Tag : white-space

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138: 5 Design Attributes of Premium Auction Advertising

PicassoRecently, a lot of incredible art & antique auctions have made the news, including the record-breaking $179,400,000 paid for a Picasso painting at auction a few weeks ago.

That’s nine figures! It’s also roughly six times the hammer price of the most expensive asset I’ve ever helped an auctioneer advertise. When I see these headlines and stories, I get curious about how they were marketed—the budget, the strategy, the teamwork, etc. I wouldn’t want to be part of that process. I just want to observe it in action.

I discovered one of the other recent headline auctions in this category while flipping through a magazine that has mysteriously found its way into my mailbox. This fantastic full-page ad [shown below] stopped me in its tracts. I later learned that it costs $16,320 to run this black and white ad (and that it would’ve cost $27,200 in color). In my 15 years in the business I’ve never built an ad that expensive—not even close.

A few clicks later, I found this beautiful 210-page catalog for the Lauren Bacall auction. Its 740 lots were scattered at a luxuriously-light average of 3.5 lots per page. The photography and page layout really humbled me. (Many of the awards I’ve won in my career wouldn’t have been awards, if the best in the industry cared to enter their pieces like this one.) The biggest catalog I ever built was a comparatively-meager 20 or 24 pages.

Bonhams Catalog CoverRather than viewing my daily bread with disdain, I looked for elements from which I and my clients could learn. See, my clients have high-wire acts as risky as this practically-absolute Bonham’s auction. Only a few assets or collections I advertise a year might hit their $3,460,000 sale price, but auctioneers risk their time, resources, and reputations on speculation that assets will even sell and also at what price the hammer will land. Their commissions and their sellers’ financial statements are just as at stake as those in the international auction houses. Every day.

So, here are those lessons:

1. Clean trumps cluttered.

We can’t all use just a four-word headline and a photograph, but we can lean more heavily on our main attraction more. We can move from collages of small pictures to large images and leave the tertiary details to our websites. We can be ruthless with our text cleaver, strict with out templates, and humble with our logo placement.

2. Brochure covers don’t need a lot of information.

Candidly, my best brochure & catalog covers—even my award winners—are covered in mostly-redundant information. Imagine how much more visual appeal our brochures would have if we killed the content found elsewhere in the brochure! (Also imagine if we pared the rest of the brochure to easily fit and emphasize that content.)

3. Photography makes or breaks your media design.

Lauren Bacall THRThat catalog wouldn’t look nearly as attractive without professionally captured, edited, and masked images of lots that sold at an average of $4,676 per lot. The ads, catalog cover, and large-format media Bonhams used wouldn’t have grabbed your attention as easily without the rights to a striking portrait of Ms. Bacall. Even a great designer can’t overcome the disadvantage of poor photography. Even an inexperienced designer can look good with good images.

4. White space with small text looks luxurious.

If you want to make something look high end, shrink the font size and increase the space between elements on the page. This strategy allows the margin to draw the attention better to important elements. For brochures of real estate or other physically-large assets, you can substitute large, unused areas of background images to create the same effect. Bonham took this even further with entire completely blank pages in their catalog.

5. Trust the headline and primary image.

Ms. Bacall’s collection proved as diverse as it was valuable. The lots—that brought as much as $173,000 for a single item—deserved description. But Bonhams didn’t tell us about the lots in their first-impressions. They trusted the headline and primary image to lead to investigation, and they trusted that investigation to lead to bids. Our ads might still need a short paragraph of overview, but they need to stop looking like phone directory pages. If someone isn’t interested after the first two or three lines, it doesn’t matter how many lines of text we add.

THR ad details insetThe irony is that Bonhams showed more restraint for expensive items than we often do with much lesser lots. Maybe it’s not ironic, since most of us sell utilitarian items instead of luxury goods. Regardless, while it’s impractical for most auctioneers to put these principles in action to the degree Bonhams did, we can all move in these directions for advertising that competes in the marketplace—not just in the auction industry.

Sources for facts in this post: Lauren Bacall’s Eclectic Treasures Auctioned Off” by Alexandra Jacobs on NYTimes.com, April 3, 2015. Lauren Bacall Jewelry Fetches More than $500,000” by Anthony DeMarco on Forbes.com, April 4, 2015.

22: Bean Stalk Strategies

Golden EggI just returned from the National Auctioneers Association’s annual “Conference and Show.” The industry’s trade show seems to grow every year—both in cumulative square feet and in the size of individual booths. This summer, the largest players were the mega stations for franchise/referral/joint venture networks. One booth even had a sequestered conference room built into its structure.

The consolidation of the auction industry accelerates each year with more and bigger players vying for auctioneers’ memberships. And I count about as many doing it quietly as those advertising publicly.

It makes sense for some auctioneers: an intra-industry variation of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” What you lose in autonomy, you gain in support. The benefit of expanded branding offsets the cost of sharing. Proprietary knowledge gives way to synergy.

For those of you for whom this model isn’t a good fit, you can project the same image as these national entities. You can brand like a continent-covering giant.

Guard Your Look with Attention to Detail
Conglomerates keep their look incredibly consistent. Some (wisely) even send me style sheets—detailed guides for how to maintain their image. Your brand only roars when caged. So, examine every branded document, every web site, every article of clothing, and anything that can be seen with your company logo, information, or facility. Fonts, colors, layouts, logo treatment, white space—everything—needs to look like it was baked on the same cookie sheet.

Fake the Cooperative Budget
Big companies can afford to run big ads. You and/or your seller probably cannot. So, pole your bidders and especially your buyers. Record where they learned about your sale. After a dozen or twenty sales, compare notes. You could be shifting your ad dollars to the most receptive media (print or otherwise) whose consumers most engage your message. Determine your small pond; then dominate it.

Update Your Look
The seventies called. They’d like their style back. Study your logo. Does it illustrate your company’s personality or just its name? Does it look corporate or corn fed, creative or generic? Your ad and brochure templates communicate your brand as much as your logo. Are you still using clip art borders or gavels? Is the newspaper still designing your ads? Is the word, “auction,” still the largest element on your piece? It might be time to trade in that advertising leisure suit.

Win the Taste Test
Conglomerates pass everything through multiple layers of approval—at least at the outset of brand development. They grab people from outside their executive committee, their company, and even their industry to evaluate their direction. You can, too. Share your ideas over a business breakfast; have family reunion attendees vote on your look; pay a few different graphic designers (from different disciplines) for a billable hour of their respective time to critique for you.

Embrace White Space As Your Friend
Big players spend money on white space to show their size. You can edit your way to white space within the space you’re already paying to use. Simplify your message; insert margin into your templates; and let the internet do the heavy lifting.

Use the Buddy System
If you’re heading into a new geographical or market area and don’t have the budget to blast large announcements of your debut, it might be worth a portion of your commission to find an auction marketer who already is reputable in that area. Adding their logo to your advertising allows you to benefit from their brand investment. Using the media and mail lists that they recommend will save you from having to overspend on wide nets. Value their experience; their audience does.

You don’t have to have a big company’s budget to look like one. You don’t have to change your business model or name to set your local standard or dominate your niche. You can play the game by corporate rules and get corporate results.
[tip]

The ranks of the “mega churches” seems to grow in number every year, as does their criticism. I go to a church that averages over 2,000 per Sunday and listen to podcasts from churches with 6,000-12,000 weekly attendees. But I grew up in churches from 40-120 people in multiple states.

I’m a fan of big churches, as long as they grow smaller as they grow larger. When the cellular/small group structure is encouraged, these kinds of churches can have a higher efficiency of outreach than the equivalent sum of many small congregations—along with the personal touch of those intimate assemblies. You can have a larger variety of cells that all support each other.

In our church, we’ve got Christ-centered discipleship, community, and/or outreach groups that are just for racquetballers, mountain bikers, canoers. We’ve got senior citizen circles and addiction-recovery pods, breakfast bible studies and skeptics/apologetics environments, life-stage in-home groups and exegetical clusters. Video production squads assist acting troupes. Bakers feed our serving teams. There’s a pack of folks who help you move, another that makes home repairs, another that supplies meals. We have serving teams that make church “work” fun and authentic.

The larger the body, the more specific God can assign the spiritual gifts and personalities that comprise it. Believers can find better ministry fits; unbelievers can be invited to a larger variety of outreaches with much better tailored approaches. It’s a win-win, as we wait for the ultimate mega-worship environment of heaven.

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

21: My Favorite Margin (From Outer Space)

Martian Man

We all understand the concept of profit margin: push revenue up; suppress offsetting expenses; the wider the difference, the more money you get to keep. That money isn’t unused money; in fact, to us, it might be the most important money—because we can spend it more freely to pursue our personal goals.

We understand the concept of margin in time management: organize your time; extricate wasted minutes or hours to be added to important commitments; the more time we find, the more we get to keep. It isn’t unused time; in fact, to us, it might be the most important time—free time—because we can spend it more freely to pursue our personal goals.

Margin concentrates our attention, maximizes our energy, and builds our priorities. It allows us to do more with less. It is the Wizard-of-Oz magic that makes the most of what we already have.

So, if we believe so strongly in the practical benefit of margin, why is it so difficult to apply it to our advertising? I’ve heard the answers: “We don’t have money in the budget for white space,” and “Too much information is better than too little,” and “We don’t want them calling us for information they can read for themselves.”

Ad ComparisonHere are three samples of ads for the same [fictional] real estate auction. “A” shows a typical auctioneer’s ad. It’s pretty exhaustive but powers visual overload into the reader’s psyche. The small type is difficult to read (especially in newsprint); it looks like a lot to read.

“B” cuts many of the details—needful only to those interested in attending the auction and/or purchasing—and gives the acquired space to the emphasis of the more important information.

“C” strips the ad down to visual impact and easy-to-find direction to the next step. The reader is not given any information they don’t need yet. The advertiser lets the images—the property itself—sell the auction.

To which ad do you gravitate? Which one is easiest to read? In which one does the property look most valuable? Which ad would positively stand out from your competition’s ads?

The one with more margin. It’s not unused space; it’s space used to expand your brand.

Your property may not be as easily sold with sparseness as a mountain retreat, but the pursuit of margin will almost always make your ads—and, thus, properties—more attractive to buyers. Motivated buyers will go to your web site or call; your job is to generate that motivation in the first interaction with your auction. That may mean the outside of a brochure, a sign on the property, or a print or online ad. But the idea’s the same: less is more.

We use margin on our roads to build safety into our lives. We use margin in our homes so that we don’t have to crawl over furniture from the door to the fridge. We use margin in our clothing to keep us from ending up on a makeover show.

It’s time we use margin to build our brands and push our competitors to consider a makeover.
[tip]

The Bible asks us to build margin into our lives in many ways: time, money, relationships. It even asks us to build a margin from temptation. The farther we stay from the environments that always flip the wrong switch, the less likely we’ll—accidentally or intentionally—bump it to “ON.”

That margin looks different to different people, as we each bear a unique set of Achilles heels. As we learn to extend grace to others with differing buffer zones, we are more able to imbibe God’s grace. The more grace we cognitively ingest, the more faith grows in us—and the stronger we grow to help others who share our struggles.

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

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