Tag : niche

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174: How to Get National Advertising on a Local Budget

Have you ever been asked to market anything that had a national appeal, but the asset value didn’t allow a national advertising campaign? It happens to my clients on a regular basis. My advice for that situation has recently changed, as a burgeoning technology helps solves part of that problem.

Let me give you an example.

One of my high-volume clients just booked a deal to sell the furniture, fixtures, and equipment from a two-year-old frozen yogurt shop near Buffalo, NY. Having limited experience with this niche asset category, John called me for ideas on how to attract the most amount of bidders to assets that together were worth only about as much as a new pickup truck. (I had zero experience with this asset type; so, I actually had more questions for him than he had for me.)

Before John called me, he had reached out to our mailing list guy and found a list of thousands of frozen yogurt stores in the country. National List Research was able to split the list into chains and independent operators and even provide the name of an executive for many of them. The bad news: a mailing even just to the independent operators would break his budget.

After a couple phone calls, we hatched a plan.

First, John bought the full mailing list of just the independent frozen yogurt shops along with their phone numbers. At 13 cents per person, that was a small expenditure.

Next, John uploaded that direct mail list to Facebook to create ads to those independent operators. Facebook matched about two thirds of those prospects. John could reach that complete national list of matches for about $20 per ad. So, we planned for a series of ads with different photos and headlines.

Then, John created a lookalike audience of Facebook users who demographically looked exactly like those independent operators.

Using a free Facebook pixel, he also created a list of Facebook users who visited that auction’s page on his website. Then, he had Facebook build a lookalike audience of people who looked just like the people who came to that page on his site. All three of these additional audiences got Facebook ads served to them—again for a small outlay. (John creates these three audiences for almost every auction.)

This YoBerry shop was in a Buffalo suburb; but the Northeast doesn’t have anywhere near as many frozen yogurt shops as the South does. Texas, especially, is chock full of them. John’s budget didn’t allow him to mail to the whole national list, but he didn’t know where the biggest demand would be. So, I recommended he run the first round of Facebook ads and then use Facebook’s and Google Analytics’ geographic reporting tools to see the aggregate data for those who visited the auction’s page on his website. That would tell him which states to select from his list for direct mail reinforcement.

The plan worked. John ended up mailing the postcard I designed to 253 of the 3,000 or so purchased names, saving thousands of dollars in printing and postage. Hundreds of people visited the auction’s page. Grafe Auction found scores of registered bidders from multiple states.

So, here were our takeaways from this low-budget experiment:

• Skip newsprint, unless it’s an asset only with local value.

• Use Facebook to help you sort your direct mail list.

• Leverage lookalike audiences to find the people that list brokers don’t have in their database.

• Implement a Facebook pixel to re-market assets to the original prospects and/or to serve ads to people who look just like your early investigators.

• Follow the data, not your instincts or industry status quo.

This complete process may not work for you, if you don’t offer online bidding of some sort. The individual tools we leveraged, though, are tools we use every day for live and online auctions. In concert, they solve a problem auctioneers regularly face.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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146: Marketing Less to Sell more

Right after World War I, military plane builders scrambled to find a new market for their products. While some looked for ways to adapt warplanes for civilian use, Gianni Caproni set about designing the largest commercial plane ever. The famous biplane engineer’s ambitious vision was the Transeareo (also called the Caproni Ca.60), a floating plane capable of carrying up to 100 passengers.

To carry its unprecedented cargo, Caproni designed the plane with not one, not two, but nine pair of wings. No, really. I guess the math makes sense: “If two sets of wings lift X kilograms, then nine sets of wings should be able to lift four and a half times that weight.”

Ca.60 Under Costruction
Sadly, though, the design didn’t make sense. On its second demonstration and first real attempt at flight, the flying Erector Set crashed onto Lake Maggiore in Italy. (You can see pictures of the carnage here.)

I can relate to Caproni. Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of Biplane Productions opening for business. During the first few years, I thought the way to get profitable in a hurry was to promise as many services as possible. Auctioneer August 2003My company brochure was an 8-page catalog with lots of small print filled with insecure words. I even ran this embarrassing ad in Auctioneer. It was immature, shoddy, and poorly proofed. I tried to do a bunch of things “good enough” rather than focus on doing one or two things well.

I made a lot of mistakes. At least two big, reliable accounts crashed and burned within the first few years.

Fast forward a decade. I don’t run ads in Auctioneer. I don’t have a company brochure. I don’t have a booth at trade shows, and I don’t promote a wide range of services in any medium or environment. I’m generating far more business each year with glacial rate changes and next to no advertising.

How? The same way I tell university seniors and young entrepreneurs to build their businesses: find both a proficiency and an underserved niche that benefits from that proficiency. Then dive full force almost exclusively into that fishing hole.

One interesting thing about the Transaereo: it was designed without a rudder. Caproni thought that the pitot could create the same steering input by varying the action of the three columns of wings. I find a lot of small businesses like Biplane Productions used to be: rudderless, grabbing any updraft it can and taking it where it leads. For me, though, that led to an unstable, unsustainable flight. The business slowly gained altitude, but it was a fight.

Now, I focus on two things: print design & industry education. With that focus, it has been getting easier to estimate time and costs. I’ve been getting faster and faster at the same tasks, which has allowed me to give myself a raise without changing my rates. My “past & present client” list has been consistently growing. Specialization has given the impression of expertise, and people hire experts—especially the ones teaching their marketing classes.

Auctioneers ask me regularly how to grow their seller base. One of the main things I recommend is focusing on a narrower range of asset categories and/or geographic service areas. It’s impossible to specialize in five or eight types of auctions, but I see auctioneers claiming that all the time. Even if you do other services or sell different assets, you don’t have to market them all. I still write press releases, post auctions on listing sites, and help companies with social media. I just don’t market those and other services, because they dilute my brand.

One of my good friends flies Boeing 777’s for United Airlines. He told me that his international flights leave the ground, weighing more than half a million pounds. He said that some 747’s leave the ground, weighing roughly 750,000 pounds. Both of those international jetliners carry way more than 100 passengers, and both have only one pair of wings. Granted, those two wings are much bigger than the Transaereo’s contraptions. The power is more concentrated and efficient—something aeronautical engineers figured out well before the jet engine, even before the second World War.

We should follow their lead into “less is more.” Let’s be jetliners instead of lumbering origami. Let’s concentrate our brands. Let’s look like experts. Let’s stop telling people we can auction just about anything.

Then, let’s watch our brands and revenues soar to 30,000 feet!

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113: Branding Lessons from a High-Rise Crane Operator

I had the privilege to climb a 15-story construction crane and interview its operator. He graciously answered a bevy of my questions, some of which probably sounded mundane or elementary to him. While I learned about his fascinating world 57 meters above the other workmen, one of his answers surprised me as much as any.

Rudolph in Action

We were standing next to the counter weights on the machine arm—the short boom on the back of the crane opposite of the long boom (called a “jib”) from which the hook descends. I asked, “How heavy of an object can you lift with this thing?”

“Out on the end, one and a half tons—maybe two tons. Close to the middle, I can lift three tons,” Rudolph answered in his heavily-accented English.

He might have meant tonnes (2,205 pounds) instead of tons (2,000 pounds), but the proportions are the same. Either way, the closer he got to the central mast, the more he could lift. The closer he got to his core strength, he got more efficient and more capable—with less risk. He could take fewer loads to move the same amount of material or take on loads otherwise impossible.


Where Rudolph Works

I highly doubt Rudolph realized the inherent advice that he was giving. It’s the same advice I give college juniors and seniors who ask me how to build a successful business and the advice I give nascent auctioneers in the halls at conferences: “Focus on your core competencies. Find what you do best, and focus on the niche market that values that.” It’s advice I had to learn from experience.

Early in my career, I took on work at the end of the jib. Technically, I managed to move whatever the material I was asked to move; but I wasn’t efficient at it and, candidly, probably not even effective at it. Eventually, I got out of web design, then logo design. I stopped taking on projects from companies outside the auction industry (except for barters). I’m now even considering dropping a service for which I’ve won an award—because my hook seems at the end of the jib every time I provide it.

The difficult part is giving someone the direction to head from that advice. You can’t always follow your heart; it often leads you to hobbies and/or unemployment. It’s more than honing a natural skill. If a lot of people have the same skill, you’ll struggle as a commodity. It’s unfair to depend on serendipity; but somewhere in the mix, it seems like most entrepreneur tales and success stories hinge on it. Mine does, too.

That said, once you find that sweet spot—that area of specialty, that niche of proficiency—stay there. As soon as you can, discover where you’re an expert and stray as little from that prowess as possible. Why?

  1. The more efficient you are, the less you’ll have to work for the same income.
  2. You’ll waste less time & energy and give fewer excuses & apologies to customers—some of which can be very expensive.
  3. Customers prefer experts, and they’ll usually pay an expert more than they’ll pay a general practitioner.
  4. By default, you’ll have fewer competitors, the farther away from generalist you can brand yourself.

The adage is true: the jack of all trades is the master of none. You can’t specialize in six different auction (or graphic design) markets. That would mean that you average 16% expertise per segment. If someone is looking for a specific specialization, they’re going to look for someone whose expertise averages as close to 100% as possible.

When I tandem hang glide, I don’t ride with just any pilot—even though my church buddies fly helicopters, experimental aircraft, 767’s, and acrobatic stunt planes. I ride with a licensed, tandem hang gliding instructor. When I want my MINI inspected for a track day, I take it to the only BMW racing specialist in town—not one of probably a dozen DMV-licensed inspection centers in the Lynchburg area. And if I ever had to lift 5,000 pounds of rebar ten stories and drop it next to a South African contractor, I’d ask Rudolph.

Taking It Personally

I benefit from people who have heavily invested themselves into one hobby and can help me experience them, but I tend to dip my toes in multiple adventures rather than dive into any one of them. I’m the same with vacation spots, as I generally prefer to explore a new destination rather than revisit an old one. From what I’ve read online, the stimulation from new experiences keeps our brains active and more creative.

In other words, diversity is good for most of us. While I teach others to stay in a professional niche, I tend to encourage acquaintances, friends, and family to broaden their horizons off the clock. The world is too big of a place to leave unseen.

This morning [January 16], as I walked the streets and sidewalks on a continent I’d never seen before yesterday, I thought of a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

*SPECIAL THANKS to Ian Immelman for granting me access to the WBHO crane and to Rudolph, its operator!*

63: Your Two Thirds of the Pie

Pie and TeaWe can’t overnight packages to Moscow on a 44-cent stamp.  Frank Lloyd Wright could never design and construct a home in the time it takes a double wide to be manufactured, transported, and stitched together.  Deep down we all know that—for the most part—”you get what you pay for.”

For just about every commercial transaction we make, you and I use the trilateral equilibrium (shown below).  The tri-what?

Let me break it down for you.  In every transaction, we make a choice about the following three criteria of that transaction: quality, price, and speed.  Of the three, we can have a maximum of two in our favor.  We can have something that’s:
fast and premium (but not cheap),
fast and cheap (but not premium), or
cheap and premium (but not fast).

Cost Speed Quality

Using graphic design as an example, Colin Harman illustrates the principle with this Venn diagram.

Using flying as an example, you can fly via:
private jet or Concorde—quick and custom but expensive,
commercial coach—quick and affordable but crowded and not luxurious, or
standby ticket/military transport—inexpensive and professional but time-intensive.

So, what does this have to do with marketing?

As entrepreneurs, we can only promise, at most, two of these spheres to our clients—with integrity anyway.  The laws of the universe say we can’t give them superlative service in the shortest possible time frame at the lowest possible cost.  You can try to break these laws, but you will only break yourself upon the laws.  So, we have a brand decision to make: which (one or) two will we wrap around our brand?

Each of the three combinations holds value, especially for niche businesses.  In the auction industry, I’ve seen all three branded and leveraged for success.  We all know of speed + quality auction companies that have large annual sales volumes on relatively few, custom, high-dollar auctions a year.  Several speed + cost firms have grown to international prominence with regular, large auctions with late consignment deadlines for lots of consignors who couldn’t independently afford to advertise their assets.  Meanwhile, cost + quality auctioneers annual or semi-annual events that have television audiences (with low/no marketing fees) and where sellers are willing to wait for a large bidding crowd.

Do you know in which (one or) two spheres your brand resides?
If so, does your marketing emphasize your side of the triangle?
Do your fonts and colors and logo match cultural norms for companies on your portion of the equilibrium?
Do your business cards and web site and other marketing collateral give the kind of impression typically associated with successful businesses that share the same strengths?

You and your firm don’t have to be the fastest and least expensive and most exclusive.  You just have to know where your strengths are and how to weave those strengths into your brand image.

My wife carries a lot of relational wisdom.  She has had to tell me more than once, “You can’t be everybody’s friend.”  I don’t know if it’s insecurity (pride’s off-stage personae); but I work too hard to impress people, to be as many things to as many people as possible.

The theme at church this week has been on recognizing what Christ’s love and acceptance look like and challenging ourselves with what life would look like, if we fully embraced that.  Could we have remorse without guilt?  Faith without tangible blessing? Acceptance without approval?  Encouragement without popularity?  Reward without competition?  Love without merit?

The answer to all of these is, “Yes!”  The Pharisee in me still struggles to fully adapt to this truth on a spiritual level.  On the relational level, I’m thankful to have friends in my life who encourage authenticity and individualism—like my wife and guys like Harney, who once told me, “Ryan, one day you’re going to realize we all like you for who you are.”

I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m moving.  If you’re on the same journey that I’m walking, how’s it going for you?  In what environments or relationships do you feel whole and alive?  What could you do to increase the frequency and or depth of those interactions?

[footer]Image(s) purchased from iStockPhoto.com © 2010[/footer]

49: Does Your Marketing Suck?

Business Strategy“Your marketing sucks.”

So, says Mark Stevens, author of the book by that title. You might have seen Stevens any number of cable news networks or just on the speaker list for the National Auctioneers Association’s educational webinar series (January 5, 2010) and/or Winter Symposium (February 8, 2010).

Since I’m speaking in Park City, UT, the morning after Stevens, I bought two of his top-selling books for research. I just finished reading “Your marketing sucks.” with highlighter in hand. Over 18% of the pages in my copy now have florescent markings—a lot of salient, practical points between the covers.

Just in case you don’t read it yourself, here are the top five action points we all should take from Stevens’ advice:

  1. All marketing efforts must be sifted through the filter of return on investment (ROI). If your advertising, PR, and sales initiatives do not make more money than they cost, your marketing sucks.
  2. Focus on your primary value proposition. Don’t market generic attributes you share with competitors—only what sets you apart from them. Sell the client benefit, not tag lines or your ego trips.
  3. Exploit your niche. The jack of all trades is the master of none. Same goes with media: not all marketing vehicles are created equal for your (changing) needs.
  4. Create goals before budgets. Don’t premise your initiative with “We want to spend [this amount] and dedicate [this amount] to this medium.” First determine, “How can we accomplish this concentrated objective with the resources we have?”
  5. Constantly monitor, measure, and adjust your marketing to ensure maximum effectiveness. Don’t advertise somewhere just because your competitors do; don’t assume your current effectiveness with current tactics will remain the same.

I disagree with Stevens on one point, though, at least for the auction industry. Stevens claims that brand awareness is not an acceptable goal—only direct sales. The problem for auctioneers marketing their services is that clients only need their services at specific times in their life or the life of their assets. Predicting that would require Minority Report-like mind reading for some retail auction sectors. For individual auction campaigns, though, these points are all right on the money.

If you want to make money, you’ll need your marketing to be an income generator—not an expense.

So many Christians settle for plateaus. I have at times. We know all the right stuff. We’ve seen God do some cool things and even reiterate those stories. We keep showing up in the places other Christians populate, because that gives us some sense of spiritual propriety. But we aren’t growing. And if we’re not growing, we’re not making fruit—just keeping past fruit on display like a business’ first dollar bill on the wall. In other words, we’ve got past revenue but no spiritual cash flow. We’re leveraging memories and accomplishments, toying with bankruptcy.

But rather than ask, “Is this working right now?”—instead of examining our spiritual return on investment, we use traditional, artificial litmus tests. If the markers match, we assume we’re okay. Everyone else seems to be okay in this same spot. Maybe I’m just over thinking this.

If we’re not hearing from God regularly and being challenged by that Voice, we’re operating on rumors and fumes. Are we having a conversation with God bigger than prayer requests? Do we see sovereignty and witness life change around us? Can we recall recent, intimate moments of God’s pleasure or wrestling, insight or discomfort?

[footer]Images used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2009[/footer]

27: Buying Credibility to Build the Expert Brand

Advertorial Bill BryantFor at least as long as I’ve been in advertising, press releases have long been classified as “free press.”  The danger of free press is that, sometimes, you get what you pay for.  You can do all the right things with your press release and it still may not get published—at least through the key media on which you were relying.

One way to guarantee that your message gets in print (or an online outlet) is to pay to have the story published: an “advertorial.”  In our culture, the statement advertorial is often just an ad that buys a whole page but only uses part of it for a short message.  These often extravagant media buys, usually by celebrities or united activists, often get picked up by other media and fulfill their original intent—a publicity stunt.

Publicity stunts work; they’re great for one-shot deals.  But if you’re looking to build your brand in the community, particularly an expert brand, journalistic advertorials can get your piece not only published but read.  Here are some tips on how to do that.

Fill an Information Gap

If you are properly nichéd, professionally trained, and/or personally connected to hot button issues, people will value your advice.  So, use your space to sell your knowledge more than your company.  People hire experts.  You will establish yourself as a source for answers, which later may grow into a source for solutions. You’re reading my biweekly advertorial right now.  Would you have read this far, if this were a commercial? Do your homework.  Then be prepared to wait a long time for a grade.

Write (And Edit) Like a Writer

If you want consideration from readers, you have to write like you value their time.  Use statistics and references; use quotations and accentuate them with “pull quotes.”  Check your grammar, or have a professional edit for you.  Sidebars with stats or charts give you that much more credence.  Look at the media’s current articles; mimic their approach.

Half Full or Half Empty?

You don’t always need full pages to get noticed.  You can create a themed article and pay for it to run at regular intervals.  Name yourself as the author, and design the space to look more like a sidebar or column.  Three third-page runs will get you more consumer interactions than one big kaboom.

Reach Out and “E” Someone

It can be expensive to rent space from your local newspaper or regional trade publication.  And you may be paying for readers you don’t need.  Many online sites invite expert contributors to their oligarchy of writers.  Some even allow free access to their visitors.  Email can allow you to regularly reinforce your brand to a targeted group of people already familiar with you and open to your company.  It’s usually cheaper than print, too.

Seduce the Unsuspecting

Draw people into your stories the way that newspapers do: use large, interesting images and captivating headlines.  Make sure stock photos concretely (not abstractly) relate and that company photos are professionally shot and/or digitally enhanced.  Get multiple eyes proofing your prominent text; you don’t want to end up on Monday night Leno.

Your message doesn’t need be contained to you, your competitors, and people hiding in the restroomat work.  Hone it.  Enhance it.  If you believe enough in it, pay to publish it yourself.


Examples of client advertorial designed by publication and by biplane productions available upon request.

I’m not a regular country music listener, but I love Tim McGraw’s twangy song that became the theme song for CMT’s “Trick My Truck.”

“How Bad Do You Want It?” is one of my life theme songs.  In the land of the American Dream, I motivate myself by questioning my will, my talent—even my success.  I sort my to do list and my life goals regularly, asking myself that very question, “How much do I want this?  Is [this] worth not having [that]?”

Sometimes I have to say “no” to some pretty cool things, some fun pastimes, some lesser dreams.  But I know too many people paralyzed by the inability to choose which passion(s) to chase, which talent to exploit.  I don’t want to miss throwing a touchdown by waiting too long to decide between two open receivers.

I use my unwritten obituary as a sieve, as well as my life mission statement—among other things.  As a writer and a live-er, I realize that I will sometimes (if not often) have to pay—financially, emotionally, and physically—to impact others with the intrinsic message and lesser statements of my life.  Thankfully, like advertorials for business, those costs are outbalanced by the reward.

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

Marketing Can’t Buy Brand Integrity

PilotYou’ve probably heard the adage, “Fake it ’til you make it.” I guess there’s some wisdom there, but I’ve never adhered to that. My mind multiplies that life approach until I get, Frank Abagnale Jr., the true life behind Catch Me If You Can.

Maybe I’m not a good faker. Maybe I don’t trust my acting skills, but I prefer the less poetic mantra of, “Project it, as you grow it.” The difference rests in more than semantics. Projection expands real elements to a grander vision. Faking covers inadequacies and welcomes falsely-acquired trust. It has its place, I guess, but not in ethical advertising.

Entrepreneurs regularly hire me to produce materials that put their companies in the best light. I’m glad to do that. I like helping Davids compete against Goliaths or even just other Davids. Stock photos and some good copy can go a long way, but they can’t make up for deficiency in the actual products or services rendered.

I can help a client magnify their commitment to professionalism, even on a low budget. I can illustrate a company’s growing and potential capabilities, even with a few pages—or less. I can exemplify a firm’s value, even with a short business history. But I can’t guarantee that their clients get what they’re expecting.

Marketing, at its intrinsic level, is brand building and management. Super advertising proves hollow when not supported by super service. So, the onus for successful marketing lands on both my best efforts and my clients’ execution.

My customers don’t have to be the best in their field, as long as they dominate their niche (no matter how small that niche has to be defined for them to dominate it). They don’t have to have the biggest staff or the highest-grossing sales record. As long as their clients feel well-served, even best-served, we’ve done it. The more of that we’ve strung together, the more indelible that public perception grows. That works both ways; it can kill you, if the shiny brand continually acquires tarnish from substandard devotion to reputation.

So, I tell people that biplane productions is a one-man show in my basement. I don’t hide that I subcontract tasks I can’t do best. And I sell hard the abilities I gratefully own. Perceived inequities between me and my competitors can be my advantage to the right clients. If not, those accounts would only be a strain for me anyway.

So, if you want a glossy brochure that matches your slick new web site or new logo, give me a call. If you want to tout that you lead your market or even your industry, give your prospects proof. A phenomenal reputation can trump fancy advertising. Married to stellar design, though, that brand integrity will stand almost unbeatable.

I know a lot of Christians who think the best way to illustrate God’s work in their lives is to hide their foibles, bury their questions, and sheath their insecurities. This approach, however, shares the same crippling nemesis as communism: sin-bent human nature. Where socialism breeds corruption; plastic Christianity builds toward hypocrisy or sensational failure.

So, why give the secular skeptic ammunition? Why not diffuse their criticism of the infallible with the evidence of our frailty? Why not show them that faith is a journey toward heaven’s perfection, instead of a fault-wiped facade? The longer we fake the holy life, the greater chasm the unbeliever perceives between their life and a Christ-led life—or worse yet, between the religious experience and the abundant relationship Christ offers.

The reality is that Jesus calls, at most, one step away from all of us—whether to the initiation of a personal relationship or to just a deeper enjoyment of the relationship we already have with him. I prefer to project where I want to be, while divulging to any onlookers that my intentions many times outpace my performance. Hopefully, that authenticity will lead to someone wanting what’s real in me.

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

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