Tag : headlines

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204: What Happened When I Got a Taste of My Own Medicine?

Hair Club for Men

Most of us are old enough to remember the awkward Hair Club for Men TV commercials of the 80’s and 90’s. Even if not, you’ve still probably heard the spokesman’s iconic tagline: “I’m not just the president. I’m a client.” Sy Sperling was trying to combat the perception of snake oil sales by taking his own medicine. He forwent some of his dignity with the before picture for the payoff of the after picture and what it stood for.

Dr. Barry Marshall took this concept a step further when trying to prove to the world that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria and not stress. The physician, who would later win the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (and eight other medical research awards), drank a solution of ulcer-causing bacteria, knowing it would lead to days of discomfort with stomach ulcers before treatment could alleviate his pain. He knew the science would work. He changed long-held assumptions by using himself as the guinea pig.

Don’t we all wish we knew our program would work that confidently?

One of the challenges of my consulting sessions over the past decade has been the difference between my business sensibilities and those of my clients. Auctioneers are much bigger risk takers than I am. I get anxious when asked, “What would you do here?” for an auction I wouldn’t have signed. I feel ill equipped when asked for direction in the frequent interesting situations where all I’ve got are educated guesses. I get nervous spending other people’s money to throw noodles against the wall to see what sticks, because I wouldn’t want other professionals doing that with my money.

At the same time, that’s why I’m bullish on the strategies you’ve read in the last several years’ worth of my blog posts. I’ve tested this stuff multiple times per week for different clients selling various asset categories in multiple geographic markets. Maybe just as important: I’ve tested this on my own company promotion. I’ve changed my advertising headlines to focus on auctioneer pain points and solutions. I’ve positioned myself as a guide to make auctioneers heroes rather than as a hero for hire.  And I’ve used the advanced Facebook ecosystem tools I use for my clients every day.

 

Biplane graphs

Biplane Productions opened for business 16 years ago this week. You can see in the charts above that this triumvirate shift not only halted downward trends but also grew my quantity of auctions and billable work far beyond my previous high points. Before and after this transition, I taught for the National Auctioneers Association (NAA). Before and after this transition, I wrote articles for state and national auctioneer publications. Before and after this transition, I blogged and forwarded those blogs to hundreds of industry subscribers.

What changed was the messaging and how I delivered that message. Those are same two things I suggest auctioneers change about both their auction advertising and their company promotion.

I’ve also long told auctioneers that their best company promotion is consistently-good auction promotion. Fantastic sale prices create buzz and confidence. Taking good care of the transaction at hand brings more transactions. Following that advice has brought me new business, especially for my Facebook services. I get tagged in comments within auctioneer discussions all the time. My clients are sharing their success stories so much now that I’m working for dozens more auction companies per year than I was just a few years ago. People who’ve not seen my actual work and even auctioneers I’ve not met in person want to hire me as a vendor—in part because now my auction advertising is blowing up their friends’ commissions and/or lowered their auction budgets.

This past summer, a schedule conflict caused me to miss the NAA’s Conference & Show for the first time since 2002. Since I couldn’t mingle or teach a class, I relied on Facebook and Instagram to keep me in front of the auctioneers in Jacksonville. I built three ads to appear to auctioneers and NAA fans within a mile of the convention center. Along with those, I designated a fourth one to appear to auctioneers and NAA fans across the country.

Conference & Show ads

I got several inquiries and two new clients out of those ads that week. (Between you and me, I rarely get new clients from Conference & Show.) I didn’t try to wow an audience with a continuing education class that took hours of prep work and days out of the office. I didn’t treat anyone to dinner or breakfast. I just succinctly spoke to perceived needs and wants in a convincing way. My acquisition cost was a small fraction of my typical outlay for travel, lodging, and conference registration.

Does this mean I drop NAA events from my routine? No. Just as with auction advertising, sometimes inefficient marketing pays long-term dividends. Not every auction can afford expensive advertising, though. Efficient advertising comes in handy when the budget is small, when the campaign requires a lot of experimentation or guerrilla tactics—especially if you know what made it efficient.

Facebook ads (and even more so Instagram ads) force us advertisers to get to the point. Ads that make that point about the consumer instead of about the auction turn already-cheap website visits into ridiculously-cheap website visits. It’s not enough just to have advertising on the right platform. You have to speak the language of its audience when you get there.

This summer, I A/B tested a client’s requested headlines, audiences, and photos against my selections for those auctions. With the same assets in the same auctions, my cost per click ranged from 33% to 55% of the costs of their ads. I was able to get 45% to 67% more people to their website on the same budget.

How did I know something like that would be the result? What gave me the confidence to bet on myself? It wasn’t that I had some secret knob to turn or switch to flip. I just knew what to expect from what I’ve observed across hundreds of auctions and dozens of my own company promotions. I’ve benefited from drinking my own Kool-Aid and taking my own medicine for the past three years. I’m a convert and a missionary, the doctor and the patient, the scientist and the test subject. I don’t think I’m the president of the club, but I’m most definitely a member of it.

Stock image 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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2 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use “Auction” in Your Headlines

Every year, the percentage of retail transactions that occur online versus in a brick-and-mortar rises.

If you’ve ever purchased anything online, you know that most of those transactions started with a search engine. So, if we’re selling assets—especially if we’re selling them online—it makes since to discover how people are searching for what they want to buy.

Google gives this information away for free. Anyone can type in any term and see its use over time.

This interactive graph from Google Trends shows the proportional use of five search terms related to online purchases.

If you’ve been in the auction business for any length of time, this might hurt your ego. Worse, it might give you pangs of regret for how you’ve advertised your assets for the past decade.

At the most recent iteration of the Auction Technology Specialist course, one of my fellow instructors asked a room full of auction professionals what they would type into Google to buy a Ford F-150. Not a single one of the 28 industry insiders suggested the word “auction.” He wasn’t picking on them. I don’t type “auction” into a search bar, either, unless I’m researching something for a talk or blog post.

So, if a room full of auction people don’t search for auctions, why would we expect the buying public—many of whom don’t have experience with the auction process or positive associations for the word “auction”—to look for auctions? Sure, there’s a small community of folks who frequent auctions and regularly participate in them; but that quantity pales in comparison to just the people who’ve visited a Walmart this week.

If we want to claim that auction brings true market value, then we need to bring the full market to our sellers’ assets. To bring the full market, we’re going to need to adapt to two truths:

  • People don’t search for auctions. They search for assets.
  • People don’t buy auctions. They buy assets.

Our advertising headlines and subject lines and supporting text needs to focus on the assets being sold. While the marketing vehicle of an auction does connote important information the buyer needs to know, that buyer doesn’t care about those realities until they want what’s being sold. If we have only a few seconds to capture attention and then call to action, it would make sense to focus on what’s important to the buyer. Our fiduciary responsibility to our seller is to sell their assets, not our events.

My guess—and I don’t think it’s possible to acquire more than anecdotal data on this—is that more people search for just the asset in question with none of the words in the Google Trends graph shown above. Buyers might use descriptive terms, product categories, concrete attributes, or brand names; but they’re starting with the asset in some way.

I work with auctioneers who have removed the word “auction” from everything in their advertising except their URL and terms. That might be too extreme for you. (It’s not for me.)  It’s not hiding reality or being ashamed of auctions. It’s not deceit. It’s adaption.  

We can advertise auctions. Or we can sell assets.

Knowing is Half the Battle

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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