Tag : segmentation

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The Most Important Mailing List (That Auctioneers Aren’t Using)

For years I’ve preached that the most important mailing list for an auction company to use is their list of past bidders. But I’ve been wrong—at least partially.

The line of thinking was that the most qualified prospects are those that are familiar with the auction process and have shown past interest in a specific asset category. Also, with Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool, you could leverage the email address column of this in-house list to find tens of thousands of similar people just like your bidders (in any geographic region). For one of my clients, that Lookalike Audience technique has led to a noticeable increase in his average quantity of registered bidders.

Here’s the problem, though: if you do enough auctions, that list is going to become unwieldy—too large to efficiently send direct mail in the entirety. I’ve worked for a handful of auction companies who regularly mail 6,000 to 10,000 pieces to in-house lists; and I’ve consulted auction companies that mail tens of thousands of pieces per auction. I’ve regularly been asked how to sort a proprietary list down to the best candidates.

You can sort that by recent participation or number of auctions to which they’ve registered. If you specialize in personal property, you could also sort by expenditure levels. The problem is that there’s no way to tell—outside of maybe the art/collectibles or charity/benefit markets—if someone who bought something in the past wants to buy more of the same.

We can’t know who the satiated buyers are on our lists. If a past bidder was searching for a specific asset at a specific time, there’s a good chance they found what they wanted at the auction and/or somewhere else between then and now. This is especially true of lists I’ve seen auctioneers curate for a decade or more—something they not only often do but also advertise as a selling point. Because of this high probability of satiated buyers, our in-house lists have only a slight advantage, if any, over a purchased mailing list or Facebook’s Lookalike Audience tool.

There’s one direct mail list I would trust more than both a purchased list and a generic “past bidders” list. Other than time, it should cost nothing to capture. It’s a list of possibly the most motivated and qualified candidates for your next auction of a similar asset.

Your recent runner-up bidders.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an auction company that recorded that segment of their buyers. Online bidding platforms keep this information. These bidders shouldn’t be too hard to discover at on-site auctions, either—especially real estate ones. These folks are already in your clerking software. All it’d take to pull this data is an extra column in your database to indicate that they came in second.

This list will be relatively small in comparison to your whole list.

Maybe these prospects get a bigger postcard or brochure, while everyone else gets a cheaper teaser piece. Or maybe they’re the majority or entirety of your direct mail recipients, while everyone else gets emails and Lookalike Audience ads on Facebook (and now Instagram).

Facebook just announced last week that it’ll now be better able to match our mailing lists, as it opened up its tool to search by names and addresses—not just email addresses and cell numbers. Theoretically, that means we will be able to build Lookalike Audiences from smaller lists than those it currently needs. So, small lists of backup bidders might now be large enough to have their own Lookalike Audiences.

It’s a lot harder to unsubscribe from direct mail than email. So, even a list of people who’ve signed up for your mailing list could no longer be as full of interested parties as you think. If those prospects aren’t turning into bidders anyway, how much is that one-time indication of interest really worth?

Past bidders are a better guess than the general public, but those that left with money and without an asset are even better.

At the very least, it’s worth A/B testing your mailing lists to see which ones generate the most bidders and buyers. Best case scenario: this slice of your in-house database could free up a lot of marketing budget.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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143: The Biggest Challenge of Variable Data Marketing

Variable data is the future of direct mail. For precision postcard and catalog marketers, it’s actually the present.

If you’re not familiar with the technology, you need to be—even if you don’t have a use for it yet. Basically, documents are designed with different versions for different audiences. You can alternate different pictures, text, or entire panels of the printed piece. A high-speed digital press prints each piece according to indicators in your mailing list.

If you’ve got an auction with farm equipment and yellow iron, you can have one portion of your mailing list receive a postcard with different images and headlines on one side and both asset categories on the back. If you’ve got a business liquidation of real estate and personal property, you can emphasize the respective asset categories to different prospects on the first impression panels and show both together on the inside of the brochure. If you’re selling a portfolio of investment properties, you can have the property on the mailer panel be the one geographically closest to the recipient. That property’s advertising can be large, while the others are smaller.

The primary benefit of variable data is that you can target while also cross-marketing different types of assets. You can appeal to a buyer’s primary need or want and then fish for potential crossover purchases. I talk about the benefits of this tool in more detail in this article.

When I talk about this technology to auction marketers, we always get to the big sticking point. The primary obstacle for auctioneers implementing this direct mail tool is data. See, the process only works, if you’ve got segmented mailing lists.

If you sell real estate, do you have separate lists for each real estate category you sell? If you sell yellow iron, do you keep track of who bought trucks or trailers but not skid steers? When people sign up for your email or direct mail lists, do they have the option to select specific asset categories or just general ones? Or worse yet: a single “get auction updates” list?

If you’ve not been segmenting, start now. Other marketers have a head start on you. Other auction companies have already been using this tool for years. Start gathering data now so that you’ll be more competitive a year from now and have more marketing choices.

In the mean time, you can still use this technology with purchased mailing lists. For instance, if you have a property that’s good for farming and hunting, both of those buyer segments are publicly available. I can pull people with a hunting license or with a minimum number of acres owned or with a tax filing as a farm. For some of those lists, my broker can even sort the results by income, gender, age, and other demographic filters.

Also, you can do this with your Facebook advertising. It’s easy to create different promoted posts or ads aimed at different audiences. If you’re still using newsprint, you can run different ads in different classified categories or newspaper sections. Billboards and signs can be designed differently and placed in different locations to attract more than one buyer base.

The key is to make your advertising as attractive as possible to as many different people as possible. The best way to do that is to create different versions of your media, where possible, so that interested buyers see only (or predominantly) what they want.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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132: 4 Common Mistakes of In-house Mailing Lists

Years ago now, an auctioneer told me that I was too expensive for him to consider as a graphic design vendor for his auction brochures. He told me this after bragging that his direct mail list held 70,000 recipients. His marketing budgets didn’t have any money left for me, because he was spending tens of thousands on dollars on postage alone per auction.

I asked him how many people came to his auctions. His answer came in around 500 to 700 registered bidders on average. “You’re mailing to too many people,” I told him.

I don’t remember this auctioneer’s name or company off the top of my head, but I’ve bumped into multiple auction companies that tout their decades-old prospect list or the quantity of people on their in-house list. It’s an odd boast, since those lists are filled with budget-sucking ghosts. The age of a list isn’t inherently bad, but it can contribute to the following four issues most auctioneers face with their in-house database.

Not Connected to Auction Participation

How many of the people on your mailing list regularly attend your auctions? How many of them have registered to bid in the past eighteen months? How many of them have purchased something in the last year? If you can’t answer these questions, there’s a good chance that you’re mailing unwanted advertising to satiated buyers. They may have been bidders or even buyers in the past, but that doesn’t mean they are now.

Most auction clerking software allows you to query purchase information so that you can compare it with (or export it to) a mailing list. Some even allow you to query for spend levels to weed out the tire kickers. For real estate auctions that often don’t run through such software, it’s relatively easy to keep a spreadsheet of registered bidders and buyers.

The hottest list you should have in your database are back-up bidders, because they didn’t get what they came to buy.

Not Segmented for Asset

Unless you’re operating on a robust database system that can be queried via various criteria, you will need to maintain multiple mailing lists. If you have one list for all asset categories, a large portion of your list is wasting you and your sellers valuable budget space. Even within general categories like real estate, equipment, estates, and agriculture, you need to have multiple subcategories—unless you operate only in one subcategory. The more segmented your list, the more efficient it will be.

If you’ve got an old list that you’d like to segment, you can mail a postage-paid piece to your old list and ask for recipients to mark what categories of auctions interest them (and whether they prefer direct mail or email). That can get expensive, and it’s reliant on the recipient basically asking for more mail. It’s much more reliable to research auction bidder registrations from auctions of known assets and categorize your records accordingly. That’s also a good way to see if they’re active bidders, anyway.

Too Dependent on Investors

One way auctioneers defend the age of their list is by categorizing the names on it as investors. These are the dealers, flippers, developers, or portfolio builders who know that auctions bring them revenue potential. Investors bring a beneficial floor to the bidding—the wholesale price. They get the “SOLD!” rider on many, many auction signs. In most cases, though, we’re trying to get our sellers retail prices. For those, we need end users; and end users are a moving target.

It’s a lot easier to find end users in other media, particularly social media and search advertising. That said, you can also buy inexpensive mailing lists of like-kind owners sorted by demographic criteria or trade categories to supplement your investor database. Many of those lists allow indefinite usage; and comparing your bidder lists to those purchased lists will help you pluck both investors and end-users to be grafted into your in-house lists.

Not Updated with USPS CASS Certification Reports

Most, if not all, mail houses now use the Coding Accuracy Support System to presort your mailing list. This kicks out undeliverable addresses before you have to pay postage for them, and it garners significant first class postage discounts. It also updates addresses according to the USPS’ most recent database of addresses, especially helpful when prospects move. That software can generate reports to tell you which addresses failed and why. My preferred print shop gives these reports to my clients at no additional charge, so that they can update their records.

Direct mail often has high response rates as a percentage, but that doesn’t make it cheap. Don’t waste advertising dollars on vanity advertising, when you could use it on efficient marketing.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

69: Retail vs. Wholesale Branding

Shoppign CartsFor Christmas gifts last year, I bought my grandparents gift certificates to Aldi. They love that place—and will sell you on why you should, too. If you’ve never heard of the German-based super market chain, they have a strong American presence. In order to use a shopping cart, you have to insert a quarter into the cart return. You push that cart through warehouse-style aisles of vendor-placed boxes and cases. Some of the canned goods might be missing labels; a good number of items sit on the floor. Stores open at 9:00 A.M. or later and close at 8:00 P.M. or earlier. And they sell stuff cheap enough for my grandparents to forego their local Walmart Super Center and bring their shiny quarter.

My cousin, on the other hand, has been a chef at Wegmans, a very different grocery store—a place so premium it makes Whole Foods insecure. It’s like Disney World for the hungry: multiple specialty cafes, cooking classes, recipe subscription services, gourmet take-home meals, roofs over their parking lot cart returns, online shopping (sortable even by special diet restrictions), downloadable store maps, video tutorials, a food blog, and a magazine. Foodies, yuppies, and French expatriates can walk amidst gastrointestinal delights from 6:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M.

I’ve shopped at both and can see how the two extremes have each garnered a dedicated following. Both constituencies know what to expect in terms of cost and shopping experience.

You’ve probably seen auctioneers brand themselves at each end of that continuum, too. Both extremities offer profitable business models and market segments.

We all recognize budget brands with an almost-wholesale/closeout feel. They have cheap, crowded newspaper ads and photocopied posters or brochures. Their liquidations and consignment sales advertise with phrases like “Something for Everyone!” and “Too Many Miscellaneous Items to List!” You’ll see lots of star bursts, thick fonts, and bright colors in their marketing pieces. Their pictures regularly show time stamps and/or harsh flashes from point-and-shoot cameras.

Then there’s the retail auctioneers, who hire professional photographers to capture their items and ad agencies to design their media. They use ballrooms and wedding-style tents, suit-wearing bid assistants and sophisticated multimedia systems. Some even have live music, catering services, drive-through event centers, and/or on-site financing representatives. In their advertising, they implement headlines that describe amenities and features of the auction item(s) and let pictures sell the sizzle. They have uncluttered Web sites, custom auction signs, and advertising-wrapped company vehicles.

The mushy part of the deal, though, is that most small businesses are somewhere in the middle. Wherever a brand is on the spectrum—between generic and niche, budget line or premium exclusivity, family operation and corporate feel—it’s important to know and then guide public perception objectively. If your market is not on the easy-to-segment ends of the scale, you need to determine if you need to move toward one—and, if not, how you are going to differentiate your firm from the rest of the large median? I recommend creating a chart that answers the questions like:

  • What are the common denominators amidst our sellers? Our buyers?
  • What non-auction brands have similar customer bases?
  • How do they market themselves and their products or services?
  • How are we different from other auction firms? From non-auction companies that sell similar assets?
  • How do our differences benefit our sellers and/or buyers?
  • How do we leverage our uniqueness? And how do we then market it?

Another place auctioneers must be careful and self aware is in recognizing when an auction won’t fit within their brands. In my young career, I’ve had multiple occasions when I’ve bit off more than I could chew or chewed something that later soured in my mouth. Shooting for financial security, brand extension, or an interesting challenge, I’ve taken projects that weren’t in my wheel house. It causes brand dissonance in my customers; it has sometimes resulted in less-than-best solutions for their needs; it regularly kills my efficiency and profitability. With enough of these lessons and now referrals under my belt, it’s slowly getting easier to chase the work that best fits biplane‘s core competencies and refer the rest to someone else.

In addition, be careful in presentations and proposals not to promise Wegmans-type results to a client, when you know you’ll be using Aldi-style marketing—or worse yet, giving buyers the impression that they’ll get a steal of a deal while forecasting market-beating results to sellers. Auctions often surprise even the experienced professional, but don’t set yourself up for discontented buyers and/or sellers.

If you want premium retail results from your services, implement premium retail tactics. If you want to develop a low-margin, high-volume work flow, give buyers and sellers premonition of such proficiency. And if you’re somewhere in the ambiguous middle, never grocery shop hungry—especially at Wegmans.

In the final book of the Bible, Jesus communicates that he desires Christians to be hot (close to him) or cold (far from him), because lukewarm makes him vomit. It makes sense. Both religious and secular observers have certain brand associations for the holy and the hedonistic. And they have a big problem with the gray area in the middle, especially when it looks hypocritical.

Hopefully, nobody reading this is wanted for axe murders. I doubt any of us are up for conferred sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI. Are we then all hypocrites? Are we all useless, stomach irritants to our Creator?

There is no sweeping blanket answer to that. It’s tempting to judge our respective relationships with God by exterior criteria like what we wear to church or the streak of stars on our Sunday school attendance chart, the amount our tax return shows we gave to charity or the stenographer pads of all the notes we transcribed from the pews. Often, our default temperature reading protocol compares ourselves to someone else (other than Jesus) on the continuum until we find someone who makes us feel warmer about ourselves.

As a pastor’s kid, Bible college grad, and devotional book author, I know how to game the checklists. They leave me hollow. As uncomfortable and convicting as it is to ask, I find myself more challenged and authentic when I consider trajectory and momentum. Am I chasing into the Light, as I see shadows in my own heart? Or am I running from absolute truth and supernatural enigmas to be my own god?

As emotional, short-sited humans, we may fluctuate on the sine wave; but is the baseline ascending or descending? Or as gets regularly asked a lot in my circle of friends, “Where are you with God right now? Where do you sense movement?”

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

64: Taking Your ROI to a New Dimension

Oscar the GrouchDo you remember the musical feature that Sesame Street used to play called “One of These Things [Is Not Like the Other One]”? Just in case you didn’t, it showed a grid of four items, one of which was different than the other three. Even for little children, the odd item stood apart from the other options.

Decades later, we’re still playing that game—every day—with advertising. Estimates vary, but it’s assumed that Americans absorb between hundreds and multiple thousands of marketing messages every day. As we drive, watch TV, open our mail, and surf the Internet, we’re consciously or unconsciously trying to filter the brands we’ll trust and what we want to purchase from them.

It’s not just us as individual people. Businesses (yours included) are playing the other side of the game, trying to be that exception that people will notice above competing options. I’ve helped auctioneers try neon & metallic inks, complicated folds, oversize brochures & postcards, and loud designs—all in hopes of grabbing and holding attention with the few seconds their pieces will have to make their respective impressions.

Direct mail’s still a good start. As postage continues to rise, the players still mailing will have a larger share of the mail box. And the more our media goes digital, the more power a tactile medium like direct mail will have, especially hand-written notes and unconventional pieces.

One of the leading categories of such unconventional pieces is dimensional mail, mail that arrives in three-dimensional packages like padded envelopes, boxes, tubes, and plastic cases. The shapes and construction vary greatly from nondescript exteriors with flashy contents to pieces that are rubber band-loaded to erect into shapes upon opening, like this one [see sample] that I recently found in my mail box.

Dimensional Mail ClosedDimensional Mail Open

For the last month, I’ve been getting a Google Alerts® email every day with stories of dimensional mail. It’s a growing trend in direct mail that neither you nor I can ignore, because you’ve never seen response rates like these—even for direct mail, which typically trumps all but telemarketing in direct marketing response rates.

In one recent study of executives with companies of more than 1,000 employees, 85% “said they would be more likely to open an item if it was especially large, odd-sized, or appeared to have come by a delivery service other than the U.S. Post Office – FedEx, DHL, even UPS fared better than the USPS to convey urgency.”† Those executives aren’t alone, as articles like this one point to US response rates measuring from 7%-30%.††

Want a real world example?

AlphaGraphics . . . scored an impressive 21-percent response rate by including lumpy, or dimensional, mail [a branded Rubik’s Cube] in a recent multichannel campaign . . . ‘It’s more important than ever to do something unique in your approach that will attract consumer attention,’ says Jesse Himsworth, AlphaGraphics channel marketing manager.”†††

I’ve got one better than that, though. Shearer Printing & Office Solutions, which handles a large percentage of biplane productions‘ printing and mail fulfillment, has gone almost exclusively to dimensional mail to market their services to prospects. As a printing company, they could print any number of elaborate, creative pieces. In fact, their company brochure won the 2010 USA Today / NAA award for best company brochure.

Yet they don’t use any branded piece in the first three mailings of their introductory marketing campaign. They use a series of unmarked tubes [shown below] without any Shearer-branded marketing materials inside—just everyday items that together illustrate their services; these tubes are sent in succession and followed by a phone request for a sales presentation. In one recent campaign to 72 prospective customers, this dimensional mail campaign garnered them 31 in-person presentations (43% of recipients) and 19 clients (26% of recipients), plus referrals from those 19. The transactions generated from these responders have totaled over 20 times the dollars spent on the campaign.

That’s serious return on investment! Shearer got their pitch past the office gate keepers and earned over $100,000 in business from a mailing list of less than 75 addresses.

Why? Because they rigorously segmented their customer base. They created intrigue with a coy, unique presentation. They chose a message that applied to their prospects’ business environment, and they reinforced the impression with multiple submissions.

Shearer Printing Tubes
Dimensional mail, admittedly, costs more than traditional direct mail and other media per impression. At the same time, though, it has the potential to be far more efficient and effective in landing new customers, because the impressions are more indelible.

Don’t be a snuffleupagus. Even Oscar the Grouch would admit that ROI trumps raw numbers. Just take a look at dimensional mail the next time you’re looking to drum up some new business.

(Further links and tips related to dimensional mail will be posted on biplane productionsFacebook and/or Twitter streams.)

Ever since that formative Sesame Street period in our lives, we’ve been looking for things that stand out to us—things that take our breath away, special people to befriend, idiosyncratic pastimes to pursue, fulfilling adventures to be conquered. And, if you’re like me, you’ve at one time or many tried to stand out yourself.

I’ll admit that some of this has been intentional on my part, even factoring into where I go on vacation, what I wear and drive and do for kicks, what I post on Facebook—what I write. In the YouTube and Twitter generation, I know I’m not alone. Ironically, our culture seems to want to be heard but not to hear each other. (Have you watched cable news lately?)

I just attended a bible-based leadership summit, where admitted atheist and bestselling author Jim Collins revealed one of the greatest pieces of personal advice he’d ever received: “Jim, you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you spend more time being interested?”

Of all the things said over two days of continuing education, that convicted me most. I’m working on that selfless task but have a long way to go. How ’bout you? How are you doing at investing in others’ lives more than your crafted legacy?

[footer]†”Dimensional Mail Most Effective Direct Response Strategy for B-to-B Sales – Part 1″ www.derniersarticles.com, July 29, 2010
†† “Direct Mail Response Rates – Pop Up sender to prove profitable for a B2B direct marketing.” www.advertisingdirectmail.doodig.com, July 18, 2010
††† “Add Dimension to Your Mail: How lumpy mailers are helping marketers boost response rates. www.delivermagazine.com, July 30, 2010: Christine Hansen

Image of Oscar the Grounch & Sesame Street screen-captured from online video.[/footer]

35: Running Into My 7-year Niche

Bulls EyeSometimes, “No” wakes me up.

See, this post was supposed to include the highlights of an interview with a local aviation company on how to market yourself as a premium brand. But when I emailed a request to the Lynchburg firm that charters for the jet-set, I got a succinct reply: “We are not currently marketing our services to the general public.”

Over the weekend, I pondered where they get their hangar full of clients—enough to employ nine pilots with their “Your jet is ready” slogan. Then it hit me, when I heard my own voice telling a Yellow Pages telemarketer why biplane didn’t want a phone book ad, “I don’t pursue local clients.”

Over 90% of biplane‘s income arrives in my mailbox from auction companies, and over 90% of my marketing dollars and time head back to the same industry. That focus is narrowed even further by not using auction convention trade show booths or magazine ads, because I am searching for a select number and kind of accounts from the auction industry.

biplane‘s growth and maintenance strategies look for a specific feel, size, and inertia in an auction company. I prefer writing and conference speaking as marketing vehicles to sift new clients who buy into my approach. I also rely on my current clients’ referrals to pre-qualify their peers, both relationally and financially.

As you brand your firm toward a specific specialty or market segment, you will similarly start to thin the audience to whom you need to advertise. This allows you a bigger impact to a smaller group of more likely prospects. It might not have to get as narrow as that of biplane productions or Falwell Aviation. In fact, the geographic radius of your market might actually grow, if your core competencies are tied less to location than to asset type or skill set. Conversely, if you are the king of a specific geographic area, emphasize that dominance to its citizens.

As you get sellers (or buyers), evaluate what makes the good ones good and the poor fits so problematic. Look for common denominators; ask them how they heard about you. Focus your marketing where those answers take you; then evaluate those efforts regularly. You don’t have to abandon all of your shotgun-style efforts, if you’re not comfortable with that. If you build demand from one or several segments, though, you will grow less addicted to mass marketing.

So many Christians are focused on mass evangelism—crusades, campaigns, and broadcast media. They’re handing out Gospel tracts at the carnival on a hot summer night. They’re hitting neighborhoods door to door, mega-phoning at flea markets, or holding up John 3:16 signs in an end zone near you. They’re the devout parents or even ministers who work in a church but have lost their own kids.

Sure, some people cross the line of faith [in Jesus’ substitution] from impersonal/mass efforts. Others go through the motions only to wither without discipleship or without truly taking that initial faith step. But is mass marketing the best practice for evangelism?

In most purchasing decisions, I put more stock in a friend’s recommendation than a TV commercial. You do the same. So, why would it be any different in a spiritual context? It seems to me, while far more difficult, that our greatest life impact for lasting change in the spiritual landscape is through our inner circles first–outward through concentric spheres of influence.

Jesus’ contemporary disciples about whom we read at the end of the gospels and in Acts–the ones who changed the world as we know it–aren’t the masses who listened to the Sermon on the Mount or the sea-side message with a free dinner. They weren’t even the crowds shouting “Hosannah!” for his ride into Jerusalem. For the most part, no. Those who walked with Jesus, ate with him, felt his physical touch or healing—they took Jesus’ words and faith and salvation with them. Seems to me that should be our approach, too.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

29: Making Your Advertising Work Harder for You

Article to be published (from assignment) in January 2009 edition of Auctioneer magazine.

Marketing DollarsIt’s been years since an auctioneer could simply post sale bills around town, fax some text to the local newspaper, and wait for scores of townspeople to stand in line to register at his auction. The dynamic of where and how consumers absorb media and shop change continuously. While your firm might not yet be wondering about cell phone advertising or PDA-adjusted web sites, you’re probably wrestling with the same essential question: how do I spend my advertising dollars for greatest impact?

Auctioneers have different needs than most service and retail companies. But we’re dealing with the same market factors as the next office down your street.

Newspaper advertising sales are projected to decline in the coming year for the second year in a row (the first time that’s happened since the Great Depression) and maybe by double-digit percentage.† Meanwhile, the Direct Marketing Association predicts that for the first time ever, online advertising spending will surpass direct mail expenditures in the U.S.†† So, options are increasing; and choices are growing more enigmatic.

Just don’t let the “analysis paralysis” stunt your efforts. If anything, keep doing what you’re doing and gradually add a new media outlet to the mix. Barry Baker, CAI, AARE, president of Ohio Real Estate Auctions, suggested, “What works well is to cover all of your avenues and spend money. You can’t shrink back on spending. Tons of electronic media, direct mail, news print, great signage. You never know which one is going to bring your buyer.”

Jennifer Bryant, principal broker for Counts Realty & Auction Group, agreed, “In order to get top dollar for any property being sold it’s imperative to spend the advertising dollars to get the property as much exposure as possible. Cutting corners on marketing may cost sellers thousands of dollars on sale day.” Bryant relayed that she has found web sites to be the easiest media to add to her advertising repertoires, seeing as their targeted audiences typically cost less to reach than older media formats.

If you don’t have the money to try new media outlets, you can shift your budgets toward your most effective media. To know how to cut or adjust, poll your bidders at registration. Be specific by media or even by specific media outlets (like which radio station or newspaper). It can be as non-obtrusive as, “How’d you hear about the auction?”

At one sale I helped advertise in a new geographic area for the auctioneer, the results to this registration question revealed that 75% of the bidders heard about the sale from the signs on the property and the story generated from the press release—which together accounted for only about 5% of the advertising budget. You still have to cover all your advertising bases, but a matrix of results like these over a broader sample of auctions will show you where to spend your largest portions of your budgets.

Using an ad agency can help you discover and manage new opportunities. Cammy Theurer-McComb, vice president of United Country Theurer Auction/Realty, attributes her switch to using ad agencies (she currently uses two simultaneously for different media) as “one of the best business decisions we ever made.” She added, “Outsourcing has been a relief, actually. And it brings a lot of consistency to our advertising.”

Consistency multiplies your media impact, as the connection between the various ad formats reinforces the others. The more consistent your materials, the more value each one holds. While ad agencies can make this easy, you can manage this process carefully without one, too. Jennifer Hope of Auction Ink recommended, “Create an identifiable visual image by using the same font, color, and general layout. There’s no need to recreate the wheel–find a look and stick with it.”

Carl Montgomery, CAI, AARE, of Comas Montgomery has seen consistency turn into residual returns. “The best advertising we do . . . is network television. We have been running on the local NBC, CBS & ABC affiliates for over ten years. Charlie, Dad, and I talk about our company and upcoming auction. Our tag line at the end of every commercial is ‘Let‘s Go Sell Something.’ Everywhere we go in Middle Tennessee people come up to us and say ‘Let‘s Go Sell Something.’ We have letsgosellsomething.com on tee shirts; and people ask what it means. We tell them to check out the site, which drives them straight to comasmontgomery.com.”

Keep your contact information uniform, too. Make your web site or phone number more memorable by including only one of each within any advertisement. If you absolutely need to use more than one, qualify each, so that the viewer will know why to call each.

Make sure you know why you’re contacting them, too. “Using a database [broker] like InfoUSA® really helped us target like-kind property owners,” divulged McComb. As her company expands into new geographic territories and diverse kinds of sale items—from antique toys to rock quarries—purchased demographic mailing lists have allowed them to send larger-impact direct mail pieces to a more concentrated audience. “That’s been HUGE for us,” said McComb.

Mike Schultz, CAI, president of Schultz Auctioneers, has also adapted to this strategy. Four years ago, his firm was posting Kinkos®-printed posters in community markets. Now, “Prospective sellers are coming to us with our own brochures, saying, ‘We want our property advertised like this!’ Well, we’re happy to oblige them.”

The residual affect of premium marketing can’t be overstated. Schultz concurred, “We’re spending more thought, creativity, and resources on every stage of the sales process. It’s giving us a competitive advantage over our regional competition.” This strategy has also drawn free local media attention from press releases, as in 2008 they’ve won Best of Show at their state association’s advertising contest and two NAA awards. “We’re investing in more exclusive brand positioning. It’s paying off—and not just in awards.”

So, there’s your answer: distribute consistent, premium advertising to more targeted audiences in as many media outlets as you can afford. Poll your bidders to evaluate effectiveness.

[footer]† “Next Year Is Looking Even Worse,” Stuart Elliott, NYTimes.com (December 8, 2008).
†† “Paying More, Getting Less,” Richard Levey, Direct (December 2008, page 8).[/footer]

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