Tag : direct-mail

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191: 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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190: 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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179: 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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175: How to Get National Advertising on a Local Budget

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

Let me give you an example.

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

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

After a couple phone calls, we hatched a plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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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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172: YouTube Has Revealed What It Knows About Your Auction Buyers

YouTube is now the second largest search engine in North America. Web surfers watch almost five billion YouTube videos every single day.1 It’s a safe bet that Google, who owns the video streaming service, is learning a lot from all of the data it’s collecting. That data must be valuable enough for Google to lose $1.8 billion a year to keep YouTube up and running.2

One of the things YouTube knows from that data is the approximate average length of our collective attention span. To acclimate to this, they’ve made many of their advertisers’ ads skippable after five . . . long . . . seconds. That span of time even comes with a countdown clock to assure YouTubers that their wait is almost over.

YouTube 4 Seconds

To get their full message across, advertisers must make the first five seconds of their commercial compelling enough for viewers to avoid that skip button. At the average rate of an English speaker, that’s about 12 words—assuming words start immediately.

Five seconds. 12 words.

YouTube Skip

Many auctioneers don’t believe Americans have a short attention span.

  1. Their signs and newspaper ads are compressed brochures, not teasers to their websites.
  2. Their headlines are generic, throwaway labels like “real estate” and “farm equipment” when a picture of the asset(s) makes the asset category obvious.
  3. They talk about the buying method (auction), the date of that auction, the type of bidding in that auction (online and/or on-site) and the presence or absence of a reserve before they talk about the asset.
  4. Their company brochures would take several minutes to read.
  5. They mail tabbed brochures with the most attractive panels on the inside and the terms, directions, and open house dates on the outside.
  6. They put their logo at the top of their emails instead of at the bottom.
  7. They lead with the name of an estate—a name that doesn’t belong to a celebrity that would be the reason why someone wants the asset.
  8. They duplicate the content from the front of their postcard to the back, crowding the impression on both sides.

How do I know the above realities are true? Because I get paid to design auction advertising media in these ways. Every week. Because auctioneers post scans of their fliers and post them on Facebook. Because even some of the pieces that win national auction industry awards violate the laws of attention span.

By the way, those five seconds for YouTube seem long, because our attention span for other media is even shorter than YouTube or Google demonstrate with the five-second countdown. For social media like Facebook, you’re looking at less than half of that. For people sorting through their mail, two seconds would be a long time to capture their attention. Same goes for email subject lines.

Social commentators speculate that the trend to shorter attention spans is attributed to smart phone usage. Mobile Internet use might be causation or correlation, but your own Google Analytics will show you that the trend is only growing. There’s no putting the attention span genie back in the bottle.

So, how do you adapt to this shrinking attention span? For starters, get off the bulleted list you just read. Second, before you post any information in any format for your advertising campaign, work on the 10 words or less to use as the talking point for the auction. (We teach a whole module on how to do this well at the Auction Marketing Management designation course.)

If you get really courageous, cut everything out of your advertising media except this tease, the most necessary information, and a call to action. Then put the rest of your content on your website.

1YouTube Company Statistics” Statistic Brain, September 1, 2016.

234 Mind Blowing YouTube Facts, Figures, and Statistics — 2016” Danny Donchev, FortuneLords.com, September 21, 2016.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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170: The Oddest Objection I Get When Consulting

I get a really odd response when I recommend that Facebook receive a sizable chunk of a marketing budget.

“Not everyone’s on Facebook, though.”

I’ve never heard a client declare, “Not everyone gets the newspaper, though.”

I’ve never heard an auctioneer say, “But not everybody opens their mail.”

The irony in my clients’ rebuttals is that Facebook is the most dominant channel in any medium in our country. As of August of 2015, 62% of the adult population and 72% of adults in the country who use the Internet are on Facebook.1 Two thirds of those Facebook users visit the site every day.2

By contrast, the most watched show on TV last year (Sunday Night Football) garnered 6.6% of the nation’s population.3 That’s 10% of Facebook’s daily reach, and it’s available only 17 nights a year. Plus, advertising to that small fraction of people would cost you just short of a firstborn child.

“But older folks aren’t on Facebook.”

64% of Internet users ages 55 to 64 use Facebook.1 Only 44% of Americans ages 55-64 read a newspaper.4 It’s safe to assume the percentage of adults who look through the classifieds of those newspapers would be significantly smaller still.

Not only is the quantity of newspaper subscribers shrinking (7% for daily papers and 4% for Sunday papers—last year alone), so is the quantity of newspapers themselves. A net of 118 U.S. newspapers closed their doors between 2004 and 2014.5 Multiple times in the past couple years, I’ve had to email a client to let them know that a newspaper they requested is no longer in print.

In contrast, the number of mailboxes in America isn’t shrinking; and neither is Facebook’s user base.

“Well, professionals and investors [rich people] aren’t on Facebook.”

2015 Facebook Users78% of on Internet users with household incomes above $75,000 are on Facebook.1 That happens to be the highest percentage of any income bracket.

Facebook will let you filter audiences by income, by net worth, by liquid assets, and by number of lines of credit. I regularly target lists of millionaires and multimillionaires on Facebook and get tons of traffic to my clients’ websites—for both commercial and luxury residential properties.

One of my clients auctioned a medical office building earlier this year. We had a direct mail campaign and ads deployed in local and business newspapers. At the first open house, every single prospect touring the property came from Facebook. They weren’t teenagers or minimum wage workers.

Am I saying advertising budgets should be almost all Facebook?

Absolutely not. No media saturates 100% of your prospect base. It’s good to cover as many bases as you can afford.

What this data should determine, though, is the priority order in your advertising budget. Actually, that hierarchy should be determined more by your internal data than by user statistics and audience size. If you’re polling your bidders at every auction and then tracking your offline & online media in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to tell which media work best for specific asset types in specific geographical locations.

I recently bet a client that, if their winning bidder came from one of a selection of out-of-state newspapers, I’d rebate all of my design fees. I wasn’t promising a bidder from Facebook. I just knew we could reach far more people and a much more targeted audience on the same spend, and I prefer efficient advertising over hail Mary throws. (They agreed.)

Most of the small business folks who object to my bullish stance on Facebook don’t have data to refute my assertions. They’re working off assumptions, anecdotal recollections, and their personal habits. (“I never get on my Facebook.”) Auctioneers who do test and measure and analyze have been moving more money to Facebook, Google, direct mail, and signs—away from newsprint.

I’m not telling you how or where to spend your money. I’m just letting you know that neither you nor I can trust our assumptions.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com
Chart linked to source.

1 “The Demographics of Social Media Users
Maeve Duggan, Pew Research Center. August 19, 2015.

2. “Facebook Passes 1.65 Billion Monthly Active Users, 54% Access the Service Only on Mobile
Emil Protalinski, Venture Beat.April 27, 2016.

3 “Here’s How Much Ad Time in NFL Games Costs Marketers This Season
Anthony Crupii, AdAge. September 15, 2015.

4 “Newspapers: Sunday Readership by Age
Pew Research Center

5 “Newspaper Fact Sheet
Michael Barthel, Pew Research Center, June, 2016.

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