Tag : readability

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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.


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.

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.

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.

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