Tag : first-impression

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171: YouTube Has Revealed What It Knows About Your Auction Buyers

YouTube is now the second largest search engine in North America. Web surfers watch almost five billion YouTube videos every single day.1 It’s a safe bet that Google, who owns the video streaming service, is learning a lot from all of the data it’s collecting. That data must be valuable enough for Google to lose $1.8 billion a year to keep YouTube up and running.2

One of the things YouTube knows from that data is the approximate average length of our collective attention span. To acclimate to this, they’ve made many of their advertisers’ ads skippable after five . . . long . . . seconds. That span of time even comes with a countdown clock to assure YouTubers that their wait is almost over.

YouTube 4 Seconds

To get their full message across, advertisers must make the first five seconds of their commercial compelling enough for viewers to avoid that skip button. At the average rate of an English speaker, that’s about 12 words—assuming words start immediately.

Five seconds. 12 words.

YouTube Skip

Many auctioneers don’t believe Americans have a short attention span.

  1. Their signs and newspaper ads are compressed brochures, not teasers to their websites.
  2. Their headlines are generic, throwaway labels like “real estate” and “farm equipment” when a picture of the asset(s) makes the asset category obvious.
  3. They talk about the buying method (auction), the date of that auction, the type of bidding in that auction (online and/or on-site) and the presence or absence of a reserve before they talk about the asset.
  4. Their company brochures would take several minutes to read.
  5. They mail tabbed brochures with the most attractive panels on the inside and the terms, directions, and open house dates on the outside.
  6. They put their logo at the top of their emails instead of at the bottom.
  7. They lead with the name of an estate—a name that doesn’t belong to a celebrity that would be the reason why someone wants the asset.
  8. They duplicate the content from the front of their postcard to the back, crowding the impression on both sides.

How do I know the above realities are true? Because I get paid to design auction advertising media in these ways. Every week. Because auctioneers post scans of their fliers and post them on Facebook. Because even some of the pieces that win national auction industry awards violate the laws of attention span.

By the way, those five seconds for YouTube seem long, because our attention span for other media is even shorter than YouTube or Google demonstrate with the five-second countdown. For social media like Facebook, you’re looking at less than half of that. For people sorting through their mail, two seconds would be a long time to capture their attention. Same goes for email subject lines.

Social commentators speculate that the trend to shorter attention spans is attributed to smart phone usage. Mobile Internet use might be causation or correlation, but your own Google Analytics will show you that the trend is only growing. There’s no putting the attention span genie back in the bottle.

So, how do you adapt to this shrinking attention span? For starters, get off the bulleted list you just read. Second, before you post any information in any format for your advertising campaign, work on the 10 words or less to use as the talking point for the auction. (We teach a whole module on how to do this well at the Auction Marketing Management designation course.)

If you get really courageous, cut everything out of your advertising media except this tease, the most necessary information, and a call to action. Then put the rest of your content on your website.

1YouTube Company Statistics” Statistic Brain, September 1, 2016.

234 Mind Blowing YouTube Facts, Figures, and Statistics — 2016” Danny Donchev, FortuneLords.com, September 21, 2016.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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152: How Vacation Souvenirs Sabotage Your Direct Mail Strategy

No matter where you vacation, there’s a really good chance you can buy postcards somewhere along the way—probably on one of those spinning metal racks. I can’t speak for you; but the big, glossy pictures always look better than the photos I take.

A vacation postcard says a variation of one of two messages: “Look at this fantastic place that I’m enjoying without you!” or “I’m in this happy place, and it made me think of you.” The recipient doesn’t know which of those very different thoughts you are sending until she reads your scribbles on the blank side.

Thankfully, the postal carrier delivers every postcard with the message side first. He flips through a stack of pieces with the addresses facing him before delivering your mail address-side-up.

In turn, most Americans pull that mail out of the mailboxes with the stack oriented the same way. We also overwhelmingly tend to flip through the stack address-side-up. It makes sense. If we share an address with roommates or family members, we’re looking to sort by recipients. If we’re adults, we’re separating bills from personal mail and junk mail, keying off visual clues as to the identity of each sender.

Since the mailer panel of the postcard is what gets seen first, read first, and sorted first, you’d think that we’d all call that first impression the front of the mail. I do, but I’m considered a weirdo for doing so. Most people call that the back.

I blame vacation postcards for that. In souvenir racks, the big picture side makes the first impression for that card to get purchased. To the purchaser, that’s the front.

The same applies to the marketers with whom I work. Since they’re buying the postcards, they see the side where they can fit the most content as the front.

The problem comes, though, when we treat the mailer panel as the back—the place to sling whatever doesn’t fit on the full-bleed side. It’s a problem because direct mail grants us only between a half second and three seconds to appeal to the recipient who is sorting their mail. In that short moment, we don’t have the relational appeal of a hand-written note. In that lightning flash, we have to capture attention that interrupts the sorting or at least gets our piece directed into the “to-read” stack.

In practice, the mailer panel should be the flashy side. It should be the panel with the big picture and the short headline. Everything else should fall to the reverse side or to our website. Anybody not interested by our primary “sizzle” photo and intrinsic message isn’t a likely buyer or client. Anyone interested but not motivated to flip the card over or go to our website isn’t a qualified prospect, either.

No matter where you vacation or how you tell folks about it, advertise your business and wares as if you were far from a souvenir shop. Work on simplifying and maximizing your first impression. Put the result of that effort next to the recipient’s address—the text almost everyone reads first.

Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

90: 6 Weird Intruders in Your Mail Box

IntrudersI love snail mail.

So, I register for mailing lists all the time.  I like to see what corporate America is producing in their metropolitan ad agencies and what auctioneers create with their brochure mills or local print shops.  I don’t see “junk mail.”  I see lessons in how to capture attention and how not to get trashed in the first pass through the stack.  I’ve got a storage bin filled with competition-worthy samples, and I’ve developed a list of the ways auctioneers ignore the purpose of advertising.

Advertising should do three things:
(1) capture attention
(2) inform
(3) call to action

In other words, your media needs to make a good first impression, hold that attention, and then leverage its impact to evoke a specific response.  The first step and the transition to the second step are typically where I see auctioneers stumble.  They assume that the recipient is as interested in what they’re selling as they are and that the recipient will interact with an advertisement as though they already know the content will interest them.

Most auction brochures and postcards I receive make me shake my head—more times than not because of the mailer panel.  The mailer panel is the first impression panel for the vast majority of the people on your mailing list.  Don’t make your first impression like these guys I’ve met at my mailbox:

The Shady Lawyer
If you get on enough auctioneer mailing lists or peruse enough advertising competition entries, you’ll find a mailer panel that shows the auction company name and logos and their contact information—and nothing else but the auction terms.  Before you ever know what they’re selling, you’re given all the indemnifying conditions of what you can and can’t do in regards to something being sold—something not shown nor described.

If you walked into a retailer, they wouldn’t stop you at the door to read the fine print from your pending receipt.  Why would a retailer—or an auctioneer—start their advertising that way?  They tell me it’s because that’s the only place left to put the terms.  These auctioneers believe the mailer panel is the leftover space, despite it being maybe the most important space of the entire piece.

The Conspiracy Theorist
I also get pieces whose mailer panels hold not much more than a small (often illegally reproduced) map on them, sometimes with directions.  Like the shady lawyers, these auctioneers assume the space next to your address is the junk drawer of the advertising kitchen.  If there were more than one Area 51, you could make the case that maybe these auctioneers might be selling restricted real estate.  We’re told there’s an important place; we just don’t know what’s going on there.  Think about it: why would anyone be interested in a map that comes with no reason to use it?  And who keeps a map to a place they don’t know if they want to visit?

The Polygamist
Every time postage rises, more auctioneers consolidate their mailings, sometimes by designing more than one auction into a piece but more often by stapling and/or tabbing multiple brochures together and mailing them as a combo pack.  This can be a smart strategy, if the auctions are for similar assets that would have been mailed to the same list anyway.

The problem comes when only one of the auctions is mentioned on the mailer panel of the outside piece.  If I were the seller of one of the auctions shown in the interior pieces, I’d feel second rate.  I also regularly receive pieces that just have a calendar showing highlighted dates and a couple headlines.  Rather than treat one seller with unequal attention, all sellers get the impersonal treatment.

Typically, the auctioneer is combining an entire month’s worth of mailings at one shot.  In most cases, it would seem to me that somebody’s auction is getting advertised later than optimal timing.

The Mime
These pieces don’t say anything; they just indicate that there’s something not being said.  I’ve seen auction mailers with nothing but the recipient’s address and a stamp on them—sometimes also a stamped return address and logo on it.  Blank on the other side, too.  Why?  Because the auctioneer only paid for one-sided printing.  Usually, they are mailing a poster they had printed to hang in stores around town.  They are banking on the fact that curiosity will typically trump attention span and the hope that they won’t be seen as cheap.

I understand the intrigue strategy, but there are better and more professional ways to generate curiosity.  You’re paying to mail both sides of the brochure.  Why not use both?

The Narcissist
One auctioneer told me he that didn’t like me putting pictures on the outside of a brochure and that he wanted just his name and enlarged logo on the outside of the piece.  “When people see my name, they will want to open it.”  Even as a direct mail junkie, I don’t open all of my mail, even pieces from known entities.  From what I’ve heard, I’m not alone in that reality.  So, I wouldn’t trust the name recognition approach, especially when mailing to a new geographic or asset market.

The Acrobat
Usually this dude comes in postcard format.  He expects you to flip the piece over to see the most appealing images and information.  Online print shops only exasperate the problem by calling the side of the postcard opposite the address the “front.”  They assume guests will come to your back door first, I guess.  They overlook that the vast majority of Americans open their mail address side up—because that’s how mail deliverers put it in mailboxes.

Don’t make the people on your mailing list guess what’s for sale and why it’s important they know about it.  Capture their attention and inform them right from the first impression—the mailer panel.

In advertising, you should judge a book by its cover, because that’s what its audience does.

Spiritually and relationally, though, it’s not a safe practice.  God says that he’s the only one who sees the inside through the outside.  Sadly, though, the church has built millennia of precedence of creating a sliding scale of holiness, based on mostly-arbitrary exterior criteria.  I struggle with this, too, especially when I feel insecure about my spiritual state.

Recently, a conversation with a mentor of mine challenged my resistance to a former convict participating in certain church environments.  We talked about how scandalous God’s grace and mercy are, and he dropped this on me:  “I don’t want to have a finer filter than God does.”  In other words, if God forgave someone and allowed them to approach him, why shouldn’t we?

Then he hit me with the knockout punch: “All of us have some pretty dark places in our hearts—all of us.”  It’s easy to see the darkness in others instead of our own waywardness.  It’s a challenge, though, to extend to someone else the benefit of a doubt that we give ourselves.

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase 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]

Direct Mail & Female

Visual AttractionI remember the first time I saw Crystal Young, the college coed who would one day take my last name and an average of half the covers. It was lust at first site. To be candid, she had just walked past me; and I wanted to talk to the girl who came with that cute, khaki-skirted rear end. I eventually found her again and asked her on a date that earned another date that became 12 years together this March.

We’ve traveled the world together, cried in each other’s arms, accomplished some cool feats as a dynamic team. But it all goes back to ten seconds of a seemingly perfunctory walk through the student commons by the campus post office—a first impression that begged a second one that led to an intimate knowledge of another soul.

First impressions make or break your advertising, just as they do potential relationships. Unlike most face-to-face interactions, though, you only get three to eight seconds to register the perception you want to project.

Don’t believe me? Have someone in your office sort the mail on Monday. Take the total number of seconds spent, divided by the total number of pieces; and you’ll see that you’ve got to communicate faster than it takes Clark Kent to change in a phone booth.

Your first few seconds with a potential client determine the general perception of your company, what you’re trying to do, and whether you have something they want. The images you use, the text you choose, the ease of reading—they all connect to your reader’s cultural training as to where to categorize your brand. And this is true no matter which media you use to advertise.

Despite these stakes, one first impression in the auction industry often goes embarrassingly unattended: the mailer panel on direct mail.

Sample Brochure Mailer Panels

Last weekend I saw literally dozens of awards competition mailers that were completely blank. No image, no text, no color—just a blank panel for “from” and “to” labels (and a stamp). That’s either hubris or ignorance—or both. “People will open it, because they know it’s from me.” Well, then, you’re not advertising to people you don’t know, which means that you’re not expanding your brand reach. “Well, it creates a sense of intrigue; people open blank mail out of curiosity.” Well, then, you don’t mail to the same people more than once; or you’re mailing to investors and other adults who still entertain themselves with jack-in-the-boxes.

Still others make that panel the black and white side, with color on the opposite side that gets viewed only as a second impression. Worse yet, I’ve seen auctioneers stuff their terms and conditions next to the address—starting the conversation with their prospect by telling them all the things they can’t do at an auction they haven’t described. Or directions and open house information—again for an item the recipients don’t yet know exists.

You could write this off as minor incompetence, if it weren’t for the question: “How is the vast majority of mail opened?”

Address side-up!

So if you want people to want what your selling, you have to show it to them quickly. You must build your mailing panel (postcard or brochure) to include:

  1. a large, singular image (or two)
  2. a bold, succinct headline
  3. high contrast for easy readability
  4. a short appeal to consumer wants or needs
  5. only tertiary mention of the method of sale (auction)

Sample Postcard Mailer Panels

I’ve inserted samples of auction mailers that follow most of these rules. They’re not perfect; but they illustrate that you can hit the ground selling, if you take first impressions seriously. And for mailing lists you implement on a regular basis, these corporate-looking mailers are brand reinforcements. The laws of attraction don’t change. And in most cases, it will cost you little to nothing more to sift your current content with the five filters listed above.

Otherwise, you can keep relying on blank, bland, or crowded first dates with your clientele. Me? I’d rather successfully earn a second look, a second date—and work my way toward that honeymoon.

Churches spend a lot of time making sure their buildings and services communicate a sanctified mood. Hey, I bought into that idea for years; so, I’m not throwing stones. And if we’re only trying to reach people with a natural inclination to do the church thing, we can find moderate success at making church churchy.

But what if church were meant to attract the unchurched? What if Jesus chased harder after the lost than the found? I mean, didn’t Jesus say he’d rescue the strayed sheep instead of revel in a 99% safety rate?

Well, in that case, we need to take our changed lives to the world—to appeal to the estranged where they are. If that secular interaction is barking on political TV or pejorative bumper stickers, suited condescension or plastic hypocrisy, why would they want a second look at Jesus?

It’s up to us—harnessing the Holy Spirit—to attract others to the embrace of our lover, just as the crowds gathered to see Jesus two millennia ago. You never know when you’re Christ’s first impression to someone. That’s why we’re called to live authentic, growing, holy lives.

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

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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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