Tag : franchise

62: Calling in Air Support

Strategic PartnershipThis week, both Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson have criticized Lebron James for passing on an extended attempt to turn today’s Cleveland Cavaliers into the 90’s Chicago Bulls—to will his way to championships. Said Jordan (who actually had a Miami Heat-like trifecta with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman), “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team.'”

Jordan, like many entrepreneurs, wanted to forge a singular legacy—a custom, one-off version of the American dream. I’ve often heard successful business owners dubbed “self-made millionaires.” With personal fame leading to personal fortunes (or just personal spot lights) in the era of reality TV, the goal of C-listers seems to be getting their name shortened to handles like Tyra and the Donald, Snooki and Rush—Tiger. The basic idea of this path to success more or less comes down to “Get yours, while the gettin’s good.”

When we do hear about team work, it’s usually from some author or consultant, selling the potential synergy in the talent pools of our respective companies. Collaboration tends to be framed in terms of employee/employee or employee/management relationships. This packaging wraps around win-win situations with the premise of, “Get yours by everybody getting ahead.”

But last week, at the National Auctioneer Association‘s annual International Conference & Show, I was reminded of a truth that I regularly need to remind myself: “Help your prospect get theirs. Yours will be in the mail.”

As I walked the trade show floor I was struck by the pervasiveness of the franchise/affiliate/alliance models that are available and growing within the auction marketing industry. My past and present client lists include members of some of these groups, and I’ve seen enough of each to like and dislike aspects of each network. So, I’m not advocating joining any particular network or even recommending joining any of them. But I like to see auction marketers calling in air support.

I’ve been a part of projects where firms tried to sell something outside of their geographic or asset markets—and didn’t get those assets sold. We’ve collectively leveraged our experience base without much fruit. Rather than refer the work to a specialist in that segment, I’ve seen auctioneers bite off food they’ve never chewed. I don’t know if they believe that the auction podium is the great equalizer or that they are good with learning curves. Maybe extenuating circumstances got in the way. I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the appeal. There’s a commission check and conquered challenge on the other end of the speculative work. Those results are part and parcel the lure of the capitalism I love so much.

In my first few years in business I built a series of flameouts that proceeded trying to be all things to all clients. Now, I’m more inclined to “take my talents to South Beach,” as Lebron would say. Now that it’s not about me proving I can do it by myself, I regularly refer work to my competition, to related vendors, and even to the cloud. I don’t always get those prospects on my accounts receivable list down the road; but I retain enough clients, who now know I have their best interests in mind—even when those interests might come at the expense of mine.

How? By finding them a good fit, even when it’s not biplane productions.

Warning: you might have to share your commission, if you get a commission at all. But taking on an unfamiliar project without partnership with a seasoned expert is gambling with your income, anyway. So, if you’re selling a golf course—and you’ve never marketed to that buyer base—contact a firm that specializes in golf course marketing. If you’ve got a group of expensive colonial books mixed in with a local estate, research firms who deal almost-exclusively in antique books. If you sell factory equipment, and you get a lead on a liquidation of yellow iron and rolling stock, call for reinforcements.

Whether or not you work with UniTranz MarKingWilliams (or smaller/private group), you can help a rising tide lift all boats. Hopefully, you’re networking at national and/or state association environments and attending continuing education. Hopefully, you’re analyzing your strengths and weaknesses often and thoroughly enough to know what kind of work belongs inside your circle or out of it. Hopefully, you have the courage to pass on the shaky deal in the hand for the efficient jobs in the bush.

Sellers will discover whether or not you’re uniquely competent to help them—optimally, long before auction day. An honest referral or strategic partnership may spare you some egg on the face, some unpaid/underpaid work, and some time wasted that could have been spent on what basketball analysts call “a high percentage shot.”

How many times have you heard other Americans declare faith “a private matter”? If you’re like me, part of your spiritual journey came with a lot of internal determination and a desire to right your own ship after (many) tacks off course, praying prayers like “I’m going to try harder next time, God.” In our bootstraps culture, we think 15 more minutes of daily Bible reading might just do the trick. This thinking finds reinforcement from teachers and preachers emphasizing the act of getting alone and experiencing God by yourself.

And while a part of that solitude has biblical basis, the truth is that we were built for community—authentic, candid community. Most of the verbs in the epistles are plural in the original language. Even the idea of going to our closets to pray is married to the fact that the word closet for centuries was the term for the sequestered room for royal advisers—a circle of true friends.

God exists in unified, transparent community (even Jesus told his Father he wished there were another way to save the world). And heaven intends for its kingdom to operate in like fashion.

It’s not easy to be real about our junk, to let people into our struggles. When we admit we don’t have it all together on the inside, there will be those who judge us from the outside. But if you want to accelerate your spiritual journey, walk or run with someone else—preferably a group of someone elses. You will find healing faster, and you will see greenhouse-forced growth.

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22: Bean Stalk Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13: Got a Milk Mustache?

Super MilkNothing builds brand recognition faster than consistency.

Not even repetition.

If the viewing public doesn’t see the same branding presented the same way, multiple views actually detract from brand establishment and growth. An internal dissonance builds and distracts from your message and image.

Brand management, as it is called, proves more than just using the same logo or having a company color. The design of your advertising should stand as recognizable as your logo.

You know you’ve seen a Milk Marketing Association’s “got milk?” ad, even before you spot the famous logo tag line. While their ads have looked the same for over a decade, they still capture your attention. Same goes for Absolut vodka and Corona, Best Buy and Target, Comcast and Verizon, MasterCard and MINI. All of these ooze creative, memorable images without sacrificing uniformity.

This is the whole reason why franchises can open new stores or restaurants with faster traffic gains than a mom-n-pop opening a new place in a new town. Consistent branding and predictable product create trust as customers order new things or visit new locations. They know what to expect. It goes deeper than marketing, but branding begins that process.

Whether you use a Madison Avenue advertising firm or a local college kid, you can accomplish brand retention by developing a style sheet. Larger auction companies like tranzon and United Country and others have given me style sheets for projects with their affiliates. This includes information such as: official colors [expressed as “PMS numbers”], logo versions and sizes for specific media, font names and usage [terms including “x height,” “kerning,” and “leading”], spacing, line thickness, and other significant—though seemingly small—guidelines.

You don’t have to know what all that means, but you should have it recorded all in one place. This way, no matter who does your design work, you have a consistency safety net. While I recommend using the same vendor as much as possible (whether biplane or not), this can keep internal or vendor transitions from being as noticeable to the public.

Most of all, brand management will help the public absorb and remember your brand quickly—probably faster than your competitor, who thinks their options are pricey agencies or newspaper comp room trainees.

So, let this be our little secret. You can thank me later.

The number one knock on the American Christian and our evangelical churches is hypocrisy. I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment. The longer I’ve lived in the Bible Belt, the more I’ve seen people for whom church is a social engagement or weekly car wash.

The primary way to communicate Christ to culture is through love. Second to that is consistency. Satan knows this. That’s why he works harder on those in the church than those outside of it. He turns holiness into prejudice, passion into faction, failure into duplicity.

Too many believers think they have to impress the secular with goodness or godliness. Pastors can get like this in front of their congregation; laity can get that way in front of their neighbors. Like a Hollywood celebrity, they’re just building the scandal for the next time they trip.

I’ve found that being candid inoculates a lot of that. “Hey, I just messed up. That wasn’t very Christian of me. I’m sorry.” The realness can trump the failure; the honesty can diffuse the impression of hypocrisy. In the end, God can use even our sin to reach people for him.

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