Tag : consistency

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179: How to Build a Brand When Your Auctions Vary Greatly in Value

This is the second of two posts about advertising strategies from resort areas. (Here’s the first one.)

I had about an hour to kill before a meeting with an auctioneer in Camps Bay, a bustling community wedged between the mountains and the ocean at the southernmost tip of Africa. So, I did what I normally do in vacation destinations: I stopped by a few real estate offices to look at their advertising.

Every listing there was significantly more expensive than my house back in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but there was a wide range of prices—from $500,000 to $15,000,000. Despite that disparity, there wasn’t a wide range of design from one listing’s advertising to the next or even from one agency’s materials to the next.

Varied AssetsThe homogenous feel matched what I’ve seen in other resort or urban destinations but stood in stark contrast to what I’ve seen in the auction community.

Most auction companies book deals with a great disparity of values. And not just in real estate. Estates, business liquidations, and farm packages come in all shapes and sizes. So do their advertising campaigns.

Part of that makes sense, right? When a budget scales, why shouldn’t everything in the campaign get bigger and more expensive?

The answer to that question depends on what you’re trying to say to potential buyers and future sellers.

Uniformity makes your smaller listings look more valuable.

“Yeah, it’s easy when it’s luxury real estate,” you counter. First, tell that to a luxury asset broker. Second, proportions work regardless of the number of decimal places in the price. In Camps Bay, the top and bottom properties were separated by a factor of thirty. That means you can use this homogenous model, if you sell estates that range in value from $5,000 to $150,000 or farm equipment from $15,000 to $450,000 or real estate from $50,000 to $1,500,000.

Your biggest auctions won’t look shoddy, if they follow the consistent minimalism leveraged by premium global brands. Quite the contrary. Your small and medium auctions’ assets will look more valuable by association with your halo projects. That won’t go unnoticed by potential sellers of future small and medium auctions.

Trust a succinct first impression.

All advertising media apart from our website—our marketplace—should be treated as first impressions. It’s easier to have a premium and consistent advertising presence, when you simplify all advertising to the most intrinsic sales pitch and no more than a handful of supporting images.

Driving people to your website allows you to better track advertising response rates. After consistently collecting traffic data and comparing it to sales data, you’ll be better able to reach bidders and buyers and predict outcomes for future auctions—all because you forced yourself to say and show less with your first impressions. (One of my clients can predict within 5% the quantity of registered bidders his auctions will have based on Google Analytics the morning of his simulcast auctions.)

Consistency builds your brand more efficiently than fluctuation does.

If your brand’s impressions are inconsistent, the consumer either doesn’t connect current media to past ones they’ve seen; or they connect your brand with inconsistent asset values. So, that farmer on your mailing list who gets three different size postcards and two different-size brochures from you will wonder how you’d choose to advertise his assets, when it’s his turn to sell.

Also, buyers will assume the stuff crammed into small print media must not be valuable. Rather than send mail (or place newsprint ads) of different sizes or templates, distribute the exact same media layouts for every auction but to varying quantities of people (or different quantities of publication placements). Use Facebook’s Audience and Lookalike Audience tools to hit the folks you had to trim from direct mail.

Your advertising can grow cheaper.

If all your media requires just a few copy-and-pastes and a couple photo swaps, your pieces will become much cheaper to build. If in-house staff create your media, this saves you hourly wages and/or frees that staff to handle a wider bandwidth of projects. If you outsource, efficiency empowers you to negotiate lower design charges. You can spend that cost savings on professional photography or larger mailings or bigger Facebook audiences.

One of the reasons huge corporations overshadow small companies in advertising is that their wide reach forces them to simplify to consistent impressions. Simplification isn’t patented by big companies or luxury brands, and consistency doesn’t have to be expensive. If you want to grow your auction business or have more deals from which to choose, why not adopt some of that restraint?

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.

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]


56: Survival of the Fittest Marketers

Business EvolutionLast Saturday, I had the privilege of reviewing senior portfolios at Liberty University, the largest of the four major colleges in the greater Lynchburg area. Of the 39 portfolios to be judged, I was assigned eleven.

Sequestered in a small conference room, one at a time with each student, I had them give me a tour of their work—what they were proud to show and why, what they felt needed to be reworked. I’ve got to tell you, a couple or three of these “kids” had work as good or better than mine (and I’ve got a 10-year head start on them). I wish I could show you their work. I left there (1) impressed by the next decade of talent to be unleashed on businesses who need branding help and (2) thankful I left college when I did in the job market I did.

For the past four days, I’ve been reflecting on my own senior portfolio and my journey since then, literally 2,000 different project folders/campaigns—mostly in the auction industry. I’m embarrassed to look through my D-ring binders full of the direct mail pieces of the last decade of my career, especially the first half of the collection. I would even shy from showing my designer peers some of the pieces for which I’ve won national awards.

Tonight I pulled out my senior college portfolio and thumbed through its pages. The nostalgia of that belongs on a different blog, but let me say that my time in the auction industry has honed the core principles of how I design.

So, since this article is about us (not just me), what can we all learn from my 5.5 hours in a conference room?

Don’t stop evolving.

In the peripheral, we know that culture and technology are in permanent flux. Progress—the constant movement—has become normative. It’s hard to remember life before the Internet. I don’t know what I did before my iPhone. Email and facebook are built into the rhythm of my daily life; texting and tweeting have lost their new car smell. The various media I help clients coordinate per auction is a longer list than it was five years ago—even two years ago.

That trajectory won’t change.

In an industry where the average age literally qualifies for an AARP card, it’s easy to make habitual the successful tactics of the past. But the audience has changed. The media they use to find things to buy has diversified and multiplied. The competition for auctioneers now includes self-helpers and retailers. The buyer base required to achieve market value often requires bidders from foreign markets.

The question is not, “Am I adapting?” It’s, “Am I adapting at the same speed as the market?”

It’s not a question of whether you should have a Facebook account but how you immerse yourself in it. It’s not whether you have online bidding but how you broaden the buyer base that’s on the other end of it. It’s not whether you have color brochures but how precisely you can target to whom it mails. It’s not whether you get designations and continuing education but how much you absorb and implement.

It’s not about the brand image the locals trust. It’s about updating and expanding that brand to include a new generation, a wider buyer base. And it’s not about whether you have a logo; it’s about what that logo communicates. It’s not about having an email list but whether your emails interest those who receive them. It’s not about the auction anymore. It’s about what you’re selling. It’s not good enough to measure yourself against the industry; we must measure ourself against the marketplace.

So, can you chart the changes in your service? Can you articulate why your strategies have changed. Are they changing?

The balance of consistency vs. creativity has dramatically changed since I entered both the design and auction industries The filter through which I look at branding has evolved even in the 7.5 years biplane productions has had a hangar. The tasks I include in my service packages have increased, while my focus has narrowed. The way I organize my workflow, finances, and thoughts looks different now than it did a few years ago. (I could be specific, if we had more time here.)

How ’bout you? What’s your metric for relevance? Do you measure success or growth? There’s a difference. If you don’t see the difference, please move out of the HOV lane. Your faster competitors hate using the right lane to pass.

I cringe when I look back at some of the things I used to think about God and say on his behalf. I was jacked—straight up. I had a personal relationship with my Creator, but it was shadowed by philosophies and tradition, insecurities and ignorance.

But rather than focus on the regret over waisted spiritual interactions and who I may have pushed farther from God, I choose to look at the mile markers of progress from that place. The way I express gratitude to and feel affection from God has expanded. The way I approach heaven in prayer has been profoundly rethought. I’ve substituted new filters through which to view the church, culture, and my own introspection.

Our relationship with Christ is often compared to marriage. I’m a few months from my tenth anniversary. The way Crystal and I relate and the depth of our knowledge of each other has evolved greatly since the days I carried her backpack to class. It’s a constant adjustment, a gradual education. We’re better at marriage and better people for it.

Much of organized, Western religion is set up to get to a place, a set of parameters—walls in which to build and conserve a faith. But if you look at Jesus’ personal ministry, you’ll see a constant walking, a journey beside people. That personal evolution with our eternal love still works the same way. If our faith looks the same as it did a year ago, we’re dying. If we aren’t seeing new aspects of our love (not just new facts from the Bible), we’re losing touch with our lover. If we define our spiritual life solely by correct theology or a list of accomplishments—instead of what the Holy Spirit has recently whispered into our souls—we are in atrophy and of less and less value as salt and light in a lost world.

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

“Just Shrink the Logo to Get Everything to Fit.”

You probably already know that your brand—your company’s public image—is way more than a logo. But you probably didn’t know that your logo can be more than a logo.


A professional logo is a great start. If you don’t have one, get one. Yesterday. But the logo “treatment,” its context in marketing materials, can magnify or diminish your logo’s impact.

Skyline Tent

Take this set of samples from Skyline Tent Company. It wasn’t enough to just put their logo on this postcard, magazine ad, and business card. They carefully placed this logo in identical locations and similar proportions. Their logo’s font is the same font in all of their ad text. The colors change to fit the mood of the pictures, but there’s no mistaking their corporate-looking brand that makes them seem some large franchised brand, even as a local small business.

It’s not enough to slap your logo on a piece. In fact, you can be hurting your public persona by branding inconsistency. (I see a lot of this in the auction industry; and I used to be a regular perpetrator of such malfeasance.)

See, “different” stands in your memory better than consistency. Right now, when you hear “David Letterman,” do you think “comedian” or “affair with staffers”? Now, most golf enthusiasts remember Greg Norman for a couple huge chokes more than his string of success as “The Shark.” For a time, Ford Explorers were more synonymous for “rollovers” than “category-leading sales.”

Using your logo flippantly won’t have such draconian effects, but it will separate you from a Fortune 500 feel. That perception of professionalism could be the deciding factor of who someone calls first about selling their property—you or your competitor.

In your local paper, ALWAYS keep your logo in the same place, the same size. If you can, keep the pictures, headlines, and auction times in the same place. On your brochures, brand the consistency of the layout itself. You might have different templates for your each size brochure or postcard, but they should all look like they go together. Your web site should match your marketing materials. Your fonts should transcend media. You should have on record your company colors in RGB, CMYK, and HTML.

You don’t have to exert OCD tendencies on your advertising. You could just cut your commission to get the work that would otherwise go to your better-branded competition.

As Christ followers, we can have one of two responses to our mistakes. We can hide and hypocrisize—and (try to) deceive ourselves and others. Or we can admit and air our errors, acknowledging to others that we stepped out of the Jesus path.

Even the “man after God’s own heart,” David, couldn’t live a consistent life. Why should we think we can? In our marriage with Jesus, we will have both Caribbean-vacation romance and overtime-at-work distance. The world wants to see authentic response to imperfection more than the opaque coating of rose-colored syrup.

I’m not saying we give up on the idea of consistency, just that we embrace our mistakes as learning experiences for us and others. Jesus’ reputation isn’t fragile; he’s not worried about his name. (A day’s coming when every soul that ever lived will get that right.) Rather than run cover for our bare sins, why don’t we embrace the mercy and grace that others need for their foibles and brokenness?

39: Sideswiping Your Company Image

Car AccidentI’ve got a good buddy what pulled off some crazy stunts in his days before I met him and he met Jesus. One of the stories has never left my memory. His big Ford pickup truck had just endured a significant collision—big enough to collect an insurance check but not big enough to total the vehicle. Thankfully, the damage left no evidence on three of the four sides of the truck—thankfully for him, that is.

See, he wanted to trade the truck for a newer one—and keep the insurance money. So, when he visited the dealer to purchase the replacement, he parked the trade-in’s damaged side tightly against the dealer’s building. After driving off the lot with his new purchase, he received a call from the dealer. “Did you know this thing is severely damaged down one whole side,” asked the salesman.

“Really? How’d that happen?” And now the legend continues.

Many auctioneers have washed and waxed brochures, garage-kept ads, and rust-free signs. Yet their content on listing web sites and sometimes even their own web site is a garbled dump of text from a Word® document. It’s not formatted consistently—or at all. It’s not organized. It doesn’t flow in order of importance. It’s incomplete or filled with errors that “we will get right, once we get the brochure approved.” In attempt to show sellers they’ve started the marketing process, they “just throw something up there with the date for now.” Depending on when a prospective buyer—or the seller—views the site, they might see very different presentations and different levels of professionalism.

If you want maximum value for your brand, when you try to trade it for transactions in the marketplace, you need to treat the Internet like you do other media.

A good start would include

  • creating a style sheet similar to what you have for your print and sign media
  • assigning only one or two people to manage uploads for a consistent workflow
  • discovering and saving the HTML color numbers (a six-digit alphanumeric code) of your logo
  • developing an information sheet that must be completed with all major information before initial posting

Good short cuts to consider include

  • typing regularly-used formatting code items (like bold text, hyperlink, email link, bullet lists, etc.) into a document for copying and pasting
  • using coded/formatted content from one web site to paste into the next
  • collecting and saving links to community, collector, and/or government web sites related to the subject property

Consider going the extra mile by

  • asking design vendors to color/contrast correct images before uploading to web sites (assuming they do this for your other media)
  • avoiding the use of “auction” and other generic terms in headlines of auction calendar listings or listing sites
  • breaking content into smaller chunks and line-item lists
  • using ALL CAPS sparingly, if at all

Web sites are no longer the last resort or cheap add-on of the marketing mix. Treat them like the primary media they are, and the buying (and selling) public will find your content easier to absorb. The easier information can be assimilated, the more approachable you make your auction. You don’t need me to tell you what that, in turn, will do for your income and brand.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast by Joel Thomas (North Point Community Church), talking about wisdom. He boiled the pursuit of wisdom down to one key phrase: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The application was that we need people with access to our lives and the permission to speak biblical truth into them, to fill the gap of knowledge and perspective of our situations and spirits.

We can get some of this in a pew, similarly to how we would from a college class. But life transformation requires more intimate encounters with spiritual leaders, even if not from the highest leadership levels of our local churches.

We need authentic community where we vulnerably make ourselves available to the insight of others and the outside perspective on our blind spots. We need someone to tell us what we don’t know—not just about God and the Bible but about ourselves. We can have three sides of our vehicle immaculate and still be a wreck; so we need to submit ourselves for close examination to maintain maximum value to the kingdom.

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

22: Bean Stalk Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14: Extreme Makeover: Logo Edition

biplane productions introduces bold new branding!
biplane productions updates it’s logos, web site, and marketing materials to better reflect its brand position

why the change?

Back in 2002, I intentionally anchored biplane’s original logo and other imagery in early twentieth century colors, fonts, and motifs. The look intended to creatively combat the skepticism that a small firm, started by a 24-year-old can endure while trying to gain trust from an experienced industry.

Having overcome this inception period and attracted some of the industry’s influential members as clients, I felt comfortable re-branding the firm as I had envisioned originally: as a premium advertising studio.

With the validation of 90 state and national advertising awards and the Torraspapel international award, biplane had the hardware to match its claims. Between these awards, the 1,000+ auction campaigns completed, and multiple well-received seminars, biplane had built legs to support this bold branding.

After teaching corporate consistency as the primary means for brand building, I decided it was time to practice what I preached.

Unlike the old logo, this new logo’s dimensions and elements lend to consistent application to business cards & envelopes, marketing materials, apparel, signs, invoices (and other non-standard stationery), and web applications.

why now?

The process of reworking the logo and related media began several years ago and is finally culminating.

The first upgrade came with the “boarding pass” piece, which won the NAA’s award for best business brochure in 2004. Then came the overhauled biplaneproductions.com in 2007.

This coincided with the successful reception of AdverRyting, biplane‘s biweekly article about advertising concepts.

With biplane just passing its fifth birthday, this seemed a good time for commemoration and renewal. While I don’t expect this drastic of a rebuild every half decade, regular updates prove healthy; and rare seismic shifts prove sometimes necessary.

why this look?

Since most people remember the company as “biplane” more than by its complete name, I wanted to emphasize the part easiest to remember and most distinctive.

The abstract wings communicate the movement and symbol of a biplane and don’t overpower the logo fonts. The colors (one is metallic in print) represent a bolder, more modern palette. The fonts are universally available ones, which make transfer to multiple media easier and more consistent.

why outsourced design?

You might think it strange that a design firm (and a designer trained in logo design) would hire someone else to create their look, but it’s actually a fairly regular occurrence in the advertising industry.

It’d be very easy for such a process to tend to the myopic and even narcissistic tendencies of any business person—let alone designer. Introducing multiple designers, consultants, and peers into the exercise helped me better shape the intended perception.

biplane has been so busy doing what it does best—meeting client deadlines with quality materials—that time-intensive and creativity-draining tasks such as this one often take the back burner.

why logoworks?

biplane chose logoworks.com and their hundreds of competing and specialized freelance designers to design ten different concepts. From these, we were able to hone an image that matched the personality and ambitions of biplane. Their final product matched the vision I’d tried to sketch for over two years.

Their track record (former #66 on the Inc. 500), portfolio, and pricing couldn’t be matched. They delivered the files in the most professional manner I’ve ever seen, as they had for two of my clients in 2007. They truly gave biplane a product I couldn’t develop by myself.