Tag : competition

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140: 4 Reasons Guerrilla Marketing Has Worked for Me This Year

I did something new this year to grab the attention of a couple auction companies. They posted examples of their auction advertising on Facebook. I right-clicked those samples, rebuilt the pieces from scratch, and then politely emailed my version to the business owners.

Both of those auctioneers have since hired me to design a couple pieces of advertising.

I mustered the confidence to try that tactic after acquiring a large account back in February in a very unusual way. The national auction company had been using the same freelance designer for more than a decade. I offered to work for less than half my normal fee with the condition that I could design pieces for the same auctions, using A/B testing to determine which postcard design worked better.

The marketing manager agreed to this contest. For about a month, each of our postcards had different web addresses on them. These URLs were also different from the other www’s they had been using to track other media, so that Google Analytics could pinpoint traffic from our respective postcards. At the end of the trial run, my postcards had driven three times as much traffic to my designated URL as the other designer’s work had driven to theirs. I won an account that is now one of my three largest in 2015.

You don’t have to hire me, though, to benefit from what I did to improve those three companies’ brand images and advertising effectiveness. I’ll tell you how I did it.

Put information in order of reader want or need.

Buyers buy assets, not auctions. Instead of leading with “auction” and other information that the buyer needs only after they want the asset, I led with photos and asset descriptors. I put the auction company information in one place—at the bottom of posters and on the mailer panel of the postcards.

Use large images.

Pictures sell; but rather than employ collages of a bunch of small images, I led with a large, representative image to pique buyer interest. Rather than have large blocks of background color with text and photos haphazardly spilled on them, I used big images as background with text neatly atop them in areas where contrast maximized readability.

Use smaller font sizes, especially for lesser information.

If it wasn’t a headline, it didn’t have headline-size text. Unlike the pieces I replaced, I didn’t try to fill the canvas with text. That’s what photos and margin are supposed to do. Terms were readable but very small. The hierarchy of information importance determined font size. I also shrunk association logos, since buyers don’t know what their significance, anyway. I made secondary phone numbers, if shown, to be small—to make it easier for bidders to know which number to call first.

Remove redundant information.

Direct mail and posters are teasers meant to drive people to your website or app. If you are showing information more than once on a poster or postcard, you’re crowding important content. If you feel the need to say something again, use different words or phrases—something that adds value to the repetition. In the last month alone on Facebook, I’ve seen companies in different parts of the country use their logos twice on the same panel. I assume their bidders have incredibly short memories or goldfish-level attention spans, both of which would worry me at an auction.

The interesting thing is that it doesn’t take much more time to use the above principles than not to use them. What they do require is courage to move away from auction industry standards toward communication principles proven to be more attractive and effective in the marketplace. It’s not about creativity—at least not in my daily work. It’s about working from the buyer’s perspective instead of yours, valuing images over information, creating a natural progression instead of a stream of auctioneer consciousness, and about simplifying the impression so that the asset can sell itself.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com


Below are some samples of my recent redesigns. To see them larger, see this Facebook album.

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129: What Is Your Competitive Advantage?

In the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to consult several entrepreneurs who were starting new companies or starting new brand initiatives. When someone is asking me for advice, I tend to ask a lot of questions. In these situations, it’s been interesting to me how many times I’ve stumped someone with a two-part question I didn’t intend to be difficult.

“What is your competitive advantage? Why would someone hire you instead of your competition?”

The answer to those two sentences should be easy. You need that answer to determine what your brand is and what that brand’s ensuing message will be. You can and should be leading your presentations by addressing how you solve your clients’ problems. Soon after that promise, though, you’ll probably need to explain why your firm best solves those problems.

Maybe you do it faster than anyone else or for the lowest net cost.
Maybe you have innovative technologies that aren’t available anywhere else.
Maybe you can offer exclusive, dedicated personal to their account and only their account.
Maybe you have more narrowly-niched personnel for their asset type and/or location.
Maybe your brand leads your market in recognition, social reach, and consumer participation.
Maybe your terms are the most friendly to buyers or sellers.
Maybe you have the most efficient and targeted advertising campaigns.
Maybe you have the best track record for monetary results and the data to prove it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Also, you may have more than one answer. In fact, you might have different answers depending on the competition. In my business, I typically have two categories of competition: designers or print shops in my prospect’s local community and national auction-industry vendors. My competitive advantages for those two categories have some overlap but are typically different.

Auctioneers compete with other auctioneers, but they also compete with other types of businesses. So, part of your primary competitive advantage might be the auction method in some situations. In others, where everybody is using a similar method, it will be other other criteria that separate your value proposition.

If you can’t answer this question of value proposition, how do you expect to differentiate your company from the pack? If you can’t differentiate yourself from the pack, what’s your plan for acquiring new clients? My guess is that you’ll end up with the riskier reserves, the headache clients, and the lowest commissions—the projects other companies don’t have to take. Then again, maybe that’s your intentional brand image: that you work harder for less.

Taking It Personally

I pretty much know what my professional value proposition is, but I wanted to know what my competitive relational advantage is. So, I asked my wife why she chose to marry me. She had thousands of options, just at our small college—and interest from a few other dudes in the communicative arts building alone.

“You made me laugh.” (Also, I didn’t pull my pants halfway up to my armpits like one of the guys who had taken her on a handful of dates.) She told me that she came to college from Bolivia wanting someone tall, dark, and handsome. I replied, “Well, you got the tall part.”

I try a lot of humor on her that doesn’t work. When I do make her laugh, she almost always tells me, “That was a good one.” This is good affirmation, as I work to maintain some job security. (I don’t think it’s unrelated that a lot of my social media posts and face-to-face social interactions seem to have the same relational strategy.)

I’d love to know what most drew you to your significant other. What made them so different from the other fish in the sea?

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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114: Scaring Your Competition

I recently had an email exchange with one of my clients who suspected that a former employee had not only taken their in-house mailing list with them to their next employer but had also given it to a third company.

In the auction industry, mailing list secrecy is a big deal. I regularly need to assure a client that I don’t share their lists with other companies. My mail production vendor trashes all address lists following each mailing to ensure something nefarious doesn’t happen. We respect that worry—even if I don’t understand it.

I’ve never once in 3,000± advertising campaigns had an auctioneer worry that their ad might be in the same publication as one or more from another auction company or real estate firm. Not once have I been told to avoid an asset-based listing website because other auctions or properties were being advertised there, too. Nobody seems concerned that there are other ads on the radio and TV.

So, it seems curious to me that we, as an industry, worry about sharing a mailbox with other auctioneers.

My advice to my client wasn’t about suing the former employee or sending a cease and desist letter. No, I wrote him something along the lines of, “Our job is to make them afraid to be in the same mailbox with us.”

Really, that’s our job in any medium: to have advertising that

  1. clearly communicates our message in the most efficient manner
  2. looks the most professional.

That’s not every auction company’s goal—or at least the end product. On days when I’m insecure about the value of what I bring to the table professionally, I look over to a stack of industry samples on my desk that illustrate what my clients’ competitors are putting in print publications and on direct mail pieces. (I subscribe to various auction company email blasts for the same reason.)

I would be out of work if the entire auction industry already

  1. showed restraint in the amount of content in their media,
  2. designed media for easy reading,
  3. took professional, high-resolution photographs,
  4. used larger pictures instead of a collage of small pictures,
  5. sold the asset first, the event second, and the company third, and
  6. crafted design templates and design guides.

Much of the industry doesn’t, though.

There is a cluster of companies who share the goal of raising the bar for what culture should expect from auction advertising. And, thankfully, some in that cluster hire me. They realize that they are competing against the marketplace, not just the rest of the auction industry. It does not matter whether our competition’s brochure is in the mail box with ours, because there’s a lot of other mail in that same mail box—mailed by companies who don’t care what the auction industry’s standards for design and communication are.

I find that a lot of auctioneers blame small budgets for the quality of their advertising. They don’t realize that many of the changes necessary to upgrade their advertising don’t cost much extra money, if any.

  1. Choosing a more readable font and higher-contrast text area costs nothing.
  2. Getting out of your vehicle to take real estate pictures takes only an extra few minutes.
  3. Cutting content for off-line advertising demands self-control but no debit or credit card.
  4. Changing the order of text in a document according to reader need requires minutes at most.
  5. Killing redundant information actually saves paper space and maybe even budget space.
  6. High-resolution images come from the toggle of a button on the same camera.

Regardless of whether your advertising arrives in mailboxes, on newspaper stands, in websites, or between sign posts, your content has competition. Are you confident it’s winning that competition? If not, what would need to change to be the best?

Taking it Personally

My competitive nature emerges awkwardly, especially at stop lights and around board games—and sadly, even in my marriage. I like to keep score. I like to measure my progress. I’m not kidding: I have graded every week on a numeric scorecard for years and saved the scores on an monthly average basis for year-to-year analysis. In college, I even did a poorly-supported research paper on whether Jesus was competitive, too.

For some reason, that competitive aggression is usually not the case at my morning basketball environment at the YMCA. I play with a a group of guys that have had various interactions with church and Jesus, and my goal with all of them is to leave them a touch closer to him than when they met me. While swearing is something I struggle to cut out of my daily vocabulary, on that court I find it easier to keep my speech clean. I rarely argue when someone else calls a foul, travel, double dribble, or out of bounds on me. In fact, at times, I’ve been asked, “What team are you on?”

It’s more than trying to be a nice guy. It’s more than being a jester. (When someone yells, “Shit!” I answer, “I already did this morning.” I’ll answer “Jesus!” with “Saves!”) It’s trying to be a good influence, a peacemaker, an ambassador.

While I’m often the one that calls out the score on the court—or at least asks what the score is, I’m finding a different way to view my time on and around the court.  I might never see the box score or even know how things are scored. It’s okay: heaven’s Sovereignty is never wrong and never needs instant replay.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

102: Competing For (And Against?) Potential Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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