Tag : direct-mail

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221: 8 Things to Cut From Your Facebook Ads to Improve Their Performance

Last year, Facebook really did the auction industry a favor. I don’t mean that sarcastically. It definitely helped me serve auctioneers better. In July of 2019, Facebook drastically reduced the amount of text that would fit into their ads and would show on posts in user newsfeeds. Facebook’s internal analytics showed that ads longer than their new limits were less effective than those with short copy. So, it forced advertisers to cut to the chase in a way they aren’t required to do in direct mail, email, and newsprint. Those restrictions made it easier for me to convince auctioneers to cut superfluous copy for only the most important sales copy.

Here’s a list of a few of the common items I regularly cut to make room for what actually attracts consumers.

Seller Name

Unless the seller is (A) a celebrity or (B) a vendor from which our target audience already purchases the items you’re selling, your seller’s name is not sales copy. Sure, a buyer might pay more for a tractor because they knew that specific farmer always took care of his stuff; but they don’t care about the condition of a gravity wagon unless they’re already interested in a gravity wagon. That minister or teacher or veterinarian may be a beloved member of your community, but nobody outside of their family will buy their three-bedroom ranch because they owned it. Put the seller name and even an auctioneer’s note about them on your website. But do that seller a favor, and get people to that website first.

“Estate”

Facebook’s bots often flag this word to make ads comply with their real estate restrictions. That alone is worth avoiding this word. But we don’t sell estates. We sell items. Kill phrases like “an estate filled with” and use that space to add more item or category mentions. On your website, I’d replace “estate” with a substitute like “lifetime collection” or just “collection” to keep those bots at bay and let your personal property ads use the full gamut of Facebook’s targeting tools.

“Real Estate”

If you have to tell someone the asset you just adequately described is real estate, they aren’t a likely buyer. Even if (1) you’re selling both real estate and personal property and (2) the Venn diagram of the likely buyers of both is the same, you should be advertising the real estate and equipment separately. If you’re advertising a business liquidation in which the intellectual property, real estate, and contents sell together, use “commercial building” or “retail location” or “3,250±SF facility,” or “warehouse” instead of “real estate.”

“Only”

On the text below the photo, slideshow, or video in a Facebook ad, every single character counts. Even if that weren’t true, you don’t need the “only” in “online only auction.” If it’s a simulcast auction, I use “Bid on-site or online.” If the bidding happens exclusively online, the absence of a mention of offline bidding says “only” for you.

“-“

I just straight refuse to hyphenate online to on-line for clients. When you look at the Google Trends comparison of the use of “online” vs “on-line,” you would never use “on-line” ever again. It’s 2020, we’re all online. Even people still using AOL email addresses.

Open House/Inspection Information

The date of an open house often influences when I schedule ads to run, but I don’t mention previews & property tours in the ads. People don’t care when they can view something if they don’t first know what they want to view. Sell them thoroughly on the assets, and get them to your website. If they don’t have enough motivation to click to your website for a few seconds, they don’t have the motivation to drive to your inspection. If you want more people at your open house, take better pictures and headlines, and then get that better content in front of the right people. Trust the interest of the buyer, and leverage it with actual sales copy. 

Auction Time

Whether you’re advertising an online or offline auction, stop your Facebook ads before the auction ends. Then, you don’t need to wedge the time into your ads. I could argue that you don’t need the date at all (and I have clients who agree with me), but I won’t die on that hill. An auction’s opening or closing time is needed only by interested parties, and every interested party should have visited your website before registering to bid. “Now” is more important and more effective than date or time. I’ve been told my whole career that auctions create urgency. They absolutely do. Ironically, auctioneers trust that urgency in their auctions but not their auction advertising.

“Auction”

Dozens of auctioneers reach out to me every year to help them get results for their Facebook ads and their auctions like they see my clients get. I’ll tell you one of my secrets, and you don’t have to hire me to benefit from it. I use the word “auction” in less than half of my ads and in hardly any of my ads that achieve cost per click below 9¢. I don’t hate auctions. I just know that “bid now” is the closest thing auctioneers have to ”buy now” in the fast-paced consumer culture in which we live. Most of my best-performing ads also use “Buy it at YOUR price!” as the bold headline below the photo, slideshow, or video. We don’t sell auctions, because people don’t buy auctions. They buy items.

After you get used to cutting these eight things from your Facebook ads, I’d consider weaning most of these from your other advertising—especially your outdoor signs and classified newspaper ads. I’d edit most of these out of your direct mail, too. The objective for every offline media you create and distribute for an auction is the same as for Facebook ads: get people to your website. That’s where we can capture data. That’s where you can pull buyers into your sales funnel, where you can learn about them in your Google Analytics, where interested parties can trigger your Facebook pixel for re-marketing and lookalike advertising. Oh, and where they can bid or register to bid. Your website has practically-infinite room for all the tertiary content you’re currently trying to shoehorn into your advertising.

If I had to choose between my instinct and the billions of advertising impressions that fed Facebook’s seismic shift in available text space, I’m going to rely on the behemoth’s deep and wide sampling of our buying culture. Advertisers don’t make the rules. Consumers do. We advertisers either break ourselves upon those rules or play within them for more and better traffic to our auctions.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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212: Facebook Data That Will Improve Your Direct Mail

In August of 2019, Facebook cut the visible text available above an ad’s photo, slideshow, or video from seven short lines to just three. Don’t reach for your calculator. I’ll save you the trouble. That was a 57% cut in usable messaging in that space.

Why would they do this? Text is almost free in terms of server space. Their algorithms uncovered the fact that ads which said less got a more efficient response. Shorter text created better results. For those in the back: less was more.

This coincided with their findings that the most successful video ads were 15 seconds or shorter and that the best of those videos landed their hook within the first seven seconds. So, it’s not just a matter of consumers unwilling to read, though social science studies back that up. It’s a matter of time and attention. People respond to their first impressions far more than they do the tertiary details. 

Your first few seconds are either pass or fail.

If there was a negative impact of this change, it wasn’t drastic. I started keeping a spreadsheet of my Facebook advertising results the week of this change. Across all asset categories, I’ve seen these more succinct ads average just 9¢ per click over the span of 300± auctions. 

Publishing these results in (short) Facebook ads has brought me a new client per week or two instead of a new client every few months. All those new clients have helped me weather the pandemic’s hit on the auction industry. So, I’m not surprised Facebook was right. Algorithms trump human intuition all day every day. Facebook’s artificial intelligence, in particular, has adjusted my assumptions. I’m talking guesses that had been educated by more than 7,000 advertising campaigns.

There’s an interesting assumption in the auction industry that people have shorter attention spans online than they do in print. Don’t believe me? Grab almost any winning direct mail piece in any state or national auctioneer association’s advertising contest. I’d bet you what I’d charge to design it that there’s more text on any one side of it than what Facebook allows visible in a full ad. In many samples of auction direct mail I’ve seen, there’s more text in the terms & conditions on the mailer panel than in a successful Facebook ad. 

The problem is that we view people like we view search engines. We assume that the more information we feed them, the more results we’ll get. Instead of relying on our targeting, we throw as much spaghetti against the wall as we can and hope some of it sticks. It’s the old “more is more” approach, which is inefficient at best and expensively ineffective at worst. 

As Facebook proved earlier, less is more.

In the Internet age, our buyers are more educated than ever—especially if we’ve targeted well. We don’t need to list everything on the grocery aisle, if (1) the hanging placard shows the top four items or (2) the end cap has something yummy. If the customer doesn’t like the sizzle, they won’t like the steak. If they don’t want what’s in the headlines, it doesn’t matter what’s on the bulleted list. Frankly, if they don’t take notice from what’s in the pictures, it doesn’t matter what any of the text says.

Even if all of this weren’t true—even if human attention spans were growing instead of shrinking—you’d want to follow Facebook’s lead just for strategic purposes. Saving all the details for your website adds incentive for people to go to your online marketplace, where you can track advertising efficacy, capture interested parties for pixel-based marketing, and possibly get people registered to bid. Minimizing your text gives your headlines and photos more breathing room and your call to action more impact. 

Big, artistic, detailed direct mail pieces assuage our sellers, stroke our egos, and win awards. If we’re lucky, we impress future sellers and hold the attention of would-be buyers. Those aren’t necessarily wrong reasons for verbose postcards and brochures. If you want to get people to bid right now, though, I recommend relying on humility and the trillions of data points collected from 2.6 billion Facebook users, including the 72% of U.S. adults who use the platform.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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190: How an Embarrassing Failure Led Me to Marketing Success

Back in 2004, I became an author. I released a book of 41 discussions of interesting Bible characters. In 2003, it was the highest-rated manuscript on a service that faith-based publishers use to find authors without agent representation. At the one publisher who legitimately considered it, the editorial staff loved my writing and the compilation; but their accounting and marketing teammates did not. I ended up using a self-publishing service to print the manuscript.

By commercial standards, the book was a flop.

Failure to Success WOTS7,904,412 different book titles have sold better on Amazon. A horrible salesman, I’ve sold fewer than 200 copies across all retailers; and many of those were copies I’ve bought to give to people. My church, where my wife is on staff and where I’ve lead multiple environments, sold one whole copy of Word on the Street during the years it was on their bookstore’s shelf. That wouldn’t be so embarrassing, except that more than 3,000 people attend our church on most Sundays.

Oh, it gets better: that bookstore’s manager found a signed copy of my book—at Goodwill. When Amazon showed a “collector’s edition” of the book, my curiosity pushed me to buy it. When the box arrived, I learned that someone else with a signed copy had hocked it. So, I had probably bought that same book twice.

My book’s failure became one of the most important marketing lessons of my life. It cemented an unpopular platform from which I’ve taught auction professionals for the past decade. It became one of the underpinning premises of the Auction Marketing Management designation program. See, one of the primary reasons my book failed turned out to be the reason so much auction marketing doesn’t reach its full potential.

The audience determines what gets read.

If the people we want to interact with our content don’t like it or engage with it, our message will not get heard. That applies to both authors and advertisers. No matter how much of ourselves we put into the creation, we don’t determine what people like, what gets absorbed, or whether something sells. No matter how much we believe in something, we can’t make the world want it.

Also, it doesn’t matter what our peers think of our work or how many industry awards we win. Editors loved my prose, but they got to read it for free. My capstone writing portfolio became the first to earn a perfect score from the Dean of Education at my alma mater, but she didn’t buy a copy of my book. I won an adult poetry contest in high school and a medal for writing achievement in college. My undergrad internship included authoring a magazine cover story about the first school administrator to participate in Florida’s voucher program. None of that mattered.

Thankfully, I got to see the big, fat failure.

I’m grateful it was so obvious. Many auctioneers don’t get that same opportunity. They don’t know how many postcard recipients didn’t become bidders but would have with different messaging or design. They don’t see how much money they didn’t make off Facebook scrollers who might have clicked on a better ad. They don’t know how much their auctioneer-centric email subject lines kept them from bigger commissions.

For auctioneers, the auction method is their instinctive headline. Auction and open house dates are the rhythm of their lives and get most of the real estate on their advertising media. I’ve even seen auctioneers put their office’s address in prominent or multiple locations—not the auction site’s address but their return mailing address.

The problem with all of these emphases is that those aren’t priorities to consumers. It’s not that this content isn’t important. It’s just that people only need that information after they already want what you’re selling. That tertiary information can be shown in smaller font lower on the piece—or on your website.

By the way, the same holds true when prospecting for sellers, who don’t primarily care how many years you’ve been in business. They don’t care if your chant won a bid calling contest, especially if you’re selling their asset online. They don’t know what those letters behind your name mean and don’t really want you to take their time explaining them. They don’t want clichéd, ambiguous tag lines or unsupported claims. They want empathy to their specific situation, their pain points. They want evidence that you consistently solve the problems of other sellers in their same situation.

Our audience wants the book to be about them.

Our prospects will give us only a few seconds to prove it’s about them. If we don’t connect to their need or want in that time, we may not get more time. It doesn’t matter how pretty the inside of the brochure is behind a horrible mailer panel. It doesn’t matter what’s in the email hidden behind an “AUCTION!!!” subject line. It doesn’t matter how robust the content is on the other end of the link from an uninteresting Facebook ad. All we’re trying to say doesn’t get said, if nobody reads it.

George Bernard Shaw summed it best: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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189: Your Direct Mail Is Trying Too Hard

Over the past three years, creating Facebook campaigns for auction companies has grown to become more than 20% of my billable work—and the only work I do for 29% of my client base. Because of my success with Facebook and the inexperience or tentativeness some auctioneers have in that medium, I’m often given free reign to choose the photos, determine the target audience, and write the advertising copy.

Facebook Clients

Candidly, that control scares me sometimes. From what I’ve heard from my clients, they regularly feel that same fear, too. The stakes are high; so are the costs of advertising. “This seller really needs this to go well.” We can’t afford to tell the wrong people, not to grab the right people’s attention, or to spend the money in the wrong place.

One benefit of this editorial control, though, is that I get to adapt the headlines to what I teach at CAI and AMM. Facebook’s limited space forces brevity. It makes me focus on only the most critical information a potential buyer would need to take the next step. Because my methods typically woo hundreds, thousands, or (in some cases) tens of thousands of website visitors to an auction, I continue to win that scary freedom of content generation.

Here’s a dirty little secret: every auction manager has (1) that freedom and (2) access to those guiding principles. That’s true of almost any and every medium you leverage to find buyers.

Your direct mail has the same job as your Facebook ads—and any piece of your advertising. It only has to get the prospect to the next step. More than likely, that step is to visit your website—even if the auction is conducted offline. In some communities, that next step might be to call, text, or email you. In a fraction of cases, the next step might be to attend an open house, broker seminar, or lender luncheon.

You don’t have to tell the prospect how many hours are on a piece of equipment or what the annual taxes are on a piece of real estate. You don’t need to transcribe driving directions or list all of the lots in the catalog. I know auction marketers who don’t include preview dates or even auction dates in their advertising. I already hear your “Blasphemy!” Technically, neither of those pieces of information are necessary for a potential buyer to know whether or not they want more information about the asset or benefit event at hand.

Overloaded Bicycle

Appropriate mystery is your marketing friend. You can show and say far more on your website than you can in any other medium. All that extra space is free. Pro tip: free’s a lot cheaper than bigger newspaper ads. That free space let’s you send postcards instead of brochures—and maybe afford to send them to more people.

Also, if you’ve got a Google or Facebook pixel installed on your website, the additional traffic from the curious can be used to direct digital marketing at people you previously could only reach in print. And, you can get more accurate data to build lookalike audiences—prospects who look demographically identical to the people on your mailing list.

Overloaded Truck

I’m seeing more of my clients pare their direct mail text to not much more than what fits into a Facebook ad. It gives the photos room to breathe. It often earns space for more and/or bigger photos—the elements doing the heavy lifting in advertising anyway.

Right now is where I typically get auctioneer pushback. I don’t shun that resistance. I get that it’s hard. This bucks status quo or, at least, auction industry conventional wisdom. This makes you feel like you’re under-advertising, under-performing for your seller. At first, it feels like you’re not fully using the space you’re buying. I won’t mislead you: restraint is stout work. Thankfully, that work is offset by a uniform message across all platforms, making the media creation and proofing process much easier. It also makes templates more efficient. It might even make your in-house or outsourced design less expensive.

If it helps, just remember who you wanted for a second date: the first date that intrigued you to know more or the one that dumped their whole life story.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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178: 5 Ways to Make Your Direct Mail Effective in a Digital World

I’ve written about Facebook so much in the past year that an auctioneer recently questioned whether I was still in the direct mail business. The short answer: yes. The longer answer: no two external media go together better than Facebook and direct mail.

It won’t surprise most of my readers that an auction company hired me to design more than 120 different postcards last year or that the people on their mailing list purchased millions of dollars’ worth of assets from them in 2016. What might surprise you is that this client mailed each postcard to less than 1% of their mailing list database—or that this same customer spent at least three times as much on Facebook per auction than they did on that very successful direct mail.

If your direct mail isn’t that efficient or effective, consider making some of the following adjustments.

Use first class postage to a few instead of standard mail to many.

Outside of Every Door Direct Mail, there’s rarely a reason an auctioneer should use standard mail. The USPS is allowed to take weeks to deliver it. It’s particularly sketchy when it crosses state lines. If you can’t afford first class postage, trim your mailing list. The time savings of switching to first class postage will give you extra days (or even weeks) for taking photos, writing copy, and processing proofs with your designer and seller.

Don’t mail to satiated buyers.

What is the buying cycle of the asset you’re advertising? If someone just bought a primary residence from you, there’s no reason to send them residential auction postcards for several years. Unless you’re marketing to investors or dealers, a list of recent buyers in a particular segment won’t be as efficient as finding new people who need that same thing. Your best bet is to market to past bidders who didn’t buy. That data can be curated in a few minutes per auction with just an extra column in your spreadsheet.

Send teaser postcards instead of brochures.

You have to trust your website. It’s your marketplace, even if your auctions are still offline. If someone isn’t motivated to get more information on your website from your postcard, (1) they aren’t motivated to purchase and/or (2) you need better content on your postcards. Since we can only use one subject line in our emails and about three sentences in our Facebook ads, it should be fairly easy to know how to be succinct with direct mail.

Or mail prestige pieces to maintain premium brand identity.

While Facebook is certainly efficient at keeping your brand in front of prospective sellers, it’s limited in how far your content can be differentiated from that of other brands. Direct mail, on the other hand, can be different shapes, sizes, textures, and colors (including metallic and neon). If you want to create a visual expectation for your brand that is superior to your competitor’s media, direct mail can effectively prove that.

This isn’t just for luxury brands and expensive assets. You can set the bar for any asset category or price point simply by design differences, but you have to consistently mail pieces that look similar in order to build that visual brand equity.

Leverage segmented lists and variable data printing.

Most auction software allows you to sort your bidder lists by purchase history. It only takes a few minutes per auction to add asset category data for each of those bidders or buyers. You shouldn’t have just one real estate list or one construction equipment list, because there are a number of subcategories within each segment. Once you have your lists segmented, you can use variable data to tailor each piece to the recipient’s interest.

While I recommend Facebook solutions for a lot of advertising challenges, I’m still bullish on direct mail. Well, to clarify: I’m bullish on attractive direct mail that gets to a targeted recipient quickly with a succinct message. Thankfully, for me, so are my clients.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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174: 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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Reach the Bidders You Didn’t Know You Were Missing

There’s a sneaking suspicion in many auction marketers—and definitely in their sellers. We wonder if there was a stone unturned, a motivated bidder that wasn’t reached by our advertising.

Did we cast a big enough or tight enough net?

Missing Bidders PosterWhat people weren’t in our mailing list broker’s database?
Who didn’t read the newspaper during the weeks prior to the auction?
Who didn’t drive past our sign out on the highway?
Did any emails go unopened or straight to junk folders?
Did we choose the right demographic selectors on Facebook?

The auction community prides itself in bringing the whole market to bear on an asset at once. We tell potential sellers that we’ll deliver true market value. We rightly trumpet our concentrated advertising campaigns.

Still, there’s that whisper, that gnawing question—especially when the auction price is low and even more so when it was an absolute auction. Did we find everybody?

One of the biggest developments in advertising over the past couple of years has been a partial solution to that mystery. This development has made mailing lists more powerful, web traffic more valuable, and Facebook just short of necessary for finding buyers.

Big Data for Small Businesses

In addition to the vast amount of data users give Facebook about themselves, Facebook also buys data from outside sources and matches that information to its user base. Bank and mortgage lender records. Vehicle ownership. Purchase histories. Web site visits. As a result, this data gets woven into an astounding web of connected dots. Using advanced algorithms, Facebook can then match people with common denominators.

So, after you find the people you think are likely buyers, Facebook can find people who look just like your intended audience. With Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, both purchased lists and in-house lists can be matched with people just like them for use in Facebook ads.

With the free Facebook Pixel code installed on your website, you can also now direct Facebook ads to people who recently visited your auction’s page or the page of a similar auction on your site. Then, with the Lookalike Audience tool, you can advertise to people who look just like the people who came to your website.

Over the course of your advertising campaign, as more and more people view your auction’s page on your site, Facebook can learn more and more about the people coming to your site and hone the audience of your Facebook ads.

Facebook Loop

So, whether you start with just a Facebook list of demographics [B] or if you upload lists to Facebook [A], you can create a set of ads that learn and improve their effectiveness over time. You can access an automated database that keeps getting more robust. Your advertising can reach people in the cracks between the groups of people you can find yourself.

An Impressive But Imperfect Solution

Is this Facebook solution circle a silver bullet? No. This is just one medium that reaches less than 80% of the population. Does this mean you’ll definitely find more and better bidders? No, but it’s a superlative start. It’s a more robust solution than what you’ve got now.

Could this concept confront our ignorance? Absolutely.

Recently, I’ve noticed that several of my clients’ Lookalike Audience ads have significantly outperformed not only their uploaded lists but also the Facebook audiences built with the demographic selectors we chose for prospective buyers. In other words, Facebook knew who would visit these websites better than I or my clients did. For the decades of auction marketing experience between all of us, that’s humbling.

It’s also exciting. Now, our lists of past bidders and email subscribers are more valuable. Now, our web traffic can be more meaningful. Now, purchased lists don’t have to be exhaustive. We just need to find a critical mass to get the ball rolling.

Now, we can find the people we weren’t finding—even with our best laid plans.

Illustration built by request from Fiverr.com
Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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