Tag : postcard

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153: How Vacation Souvenirs Sabotage Your Direct Mail Strategy

No matter where you vacation, there’s a really good chance you can buy postcards somewhere along the way—probably on one of those spinning metal racks. I can’t speak for you; but the big, glossy pictures always look better than the photos I take.

A vacation postcard says a variation of one of two messages: “Look at this fantastic place that I’m enjoying without you!” or “I’m in this happy place, and it made me think of you.” The recipient doesn’t know which of those very different thoughts you are sending until she reads your scribbles on the blank side.

Thankfully, the postal carrier delivers every postcard with the message side first. He flips through a stack of pieces with the addresses facing him before delivering your mail address-side-up.

In turn, most Americans pull that mail out of the mailboxes with the stack oriented the same way. We also overwhelmingly tend to flip through the stack address-side-up. It makes sense. If we share an address with roommates or family members, we’re looking to sort by recipients. If we’re adults, we’re separating bills from personal mail and junk mail, keying off visual clues as to the identity of each sender.

Since the mailer panel of the postcard is what gets seen first, read first, and sorted first, you’d think that we’d all call that first impression the front of the mail. I do, but I’m considered a weirdo for doing so. Most people call that the back.

I blame vacation postcards for that. In souvenir racks, the big picture side makes the first impression for that card to get purchased. To the purchaser, that’s the front.

The same applies to the marketers with whom I work. Since they’re buying the postcards, they see the side where they can fit the most content as the front.

The problem comes, though, when we treat the mailer panel as the back—the place to sling whatever doesn’t fit on the full-bleed side. It’s a problem because direct mail grants us only between a half second and three seconds to appeal to the recipient who is sorting their mail. In that short moment, we don’t have the relational appeal of a hand-written note. In that lightning flash, we have to capture attention that interrupts the sorting or at least gets our piece directed into the “to-read” stack.

In practice, the mailer panel should be the flashy side. It should be the panel with the big picture and the short headline. Everything else should fall to the reverse side or to our website. Anybody not interested by our primary “sizzle” photo and intrinsic message isn’t a likely buyer or client. Anyone interested but not motivated to flip the card over or go to our website isn’t a qualified prospect, either.

No matter where you vacation or how you tell folks about it, advertise your business and wares as if you were far from a souvenir shop. Work on simplifying and maximizing your first impression. Put the result of that effort next to the recipient’s address—the text almost everyone reads first.

Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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The Most Important Mailing List (That Auctioneers Aren’t Using)

For years I’ve preached that the most important mailing list for an auction company to use is their list of past bidders. But I’ve been wrong—at least partially.

The line of thinking was that the most qualified prospects are those that are familiar with the auction process and have shown past interest in a specific asset category. Also, with Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, you could leverage the email address column of this in-house list to find tens of thousands of similar people just like your bidders (in any geographic region). For one of my clients, that Lookalike Audience technique has led to a noticeable increase in his average quantity of registered bidders.

Here’s the problem, though: if you do enough auctions, that list is going to become unwieldy—too large to efficiently send direct mail in the entirety. I’ve worked for a handful of auction companies who regularly mail 6,000 to 10,000 pieces to in-house lists; and I’ve consulted auction companies that mail tens of thousands of pieces per auction. I’ve regularly been asked how to sort a proprietary list down to the best candidates.

You can sort that by recent participation or number of auctions to which they’ve registered. If you specialize in personal property, you could also sort by expenditure levels. The problem is that there’s no way to tell—outside of maybe the art/collectibles or charity/benefit markets—if someone who bought something in the past wants to buy more of the same.

We can’t know who the satiated buyers are on our lists. If a past bidder was searching for a specific asset at a specific time, there’s a good chance they found what they wanted at the auction and/or somewhere else between then and now. This is especially true of lists I’ve seen auctioneers curate for a decade or more—something they not only often do but also advertise as a selling point. Because of this high probability of satiated buyers, our in-house lists have only a slight advantage, if any, over a purchased mailing list or Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool.

There’s one direct mail list I would trust more than both a purchased list and a generic “past bidders” list. Other than time, it should cost nothing to capture. It’s a list of possibly the most motivated and qualified candidates for your next auction of a similar asset.

Your recent runner-up bidders.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an auction company that recorded that segment of their buyers. Online bidding platforms keep this information. These bidders shouldn’t be too hard to discover at on-site auctions, either—especially real estate ones. These folks are already in your clerking software. All it’d take to pull this data is an extra column in your database to indicate that they came in second.

This list will be relatively small in comparison to your whole list.

Maybe these prospects get a bigger postcard or brochure, while everyone else gets a cheaper teaser piece. Or maybe they’re the majority or entirety of your direct mail recipients, while everyone else gets emails and Lookalike Audience ads on Facebook (and now Instagram).

Facebook just announced last week that it’ll now be better able to match our mailing lists, as it opened up its tool to search by names and addresses—not just email addresses and cell numbers. Theoretically, that means we will be able to build Lookalike Audiences from smaller lists than those it currently needs. So, small lists of backup bidders might now be large enough to have their own Lookalike Audiences.

It’s a lot harder to unsubscribe from direct mail than email. So, even a list of people who’ve signed up for your mailing list could no longer be as full of interested parties as you think. If those prospects aren’t turning into bidders anyway, how much is that one-time indication of interest really worth?

Past bidders are a better guess than the general public, but those that left with money and without an asset are even better.

At the very least, it’s worth A/B testing your mailing lists to see which ones generate the most bidders and buyers. Best case scenario: this slice of your in-house database could free up a lot of marketing budget.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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]

53: Postcards from the Competitive Edge

Mail Trucks2009 brought an influx of postcard orders to biplane productions, accounting for 50.5% of the 273 auction direct mail pieces that crossed my desk.

As a designer, I like big canvases to illustrate the messages my clients ask me to convey. With that approach, it would be easy to demote postcards to the lower castes of the direct mail population. To do that, I’d have to discount the two 2009 NAA awards for postcard design that biplane‘s clients won—especially the one that won a full-color brochure category. I’d have to dismiss some of the advantages postcards have over brochures and letters.

There are multiple reasons postcards trump their folded and/or enveloped mail peers.

For one thing, they don’t require opening, tab-slitting, or any effort from the recipient (other than reading) to communicate your message. Their rigidity helps them maintain their image and shape during the automated mail process. They take less time and resources to produce, shortening turn time on production. Large postcards dimensionally loom beyond the physical dimensions of envelopes—helping your images and message stand apart from the bills and other perfunctory mail in the mailbox.

They can be more easily gang-printed—the process where a printer prints multiple jobs from different clients on the same press sheet—which can cut production costs and allow more efficient and economical upgrades like UV or aqueous coating. Postcards are also the easiest direct mail format for variable data printing.

The cost savings that postcards usually provide allows you to spend more in other media or to mail more than one postcard during an auction marketing campaign. This two-stage mailing system can allow you to change or customize your sales pitch or to simply reinforce the first one.

Maybe more importantly, postcards all but force marketers to focus on the big picture—the core message you’re trying to communicate. If you’ve got a web site acting as an information safety net, why try to exhaust all information on your direct mail piece? Why overpower your pictures and crowd your message, when you have a clearinghouse of information online? If someone isn’t interested in the major points of your property, they’re not going to become a buyer with the minor points or directions to the property. If they aren’t interested enough to go to your web site for more details, they aren’t motivated enough to arrange financing, inspect the property, and bid at your auction—live or online.

So, why not just sell them on the sizzle, and get out of there? Postcards help you do that.

For premier properties, a postcard can’t adequately capture the full essence of a property—even on the 6″ x 11″ or 8.5″ x 11″ postcards for which I’m getting more and more orders. For multi-tract real estate, farm machinery, construction equipment, and other collections, sometimes the breadth of the offering is the message; and that can’t be sufficiently expressed on a postcard. But for your run-of-the-mill properties and estates, a postcard might prove the most effective marketing arrow in your quiver.

Everything’s on the outside on a postcard—your sale item(s), your message, your brand. If you only get a few seconds to convey all of that, why not use a postcard as your first impression?
[tip]

One of the biggest changes in my spiritual journey over the past five years or so has been the level of authenticity encouraged by the circles of my spiritual environments. No longer do I feel pressure to maintain a buttoned-up exterior, to play the part of a mature Christian who’s got it all together—a checklist with as many check marks as the next person’s sheet. In fact, one of my weekly small group discussions starts with a disclaimer, “Leave your religious crap in the parking lot.” (The apostle Paul called it dung, too, folks.)

Monday night, I got asked, “On a scale of one to ten, where have you been this week with God?” If the momentum of the answer is trending downward, the followup questions usually sound like, “What are you wrestling with?” or “What would it take to shift the momentum toward ten?” or “What would be the first step you could make back toward fellowship?”

My spiritual health isn’t tied to what I wear to church, the letters on the spine of my Bible, the instruments on the platform, the length of my hair or my wife’s skirt. It’s not a pocket full of passed litmus tests–laurels on which to rest. It’s a marriage, and I need to address the baggage that stacked in the way of communication and intimacy with Jesus. God told New Testament believers to confess our sins one to another—and to him. It’s painful but cathartically freeing to unload the weight of our imperfection.

The church stands less inclined to judge each other, when the inside makes it to the outside. We see that every heart, as God says, is desperately wicked beyond self-repair. Empathy ignites with authenticity—and with it support and encouragement, too. We grow more dependent upon and impressed by God’s mercy and grace the more we realize we are insufficient and broken. And God gets more and deeper praise when things are sweet.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

Direct Mail & Female

Visual AttractionI remember the first time I saw Crystal Young, the college coed who would one day take my last name and an average of half the covers. It was lust at first site. To be candid, she had just walked past me; and I wanted to talk to the girl who came with that cute, khaki-skirted rear end. I eventually found her again and asked her on a date that earned another date that became 12 years together this March.

We’ve traveled the world together, cried in each other’s arms, accomplished some cool feats as a dynamic team. But it all goes back to ten seconds of a seemingly perfunctory walk through the student commons by the campus post office—a first impression that begged a second one that led to an intimate knowledge of another soul.

First impressions make or break your advertising, just as they do potential relationships. Unlike most face-to-face interactions, though, you only get three to eight seconds to register the perception you want to project.

Don’t believe me? Have someone in your office sort the mail on Monday. Take the total number of seconds spent, divided by the total number of pieces; and you’ll see that you’ve got to communicate faster than it takes Clark Kent to change in a phone booth.

Your first few seconds with a potential client determine the general perception of your company, what you’re trying to do, and whether you have something they want. The images you use, the text you choose, the ease of reading—they all connect to your reader’s cultural training as to where to categorize your brand. And this is true no matter which media you use to advertise.

Despite these stakes, one first impression in the auction industry often goes embarrassingly unattended: the mailer panel on direct mail.

Sample Brochure Mailer Panels

Last weekend I saw literally dozens of awards competition mailers that were completely blank. No image, no text, no color—just a blank panel for “from” and “to” labels (and a stamp). That’s either hubris or ignorance—or both. “People will open it, because they know it’s from me.” Well, then, you’re not advertising to people you don’t know, which means that you’re not expanding your brand reach. “Well, it creates a sense of intrigue; people open blank mail out of curiosity.” Well, then, you don’t mail to the same people more than once; or you’re mailing to investors and other adults who still entertain themselves with jack-in-the-boxes.

Still others make that panel the black and white side, with color on the opposite side that gets viewed only as a second impression. Worse yet, I’ve seen auctioneers stuff their terms and conditions next to the address—starting the conversation with their prospect by telling them all the things they can’t do at an auction they haven’t described. Or directions and open house information—again for an item the recipients don’t yet know exists.

You could write this off as minor incompetence, if it weren’t for the question: “How is the vast majority of mail opened?”

Address side-up!

So if you want people to want what your selling, you have to show it to them quickly. You must build your mailing panel (postcard or brochure) to include:

  1. a large, singular image (or two)
  2. a bold, succinct headline
  3. high contrast for easy readability
  4. a short appeal to consumer wants or needs
  5. only tertiary mention of the method of sale (auction)

Sample Postcard Mailer Panels

I’ve inserted samples of auction mailers that follow most of these rules. They’re not perfect; but they illustrate that you can hit the ground selling, if you take first impressions seriously. And for mailing lists you implement on a regular basis, these corporate-looking mailers are brand reinforcements. The laws of attraction don’t change. And in most cases, it will cost you little to nothing more to sift your current content with the five filters listed above.

Otherwise, you can keep relying on blank, bland, or crowded first dates with your clientele. Me? I’d rather successfully earn a second look, a second date—and work my way toward that honeymoon.
[tip]

Churches spend a lot of time making sure their buildings and services communicate a sanctified mood. Hey, I bought into that idea for years; so, I’m not throwing stones. And if we’re only trying to reach people with a natural inclination to do the church thing, we can find moderate success at making church churchy.

But what if church were meant to attract the unchurched? What if Jesus chased harder after the lost than the found? I mean, didn’t Jesus say he’d rescue the strayed sheep instead of revel in a 99% safety rate?

Well, in that case, we need to take our changed lives to the world—to appeal to the estranged where they are. If that secular interaction is barking on political TV or pejorative bumper stickers, suited condescension or plastic hypocrisy, why would they want a second look at Jesus?

It’s up to us—harnessing the Holy Spirit—to attract others to the embrace of our lover, just as the crowds gathered to see Jesus two millennia ago. You never know when you’re Christ’s first impression to someone. That’s why we’re called to live authentic, growing, holy lives.

[footer]Images used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

19: Do Shotgun Advertising Weddings Make Sense?

Utah BrideWith the rising cost of postage, more and more auctioneers are trying to bundle multiple auction direct mailings into one postcard/brochure (or one email). The shared cost efficiency allows for more expanded marketing of each auction, but significant drawbacks can balance those benefits. The answers to the following key questions will tell you whether or not the gains outweigh the losses.

Are these like-kind properties?
Being offered at auction is not enough of a common denominator. I opened my mailbox a few weeks ago to a brochure with a trailer park on the outside cover and a mountain retreat home and luxury golf course residence on the inside spread. I’ve received another with a NASCAR® collectibles sale on the front and investment and historic real estate properties hidden inside. You will muddy your company brand, when your brochures have multiple personality disorder.

Am I weakening the auction spotlight?
One of the advantages the auction method holds over traditional listing rests in the attention it draws to individual offerings—be it a single item or group of related items. The closer your piece looks to an ad or flier from an MLS firm, the less advantage the auction method’s advertising has. Singular emphasis on the first impression panels (the mailer and opposite flap) are easier to read and more likely to take the reader’s attention to the inside of the piece.

Is my mailing list too generic?
If your mailing list makes sending a tractor brochure and a real estate postcard separately redundant (or a hog farm and a horse farm), it’s time to segment your list(s). Some people might be interested in more than one type of property you sell, but most will have only one or a few interests. You create dissonance in your prospects, when they get mail from you which doesn’t interest them. You can become the auctioneer who cries, “Wolf!” And that might lead to them not opening any mail they get from you. Plus, you waste postage and printing on non-prospects mixed in with the interested. Split your lists; give web visitors and auction-goers the ability to sign up for specific categories or lists—for both printed and electronic mail. Then watch your return on investment (ROI) rise.

Does this piece do all of the auctions justice?
I get some brochures with several weeks’ worth of auctions, and I wonder if sellers are comfortable with their property being advertised for a week while the auctioneer’s other clients get longer exposure. Don’t hamstring an auction trying to create budget space. An auction inadequately exposed often leads to an inadequate commission check. People buy properties, not auctions. Don’t rely on the sale method to compensate for the deficiencies in your marketing.

What’s the order of priority?
Most auctioneers use the sale date to determine what goes where on a brochure or ad. If marked as an auction calendar, this makes sense. But calendars are meant for organizing, not advertising. Since everything can’t come first on the calendar, priority becomes an issue. What owns priority grabs emphasis; what owns emphasis grabs attention. Everything else, by default, gets the leftovers. The biggest draw should have the best and/or biggest spot. If giving prominence to one property over another creates an enigma, give each buffalo its own prairie; release them separately.

Are there alternatives?
You can concentrate (and thereby shrink) your mailing list by raising the qualification standard—and then send separate pieces to the same, reduced list on back-to-back days. You can send two smaller pieces using the savings in printing and design to offset some of the postage. You can use separate ads and emails and only combine for the direct mailing. You can stuff an individual brochure or postcard inside another brochure—so that the pieces are separate except for mailing. You can use online printers for short quantities but with postal discounts achieved by inclusion in their daily collective/mass mailings.

Separate mailings will further help establish your brand, if you sell different kinds of items. The key question to mull is this: is what you’re about to send targeted marketing? If not, then what is your competitive advantage? You may not always need or want tailored advertising—just the answers for your sellers as to why you don’t.
[tip]

It makes sense that the car I share with biplane is uniquely designed, quick to respond, and inherently customizable; that’s my brand.

It makes sense that my firm uses attractive computers and intuitive software; that’s my competitive advantage in the industry.

It makes sense that this attic home school grad would work comfortably in his basement; that’s the sovereign foreshadowing woven into my story.

It makes sense that this Generation X/Y-er goes to a church where tee shirts and jeans are the standard attire and the music beat can be heard in the parking lot; that’s my personality.

I hope it makes sense to those who see me live and who read what I write that I have a passion for God and a growing faith. That’s my goal, and that’s my life. I hope those go together—or at least get closer and closer to congruity.

When someone peeks into your life, does it make sense that you’re living with an eternal perspective? Does what you say and what you do go together? How about your now and your eternity?

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

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