Tag : variable-data-printing

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178: 5 Ways to Make Your Direct Mail Effective in a Digital World

I’ve written about Facebook so much in the past year that an auctioneer recently questioned whether I was still in the direct mail business. The short answer: yes. The longer answer: no two external media go together better than Facebook and direct mail.

It won’t surprise most of my readers that an auction company hired me to design more than 120 different postcards last year or that the people on their mailing list purchased millions of dollars’ worth of assets from them in 2016. What might surprise you is that this client mailed each postcard to less than 1% of their mailing list database—or that this same customer spent at least three times as much on Facebook per auction than they did on that very successful direct mail.

If your direct mail isn’t that efficient or effective, consider making some of the following adjustments.

Use first class postage to a few instead of standard mail to many.

Outside of Every Door Direct Mail, there’s rarely a reason an auctioneer should use standard mail. The USPS is allowed to take weeks to deliver it. It’s particularly sketchy when it crosses state lines. If you can’t afford first class postage, trim your mailing list. The time savings of switching to first class postage will give you extra days (or even weeks) for taking photos, writing copy, and processing proofs with your designer and seller.

Don’t mail to satiated buyers.

What is the buying cycle of the asset you’re advertising? If someone just bought a primary residence from you, there’s no reason to send them residential auction postcards for several years. Unless you’re marketing to investors or dealers, a list of recent buyers in a particular segment won’t be as efficient as finding new people who need that same thing. Your best bet is to market to past bidders who didn’t buy. That data can be curated in a few minutes per auction with just an extra column in your spreadsheet.

Send teaser postcards instead of brochures.

You have to trust your website. It’s your marketplace, even if your auctions are still offline. If someone isn’t motivated to get more information on your website from your postcard, (1) they aren’t motivated to purchase and/or (2) you need better content on your postcards. Since we can only use one subject line in our emails and about three sentences in our Facebook ads, it should be fairly easy to know how to be succinct with direct mail.

Or mail prestige pieces to maintain premium brand identity.

While Facebook is certainly efficient at keeping your brand in front of prospective sellers, it’s limited in how far your content can be differentiated from that of other brands. Direct mail, on the other hand, can be different shapes, sizes, textures, and colors (including metallic and neon). If you want to create a visual expectation for your brand that is superior to your competitor’s media, direct mail can effectively prove that.

This isn’t just for luxury brands and expensive assets. You can set the bar for any asset category or price point simply by design differences, but you have to consistently mail pieces that look similar in order to build that visual brand equity.

Leverage segmented lists and variable data printing.

Most auction software allows you to sort your bidder lists by purchase history. It only takes a few minutes per auction to add asset category data for each of those bidders or buyers. You shouldn’t have just one real estate list or one construction equipment list, because there are a number of subcategories within each segment. Once you have your lists segmented, you can use variable data to tailor each piece to the recipient’s interest.

While I recommend Facebook solutions for a lot of advertising challenges, I’m still bullish on direct mail. Well, to clarify: I’m bullish on attractive direct mail that gets to a targeted recipient quickly with a succinct message. Thankfully, for me, so are my clients.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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168: 2 Adaptive Advertising Technologies Auctioneers Can Afford

In my lifetime, the change in advertising technology has been incredible.

• Desktop publishing allowed auction companies to design their own advertising, and it pushed newspaper deadlines back a day or two.

• Digital printing shortened direct mail production by literally a week.

• The Internet afforded auction marketers the ability to update advertising information on their website with far less lead time than was needed for signs, newsprint, and direct mail.

• Email added the ability to quickly alert subscribers of news or changes.

• LED billboards made outdoor advertising faster to implement and less expensive to use.

• Social media offered the most targeted advertising in the history of the planet.

And now, advertising can literally change itself to adapt to its viewer. Two of these adaptive technologies are very approachable, and my auctioneer clients are regularly using both.

Facebook Ads (Not Boosted Posts)

One of the options for Facebook sponsored content is an ad that shows a single image to the viewer. The advertiser can actually load up to six different images into that photo’s spot. Facebook displays all of the photo iterations of the ad pretty much evenly to viewers the first day and measures which ones got the most interactions. The next day, it adapts how the images show to the public and weights how it serves them accordingly. On day three, it adapts again after considering how the public interacted with the previous days’ mix of images. This process continues until the end of your campaign.

Adaptive Facebook samplesWith some extra elbow grease, Facebook will also do this with other content in an ad set—switching out types of ads (video, slide show, single image, etc.) for the type that’s best performing.

Best of all, this adaptive capability comes with no additional Facebook charge. It’s in Facebook’s best interest for ads to appeal to its users, and they want advertising to be as effective as possible—to keep getting advertising revenue from advertisers.

By the way, I’ve regularly been surprised by which image got the most traction. On campaigns where I’ve targeted different ads to different target audiences, it’s interesting to see how each audience gravitates to different images or content.

Variable Data Printing

I’ve blogged about this technology before, but few of my clients leverage this tool. Rather than using plates on a traditional printing press to imprint a static design for an entire print run, each piece is imprinted digitally and customized according to the address printed on the piece. There can be as few as two versions of the piece; or maybe there can be a multitude of variations, depending on the database setup.

The basic premise is that different people on your mailing list get different versions of the postcard or brochure—versions tied to their interests. So, if you have a multi-property auction, the property closest to them might be featured on the mail panel. If you’re selling real estate and personal property, people on your real estate list will get a different version than people on your personal property list. If you have an ag equipment list and a construction equipment list, the catalog mailed to both lists can have the same guts but a different cover and mailing panel.

Setup for this technology runs anywhere from $35 to $50 at the print shop and a little extra on the design end. Depending on the size of your mailing, the cost difference can be inconsequential. The value it adds, though—with people getting mail their more likely to read—is very much noticeable.

With each new technological capability, auctioneers have needed to fit more tools into their marketing tool boxes, but they’ve also gained more and better ways to find motivated buyers and sellers. Is your advertising updating itself after you cut it loose? Is it adapting to buyer interests? If not, how much of a head start are you willing to give your competition while their marketing is?

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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151: 5 Ways to Know If Your Offline Media is Working

Thanks to Google Analytics, it’s both free and easy now to track individual banner ads, listing pages, and social media posts. For auction companies with certain kinds of online bidding platforms, it’s also now possible to decipher which of those digital media directly produce bidders and buyers.

But how do you know if your physical media is working? How do you A/B test to know what headlines and photos and layouts make your offline media more effective?

Tangible media like signs, print ads, and direct mail can be tracked, but it’s less scientific. Like email reporting, uncontrollable variables make accurate reporting all but impossible. Collected data might be insightful and potentially representative, though, even if it’s not exhaustive or proportional.

There are five basic ways to track your offline media’s performance. Each comes with at least one drawback to compliment the data it provides. You can use several of these at once per medium to get a bigger, better picture of their efficacy and efficiency.

Custom QR Codes

QR codes are free to generate. You can create custom URLs with Google URL Builder that allow you to tag the media type (or publication), the campaign name, and more. You can create multiple custom URLs for the same campaign—one each per advertising expression. You can then convert each of those URLs into different QR codes to place in different advertising media. Google Analytics will then report their results separately.

The downside to this tracking method is the QR code itself. In the time it takes to find their QR code reader app on their phone and then scan the code, the recipient is more likely to just Google search your company or asset—or ask Siri to search for them. Then, your recipient shows up in Google Analytics as an organic search result. Nobody, even Google, can tell you what medium led someone to search for your assets, events, or services.

Alternate URLs

URLs are cheap, especially in proportion to most of the hundreds of campaign budgets I see each year. The idea here is to use different web addresses in different media. When the recipient types in that address, they are redirected to your website (or a landing page on your site). Google Analytics shows this as a referring site in your audience acquisition list.

Believe it or not, but my clients and I have been able to easily find great URLs to use. One of my clients uses the same URLs for the same individual media across all campaigns. I also have clients who buy URLs for specific auctions, especially when they’re working outside of their normal asset category or normal geographic area.

The biggest mistake I see made with this method is choosing long or complicated URLs. There are a lot of options, if you use the word “bid” instead of “buy” or “auction.” Once you make it easier to Google your company name, these URLs become less likely to be used—let alone accurately trackable.

I’ve talked to entrepreneurs worried about diluting their URL branding with this method. If you do a good job branding your media and crafting your online user experience, though, consumers will remember your brand. Every day, we click on tons of links with a gazillion characters. Alternate URLs will not be a consumer deterrent.

Multiple Phone Numbers

For half a century, advertisers have used different phone numbers in different media to track interactions. Multiple service providers now allow you to plug multiple phone numbers into an online tracking system. On top of recording phone calls and showing you at what point in your phone tree they hung up, some of these companies can even tie these phone call statistics into Google Analytics.

The Internet has nurtured more and more of Western Culture into self-helpers. A large portion of Americans would rather text than engage in a phone call. An even greater percentage of people would rather grab information online than ask a sales representative, especially over the phone. So, you might not get enough phone traffic to give you actionable intel.

Personal URLs (PURLs)

This variable-data technology creates a URL with custom codes at the end of a branded URL. Often times, advertisers use the recipient’s name as the part that follows the “/“ in the web address. You can point these URLs to custom landing pages or to websites with variable data that conforms to a subscriber’s stated interests. (Universities use this when mailing to high schoolers, since the motivations for college life are diverse.) Service providers offer both proprietary reporting and integration with Google Analytics.

Again, the challenge here is to make the URL as short as possible or as appealing as possible. You have to sell the recipient’s personal benefit of that destination enough to overcome the cumbersome amount of typing. Otherwise, the user is likely to Google search around your extra effort.

Transactional Polling

For onsite events and live transactions it’s easy to ask bidders and buyers how they heard about your auction. It can also be a required multiple-choice toggle for online bidding. Since purchasers are more valuable than online viewers, this is the most important analytic to capture.

The problem is that self-reporting has proven to be suspect at times. For one thing, bidders or buyers sometimes can’t remember where they learned about your auction. (One of my clients had bidders report a medium he didn’t even use.) For another, some people will inadvertently report the medium they prefer. If your other media tracking runs parallel with your polling results, this data is valuable, though.

In a digital world, print media has the potential to be a tangible disruptor and a more personal interaction. Direct mail allows a broader range of sizes and formats than online media. When produced and placed well, signs are often the leading medium for obtaining auction buyers. Just because it’s more difficult to track them doesn’t mean they are necessarily less effective.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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4 Cheap & Easy Ways to Leverage Your Buyer’s Self Interest

I received a translucent envelope in the mail, through which I could see a greetings card. What was odd about the card is also what captured my attention: a screen capture of my website.

I thought, “Why is my website on the front of this card?”

Intrigued, I opened the card and followed its prompts to a website about an impressive tool for client prospecting. I even scheduled what became a 45-minute conference call with a sales representative. Due to the nature of my clientele, it wasn’t a good fit; but I will never forget something their sales rep told me.

“People will always open something when they see themselves on the cover.”

In almost a decade of teaching and writing about making advertising consumer-centric, I had never heard the concept described that way. This salesman told me how their reps searched Google Images for the prospective company or their targeted contact to pull up a publicly-available photo. If there wasn’t much there, they pulled a screen capture of the prospect’s website.

It worked on me. I signed up for a sales pitch, and I hate sales pitches. I was that intrigued.

I know what you’re thinking. “That wouldn’t work for selling my services and definitely not for selling assets.”

Yes and no. While this specific application of appealing to buyer self-interest wouldn’t work for most of us, its underlying principle can be applied in multiple ways to what we do. Here are four of the easier ways to incorporate this approach to your everyday marketing.

Variable data names

The one thing we already know about most recipients is their name, and names are very personal. One of the things my clients are doing now, using variable data technology, is incorporating the recipient’s name into a call to action. Since each piece is printed digitally, every single postcard has its recipient’s name on the photo. If there is no name for the address, the software knows to delete the name and comma of address. (It takes me about 5 minutes longer per postcard to set it up and costs us a fee of only $20 to $30 at the print shop.) My first client to try this used a unique URL to measure his postcard response and saw an immediate jump in web traffic from his postcards of 100%. You read that right: 100%.

Grafe Sample

Variable data images

If you sell multiple categories of assets in your auctions, you can have each category of buyer receive a piece where the big image on the mail panel is from their asset category. This technology shows your prospects their interests first. So, if you sell rolling stock, yellow iron, farm equipment, and contractor machinery, potential buyers can see all of the assets elsewhere in the brochure but their asset category on the first impression panel. (Your mailing list of past bidders is segmented by purchase history and asset categories, right?) If you sell real estate portfolios, you can have the property nearest the recipient emphasized over the others on the piece.

Stock Image of FarmerDifferent stock images

Usually, when small businesses advertise their services, they show pictures of their staff, their events, their brick-and-mortars, etc. If they show asset images, they typically represent the high end of the value spectrum of their preferred asset categories. These images are typically not items from past auctions but stock photography of dramatic staging and/or brand-new assets. What these marketers typically don’t show is other sellers—or stock images of people who look like their typical sellers. One of my clients has used an image I love, when mailing to farmers with options about what to do with a life’s worth of assets. Can you see why this image would draw a pending rural retiree into the sales pitch?

Different headlines

The easiest and cheapest way to adapt any advertising to take advantage of buyer self-interest is changing your prominent text. Most auctioneers lead with “AUCTION,” because auctions are how they see their projects, their schedules, and the assets they sell. In fact, bid calling is even part of their identity and self worth.

The problem is that buyers don’t buy auctions. They want or need assets. They will visit multiple venues and/or websites until they find what they want at the price they want. Auction only factors into that decision, if they think they can get their item more quickly, more easily, and/or more inexpensively at your auction. If you’re not offering timed online bidding or the option to “buy it now” at a reserve price, “auction” might actually be the least convenience purchase method. Then, you’ll be left having to hope for either a patient buyer or for auction day bidder frenzy to overcome the presumption of low sale prices—since that will be their motivation to wait to purchase, if they’re in immediate need or want for the asset.

So, sell the asset first. Use most of the text selling items (or for benefit auctions: the cause or organization). Only then, tell them how and where they can bid and whether there is a reserve on the asset(s) or not. It’s not deceit. It’s adaptation to the realities of our culture’s consumer base.

If we’re not adapting to buyer self-interest, then whose self-interest is guiding our advertising?

Unless we as the advertiser are also the ones buying our services or assets, why should we expect that strategy to work?

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143: The Biggest Challenge of Variable Data Marketing

Variable data is the future of direct mail. For precision postcard and catalog marketers, it’s actually the present.

If you’re not familiar with the technology, you need to be—even if you don’t have a use for it yet. Basically, documents are designed with different versions for different audiences. You can alternate different pictures, text, or entire panels of the printed piece. A high-speed digital press prints each piece according to indicators in your mailing list.

If you’ve got an auction with farm equipment and yellow iron, you can have one portion of your mailing list receive a postcard with different images and headlines on one side and both asset categories on the back. If you’ve got a business liquidation of real estate and personal property, you can emphasize the respective asset categories to different prospects on the first impression panels and show both together on the inside of the brochure. If you’re selling a portfolio of investment properties, you can have the property on the mailer panel be the one geographically closest to the recipient. That property’s advertising can be large, while the others are smaller.

The primary benefit of variable data is that you can target while also cross-marketing different types of assets. You can appeal to a buyer’s primary need or want and then fish for potential crossover purchases. I talk about the benefits of this tool in more detail in this article.

When I talk about this technology to auction marketers, we always get to the big sticking point. The primary obstacle for auctioneers implementing this direct mail tool is data. See, the process only works, if you’ve got segmented mailing lists.

If you sell real estate, do you have separate lists for each real estate category you sell? If you sell yellow iron, do you keep track of who bought trucks or trailers but not skid steers? When people sign up for your email or direct mail lists, do they have the option to select specific asset categories or just general ones? Or worse yet: a single “get auction updates” list?

If you’ve not been segmenting, start now. Other marketers have a head start on you. Other auction companies have already been using this tool for years. Start gathering data now so that you’ll be more competitive a year from now and have more marketing choices.

In the mean time, you can still use this technology with purchased mailing lists. For instance, if you have a property that’s good for farming and hunting, both of those buyer segments are publicly available. I can pull people with a hunting license or with a minimum number of acres owned or with a tax filing as a farm. For some of those lists, my broker can even sort the results by income, gender, age, and other demographic filters.

Also, you can do this with your Facebook advertising. It’s easy to create different promoted posts or ads aimed at different audiences. If you’re still using newsprint, you can run different ads in different classified categories or newspaper sections. Billboards and signs can be designed differently and placed in different locations to attract more than one buyer base.

The key is to make your advertising as attractive as possible to as many different people as possible. The best way to do that is to create different versions of your media, where possible, so that interested buyers see only (or predominantly) what they want.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

101: The USPS Program That Could Save You Thousands

Mail Sorting (Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com)The other day, I sent a FedEx envelope via overnight delivery.  When I looked at the receipt, I was shocked at the delivery charge—more than double what I paid for the same service when I started my company (back when I had to overnight Zip disks to my print shop multiple days per week).  I had similar sticker shock at the UPS Store a few weeks ago.

By contrast, over the last 13 years, first class postage for letters has risen just 12 cents per piece—just under a penny per year.  Despite basically tracking with inflation, postage increases usually draw complaints from marketers I’ve met.  And every time that penny gets added, people threaten to abandon direct mail for email, Facebook, and other online tools.

Well, the United States Post Office (USPS) must have been listening to these complaints.  The USPS dropped the postage rate on CASS-certified addresses for 8- and 12-page brochures to be the same letter rate available to 2-, 4- and 6-page pieces (a savings of 15¢-25¢ each).  And they introduced a new program called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) that could save you over 60% on your next direct mail campaign.

Learning From the Past
EDDM is a much improved version of the old “presorted standard” mail, in which postcards, brochures, and letters were delivered to every box holder on a mail delivery route.  If you’ve seen your postal carrier with a tray of identical brochures on their front seat, you’ve seen that kind of mail in action.  There are no addresses on the pieces, because everybody on the route gets the same piece.

The knock on standard mail—even presorted standard mail—was that promised mail delivery schedules weren’t reliable for periods shorter than two weeks.  Your brochures or postcards could literally sit for days at any USPS post office or distribution hub along their journey.  In my line of work, advertising auctions, we don’t have time enough to play that Russian roulette.  And I can tell you a horror story of when an auction company played anyway and lost dramatically—probably exacerbated by mailing across state lines, which often adds one or more stops to the USPS transportation process.

New & Improved
More than a slick rebranding, EDDM is a more viable solution for marketers across the country.  EDDM now expands beyond rural and city routes to include P.O. boxes, something previously unavailable for saturation mailings.  So, now you can ensure everyone in a zip code gets a copy of your direct mail.  Maybe most importantly, marketers can now request a specific delivery date.  My regular USPS hub’s postmaster said that those requested dates can now be as short as two days after the final post offices (called “drop sites”) receive their respective trays—a far cry from “up to two weeks.”

Shearer Printing & Office Solutions, my print and mail vendor, has made this process even more efficient and reliable for my clients by calling each drop site’s postmaster to alert them of incoming trays.  And instead of dropping the trays at their local USPS hub in Kokomo, IN, where the postage would cost 19.5¢ each, Shearer ships the trays via UPS or FedEx directly to the drop sites.  For bypassing their transportation system, the USPS knocks an additional 5¢ per piece off the postage.

Case Study
One of my Michigan clients recently experienced all this EDDM savings first hand, while sending a biplane-designed brochure to three separate geographical areas spanning five routes, totaling 3,023 recipient boxes.  Shearer presorted, packaged, and shipped the trays at a cost of $241.03 for processing and $80.46 for tray freight.  Postage totaled $438.34.  That’s just 14.5¢ per piece!  A brown-shirted driver retrieved the trays on Thursday; the trays arrived at the two destination post offices on Friday; the brochures then arrived in mail boxes on Saturday in two of the areas and on Monday in the other area.  So, with EDDM, the total mail preparation and delivery cost for an 8.5×11 brochure that took three business days to go from mail room to mail box was just 25.1¢ per piece.

Hybrid Mailing
But what if you do have a trusted in-house mailing list or want to target specific companies or consumer demographics through brokered lists?  You can use them, too!  Now, with digital and variable data printing technology, part of your print run can have barcoded addresses and first class indicias printed in line; and the rest can be printed with the necessary EDDM markings.  So, you can canvas a swath of local end users AND a group of specific, qualified prospects across a region or across the country—in most cases without any difference in printing costs for brochures.  (For postcards, you would need to have slightly different trim sizes to use for each purpose.)

Special Design & Production Considerations
All EDDM-eligible pieces must be larger than letter size.  This means your piece’s final dimensions must be more than 11.5 inches long OR more than 6.125 inches tall OR more than .25 inches thick (and must be less than 15 inches long, 12 inches tall, and .75 inches thick).  So, these pieces will often be larger than envelopes and other letter-size mailers in your audience’s mailboxes.  Tabbing is not necessary or encouraged.  A different postage indicia must be used, but most print & mail shops have one; so, you shouldn’t have to obtain one just for your mailings.  All pieces must have “ECRWSS Postal Customer” (for businesses and residences) or “ECRWSS Residential Customer” (for residences only) printed on the mailer panel.  Also, because there are no addresses for USPS scanners to read, there is a lot more room and freedom on the mailer panel for images and copy.

For auctioneers, who often have limited budgets and even more limited time, Every Door Direct Mail may prove itself a long-overdue solution.  And if your proposed budget can gain dollars on the postage line, you can spend those saved dollars on more marketing in places your competition can’t.


When I was in high school and college, maintaining “good Christian” status sometimes involved accompanying people from my church as they canvassed the subdivisions on the island where I went to church.  I always felt awkward.  But I fought through that discomfort, because I thought some kind of heaven points were on the line; and I truly wanted people to know relationally the God I recognized as the source of all good things.  I must’ve thought I was vicariously knocking on heart doors like Jesus did in Revelations.

As much as I like telling people about products, vendors, and adventures that I love, I’ve always hated sales—especially theta part of trying to convince people they should purchase something.  I think that’s because I don’t like dealing with sales people or being convinced that I need or want something I previously didn’t—let alone an entire worldview system.

In the past month, I’ve heard both silly and very sad stories of people’s experiences with Every Door Direct Evangelism.  In one case, my buddy was driven away from God and church for 20 years because of a terrible encounter from door-to-door evangelists.  It made me sad.  Stories like that aren’t as surprising after you’ve lived in Ft. Wayne, IN, the self-proclaimed “City of Churches” and Lynchburg, VA, the “Buckle of the Southern Bible Belt.”  On top of my recent anecdotes, I’ve read an editorial newspaper column from a secular writer who’d been negatively impressed from this evangelism model.

I won’t go so far as to say that strategy is wrong or sinful.  I just struggle to find the biblical precedent, the relational benefit, the net efficacy. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house but met him on Main Street; and as far as I know, the Bible doesn’t record the Messiah or his disciples hitting a neighborhood’s worth of houses.  I need to ponder it all some more.  In the mean time, I welcome your insight.

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

54: Auction Pornography

Family Watching AuctionDuring the 1964 Supreme Court case regarding First Amendment rights related to pornography, Justice Potter Stewart wrote “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” [Emphasis added.]

The public knows what we’re selling when they see it.

If they don’t, they probably aren’t prospective bidders.

I design more brochures for real estate than any other kind of auction segment. And I can’t tell you how many times, my auctioneer will send me advertising copy that starts with “real estate auction.” To be fair, I also get text for agricultural machinery auctions that start with “farm equipment auction,” too.

If we have only three to eight seconds to communicate our core advertising message, why would we waste redundant words on what the 1,000-word picture says for us? Or are we trying to sell a commodity to someone who doesn’t know what it is?

Since people buy items—not auctions—the word “auction” and its date are secondary information to what your selling. So, “Auction” or “[Type of] Auction” should not be your headline. “WWII-era Comic Books” or “Premium Fly Fishing Lures & Tackle” should be, for example. Sell what you’re selling first; sell the auction second (or third after location or bidding platform if online-only).

Well, what if we’re selling real estate and personal property at the same auction?

First, I would consider having different mailer panels for the parts of your list going to each related mailing list. Even without variable-data printing, postcards and brochures can be printed with separate mailer panels. It’s not always cheap, but it holds potential to increase your effectiveness. The inside of the brochure or opposite postcard panel can cover both bases, while your first-impression panel can appeal to specific recipients of your respective mailing lists.

Usually, one of these commodities has a greater worth than the other and should take precedence. So, your mailer might have the factory building big and a small inset picture of a piece of equipment—with a smaller headline line like, “Also selling presses, CNC machines, and lathes.”

If you’re selling different types of commodities, your headline can be something like “2,450SF, 4BR, 2BA Home & All Contents” or “Early 1900’s Impressionist Art & 1800’s Original Manuscripts.” You can reinforce the separate markets under the “Auction: Friday, March 26th” line by listing underneath: “[Commodity A] to sell at 5pm. [Commodity B] to sell at 7pm.”

Even when a benefit auction event is a bigger draw than the items being sold, the beneficiary, cause, or even the venue will usually deserve the primary headline. Pictures from past black tie events (or stock photos) will communicate that a fund raising event with live bidding will take place.

One related, notable exception is when the breadth of sale item categories is wider than what can cleanly be demonstrated visually on the mailer or cover panel—like “Farm Machinery • Antiques • Household • Small Business Machines • Vehicles • Hunting Gear.” In that case, listing categories can be effective, alongside a picture of the biggest ticket item(s). Sometimes, it’s the quantity instead of the specificity that makes the auction unique: “170,000 Sports Collector Cards—33,000 NIB.” But even that should be accompanied by an image that communicates the size of the collection—maybe a staged shot of them stacked in the back of a box truck or on top of an announcers’ table at a sporting venue.

Your buyers will know what you’re selling when they see it. So, show it first; headline it second; and tell them about the auction third (or fourth). On the part of your sign, direct mail, ad, email, or Web page that makes your first impression, kill the words made redundant by pictures so that the words that are left get read.

The world knows a changed life and a worshipping soul, when they see it. In the rare instances when we happen to categorize ourselves or our faith in a conversation it should seem redundant, almost unnecessary to those who observe our lives. In the least, our followship should not come as a surprise.

The world has a hope of what to expect from Christianity; and that hope isn’t in labels, badges, or Sunday suits. It’s not perfect attendance, an inked checklist, or boycotts.

If you want to know what a life expedited by the Spirit looks like, ask an unchurched person to describe Christian love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faith, etc. Their definitions will have nothing to do with liturgy, denominations, or systematic theology. The sanctifying life requires more than attendance, participation, and good citizenship. It blossoms as a pervasive, holistic lifestyle that leaves a wake of healing and hope.

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