Tag : online-bidding

108: How Do You Advertise an Online-Only Auction?

Written on assignment from Auctioneer, the official magazine of the National Auctioneers Association.


It seems that I’ve consistently received one question at almost every auctioneer gathering that I’ve attended over the past couple of years.

“How do you advertise an online-only auction?”

I usually answer that question with one of my own, “How do you advertise an offline auction?”

With the rise of both simulcast auctions and online-only auctions in both quantity and percentage of live auctions, there’s an assumption that an entirely separate pool of prospective bidders remains to be found.  That’s only partially true.  In some markets, the buyer demographic doesn’t frequent the Internet; and in some markets, potential bidders spend their lives online.  For the most part, though, those two groups are the outside slivers of a Venn diagram with a pretty fat overlap of online and offline media viewers.

Venn Diagram Buying Public

Whether the bidding is done with a raised hand or a clicked mouse is just a matter of auction location. Nobody asks me, “How do you advertise an off-site auction?” They don’t ask that, because they advertise off-site auctions like the way they advertise on-site auctions.  Online auctions are just off-site auctions held in a virtual venue.

Auction marketers should be covering all of the offline and online bases that their budgets can afford—for every auction, regardless of bidding platform or location.

So, then the question becomes, “Where do I advertise any auction?”

The answer to that question is, again, another question, “From which media are your current bidders hearing about your auctions?”  If an auctioneer can’t answer that, they’re losing market share to auction marketers who can.

The best way to know this answer is to query bidders at auctions. At an on-site auction, it might be a clerk verbally asking those in the registration line; or it might be written on the back of free entry tickets at a small raffle prior to the start of bidding.  For online auctions, it can be a set of multiple-choice toggles on the registration form.

Warning: polling results will most likely surprise you.  Also, expect the results to vary from location to location, from asset type to asset type, and even from one time of the year to another.  That’s why it’s important to poll every auction and not make media purchasing decisions based on only a few polls.

This polling data, when stored and categorized becomes a powerful tool at future seller presentations.  How much do you think it will impress a prospective seller to see a chart or spreadsheet and read, “Over the past 12 months, our online bidders for [type of asset] in [geographic area] have heard about our auctions primarily from these three media.  Over that same time frame, our on-site bidders have come from these three media outlets.”?

It wouldn’t surprise me if those top three media were the same for both auction types. Even if not, you’ll be able to answer the question many auctioneers—including some of your competitors—cannot: “Where do you advertise an online-only auction?”

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


102: Competing For (And Against?) Potential Clients

Image purchase from iStockPhoto.comWhen someone added me to a private Facebook group for auctioneers, I didn’t expect the conversations there to look much different than the rest of my relatively-peaceful Facebook stream. So, it came as quite a surprise when it turned into the most acrimonious auctioneer environment I’ve ever encountered.

Proxibid, a longstanding vendor for third-party online bidding, had announced a change in their structure. From what I gather, Proxibid was now going to allow non-auctioneers to sell their wares through the Proxibid system—a system that had been assumed as an auctioneer-only environment. Some viewed this expansion as a deceptive change of plans; others defended Proxibid for attempting to grow the potential buyer base.

I don’t have a dog in the fight. Some of my clients use Proxibid; some use one of several Proxibid competitors; others use proprietary systems for their online bidding. My job is the same no matter where the bidders bid—whether onsite or online: find as many prospective buyers as possible and entice them to bid.

When I joined the National Auctioneers Association in 2003, there were thousands more members in the association than we have now. While the auction industry’s collective revenues are holding—if not growing—the number of full-time auction practitioners in the country seems to be shrinking. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence to confirm this rapid constriction in the profession at large. That leads me to believe that there’s a lot of competition for work. In this Proxibid shift, it’s apparent that some auctioneers are worried about the pool of professional auctioneers shrinking further due to sellers being able to help themselves to online bidding and the buyers that gather at Proxibid.com.

As a sole proprietor who depends on family-sized businesses to hire me instead of helping themselves to online vendors, I understand that worry.  It’s real and deserved concern that fewer and fewer auctioneers will deem Biplane Productions worth its fees, that they’ll keep the work in-house instead of outsourcing—or that they’ll outsource to a hungrier freelancer.

I’ve had stout competition since my first day in business in 2002.  There are far more graphic designers in the country than auctioneers, and that ratio grows every graduation season. As of 2008, there were almost 300,000 designers in the country. As just one of the trade groups in my industry, the American Institute of Graphic Artists alone has multiple times the membership of the National Auctioneers Association.

I’ve been outnumbered by my competition for a long time. So has every auctioneer for whom I’ve worked and every auctioneer I’ve ever met. Auction marketers have competed with sellers and non-auctioneers since before we had a national association. That won’t change, and Proxibid won’t be the last Internet market place to help sellers help themselves.

The challenge, then, for all of us marketers is to create and prove value to potential clients—value they can’t achieve by doing the work themselves or by posting their wares on a website, even one built on the backs of innovative and successful auctioneers.

For me, that value proving included a transition into selling and delivering on my auction advertising knowledge base as much or more than my reputation for graphic design speed. My revenue efficiency has fluctuated, as I’ve contributed to more complicated campaigns. I’m serving auction companies that regularly now combine 10, 20, even 40-some properties in single auction campaigns. I’m accepting job orders in late afternoons that require overnight designs.

It’s not martyrdom. It’s most definitely not exclusive to Biplane Productions. It’s adapting. The Darwinian nature of capitalism requires it, and technology is accelerating the need for it.

I’ll let other people debate whether Proxibid’s move was harmful or advantageous to the auction industry and whether or not their expansion happened in good faith. That’s not my fight.

What is my fight is making auction advertising so attractive and effective that people keep hiring auctioneers to sell their assets.

At church, I’ve been on a team exploring the book of Ecclesiastes in which the wise Hebrew king, Solomon, pronounces no value to accomplishment in terms of wealth, power, or pleasure. Over and over, the sage proclaims the meaninglessness of chasing success—probably because it’s a moving target that doesn’t move with us into our next lives.

On my recent vacation, one of my pastors and I were chatting about my record workload over the past eight months. He asked a simple pair of questions that keeps reverberating inside my head: “Can you just get rid of some clients? Is it as easy as that?”

I told him that after I finish eradicating the rest of our non-mortgage debt, I’ll be considering strategies for sifting my client list. I told him that, right now, I just brace for the seasonal and unpredictable nature of my work, taking my career’s lumps with its advantages.

At some point, though, there will be an intersection with my faith and my insecurities. At some point, I’ll stop worrying about losing business or losing a career to my next stage of life. At some point, I won’t care if you consider me an expert instead of a freelancer in a basement.

Each time I read Ecclesiastes or close InDesign at 2:00 A.M., I’m getting closer to that point.


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

Get these articles delivered to you.

Don't set a reminder to check the site for new content. Have new content sent to you when it posts.
* = required field