223: The Biggest Irony in Auction Advertising
If you’ve advertised an auction on Facebook at any point in the past decade, you know the most annoying question that shows up in the comments.
“How much for it?”
In auctioneer gatherings, I’ve seen auctioneers roll their eyes or in some other way connote their exasperation.
“It’s an auction!” someone interjects. We all know that the price is where the bidding stops, and nobody can know that in advance. Not the seller, not the buyer, not the auctioneer. There’s no price tag, no MSRP. And outside of eBay, there’s rarely a Buy It Now feature to end an auction early at a set price. At best, we can guess the sale price based on past sales of similar items in similar locations; but we all know how wildly prices can swing from one auction to the next—even for similar items in similar locations.
That’s why I find it so ironic that the question I get most from auctioneers about Facebook advertising is, “How much will it cost?”
I frustrate them with an answer they’re tired of answering to their potential bidders’ question of “How much for it?”
“I don’t know. Facebook ads are sold by auction.”
The auctions my clients conduct have variables, including what’s being sold, the condition of the assets, the location of the property, the convenience of the auction’s end time, and the current supply of & demand for the item. All of those same factors determine the cost of Facebook ads, all of which are sold via auction.
The second question that follows right on the heels of that ironic one is more preposterous still: “What kind of budget will it take to find our buyer?”
We don’t ask this question of any other form of advertising. How many signs or how much sign square footage will it take to find a buyer? How many newspaper ads will guarantee we get this thing sold? How many postcards will it take to make our seller happy? How many radio ads should we play to make sure we meet the reserve? How many emails do we need to send to convince the executor that we got everything we could for this estate?
At best, we can know averages on questions like that; but most auctioneers don’t track their data with that much inference. Even if you have Silicon-Valley-level formulas spitting out estimates, we can’t know in advance that there will be a buyer or buyers and that they’ll have enough money to eventuate in happy sellers. I advertise a weekly sale for an online auction house. We target the same audiences with the same budgets every week. Two Sundays ago (on the day I’m writing this), our auction grossed one of its lowest totals of the year despite some of our most efficient Facebook response rates. This past Sunday, we had monster gross sales and max bids despite the least-efficient response of 2021 so far.
Similar items in the same place advertised the same way … and our Facebook results and auction results varied wildly.
Those are the kinds of enigmas my clients face on a regular basis. Sometimes, the second phase of a campaign outperforms the first one; but sometimes, the pixel-based round trails far behind the early wave of prospecting ads. If I could know what ads would work best in advance, I would distribute the budget accordingly. It’s in my best interest like it is for the auctioneer to guess correctly as much as possible. I use my analytics to educate my guesses, but they are guesses nonetheless.
Mystery can be unnerving, and knowing a range of results only helps a little bit. Part of me would love to give auctioneers flat Facebook costs—not estimates but real, actual, set prices. The other part of me enjoys the challenge of beating the system and the reward of getting the auction to end earlier than it does for those who don’t use my system.
For years in my seminars and blog posts, I’ve told audiences that I think auctioneers are braver than I am. Sure, they don’t walk on wings of airplanes in flight or jump off cliffs with a trash can over their heads; but everything about an auctioneer’s livelihood is a risk, a guess, or a managed tension. I admire that courage, because I couldn’t do that. Auctioneers must exude as much faith in their instinct and expertise as I do in a safety harness. So, auctioneers are the best marketers to live in the unknowable nature of Facebook advertising. Auctioneers are best equipped to explain to their sellers that our marketing efficiency is as unknowable as our auction outcomes.
And it’s good for us all to remember that it could be worse. We could be required to have faith in newspaper ads.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com