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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

Phil Wrzesinski is a Retailer, Speaker, Author, Golfer, Singer/Songwriter, and Klutz Kid who enjoys anything to do with the water (including drinking it fermented with hops and barley), anything to do with helping local independent businesses thrive, and anything that sounds like fun.

Collecting Information the Right Way – Brainstorming

(Note: this is a continuation from the blog post “Why Have a Meeting in the First Place?”)

Back in 2011, after seeing me do the presentation Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget at the 2010 Michigan Downtown Conference, I had a corporate sponsor sending me to do the same presentation for several downtowns across the state. It was during one of these presentations where I learned the acronym STP.

Same Ten People.

As the Main Street Program was being developed and launched in several Michigan communities, one element that made it attractive was how it involved several people to make it work. Most communities had the STP’s that did all the work, served on all the committees, and were the most vocal about everything that was happening. The Main Street Program got more people involved which gave more feeling of ownership to the community as a whole.

You can probably name the STP’s in your town.

Your team has STP’s, too. Same Two People (or three if you have a bigger team).

Every time you go looking for feedback in a meeting, these are the people who dominate the conversation. These are the people who either have the ideas or shut the other ideas down. These are the keepers of the flame who love to say, “But that’s not how we did it last time.”

It is because of these STP’s that you roll your eyes at the idea of brainstorming. “It doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. We didn’t get any good ideas. We couldn’t stay on track.”

Brainstorming, however, can work wonders if you do it right.

Plus, it can be a fun activity for the staff because they get to actively contribute and be part of the meeting. They get to share and shine.

Here are three tips for making your brainstorming sessions more effective:

  1. Post the meeting time and topic at least 24 hours in advance.
  2. Focus on quantity, not quality.
  3. Understand that your best idea will come after the brainstorming session, not during it. (But you need that session to get to the best idea.)


When you post in advance that you are going to have a brainstorming session about a certain topic, your introverted staff will have some time to think about the topic. Extroverts talk to think, but introverts think to talk. Give them advance notice and they’ll be much more willing to contribute ideas at the appropriate time. Your STP’s are extroverts. This is one of the reasons they dominate. You didn’t give your introverts enough time to prepare.


When you make quantity your goal, you keep the STP’s from shutting everything down. They are the ones who say, “That will never work.” They shoot down every idea as it comes or at the very least start discussions on each idea which leads to fewer ideas being shared. There is a time and place for discussing the merits of each idea. That time is NOT during the brainstorming session.

Here are some techniques for getting quantity …

  • Have individuals write their ideas down. This makes sure everyone gets a chance to share.
  • Share ideas in a rapid-fire session. Allow NO discussion of the merits of each idea. Just blurt them out and write them down.
  • Share ideas in a round-robin where everyone gets a turn.
  • Have smaller groups do their own brainstorming and give them a number of ideas they need to generate. (Make it higher than they have time so that they don’t get bogged down in discussion either.)

The goal is to get as many ideas as you can without filters or discussion. In fact, when you go into a brainstorming session, have one or two really crazy out-of-the-box ideas of your own. You’ll be surprised how having those “seed” ideas can get the juices flowing.


Once you have a good quantity of ideas, assign different people to take those ideas and before the next meeting answer these questions:

  • What would it take to make this happen?
  • What would be the expected result?

Not only does that keep the brainstorming session from getting bogged down with too much discussion and filtering, it also keeps the STP’s from dominating the discussion. When you assign the ideas, ask for volunteers. No volunteers? No one thinks the idea has enough merit to waste their time. Move on to the next one.

The true value of the brainstorming session happens in the follow-up. You’ll find your team collaborating with each other on their own to finish their assignments. You’ll find them asking questions, getting more ideas, and looking for ways to improve on the ideas from the brainstorming session. When your team presents their answers at the next meeting you will find that several of the ideas have taken a new shape or form, one that will likely be incredibly beneficial to your business.

Oh, and there is one other secondary effect …

You get more people involved so that the STP’s no longer dominate everything.

To learn more about how to make brainstorming sessions more effective, I recommend you read this article by Brianna Hansen.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you have time at the end of your brainstorming session, another quick, democratic way to see what ideas people want to explore is to give everyone six gold star stickers and have them “vote” with their stickers. They can put the stickers all on one idea or spread them out. The ideas with the most votes will be the ones you assign.

Sharing Information the Right Way

I learned this exercise twenty-seven years ago while doing team-building events at YMCA Storer Camps. I have used it several times for several purposes. The exercise goes like this …

You get two volunteers, one at the whiteboard, one person sitting in a chair giving instructions. The person at the whiteboard can only look at the board. He or she cannot turn around and look at the instructor. The instructor is given a picture with shapes on it and then must instruct the person at the board to draw those shapes.

This was one of the pictures the team would have to draw.

In the first scenario, both parties can talk to each other. The instructor can also see what is being drawn. The end result is usually quite good because of the immediate feedback between both parties.

We then do a second scenario with two new volunteers. In this scenario, they can still both talk, but the instructor has to turn away so that he or she cannot see the person drawing. The end result depends on the skill of the instructor, but also on the communication between the two. The more often the person drawing asks questions to clarify, the better their results.

The third scenario is the fun one. In this scenario, not only are they facing away from each other, the person drawing is no longer able to speak. The instructor has to hope he has given clear enough instructions that the drawer can complete the task. Often I have seen unfinished pictures because the instructor moved on to a second instruction before the first was completed.

The three scenarios represent three of the more common forms of communication.

  1. Face-to-Face
  2. Phone
  3. Email

In face-to-face communication, you get both verbal and non-verbal feedback. You can see when there is confusion on someone’s face. You can see if the information makes someone feel uncomfortable or awkward. You get confirmation when people understand.

Obviously it is the best form of communication because of the clarity it brings, and therefore the reason why managers insist so often on having meetings for the sole purpose of sharing information.

The downside is the time it takes to plan the meeting, get everyone in the same room at the same time, and the disruption it causes in their workdays.

Yet, when you have a complex topic where it is critical that everyone understands the information thoroughly and without question, face-to-face is your best option. Just be sure to build into the meeting some time for feedback to make sure everyone understands and is on the same page.

Phone calls are only as effective for getting information across as the person on the other end of the line is effective at asking the right questions for clarity. If you are using such a method for passing along information, ask the other person to repeat back what you said. If you are receiving information this way, repeat back what the other person said.

The upside to phone calls is that people don’t have to be in the same room to share information. If you have information that is relatively simple, and you have good communication skills, you can share that info much more easily via phone than by requiring a meeting.

Email has both the largest pros and cons of the three.

One huge upside to email is that you have a written copy of the instructions that people can reference as often as needed. No matter how many cooking shows you watch, if you don’t write down the recipe, you’ll have a hard time recalling it exactly when you finally get into the kitchen.

Another upside to email is that the recipients can read it at their own convenience. It helps them manage their time more wisely and gives them more flexibility in their schedule.

The downside is obvious. The instructions and information have to be exact, clear, and concise because you have no immediate feedback if there are questions. You also have to write so that there are no misinterpretations.

This form of communication takes practice, diligence, and skill. 

I did the drawing exercise with a company once. For the first scenario I had two employees volunteer. For the second scenario, the owner of the company gave the instructions while an employee drew the picture. For the third scenario the owner’s right-hand gal and manager gave the instructions while the owner drew the picture.

The results were an eye-opener. While the first group did great, the second group with the owner giving directions didn’t go well at all. First, the employee was intimidated and afraid to ask questions for clarity. Second, the owner wasn’t very good at giving directions in the first place. We covered a lot of ground learning about roles in the workplace out of that exercise. The third group, however, also opened a lot of eyes. The manager was able to describe the picture to her boss in perfect, clear detail. The end result was actually closer to the original picture than the first group’s result.

The owner realized right then and there that he would have his manager do all email communication and that he would stick to having face-to-face time with her to get his ideas across. Lesson learned.

One last thing …

As Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

If you decide your information must be shared face-to-face, find a way to do more than just talk at your team. Find a fun and interesting way to share the information. First, your team will be more enthused to listen. Second, you’ll deepen their understanding.

But when you learn to write clearly and concisely, do your team a favor and send them an email.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Since we didn’t use email as a communication tool at Toy House, I used to post notices in our employee lounge. Unfortunately, I found out that not everyone used the lounge. I had to tell two of my team members to go read the notices every time I posted something new. Lesson learned.

PPS Yes, I still do corporate and youth team building exercises. Give me a shout to discuss your needs.

PPPS If you manage people for a living, the more you know about team building, the better your team will be. It doesn’t “just happen”, it needs to be cultivated. You can start by reading this Free ResourceTeam Building 101: The Basics. 

Why Have a Meeting in the First Place?

I had just finished doing a presentation on Customer Service for a team of volunteers and staff at a non-profit organization. We had discussed the different types of “customers” and how to recognize them. We talked about their different expectations and how to meet and exceed those expectations. We laughed and listened and learned and shared. Everyone was fired up.

Then the director stepped up and said. “Okay, as I said before, we are going to have a staff meeting following the presentation. I need to address some things you all are doing wrong.” She then went on to read a laundry list of criticisms and mistakes calling out individuals in the process.

Not only did all the positive energy from the presentation leave the room in a flash, even I felt uncomfortable listening to her drone on and on chastising everyone on the team. By the time I had packed my bags I could tell everyone was jealous that I got to leave while they had to stay behind and take the verbal assault.

This wasn’t a meeting. It was an attack. I got the sense that all their meetings happened in a similar fashion.

You know exactly what I mean. We hear the word “meeting” and immediately roll our eyes.

We all have horror stories of meetings that dragged on too long or bored us to tears. We all have sat in meetings where the silence was deafening after being chewed out by our supervisors or where the energy was sucked out of the room by a brain-dead brainstorming session. The eye-roll is well-deserved.

There are three reasons to have a meeting:

  • To share information with the team
  • To collect information from the team
  • To teach the team something new

Here are three reasons NOT to have a meeting:

  • If all you are going to do is share information with your team
  • If you are going to criticize the team for something an individual or the collective team is doing wrong
  • If you are meeting because you always meet on Monday mornings

If all you are going to do is share information with the team, you can do that without inconveniencing them with a meeting. Write it all down in a clear and concise memo instead. Write it down. Proof-read it. Have a subordinate read it and tell you what they think it means. Then post it, share it, email it or whatever it takes to get the info into everyone’s hands.

When you take this approach, you eliminate the most boring part of every meeting. Plus, the written memo gives everyone a reference point to make sure your instructions are clear and that everyone is on the same page. (Make sure you proof-read and test it so that you are “clear”.)

If all you are going to do is criticize the team for a mistake they made or a mistake one individual made, you are a coward. Mistakes need to be addressed one-on-one and in private. If the whole team is doing something wrong, rather than criticize them, start by taking the blame for not having taught them the proper way to do it in the first place. This one is on you. If you had taught them correctly, they wouldn’t all be doing it wrong. Second, turn your meeting into a positive, we’re-all-going-to-learn-a-better-way meeting.

Jim Henson, the founder of the Muppets was a perfectionist and known for doing multiple, multiple, multiple takes of every scene. Yet he was also beloved by his team. Why? Because of one simple technique … Every time they did a scene, he would say,

“That was awesome!! Great job!! Now this time, let’s do it with a little more …”

Praise always goes farther than criticism because it lifts people up and makes them more open to new suggestions. Criticism shuts people down and makes them defensive.

Do yourself, your team, and your business a favor. Don’t meet to criticize. Either have a one-on-one private meeting with the individual who needs help with his or her behavior, or have a teaching meeting where you show everyone a better way.

If all you are doing is meeting because you always meet, without a broad agenda for sharing or collecting information and/or teaching something new, then you’re wasting everyone’s time and undermining your effectiveness as a leader.

“Because we always do this,” is the justification of losers. Winners have a solid reason for their actions.

Last week I showed you how to plan the “teaching-something-new” type of meeting including some fun examples. This week I’ll show you how to better share and collect information.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are incredibly rare instances where criticism is actually warranted. I’ll show you how to do it properly in the next post. Just remember that the true one-and-only reason for meeting is to make the team and business better. If you aren’t meeting for that purpose, with an expected outcome from the meeting, don’t meet at all.

Better Tasks Lead Your Team to Better Goals

My staff at Toy House probably thought I was crazy. They never knew what to expect at a staff meeting. As I told you before, I planned each meeting the same way, by finishing this sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

Then I worked backward from there, trying to find the most fun, memorable, powerful way to get my point across. Some meetings looked like this:

This will be a successful meeting if we learn how much work it is going to take to raise the bar of customer service.

At three feet, it took some teamwork and looking out for each other’s safety.

For this meeting I built two support poles and put a broomstick across them two feet off the ground. Everyone had to climb over the bar without hitting it or knocking it off. If one person hit the stick everyone had to start over. It took us six tries at two feet, three tries at three feet, and one failed attempt at four feet. The lesson was that you can fail at the simple things if you don’t pay attention; with teamwork and everyone pitching in, you can do more difficult things; and we aren’t yet ready to get to the top level.

This will be a successful meeting if we recognize and understand the different toy needs of special needs children and can identify several of those toys in our store.

Sensory, Mental, Tactile, Active, and Emotional Toys in a lifesize model

For this meeting I made a huge board with a piece of paper, had the staff outline my body, then spoke about the five specific types of toys (Sensory, Mental, Tactile, Active, and Emotional) by listing characteristics near the body part. Then I sent the team out to find corresponding toys. The visual of the large human body shape helped drive home the concept and helped the staff visualize the types of toys they needed to find by relating them to the body.

This will be a successful meeting if we all learn the proper way to fill out the Yellow Slip.

Halloween anyone?

I could have just harped on everyone for the mistakes they made, but I wanted to be more positive and make the meeting more fun so I made a costume out of the Yellow Slip and wore it that day. We didn’t have any mistakes after that meeting.

This will be a successful meeting if we understand that making people feel comfortable is the first step toward trust.

Bacon and eggs. Yum!!

For this meeting I brought in an electric frying pan and started cooking bacon long before the morning meeting began. Then I cooked eggs to order for everyone. I used the breakfast to talk about how certain foods feel more comfortable at certain times of day. The “norms”, the expected, gives comfort. At the same time, we have to surprise and delight our customers as I had surprised and delighted the staff. A secondary lesson brought up at the meeting was one of service. It is our job to serve the customer if we want to make them feel comfortable, just as I was serving the staff “comfort food.”

This will be a successful meeting if we recognize the consequences of our actions and inactions in monetary terms.

One of my favorite staff trainings was the Dollars on the Table Game

For this meeting I labeled fifty one-dollar bills with a statement that either said, “I earned this dollar …” or “I left this dollar on the table …” We then played a Memory Game where each staff person got to flip over two bills and read them aloud. If they both were “Earned” dollars, they got to keep them, but if either was a “Left” dollar, the bills stayed on the table and in play.

Do you see a pattern emerging?

For each meeting I tried to think up a fun, interesting, different way to get the message across. It wasn’t always the most direct way of getting the message across, but it was effective, and that was all that mattered. The most important thing was that each meeting was different and fun. The staff didn’t roll their eyes when they saw “staff meeting” on the schedule. In fact, they looked forward to it.

When you start with the finish line in mind, you can then brainstorm many different ways to get to there. You can play a game. You can watch a video. You can do a quiz. You can tell a story. You can do a PowerPoint presentation. You can do a skit or role play session. You can bring in a guest speaker.

When the free helium balloons we gave as an act of generosity came to be “expected”, I brought in an art teacher for one meeting to show the staff how to draw animal doodles on the balloons to surprise and delight our customers once more.

The Goal of your meeting is to learn something. The Task is the activity you do that leads to the Goal. Get creative with your Tasks and you’ll find your team reaching their Goals more often and with more enthusiasm.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I can already hear you saying, “But Phil, you ran a toy store. That’s supposed to be fun. I can’t do that in my industry” Oh yeah? Show me the rule that says you can’t have fun on your job. Show me where it says you can’t enjoy what you do. Show me where it says you have do things that are boring and dull and uninspiring instead of fun and interesting and different. I didn’t think so.

PPS My Retail Success Academy graduates get a full year of Task ideas as part of their graduation benefits. They send me an email with their Goal and I outline several fun Tasks they can use to reach that goal. Here is my ONE TIME OFFER for you. Send me one Goal by the end of March and I’ll email you back at least three different fun tasks you can use to reach that goal.

PPPS Wondering what a Retail Success Academy is? Think of it like a post-graduate degree in retailing in five weeks (or one really long weekend). Send me an email and I’ll send you the details.

How to Look at the Big Picture

I always planned my staff meetings by finishing the following sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn how to become better listeners.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn about new products.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we understand the difference between Relational and Transactional Customers.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we find new ways to build relationships with our customers.
To see the Big Picture, you have to envision what success looks like.

From there I worked backwards, trying to figure out the best way to get the point across and be able to call the meeting successful.

I hired and trained my staff the same way—by starting at the end and figuring out what steps to take to get there. My book, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, is built around a simple premise. Would you like your staff to be considered Beautiful, Useful, Strong, and Long-Lasting? Those are the words we use to describe the end result of pottery. If we follow the same steps as the potter, we’ll get the same end results for our staff.

I took the same approach to teaching sailing last summer. At the end of the week I wanted the kids to have a feel for the physics of sailing, but more importantly, the confidence that comes with knowing you harnessed the wind’s power to accomplish something. From there, the lesson plan was easy to create.

I do the same with my presentations. I start with the main point I want you to take back to your business and work on. Then I build the presentation around how to best drive that point home.

Many businesses forget to set goals, forget to define success. They did it at first when they drew up a business plan, but they never revisited that plan to see if the goal was met or needs to be revised.

If you want to see the Big Picture, you first have to create it. The easiest way to do that is by defining success.

  • This will be a successful year if …
  • This will be a successful season if …
  • This will be a successful training program if …
  • This will be a successful transition if …

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get there.” -Lewis Caroll

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” -Yogi Berra

If you know where you want to be, you can choose the best road. Sure, there will be obstacles. Sometimes you won’t get there. But it is better to head in the right direction and fall a little short than to wander aimlessly.

Define the success you want. Then plot a course to get there.

“This will be a successful business if I enjoy going to work every day and make enough money to live comfortably.”

This will be a successful blog post if I have given you a tool to help you see the Big Picture.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Did you know the phrase, “The devil is in the details,” was originally “God is in the detail.”? Either way you wish to look at that idiom, the details don’t matter if you don’t first know what you’re trying to accomplish.

PPS You should definitely download the Free Resource Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend and the accompanying Staff Meeting Worksheet. It will improve the outcomes of your meetings and trainings exponentially.

Something the Best All Have in Common

In every industry you have a handful of heavy hitters. These businesses and their owners have both longevity and a solid track record of sales and growth. They’ve seen it all. They’ve done it all. They’ve been involved in the industry, in their trade organizations, and quite often in their hometowns. They suffer from chronic hand-raising disease.

If you belong to a trade organization you can probably rattle off the names of those businesses and people in your industry quite easily.

The one thing I miss about my office at Toy House was the hutch full of books behind my desk.

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) recognized this. They realized their Marketplace & Academy conference every year offered sessions geared mostly to small stores, new stores, green stores. They recognized that the big hitters were not being served, but instead were the ones mostly doing the serving. ASTRA reasoned that the stronger they could make these stores, the better it would be for the organization and the industry as a whole.

ASTRA invited sixteen of the big hitters together a few years ago to see how we could benefit from being together with our true peers. I had the honor of sitting at that table for that first meeting and becoming part of what we eventually called the Masters Circle.

After that initial meeting, our group took on a life of its own. We planned other meetings, visited each other’s stores, and shared information freely with each other. We not only became friends, we became mentors to each other, people we could rely on to answer questions and offer advice.

I noticed something about these rock star toy retailers that I had also been seeing from the stage as I did more and more workshops.

The best stores were all eager to learn more. The best stores had intellectual curiosity.

At a customer service workshop I did in Manistee, MI a few years ago, the local shoe store—the rock star of their downtown retail scene—was at the workshop with a few of their staff. One of the other attendees asked, “Why are you guys here? You guys are like the best retailer in town.”

The owner replied, “That’s why we’re here. If we don’t keep learning new and better ways to do things, we won’t be the best retailer in town.”

Intellectual curiosity.

You don’t know what you don’t know. If you have intellectual curiosity, however, you have an understanding that there is a lot you don’t know.

Italian writer Umberto Eco has a personal library of over 30,000 books. Has he read them all? No. But by surrounding himself with such a vast wealth of knowledge, he reminds himself daily that he doesn’t know it all. He reminds himself daily that there is more to learn. It keeps him humble. It keeps him curious.

The good news for you is that you are here reading this blog. You are curious. You already have that one trait most common among the big hitters in your industry. Curiosity.

The other is longevity. Show me those two in a retail business owner and I’ll show you a heavy hitter in their industry.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The Masters Circle continues to meet regularly. In fact, they are meeting shortly after I publish this blog. ASTRA made the introductions. Their intellectual curiosity has kept the group going. (And their humility almost kept them from calling the group the Masters Circle. Sometimes they have to be reminded of their accomplishments in the toy industry.)

Now What? Applying the Lessons You’ve Learned

Many conference organizers have detailed instructions for their speakers. It makes sense since often those conferences will have a mix of professional speakers and members of their organization who have never done presentations like this.

On more than one occasion I have seen instructions to, “ask the attendees to write down one or two things they are going to do because of your session.”


You want your audience to not only learn what you’re teaching, you want them to apply it to their own business. When you ask them to write it down, you increase the chances of them actually taking action. In fact, it was this very request back in June 2007 that led me to this new career as a professional speaker.

I was listening to a presentation. I knew what the speaker was trying to say, but she was having a tough time getting her (incredibly good) idea across. At the end she asked us to write down one thing we were going to do.

I wrote, “I’m going to teach this class next year.” And I did.

Found this little gem from June 2007 in my “Notes from Workshops” file

Yesterday I wrapped up a five-week Retail Success Academy class with business owners in Clare, MI. The final assignment of the class was for every student to stand up and do a brief presentation on the one action they are going to take first because of the class including what they are going to do, why they are going to do it, and what they expect to happen.

It always becomes my favorite moment in the program.

I have taught you the What? So What? Now What? methodology of learning.

  • What = The actions you take
  • So What = The lessons you learn from those actions
  • Now What = The application of the lessons to everything else

This writing down or presenting on the one thing you’re going to do because of the presentation is the Now What. It is the most critical part of any presentation because it helps your audience formulate their thoughts and find the actions that will help them.

It also helps you, the presenter, know if your audience got what you were trying to teach. If during Q&A all the questions are about the information you presented or not fully understanding how it all works, you failed as a presenter to get your point across. If all the questions are about how to apply the lessons to their own unique situation, then you nailed it.

I tell you this because as the manager or owner of a small business you are constantly in the position to teach others. Listen carefully to the questions your staff have after a staff meeting. If they are asking What? or So What? questions, you need to start over and find a new way to teach the material. if they are asking Now What? questions, then you know you are on the right track. If they are already answering the Now What? questions for themselves, then you know you’ve hit it out of the park.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This applies to any type of business. If you’re a manufacturer and you’ve introduced a new product or program, the questions you get from your customers tell you a lot about how well you’ve explained the product or program. Heck, this even applies to salespeople selling direct to the consumer. You want to get your customers to visualize owning the product. “How are you going to use that?” is a great Now What? question to get them to take ownership.

PPS The best part about the presentations by the Retail Success Academy grads yesterday was they all chose something different and something was chosen from each of the five major lessons of the Academy. That’s when you know, as a presenter, you’re on the right track.

Tide For the Win

While the Philadelphia Eagles may have won the Super Bowl, the other winner was Tide. Their ads consistently hit the mark and take home the top prize for me.

Image result for tide adIn my workshops and upcoming book I teach six principles for Making Ads More Effective. Tide nailed it on almost every point.

Principle #1 Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad

Okay, they actually looked and sounded like every ad out there. But on purpose. It was the meta moment of advertising where they spoofed every single ad out there. Well done, Tide! Well done!

Principle #2 Make Only One Point

Clothes are clean. Must be a Tide Ad. Point taken.

Principle #3 Tell a Story

This may be a stretch, but the fact that they didn’t have a one-and-done campaign—heck, they even had a cameo during the telecast in football uniforms—made this a story campaign. I’ll give them props for that. Even after learning their joke, they continued to surprise us. Admit it. You laughed at the Mr. Clean ad.

Principle #4 Speak to the Heart

Laughter, Love, Anger, and Fear all speak to the heart. The Tide Ads made me laugh out loud. More importantly, their humor was tied directly to the product. T-Mobile showed a bunch of babies but didn’t tie it back to their phone service. Mass Mutual’s pregame ad was the same—heartwarming, but it could have been anyone. Budweiser, Verizon, and Hyundai did emotional ads tied back to their actions, but they all felt a little contrived.

Principle #5 Speak to the Tribe

The Tide Tribe is people who love clean clothing. If you’re a Tide user, that ad spoke to you strongly and reinforced your belief that Tide makes the cleanest clothing.

Principle #6 Make Your Customer the Star

Even in my book I point out that few Super Bowl ads ever use this principle. Kraft tried with modest success. I liked what they were trying to do, even felt it spoke to their tribe, but it didn’t quite speak to the heart as well as it could have. In the Super Bowl, close doesn’t count.

Tide didn’t make you the star, but after hitting on the first five principles, I’m going to call it a solid win for them.

Good night everyone!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Feel free to share your own comments on the ads you liked best (or least). I missed a commercial break in the third quarter when NBC went off the air for about ten minutes in our area.

PPS I also liked the Rocket Mortgage Ad in the first quarter making things simpler and more understandable. Then again, that spoke directly to me and what I try to do for a living—make things more understandable.

PPPS The Doritos Ad with Peter Dinklage was stupid, until they doubled down with Mountain Dew Ice and Morgan Freeman to make it almost work. That ad, however, is done. From this point forward it will only be annoying. One-and-done is not a successful campaign, nor will it make me want to buy either product.

Sweet dreams.

Reconciling Yes and No

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

On the other hand, Steve Jobs said, “It’s only by saying ‘No’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

Yes and No – both valid answers!

Teddy wants you to take on any job you can. Steve wants you to only take on the important jobs.

Who is right?

Teddy is right when it comes to serving your customers. If a customer asks if you can do something for them that you have never done, you should seriously consider doing it. First, if the customer is asking, the customer must believe it is something you can do. Second, it meets and/or exceeds their expectations, which is the hallmark of WOW Customer Service. Third, it might just become the new calling card you need to set yourself apart from your competitors.

You should always be looking for new ways to take care of your customers.

Steve is right when it comes to advertising. It is easy to “dabble” in advertising, doing a little here and a little there, clinging to the false hope that the more different things you do, the more people you will reach to drive into your store. We mistakenly believe that advertising is simply a numbers game and the more people we reach, the more traffic we’ll get. Yes, it is a numbers game, but not all numbers are equal.

Roy H. Williams often asks the question, “Would you rather convince 100% of the people 10% of the way or 10% of the people 100% of the way? In advertising, both cost the same.” The goal of your advertising is to convince people to visit your store and shop with you. You don’t convince people if all you do is “dabble”. You simply annoy them. It takes time, frequency, and focus to convince the people you reach to finally decide to shop with you. You have to pick and choose your media carefully and then be in full in with that media. If you aren’t, you are wasting your ad budget.

Both are right when it comes to inventory. You need to follow Steve’s advice and make sure you first stock your store with the most important items. When cash flow is tight, focus on the must-haves. Focus on the items that customers come in asking for by name. Make sure you have plenty of the requested items and you’ll make the sales you need to keep the cash flowing. You also need to keep looking for new products and new opportunities. Unless you’re strictly in the commodities business, customers want to see what is new and fresh. If you don’t have new and fresh, you are boring your customers and eventually they won’t bother coming back.

After the must-haves, the second most important inventory spending should be on the brand-new. It keeps your store fresh, keeps your staff energized, keeps your customers returning.

Sometimes you have to follow President Roosevelt. Sometimes you have to follow Mr. Jobs. Knowing when to say Yes and when to say No is the key to your success.

Perhaps Neils Bohr said it best when he said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I used both quotes in presentations lately and it struck me how profound, yet at odds, they both seem to be. I also have found myself using both quotes in my own life. I have been asked to do a lot of new things lately. I have said Yes to creating several new presentations, different from the homerun talks I do. I’ve also said No to some opportunities because they didn’t push forward my main industries of speaking, writing, and consulting. I think knowing when to say No is truly an art, one in which I am still the amateur, but I am learning. How about you?

Impact, Emotion, and Frequency (or How to Get Remembered)

Do you remember where you were on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up? How about September 11, 2001 when you first heard about the World Trade Center buildings? Can you recall what was happening when you got the news about Princess Diana’s death?

The most recent of those events was almost seventeen years ago, yet we remember them like they were yesterday.

In 1986 I was sitting in the back left corner of a lecture hall at the University of Michigan taking a chemistry class when our professor wheeled in a television screen and we watched replay after replay of the shuttle exploding. I’ll never forget it. Interestingly enough, my mom was in the back left corner of that same lecture hall on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot.

Those events are so impactful that they go straight into our long-term memory.

Your advertising isn’t that impactful. 

(Neither are those Super Bowl ads you’re going to be watching this Sunday, but I digress.)

How do we get our ads to be remembered? How do we get our company to be first in the minds of our customers?

First, let’s understand memory. There are two types of memory. You and I call them Short-Term and Long-Term. Neurologists think of them as Electrical and Chemical.


Electrical memory is kind of like the RAM in your computer. It is the short-term memory of everything that has happened to you today. All of your thoughts and feelings, no matter how mundane, stick with you throughout most of the day. You can recall most of it.

Sleep, however, is the great eraser of electrical (short-term) memory. Think of sleep like rebooting your computer. Turn your computer off and the RAM is wiped clean, ready for the next use. Go to sleep and all those mundane thoughts and feelings disappear. The only things you can remember from the previous day are those thoughts and feelings that had an impact.


Chemical memory is more like the hard drive of a computer. This is the stuff you keep in your memory for a while. Unlike a computer, however, your memory is fallible. Things stored in your long-term memory tend to fade over time. I cannot remember the name of the professor who wheeled that television cart into the lecture hall, but I can kinda remember his face. Chemical memory is also not completely accurate. Every time you access your memory of an event you are not actually accessing the original memory, but just the last time you recalled that memory. Think of it like your own personal internal version of the telephone game. Still, it is a lot better than electrical memory.

There are three ways to convert electrical memory into chemical memory.

The first is to have a high impact quotient. Kennedy getting shot, the Challenger Space Shuttle, and 9/11 had major impact on us. You don’t forget things like a car accident, your wedding day, or when your child was born. All have a major impact on your life.

The second is to have a high emotional impact. We are quicker to remember those things that made us feel strong emotions like Love, Anger, Fear, and Gratitude. That is why the advertising that speaks to the heart or makes you laugh tends to stick in your memory a little longer.

These two ways create Declarative Memory, where if asked, you can recall the information (kinda like your old home phone number from when you were a kid.)

The third is to have a high frequency. This is where we, as advertisers, have to truly live. If sleep is the great eraser of the mind, we have to keep pounding away at the brain to get our foot in the door just a little farther each day.

Think of it like a nail being hammered into a board. You put the nail in place and tap it once and it might make a small indentation. Sleep is the great claw hammer that rips the nail out. But if you put that nail back into the same hole and tap it again the next day it sinks a little deeper. Keep placing that nail in the same hole and eventually it will drive it in so tight that the hammer cannot pull it out easily.

The higher the frequency, the more infallible the memory. You keep replacing the original memory with another original memory exactly like it so that the recall is always right on.

If you have enough repetition, the memory is so strong that you don’t have to think to recall it. You know it instantly. This is Procedural Memory (like hitting the brake on the car when you see a deer in the road.)

The amateur practices enough so that he can get it right (Declarative). The professional practices enough so that he can’t do it wrong (Procedural).

Frequency. Repetition. Practice. Call it what you want, but in advertising it is your best friend. It is the golden ticket for getting your ads to be remembered and your company to be thought of first.

Think about that this Sunday when you’re watching the Super Bowl (especially when you’re wondering why you often don’t see those ads any other time of year).

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If the ad isn’t interesting and doesn’t speak to the heart, however, frequency is like the hammer without a nail. You just bludgeon someone into submission. Trust me, that’s not the best way to spend your ad budget.