Tag : marketing

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194: The Right Marketing Questions at the Wrong Time

I need to get better at asking questions of my clients earlier in the advertising process. Sadly, I often struggle to focus on the marketing strategy instead of billable tasks.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a direct mail piece designed for a client and then asked them for the mailing list—only to learn that they do they not have a mailing list and don’t know to whom they will mail it. Or right before I dive into some Facebook ads, I’ve realized I forgot to ask, “Who do you want to target?”

I’m apparently not alone in my absentmindedness, because a common response is: “I don’t know. What do you think?”

On the times when I’m actually on my marketing game early in the process, I’ve asked the auctioneer, “Who’s our buyer? What’s our prospect profile?”

“Well, I was hoping you could help me with that.”

Mind you, this is after the auction contract was signed. That means auctioneers are booking deals in new asset and/or geographic markets without knowing who their prospects are, let alone which media they need (and in what proportion) to reach targeted potential buyers.

The problem with this tardiness is that the buyer determines the advertising campaign.

The prospect guides where we have to advertise—in terms of both media type and geographic area. That profile dictates what kind of impression we need to make, and that (along with asset value) governs the budget.

So, how is it that so many auctions are booked and budgets are set before anyone asks, “Who is the buyer?”

Right Questions at the Wrong Time

Some of it might be too much trust in “the sound that sells”—the idea that auctions in and of themselves get stuff sold, regardless of asset. While an auction is a great vehicle for transactions of a myriad of items, there is no auction without bidders. So, the most important part of the auction marketing process is the attraction and accumulation of bidders.

To do that, we have to stop thinking like auctioneers or real estate agents or salespeople—or graphic designers. We have to get into the heads of the people who would want what we’re selling. Often, that’s the most difficult part of the process—for both my auctioneers and their advertising vendor. If we personally wouldn’t buy that asset, we have to research who would. We need to have a good idea what they need, and what motivates them.

Why would someone want farm equipment with this age and these hours?
Do hunters check their Facebook during hunting season? (And when is deer season where this land is?)
What kind of consumer is looking for an unfinished condo unit?
Where do subdivision developers search for new opportunities?
How far would someone travel to purchase from an on-site estate auction or pick up from an online auction?
What would convince a real estate investor to buy farmland instead of residential properties?
How much disposable income would someone need to purchase this asset?
For what other industries could this commercial equipment or real estate be used?
Are we building any media only to impress the seller instead of buyers?

These questions speak to buyer motive, media mix, and targeting options. Their answers help us write headlines and select demographic criteria. The followup questions to the examples above would further focus our advertising and make our budget more efficient—even if it means spending more money on fewer people to attract an action from them.

It doesn’t cost you money to ask these questions.

In fact, it might cost you significant money if you don’t ask these questions—especially if you don’t ask them before you sign the auction contract. Save yourself some headaches. Take the prescription four out of five TV doctors recommend: ask two of these questions, and then email your advertising vendors in the morning.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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191: How an Embarrassing Failure Led Me to Marketing Success

Back in 2004, I became an author. I released a book of 41 discussions of interesting Bible characters. In 2003, it was the highest-rated manuscript on a service that faith-based publishers use to find authors without agent representation. At the one publisher who legitimately considered it, the editorial staff loved my writing and the compilation; but their accounting and marketing teammates did not. I ended up using a self-publishing service to print the manuscript.

By commercial standards, the book was a flop.

Failure to Success WOTS7,904,412 different book titles have sold better on Amazon. A horrible salesman, I’ve sold fewer than 200 copies across all retailers; and many of those were copies I’ve bought to give to people. My church, where my wife is on staff and where I’ve lead multiple environments, sold one whole copy of Word on the Street during the years it was on their bookstore’s shelf. That wouldn’t be so embarrassing, except that more than 3,000 people attend our church on most Sundays.

Oh, it gets better: that bookstore’s manager found a signed copy of my book—at Goodwill. When Amazon showed a “collector’s edition” of the book, my curiosity pushed me to buy it. When the box arrived, I learned that someone else with a signed copy had hocked it. So, I had probably bought that same book twice.

My book’s failure became one of the most important marketing lessons of my life. It cemented an unpopular platform from which I’ve taught auction professionals for the past decade. It became one of the underpinning premises of the Auction Marketing Management designation program. See, one of the primary reasons my book failed turned out to be the reason so much auction marketing doesn’t reach its full potential.

The audience determines what gets read.

If the people we want to interact with our content don’t like it or engage with it, our message will not get heard. That applies to both authors and advertisers. No matter how much of ourselves we put into the creation, we don’t determine what people like, what gets absorbed, or whether something sells. No matter how much we believe in something, we can’t make the world want it.

Also, it doesn’t matter what our peers think of our work or how many industry awards we win. Editors loved my prose, but they got to read it for free. My capstone writing portfolio became the first to earn a perfect score from the Dean of Education at my alma mater, but she didn’t buy a copy of my book. I won an adult poetry contest in high school and a medal for writing achievement in college. My undergrad internship included authoring a magazine cover story about the first school administrator to participate in Florida’s voucher program. None of that mattered.

Thankfully, I got to see the big, fat failure.

I’m grateful it was so obvious. Many auctioneers don’t get that same opportunity. They don’t know how many postcard recipients didn’t become bidders but would have with different messaging or design. They don’t see how much money they didn’t make off Facebook scrollers who might have clicked on a better ad. They don’t know how much their auctioneer-centric email subject lines kept them from bigger commissions.

For auctioneers, the auction method is their instinctive headline. Auction and open house dates are the rhythm of their lives and get most of the real estate on their advertising media. I’ve even seen auctioneers put their office’s address in prominent or multiple locations—not the auction site’s address but their return mailing address.

The problem with all of these emphases is that those aren’t priorities to consumers. It’s not that this content isn’t important. It’s just that people only need that information after they already want what you’re selling. That tertiary information can be shown in smaller font lower on the piece—or on your website.

By the way, the same holds true when prospecting for sellers, who don’t primarily care how many years you’ve been in business. They don’t care if your chant won a bid calling contest, especially if you’re selling their asset online. They don’t know what those letters behind your name mean and don’t really want you to take their time explaining them. They don’t want clichéd, ambiguous tag lines or unsupported claims. They want empathy to their specific situation, their pain points. They want evidence that you consistently solve the problems of other sellers in their same situation.

Our audience wants the book to be about them.

Our prospects will give us only a few seconds to prove it’s about them. If we don’t connect to their need or want in that time, we may not get more time. It doesn’t matter how pretty the inside of the brochure is behind a horrible mailer panel. It doesn’t matter what’s in the email hidden behind an “AUCTION!!!” subject line. It doesn’t matter how robust the content is on the other end of the link from an uninteresting Facebook ad. All we’re trying to say doesn’t get said, if nobody reads it.

George Bernard Shaw summed it best: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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164: Why Auctioneers Should Be Careful with Auction Hash Tags (Part 2)

Spring of 2015 was a crazy time for art auctions. In New York alone, auction houses sold $2.3 billion in art.1 There seemed to be a lot of high-profile pieces or collections in the news; and the all-time auction record for art was set, when $179.4 million was the high bid for a Picasso. Many within the auction industry justifiably bragged about the auction method with multiple Facebook posts sharing these jaw-dropping events and transactions.

Predictably, bid callers added the hashtag #OnlyAtAuction to their posts and comments. Like its newer and less-superlative brother, #AuctionsWork, the tag line held the hopes of auction marketers, trying to make hay on headlines. Even a strong, thriving industry hoped to gain more credibility and consideration from onlookers—a worthy goal, for sure.

Pollack Record PaintingFast forward a few months, however; and that record got absolutely demolished. In case you missed it, Ken Griffin, a Chicago-based hedge fund manager, bought two paintings for a combined total of $500 million.

You read that correctly: half a billion dollars. That’s billion—with a b.

Griffin paid $300 million for a Jackson Pollock painting. That’s almost six times the auction record for a Pollock piece, which was set in 2013 at $58.3 million. Along with the Pollock, he also paid $200 million for a Willem de Kooning painting—almost seven times the auction record for a de Kooning piece, also set in 2013. 2

In related news, the current auction record price for a car is $38.1 million, set in 2014 for a Ferrari GTO. That’s definitely impressive—almost as astonishing as another Ferrari GTO that sold privately for $52 million in 2013. The world record for a private residence sold via traditional brokerage is now $301 million. That, too, proves multiple times the auction record for its asset category.

While I was scouring the Internet for this data, I searched and found neither #OnlyWithDealers nor #OnlyThroughBrokerage on Twitter. Same goes for #BrokerageWorks.

Perhaps these successful, professional marketers realize that our culture understands the value of both dealers and brokers. And perhaps auctioneers should follow their lead. It would be in our industry’s best interest, if we did.

If we keep telling consumers that things happen #OnlyAtAuction; and then they happen just as successfully (if not, sometimes, more successfully) without auction, then our claims ring hollow. When sellers see that #AuctionsWork but that sometimes other kinds of transactions #WorkBetter, we invite added comparison. Auctions often win those comparisons, but we can’t pretend that sometimes they don’t.

When we sell clichés instead of solutions, we lose credibility. Lean on empty rhetoric too much, and the industry gets a stigma . . . like the ones we currently battle: that auctions are only for fire sales and distress situations, that auctions are a last resort.

Rather than beating the drum of auctions, we need to pound the message of marketing. No matter how the transaction is conducted, the marketing that brings the buyer to an auction or to a listing or to a dealer is pretty much the same. Savvy marketers know to determine the likely buyer and then build a campaign of the multiple media, public relations efforts, and/or interpersonal interactions that are most likely to attract those potential buyers. When we in the auction community consult with sellers, we need to show them the advantages and disadvantages of each sales method—and then offer to help them with the one that best solves their situation.

Most of my largest clients offer their sellers multiple options, whether that’s buyouts, consignments, brokerage, or one of several kinds of auction. This gives them credibility. That lets the seller know that the marketer is more concerned about the seller’s gain than the auctioneer’s affinity for bid calling.

What will promote our industry best is the cumulative effort of professional auctioneers marketing their sellers’ wares in the best way possible. We don’t need hashtags or slogans to do that. We need more candor and flexibility—and a lot less ego and insecurity. In the end, our results will earn us a platform for competitive viability.

Painting image linked to source.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

1. “New York’s Auction Houses Just Sold $2.3 Billion Worth of Art” by Valetta Zarya, fortune.com
2. “Billionaire Art Collector Ken Griffin Spends $500 Million on Two Paintings by Rain Embuscado, news.artnet.com

109: When Is An Audience Too Big?

F150 AdThis coming Sunday, corporations will be spending roughly $4 million for each 30 seconds of advertising they obtain.  Even at these rates, available commercial slots for 2014’s big football game sold out in 2013.  It’s the most watched TV show in North America every year with an expected audience of 108,000,000 consumers.

If you’re doing the math at home, that’s 3.7¢ that advertisers spent per potential viewer.  Most media won’t break it down for you like that—instead going with cost per mil (CPM), which means cost per thousand viewers.  In this case, that’s $37.04.

Whenever I see expensive ads like these, I wonder three things:

(1) How many times someone has to see this ad before they decide to purchase?
(2) How many units does the advertiser need to sell just to break even on this commercial?
(3) How much of that product’s average price go to just this commercial?

Take, for instance, the Ford F150.  Ford sold 763,402 F150’s in 2013—the most of any vehicle sold in the US by far. If Ford Motor Company purchased only one 30-second Super Bowl spot and if this were the only ad that they ran all year, every truck’s price would include $5.24 for just this ad.  Based on the number of TV and magazine ads for the F series that I see in my limited broadcast media interaction every year, I wouldn’t be surprised if owners of new F150’s are paying for more than $1,000 in advertising.

Whatever the number is, Ford & Chevy, Verizon & AT&T, and Budweiser & Coors have found it reasonable, if not necessary, to spend so much on mass marketing.  For my clientele, too, a CPM of $37.04 would seem a good deal for their small business marketing, especially their event marketing.

That $37.04 can be deceiving, if not expensive, though.

Half a decade ago, one of my former clients—no longer in business—asked me to advertise a New Jersey construction equipment auction in the Philadelphia Enquirer and the New York Times.  I asked him, “How many people looking for an excavator look in the Sunday classifieds of a metro paper?”  If every one of the combined 2,342,631 subscribers of those papers on Sunday happened to turn to that ad’s page and also perused until they found that tiny ad—still probably only a fraction of 1% of the audience would care about its content.  And that’s the best-case scenario.

For the same amount of advertising spend, he could’ve bought sizable ads in construction equipment publications and on related websites—where the percentage of audience being qualified prospects would be exponentially higher.  Or he could’ve spent less overall for more conservative advertisements across all of the targeted media.  Sure, the CPM would’ve been significantly higher; but the value would be exponentially higher.

Be careful when an ad agency tries to sell you national ads for a campaign that only needs local/regional media or regional/national asset media.  Most ad agencies in the States make a commission—usually around 15%—back from the media for the advertising you buy.  Commissioned sales reps from both agencies and media alike will sell you on audience size (sometimes called “total reach”); but look, instead, at percentage of likely buyers from that audience.

Instead of CPM, I recommend evaluating media use based on cost per qualified prospect (CPQP).  It’s better to pay a lot to reach people who are likely to pay you a lot.

One of my auctioneer friend’s campaign came at a cost of roughly $65 CPQP, but he only mailed to between 75 and 80 people.  From that very small audience, though, he made over $100,000 in one year. That’s an average of almost $1,300 in revenue per prospect.  Not per sale.  Per prospect.  That’s a number that no Super Bowl advertiser can match and that no ad agency can promise.  While this might be on the high end of expectations, the principle it illustrates holds true.

On a related note, I recommend polling your bidders per media outlay to determine what your cost per bidder is from each. Tim Narhi Auctioneer & Associates do a great job of this and can show a seller what they spent per bidder per media for several years’ worth of auction advertising—including almost any one specific auction.  Those numbers trump any statistic an agency or media rep will tout.

The feather-in-your cap ads like those in the Broncos/Seahawks game might appeal to your ego, but targeted marketing will make that net proceeds check appeal to your wallet.
[tip]

We live in a big world, and the religious affiliation of that population is quite diverse—so much so that I don’t know that any one faith system (or lack thereof) includes a majority of the global population.  For those of us who think the eternal stakes of believing an errant way are high, the temptation is to evangelize to the largest audiences possible.

God uses crusades and impersonal pamphlets.  I’ve met people whose life trajectory has changed from them.  He might even use television and radio programs, in spite of the characters that populate most of them.

From my own experience, though, I’ve seen the most efficient sharing to come on an interpersonal level.  Conversations in a coffee shop, book clubs in a cafe, table talk at a church environment.  Life change happens deepest when lives are rubbing against changed lives—when someone can say what the Apostle Paul did, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”

[footer]Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com.
F150 image screen captured from online commercial.
Volkswagen ad frame downloaded from Google Images.[/footer]

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