that they came in second.

This list will be relatively small in comparison to your whole list.

Maybe these prospects get a bigger postcard or brochure, while everyone else gets a cheaper teaser piece. Or maybe they’re the majority or entirety of your direct mail recipients, while everyone else gets emails and Lookalike Audience ads on Facebook (and now Instagram).

Facebook just announced last week that it’ll now be better able to match our mailing lists, as it opened up its tool to search by names and addresses—not just email addresses and cell numbers. Theoretically, that means we will be able to build Lookalike Audiences from smaller lists than those it currently needs. So, small lists of backup bidders might now be large enough to have their own Lookalike Audiences.

It’s a lot harder to unsubscribe from direct mail than email. So, even a list of people who’ve signed up for your mailing list could no longer be as full of interested parties as you think. If those prospects aren’t turning into bidders anyway, how much is that one-time indication of interest really worth?

Past bidders are a better guess than the general public, but those that left with money and without an asset are even better.

At the very least, it’s worth A/B testing your mailing lists to see which ones generate the most bidders and buyers. Best case scenario: this slice of your in-house database could free up a lot of marketing budget.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

post image

138: 5 Design Attributes of Premium Auction Advertising

PicassoRecently, a lot of incredible art & antique auctions have made the news, including the record-breaking $179,400,000 paid for a Picasso painting at auction a few weeks ago.

That’s nine figures! It’s also roughly six times the hammer price of the most expensive asset I’ve ever helped an auctioneer advertise. When I see these headlines and stories, I get curious about how they were marketed—the budget, the strategy, the teamwork, etc. I wouldn’t want to be part of that process. I just want to observe it in action.

I discovered one of the other recent headline auctions in this category while flipping through a magazine that has mysteriously found its way into my mailbox. This fantastic full-page ad [shown below] stopped me in its tracts. I later learned that it costs $16,320 to run this black and white ad (and that it would’ve cost $27,200 in color). In my 15 years in the business I’ve never built an ad that expensive—not even close.

A few clicks later, I found this beautiful 210-page catalog for the Lauren Bacall auction. Its 740 lots were scattered at a luxuriously-light average of 3.5 lots per page. The photography and page layout really humbled me. (Many of the awards I’ve won in my career wouldn’t have been awards, if the best in the industry cared to enter their pieces like this one.) The biggest catalog I ever built was a comparatively-meager 20 or 24 pages.

Bonhams Catalog CoverRather than viewing my daily bread with disdain, I looked for elements from which I and my clients could learn. See, my clients have high-wire acts as risky as this practically-absolute Bonham’s auction. Only a few assets or collections I advertise a year might hit their $3,460,000 sale price, but auctioneers risk their time, resources, and reputations on speculation that assets will even sell and also at what price the hammer will land. Their commissions and their sellers’ financial statements are just as at stake as those in the international auction houses. Every day.

So, here are those lessons:

1. Clean trumps cluttered.

We can’t all use just a four-word headline and a photograph, but we can lean more heavily on our main attraction more. We can move from collages of small pictures to large images and leave the tertiary details to our websites. We can be ruthless with our text cleaver, strict with out templates, and humble with our logo placement.

2. Brochure covers don’t need a lot of information.

Candidly, my best brochure & catalog covers—even my award winners—are covered in mostly-redundant information. Imagine how much more visual appeal our brochures would have if we killed the content found elsewhere in the brochure! (Also imagine if we pared the rest of the brochure to easily fit and emphasize that content.)

3. Photography makes or breaks your media design.

Lauren Bacall THRThat catalog wouldn’t look nearly as attractive without professionally captured, edited, and masked images of lots that sold at an average of $4,676 per lot. The ads, catalog cover, and large-format media Bonhams used wouldn’t have grabbed your attention as easily without the rights to a striking portrait of Ms. Bacall. Even a great designer can’t overcome the disadvantage of poor photography. Even an inexperienced designer can look good with good images.

4. White space with small text looks luxurious.

If you want to make something look high end, shrink the font size and increase the space between elements on the page. This strategy allows the margin to draw the attention better to important elements. For brochures of real estate or other physically-large assets, you can substitute large, unused areas of background images to create the same effect. Bonham took this even further with entire completely blank pages in their catalog.

5. Trust the headline and primary image.

Ms. Bacall’s collection proved as diverse as it was valuable. The lots—that brought as much as $173,000 for a single item—deserved description. But Bonhams didn’t tell us about the lots in their first-impressions. They trusted the headline and primary image to lead to investigation, and they trusted that investigation to lead to bids. Our ads might still need a short paragraph of overview, but they need to stop looking like phone directory pages. If someone isn’t interested after the first two or three lines, it doesn’t matter how many lines of text we add.

THR ad details insetThe irony is that Bonhams showed more restraint for expensive items than we often do with much lesser lots. Maybe it’s not ironic, since most of us sell utilitarian items instead of luxury goods. Regardless, while it’s impractical for most auctioneers to put these principles in action to the degree Bonhams did, we can all move in these directions for advertising that competes in the marketplace—not just in the auction industry.

Sources for facts in this post: Lauren Bacall’s Eclectic Treasures Auctioned Off” by Alexandra Jacobs on NYTimes.com, April 3, 2015. Lauren Bacall Jewelry Fetches More than $500,000” by Anthony DeMarco on Forbes.com, April 4, 2015.

90: 6 Weird Intruders in Your Mail Box

IntrudersI love snail mail.

So, I register for mailing lists all the time.  I like to see what corporate America is producing in their metropolitan ad agencies and what auctioneers create with their brochure mills or local print shops.  I don’t see “junk mail.”  I see lessons in how to capture attention and how not to get trashed in the first pass through the stack.  I’ve got a storage bin filled with competition-worthy samples, and I’ve developed a list of the ways auctioneers ignore the purpose of advertising.

Advertising should do three things:
(1) capture attention
(2) inform
(3) call to action

In other words, your media needs to make a good first impression, hold that attention, and then leverage its impact to evoke a specific response.  The first step and the transition to the second step are typically where I see auctioneers stumble.  They assume that the recipient is as interested in what they’re selling as they are and that the recipient will interact with an advertisement as though they already know the content will interest them.

Most auction brochures and postcards I receive make me shake my head—more times than not because of the mailer panel.  The mailer panel is the first impression panel for the vast majority of the people on your mailing list.  Don’t make your first impression like these guys I’ve met at my mailbox:

The Shady Lawyer
If you get on enough auctioneer mailing lists or peruse enough advertising competition entries, you’ll find a mailer panel that shows the auction company name and logos and their contact information—and nothing else but the auction terms.  Before you ever know what they’re selling, you’re given all the indemnifying conditions of what you can and can’t do in regards to something being sold—something not shown nor described.

If you walked into a retailer, they wouldn’t stop you at the door to read the fine print from your pending receipt.  Why would a retailer—or an auctioneer—start their advertising that way?  They tell me it’s because that’s the only place left to put the terms.  These auctioneers believe the mailer panel is the leftover space, despite it being maybe the most important space of the entire piece.

The Conspiracy Theorist
I also get pieces whose mailer panels hold not much more than a small (often illegally reproduced) map on them, sometimes with directions.  Like the shady lawyers, these auctioneers assume the space next to your address is the junk drawer of the advertising kitchen.  If there were more than one Area 51, you could make the case that maybe these auctioneers might be selling restricted real estate.  We’re told there’s an important place; we just don’t know what’s going on there.  Think about it: why would anyone be interested in a map that comes with no reason to use it?  And who keeps a map to a place they don’t know if they want to visit?

The Polygamist
Every time postage rises, more auctioneers consolidate their mailings, sometimes by designing more than one auction into a piece but more often by stapling and/or tabbing multiple brochures together and mailing them as a combo pack.  This can be a smart strategy, if the auctions are for similar assets that would have been mailed to the same list anyway.

The problem comes when only one of the auctions is mentioned on the mailer panel of the outside piece.  If I were the seller of one of the auctions shown in the interior pieces, I’d feel second rate.  I also regularly receive pieces that just have a calendar showing highlighted dates and a couple headlines.  Rather than treat one seller with unequal attention, all sellers get the impersonal treatment.

Typically, the auctioneer is combining an entire month’s worth of mailings at one shot.  In most cases, it would seem to me that somebody’s auction is getting advertised later than optimal timing.

The Mime
These pieces don’t say anything; they just indicate that there’s something not being said.  I’ve seen auction mailers with nothing but the recipient’s address and a stamp on them—sometimes also a stamped return address and logo on it.  Blank on the other side, too.  Why?  Because the auctioneer only paid for one-sided printing.  Usually, they are mailing a poster they had printed to hang in stores around town.  They are banking on the fact that curiosity will typically trump attention span and the hope that they won’t be seen as cheap.

I understand the intrigue strategy, but there are better and more professional ways to generate curiosity.  You’re paying to mail both sides of the brochure.  Why not use both?

The Narcissist
One auctioneer told me he that didn’t like me putting pictures on the outside of a brochure and that he wanted just his name and enlarged logo on the outside of the piece.  “When people see my name, they will want to open it.”  Even as a direct mail junkie, I don’t open all of my mail, even pieces from known entities.  From what I’ve heard, I’m not alone in that reality.  So, I wouldn’t trust the name recognition approach, especially when mailing to a new geographic or asset market.

The Acrobat
Usually this dude comes in postcard format.  He expects you to flip the piece over to see the most appealing images and information.  Online print shops only exasperate the problem by calling the side of the postcard opposite the address the “front.”  They assume guests will come to your back door first, I guess.  They overlook that the vast majority of Americans open their mail address side up—because that’s how mail deliverers put it in mailboxes.

Don’t make the people on your mailing list guess what’s for sale and why it’s important they know about it.  Capture their attention and inform them right from the first impression—the mailer panel.
[tip]

In advertising, you should judge a book by its cover, because that’s what its audience does.

Spiritually and relationally, though, it’s not a safe practice.  God says that he’s the only one who sees the inside through the outside.  Sadly, though, the church has built millennia of precedence of creating a sliding scale of holiness, based on mostly-arbitrary exterior criteria.  I struggle with this, too, especially when I feel insecure about my spiritual state.

Recently, a conversation with a mentor of mine challenged my resistance to a former convict participating in certain church environments.  We talked about how scandalous God’s grace and mercy are, and he dropped this on me:  “I don’t want to have a finer filter than God does.”  In other words, if God forgave someone and allowed them to approach him, why shouldn’t we?

Then he hit me with the knockout punch: “All of us have some pretty dark places in our hearts—all of us.”  It’s easy to see the darkness in others instead of our own waywardness.  It’s a challenge, though, to extend to someone else the benefit of a doubt that we give ourselves.

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

Direct Mail & Female

Visual AttractionI remember the first time I saw Crystal Young, the college coed who would one day take my last name and an average of half the covers. It was lust at first site. To be candid, she had just walked past me; and I wanted to talk to the girl who came with that cute, khaki-skirted rear end. I eventually found her again and asked her on a date that earned another date that became 12 years together this March.

We’ve traveled the world together, cried in each other’s arms, accomplished some cool feats as a dynamic team. But it all goes back to ten seconds of a seemingly perfunctory walk through the student commons by the campus post office—a first impression that begged a second one that led to an intimate knowledge of another soul.

First impressions make or break your advertising, just as they do potential relationships. Unlike most face-to-face interactions, though, you only get three to eight seconds to register the perception you want to project.

Don’t believe me? Have someone in your office sort the mail on Monday. Take the total number of seconds spent, divided by the total number of pieces; and you’ll see that you’ve got to communicate faster than it takes Clark Kent to change in a phone booth.

Your first few seconds with a potential client determine the general perception of your company, what you’re trying to do, and whether you have something they want. The images you use, the text you choose, the ease of reading—they all connect to your reader’s cultural training as to where to categorize your brand. And this is true no matter which media you use to advertise.

Despite these stakes, one first impression in the auction industry often goes embarrassingly unattended: the mailer panel on direct mail.

Sample Brochure Mailer Panels

Last weekend I saw literally dozens of awards competition mailers that were completely blank. No image, no text, no color—just a blank panel for “from” and “to” labels (and a stamp). That’s either hubris or ignorance—or both. “People will open it, because they know it’s from me.” Well, then, you’re not advertising to people you don’t know, which means that you’re not expanding your brand reach. “Well, it creates a sense of intrigue; people open blank mail out of curiosity.” Well, then, you don’t mail to the same people more than once; or you’re mailing to investors and other adults who still entertain themselves with jack-in-the-boxes.

Still others make that panel the black and white side, with color on the opposite side that gets viewed only as a second impression. Worse yet, I’ve seen auctioneers stuff their terms and conditions next to the address—starting the conversation with their prospect by telling them all the things they can’t do at an auction they haven’t described. Or directions and open house information—again for an item the recipients don’t yet know exists.

You could write this off as minor incompetence, if it weren’t for the question: “How is the vast majority of mail opened?”

Address side-up!

So if you want people to want what your selling, you have to show it to them quickly. You must build your mailing panel (postcard or brochure) to include:

  1. a large, singular image (or two)
  2. a bold, succinct headline
  3. high contrast for easy readability
  4. a short appeal to consumer wants or needs
  5. only tertiary mention of the method of sale (auction)

Sample Postcard Mailer Panels

I’ve inserted samples of auction mailers that follow most of these rules. They’re not perfect; but they illustrate that you can hit the ground selling, if you take first impressions seriously. And for mailing lists you implement on a regular basis, these corporate-looking mailers are brand reinforcements. The laws of attraction don’t change. And in most cases, it will cost you little to nothing more to sift your current content with the five filters listed above.

Otherwise, you can keep relying on blank, bland, or crowded first dates with your clientele. Me? I’d rather successfully earn a second look, a second date—and work my way toward that honeymoon.
[tip]

Churches spend a lot of time making sure their buildings and services communicate a sanctified mood. Hey, I bought into that idea for years; so, I’m not throwing stones. And if we’re only trying to reach people with a natural inclination to do the church thing, we can find moderate success at making church churchy.

But what if church were meant to attract the unchurched? What if Jesus chased harder after the lost than the found? I mean, didn’t Jesus say he’d rescue the strayed sheep instead of revel in a 99% safety rate?

Well, in that case, we need to take our changed lives to the world—to appeal to the estranged where they are. If that secular interaction is barking on political TV or pejorative bumper stickers, suited condescension or plastic hypocrisy, why would they want a second look at Jesus?

It’s up to us—harnessing the Holy Spirit—to attract others to the embrace of our lover, just as the crowds gathered to see Jesus two millennia ago. You never know when you’re Christ’s first impression to someone. That’s why we’re called to live authentic, growing, holy lives.

[footer]Images used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

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.
[tip]

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?

[footer]Stock image(s) use by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

18: Night Makes Right

Night PhotographyWhether you’re selling luxury real estate or a less-than-photogenic property, you can accentuate the positive the same way: night photography.

While in the Reno airport on my way to an NAA event, I picked up this flier† from Michael Yoelin of The Yoelin Group. With no special paper or printing techniques—and no complicated design—the piece exuded the beauty of the Casoleil condominium community.

What grabbed my attention was the same thing that catches everybody’s attention: the picture(s). The public is accustomed to MLS-style curb shots; anything you can do to shake their visual expectations will make your advertising more memorable and attractive.

Soleil

In the Casoleil case, the main shot had been taken at dusk with the warm light accentuating the architecture and ambiance. While even the day time photo displays an inviting neighborhood, the nighttime image takes it to another level. Ads for premium properties in duPont Registry and Unique Homes often use this same technique.

Interior shots can also be warmed this way, too—even in the day time. Don’t forget illuminated fountains, submerged-light pools, and moonlit pond/lake/river/ocean shots. If you’ve got a hard-surfaced driveway or patio, spray it with a hose first to catch the reflected light.

Nighttime can also cover up an average (or worse) property’s foibles, make a small house seem like a cozy home, and make a commercial property look alive (If possible, illumine the signs; and don’t forget to capture those tail lights to illustrate traffic count). A farm at sunset may have a great silhouette, too.

If the idea seems too complicated or time-consuming, confidently hire a local professional. Pictures typically sell your property more than design does; it’s worth the expense, when you’re dealing with a premium property. With the advent of digital photography, there are more photographers in the marketplace and, thus, great values available.

It’s not fitting or practical to use this technique for all properties, but it can make a significant difference for the right subjects. If you doubt that, know that National Geographic‘s current photography policy rejects any landscape shots taken between dawn and dusk. Anybody can shoot in the day time, even your competitors. Stand apart from the pack; come to the dark side of the force.

[footer]†Used with permission.[/footer]
[tip]

I was told during my formative years that all Christians should aspire to vocational ministry—that the highest goal of any Christian should be the pastorate or international missions or Christian education. This mind set creates castes: leaders and attendees (and stages in between). My Dean of Art at college even told me that they preferred us to design for ministries, not companies.

The Bible doesn’t present this hierarchal system, as all true believers are called priests and ministers of the Gospel. If light-shiners only huddle with other light-shiners, the only way their light can be seen is if they outshine their peers. This tends toward legalism, sectarian squabbling, and—too often—hypocrisy or catastrophic personal failure. I’ve seen it first hand. You’ve seen it on the news.

However, if we’re focused on working in the darkness of secularism and the night of unbelief, even a small, Jesus-fired light will pierce our environment. Jesus lived and dined (and worked) with the unreligious, the spiritual castaways of his day. Why shouldn’t we?

If I had taken that ministry job offered me out of college, the top half of this post would never have been written; and this bottom part wouldn’t mean as much to you. You expect a pastor to be a lighthouse of faith. A graphic designer? Probably not. That’s why I write about my spiritual journey here: because you might not choose to read about it anywhere else, especially church.

Marketing Can’t Buy Brand Integrity

PilotYou’ve probably heard the adage, “Fake it ’til you make it.” I guess there’s some wisdom there, but I’ve never adhered to that. My mind multiplies that life approach until I get, Frank Abagnale Jr., the true life behind Catch Me If You Can.

Maybe I’m not a good faker. Maybe I don’t trust my acting skills, but I prefer the less poetic mantra of, “Project it, as you grow it.” The difference rests in more than semantics. Projection expands real elements to a grander vision. Faking covers inadequacies and welcomes falsely-acquired trust. It has its place, I guess, but not in ethical advertising.

Entrepreneurs regularly hire me to produce materials that put their companies in the best light. I’m glad to do that. I like helping Davids compete against Goliaths or even just other Davids. Stock photos and some good copy can go a long way, but they can’t make up for deficiency in the actual products or services rendered.

I can help a client magnify their commitment to professionalism, even on a low budget. I can illustrate a company’s growing and potential capabilities, even with a few pages—or less. I can exemplify a firm’s value, even with a short business history. But I can’t guarantee that their clients get what they’re expecting.

Marketing, at its intrinsic level, is brand building and management. Super advertising proves hollow when not supported by super service. So, the onus for successful marketing lands on both my best efforts and my clients’ execution.

My customers don’t have to be the best in their field, as long as they dominate their niche (no matter how small that niche has to be defined for them to dominate it). They don’t have to have the biggest staff or the highest-grossing sales record. As long as their clients feel well-served, even best-served, we’ve done it. The more of that we’ve strung together, the more indelible that public perception grows. That works both ways; it can kill you, if the shiny brand continually acquires tarnish from substandard devotion to reputation.

So, I tell people that biplane productions is a one-man show in my basement. I don’t hide that I subcontract tasks I can’t do best. And I sell hard the abilities I gratefully own. Perceived inequities between me and my competitors can be my advantage to the right clients. If not, those accounts would only be a strain for me anyway.

So, if you want a glossy brochure that matches your slick new web site or new logo, give me a call. If you want to tout that you lead your market or even your industry, give your prospects proof. A phenomenal reputation can trump fancy advertising. Married to stellar design, though, that brand integrity will stand almost unbeatable.
[tip]

I know a lot of Christians who think the best way to illustrate God’s work in their lives is to hide their foibles, bury their questions, and sheath their insecurities. This approach, however, shares the same crippling nemesis as communism: sin-bent human nature. Where socialism breeds corruption; plastic Christianity builds toward hypocrisy or sensational failure.

So, why give the secular skeptic ammunition? Why not diffuse their criticism of the infallible with the evidence of our frailty? Why not show them that faith is a journey toward heaven’s perfection, instead of a fault-wiped facade? The longer we fake the holy life, the greater chasm the unbeliever perceives between their life and a Christ-led life—or worse yet, between the religious experience and the abundant relationship Christ offers.

The reality is that Jesus calls, at most, one step away from all of us—whether to the initiation of a personal relationship or to just a deeper enjoyment of the relationship we already have with him. I prefer to project where I want to be, while divulging to any onlookers that my intentions many times outpace my performance. Hopefully, that authenticity will lead to someone wanting what’s real in me.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

0: The Importance of Importance

MegaphoneClients often help me know what to emphasize in their advertising pieces. The best-intentioned even type everything in Word®, marking their intent with bold, bold and italic, bold and italic and underline, bold and italic and underline and ALL CAPS, and sometimes even bold and italic and underline and ALL CAPS and RED.

It’s a hierarchy of emphasis, but it seems sometimes that half of everything is emphasized in one way or another.

In my seminars, I hold up an example of a brochure whose cover holds over 12 headlines, all bolded, capitalized, colorized, and italicized—and ask the audience to pick out which line is the important one.

They can’t.

And so, in emphasizing everything, nothing is emphasized.

When you sit in a cafeteria or stadium or sanctuary alone with a friend, you can converse as in a library. As others trickle into the space with their coffee shop volume, both you and they gradually raise the decibel level for clarity of hearing. By the time the chairs are full, you are conversing like those annoying cell phone yellers on an airport bus. In a stadium or on a concert floor, you may have to yell to the person sharing your armrest—and may not be heard even then.

What you’ve done is raise the volume—the boldness—of your expression. But you haven’t changed the proportion of your impact to the sound environment. You can keep going louder, I guess, until your shrill squawks from a megaphone; but the easiest solution is to find a quiet place.

So it is with advertising. All you have to do is quiet everything but the big thing, and the big thing will hang out there like orange on St. Patrick’s Day.

The hard part is sifting your message down to the biggest one or three ideas. If those don’t capture the buyer on what you’re selling, chances are that all the other information won’t either. When shopping for a car or home or cell phone, buyers want more than two or three amenities; but if what you’re selling doesn’t have the first tier of needs or wants, they’ll be onto the product that does. If you try to hold them for the minors, you’ve damaged your credibility and likelihood of success.

So, don’t spend the few seconds of attention-grabbing you have in American Culture on information that won’t matter until after the decision-deciding headlines. Bold only the big stuff, drawing down the level of impact in reading progression. Free up the space for more visual impact with photography. Move the rest to the inside of the brochure or with “more details online.”

Do this, and you will have quieted the moment for your message. Your message will stand out from the used car dealers and factory closeout furniture barkers—and your vociferous competitors. Your approach will appear corporate, refined—no less than professional. You will have the ear of your prospect, or at least their eyes.
[tip]

I struggle to choose and maintain the headlines of my life, to sift out the biggest, most-important themes. I’ve got a Covey quadrant on my desk, dividing my intended tasks into important and not, urgent and whenever. But sometimes the line between constructive and intrinsic blurs. Often the slayer of Best is Good or Better.

As a follower of Christ, it’s even more difficult. The incentive and results are mostly abstract, fighting an unfair battle against the tangible and present. But when I quiet the storm of to do lists and media—when I sit in intentional silence—I can meditate, contemplate, re-center my day and life on what I’ve chosen as my headline.

God asks in the Bible to “be still and know that I am God.” Not because family is unimportant, not because vocation is unnecessary, not because culture is irrelevant . . . but because he speaks “in a still, small voice.” He could make his voice the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. But he chooses to draw near to those who demonstrate their desire to listen by allowing his whispers to resonate into absorption and obedience.

×