Speed Dating Overview

32: Advertising Lessons From Speed Dating

Speed Dating PreviewI’ve been off the market for 11 years. My first date (a one-way blind date) with the woman who now shares my last name lasted two to three hours, probably typical of most first dates. I‘ve since had phone conversations with Crystal that lasted longer than six hours; so, I’m intrigued by the concept of speed dating.

If you’ve not heard about this fascinating practice, I recommend a Wikipedia session. Basically, it’s a room full of two-chair tables and single adults spaced for a multitude of miniature dates to be experienced in rapid succession. Every five minutes or so, pairs are formed round-robin style throughout the room. Each side of the encounter gets the romantic version of an elevator pitch. Then the bell/signal is sounded, and the participants repeat the process with a new partner. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It takes some of the pressure off individual dates and exposes each candidate to multiple possibilities in the time they would have otherwise sized one prospect for a relationship.

If this environment sounds intimidating to you, know that your advertising has an even more intense courting process. Your marketing media gets less than ten seconds to grab a customer. Readership and web studies show that American consumers jump through their media at an ever increasing pace—meaning you’ve got less and less time to sell your auctions, your brand, or your services.

So, how do you earn that second date (or a longer first date) in seconds? By taking a few cues from successful speed daters.

Be Memorably Attractive

Like it or not, first impressions are not just lasting impressions. In dating and advertising, they can often be only impressions. So, you’ve got to focus on your one or two selling points and rely on visual and/or situational attraction to take it from there. Even though something obscure might affect your compatibility, if the big pieces don’t fit, it doesn’t matter if the small ones do.

I just received two brochures from Ford in the mail. Notice the sparse text on the outside. There are many unique reasons to purchase one of these vehicles, as the interior of each of these pieces illustrates; but each shows only a single dominating image and one big-idea headline. If neither of those appeals to me, Ford knows I don’t need the rest—especially at one time. Meanwhile, their visual impact stands much bolder and more memorable. I’m not in the market for either of these vehicles, but I broke the postal tab and perused the pieces.

Ford Brochures


Many auctioneers try to fit paragraphs of descriptive text and/or lots of secondary information on the “first impression” panels of their brochures, across their web site home pages, and in their print ads—things like inspection dates, directions, bulleted lists, even the auction company’s street address. If the pictures and headlines don’t interest readers, the second and third levels of information are at least unnecessary and maybe even dissonant. Let your pictures do the talking, and give them as much room as possible to sell your item(s).

Create Intrigue

If all you exchange is pleasantries or generalities, you better hope those pheromones are wafting. If you only present what makes you typical, average—a safe bet—you blend into the other options available. A recent (unscientific) study† of 1,000 Match.com headlines found that a significant majority of daters [still on the market] resorted to generalities in their first impressions.

The singles who stand the best chance of being found by a match emphasize their uniqueness, their idiosyncrasies, their less-average traits or interests? Who doesn’t enjoy a good time with the people they love? Through how many of those vanilla scoops do you want to sift to find the gal who shares your interest in snowboarding or the guy who also spends nights and weekends at acoustic coffee house performances?

I spoke with one of the judges for the 2008 USA Today auction advertising contest. I inquired about their criteria for picking from so many quality entries. “Well, I asked myself if I’d want to go to that auction—if the brochure was interesting enough to make me want to open it.”

Your ad reader, mail opener, and web surfer use the same criteria. So, focus your picture(s) and headlines on what makes your item unique and desirable. It could be rental income or acreage, size or gamut of the collection, location or celebrity connection. Everything they get from you is about auctions; so, don’t start with what makes this sale subject like the last. And don’t be visually redundant: if the picture is a house or land, you don’t need to say “Real Estate” in any headline. If it’s a tractor or combine, you don’t need to say, “Farm Equipment.” If someone is in the market for something, they know what it is when they see it.

Embrace the Odds

Speed daters know that a significant majority of their encounters will not produce matches. So, rather than try to appeal to all prospects, they rely on their authenticity to connect with a small minority. Pushing into a bad fit only creates more and longer awkwardness than entry-level rejection.

Not everyone wants what you’re selling this time. Don’t plead with hyperbole and clichés. Don’t blast your message like used car dealer commercials. Make your pitch succinct, professional, and honest; then rely on the item and your second level of information to do the rest.

Listen At Least As Much As You Talk

It can be easy in speed dating to focus on selling yourself to the other prospects. But if you should get a second, longer date out of one of these encounters, wouldn’t you want to know you stand a good chance to enjoy it as much as they do? Two equal pitches will serve you well. A conversation will serve you better. True conversation requires active listening, not just waiting for a pause to air your message.

So it is with advertising. You should be listening to the culture’s changing tendencies and sensibilities. You need direct feedback from your market of prospects and customers, too. Look at your competitors’ work, and evaluate what you should implement or surpass. Poll your bidders. Conduct online or email surveys. Develop a focus group for your big projects or new initiatives. Then design your campaigns according to the responses.

Invite the Next Step

Speed dating can be entertaining just to experiment on a group of strangers. It can be constructive to learn about yourself and the process in a low-expectations process. But it proves successful only if it leads to dates outside of its environment. To do that, you’ve got to acquire at least someone’s contact information, if not their stated interest.

Likewise, your advertising only works when it moves the prospect to the next step. That could be watching for upcoming ads, requesting a brochure, viewing a detailed online page, visiting an open house, or calling for answered questions. Offer one or more “next steps,” but give the recipient only one email address, one web site, and/or one phone number to reach the person who can best assist that step.

If you’ve followed these steps with enough people to have executed them with the right people, your auction event will be a date bidders won’t want to miss.

† “Polarize Me.” Dan Heath & Chip Heath, Issue 114, March 2007: Fast Company. (Print and online)
© Photo used with permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com

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