Tag : small-business

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Why Facebook’s Big Step Back Helps (Some of) Us Auction Marketers

Almost all of my favorite movies fall into the heist genre. I met my Hollywood crush, Jessica Biel, in The Illusionist. I have been driving a MINI Cooper since soon after I got The Italian Job on DVD. The strategy and choreography of fictional thieves intrigue me, and I love the slight of hand stuff. The end-of-movie reveals make me feel unobservant, even as they wow me.

The Trump presidency has offered a similar unveiling, particularly when it comes to Facebook. I’ll explain that in a minute.

2016 Presidential General Election

First, let’s time travel back five years—two years before Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President. Facebook gave access to Global Science Research (GSR) to do some academic research amongst its users. 300,000 Facebook users opted in to take part in a study. Exploiting an application programming interface (API), GSR grabbed data from somewhere between 50 and 87 million Facebook users who were connected to those 300,000 volunteers. GSR then—against Facebook data policy—sold this data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to create psychographic profile groups it would later shop to multiple political candidates.

Facebook discovered this data breach in 2015, shut down the API in question, and demanded both parties delete the data they had harvested. A year later, having not complied, Cambridge Analytica used its data as part of its digital marketing for the Trump campaign. Once officially gaining the nomination, Trump abandoned their data, having access to the Republican National Committee’s database. (Hillary Clinton refused Cambridge Analytica’s services from the start, instead using the mirrored resource of the Democratic National Committee’s storehouse of data.)

A few months later, candidate Trump became President-elect Trump. As many have sought to explain his uncanny rise to power, intense blame and scrutiny have been levied on all sorts of possible culprits. Much of that blame has fallen on Facebook—whether for Russia’s incredibly efficient interference or for Cambridge Analytica’s data deal.

Over the past month, tens of thousands of Facebook users—including Elon Musk and Will Ferrell, Pep Boys and Playboy—have left the platform in protest. Pundits and journalists have been whipping consumers into a frenzy, telling them their data isn’t safe or private, that the proprietary algorithms that run Facebook need to be shared with the world. Few of the stories I’ve heard or read have made much of the fact that this data breach is half a decade old and that it wouldn’t be possible to duplicate today and hasn’t been since April 30, 2015.

Mark Zuckerberg

In response, Facebook brass has recently invited regulation and offered some seemingly-draconian proactive changes to their platform. One of the biggest measures Mark Zuckerberg offered was the phasing out of Partner Categories. If you’re not familiar with this data set, it’s information from third-party sources like Acxiom, Experian, and Oracle Data Cloud. Facebook has been taking up to 15% of advertiser spending to buy matching data from these sources. That data includes all the stuff in your credit report and other public information. That’s how Facebook knows users’ income, net worth, cash accounts, home values, purchase history, and likely-to-move status (among hundreds of other data point). When matched with its user accounts and/or advertisers’ uploaded lists, this data helps create highly targeted lookalike audiences. These free lookalike audiences have allowed small businesses to compete with Fortune 100 companies in the marketplace.

While removing these data sources seems like consumer protection, the opposite might actually be true. That’s where the slight of hand comes in. See, that data is still available. Right now, I can buy a lot of this third party data from my mailing list broker for $100. I can buy even more robust data from Experian and Axciom, too. Then, I can upload that data to Facebook to create custom audiences to use as filters for my other lists.

With this new move, Facebook now doesn’t have to charge advertisers for these third-party data sources, and they can show regulators that their advertisers are using only audiences based on user-revealed interests and the advertisers’ proprietary lists. That third party data will still get leveraged in the advertising system, and now it won’t raise any red flags.

As a consumer, I don’t care either way. Personally, I prefer my ads tied as closely to my interests and realities as possible; and I know this data is pooled as anonymous aggregates that no advertiser or hacker can see. As an advertiser, I’m a little bummed that I’ll now have to buy that data separately and at prices not negotiated by one of the biggest companies on the planet.

Because Facebook currently allows your lookalike audiences to remain in tact even after your original audience criteria has been removed, those of us who’ve been leveraging this third-party data for years should have an advertising advantage until Facebook closes that loophole—should they eventually close it. Either way, I don’t mind suddenly getting a new advantage in Facebook advertising.

Mark Zuckerberg took days to respond to the uproar online and on TV news networks so that he could follow the advice of J Daniel Atlas, the protagonist of Now You See Me, a flick that featured illusionists plying their craft to perform Robin Hood-type heists: “First rule of magic: always be the smartest person in the room.” Zuckerberg offered an olive branch to the media, the government, and Facebook users. Along with that he secured Facebook’s place as the most advanced, intuitive advertising platform for the foreseeable future.

Even Terry Benedict’s casinos aren’t sophisticated enough to have seen this brilliant move coming. But now your company is. You’re welcome.

Stock photos purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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Facebook’s “Next Best Thing” Helps Us Little Guys

The combination of the Facebook pixel and the Lookalike Audience tool is one of the most incredible marketing innovations since the Internet was invented. I don’t know of anything that has democratized business so much in my lifetime. Now, mom ’n’ pop organizations and even sole proprietors can spool their customer bases to rival that of Fortune 100 companies and then unleash Facebook’s machine learning process to hone that list into a mind-boggling resource.

Unfortunately, for many of my clients, even just installing a code into their website header is a big ask; and many new companies don’t have the few hundred customer names required to start a Lookalike Audience.

Thankfully, Facebook invented the next best thing within the past couple months. I’ve been experimenting with it on behalf of several clients, and it’s killer.

Within the Custom Audience menu—where you upload lists and/or connect to your website pixel traffic—advertisers can now create an audience of people who recently interacted with your Facebook content. You can even indicate specific interactions, though I don’t.

Custom Audience Facebook interactions

For auction companies who sell the same or related asset categories, this audience is extra valuable. It functions similarly as the pixel, except that you can’t create lookalikes from website traffic that originates from other digital and offline sources. Also, you can’t create an audience that got to a specific action on your website like a pixel can. This new audience allows you to get people who interacted with your advertising but didn’t go to your website. As of right now, that’s something the Facebook pixel can’t do.

In only a few weeks of testing, I’ve found it to help both click through rates and cost per click. For one auction company, we recently had two auctions within a month for the same seller with the same inventory. Our average click-through rate jumped from 3.1% to 4.7%—with one ad hitting 7.8%. Our average cost per click dropped from $.47 to $.34.

These gains don’t cost anything, either. Like all of the other audience tools, Facebook gives this one away for free to help your ads be more relevant.

If you sell an asset category where your buyers might be sellers, this tool allows fantastic cross-marketing opportunities. In my early testing, this new audience has been successful for consignment auctions. For one of my clients who works a lot in agricultural real estate and equipment, I used to achieve really good results serving ads to people who liked their company Facebook page. I’ve switched those ads over to this audience—since recent activity trumps a one-time thumbs up.

You can designate this interacting audience for up to 365 days in the past or as short as you’d like. For auctioneers, you can create timelines that capture traffic going back to specific auction campaigns.

So, here’s to us small business marketers getting even more access to Facebook’s users! Here’s to us capturing our advertising traffic in a new way. And here’s to the marketing and re-marketing potential now available at our fingertips.

Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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Reach the Bidders You Didn’t Know You Were Missing

There’s a sneaking suspicion in many auction marketers—and definitely in their sellers. We wonder if there was a stone unturned, a motivated bidder that wasn’t reached by our advertising.

Did we cast a big enough or tight enough net?

Missing Bidders PosterWhat people weren’t in our mailing list broker’s database?
Who didn’t read the newspaper during the weeks prior to the auction?
Who didn’t drive past our sign out on the highway?
Did any emails go unopened or straight to junk folders?
Did we choose the right demographic selectors on Facebook?

The auction community prides itself in bringing the whole market to bear on an asset at once. We tell potential sellers that we’ll deliver true market value. We rightly trumpet our concentrated advertising campaigns.

Still, there’s that whisper, that gnawing question—especially when the auction price is low and even more so when it was an absolute auction. Did we find everybody?

One of the biggest developments in advertising over the past couple of years has been a partial solution to that mystery. This development has made mailing lists more powerful, web traffic more valuable, and Facebook just short of necessary for finding buyers.

Big Data for Small Businesses

In addition to the vast amount of data users give Facebook about themselves, Facebook also buys data from outside sources and matches that information to its user base. Bank and mortgage lender records. Vehicle ownership. Purchase histories. Web site visits. As a result, this data gets woven into an astounding web of connected dots. Using advanced algorithms, Facebook can then match people with common denominators.

So, after you find the people you think are likely buyers, Facebook can find people who look just like your intended audience. With Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, both purchased lists and in-house lists can be matched with people just like them for use in Facebook ads.

With the free Facebook Pixel code installed on your website, you can also now direct Facebook ads to people who recently visited your auction’s page or the page of a similar auction on your site. Then, with the Lookalike Audience tool, you can advertise to people who look just like the people who came to your website.

Over the course of your advertising campaign, as more and more people view your auction’s page on your site, Facebook can learn more and more about the people coming to your site and hone the audience of your Facebook ads.

Facebook Loop

So, whether you start with just a Facebook list of demographics [B] or if you upload lists to Facebook [A], you can create a set of ads that learn and improve their effectiveness over time. You can access an automated database that keeps getting more robust. Your advertising can reach people in the cracks between the groups of people you can find yourself.

An Impressive But Imperfect Solution

Is this Facebook solution circle a silver bullet? No. This is just one medium that reaches less than 80% of the population. Does this mean you’ll definitely find more and better bidders? No, but it’s a superlative start. It’s a more robust solution than what you’ve got now.

Could this concept confront our ignorance? Absolutely.

Recently, I’ve noticed that several of my clients’ Lookalike Audience ads have significantly outperformed not only their uploaded lists but also the Facebook audiences built with the demographic selectors we chose for prospective buyers. In other words, Facebook knew who would visit these websites better than I or my clients did. For the decades of auction marketing experience between all of us, that’s humbling.

It’s also exciting. Now, our lists of past bidders and email subscribers are more valuable. Now, our web traffic can be more meaningful. Now, purchased lists don’t have to be exhaustive. We just need to find a critical mass to get the ball rolling.

Now, we can find the people we weren’t finding—even with our best laid plans.

Illustration built by request from Fiverr.com
Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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164: 5 Reasons to be Wary of Automated Marketing

Most of the folks that attend my seminars represent sole proprietorships or family-size businesses. Based on the feedback I get before and after my talks, I sense that many auctioneers feel unable to keep up with the growing media landscape. In particular, they tell me they don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to manage their companies’ accounts for Facebook and other social media.

Auctioneers aren’t alone in this. Many small business folks struggle with this important part of the operation.

To capitalize on that great need, a bevy of startups and major corporations have created automated marketing tools and programs. Constant Contact will post your email content on Facebook. Hootsuite will publish free to up to five of your social streams with one click of the Autoschedule button. ZipRecruiter promises to reach hundreds of sites and post to social media for you—with one click.

These automated services deliver on their promise of ease but can’t and usually don’t promise efficacy. They’re wise not to promise that, too. The current social media landscape makes robo-posting incredibly less valuable than native interactions.

1. Organic reach is a thing of the past.

Most automation tools focus on posting on your behalf and assume that your followers will engage because they follow your brand. That assumption is optimistic at best, especially on Facebook where less than 5% of your Facebook fans see your unpromoted posts. Just posting isn’t enough anymore.

2. Each media has its own culture.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube, and email each operate in different ecosystems with different formats, different purposes, and different audiences. Savvy marketers leverage the unique characteristics of each medium and adapt their messages to each. They know that the same statement auto-translated in all languages at once will inevitably cause part of your message to get lost in translation.

3. Targeting and measurement is platform-dependent.

Automated posts can’t be targeted, tracked, or analyzed like native posts can. Almost every business needs to reach new customers—people who have not yet done business with them or engaged with their social media accounts. To reach those people and to more efficiently interact with more of your ideal customers, you need the native platform tools.

4. Authenticity is more attractive.

The best social media marketing is less about broadcasting and more about providing something for the viewer. That could be entertainment, a solution to a problem, or something for their wish list. Social media users can tell when a message is generated for multiple platforms at once, and that content looks less organic, less personal.

5. Customer service can’t be automated.

While immediate responses can be set up with autoresponders, full problem resolution typically works only with communication between two humans. With Facebook’s immutable rating system and with hashtags making social media instantly searchable for negative reviews, it’s more important than ever to monitor and address the concerns from social media in person.

You have to go where your customers are.

When auctioneers and small business people used to tell me they don’t have time for social media, I told them to just skip it altogether. I can’t do that anymore. 78% of American adults are on social media. Infodocket claims that one out of every five page views on the Internet are on Facebook. With lookalike audiences and tracking pixels—both of which are free tools—small businesses can find new customers like no time in human history.

Statistic of Facebook Users

Take advantage of education.

So, the bad news is that you need humans running your social media. The good news is that there are fantastic resources to train you or your staff how to do it—not just to make sense of it but to thrive with it. You can find a lot of tutorials for free or cheap online. You can find education tailored to the auction industry in the Auction Marketing Management designation, too. I volunteer to teach in that environment (and pay my own travel expenses), because I strongly believe that targeted marketing and adapting to cultural trends is what will keep my clients and companies just like them in business—if not thriving in their marketplace for years to come.

118: A Small Business Marketing Innovation

Your website is your new company brochure.

Into the brochure’s place has moved the pocket folder. It’s really a better fit, anyway. You can fill it with all kinds of content for different audiences—prospects, sellers, bidders, buyers, referral agents. That content can be updated almost as quickly as your website. So, you still get that offline, tangible product but now with far more versatility than the limited shelf life that was the company brochure.

Up until recently, though, the cost for manufacturing a pocket folder was prohibitive to the small business marketer, because you needed large runs to justify the cost per piece. The costs were understandable. They had to include printing on heavier, more expensive paper, then custom cutting, then glueing, then careful folding. Each stage added up—both in time of production and cost for the labor.

Then came Internet print shops with their selection of standard templates. This saved the cost of custom cutting dies, especially at your local print shop. Their specialization gave them niched volume that led to efficiency gains, too. Even with these gains, though, the product wasn’t flexible enough and inexpensive enough for individual campaigns.

Then came an ingenious idea that my print shop found—one of those solutions that makes you wonder why it took so long to introduce it to the marketplace.

Long story short: pocket folders just got way more useful.

In the age of digital printing, we can now produce full-color, high-resolution, UV-coated brochures in hours rather than days. The problem is that the pieces of paper used to make a pocket folder are too big to fit on the vast majority of digital presses—because they have to include enough vertical paper space to include both the outside and the folding pocket.

What if you could print the just outside shell of a pocket folder like you did a brochure, pull a few adhesive strips, and pop your own pockets into the inside? Well, now you can. Those pockets can go on the left and/or the right. They can include business card slots. They can be mounted in a horizontal orientation to give you a landscape pocket folder.

Pocket Folder Samples

Now, printing five or ten folders takes only hours. Prices vary according to quantity but are very affordable for most campaigns, especially compared to the old production method’s costs. You can have a custom folder for a proposal, for an auction bidder’s packet, for a settlement folder. You could even use variable data so that different recipients’ names and/or different photos are shown on their respective pieces.

One of the only draw backs is that the pockets are white. Also, under expedited manufacturing, the print shop ships the shells and the pockets separately for you to (quickly) assemble on your end.

The more custom a media you give someone, the more corporate and flexible your brand appears. They don’t have to know what you paid for these instant folders. Just let your recipients be impressed.

I’m regularly surprised by new ideas I see in business magazine articles and even in tweets, podcasts, and Pinterest boards. After hearing over 5,000—maybe over 6,000—sermons and Bible lessons in my 30+ years in the church, it’s amazing to me how often I hear new concepts relating to my faith.

I used to spend time distancing myself from the worldview and theology of my past. I’ve even inscribed disclaimers in signed copies of my book: “I don’t agree with everything I wrote in here”—even though I prayerfully wrote and edited that content more than a decade ago.

We’re all on a journey, though. If we can’t see our former ignorance on a regular basis, maybe the ignorance isn’t former, if you know what I mean. We are all butterflies that need to be thankful for the foundational days in which we crawled as caterpillars—days that gave us an appreciation for the growing freedom and ability to fly.

Special thanks to Shearer Printing & Office Solutions for introducing me to this concept and for hooking me up with free samples to use for this post.

100: The Pinterest Effect

My Current Pinterest BoardsI take notice, when I hear a question over and over again.  And one question I’ve heard a lot lately is, “What is ‘Pinterest’?”

In short, it’s a social media environment that pulls inspiration from the bulletin board at your local coffee shop or the pin board in your college dorm room.  It’s a live stream of images—called “pins”— pulled from other websites and categorized topically both by the website administrators and again separately by its users.  Each image comes with three optional interactions: like, comment, and re-pin (to your board of pins).

Whereas other social media are based on users generating their own content, Pinterest‘s ease of use and popularity is mostly because its users don’t create the original content.  In fact, approximately 80% of posts are re-pins.†  To avoid copyright violation, the pictures are almost all linked back to their originating sites—be they travel, lifestyle, or entertainment websites.

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

Women typically account for a higher percentage of users than men do on social media*, and they account for anywhere from 68% to 90% of the activity on Pinterest—depending on where you get your stats.  Most posts are often associated with fashion, decor, cooking, crafts, and inventive solutions for household organization.

Pinterest Board: Inspiration for Biplane's New OfficeUnlike Facebook, it’s not intended for conversations.  Pinterest has grown so much and so quickly that Friendsheet.com, a site that makes your Facebook stream look like Pinterest, has garnered the favor of Mark Zuckerburg††—and might someday be a native Facebook option.  Unlike Twitter, it’s not intended to keep users updated on current events.  Unlike YouTube, it’s exclusive.  You can curate your own pin boards and list of followers only if you are invited by someone who is already a Pinterest member.  Unlike Google+, it’s growing like a weed both in number of users and the amount of time those users spend on the site (more than four times longer than Twitter users per month and almost 30 times as long as Google+ users average per month***)—exponentially expanding to over a million average daily visitors.*

So, why do we need yet another social media site?  And what does Pinterest have that we can’t get anywhere else?

Visual simplicity.

Facebook has images.  Twitter is succinct and sortable, too.  Pinterest, though, simplifies everything to one thing: pictures.  No profiles to manage for its content creators and little, if any, reading required by its consumers.  It lets our short attention spans be satiated quickly—or drawn into the bowels of online daydreaming.

If Pinterest were running for president, it’s campaign supervisor would be explaining its surge in the polls emphatically: “It’s the photos, stupid!”

Facebook, the major social media player with more average minutes of use per month than Pinterest understands our culture’s draw to images, as it sees 70% of its users’ activity centers around its photos.**  But that pales to the photo-centricity of Pinterest, which by default, has pictures at just under 100% of activity.

There’s a lesson there for every marketer.  What makes content quickly absorbable is compelling imagery, imagery which Pinterest users tend to pull from predominantly-commercial websites.  Words—even headlines—are secondary.  As a culture, we don’t’ care about explanations and slogans, if we aren’t drawn to them through the picture(s) they accompany.  As a marketer who helps other marketers, I can tell you that if the design of our marketing media centers around large, singular imagery—and those images are professionally staged and captured—our advertising will be far more effective than the current average of small business advertising media.  That goes for small business at large and the auction industry, which I serve, in particular.

Message is important.  And honing your message is crucial.  But Andre Aggassi was right: image is everything.  And, last time I checked, advertising is part of everything.  If the first thing your media recipients and viewers sees is text—no matter how large or bold or colorful—chances are good that you’re doing advertising wrong.  If they see a solid background with a collage of pictures, we are making them work harder (than if we had used one big, full-bleed image) and, in many cases, watering down the primary draw.  Look at advertising for Apple, Nike, Ford, TNT, and BOSE.  They get it.  So should we.

If potential buyers don’t like what they see in the primary image, what makes any retailer, wholesaler, or auctioneer think potential buyers would care what other pictures we have or what the advertisement has to say?

The Bible says we humans were created in God’s image (one of the ways homo sapiens were differentiated from the rest of creation).  As believers of The Way, we are to be pictures of Jesus in our culture.  While we are wrapped in individual personalities and exclusive physical containers, the essence from the new core of our souls should shine through those translucent shells.

In contrast, the entropy and temptation for us all is to talk religious words, add Jesus stickers or fabric on the outside, and gather with those who codify and police exterior criteria the way we do.  That’s lazy and destructive.  Jesus didn’t come so that we could shine through the filter of him—or worse: the filters of religion, church, and spirituality.  He came to give us life, to change our core, to change the lightbulb—not the lamp shade—in the fixture.  He wants his truth and love and other attributes to radiate from us.

If today were a snapshot of who you are, and you handed that snapshot to a stranger, what would they see?  If you had to hand it to Jesus as a photo illustration of him, what would you have changed about your day before taking that picture?

†” Why Is Pinterest So Addictive?” by Stephanie Buck, Mashable.com. March 24, 2012.

†† “Friendsheet: The Zuck-Approved Pinterest-Style Facebook Photo Browser” by Josh Constine, Techcrunch.com.

* “A Very (P)interesting [infographic]” by Tim, DailyInfographic.com. March 9, 2012.

** “In Age of Pinterest, Instagram, Marketers Need An Image Strategy” by Chas Edwards, Adage.com. March 15, 2012.

*** “The Mounting Minuses at Google+” by Amir Efrati, Wall Street Journal. February 28, 2012.