Tag : margin

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138: 5 Design Attributes of Premium Auction Advertising

PicassoRecently, a lot of incredible art & antique auctions have made the news, including the record-breaking $179,400,000 paid for a Picasso painting at auction a few weeks ago.

That’s nine figures! It’s also roughly six times the hammer price of the most expensive asset I’ve ever helped an auctioneer advertise. When I see these headlines and stories, I get curious about how they were marketed—the budget, the strategy, the teamwork, etc. I wouldn’t want to be part of that process. I just want to observe it in action.

I discovered one of the other recent headline auctions in this category while flipping through a magazine that has mysteriously found its way into my mailbox. This fantastic full-page ad [shown below] stopped me in its tracts. I later learned that it costs $16,320 to run this black and white ad (and that it would’ve cost $27,200 in color). In my 15 years in the business I’ve never built an ad that expensive—not even close.

A few clicks later, I found this beautiful 210-page catalog for the Lauren Bacall auction. Its 740 lots were scattered at a luxuriously-light average of 3.5 lots per page. The photography and page layout really humbled me. (Many of the awards I’ve won in my career wouldn’t have been awards, if the best in the industry cared to enter their pieces like this one.) The biggest catalog I ever built was a comparatively-meager 20 or 24 pages.

Bonhams Catalog CoverRather than viewing my daily bread with disdain, I looked for elements from which I and my clients could learn. See, my clients have high-wire acts as risky as this practically-absolute Bonham’s auction. Only a few assets or collections I advertise a year might hit their $3,460,000 sale price, but auctioneers risk their time, resources, and reputations on speculation that assets will even sell and also at what price the hammer will land. Their commissions and their sellers’ financial statements are just as at stake as those in the international auction houses. Every day.

So, here are those lessons:

1. Clean trumps cluttered.

We can’t all use just a four-word headline and a photograph, but we can lean more heavily on our main attraction more. We can move from collages of small pictures to large images and leave the tertiary details to our websites. We can be ruthless with our text cleaver, strict with out templates, and humble with our logo placement.

2. Brochure covers don’t need a lot of information.

Candidly, my best brochure & catalog covers—even my award winners—are covered in mostly-redundant information. Imagine how much more visual appeal our brochures would have if we killed the content found elsewhere in the brochure! (Also imagine if we pared the rest of the brochure to easily fit and emphasize that content.)

3. Photography makes or breaks your media design.

Lauren Bacall THRThat catalog wouldn’t look nearly as attractive without professionally captured, edited, and masked images of lots that sold at an average of $4,676 per lot. The ads, catalog cover, and large-format media Bonhams used wouldn’t have grabbed your attention as easily without the rights to a striking portrait of Ms. Bacall. Even a great designer can’t overcome the disadvantage of poor photography. Even an inexperienced designer can look good with good images.

4. White space with small text looks luxurious.

If you want to make something look high end, shrink the font size and increase the space between elements on the page. This strategy allows the margin to draw the attention better to important elements. For brochures of real estate or other physically-large assets, you can substitute large, unused areas of background images to create the same effect. Bonham took this even further with entire completely blank pages in their catalog.

5. Trust the headline and primary image.

Ms. Bacall’s collection proved as diverse as it was valuable. The lots—that brought as much as $173,000 for a single item—deserved description. But Bonhams didn’t tell us about the lots in their first-impressions. They trusted the headline and primary image to lead to investigation, and they trusted that investigation to lead to bids. Our ads might still need a short paragraph of overview, but they need to stop looking like phone directory pages. If someone isn’t interested after the first two or three lines, it doesn’t matter how many lines of text we add.

THR ad details insetThe irony is that Bonhams showed more restraint for expensive items than we often do with much lesser lots. Maybe it’s not ironic, since most of us sell utilitarian items instead of luxury goods. Regardless, while it’s impractical for most auctioneers to put these principles in action to the degree Bonhams did, we can all move in these directions for advertising that competes in the marketplace—not just in the auction industry.

Sources for facts in this post: Lauren Bacall’s Eclectic Treasures Auctioned Off” by Alexandra Jacobs on NYTimes.com, April 3, 2015. Lauren Bacall Jewelry Fetches More than $500,000” by Anthony DeMarco on Forbes.com, April 4, 2015.

103: 5 Advertising Lessons From the Interstate

Image Purchased from iStockPhoto.comLast Saturday, I put over 500 miles on the odometer on the way to and then from an out-of-state wedding. I passed scores of billboards, but I only remember a few. Not surprisingly, two of them were advertising auctions.

Even though I passed both of the auction billboards twice, I never did finish reading their respective messages. Some might be tempted to blame part of that on high interstate speed limits and even higher traffic speeds. Some could even make the case that I’m not the fastest reader. Hopefully, the majority of travelers would agree with me, though, that there was simply way too much text to be absorbed during the short time of interaction.

The billboards I saw looked like the 25-word line ads I regularly place in statewide classified networks. There was no hierarchy of fonts or colors, sizing or bolding. Everything was emphasized, which means nothing was. They looked like Jenga stacks of text blocks. With no images or unused (“white”) space, those text blocks abutted the edges of the signs—crammed in the boundaries like alphabet sardines.

I’ve designed busy billboards that I’ve later been ashamed to pass on the highway; so, this post isn’t meant to denigrate these different auction companies’ work. That said, there are some lessons from my interaction with these signs.

Context is Crucial
What works on a billboard doesn’t work on Facebook. What works on YouTube doesn’t work in direct mail. And what works on AuctionZip doesn’t work on radio. Advertisers face an ever-growing array of advertising media.  One of the biggest challenges of this reality is adapting the message delivery to the nuances of each medium. Rather than simply copying and pasting from one medium to another, we need to ask ourselves about who the audience is in each medium and how they interact with that medium.

Time Flies
In my recent Certified Auctioneers Institute class, I hid a gift card in a stack of mail from home and asked for a volunteer to flip through the stack like they would at home until they found it. My volunteer averaged less than two seconds of viewing time per direct mail piece—about half the time that I had to read the passing billboards. We need to simplify our initial advertising impressions to the answer of the question, “If I could communicate just one thing—one thought—what would it be?”

Simplicity Sells
Less is almost always more. In advertising, sentences trump paragraphs, and phrases trump sentences. If the headline doesn’t sell our asset or service, adding more words will not make the sale. One of the easiest ways to subtract words is to replace them with images of the assets being described.

Images Expedite Absorption
We live in a show-then-tell culture. Pictures are shortcuts, and we all read images before text. Since we have limited time for interaction, it’s baffling to me why more marketers don’t use shortcuts like photos.

Margin Matters
Space around words makes them easier to read. The space around text can also signify importance and hierarchy. If we don’t have color or images with which to work, the next best thing for getting our message absorbed is empty space around what is important.

Good advertising is more often a result of subtraction than addition. Consider an advertisement as a collection of shares of impression. The fewer the shares, the more each share is worth—and the more likely they’ll be remembered.
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The wedding I attended took place in a one-room country church, built in bygone years with an adjacent cemetery. While the wedding party was smiling for their family pictures, I meandered between the headstones. Looking at the landscape from my drive and the collections of birth and death dates at this graveyard, I was struck by many of the same lessons for life as the billboards were for advertising.

My interaction with others needs to be tempered to the context of the moment.
The Bible says to use days wisely, since I don’t know how many days I’ll get on this planet.
There is beauty is untangled, unhurried life. Find the simple pleasures in life and sit down in the moment with them.
The observation—the images—of the life I live will say as much or more as the words I write—no matter how much I write.
The concept of margin (rest) starts in Genesis, when even the Creator took a day to reflect on creation.

I’ve heard these lessons many times, but I have a short memory and even an smaller store of discipline. I’m thankful to a God who takes me to new places and old places to remind me of his timeless truths.

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

21: My Favorite Margin (From Outer Space)

Martian Man

We all understand the concept of profit margin: push revenue up; suppress offsetting expenses; the wider the difference, the more money you get to keep. That money isn’t unused money; in fact, to us, it might be the most important money—because we can spend it more freely to pursue our personal goals.

We understand the concept of margin in time management: organize your time; extricate wasted minutes or hours to be added to important commitments; the more time we find, the more we get to keep. It isn’t unused time; in fact, to us, it might be the most important time—free time—because we can spend it more freely to pursue our personal goals.

Margin concentrates our attention, maximizes our energy, and builds our priorities. It allows us to do more with less. It is the Wizard-of-Oz magic that makes the most of what we already have.

So, if we believe so strongly in the practical benefit of margin, why is it so difficult to apply it to our advertising? I’ve heard the answers: “We don’t have money in the budget for white space,” and “Too much information is better than too little,” and “We don’t want them calling us for information they can read for themselves.”

Ad ComparisonHere are three samples of ads for the same [fictional] real estate auction. “A” shows a typical auctioneer’s ad. It’s pretty exhaustive but powers visual overload into the reader’s psyche. The small type is difficult to read (especially in newsprint); it looks like a lot to read.

“B” cuts many of the details—needful only to those interested in attending the auction and/or purchasing—and gives the acquired space to the emphasis of the more important information.

“C” strips the ad down to visual impact and easy-to-find direction to the next step. The reader is not given any information they don’t need yet. The advertiser lets the images—the property itself—sell the auction.

To which ad do you gravitate? Which one is easiest to read? In which one does the property look most valuable? Which ad would positively stand out from your competition’s ads?

The one with more margin. It’s not unused space; it’s space used to expand your brand.

Your property may not be as easily sold with sparseness as a mountain retreat, but the pursuit of margin will almost always make your ads—and, thus, properties—more attractive to buyers. Motivated buyers will go to your web site or call; your job is to generate that motivation in the first interaction with your auction. That may mean the outside of a brochure, a sign on the property, or a print or online ad. But the idea’s the same: less is more.

We use margin on our roads to build safety into our lives. We use margin in our homes so that we don’t have to crawl over furniture from the door to the fridge. We use margin in our clothing to keep us from ending up on a makeover show.

It’s time we use margin to build our brands and push our competitors to consider a makeover.
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The Bible asks us to build margin into our lives in many ways: time, money, relationships. It even asks us to build a margin from temptation. The farther we stay from the environments that always flip the wrong switch, the less likely we’ll—accidentally or intentionally—bump it to “ON.”

That margin looks different to different people, as we each bear a unique set of Achilles heels. As we learn to extend grace to others with differing buffer zones, we are more able to imbibe God’s grace. The more grace we cognitively ingest, the more faith grows in us—and the stronger we grow to help others who share our struggles.

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

17: Exit Strategy

BillboardI recently heard one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received for my design. Paul Parks of international engineering firm, OmniTech USA, relayed the firm’s consensus on a new project concept, “We love how easily your sample reads!”

You read that right. I want my design to be valued as much for its readability as for its creativity.

I absorb the request for “out of the box” on a regular basis and try to oblige that as much as possible. Thankfully, the size of the box of expectations for most auction materials is pretty small by Madison Avenue standards; so, it doesn’t take much to push past those boundaries. (I still remember an auctioneer thinking I was shaking things up by putting pictures on an outside panel of his brochure and another for putting pictures at the top of his poster above the word “auction”).

I’m glad to have branded biplane as a resource auctioneers associate with award-winning work, but I’d prefer my personal impact on the auction industry to be more successful communication. The buying public appreciates aesthetically-crafted advertising, but they act on the readable.

A fancy billboard may grab a driver’s attention; but the shortest, simplest message gets the car onto the off ramp. The time a direct mail piece or newsprint ad has in front of a viewer’s eyes is even shorter, on average, than a billboard—a web ad even less. So, if your message has only five seconds or even (somehow) ten, you’ve got to work efficiently to successfully communicate.

To accomplish this, the most important part of the message (to the reader) has to be (1) brief and (2) primary. Everything else needs to fall away from that in the order it will be needed by the reader, not the advertiser. Text needs to be highly contrastive to its background(s). Pictures should be few and large. All elements need some “personal space” away from crowding, and details need to be relegated to the internet or brochure interiors.

Attractive, clear communication will sell my auctioneers’ wares more successfully than complicated designs. Successful sales generate capital for more marketing and more trust in your advertising infrastructure. So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is, trusting my clients’ success to translate into mine.
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Lots of Christians I know are trying to find creative ways to reach their secular peers with the Gospel message. A new pithy bumper sticker or tee shirt is born every week, a new-format book or DVD seemingly more often than that. It’s like these TV sportsmen hocking their latest lures or calls, scents or weapons.

Don’t get me wrong: I love it that Christian apparel and media are more attractive and mainstream. I just don’t depend on it to make an eternal difference in the life of an unbeliever.

We need nothing more than to be forwarding the gift that Jesus gave us—that he offers to everyone. It’s the package of forgiveness and hope, love and acceptance, restoration and purpose. Jesus said he came to give us abundant life—away from our natural-bent junk and desperation.

If we’d simply communicate the eternal and present difference Christ makes in our hearts and lives, there’d be longer lines at our Christian merchandise stores. More importantly, there’d be fewer folks on the wrong side of eternity.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2000[/footer]

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