Tag : christmas

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An Auction Bidder’s Wish List

I’m the oldest of six children, and my wife was the first of five offspring for my in-laws.  So, I’m thankful that both of our families exchange names for “secret sibling” Christmas gifts.

My side of the family makes it even easier by creating a message thread on Facebook where we post our respective wish lists for our secret sibling to use for reference in their holiday shopping.

To keep you reading, I’ll show you what I posted.

(in this order):
anything from here: http://www.gfa.org/gift/home
gift cards from iTunes, REI, or Dick’s Sporting Goods
solid-color winter beanies
Smart Wool® socks
black Crocks (size 10)
solid color fleece sweatshirts or hoodies
athletic ankle socks
100g Jetpower micro-canister

What you’ll notice is that I didn’t write, “Something nice,” (though everything on this list is nice to me) or “Great deal for the money” (though I hope my sibling finds the deal of a lifetime).  Why?  Because those are ambiguous requests—unhelpful direction.  See, when they go to a store, there won’t be an aisle for “something nice” or “a sweet deal!”  If they Google search for “something nice,” they will get these random acts of results.

This makes sense on a personal level; but, for some reason, auction marketers disregard this common wisdom when advertising the assets in their auctions.  Their headlines, line ads, and websites lead with information that buyers will not type into their search engines, apps, or wish lists.

Raise your hand, if you’ve seen an auction advertisement that said “Investment Opportunity!” Now keep that hand raised if you think anyone is searching for an office building, flatbed truck, bass boat, or 1950’s Texaco sign with those two words.  In our search culture, advertising needs to focus on the facts, not the pitch—even for offline media.  You might be able to schmooze bidders at open houses or at the auction, even though our culture is growing less tolerant of the commissioned sales schtick.  But you’ll be hard pressed to find advertising that works that way.

Recently, I was asked to rewrite some sales copy on a luxury home, since [I assume] it wasn’t getting many bites.  I couldn’t change the facts, just the adjectives and syntax.  Even if I were J.K. Rowling, I couldn’t rewrite that paragraph in a way that would change someone’s mind about that house.  Either they wanted what it had or they didn’t.  If they wanted four bathrooms and an in-law suite, only a house with those specifications would work.  If they wanted an in-ground pool, stables, and a riding ring, they were looking for those words in whatever media they’re using to shop.

Fluff text is inefficient use of space and attention.  There’s no search criteria field in Trulia for “cute,” no check box on Realtor.com for “cozy,” no ebay category for “like new.”  I just checked: LoopNet doesn’t have a menu selection for “potential.”  Pictures, dimensions, location, age—immutable, objective data—will tell someone if an asset matches their wish list; their own emotional and financial situation will translate that information into subjective evaluations.

I’m regularly amused by auctioneers telling their audience that an address is conveniently located in reference to places a half hour or more away from the subject property.  Convenience is a relative value.  Oh, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Unlimited potential!” as a real estate headline or bullet point.  I don’t have a real estate license, but I’d imagine legal boundaries and zoning commissions significantly restrict infinity.  But even if the future development of a property were somehow unlimited, who’s searching for that ambiguity?

Whether searching for Christmas gifts, farm equipment, or a strip mall, consumers will echo what Detective Joe Friday said on Dragnet, “All we want are the facts.”  It’s insulting to tell a buyer what the facts mean.  Buyers will most likely know if what you’re selling is a collectors item, if a home is designed for entertaining, if an address is a good business location—based on the facts at hand.

Does this mean advertising should be reduced exclusively to a list of bulleted descriptions?  No—even if in many media, that’d be the most efficient strategy.  Write your sales copy as long as space and budget will allow.  Emphasis, though, belongs to the facts.  Headlines should tell people if what they want might be described in the next section.  Top billing should go to the unarguable.

Make it easy for potential buyers to compare your sale item(s) to their wish list.  That ease of comparison reflects on your brand, whether they bid or purchase from you or not.

Taking It Personally

Outside of sports programming or sitting in a waiting room, I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched TV news.  Beside how partisan each of the networks have proven to be, I’m disenchanted by the 24-hour news network ecosystem’s need to fill so much of their time with commentary.  I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should feel about a congressional bill, a televised debate, an oval office speech.  I think that’s why I’m drawn to Twitter so much as a news source.  News sources there have to dump the main point and a link in 140 characters or less.

News never has been objective; I don’t know how it ever could be.  So, I don’t ask it to be.

Maybe that’s why after sitting through literally over 5,000 sermons and Bible lessons, I’m so drawn to my TruthWorks Bible study, where I’m pointed to a passage of Scripture with three questions: “What does the writer actually say?” and “What does that mean—in a big picture context?” and then “What do I do right now with this truth?”  It’s good to have wise, educated people bring light to Scripture; and I believe teachers can be agents of the Holy Spirit.  But we need to be careful not to rely on other people to tell us what to believe; we need to be like the heralded Bereans, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

72: Beware These Advertising Stocking Stuffers

I found the most expensive Christmas gift I’ve ever received stashed in the bottom of my 1995 Christmas stocking.  It changed the way I looked at the baby blue quilted stocking I’ve had since early childhood.

Despite their gift-filled heritage, though, stockings generally get a bad rap as the leftover gift bag, the present you open after you’ve pitched your wrapping paper projectiles at your brother but before Mom initiates the chorus of “Thank you, everybody!”

During this gift-giving season, I want to recognize the auctioneers and real estate marketers who stuff a lot of cheap extras into their advertising stockings—junk that keeps alive that bad rap stockings get.  Seriously, here’s a list of things not to give your clients and prospects in your advertising.

Photoshop “Eye Candy”
The 90’s were great.  We got Seinfeld and Ross Perot graphs, a muscle-bound home run frenzy and the Dodge Viper muscle car . . . and aesthetically-atrocious Web sites.  Bubble lettering, embossed photographs, cartoony drop shadows, feathered pictures—if Photoshop could do it, amateur designers (me included) were doing it.  Sadly, some Web and print designers today struggle to let go of the of their Saved by the Bell College Years.  No matter who designs your materials, don’t approve pieces where design elements draw more attention to themselves than to what you’re saying or selling.

Gunslinger Lingo
Unless you’re selling a ranch or cattle or holding your auction in front of a saloon, there’s no need to use “noon” in time notifications.  A.M. and P.M. get covered pretty early in elementary school and are already the default time demarcations on your Web site.  You wouldn’t talk like a soldier and say “at twelve hundred hours;” so, why go the cowpoke route?  Same goes for “situated” and “more or less.”  Try “located” or “built” on the former and “+/-” or “approximately” on the latter.

Ransom Note Grammar
I scratch my head at some of the capitalization I see in auction and real estate marketing.  Unless using ALL CAPS or Title Caps for headlines and categories headings, the only letters that should be capitalized are those that start proper nouns—official names of places and people and vehicles.  Directions like “east” and “northwest” stay uncapitalized in complete-sentence use, as do “auction” and “buyer’s premium.”

Phone Book Listings
Research has found that Americans are ironically less likely to make a purchase the more choices we’re given.  Someone labeled the phenomenon, “choice paralysis.”  So, it stands to reason that the more phone numbers and/or URL’s you put in your advertising, the less likely you are to be contacted.  If you do use more than one phone number or URL, signify what’s different on the other end of that information.  Maybe it’s “toll-free” and “local” or “24-hour info line” and “during office hours” or “general auction information” and “agent access.”

Ninja Star Bursts
Even if you are a crouching tiger or hidden dragon, it is far easier to handle one star being thrown at you than multiple stars at the same time.  Why?  Focus.  Maybe not women, but most men can only process one thought at a time.  So, if you must use a star burst in your advertising, choose only one to draw the recipient’s focus.  Same goes for other emphasis devices.  Use the boldest element for the primary information and aesthetically draw down the emphasis as you move through the subsequent levels of importance.  (Hint: “auction” and the date are almost never first and often not even second.)

Hey, you’ve got some time before 2011.  Why not resolve to give clean design and professional presentation to the buying public advertising next year?  It might just get you off Santa’s 2011 naughty list.

I usually squirm and cringe at family Christmas gatherings, as the “Christmas story” is being read.  It feels like a ceremonial first pitch or honorary coin toss before the game we paid to watch or play.  “So, here’s the transcript of the Christmas cantata and a shout out to Jesus on his birthday.  Let’s pray.  Okay, let’s open our loot.”

That’s why I’ve grown more comfortable with the concept of spending our gift money on items Jesus can actually use, like water buffalo and bicycles for Indian missionaries to use in their outreaches.  I want organizations like Gospel for Asia to be able to show people—who are accustomed to a religion that takes from them—a God who wants more for them than from them.

I’m proud of my family for giving me chickens and rabbits and foreign print materials for my birthday and Christmas this year—gifts that will keep on giving physical and spiritual hope.  At the nativity, God gave us a tangible gift that brought the promise of Life.  Do our Christmas presents do that?

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.[/footer]


Newsletters & Fruitcakes

NewsThe word newsletter used to evoke an internal groan akin to the one for holiday fruitcake.  For decades, newsletters were more blessed to give than receive.  With desktop publishing and internet technology constantly improving, though, in-house newsletters have made improvements by leaps and bounds.

That said, not all newsletters are created equal.  I’m not just talking about printed pieces versus email or online versions.  See, some build positive recognition of their company’s brand.  Others are still wrapped in their green cellophane.  The recipient knows the sender means well, but they’re not going to stop from their mail sort to absorb the content.  So, here are some tips to keep that from happening to your newsletter.

Establish Your Expertise
The primary function of the newsletter is to inform the reader in a way that establishes your company as an expert source.  The residual effect of newsletter investment may take years.  If you need to borrow articles to fill the space, you are still communicating your knowledge prowess—because you know where to direct others for information.  Just make sure to obtain permission and properly attribute the source(s).

Serve the Reader First, Your Company Second
You wouldn’t want to read your local used car dealer’s run down of his sales reports.  Your prospects don’t want to read your litany, either. But if your local car dealer sold the first off the assembly line or accepted a trade-in from a celebrity, then he’d have your interest.  What’s in your piece for your reader? Make them care about your business by caring about their interests.  Save your “sold!” gallery for your web site.  Spend time to obtain quotes and supporting materials that will make your newsletter more journalistic, more professional, and more engaging.

Graph-fiti Like a Gang Member
If you want to illustrate your accomplishments, don’t toot your horn with paragraphs of text.  Give your successes context with chart and graphs.  I recommend showing sale prices in relation to appraisals/assessments or sales by day of the week or month of the year.  Compare types of auction properties, or map types of properties per geographic area.  Chart online bidders versus live ones over a span of sales.  Make abstract ideas concrete by illustrating them graphically.

Use Large Photos and Lots of White Space
If your piece looks more like a bible page and less like a magazine spread, seek professional help.  This isn’t high school yearbook class or “BUS 107: Intro to Business Forms.”  Your newsletter carries your brand as much as any other media you place in front of your audience.  Break stories up with pull quotes, statistic boxes, charts, and inset photos.  Don’t’ crowd content, especially text.  Use action photos as much as possible.  Use a test audience, especially one unfamiliar with your news.

Stay on Schedule
Determine a schedule—whether monthly, quarterly, or annually—that will allow for you to consistently generate original content.  You want to develop a distribution pattern, even if a sparse one.  If you have extra material for one release—rather than try to shoe horn it into this issue, save the least time-sensitive content for the next issue.

You can save your newsletter from the round file the same way you would protect a Christmas food gift investment: give something the receiver will want to eat.  Put some thought into it.  Avoid the non-refundable bargain bin.

And make sure the old family “special recipe” stays at home.

The underlying message of your newsletter is, “We are experts.  You can trust your business with us.”  What is the underlying, almost-thematic message of your life? Do you sift your actions and goals though the sieve of that statement?

For me, I want it all to match my life goal: to live a creative nonfiction life of spiritual and physical adventure that, with integrity, will draw others into the same.  It doesn’t take too long on my web sites and facebook pages to see the ways I pursue that (successfully or not).  But the chase makes the mundane less so, the necessary a contribution—and a positive legacy possible.

Is the way you’re writing the pages of your life story pulling people into the bigger picture?  If not, you can still edit and rewrite the remaining pages—starting with today’s.

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

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