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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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203: Two (Misguided) Questions Auctioneers Ask About Facebook Advertising

At the end of July, a Wall Street selloff knocked $119,400,000 off Facebook’s market capitalization. Over two days, the Silicon Valley giant lost almost 20% of its estimated value (though only back to its stock price as of April). Hunted by European litigators and questioned by the United States senate, the company has spent the summer rebuilding its brand.

Facebook stock price

With the largest social media platform in the news almost every day this summer, I’ve seen auctioneers asking two questions:
• What are you doing to ensure you don’t have all your eggs in the Facebook basket?
• Where will you advertise if/when Facebook goes away?

Facebook Market Cap

As someone who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on Facebook advertising and makes a third of my income from Facebook marketing services, you’d think I’d be asking these questions, too. I’m not. Here’s why.

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon.

Even with the big drop, Facebook is still one of the wealthiest, most profitable companies on the planet. This isn’t a MySpace situation. For one thing, even a fraction of Facebook’s market share would make it the most robust platform on which to pursue clients. LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, and Twitter combined have only as many users as Instagram, Facebook’s secondary platform. 1 Almost one out of every three people on Earth have a Facebook account. That’s amazing by itself but even moreso when you consider that only 54% of the world’s population uses the Internet. 2 In the United States, more adults check Facebook each day than read all American newspapers—combined—during the course of a week.

Facebook comparison

The next thing will be easy to spot.

There’s a case to be made that social media as a media category might decline someday when people grow tired of the comparison game it represents. Facebook, being the biggest player, would probably take the biggest hit. Nothing happens in a vacuum, though. If you remove social media from daily practice, something new will grow to fill that space. What won’t occupy that space is traditional media. It definitely won’t be newspaper, as the American attention span continues to shrink. Nobody confidently knows what’s next or when it will get here, but it will require at least as much adaptation and intuition to operate there as Facebook demands now. Whatever moves into that space will approach with lots of buzz and probably fanfare much like Facebook did more than a decade ago.

Facebook isn’t monolithic.

Facebook isn’t just Facebook. It’s not just Instagram and WhatsApp and Messenger, either. Facebook’s Audience Network spans scores of the prominent news and entertainment sites on the Internet. Like Google’s display ad network, Facebook ads appear all over the web to visitors with Facebook accounts. So, even if someone deletes the Facebook and Instagram apps from their phone or just never uses them, they can still be targeted by Facebook’s ads. In fact, on a per-ad basis, Facebook daily analyzes from which of its platforms people are most efficiently coming to your website and adjusts your daily spend proportionally. If you’re eggs are all in one Facebook basket, it’s a lot bigger basket than you might realize.

Facebook isn’t the only go-to pitch now, anyway.

There are some rare auctions where I advise a campaign to have at least 90% of the budget allocated to Facebook, but those represent the exception and not the rule. What you’re selling, where you’re selling it, and how you’re selling it influence the media mix. This is also true of the resources available to you like (1) email subscribers and (2) past bidder registrations for the same asset category being advertised. Sometimes, a public relations campaign does your heavy lifting on a truly unique auction. Sometimes, a purchased mailing list is the most targeted tool available. There are even a handful of newsprint outlets I still recommend. Often, media choices aren’t based on efficiency or efficacy but on assumptions and perceptions the seller has to feel like you covered all of your bases. If you are avidly tracking all media individually in Google Analytics for every auction, you’ll know what media you use for buyers & sellers and which ones you use for branding or showmanship. You’ll also be able to see trends as they happen.

When I look at the Facebook accounts of the auctioneers asking these questions, I typically find people who aren’t well-versed in Facebook advertising. I wonder if they are hoping for the seemingly-complicated reality of Facebook’s paid advertising to go away so they can get back to the set-it-and-forget-it nature of traditional media. If they got the efficient results my clients do on Facebook, I’m not sure they’d wish for this strike-out pitch to disappear. Even if their wish came true, though, it would be a long, slow decline.

The more important questions to ask are:
• How am I adapting to the changing buying culture?
• What have my experimentation and analytics shown me recently?

Marketers who don’t continually ask themselves those questions will eventually be replaced by those in companies who do. That should worry every auctioneer far more than the future of Facebook.

1 “Top 15 Most Popular Social Media Sites and Apps [August 2018]” by Priit Kallas, Dreamgrow.com, August 2018.

2 “Internet Users in the World by Regions” by Internet World Stats.com, December 21, 2017.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com. All other images linked to their respective sources.

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