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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169: 2 Adaptive Advertising Technologies Auctioneers Can Afford

In my lifetime, the change in advertising technology has been incredible.

• Desktop publishing allowed auction companies to design their own advertising, and it pushed newspaper deadlines back a day or two.

• Digital printing shortened direct mail production by literally a week.

• The Internet afforded auction marketers the ability to update advertising information on their website with far less lead time than was needed for signs, newsprint, and direct mail.

• Email added the ability to quickly alert subscribers of news or changes.

• LED billboards made outdoor advertising faster to implement and less expensive to use.

• Social media offered the most targeted advertising in the history of the planet.

And now, advertising can literally change itself to adapt to its viewer. Two of these adaptive technologies are very approachable, and my auctioneer clients are regularly using both.

Facebook Ads (Not Boosted Posts)

One of the options for Facebook sponsored content is an ad that shows a single image to the viewer. The advertiser can actually load up to six different images into that photo’s spot. Facebook displays all of the photo iterations of the ad pretty much evenly to viewers the first day and measures which ones got the most interactions. The next day, it adapts how the images show to the public and weights how it serves them accordingly. On day three, it adapts again after considering how the public interacted with the previous days’ mix of images. This process continues until the end of your campaign.

Adaptive Facebook samplesWith some extra elbow grease, Facebook will also do this with other content in an ad set—switching out types of ads (video, slide show, single image, etc.) for the type that’s best performing.

Best of all, this adaptive capability comes with no additional Facebook charge. It’s in Facebook’s best interest for ads to appeal to its users, and they want advertising to be as effective as possible—to keep getting advertising revenue from advertisers.

By the way, I’ve regularly been surprised by which image got the most traction. On campaigns where I’ve targeted different ads to different target audiences, it’s interesting to see how each audience gravitates to different images or content.

Variable Data Printing

I’ve blogged about this technology before, but few of my clients leverage this tool. Rather than using plates on a traditional printing press to imprint a static design for an entire print run, each piece is imprinted digitally and customized according to the address printed on the piece. There can be as few as two versions of the piece; or maybe there can be a multitude of variations, depending on the database setup.

The basic premise is that different people on your mailing list get different versions of the postcard or brochure—versions tied to their interests. So, if you have a multi-property auction, the property closest to them might be featured on the mail panel. If you’re selling real estate and personal property, people on your real estate list will get a different version than people on your personal property list. If you have an ag equipment list and a construction equipment list, the catalog mailed to both lists can have the same guts but a different cover and mailing panel.

Setup for this technology runs anywhere from $35 to $50 at the print shop and a little extra on the design end. Depending on the size of your mailing, the cost difference can be inconsequential. The value it adds, though—with people getting mail their more likely to read—is very much noticeable.

With each new technological capability, auctioneers have needed to fit more tools into their marketing tool boxes, but they’ve also gained more and better ways to find motivated buyers and sellers. Is your advertising updating itself after you cut it loose? Is it adapting to buyer interests? If not, how much of a head start are you willing to give your competition while their marketing is?

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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161: Creative Ways to Get Past the Gatekeepers to Your Prospects

Last year, one of my clients asked me for a creative solution to attract major developers to a multimillion-dollar auction. The property in question was a large expanse of vacant land next to a huge highway and surrounded by hundreds of homes in subdivisions. It was one of those properties that could practically sell itself.

My idea? Go to the property with a trowel; scoop some of its dirt into plastic storage bags; insert an attention-grabbing, moisture-resistant postcard into the dirt; and mail the package to his top 25 prospects.

The call to action: “Here’s some free dirt from your next development project. Name your price for the rest of it now at [insert URL].”

What do you think the chances are that the recipient visits that link? 

Effective advertising is interruptive and disruptive. It stops what the recipient is doing. Then it changes their focus, even if temporarily. We stand a better chance of getting prospects to our marketplace—our website—when our advertising “interruption” shifts the prospect’s focus and attention to us, and away from their task at hand.

Having been inundated with various advertising media, savvy consumers have become adept at filtering ads—blurring them into the background and mitigating their disruption value. We’ve enlisted SPAM filters, DVRs, remote controls, station presets, banner ad blockers, and even monthly subscription fees to keep us in our ad-free safe zone.

So, what is an advertiser to do? Well, one of the best ways to circumvent that consumer defense is the element of surprise; and one of the best vehicles for that is dimensional mail. Dimensional mail typically gets past the gate keepers, even in corporate settings. It furthermore allows for a unique advertising vehicle that is quite possibly underused and unmatched by your competitors.

It’s fairly easy to connect the problems of sellers or intermediaries with inexpensive items like:

Ibuprofen
“We can alleviate your headache.”

Coffee Packet or Energy Shot
“Could your marketing use more energy?”

Empty Plate
“Let us take some of the stress off your plate.”

Toy Handcuffs
“Do you feel handcuffed by your [situation]?”

Socks
(mailed with one sock right-side-out and the other inside-out)
“Does your vendor know [asset category in question] marketing inside and out?”

Unisom
“Carrying costs keeping you up at night? We can help you sleep easier.”

Gardening Gloves
(even better: sent dirty)
“We get our hands dirty so you don’t have to.”

Oreo Cookies
“These should be the only OREOs on your desk.”

You get the idea.

This concept isn’t for mass marketing. It isn’t for everyone on your company’s mailing list. This is for a few prospects at a time. I’d recommend sending a series of these per wave of prospects before following up with a sales call and/or email.

You still won’t “win ‘em all.” I’m not promising an overnight marketing success or some guaranteed silver bullet; but I will leave you with a thought to ponder: which would you be most likely to open and read, though: a generic sales letter or an interesting package with a cleverly-written tag line?

Do you suppose your prospects are any different from you?

Special thanks to Gillian Zimmerman for her freelance editing help on this post!
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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6 Reasons Facebook Hasn’t Yet Killed Direct Mail

I got a big surprise in the mailbox yesterday. The cover of Auctioneer, the auction industry’s international trade journal, teased a story about the Auction Technology Specialist (ATS) program. Since I was on the panel that rewrote the curriculum for ATS and have been one of the instructors of the course since last summer, I was excited to see the coverage.

The surprise, though, came in the opening paragraphs of the article, when it was declared that the instructors had ditched all print media and used print advertising only to prove to sellers that it was a waste of advertising dollars.

You’d be surprised, too, if—on the same day you read that story—you had also designed three different postcards for one of those instructors and had consulted about a brochure with the other instructor. In fact, I designed 139 postcards last year for Grafe Auction, the company used as the case study throughout the course. Plus 15 already in 2016 (more than I have for any other client).

John Schultz, Robert Mayo, and I spend the vast majority of the course talking about digital media and analytics of all media. So, I understand if direct mail might seem like a tumbleweed ghost town to the casual observer.

I make money creating advertising for both Facebook and direct mail. Facebook is the biggest innovation in advertising ever. I truly believe that and am thankful for the times it bails me out of tough strategy situations with my clients. While Facebook collects a mind-boggling amount of data about its users, there are still audiences it can’t reach that direct mail can.

Your In-House Bidder, Banker, or Attorney Lists

Sure, you can email your registered bidders, biggest hitters, and referral agents; but we all know that direct mail is more disruptive. It has to be physically touched at least once, even to be tossed in the garbage. While Facebook can match 40-50% of your email addresses, that leaves 50-60% in limbo. With email open rates averaging in the 15-25% range, are you willing to take the chance that a number of your proven prospects won’t be bidding?

Acreage Owners (Including Absentee Owners)

I can buy direct mail lists of people who own specific amounts or ranges of acreages in many locations around the country. This is a critical list for farm real estate auctioneers—both in acquiring new sellers and in appealing to farmers looking to buy more land. Facebook doesn’t have any data remotely close to this category.

Owners of Fishing & Hunting Licenses

Facebook can give me fans of Realtree and Mossy Oak, Bass Pro Shop and Cabela’s. I can tap into lists of people who like kayak fishing, bow hunting, and trophy whitetail deer. If I want people with actual hunting or fishing licenses, though, I have to use direct mail. Also, since Facebook doesn’t allow the overt advertisement of guns and ammo, you’re going to need other disruptive media to advertise those wares.

Every Door Direct Mail

If your property needs the attention of everyone on a United States Postal Service (USPS) mail route, Facebook can’t match direct mail. No digital or other print media can, actually. With some ingenuity (that my mail house uses) this USPS tool can be expedited to almost first class delivery times.

SIC Code Businesses

Facebook can match a lot of professional roles—more than any medium I’ve found. What it can’t grab yet are businesses. For instance, today I was working on a proposal for a self-storage facility. I can get a direct mail list of those; Facebook didn’t have that category for entities, employers, or professions.

Chamber of Commerce Members

Facebook can’t tell you who takes part in offline groups like Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, or other trade associations. If you’re lucky, you might have access to your group’s email database, but that’s usually not an option. Since most groups don’t have daily or weekly (or even monthly) print publications, how do you reach those movers and shakers?  Hint: it rhymes with “correct sail.”

As my clients and industry peers can tell you, I’m an evangelist for almost everything in the ATS course. It was a game-changer for my business and for the firms I serve every day. The part it didn’t change, though, is my belief that a tactile medium holds more value than ever in a digital world. For me and my clients—including both of my fellow ATS instructors—Facebook and direct mail are complimentary tools, not zero-sum competitors.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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153: How Vacation Souvenirs Sabotage Your Direct Mail Strategy

No matter where you vacation, there’s a really good chance you can buy postcards somewhere along the way—probably on one of those spinning metal racks. I can’t speak for you; but the big, glossy pictures always look better than the photos I take.

A vacation postcard says a variation of one of two messages: “Look at this fantastic place that I’m enjoying without you!” or “I’m in this happy place, and it made me think of you.” The recipient doesn’t know which of those very different thoughts you are sending until she reads your scribbles on the blank side.

Thankfully, the postal carrier delivers every postcard with the message side first. He flips through a stack of pieces with the addresses facing him before delivering your mail address-side-up.

In turn, most Americans pull that mail out of the mailboxes with the stack oriented the same way. We also overwhelmingly tend to flip through the stack address-side-up. It makes sense. If we share an address with roommates or family members, we’re looking to sort by recipients. If we’re adults, we’re separating bills from personal mail and junk mail, keying off visual clues as to the identity of each sender.

Since the mailer panel of the postcard is what gets seen first, read first, and sorted first, you’d think that we’d all call that first impression the front of the mail. I do, but I’m considered a weirdo for doing so. Most people call that the back.

I blame vacation postcards for that. In souvenir racks, the big picture side makes the first impression for that card to get purchased. To the purchaser, that’s the front.

The same applies to the marketers with whom I work. Since they’re buying the postcards, they see the side where they can fit the most content as the front.

The problem comes, though, when we treat the mailer panel as the back—the place to sling whatever doesn’t fit on the full-bleed side. It’s a problem because direct mail grants us only between a half second and three seconds to appeal to the recipient who is sorting their mail. In that short moment, we don’t have the relational appeal of a hand-written note. In that lightning flash, we have to capture attention that interrupts the sorting or at least gets our piece directed into the “to-read” stack.

In practice, the mailer panel should be the flashy side. It should be the panel with the big picture and the short headline. Everything else should fall to the reverse side or to our website. Anybody not interested by our primary “sizzle” photo and intrinsic message isn’t a likely buyer or client. Anyone interested but not motivated to flip the card over or go to our website isn’t a qualified prospect, either.

No matter where you vacation or how you tell folks about it, advertise your business and wares as if you were far from a souvenir shop. Work on simplifying and maximizing your first impression. Put the result of that effort next to the recipient’s address—the text almost everyone reads first.

Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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152: 5 Ways to Know If Your Offline Media is Working

Thanks to Google Analytics, it’s both free and easy now to track individual banner ads, listing pages, and social media posts. For auction companies with certain kinds of online bidding platforms, it’s also now possible to decipher which of those digital media directly produce bidders and buyers.

But how do you know if your physical media is working? How do you A/B test to know what headlines and photos and layouts make your offline media more effective?

Tangible media like signs, print ads, and direct mail can be tracked, but it’s less scientific. Like email reporting, uncontrollable variables make accurate reporting all but impossible. Collected data might be insightful and potentially representative, though, even if it’s not exhaustive or proportional.

There are five basic ways to track your offline media’s performance. Each comes with at least one drawback to compliment the data it provides. You can use several of these at once per medium to get a bigger, better picture of their efficacy and efficiency.

Custom QR Codes

QR codes are free to generate. You can create custom URLs with Google URL Builder that allow you to tag the media type (or publication), the campaign name, and more. You can create multiple custom URLs for the same campaign—one each per advertising expression. You can then convert each of those URLs into different QR codes to place in different advertising media. Google Analytics will then report their results separately.

The downside to this tracking method is the QR code itself. In the time it takes to find their QR code reader app on their phone and then scan the code, the recipient is more likely to just Google search your company or asset—or ask Siri to search for them. Then, your recipient shows up in Google Analytics as an organic search result. Nobody, even Google, can tell you what medium led someone to search for your assets, events, or services.

Alternate URLs

URLs are cheap, especially in proportion to most of the hundreds of campaign budgets I see each year. The idea here is to use different web addresses in different media. When the recipient types in that address, they are redirected to your website (or a landing page on your site). Google Analytics shows this as a referring site in your audience acquisition list.

Believe it or not, but my clients and I have been able to easily find great URLs to use. One of my clients uses the same URLs for the same individual media across all campaigns. I also have clients who buy URLs for specific auctions, especially when they’re working outside of their normal asset category or normal geographic area.

The biggest mistake I see made with this method is choosing long or complicated URLs. There are a lot of options, if you use the word “bid” instead of “buy” or “auction.” Once you make it easier to Google your company name, these URLs become less likely to be used—let alone accurately trackable.

I’ve talked to entrepreneurs worried about diluting their URL branding with this method. If you do a good job branding your media and crafting your online user experience, though, consumers will remember your brand. Every day, we click on tons of links with a gazillion characters. Alternate URLs will not be a consumer deterrent.

Multiple Phone Numbers

For half a century, advertisers have used different phone numbers in different media to track interactions. Multiple service providers now allow you to plug multiple phone numbers into an online tracking system. On top of recording phone calls and showing you at what point in your phone tree they hung up, some of these companies can even tie these phone call statistics into Google Analytics.

The Internet has nurtured more and more of Western Culture into self-helpers. A large portion of Americans would rather text than engage in a phone call. An even greater percentage of people would rather grab information online than ask a sales representative, especially over the phone. So, you might not get enough phone traffic to give you actionable intel.

Personal URLs (PURLs)

This variable-data technology creates a URL with custom codes at the end of a branded URL. Often times, advertisers use the recipient’s name as the part that follows the “/“ in the web address. You can point these URLs to custom landing pages or to websites with variable data that conforms to a subscriber’s stated interests. (Universities use this when mailing to high schoolers, since the motivations for college life are diverse.) Service providers offer both proprietary reporting and integration with Google Analytics.

Again, the challenge here is to make the URL as short as possible or as appealing as possible. You have to sell the recipient’s personal benefit of that destination enough to overcome the cumbersome amount of typing. Otherwise, the user is likely to Google search around your extra effort.

Transactional Polling

For onsite events and live transactions it’s easy to ask bidders and buyers how they heard about your auction. It can also be a required multiple-choice toggle for online bidding. Since purchasers are more valuable than online viewers, this is the most important analytic to capture.

The problem is that self-reporting has proven to be suspect at times. For one thing, bidders or buyers sometimes can’t remember where they learned about your auction. (One of my clients had bidders report a medium he didn’t even use.) For another, some people will inadvertently report the medium they prefer. If your other media tracking runs parallel with your polling results, this data is valuable, though.

In a digital world, print media has the potential to be a tangible disruptor and a more personal interaction. Direct mail allows a broader range of sizes and formats than online media. When produced and placed well, signs are often the leading medium for obtaining auction buyers. Just because it’s more difficult to track them doesn’t mean they are necessarily less effective.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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The Most Important Mailing List (That Auctioneers Aren’t Using)

For years I’ve preached that the most important mailing list for an auction company to use is their list of past bidders. But I’ve been wrong—at least partially.

The line of thinking was that the most qualified prospects are those that are familiar with the auction process and have shown past interest in a specific asset category. Also, with Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, you could leverage the email address column of this in-house list to find tens of thousands of similar people just like your bidders (in any geographic region). For one of my clients, that Lookalike Audience technique has led to a noticeable increase in his average quantity of registered bidders.

Here’s the problem, though: if you do enough auctions, that list is going to become unwieldy—too large to efficiently send direct mail in the entirety. I’ve worked for a handful of auction companies who regularly mail 6,000 to 10,000 pieces to in-house lists; and I’ve consulted auction companies that mail tens of thousands of pieces per auction. I’ve regularly been asked how to sort a proprietary list down to the best candidates.

You can sort that by recent participation or number of auctions to which they’ve registered. If you specialize in personal property, you could also sort by expenditure levels. The problem is that there’s no way to tell—outside of maybe the art/collectibles or charity/benefit markets—if someone who bought something in the past wants to buy more of the same.

We can’t know who the satiated buyers are on our lists. If a past bidder was searching for a specific asset at a specific time, there’s a good chance they found what they wanted at the auction and/or somewhere else between then and now. This is especially true of lists I’ve seen auctioneers curate for a decade or more—something they not only often do but also advertise as a selling point. Because of this high probability of satiated buyers, our in-house lists have only a slight advantage, if any, over a purchased mailing list or Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool.

There’s one direct mail list I would trust more than both a purchased list and a generic “past bidders” list. Other than time, it should cost nothing to capture. It’s a list of possibly the most motivated and qualified candidates for your next auction of a similar asset.

Your recent runner-up bidders.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an auction company that recorded that segment of their buyers. Online bidding platforms keep this information. These bidders shouldn’t be too hard to discover at on-site auctions, either—especially real estate ones. These folks are already in your clerking software. All it’d take to pull this data is an extra column in your database to indicate that they came in second.

This list will be relatively small in comparison to your whole list.

Maybe these prospects get a bigger postcard or brochure, while everyone else gets a cheaper teaser piece. Or maybe they’re the majority or entirety of your direct mail recipients, while everyone else gets emails and Lookalike Audience ads on Facebook (and now Instagram).

Facebook just announced last week that it’ll now be better able to match our mailing lists, as it opened up its tool to search by names and addresses—not just email addresses and cell numbers. Theoretically, that means we will be able to build Lookalike Audiences from smaller lists than those it currently needs. So, small lists of backup bidders might now be large enough to have their own Lookalike Audiences.

It’s a lot harder to unsubscribe from direct mail than email. So, even a list of people who’ve signed up for your mailing list could no longer be as full of interested parties as you think. If those prospects aren’t turning into bidders anyway, how much is that one-time indication of interest really worth?

Past bidders are a better guess than the general public, but those that left with money and without an asset are even better.

At the very least, it’s worth A/B testing your mailing lists to see which ones generate the most bidders and buyers. Best case scenario: this slice of your in-house database could free up a lot of marketing budget.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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4 Cheap & Easy Ways to Leverage Your Buyer’s Self Interest

I received a translucent envelope in the mail, through which I could see a greetings card. What was odd about the card is also what captured my attention: a screen capture of my website.

I thought, “Why is my website on the front of this card?”

Intrigued, I opened the card and followed its prompts to a website about an impressive tool for client prospecting. I even scheduled what became a 45-minute conference call with a sales representative. Due to the nature of my clientele, it wasn’t a good fit; but I will never forget something their sales rep told me.

“People will always open something when they see themselves on the cover.”

In almost a decade of teaching and writing about making advertising consumer-centric, I had never heard the concept described that way. This salesman told me how their reps searched Google Images for the prospective company or their targeted contact to pull up a publicly-available photo. If there wasn’t much there, they pulled a screen capture of the prospect’s website.

It worked on me. I signed up for a sales pitch, and I hate sales pitches. I was that intrigued.

I know what you’re thinking. “That wouldn’t work for selling my services and definitely not for selling assets.”

Yes and no. While this specific application of appealing to buyer self-interest wouldn’t work for most of us, its underlying principle can be applied in multiple ways to what we do. Here are four of the easier ways to incorporate this approach to your everyday marketing.

Variable data names

The one thing we already know about most recipients is their name, and names are very personal. One of the things my clients are doing now, using variable data technology, is incorporating the recipient’s name into a call to action. Since each piece is printed digitally, every single postcard has its recipient’s name on the photo. If there is no name for the address, the software knows to delete the name and comma of address. (It takes me about 5 minutes longer per postcard to set it up and costs us a fee of only $20 to $30 at the print shop.) My first client to try this used a unique URL to measure his postcard response and saw an immediate jump in web traffic from his postcards of 100%. You read that right: 100%.

Grafe Sample

Variable data images

If you sell multiple categories of assets in your auctions, you can have each category of buyer receive a piece where the big image on the mail panel is from their asset category. This technology shows your prospects their interests first. So, if you sell rolling stock, yellow iron, farm equipment, and contractor machinery, potential buyers can see all of the assets elsewhere in the brochure but their asset category on the first impression panel. (Your mailing list of past bidders is segmented by purchase history and asset categories, right?) If you sell real estate portfolios, you can have the property nearest the recipient emphasized over the others on the piece.

Stock Image of FarmerDifferent stock images

Usually, when small businesses advertise their services, they show pictures of their staff, their events, their brick-and-mortars, etc. If they show asset images, they typically represent the high end of the value spectrum of their preferred asset categories. These images are typically not items from past auctions but stock photography of dramatic staging and/or brand-new assets. What these marketers typically don’t show is other sellers—or stock images of people who look like their typical sellers. One of my clients has used an image I love, when mailing to farmers with options about what to do with a life’s worth of assets. Can you see why this image would draw a pending rural retiree into the sales pitch?

Different headlines

The easiest and cheapest way to adapt any advertising to take advantage of buyer self-interest is changing your prominent text. Most auctioneers lead with “AUCTION,” because auctions are how they see their projects, their schedules, and the assets they sell. In fact, bid calling is even part of their identity and self worth.

The problem is that buyers don’t buy auctions. They want or need assets. They will visit multiple venues and/or websites until they find what they want at the price they want. Auction only factors into that decision, if they think they can get their item more quickly, more easily, and/or more inexpensively at your auction. If you’re not offering timed online bidding or the option to “buy it now” at a reserve price, “auction” might actually be the least convenience purchase method. Then, you’ll be left having to hope for either a patient buyer or for auction day bidder frenzy to overcome the presumption of low sale prices—since that will be their motivation to wait to purchase, if they’re in immediate need or want for the asset.

So, sell the asset first. Use most of the text selling items (or for benefit auctions: the cause or organization). Only then, tell them how and where they can bid and whether there is a reserve on the asset(s) or not. It’s not deceit. It’s adaptation to the realities of our culture’s consumer base.

If we’re not adapting to buyer self-interest, then whose self-interest is guiding our advertising?

Unless we as the advertiser are also the ones buying our services or assets, why should we expect that strategy to work?

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143: The Biggest Challenge of Variable Data Marketing

Variable data is the future of direct mail. For precision postcard and catalog marketers, it’s actually the present.

If you’re not familiar with the technology, you need to be—even if you don’t have a use for it yet. Basically, documents are designed with different versions for different audiences. You can alternate different pictures, text, or entire panels of the printed piece. A high-speed digital press prints each piece according to indicators in your mailing list.

If you’ve got an auction with farm equipment and yellow iron, you can have one portion of your mailing list receive a postcard with different images and headlines on one side and both asset categories on the back. If you’ve got a business liquidation of real estate and personal property, you can emphasize the respective asset categories to different prospects on the first impression panels and show both together on the inside of the brochure. If you’re selling a portfolio of investment properties, you can have the property on the mailer panel be the one geographically closest to the recipient. That property’s advertising can be large, while the others are smaller.

The primary benefit of variable data is that you can target while also cross-marketing different types of assets. You can appeal to a buyer’s primary need or want and then fish for potential crossover purchases. I talk about the benefits of this tool in more detail in this article.

When I talk about this technology to auction marketers, we always get to the big sticking point. The primary obstacle for auctioneers implementing this direct mail tool is data. See, the process only works, if you’ve got segmented mailing lists.

If you sell real estate, do you have separate lists for each real estate category you sell? If you sell yellow iron, do you keep track of who bought trucks or trailers but not skid steers? When people sign up for your email or direct mail lists, do they have the option to select specific asset categories or just general ones? Or worse yet: a single “get auction updates” list?

If you’ve not been segmenting, start now. Other marketers have a head start on you. Other auction companies have already been using this tool for years. Start gathering data now so that you’ll be more competitive a year from now and have more marketing choices.

In the mean time, you can still use this technology with purchased mailing lists. For instance, if you have a property that’s good for farming and hunting, both of those buyer segments are publicly available. I can pull people with a hunting license or with a minimum number of acres owned or with a tax filing as a farm. For some of those lists, my broker can even sort the results by income, gender, age, and other demographic filters.

Also, you can do this with your Facebook advertising. It’s easy to create different promoted posts or ads aimed at different audiences. If you’re still using newsprint, you can run different ads in different classified categories or newspaper sections. Billboards and signs can be designed differently and placed in different locations to attract more than one buyer base.

The key is to make your advertising as attractive as possible to as many different people as possible. The best way to do that is to create different versions of your media, where possible, so that interested buyers see only (or predominantly) what they want.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put information in order of reader want or need.

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

Use large images.

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

Use smaller font sizes, especially for lesser information.

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

Remove redundant information.

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

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

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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

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135: The Magic Formula for More Efficient Advertising

For years, I’ve been saying that there’s no silver bullet in auction advertising. I’ve taught in my seminars that there’s no Ronco “Set it, and forget it” strategy, because the one constant in marketing is that there are few constants.

It’s time, though, that I come clean.

There is a foundational formula that applies to all auction advertising, including yours. Using it can transform your sales pitches & seller proposals, your media spends & overall budgets. The number in its answer trumps all the numbers in your Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and Mail Chimp reports.

Very, very few auction companies that I’ve consulted are using this formula, but the ones who are have a competitive advantage over the ones who aren’t.

I’m talking about Cost Per Bidder Per Medium.

Knowing your generic cost per bidder would be interesting—discovering how much it costs you on average to get a consumer to register to bid; but it wouldn’t be much in the way of actionable data. Knowing how much it costs you per bidder per medium, though, goes beyond interesting. That knowledge is incredible marketing power.

Here’s the basic formula:

Cost Per BidderNow, repeat that for every medium or every media category you use in your advertising: signs, direct mail, newsprint, paid search, social media, public relations, etc. Save that information, and repeat this process every auction. After a few months, you should start to see patterns on the aggregate. You’ll discover that some media are less efficient than other ones.

If you sell more than one type of asset or the same asset in more than one geographic area, you may want (1) a larger set of samples or (2) separate spreadsheets for each market.

Once you get enough of a sample size collected, you can use it to start adjusting your budgets to favor the most efficient source of customers. For example, if Facebook costs you $5 to acquire a bidder, and newsprint costs you $50 in bidder acquisition, then you can start shrinking the size or frequency of ads to send money over to social media.

You can have hundreds of people click to your website from your email blast or thousands from social media. If the only people who show up at your auction are the ones who saw the sign, though, that traffic is empty. If your YouTube video went viral or your phones have been ringing off the hook from a press release that’s hit all of the local news, but most of your bidders all brought your direct mail piece to the auction, then the buzz didn’t bring you buyers.

Buyers trump traffic.

Speaking of buyers, you can take this formula one step further to separate the tire kickers from the paying customers. In the formula, you can replace “bidder” with “buyer.” If you want to know how much you spent per buyer, the formula looks like this:

Cost Per Buyer
The formula is simple, but the data collection tends to be the hard part for auctioneers. The spend side of the equation should be easy to capture, since you already have invoices and probably a formula-driven Excel budget. You can add a couple columns to that budget to do this math for you and then link to those result fields in a master spreadsheet.

Then, all you have left is asking bidders where they saw or heard about the auction. (It’s okay if they choose more than one.) You can poll them at on-site auctions, and you can create a toggle-list question for those who register to bid online. Using some tools currently taught in the Auction Technology Specialist designation curriculum, you can even track online bidders passively from their first interaction with your online AND offline media all the way to the bidding page.

If this seems like a lot of work, think about how much more work this information could help you book. Imagine if you and another auction company were vying for the same auction, but you alone could show the seller exactly where they can spend their money the most efficiently. Do you think you’d look a step ahead of your competition with a summary from the past year’s advertising effectiveness in their asset and geography markets?

That’s a rhetorical question.

It will probably take you six to 12 months to build reliable statistics. So, you’ll want to start as soon as possible. Don’t wait. I can name auction companies with more than a year’s head start on you.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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132: 4 Common Mistakes of In-house Mailing Lists

Years ago now, an auctioneer told me that I was too expensive for him to consider as a graphic design vendor for his auction brochures. He told me this after bragging that his direct mail list held 70,000 recipients. His marketing budgets didn’t have any money left for me, because he was spending tens of thousands on dollars on postage alone per auction.

I asked him how many people came to his auctions. His answer came in around 500 to 700 registered bidders on average. “You’re mailing to too many people,” I told him.

I don’t remember this auctioneer’s name or company off the top of my head, but I’ve bumped into multiple auction companies that tout their decades-old prospect list or the quantity of people on their in-house list. It’s an odd boast, since those lists are filled with budget-sucking ghosts. The age of a list isn’t inherently bad, but it can contribute to the following four issues most auctioneers face with their in-house database.

Not Connected to Auction Participation

How many of the people on your mailing list regularly attend your auctions? How many of them have registered to bid in the past eighteen months? How many of them have purchased something in the last year? If you can’t answer these questions, there’s a good chance that you’re mailing unwanted advertising to satiated buyers. They may have been bidders or even buyers in the past, but that doesn’t mean they are now.

Most auction clerking software allows you to query purchase information so that you can compare it with (or export it to) a mailing list. Some even allow you to query for spend levels to weed out the tire kickers. For real estate auctions that often don’t run through such software, it’s relatively easy to keep a spreadsheet of registered bidders and buyers.

The hottest list you should have in your database are back-up bidders, because they didn’t get what they came to buy.

Not Segmented for Asset

Unless you’re operating on a robust database system that can be queried via various criteria, you will need to maintain multiple mailing lists. If you have one list for all asset categories, a large portion of your list is wasting you and your sellers valuable budget space. Even within general categories like real estate, equipment, estates, and agriculture, you need to have multiple subcategories—unless you operate only in one subcategory. The more segmented your list, the more efficient it will be.

If you’ve got an old list that you’d like to segment, you can mail a postage-paid piece to your old list and ask for recipients to mark what categories of auctions interest them (and whether they prefer direct mail or email). That can get expensive, and it’s reliant on the recipient basically asking for more mail. It’s much more reliable to research auction bidder registrations from auctions of known assets and categorize your records accordingly. That’s also a good way to see if they’re active bidders, anyway.

Too Dependent on Investors

One way auctioneers defend the age of their list is by categorizing the names on it as investors. These are the dealers, flippers, developers, or portfolio builders who know that auctions bring them revenue potential. Investors bring a beneficial floor to the bidding—the wholesale price. They get the “SOLD!” rider on many, many auction signs. In most cases, though, we’re trying to get our sellers retail prices. For those, we need end users; and end users are a moving target.

It’s a lot easier to find end users in other media, particularly social media and search advertising. That said, you can also buy inexpensive mailing lists of like-kind owners sorted by demographic criteria or trade categories to supplement your investor database. Many of those lists allow indefinite usage; and comparing your bidder lists to those purchased lists will help you pluck both investors and end-users to be grafted into your in-house lists.

Not Updated with USPS CASS Certification Reports

Most, if not all, mail houses now use the Coding Accuracy Support System to presort your mailing list. This kicks out undeliverable addresses before you have to pay postage for them, and it garners significant first class postage discounts. It also updates addresses according to the USPS’ most recent database of addresses, especially helpful when prospects move. That software can generate reports to tell you which addresses failed and why. My preferred print shop gives these reports to my clients at no additional charge, so that they can update their records.

Direct mail often has high response rates as a percentage, but that doesn’t make it cheap. Don’t waste advertising dollars on vanity advertising, when you could use it on efficient marketing.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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122: The Right Mailing List for the Job

Direct mail typically accounts for almost 60% of my company’s billable work, and a bunch of mailing lists pass through my inbox every week. (My preferred mail house currently averages about 30,000 pieces of mail per business day.) Because of this experience, I regularly get asked where to find lists of buyers and sellers.

Usually I get a request like, “Where do I find people who want to buy [insert asset here]?” There is no such list of people with intentions. There are, however, multiple resources for lists of people who categorically are more likely to be interested in specific assets or services. I’ve narrowed them down to seven categories. Below, you’ll find a brief description of each category and then a flow chart to help you determine which is right for your situation.

Chamber of Commerce

Chambers of Commerce are typically looking for new infusions of income and are open to new members, even those from outside the community.

Pros: gets you in front of local movers & shakers, business people, and referral agents

Cons: usually only give addresses on labels (which can’t be automated and don’t receive USPS discounts); usually takes longer to obtain than electronic lists

Business SIC Codes

Big brother knows what companies do according to tax records and other public information. If you’re selling items with commercial value, it’s fairly easy to find similar businesses to the assets’ current user.

Pros: connects you with targeted prospects; lists arrive electronically and usually can be reused for little or no list cost; geographic targeting ranges from hyper-local to national

Cons: no guarantee that the piece will get past gate keeper to decision maker; mailing typically to a company, not a person; dependent on company accurately reporting their industry specialty

Trade Publication Subscribers

This can be industry-specific publications on the state, regional, or national level or generic business publications in a small geographic area. Regularly, because of publication dates and deadlines, advertising in these print publications isn’t feasible. However, many publications offer rental of their subscriber list.

Pros: gets you in front of niche buyers or local investors & referral agents; often come with surveyed demographics

Cons: can be very expensive, if available at all; often come as labels, which cost you postage and automated addressing

Every Door Direct Mail

The United States Postal Service (USPS) allows you to saturate neighborhoods like no other media with reduced postage costs.

Pros: concentrated geographic coverage, lower postage

Cons: can be slower than first class if not circumvented with secondary services; printing and mailing quantities can be higher to cover geographic area and USPS size minimums

Interest-Based Publication Subscribers

Collectors and people with similar interests often read niche publications. Regularly, because of publication dates and deadlines, advertising in these print publications isn’t feasible. However, many publications offer rental of their subscriber list.

Pros: gets you in front of niche buyers and highly-qualified prospects; often come with surveyed demographics

Cons: can be very expensive, if available at all; often come as labels, which cost you postage and automated addressing

Demographic Consumers

Thanks to public records, you can find people from a wide variety of demographic selectors, including some lists related to hobbies or interests.

Pros: connects you with targeted prospects; lists arrive electronically and usually can be reused for little or no list cost; geographic targeting ranges from hyper-local to national

Cons: prices can vary greatly, according to specificity of selectors

In-House Contacts

Auction, contact management, and database software allow you to capture past clients. Some of that software allows you to query specific indicators such as geography, spend level, etc.

Pros: typically free to use; offers pre-qualified prospects based on past interest; electronic nature allows for electronic use and USPS presorted discounts

Cons: requires maintenance (content input) and constant updating; not as exhaustive as purchased lists in that the selection is only from past interactions, not the community at large.

Mailing List Flow Chart

Stock image of mail boxes purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

116: Where Are Our Marketing Jet Packs?

Photo purchased form iStockPhoto.comOn March 6 at 8:36pm, one of my auctioneer friends posted on Facebook, “Anyone got anything new to share? Any new marketing ideas this week? Any good success to share? What’s working, what’s not?”

Two of his words grabbed my attention: “this week.”

In the age of Moore’s law, there’s this belief by marketers that eventually we’ll find some advertising silver bullet, that some new media will make all others obsolete. In a competitive marketplace, the hungry and aggressive are hoping to find it first—to dominate it after early adoption.

Someone’s got to tell all of the companies sending me email that social media replaced it in 2008. I guess it’s good that email hasn’t been replaced because, twenty years into it, we’re all still waiting for it to make direct mail obsolete. Eighty years into TV, commercial radio is still selling hours of advertising a day—despite it’s other heralded replacements (satellite radio, streaming services, and MP3’s) offering commercial-free music. Sure, we have fewer newspapers; but we actually have more specialty magazines.

Jetson Food MachineWe don’t have the Jetsons’ food machine yet, and we definitely don’t have our own jet packs. What we do have is an evolving media landscape that keeps adding more ways to do the same thing. Whether you’re using Google AdWords or outdoor signage, the marketing strategy is the same:

  1. Determine the people who might want what you’re selling.
  2. Go to where they are—their preferred media and/or geographic locations.
  3. Show them what they want to see—first and only (not what you want to show).
  4. Tell them how to get what they want.
  5. Analyze the results and interactions to tweak for next time.

Let me drill down one more layer to the auction community for which I’ve worked the past 14 years. After developing more than 15 hours of seminars, I’m annually asked to write and design new ones on new topics. For the last couple of years, I’ve debated turning that request down; but those seminars are the primary way that I introduce potential clients to my value as a vendor.

Candidly, I don’t think there’s a lot more out there that I’m comfortable teaching. With hundreds of auctioneers ignoring what I’ve taught in the past, I wonder what’s the point of creating more content to be ignored. I’m not talking about artistic, subjective suggestions; I’m talking about hard and fast rules to guide advertising, regardless of industry.

As an industry, we struggle to get the basics right.

To the public, we’re still selling events instead of assets. To sellers, we’re still selling auctions instead of marketing; and we’re talking about our method rather than our asset analysis and customized plan. (I know, because I read the proposals.) We are still crowding advertising with tertiary or redundant information that should wait online. We don’t put information in order of audience needs or wants. Readability looks like an afterthought. We’re still treating social media like broadcast outlets instead of conversation environments. We don’t segment our in-house mailing lists by asset category—let alone spend levels or time since last bid registration. We’re still not recording polling data from every auction to determine which media worked best for us in each asset and geographic market. We still don’t understand that the best branding is more consistent than it is creative—and that our brand is more than our colors or logo.

I say “we,” because I’m preaching to myself, the choir, and whoever’s still in the pews this far into this post.

I don’t know a lot of people—me included—who are ready for the next thing, because we’re not doing the things we should already know. “This week” or any week.
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As a preacher’s son who attended four church services a week and then a Bible college that required an average of 12 Bible-teaching environments (and four prayer circles) per week, I’ve heard my fair share of Bible verses and applications. I know a lot of Jesus’ instructions, and I still disobey them somewhere between hourly and daily. From what I hear, that’s not exclusive to me.

So, it’s interesting to me that so many of us, me included, “want to hear something fresh from God.” I like what my pastors say about this: “Why would God give us new instructions, when we aren’t saying ‘Yes’ to the ones he already gave us?”

That doesn’t mean that we withdraw ourselves from teaching or that we stop trying to grow in new environments. It just means that we can’t always expect to get our dessert before we finish our vegetables.

[footer]Photo purchased form iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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