Tag : spiritual-journey

104: Natural Disaster Advertising?

Image purchased from iStockPhoto.comOn the night of June 29, my house went black.  My neighborhood went black.  Most of my city, too, while we’re at it.

I later learned that a storm had wreaked havoc from Indiana to the Atlantic Coast.  I heard that one of my local Walmart Supercenters lost over a million dollars worth of perishable food; restaurants lost thousands of dollars of freezer inventory; hospitals went to triage mode with backup generators; lines at the few gas stations that had power stretched for as much as an hour for people to pump $5 rations of fuel; and Netflix, Instagram, and Pinterest temporarily ceased operation, as their servers fell victim to the power outage.

Utility crews from around the country migrated to help literally millions of Virginians without power.  Even with all the outside help and local linemen putting in 140-hour work weeks, it took as long as eleven days for power to return to all parts of the greater Lynchburg area.  My home office was fortunate to be without power for only 112 hours.  While I had to take cold showers, sleep on my basement floor to beat the 100º daily heat, and move my office setup to my wife’s Main Street studio, those relatively small inconveniences paled in comparison to those of the people who literally lost their homes or even their lives.

The culprit for these millions of dollars of damage? A derecho—a unique kind of windstorm that doesn’t swirl in the pattern to which we are accustomed.  Instead, a slightly-bowed wall of clouds bulldozes across the landscape, pushing powerful winds in front of it.  “Unlike other thunderstorms, which typically can be heard in the distance when approaching, a derecho seems to strike suddenly.  Within minutes, extremely high winds can arise, strong enough to knock over highway signs and topple large trees.”

In about 30 minutes, probably less, my city was crippled; and roads lined with stately trees became disaster areas.

If this (Spanish) word, derecho, is new to you, know that it was new to me, too.  I have a feeling I’ll be using it long after this storm tops my local news, though.  See, the advertising that I help auctioneers leverage follows the derecho’s pattern.

Unlike private listings, consignment retail, or traditional brokerage, my clients know how long their asset will be on the market.  And that amount of time is short—days or weeks, very rarely months.  Since an auction asset’s carrying costs have a defined end and since the amount which can be spent on marketing is also known, auctioneers can concentrate their expenditures within a small window of time.  They don’t have to hedge their bets, wondering how much they’ll have to invest and for how long.  Auctioneers can multiply the impact of their event’s core message across a wide but shallow wall of media, sometimes as little as a week deep.

There aren’t a lot of message changes in auction marketing campaigns like political campaigns exhibit.  You won’t see a glut of impressions per media as with Fortune 500 branding campaigns (think: NFL game TV commercials).  There are rarely focus groups and multi-pronged audience testing like those used for product launching campaigns.  Instead of slowly spinning toward landfall like a hurricane and sitting down in areas of low pressure, auction campaigns push the market with a sense of urgency.

The risk in an auction’s concentrated marketing campaign is that the perfect buyer or strongest bidder might not be available, ready to purchase, or engaging with pertinent media during the advertising’s lifespan; but that risk applies in some degree to all advertising.  More and more, I’m convinced that the challenge of finding the right people at the right time is (1) the reason biplane productions has stayed in business and (2) the opportunity to prove the auction method’s value proposition to sellers tempted to sell their items on their own.

The danger of auction marketing derechos is that it can create incredible goals for branding outside of auction campaigns.  Despite dropping back to fewer media, we’re tempted to expect similarly-immediate results.  The honing of a core message as well as the creative representation and application of that message should take much longer than the standard assembly-line auction workflow.  While there may be occasions for media blitzes or public relations urgency, the time and effort spent in brand building and brand management should be somewhat proportional to the time it’s expected to last.

I don’t know if it’s appropriate to compare what my clients and I do for a living to a deadly, expensive natural disaster.  That said, if the advertising we generate could engulf our buying community like Derecho 2012 has my physical community, we’d all have the job security of an American Electric Power lineman.

Outside of backpacking trips, I’ve never been without electricity for as long as we endured last week—let alone during a string of days north of 100º.  People a generation ahead of me opined about how the blistering heat of their un-air-conditioned youth resembled that week every summer.  Friends from my generation talked about realizing how dependent we are on gadgets and conveniences.  Everybody else was watching a movie in an air conditioned theater, swimming in a friend’s pool, or lining Cracker Barrel rocking chairs, waiting for a table.

My takeaway from Derecho 2012 was a consideration of response.  How do we—how do I, specifically—respond to setbacks beyond our control?  I’ve long struggled with that.  Along my spiritual journey, this has been one of the main sections of road construction—one I’ve too often taken too long to traverse because of exploring my own detours and finding them dead ends.  For too long I blamed God as much or more than myself for sticky situations.  I questioned his goodness, despite the overwhelming evidence of it in the macro view of my life.

This storm gave me another test in this area.  It might sound small, but I paid attention in this challenge to small things like praying for others instead of myself, not worrying about bridge crossings until I got there, and making my social media comments humorous or journalistic instead of whiny.  Rather than worry about the billable work time lost, I embraced the lost grid with an unconstructive weekend and reconnected with friends.

Sometimes, progress is measured in inches instead of miles.  Mine, anyway.


†”Derecho,” Wikipedia.com

[footer] Stock image purchased 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?

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]

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