Tag : mailing-list

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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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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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166: Get Better Results From Your Facebook Advertising

I talk to auctioneers who don’t see Facebook as a vital marketing tool, because it hasn’t worked for them. After asking a few questions, it’s clear why their Facebook campaigns have reaped subpar results: they’re advertising to the wrong people.

“I posted the auction on my Facebook.”

While it probably doesn’t hurt for you to share your auction with your Facebook friends, few people on your friends list are potential buyers or even referrers to potential buyers. Also, Facebook doesn’t show your posts to all of your friends, anyway—only the ones who interact most with your content.

“I did a Facebook post on my business page.”

This is a baby step forward, but it makes several incorrect assumptions.

  1. Those who like your Facebook page are likely buyers.
  2. People who liked your page in the past because of a specific auction or asset are interested in others.
  3. Facebook shows your business post to more than 10% of your page likes.

For more successful campaigns, you will most likely need to post multiple paid ads. Each will have its own headline and copy, its own photo(s) or video, and it’s own audience. Here are some audiences my auction clients use to see fantastic results from their Facebook ads.

Locals (general public nearest the auction or asset location)

Most real estate—especially farm real estate—sells to someone local. The same holds true for estate sale assets. Facebook allows you to circle your advertising around a specific address. If you know the neighbors or locals won’t be buyers, Facebook also allows you to exclude specific geography.

Current or recent visitors

If you’re selling something to tourists—vacation real estate or boats, for instance—you can target people in a geographic area that don’t live there but are currently visiting. You can also target those who just left that area.

Demographic selectors

Facebook gives you scores of options from net worth and household income to pastimes and priorities. You can pull people who like specific brands, who work in specific trades, who speak specific languages, or who collect specific items. You can also exclude any of the selectors, like recent home buyers (who probably won’t respond to your real estate ad).

Fans of publications

Don’t want to pay to advertise in expensive publications? Can’t make an early deadline? Does the magazine publish after the auction? Does the publisher allow only the advertisers who use their online bidding platform? Then target people who have liked or mentioned the publication. That won’t equal the total circulation, but it’s a lot better than nothing. Not all publications are available, but the current selection comes in handy for a number of asset categories.

Business executives

Whether you’re selling commercial real estate or business liquidations, you can target people based on their executive status. That goes for positions like president, vice president, CEO and others; but it also works for business owners and founders. You can also target executive and management positions in educational institutions and government offices. Facebook won’t grant you 100% saturation, but even a fraction is a good start.

Brokers, investors, and management professionals

Because you can target specific job titles, you can appeal to those who would benefit by bringing you real estate buyers. You can also select Facebook users who attach to the national associations for REALTORS, home builders, and mortgage lenders. For you commercial real estate pros, yes: you can select CCIM members, too. You can also target the investor class to supplement your end-user campaign.

Past bidders and lookalikes

Upload your list of past bidders’s email addresses or mobile numbers, and Facebook will allow you to serve ads to those it can match. You can take that one step further, and let Facebook find you people who look demographically just like your past bidders. This is a free service from Facebook. You pay only for the ads, not the matching.

Email subscribers and lookalikes

Likewise, you can match up to 50% of your email subscribers and direct ads to them. This allows you to reinforce your email and/or direct mail campaign with Facebook promotion, giving potential buyers more interactions with the asset and its headlines. Facebook can build a lookalike audience from these folks, too—again at no charge for the matching, just the ads.

Website visitors and lookalikes

After you install a free bit of code on your website, you can advertise to people who visited any page of your website. So, if you’re selling an asset similar to one you’ve recently sold; you can advertise to people who visited that former auction’s page. Using the lookalike audience tool, you can serve ads to people who look demographically like the people who visited that page. Taking that one step further, you can run (1) reminder ads for the auction at hand to people who already investigated it and/or (2) ads to a lookalike audience of people who’ve already visited this auction’s page.

Combinations

Finally, you can segment almost all of these lists by any of the other lists. You can also take any of these lists and sort it further by age, wealth, gender, geography, language, and much more. And you can save the lists for future use.

While there are groups or lists of people you can’t find on Facebook, there are a lot of specific audiences readily available to make your auction advertising more effective and efficient. Not all buyers are on Facebook; but there are more buyers there on any given day than in newsprint, magazines, or any TV channel. The specificity to which you can market on Facebook is unprecedented and unparalleled.

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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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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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.

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114: Scaring Your Competition

I recently had an email exchange with one of my clients who suspected that a former employee had not only taken their in-house mailing list with them to their next employer but had also given it to a third company.

In the auction industry, mailing list secrecy is a big deal. I regularly need to assure a client that I don’t share their lists with other companies. My mail production vendor trashes all address lists following each mailing to ensure something nefarious doesn’t happen. We respect that worry—even if I don’t understand it.

I’ve never once in 3,000± advertising campaigns had an auctioneer worry that their ad might be in the same publication as one or more from another auction company or real estate firm. Not once have I been told to avoid an asset-based listing website because other auctions or properties were being advertised there, too. Nobody seems concerned that there are other ads on the radio and TV.

So, it seems curious to me that we, as an industry, worry about sharing a mailbox with other auctioneers.

My advice to my client wasn’t about suing the former employee or sending a cease and desist letter. No, I wrote him something along the lines of, “Our job is to make them afraid to be in the same mailbox with us.”

Really, that’s our job in any medium: to have advertising that

  1. clearly communicates our message in the most efficient manner
  2. looks the most professional.

That’s not every auction company’s goal—or at least the end product. On days when I’m insecure about the value of what I bring to the table professionally, I look over to a stack of industry samples on my desk that illustrate what my clients’ competitors are putting in print publications and on direct mail pieces. (I subscribe to various auction company email blasts for the same reason.)

I would be out of work if the entire auction industry already

  1. showed restraint in the amount of content in their media,
  2. designed media for easy reading,
  3. took professional, high-resolution photographs,
  4. used larger pictures instead of a collage of small pictures,
  5. sold the asset first, the event second, and the company third, and
  6. crafted design templates and design guides.

Much of the industry doesn’t, though.

There is a cluster of companies who share the goal of raising the bar for what culture should expect from auction advertising. And, thankfully, some in that cluster hire me. They realize that they are competing against the marketplace, not just the rest of the auction industry. It does not matter whether our competition’s brochure is in the mail box with ours, because there’s a lot of other mail in that same mail box—mailed by companies who don’t care what the auction industry’s standards for design and communication are.

I find that a lot of auctioneers blame small budgets for the quality of their advertising. They don’t realize that many of the changes necessary to upgrade their advertising don’t cost much extra money, if any.

  1. Choosing a more readable font and higher-contrast text area costs nothing.
  2. Getting out of your vehicle to take real estate pictures takes only an extra few minutes.
  3. Cutting content for off-line advertising demands self-control but no debit or credit card.
  4. Changing the order of text in a document according to reader need requires minutes at most.
  5. Killing redundant information actually saves paper space and maybe even budget space.
  6. High-resolution images come from the toggle of a button on the same camera.

Regardless of whether your advertising arrives in mailboxes, on newspaper stands, in websites, or between sign posts, your content has competition. Are you confident it’s winning that competition? If not, what would need to change to be the best?

Taking it Personally

My competitive nature emerges awkwardly, especially at stop lights and around board games—and sadly, even in my marriage. I like to keep score. I like to measure my progress. I’m not kidding: I have graded every week on a numeric scorecard for years and saved the scores on an monthly average basis for year-to-year analysis. In college, I even did a poorly-supported research paper on whether Jesus was competitive, too.

For some reason, that competitive aggression is usually not the case at my morning basketball environment at the YMCA. I play with a a group of guys that have had various interactions with church and Jesus, and my goal with all of them is to leave them a touch closer to him than when they met me. While swearing is something I struggle to cut out of my daily vocabulary, on that court I find it easier to keep my speech clean. I rarely argue when someone else calls a foul, travel, double dribble, or out of bounds on me. In fact, at times, I’ve been asked, “What team are you on?”

It’s more than trying to be a nice guy. It’s more than being a jester. (When someone yells, “Shit!” I answer, “I already did this morning.” I’ll answer “Jesus!” with “Saves!”) It’s trying to be a good influence, a peacemaker, an ambassador.

While I’m often the one that calls out the score on the court—or at least asks what the score is, I’m finding a different way to view my time on and around the court.  I might never see the box score or even know how things are scored. It’s okay: heaven’s Sovereignty is never wrong and never needs instant replay.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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111: The 4 Steps to Advertising Success

I’ve learned that one of the first questions I need to ask a client on a campaign is, “Do you have a mailing list?”

I can’t tell you how many times that a client and I have been corresponding about the final changes to a direct mail piece, when I’ve asked if they had their mailing list ready to send to the print shop. “Oh, we don’t have one; could you find one for us?”

By this point of the campaign, the budget is pretty much set; the website and newsprint distribution is already in play; and we have to adjust the direct mail audience to however many we can reach with what’s left in the budget. If analytics have proven that direct mail won’t be a primary or secondary media for a particular asset or geographic category, this would be more understandable. So often, though, we are highly dependent on a mailing list to reach the most likely prospects.

I don’t mind working with my mailing list broker to build lists for my clients, but the mailing list being unsettled at this point means that the campaign was planned backward. The marketing plan started with a dollar amount rather than a defined audience.

This problem is bigger than mailing lists or even budgets. Most successful campaigns require four strategic stages in this specific order: audience, then medium, then message, then production.

1: Audience

You can have an amazing, award-winning piece of advertising; but if the right people don’t see or hear it, they won’t know to transact with you. The first question of a campaign should be, “Who would be the best prospect—the best buyer, seller, or referral agent—for this campaign?”

2: Medium

Once you have that profile in your head, you can then ask, “How or where would this prospect most likely need to see or hear our notification?” It’s at this point, when you should start researching mailing lists along with applicable websites, print publications, and other media. You can then adapt the size or reach of each respective media to match the quantity of prospects that you can reach with your budget. This mix could vary from one asset market to another and from one geographic market to another, and polling bidders at your auctions will let you know how to manage that mix for the next similar auction. Similarly, you can survey sellers and referral agents for similar campaigns to them.

3: Message

You can successfully get your advertising in front of the right people; but if it doesn’t speak to their needs or wants, you’ve only annoyed the best prospects. We have only a few seconds to appeal to what the seller values.

 

So, lead with facts. Explain the benefit of the facts, only if you have room. (Most of your audience is smart enough to decipher their benefit from the facts.) Leave information like preview dates, terms, and company information at the end of your medium—not in places of prominence. Nine times out of ten, “auction” should not be the headline, because it’s very rarely the primary benefit for the buyer or seller. And if your logo is at the top, please go back to Go. Do not collect $200.

4: Production

You can be in the right place in front of the right people, saying the right message; but if you’re there at the wrong time, you can still fail to connect with the prosper. If you have the right words but also have images that look like they came from a security camera, your pitch will lose punch. If the design of the print piece or production of the broadcast piece is shoddy or distracts from the asset(s) for sale, that will be the impression of your brand and, by extension, what you’re selling. Spelling and grammar matter. Readability (or ease of inferring from a broadcast) matters. Sometimes, even creativity matters.

There are no universal marketing guarantees, but starting from our audience’s perspective helps us ask the right strategic questions throughout a campaign. It’s not always easy to look through our audience’s lens, because we are often in a different head space than our prospect. When we do, though, we improve your chances of a successful campaign.

TAKING IT PERSONALLY

I find that people get the whole Jesus thing out of order—even more often than marketers get their strategy backward.  A lot of people think they have to clean up their mess before Jesus can come into their space, that they have to complete a certain amount of self-improvement or lifestyle detox to invite him into their lives.

The truth is that any movement toward perfection is still short of perfection.  Jesus wants to join us in the chaos, destruction, and dysfunction of our lives in order to display what he brings to the table.  He wants us to realize how much we need him, how much he has done and keeps doing for us.  The Bible says all of our righteous attempts without him are like used menstrual rags—not exactly impressive gifts to give him or our world.

Jesus doesn’t need us to do anything but surrender to his sovereignty.  Once he’s the one steering our lives, his power changes us from the inside out.

Stock images purchased from iStockphoto.com.

101: The USPS Program That Could Save You Thousands

Mail Sorting (Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com)The other day, I sent a FedEx envelope via overnight delivery.  When I looked at the receipt, I was shocked at the delivery charge—more than double what I paid for the same service when I started my company (back when I had to overnight Zip disks to my print shop multiple days per week).  I had similar sticker shock at the UPS Store a few weeks ago.

By contrast, over the last 13 years, first class postage for letters has risen just 12 cents per piece—just under a penny per year.  Despite basically tracking with inflation, postage increases usually draw complaints from marketers I’ve met.  And every time that penny gets added, people threaten to abandon direct mail for email, Facebook, and other online tools.

Well, the United States Post Office (USPS) must have been listening to these complaints.  The USPS dropped the postage rate on CASS-certified addresses for 8- and 12-page brochures to be the same letter rate available to 2-, 4- and 6-page pieces (a savings of 15¢-25¢ each).  And they introduced a new program called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) that could save you over 60% on your next direct mail campaign.

Learning From the Past
EDDM is a much improved version of the old “presorted standard” mail, in which postcards, brochures, and letters were delivered to every box holder on a mail delivery route.  If you’ve seen your postal carrier with a tray of identical brochures on their front seat, you’ve seen that kind of mail in action.  There are no addresses on the pieces, because everybody on the route gets the same piece.

The knock on standard mail—even presorted standard mail—was that promised mail delivery schedules weren’t reliable for periods shorter than two weeks.  Your brochures or postcards could literally sit for days at any USPS post office or distribution hub along their journey.  In my line of work, advertising auctions, we don’t have time enough to play that Russian roulette.  And I can tell you a horror story of when an auction company played anyway and lost dramatically—probably exacerbated by mailing across state lines, which often adds one or more stops to the USPS transportation process.

New & Improved
More than a slick rebranding, EDDM is a more viable solution for marketers across the country.  EDDM now expands beyond rural and city routes to include P.O. boxes, something previously unavailable for saturation mailings.  So, now you can ensure everyone in a zip code gets a copy of your direct mail.  Maybe most importantly, marketers can now request a specific delivery date.  My regular USPS hub’s postmaster said that those requested dates can now be as short as two days after the final post offices (called “drop sites”) receive their respective trays—a far cry from “up to two weeks.”

Shearer Printing & Office Solutions, my print and mail vendor, has made this process even more efficient and reliable for my clients by calling each drop site’s postmaster to alert them of incoming trays.  And instead of dropping the trays at their local USPS hub in Kokomo, IN, where the postage would cost 19.5¢ each, Shearer ships the trays via UPS or FedEx directly to the drop sites.  For bypassing their transportation system, the USPS knocks an additional 5¢ per piece off the postage.

Case Study
One of my Michigan clients recently experienced all this EDDM savings first hand, while sending a biplane-designed brochure to three separate geographical areas spanning five routes, totaling 3,023 recipient boxes.  Shearer presorted, packaged, and shipped the trays at a cost of $241.03 for processing and $80.46 for tray freight.  Postage totaled $438.34.  That’s just 14.5¢ per piece!  A brown-shirted driver retrieved the trays on Thursday; the trays arrived at the two destination post offices on Friday; the brochures then arrived in mail boxes on Saturday in two of the areas and on Monday in the other area.  So, with EDDM, the total mail preparation and delivery cost for an 8.5×11 brochure that took three business days to go from mail room to mail box was just 25.1¢ per piece.

Hybrid Mailing
But what if you do have a trusted in-house mailing list or want to target specific companies or consumer demographics through brokered lists?  You can use them, too!  Now, with digital and variable data printing technology, part of your print run can have barcoded addresses and first class indicias printed in line; and the rest can be printed with the necessary EDDM markings.  So, you can canvas a swath of local end users AND a group of specific, qualified prospects across a region or across the country—in most cases without any difference in printing costs for brochures.  (For postcards, you would need to have slightly different trim sizes to use for each purpose.)

Special Design & Production Considerations
All EDDM-eligible pieces must be larger than letter size.  This means your piece’s final dimensions must be more than 11.5 inches long OR more than 6.125 inches tall OR more than .25 inches thick (and must be less than 15 inches long, 12 inches tall, and .75 inches thick).  So, these pieces will often be larger than envelopes and other letter-size mailers in your audience’s mailboxes.  Tabbing is not necessary or encouraged.  A different postage indicia must be used, but most print & mail shops have one; so, you shouldn’t have to obtain one just for your mailings.  All pieces must have “ECRWSS Postal Customer” (for businesses and residences) or “ECRWSS Residential Customer” (for residences only) printed on the mailer panel.  Also, because there are no addresses for USPS scanners to read, there is a lot more room and freedom on the mailer panel for images and copy.

For auctioneers, who often have limited budgets and even more limited time, Every Door Direct Mail may prove itself a long-overdue solution.  And if your proposed budget can gain dollars on the postage line, you can spend those saved dollars on more marketing in places your competition can’t.

[tip]

When I was in high school and college, maintaining “good Christian” status sometimes involved accompanying people from my church as they canvassed the subdivisions on the island where I went to church.  I always felt awkward.  But I fought through that discomfort, because I thought some kind of heaven points were on the line; and I truly wanted people to know relationally the God I recognized as the source of all good things.  I must’ve thought I was vicariously knocking on heart doors like Jesus did in Revelations.

As much as I like telling people about products, vendors, and adventures that I love, I’ve always hated sales—especially theta part of trying to convince people they should purchase something.  I think that’s because I don’t like dealing with sales people or being convinced that I need or want something I previously didn’t—let alone an entire worldview system.

In the past month, I’ve heard both silly and very sad stories of people’s experiences with Every Door Direct Evangelism.  In one case, my buddy was driven away from God and church for 20 years because of a terrible encounter from door-to-door evangelists.  It made me sad.  Stories like that aren’t as surprising after you’ve lived in Ft. Wayne, IN, the self-proclaimed “City of Churches” and Lynchburg, VA, the “Buckle of the Southern Bible Belt.”  On top of my recent anecdotes, I’ve read an editorial newspaper column from a secular writer who’d been negatively impressed from this evangelism model.

I won’t go so far as to say that strategy is wrong or sinful.  I just struggle to find the biblical precedent, the relational benefit, the net efficacy. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house but met him on Main Street; and as far as I know, the Bible doesn’t record the Messiah or his disciples hitting a neighborhood’s worth of houses.  I need to ponder it all some more.  In the mean time, I welcome your insight.

[footer]Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

90: 6 Weird Intruders in Your Mail Box

IntrudersI love snail mail.

So, I register for mailing lists all the time.  I like to see what corporate America is producing in their metropolitan ad agencies and what auctioneers create with their brochure mills or local print shops.  I don’t see “junk mail.”  I see lessons in how to capture attention and how not to get trashed in the first pass through the stack.  I’ve got a storage bin filled with competition-worthy samples, and I’ve developed a list of the ways auctioneers ignore the purpose of advertising.

Advertising should do three things:
(1) capture attention
(2) inform
(3) call to action

In other words, your media needs to make a good first impression, hold that attention, and then leverage its impact to evoke a specific response.  The first step and the transition to the second step are typically where I see auctioneers stumble.  They assume that the recipient is as interested in what they’re selling as they are and that the recipient will interact with an advertisement as though they already know the content will interest them.

Most auction brochures and postcards I receive make me shake my head—more times than not because of the mailer panel.  The mailer panel is the first impression panel for the vast majority of the people on your mailing list.  Don’t make your first impression like these guys I’ve met at my mailbox:

The Shady Lawyer
If you get on enough auctioneer mailing lists or peruse enough advertising competition entries, you’ll find a mailer panel that shows the auction company name and logos and their contact information—and nothing else but the auction terms.  Before you ever know what they’re selling, you’re given all the indemnifying conditions of what you can and can’t do in regards to something being sold—something not shown nor described.

If you walked into a retailer, they wouldn’t stop you at the door to read the fine print from your pending receipt.  Why would a retailer—or an auctioneer—start their advertising that way?  They tell me it’s because that’s the only place left to put the terms.  These auctioneers believe the mailer panel is the leftover space, despite it being maybe the most important space of the entire piece.

The Conspiracy Theorist
I also get pieces whose mailer panels hold not much more than a small (often illegally reproduced) map on them, sometimes with directions.  Like the shady lawyers, these auctioneers assume the space next to your address is the junk drawer of the advertising kitchen.  If there were more than one Area 51, you could make the case that maybe these auctioneers might be selling restricted real estate.  We’re told there’s an important place; we just don’t know what’s going on there.  Think about it: why would anyone be interested in a map that comes with no reason to use it?  And who keeps a map to a place they don’t know if they want to visit?

The Polygamist
Every time postage rises, more auctioneers consolidate their mailings, sometimes by designing more than one auction into a piece but more often by stapling and/or tabbing multiple brochures together and mailing them as a combo pack.  This can be a smart strategy, if the auctions are for similar assets that would have been mailed to the same list anyway.

The problem comes when only one of the auctions is mentioned on the mailer panel of the outside piece.  If I were the seller of one of the auctions shown in the interior pieces, I’d feel second rate.  I also regularly receive pieces that just have a calendar showing highlighted dates and a couple headlines.  Rather than treat one seller with unequal attention, all sellers get the impersonal treatment.

Typically, the auctioneer is combining an entire month’s worth of mailings at one shot.  In most cases, it would seem to me that somebody’s auction is getting advertised later than optimal timing.

The Mime
These pieces don’t say anything; they just indicate that there’s something not being said.  I’ve seen auction mailers with nothing but the recipient’s address and a stamp on them—sometimes also a stamped return address and logo on it.  Blank on the other side, too.  Why?  Because the auctioneer only paid for one-sided printing.  Usually, they are mailing a poster they had printed to hang in stores around town.  They are banking on the fact that curiosity will typically trump attention span and the hope that they won’t be seen as cheap.

I understand the intrigue strategy, but there are better and more professional ways to generate curiosity.  You’re paying to mail both sides of the brochure.  Why not use both?

The Narcissist
One auctioneer told me he that didn’t like me putting pictures on the outside of a brochure and that he wanted just his name and enlarged logo on the outside of the piece.  “When people see my name, they will want to open it.”  Even as a direct mail junkie, I don’t open all of my mail, even pieces from known entities.  From what I’ve heard, I’m not alone in that reality.  So, I wouldn’t trust the name recognition approach, especially when mailing to a new geographic or asset market.

The Acrobat
Usually this dude comes in postcard format.  He expects you to flip the piece over to see the most appealing images and information.  Online print shops only exasperate the problem by calling the side of the postcard opposite the address the “front.”  They assume guests will come to your back door first, I guess.  They overlook that the vast majority of Americans open their mail address side up—because that’s how mail deliverers put it in mailboxes.

Don’t make the people on your mailing list guess what’s for sale and why it’s important they know about it.  Capture their attention and inform them right from the first impression—the mailer panel.
[tip]

In advertising, you should judge a book by its cover, because that’s what its audience does.

Spiritually and relationally, though, it’s not a safe practice.  God says that he’s the only one who sees the inside through the outside.  Sadly, though, the church has built millennia of precedence of creating a sliding scale of holiness, based on mostly-arbitrary exterior criteria.  I struggle with this, too, especially when I feel insecure about my spiritual state.

Recently, a conversation with a mentor of mine challenged my resistance to a former convict participating in certain church environments.  We talked about how scandalous God’s grace and mercy are, and he dropped this on me:  “I don’t want to have a finer filter than God does.”  In other words, if God forgave someone and allowed them to approach him, why shouldn’t we?

Then he hit me with the knockout punch: “All of us have some pretty dark places in our hearts—all of us.”  It’s easy to see the darkness in others instead of our own waywardness.  It’s a challenge, though, to extend to someone else the benefit of a doubt that we give ourselves.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

7: Prospect Mapping

Mind ReadingIf you’re reading this email, chances are at some point in time you’ve asked me to find a list of people who buy [insert your property here]. “I need all the people who invest in real estate in these towns.” Or: “I need everyone who buys greenhouses in Arizona.”

In this information age, we expect to be able to tap big brother to find out the kinds of people who buy the stuff we want to sell. Like a Minority Report database, there should be a record of people who are thinking about buying our stuff.

Of course, we can’t read peoples’ minds, let alone their intentions—at least not in advance and from a distance. So, we try the next best thing: reach people who already own one of whatever we’re selling. We assume that people who have bought one will want to buy another. Many times, they do. And sometimes, it’s something publicly recorded like a house or a fishing license; and we can grab their addresses.

For specific items, it can be trickier. Who owns the list of people who buy Mazda’s? Mazda, maybe a few of their venture partners. It’s proprietary information. Mazda might trust you to tell you how many people bought which cars and maybe per state or age or gender—if you can find an information officer or public resource to divulge that. Each state’s DMV office may have their citizen’s information but are unable or at least unwilling to share that.

So, what do you do? You have to reach them, or you won’t have auction bidders. And your tested and proven in-house lists don’t have a category for this property.

Find web sites and publications that market to the specific buyer prospect. Take your clues from the seller. What do they read? What web sites do they bookmark or visit often? Where do they interact with other owners, collectors, or enthusiasts? Where and how did they buy it? These offer great marketing leads.

The more specific the demographic, the less often a publication typically publishes—even bimonthly, quarterly, or semi-annually. However, their web sites typically allow for immediate placement. Sometimes, the publications even sell classified listings on their respective web sites. If the sites allow text searching, even better. Some will also insert your direct mail piece or a synthesized page into the publication already going to your prospect. This way, they pay for the postage and the recipient demographic mapping.

It might be worth buying some distinct google adword(s) about specific items [1929 Indian] or real estate features [infinity pool] to grab internet traffic, when there isn’t a related site or one with significant traffic. It takes time to do this, especially when you’ve got a long list of unique items or features; but the best bidders for some items or features are rarely in your home county. Like the online used car site’s commercial demonstrates, there’s a buyer out there for your seller’s lime green Honda Del Sol.

You may have a great direct mail piece you want to distribute, and direct mail response rates remain strong. Sometimes the answer is a purchased mailing list. It doesn’t hurt to supplement your other media with such. Just don’t depend solely on it to find your buyer(s) or to do so with the quantity efficiency of your proprietary lists.
[tip]

It’s always been unreal to me how followers of Christ mesh. People from different socioeconomic and family backgrounds unite over a common experience and a shared cause. I have friends all over the country that are like family, people whose lives have truly reached into mine, sometimes briefly yet often profoundly—people I met solely through the universal church.

But it’s easy for American Christians to get comfortable with the club, to carry an aura of exclusivity. That tendency fully fledged in one generation could halve the true church. Or worse. Too often, it keeps people from feeling welcome in local assemblies and wanted by God.

For the movement of God to keep moving, we believers have to keep moving—out of our comfort zones and into new environments with new people. God gave us circles of influence—clues, if you will, as to other people to whom he can relate through us individually.

It’s cushy in the circle, but we can make a bigger circle when we take time and energy and courage to venture from it.

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

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