Tag : budget

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197: How Much Should You Spend on Facebook Per Auction?

Every week, I’m asked one or more of the following questions:

“How much do we need to spend on Facebook to get bidders?”
“What should our Facebook budget be for this auction?”
“How many people would [dollar figure] get us on Facebook?”

Facebook rookies seem to believe that there’s a set, static amount—or some price grid—that Facebook charges for results; and they seem to think I know where to find that grid. It makes sense: other media are sold that way. Sadly, though, neither of those assumptions are correct. That said, we can learn to make educated guesses. I’ll tell you what I recommend per campaign, but first I want to show you how I arrive at that suggestion.

Algorithm secrecy

Algorithm secrecy

First, you need to know that how far your money will go on Facebook does and will change. Its ad inventory is dwindling, as more advertisers transition their dollars from less efficient media. Facebook is constantly tweaking its tools and options either to better target your known prospects or to protect advertisers from taking advantage of their options for nefarious goals. Victim litigation and the fight against fake news have actually caused Facebook to scale back some very convenient options—including some that were available even several months ago. So, we advertisers have to keep experimenting. Then, we must continuously measure and compare our results to plan our next campaigns.

Geographic density

Geographic density

Like Google AdWords, part of Facebook’s ad pricing is determined by an auction system. Facebook offers a finite number of ad spots in a consumer’s Newsfeed. So, advertisers must outbid others who want that same space. Advertising costs vary, depending on the physical area you want to target. Typically, rural areas require far less money to saturate than suburban or urban areas—not just because there are fewer people in those areas but also because many products and services aren’t marketed to the demographic realities of those who live there.

Facebook budget penetration

No matter what geographic area you choose, Facebook will always serve your ads first to those most likely to engage with your content. The more you spend, the deeper into the prospect pool you go within the geography you target. The size of your geographic net you cast is thus affected by the distance a prospect would reasonably be willing to travel to purchase an asset or have it shipped. Also, whether or not you offer online, phone, or proxy bidding influences the geographic settings of your Facebook ads.

Prospect accuracy

Prospect accuracy

Connected with physical proximity is interest proximity. Your ideal buyer might not be determined by geographic nearness but by how close you can be with demographic profiling of your perfect buyer. This is especially true with collectibles, niche commercial/industrial items, specialty farming equipment, and some trophy real estate properties. This reality makes harvesting your buyer data so critical.

Facebook budget prospect density

That data is now even more valuable because of Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, which can take your bidder and email subscriber lists and turn them into the kind of targeting data formerly available only to Fortune 100 companies. This allows you to cover large geographic areas without having to pay for saturation. You can cherry pick your most likely bidders—not just in America but around the world.

Holiday proximity

Holiday proximity

Because of the competition with other advertisers, holiday seasons raise the bidding price for your ads. You’ll notice a rise from the Monday before Thanksgiving until the day before Christmas. Depending on your target audience’s demographics and geographic location, you might also see cost increases the two weeks before both Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. If you have large cultural events in a specific metro area at a specific time each year (like the Boston Marathon or Indianapolis 500 of Bike Week), you might see a small impact as well. I’ve not analyzed Facebook ad costs during the Olympics, but it wouldn’t surprise me if advertising rose 5% or even 10% during those weeks.

Content relevancy

Content relevancy

Maybe the biggest factor in the cost of your ads is the content of your ads. Facebook, like its advertisers, wants paid promotion to seamlessly blend with the user-generated posts in the Newsfeed. Neither the platform nor its users want interruptions; instead, they connect with products, services, and stories that are truly interesting or valuable. They don’t want ads that make audiences flip to a different app or site. So, Facebook rewards ads with high interaction rates with lower cost per click (or other desired action).

Thus, the more your text ties into consumer desires, the cheaper your ads. The same holds true for photo quality, video brevity, and the perceived value of the asset (or service) at hand. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder that determines your ad costs is not you. It’s the viewer. The less you think and act like a traditional auctioneer, the more potential bidders you’ll reach for the same money.

Facebook efficacy

Facebook efficacy

Finally, all of the above assumes that Facebook is the most effective and/or efficient way to reach your target audience. That’s not always the case. There are still some audiences whose demographic factors are not available selections to advertisers on Facebook. This makes these folks less likely, or at least less efficient, to reach there.

So, here’s my standard answer when auctioneers ask me how much they need to spend: “I would spend 25% to 75% of your auction’s advertising budget on Facebook, depending on what your Google Analytics reports show you.” If you’re tracking every medium you use—both online and offline—in terms of the traffic they drive to your auctions’ pages on your website, your Google Analytics will answer that question better than I can.

To shorten this post, know that you can use this method to determine what your overall auction budget should be. You can take that information and drop it into this formula to determine how much of the overall budget to spend on Facebook. If you don’t yet have that data, I would incrementally start shifting more of your budget to Facebook until you reach a point where you don’t get more bidders or higher relative sale prices from more Facebook spending.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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182: How to Know What Your Auction Advertising Budget Should Be

Click on any of the illustrations below to enlarge them.

If you read business news, you run into the term “big data” on a regular basis. I used to associate it with corporations mining our transactional histories to extract scary quantities of data for creepily-predictive advertising.

After teaching part of the Auction Marketing Management course for a couple years, though, I get inspired to help small businesses use the same processes with the information they already have.

Auction companies, in particular, have some incredible, free knowledge. With a few minutes’ worth of work, that knowledge can become predictive power; and that power can help you convince more and better sellers that you are their best option. It just takes asking a few questions and recording those answers.

How many buyers did you have in your latest auction?

Number of Bidders

Along with that, how many bidders did you have in that auction?

Number of Buyers

Divide the number of bidders by the number of buyers. This will tell you how many bidders you needed to get to each buyer.

Bidders Per Buyer

Divide this number by the number of lots in your auction. This will tell you the average of how many lots per buyer you needed to get everything sold.

Lots Per Buyer

How much did you spend in advertising on this auction?

Advertising Cost

Divide this number by the number of bidders at the auction. This will tell you the average cost per bidder.

Cost Per Bidder

Of course, it’s easy to then compute your average cost per buyer.

Cost Per Bidder

How many unique visitors did this auction’s page on your website generate?

Web Uniques

Divide this number by the number of bidders. This will tell you how many unique visitors to your website it takes to get a bidder.

Uniques Per Bidder

A quick formula will compute how many website visitors it takes to get a buyer, too.

Uniques Per Buyer

If you’re curious, you can divide your advertising expense by the number of unique visitors to see what your cost per website visitor was.

Cost Per Unique

Now, keep track of these fields for every auction this year. (It should take only five or ten minutes per auction to fill in the blanks.) To make it more accurate for predictive value, I would keep separate spreadsheets for each asset category. If you operate in multiple states, you might find value in an extra column for that notation, too.

Maybe at the end of the year, all you’ll have is something to pique your curiosity. There’s a decent chance, though, that you’ll have actionable data from seeing patterns.

Like one of my friends, you might be able to tell the auction manager approximately how many bidders to expect based on your Google Analytics numbers the morning an auction closes. Or you’ll be able to tell that the bidder registrations were an anomaly. If there’s post-auction seller discussions, you can show them their results versus your typical results.

When a potential seller asks why you picked the budget figure you did, you can explain, “For the asset type or the number of lots you have, we’ll need to get roughly [x] number of buyers. To get that many buyers, we’ll need to attract about [x] number of bidders, which cost us on average $[x] each.”

If you don’t think that would be valuable information, skip these questions and recommendations. If you think there’s merit to them, I can send you the formula-driven Excel sheet I used to create the illustration above. Just click here to email me, and I’ll send you a free copy.

Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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175: How to Get National Advertising on a Local Budget

Have you ever been asked to market anything that had a national appeal, but the asset value didn’t allow a national advertising campaign? It happens to my clients on a regular basis. My advice for that situation has recently changed, as a burgeoning technology helps solves part of that problem.

Let me give you an example.

One of my high-volume clients just booked a deal to sell the furniture, fixtures, and equipment from a two-year-old frozen yogurt shop near Buffalo, NY. Having limited experience with this niche asset category, John called me for ideas on how to attract the most amount of bidders to assets that together were worth only about as much as a new pickup truck. (I had zero experience with this asset type; so, I actually had more questions for him than he had for me.)

Before John called me, he had reached out to our mailing list guy and found a list of thousands of frozen yogurt stores in the country. National List Research was able to split the list into chains and independent operators and even provide the name of an executive for many of them. The bad news: a mailing even just to the independent operators would break his budget.

After a couple phone calls, we hatched a plan.

First, John bought the full mailing list of just the independent frozen yogurt shops along with their phone numbers. At 13 cents per person, that was a small expenditure.

Next, John uploaded that direct mail list to Facebook to create ads to those independent operators. Facebook matched about two thirds of those prospects. John could reach that complete national list of matches for about $20 per ad. So, we planned for a series of ads with different photos and headlines.

Then, John created a lookalike audience of Facebook users who demographically looked exactly like those independent operators.

Using a free Facebook pixel, he also created a list of Facebook users who visited that auction’s page on his website. Then, he had Facebook build a lookalike audience of people who looked just like the people who came to that page on his site. All three of these additional audiences got Facebook ads served to them—again for a small outlay. (John creates these three audiences for almost every auction.)

This YoBerry shop was in a Buffalo suburb; but the Northeast doesn’t have anywhere near as many frozen yogurt shops as the South does. Texas, especially, is chock full of them. John’s budget didn’t allow him to mail to the whole national list, but he didn’t know where the biggest demand would be. So, I recommended he run the first round of Facebook ads and then use Facebook’s and Google Analytics’ geographic reporting tools to see the aggregate data for those who visited the auction’s page on his website. That would tell him which states to select from his list for direct mail reinforcement.

The plan worked. John ended up mailing the postcard I designed to 253 of the 3,000 or so purchased names, saving thousands of dollars in printing and postage. Hundreds of people visited the auction’s page. Grafe Auction found scores of registered bidders from multiple states.

So, here were our takeaways from this low-budget experiment:

• Skip newsprint, unless it’s an asset only with local value.

• Use Facebook to help you sort your direct mail list.

• Leverage lookalike audiences to find the people that list brokers don’t have in their database.

• Implement a Facebook pixel to re-market assets to the original prospects and/or to serve ads to people who look just like your early investigators.

• Follow the data, not your instincts or industry status quo.

This complete process may not work for you, if you don’t offer online bidding of some sort. The individual tools we leveraged, though, are tools we use every day for live and online auctions. In concert, they solve a problem auctioneers regularly face.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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174: 6 Things That Make Your Facebook Ads More Expensive

I regularly get asked to estimate the cost of a potential Facebook campaign off the top of my head. That can be difficult because the cost of advertising on Facebook can vary greatly depending on a multitude of factors. (Even in the same campaign, some ads are drastically more expensive than others.) Because what my clients and I advertise ranges greatly in category, value, and geographic market, the audiences vary accordingly.

Facebook advertising is billed in terms of cost per click (CPC), but that price isn’t uniform. CPC is determined by algorithms and invisible auctions. Ads compete for eyeballs, as Facebook allows only a certain number of ads during a user’s time on the service. Facebook wants ads to be appeal to its users, so that they aren’t annoyed off the platform. Because of this, the world’s largest platform wants paid content to match user interests as much as possible; and engaging ads are rewarded with lower cost per click.

But enough with the ambiguous factors, here are six specific reasons some of your Facebook ads cost more than others.

Unattractive asset

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t buy what you’re selling. You’re just crossing your fingers it sells. Or maybe the item at hand is less attractive to its local area (like a snowmobile in Orlando) or in the current season (like a motorcycle in December). If someone is less likely to purchase something, they are less likely to click on an ad for it. This isn’t a matter of asset value—just asset appeal. I’ve seen ads for small, rural estate sales significantly outperform expensive commercial real estate.

Unappealing copy or photos

You might have a fantastic asset, but the ad copy doesn’t evoke interest in potential buyers. The fault can be the wrong message, too many words, or a missing call to action. Also, the photography could be unprofessionally captured or otherwise underwhelming. It’s not that all images have to be snapped by commercial photographers; they just need to appropriately match the current, reasonable expectations of the consumer public for that asset.

Compressed time frame

Because ads compete for space, forcing them into a small window of time means that Facebook has to push your ads ahead of others with longer timeframes. To win the auction, you have to outbid every other advertiser. So, cutting line costs more. Sometimes, it’s very much worth it, if you are advertising to people at an event: say during the Super Bowl, a car show, or even a competitor’s auction.

Highly-competitive time frame

Certain times of year attract more advertising, because more retailers are advertising their wares. Think: Black Friday. I haven’t tested it, but I would imagine the week of Mother’s Day and Valentines would be more competitive. If you’re going hyper local in a metro area, there might be more advertising during festivals or perennial times of tourist activity.

Your prospect pool and its Facebook habits

Some desired audiences don’t interact with Facebook as often as others. That might be a factor of age, Internet availability, population density, or something else. Or you might be chasing a frequent Facebooker from a specific demographic or geographic area that a lot of marketers are chasing. Either way, supply & demand will make getting in front of them more expensive.

How the ad is optimized

Facebook offers multiple formats for your paid content to be presented. Each is inherently optimized by Facebook for different types of interactions—only one of which is getting people to your website. Also, even those intended for website traffic can be optimized for largest viewing audience, multiple views per prospect, or people most likely to click on links. So, even premium content can be more expensive from a cost-per-click standpoint due to how that content is ordered.

While we should all pursue more relevant ads, it’s important to note that efficiency is a secondary goal to effectiveness. Regularly, in my Facebook reports to clients, the ad that is most effective (got the most clicks) isn’t the most efficient one (lowest cost per click) we used in a campaign. Again, I regularly have huge swings in cost per click in the same campaign, using the same images and headlines.

Some audiences are worth their heftier cost. It only takes one click from the right person to have a buyer and two website visitors to have an auction.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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155: Why Businesses Advertise Backwards

When someone says “Super Bowl commercial,”  your mind probably imagines one of the whacky or sentimental spots that Forbes reports costs $5 million per 30 seconds in this year’s Super Bowl. This creative ad, though, won’t be shown Sunday night. It’s a commercial about Super Bowl commercials.

The moral of this short story is that Super Bowl commercials are big gambles for the vast majority of brands in our country. Most of us get that; so, the ad plays as an inside joke.

That said, I regularly see auctioneers fall for the same line of thinking: that a bigger audience is a better audience. I’ve seen auction marketers try to hedge their bets with the assumptions that a bigger mailing list is better than a small one, that a metro newspaper with 300,000 subscribers trumps the local paper with fewer than 5,000 weekly readers, or that a boosted Facebook post to everybody in a radius beats a demographically-targeted post to 1,200 people.

Maybe sometimes. Not usually, though.

Media is typically sold to advertisers using a measurement called “cost per mille.” The basic idea is to take the cost of an advertisement and divide it by the quantity of potential audience impressions. So, if you pay $500 to reach 10,000 subscribers, you’re looking at cost of $50 per thousand.

In the auction industry, my clients are regularly marketing to smaller audiences.

So, I like to take that one step further and determine the cost per person. In the example above, you as an advertiser would be looking at an investment of $.05 per person. This number can be helpful, when budgets are tight; and you’re looking for the most efficient media possible. We all want the most bang for the buck.

The problem with both cost per mille and cost per person, though, is that they distract from a more important metric: cost per prospect. Cost per mille asks, “How many people can I reach with my money?” Cost per prospect asks, “Who are my most likely buyers (or sellers)? What will it cost to reach them?” Cost per mille promotes scale. Cost per prospect promotes efficiency and effectiveness.

Size of the audience is less important than relevance of the audience.

Whether it’s a mailing list or a publication, a website or a social media platform, the primary question marketers should ask is not, “How big is its reach?” but “Are these the right people?” It’s the difference between spectators and participants. (Helpful tip: we want participants.)

Once you know you have the right people, divide your budget by the number of those prospects to determine what you can spend per potential client. If you don’t have a budget big enough to make a good impression to all of the prospects, maybe sift those prospects down to a quantity you can. Some auctioneers work it the other way, cutting the size or impact of the media. So, they send a postcard instead of brochure or an email instead of direct mail.

For company promotion, I’d keep sifting until I can make an impression that can’t be ignored. It’s not uncommon for me to spend $150 to $500 of my time and resources per potential client I pursue, but I only work for 15-30 auction companies per year. I’ve helped auctioneers spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on a single proposal presentation to a single client. The nuclear company in my area probably spend tens of thousands of dollars to convince a power company or municipality to buy one of their eight- and nine-figure reactor systems. Your effort should be proportional to the value of their business.

That might mean you’re looking at mailing a package instead of a postcard, arranging a free seminar instead of an advertorial in the business journal, or drafting hand-written notes instead of form letters. Discover what would impress a client; then do it.

A media sales representative can’t tell you your cost per prospect.

Only you can do that. Whether you’re actually taking a calculator or spreadsheet to it is less important than operating from the prospect mindset. Start with the audience and work backwards. If you’re going to gamble, improve your odds. Work to find the valuable few instead of the risky many. No matter how many people see your advertising media, you want the ones who do interact with it (1) to relate to the content and (2) to be impressed.

Feature image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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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

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135: The Magic Formula for More Efficient Advertising

For years, I’ve been saying that there’s no silver bullet in auction advertising. I’ve taught in my seminars that there’s no Ronco “Set it, and forget it” strategy, because the one constant in marketing is that there are few constants.

It’s time, though, that I come clean.

There is a foundational formula that applies to all auction advertising, including yours. Using it can transform your sales pitches & seller proposals, your media spends & overall budgets. The number in its answer trumps all the numbers in your Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and Mail Chimp reports.

Very, very few auction companies that I’ve consulted are using this formula, but the ones who are have a competitive advantage over the ones who aren’t.

I’m talking about Cost Per Bidder Per Medium.

Knowing your generic cost per bidder would be interesting—discovering how much it costs you on average to get a consumer to register to bid; but it wouldn’t be much in the way of actionable data. Knowing how much it costs you per bidder per medium, though, goes beyond interesting. That knowledge is incredible marketing power.

Here’s the basic formula:

Cost Per BidderNow, repeat that for every medium or every media category you use in your advertising: signs, direct mail, newsprint, paid search, social media, public relations, etc. Save that information, and repeat this process every auction. After a few months, you should start to see patterns on the aggregate. You’ll discover that some media are less efficient than other ones.

If you sell more than one type of asset or the same asset in more than one geographic area, you may want (1) a larger set of samples or (2) separate spreadsheets for each market.

Once you get enough of a sample size collected, you can use it to start adjusting your budgets to favor the most efficient source of customers. For example, if Facebook costs you $5 to acquire a bidder, and newsprint costs you $50 in bidder acquisition, then you can start shrinking the size or frequency of ads to send money over to social media.

You can have hundreds of people click to your website from your email blast or thousands from social media. If the only people who show up at your auction are the ones who saw the sign, though, that traffic is empty. If your YouTube video went viral or your phones have been ringing off the hook from a press release that’s hit all of the local news, but most of your bidders all brought your direct mail piece to the auction, then the buzz didn’t bring you buyers.

Buyers trump traffic.

Speaking of buyers, you can take this formula one step further to separate the tire kickers from the paying customers. In the formula, you can replace “bidder” with “buyer.” If you want to know how much you spent per buyer, the formula looks like this:

Cost Per Buyer
The formula is simple, but the data collection tends to be the hard part for auctioneers. The spend side of the equation should be easy to capture, since you already have invoices and probably a formula-driven Excel budget. You can add a couple columns to that budget to do this math for you and then link to those result fields in a master spreadsheet.

Then, all you have left is asking bidders where they saw or heard about the auction. (It’s okay if they choose more than one.) You can poll them at on-site auctions, and you can create a toggle-list question for those who register to bid online. Using some tools currently taught in the Auction Technology Specialist designation curriculum, you can even track online bidders passively from their first interaction with your online AND offline media all the way to the bidding page.

If this seems like a lot of work, think about how much more work this information could help you book. Imagine if you and another auction company were vying for the same auction, but you alone could show the seller exactly where they can spend their money the most efficiently. Do you think you’d look a step ahead of your competition with a summary from the past year’s advertising effectiveness in their asset and geography markets?

That’s a rhetorical question.

It will probably take you six to 12 months to build reliable statistics. So, you’ll want to start as soon as possible. Don’t wait. I can name auction companies with more than a year’s head start on you.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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111: The 4 Steps to Advertising Success

I’ve learned that one of the first questions I need to ask a client on a campaign is, “Do you have a mailing list?”

I can’t tell you how many times that a client and I have been corresponding about the final changes to a direct mail piece, when I’ve asked if they had their mailing list ready to send to the print shop. “Oh, we don’t have one; could you find one for us?”

By this point of the campaign, the budget is pretty much set; the website and newsprint distribution is already in play; and we have to adjust the direct mail audience to however many we can reach with what’s left in the budget. If analytics have proven that direct mail won’t be a primary or secondary media for a particular asset or geographic category, this would be more understandable. So often, though, we are highly dependent on a mailing list to reach the most likely prospects.

I don’t mind working with my mailing list broker to build lists for my clients, but the mailing list being unsettled at this point means that the campaign was planned backward. The marketing plan started with a dollar amount rather than a defined audience.

This problem is bigger than mailing lists or even budgets. Most successful campaigns require four strategic stages in this specific order: audience, then medium, then message, then production.

1: Audience

You can have an amazing, award-winning piece of advertising; but if the right people don’t see or hear it, they won’t know to transact with you. The first question of a campaign should be, “Who would be the best prospect—the best buyer, seller, or referral agent—for this campaign?”

2: Medium

Once you have that profile in your head, you can then ask, “How or where would this prospect most likely need to see or hear our notification?” It’s at this point, when you should start researching mailing lists along with applicable websites, print publications, and other media. You can then adapt the size or reach of each respective media to match the quantity of prospects that you can reach with your budget. This mix could vary from one asset market to another and from one geographic market to another, and polling bidders at your auctions will let you know how to manage that mix for the next similar auction. Similarly, you can survey sellers and referral agents for similar campaigns to them.

3: Message

You can successfully get your advertising in front of the right people; but if it doesn’t speak to their needs or wants, you’ve only annoyed the best prospects. We have only a few seconds to appeal to what the seller values.

 

So, lead with facts. Explain the benefit of the facts, only if you have room. (Most of your audience is smart enough to decipher their benefit from the facts.) Leave information like preview dates, terms, and company information at the end of your medium—not in places of prominence. Nine times out of ten, “auction” should not be the headline, because it’s very rarely the primary benefit for the buyer or seller. And if your logo is at the top, please go back to Go. Do not collect $200.

4: Production

You can be in the right place in front of the right people, saying the right message; but if you’re there at the wrong time, you can still fail to connect with the prosper. If you have the right words but also have images that look like they came from a security camera, your pitch will lose punch. If the design of the print piece or production of the broadcast piece is shoddy or distracts from the asset(s) for sale, that will be the impression of your brand and, by extension, what you’re selling. Spelling and grammar matter. Readability (or ease of inferring from a broadcast) matters. Sometimes, even creativity matters.

There are no universal marketing guarantees, but starting from our audience’s perspective helps us ask the right strategic questions throughout a campaign. It’s not always easy to look through our audience’s lens, because we are often in a different head space than our prospect. When we do, though, we improve your chances of a successful campaign.

TAKING IT PERSONALLY

I find that people get the whole Jesus thing out of order—even more often than marketers get their strategy backward.  A lot of people think they have to clean up their mess before Jesus can come into their space, that they have to complete a certain amount of self-improvement or lifestyle detox to invite him into their lives.

The truth is that any movement toward perfection is still short of perfection.  Jesus wants to join us in the chaos, destruction, and dysfunction of our lives in order to display what he brings to the table.  He wants us to realize how much we need him, how much he has done and keeps doing for us.  The Bible says all of our righteous attempts without him are like used menstrual rags—not exactly impressive gifts to give him or our world.

Jesus doesn’t need us to do anything but surrender to his sovereignty.  Once he’s the one steering our lives, his power changes us from the inside out.

Stock images purchased from iStockphoto.com.

73: New Years Advertising Resolutions

Mayan ProphetIf the Mayans are right, and 2012 is the end of the world as we know it, you’ll want to make 2011 count. To ensure your company goes out with a bang, permit me to suggest some constructive advertising twists to the most popular New Year’s resolutions.

Lose Some Weight
Take a lot of the unnecessary bulk out of your first impression pieces—ads, direct mail, and signs—and free those pictures and headlines to sell your message. Let your Web site be a glutton for information, but keep your teaser media to just the necessary facts and photographic sizzle. With some exceptions (like farm sales), if the buyer won’t spend the energy to go to the Internet for more information, they’re probably not going to participate in bidding, either.

Get More Organized
Be ready for those red line deadlines by establishing templates and style sheets for each size of direct mail you might use and the typical print & online ad sizes you’ll be using. Not only will design happen more efficiently, but you’ll be building your brand the way Fortune 500 companies do: strict consistency.

Stop Smoking
Habits are comfortable, even the unhealthy ones. We start to see the world through the lenses of our personal traditions and rhythms. The auction culture and rhythm might be all you’ve known but foreign to the person who will pay the most for the asset next up on the block. Make 2011 the year you look at your advertising from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about auctions and cares only about buying what you’re selling. Also, make this the year you see social Web sites as conversation environments, not broadcast channels.

Get on a Budget
Talk to your direct mail printer to create a price grid of your common brochure and postcard sizes and quantities; get prices in advance that you can use to more quickly and dependably insert into your proposed budgets. [If your printer won’t do this, know that several of my print shops do; and I’ll be happy to connect you with them.] Create a spreadsheet of your market’s newspapers’ respective pricing, column widths, and deadlines. You can also take this spreadsheet with you to client meetings. Being able to make knowledgeable adjustments on the fly will impress your sellers.

Further Your Education
Few of us are the source of brand new human knowledge, but we can all be conduits. People who get to knowledge early give the impression of expertise, maybe even inside information. People hire experts; so, find an area where you can be a knowledge collector and dispenser. Subscribe to RSS feeds, email newsletters, social media streams, Google alerts of key terms & topics, and (yes, even still) magazines. Share your links with commentary on your company Web site and/or through social media. Be the person people want to know and follow.

None of us are beyond growth, but we can grow beyond our own momentum. Surprise 2012 by showing up ahead of expectations.
[tip]

Spiritually, we’re all conduits of what God is doing in the world. We’re porous pipes, though, in that God lets us absorb what he’s doing and feel his movement through our lives.

We can’t give others what we aren’t receiving. And we can’t receive more from God, if we aren’t dispensing what he’s already given us. When my spiritual gauges are blinking with red lights—either empty or overheated—I typically find remedy by serving others and/or taking a break from my busy, draining world to just absorb God’s truth and presence (usually heading out into nature).

How about you? How do you know when you’re in a spiritual sweet spot? And what do you do, when you feel outside of that sweet spot?

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

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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.
[tip]

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]

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.
[tip]

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.

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

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