Tag : design

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

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

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

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

Lead with photos, not text.

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

Create an obvious hierarchy of information.

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

Cut redundant text.

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

Use a masked version of your logo.

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

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

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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Auction Advertising Tips from the World’s Best Beach

This is the first of two posts about advertising strategies from resort areas.

Turks & Caicos Beaches

I’m writing this post next to a pool at a resort where suites can cost more than $1,100/night. We didn’t stay here. The front desk clerk made an exception for us to chill by the pool, while we waited for our flight home. The fact of the matter: most of Grace Bay Beach is too rich for my blood, definitely for my budget.

As expected, Sotheby’s International Realty has an office here. Almost all of their Turks & Caicos listings have two commas in the price. (Their current halo property on the island is listed at $45 million.) For properties like those in premium locations like this, there’s a lot you could say—headlines and bullet points for days. In a wall rack full of tantalizing property brochures, though, there were none. No headlines. Every brochure cover looked identical, save for a different image, property name, and location.

No. Other. Details.

I was in the agency’s office probably fewer than ten seconds, including the time it took to choose and pull the property brochure that appealed most to me. I made that choice in much less time than someone who is actually shopping for a house here would spend, but the sorting process works the same.

I don’t need a headline, if that picture doesn’t grab me. If that beautifully-photographed house isn’t where I want to live, it doesn’t matter what kind of kitchen it has or how many acres come with it.

Sothebys Brochure in HandSotheby’s and its agents don’t sell the kind of assets you need to be convinced are valuable. They trust that their clientele knows what they want when they see it.

That’s true, whether the asset is a $3,600,000 home or a rental house, a $350,000 combine or a twenty-year-old manure spreader, Marilyn Monroe’s $4,800,000 dress or a collection of Beanie Babies. While consumers might have to be convinced of a price point, they already know whether something appeals to them or not.

Most small business marketers, especially auctioneers, don’t trust their photos to sell the assets at hand. If they did, we designers in the industry wouldn’t be using 6pt and 8pt type on direct mail for text that should be on our clients’ websites. If photos were appropriately valued, I’d get more professionally-shot images for the job orders that come with “we’d like this to be an award-winner.”

Sothebys Instagram

Interestingly enough, when I was on Instagram the day after I grabbed this brochure, this is the listing that showed in the ad—even though I didn’t visit their website.

No matter what the rent is where you live and for what you sell, the lessons for all of us from a brochure rack in the Caribbean include:

• Use large, singular images for first impressions.

• Include minimal text on those panels.

• Relegate text to the edges of images or in adjoining frames.

• Understated fonts and layouts communicate premium value.

I flashed the brochure to my wife as we walked toward the pool. After a quick glance she said, “You don’t have to say much when you have pictures like that.”

“No. No, you don’t,” I answered. And neither do you.

Feature image from Sotheby’s listing page for this property.

72: Beware These Advertising Stocking Stuffers

I found the most expensive Christmas gift I’ve ever received stashed in the bottom of my 1995 Christmas stocking.  It changed the way I looked at the baby blue quilted stocking I’ve had since early childhood.

Despite their gift-filled heritage, though, stockings generally get a bad rap as the leftover gift bag, the present you open after you’ve pitched your wrapping paper projectiles at your brother but before Mom initiates the chorus of “Thank you, everybody!”

During this gift-giving season, I want to recognize the auctioneers and real estate marketers who stuff a lot of cheap extras into their advertising stockings—junk that keeps alive that bad rap stockings get.  Seriously, here’s a list of things not to give your clients and prospects in your advertising.

Photoshop “Eye Candy”
The 90’s were great.  We got Seinfeld and Ross Perot graphs, a muscle-bound home run frenzy and the Dodge Viper muscle car . . . and aesthetically-atrocious Web sites.  Bubble lettering, embossed photographs, cartoony drop shadows, feathered pictures—if Photoshop could do it, amateur designers (me included) were doing it.  Sadly, some Web and print designers today struggle to let go of the of their Saved by the Bell College Years.  No matter who designs your materials, don’t approve pieces where design elements draw more attention to themselves than to what you’re saying or selling.

Gunslinger Lingo
Unless you’re selling a ranch or cattle or holding your auction in front of a saloon, there’s no need to use “noon” in time notifications.  A.M. and P.M. get covered pretty early in elementary school and are already the default time demarcations on your Web site.  You wouldn’t talk like a soldier and say “at twelve hundred hours;” so, why go the cowpoke route?  Same goes for “situated” and “more or less.”  Try “located” or “built” on the former and “+/-” or “approximately” on the latter.

Ransom Note Grammar
I scratch my head at some of the capitalization I see in auction and real estate marketing.  Unless using ALL CAPS or Title Caps for headlines and categories headings, the only letters that should be capitalized are those that start proper nouns—official names of places and people and vehicles.  Directions like “east” and “northwest” stay uncapitalized in complete-sentence use, as do “auction” and “buyer’s premium.”

Phone Book Listings
Research has found that Americans are ironically less likely to make a purchase the more choices we’re given.  Someone labeled the phenomenon, “choice paralysis.”  So, it stands to reason that the more phone numbers and/or URL’s you put in your advertising, the less likely you are to be contacted.  If you do use more than one phone number or URL, signify what’s different on the other end of that information.  Maybe it’s “toll-free” and “local” or “24-hour info line” and “during office hours” or “general auction information” and “agent access.”

Ninja Star Bursts
Even if you are a crouching tiger or hidden dragon, it is far easier to handle one star being thrown at you than multiple stars at the same time.  Why?  Focus.  Maybe not women, but most men can only process one thought at a time.  So, if you must use a star burst in your advertising, choose only one to draw the recipient’s focus.  Same goes for other emphasis devices.  Use the boldest element for the primary information and aesthetically draw down the emphasis as you move through the subsequent levels of importance.  (Hint: “auction” and the date are almost never first and often not even second.)

Hey, you’ve got some time before 2011.  Why not resolve to give clean design and professional presentation to the buying public advertising next year?  It might just get you off Santa’s 2011 naughty list.
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I usually squirm and cringe at family Christmas gatherings, as the “Christmas story” is being read.  It feels like a ceremonial first pitch or honorary coin toss before the game we paid to watch or play.  “So, here’s the transcript of the Christmas cantata and a shout out to Jesus on his birthday.  Let’s pray.  Okay, let’s open our loot.”

That’s why I’ve grown more comfortable with the concept of spending our gift money on items Jesus can actually use, like water buffalo and bicycles for Indian missionaries to use in their outreaches.  I want organizations like Gospel for Asia to be able to show people—who are accustomed to a religion that takes from them—a God who wants more for them than from them.

I’m proud of my family for giving me chickens and rabbits and foreign print materials for my birthday and Christmas this year—gifts that will keep on giving physical and spiritual hope.  At the nativity, God gave us a tangible gift that brought the promise of Life.  Do our Christmas presents do that?

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

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50: Get Better Advertising ROI for Free

Point & ShootEvery summer, I walk into the National Auctioneers Association’s trade show to look at which advertising pieces won in the categories biplane’s work did not. Every year, there is at least one award given to a piece identical to the prior year’s winning entry, just with a photo and text swap. Same colors, same font, same exterior layout.

I know this. Many of the auctioneers in the competition do, too. Unfortunately, though, the lesson is lost on most: good photography can trump subpar design.

Sadly, though, good design can’t trump subpar photography. Believe me, I’ve tried. So often, an idea for a top-shelf layout is neutered by dark and/or low-resolution pictures, cluttered and/or grainy photographs. Sometimes, I can partially repair some shots in Photoshop; the rest of the time, the images look like still frames from a 7-Eleven surveillance video.

If pictures are worth a thousand words, I’ve seen a lot of auction advertising images with 72 lines of, “This auctioneer didn’t take the time to put this property in its best light.” Your seller sees that. Your prospective buyer sees that. Your brand is associated with that.

If that brand isn’t worth a professional photographer’s fees to you, here are some simple tips to improve your advertising’s photography:

Get out of your vehicle.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Photoshop’d rear view mirrors from images! Candid camera just captured your laziness—not a cool brand image.

Aim away from the sun.
Silhouettes remove detail—great for dramatic portraits from your vacation but killer for that commercial property you’re trying to sell.

Shoot in the middle of the day.
Unless you’re going for dramatic scenery shots, avoid long shadows. If at all possible, avoid one building’s shadow being cast on your subject real estate.

Illumine all interior lights.
Even if you’re shooting in the day time, turn on all interior lighting prior to photographing. Make sure you’re not standing in front of a primary light source when photographing a room; if at all possible, shoot perpendicular to your light source.

Set your camera to its finest/best image quality.
Almost weekly, I open well-intentioned (even beautifully captured) pictures that are only a small fraction of the image size my cell phone camera takes. You want to use the image “quality setting” that will create the largest files and fit the fewest images on the memory card. Your designer can always batch-reduce them for you to use on the web. But there’s no such thing as successfully enlarging low-resolution digital images to match natively-large ones.

Don’t use a flash.
If your point-and-shoot camera needs to pop the flash to capture your stationary subject, it’s not properly lit. Your outdoor real estate shots cannot be helped by standard camera flashes, either. If you must use a flash, do not aim at reflective surfaces (windows or mirrors, chrome or painted metal) . If your flash can be aimed vertically instead of horizontally, rotate your flash toward the ceiling.

Photography lives as an under-valued skill. True: anybody with a camera can take pictures of what you’re selling. But cameras are limited by mechanical ability and unbreakable physical laws. They can’t always compensate for user ignorance. So, be intentional about your auction photography; otherwise, it might be your brand nonchalance you’re capturing.
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Many believers, especially celebrities, think all there is to living the Christian life is experiencing a faith conversion. That’s the most important step of a journey with Christ, but the rest isn’t just automatic—any more than a child’s education and maturation can healthily advance without the intentional input of others.

Our walk must be intentional, a pursuit of God’s voice and a community of faith. We cannot grow alone. In our American culture, where independence and self-actualization are not just praised but ingrained, it’s easy for us to think we can do this God thing by ourselves. Just because we have the presence of the Holy Spirit, the example of Jesus, and the word of the Father, doesn’t mean we instinctively know how to harness the potential of all of that.

That’s why mature Christians are commanded to seek and counsel those young in the faith. And new believers are told to walk alongside those who’ve been on the path a while. In theory, we all should be reaching a helping hand forward and backward at the same time—to be a somewhat-absorbent conduit of insight and encouragement.

So, whose hands are you holding right now?

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

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