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My Second Favorite Retail Conversation

“He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve. Someone, somewhere had to have the one toy his sweet little six-year-old wanted. Six cities, seven stores later he stood, travel-weary, across the counter from me. ‘I suppose you don’t have any Simon games, either.’ As I handed over the last of my Simon games he smiled and said, ‘God Bless You!’ Believe me, he already has. Merry Christmas from the Toy House in Downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”

That was the ad I ran as our whole Christmas ad campaign in both 2005 and 2007. The first time I ran it, we smashed every holiday sales record ever. The second time we pushed the bar even higher.

It is a powerful story. More importantly, it’s true. It happened at 4:05pm on Christmas Eve in 1980. It is one of those moments that sticks with you all your life.

Image result for original simon gameI was 14 years old. My parents hired me to stand behind a glass display case and help customers with hand-held electronic games like Simon and Coleco Football. Simon was the hot game that year. We could barely keep them in stock.

Shortly after Black Friday we were completely sold out. We took customers’ names and phone numbers in case we got another shipment in. As I recall, we did get a few in, but we had more names than we had product, so they were quickly snatched up.

On Christmas Eve my mom would always go through the layaway file to see if there were any large layaways not yet picked up. We closed at 5pm and didn’t want someone to miss out on having their gifts. Mom called one such customer who had forgotten he had even started a layaway. He told her to cancel it. He would be in after Christmas to get his deposit back. It was 4:02pm.

One of the items in that layaway was a Simon game. With less than an hour until we closed it was too late to call someone on our waiting list. Mom placed the box at my feet behind the counter and said, “See if you can sell this before we close.” It was 4:04pm.

At just that moment a large man walked through the front doors. One of our staff pointed him toward the glass cases. In my memory he was around 6ft 2in tall but with shoulders slumped by life. He looked tired and beaten when he pointed at the empty spot in our game case and said, “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.”

I told him, “This is your lucky day,” while reaching down by my feet to grab the last Simon game. I handed him his prize possession and he couldn’t stop saying, “God Bless You.” He said it over and over and over while leaning over the counter to hug me. Tears were running down his face. Soon we were both crying and hugging.

He told me his story. He and his wife had adopted their 6-year-old granddaughter earlier that year. All she wanted for Christmas was a Simon game. She had asked Santa several times. With all she had been through, he was going to do everything in his power to make her Christmas special. For weeks he checked every toy store in Detroit. No luck. On Christmas Eve he left Detroit, vowing not to return until he found a Simon game. He went to a couple toy stores north of town, then on to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek. At the Battle Creek store they told him that if anyone had one, it would be Toy House. God was shining down on both of us that day.

I tell you this story, but I could have told you four others almost exactly like it. This one just happened to be the first. It is the one I get the most choked up retelling.

You have stories like this, too. 

If you’ve worked in retail you have had these serendipitous moments where the whole world aligns just right. It is what keeps us going through the hard times. It is what reminds us of the difference we make.

The only question I have to ask is, Are you sharing those stories? If not, you should. That’s what gets your fan base fired up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I call it my second favorite only because luck played such a big role. My first favorite was based more on what we did.

PPS Just to show you how powerful stories are, we ran that as our sole ad for our 2005 holiday campaign. It didn’t tell you our hours or our location. It didn’t tell you about Free Gift Wrapping or Layaway. It didn’t even talk about a product we were selling in 2005. But it did share the emotions and feelings of the Christmas spirit, with a heaping dose of Nostalgia thrown in. Check the boxes. Didn’t look or sound like an ad. Told a story. Made only one point. Spoke to the heart. Spoke to the tribe.

PPPS Yes, God has blessed me many times over.

Reading Better, First Impressions, and Setting the Mood

One of the fun things about moving is finding your “memory boxes”. One of mine was falling apart so I had to dig through everything and transfer it all to a new box. Yeah, that took a lot longer than it should. (Remember, one of my Core Values is Nostalgia.) One item I found that brought back a flood of memories was a short story I wrote back in 1990 about a spring break trip to Colorado and Utah.

Back in 1990 my favorite author was Pat McManus, a humor writer who wrote columns for Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and other magazines. Pat also wrote several side-splitting books about camping, hunting, fishing, and growing up in the 1930’s and 1940’s in the great outdoors. Rarely did I go camping without one of his books stashed in my backpack. It was a necessary weight.

Not surprisingly, my writing style for my short story back in 1990 was quite similar to Pat’s humor.

Back in 2005 Roy H. Williams told me that if I wanted to learn to write better, I needed to read better. In my notes from one of Roy’s workshops I had circled a book idea, Poem A Day edited by Retta Bowen, Nick Temple, Nicholas Albery, and Stephanie Wienrich.

Poetry is the language of emotions. Advertising works best when it reaches you on an emotional level. Poetry is looking at ordinary things from unique and surprising perspectives. Advertising is giving your potential customers a new way to look at your business. Poetry uses interesting word combinations to set the mood. Great advertising uses interesting word combinations to get your attention.

Back in 2010 I did a staff training using the opening lines from several great books such as …

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Jane Austen – Pride & Prejudice

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”  C.S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”  Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”  A.A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh

In that same meeting I played the opening music from Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for Common Man, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

We talked about how the opening sets the mood for everything else. We talked about the importance of first impressions. We talked about rhythm and feelings. We also talked about all the “openings” a customer has at our store.

It isn’t just the greeting that sets the mood.

We identified the following “first impression” moments:

  • Phone
  • Parking Lot
  • Front Window
  • Front Door
  • Store Atmosphere
  • Appearance of Staff
  • Greeting

Notice how many “first impressions” happen before you even say, “Hello. Thank you for coming in,”? That’s a lot of mood setting and emotion-creating before you even open your mouth.

When you read better, you write better. When you visit better stores and truly look at the moods and emotions they are trying to evoke, you’ll have better ideas for your own store.

Take that list above and go visit your favorite stores. See if you can figure out who is making the best first impressions. Then go back to your store and see if you can figure out what first impression you are giving your customers.

The better your first impression, the easier it is for your staff to make connections and build relationships necessary to compete in today’s retail climate.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you visit other stores, take good notes. When you attend workshops and presentations, take good notes. Then revisit your notes often. I don’t just look at those notes for a walk down memory lane. I read my notes from old workshops because there are often more nuggets in there than I could ever possibly remember. Sometimes when you get home from a presentation it isn’t the right time for one of those nuggets. But when you revisit it later, the timing may be perfect.

PPS Yes, in some ways this is a meta-post. Notice how my blogs often start with a story? Stories are powerful tools in advertising because they get your attention, speak to the heart, and are more memorable. In other words, they set the mood and make a good first impression. If you set the wrong mood, you put up obstacles to sales. If you set the right mood, you grease the skids for sales. I was lucky in that Toy House was a downtown business, but with our own parking lot. But you should have seen how I fretted about the cleanliness of that parking lot—especially in the winter.

Be the First to Raise the Bar

It had to be my most favorite conversation with a customer ever. It was sometime in the fall of 1994, one year after Toys R Us had opened in our city.

“Phil, I have to tell you this. I went to Toys R Us last Christmas.”

Yeah, they were the new store in town. A lot of people went to check them out.

“But let me tell you what happened. I think you’ll get a kick out of this. I went in and looked around. They didn’t have quite as much stuff as you do. And I couldn’t find anyone to help me on the floor. So I took my cart up front and told the gal at the register I wanted to put it all on layaway. She said, ‘We don’t have layaway.’ So I said, that’s okay, I’ll just get it gift-wrapped. ‘We don’t do gift-wrapping.’ Well then what the hell am I in here for?

“If that’s your competition, you’re gonna be just fine.”

I was reminded of that story a few days ago. A new pizza place opened in town, a pizza and tap house. I only knew because I drove by it. I haven’t heard anything about it good or bad. No buzz. No excitement.

Image result for klavons pizza
The stuffed pizza at Klavon’s

Part of their problem is that another pizza joint opened up a full-service restaurant and bar serving pizza a few years ago. That restaurant is amazing, featuring indoor-but-can-become-outdoor-in-a-New-York-minute seating, classy stonework and decor, fireplaces, big screen TVs, and a killer menu (I had to go for lunch once just to order the cheeseburger that was getting all the raves because at dinner time I always get the pizza.)

This first restaurant raised the bar incredibly high. Anyone coming after them has to do something they didn’t do to get any buzz or excitement.

That’s the power of being first to raise the bar. If you raise it high enough, no one else is going to get any buzz just for copying you. Back in 1993 being “new” was enough. In 2018, being “new” only counts if you actually do something no one else is doing.

At the same time, here is your warning. If you haven’t raised the bar, you’ve left the door wide open for someone else to come in and clean your clock, eat your lunch, steal your chickens, or whatever metaphor you want to use for getting kicked to the curb.

Wanna play a fun game with your staff? Ask them this question …

If you were going to start a new store to compete with my current store, what would you do differently to have a competitive advantage?

Ask it of your staff. Ask it at the next networking event you attend. Ask it of your friends and family. Then listen to the answers. Any idea that isn’t simply cutting prices or offering more discounts and deals is a potential open door for a competitor to waltz right through.

Don’t wait for someone else to raise that bar. Be first. And raise it so damned high no one else would even think of trying to compete in your space.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My second favorite conversation with a customer happened back in 1980. I was only 14 years old. I still get choked up thinking about it. I even turned it into a radio ad that propelled our 2005 Christmas season to record heights. I’ll tell you about it later if you’d like.

So You Got a Bad Review?

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

If you don’t already have a negative review online about your business, either you’re still too new to have any reviews or you just haven’t found where they posted it. No matter how nice you are, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much training you do, someone somewhere is going to have a beef with you and post it online for the whole world to see.

Image result for hundred dollar billThe big chains get them daily by the hundreds. If I told you those soulless corporations didn’t care, you’d believe me. They do care, but not nearly as much as you do when someone writes something bad about you.

To you, a negative review is like a kick in the gut. It is a dagger to the heart. You read it over and over, fretting about what you could have done differently. You worry about it, lose sleep over it, and turn a few more hairs gray. You’re ready to fire staff members and change everything you’ve done. At the very least you’ve gone out back behind the building where no one can hear you and let a few choice words fly.

Before you start drinking heavily and contemplating a mass firing of your team while writing a nasty reply to the reviewer, STOP!

Bad reviews are part of the game of being a retailer. How you respond to them is part of your brand image and marketing. Before flying off the handle with a criticism of the reviewer, stop and take a deep breath. In fact, the best thing you can do with a bad review is not respond right away while you’re still emotional. Instead take a moment to review the review.

Ask these questions internally …

  • Was it an attack on an employee and what he or she did? If so, talk to the employee and make sure they know the right thing to do. (Don’t accuse them of doing the wrong thing, just focus on doing the right thing in the future.)
  • Was it an attack on a policy you have and how it was enforced? Take a look at the policy and see whether it needs changing, it needs flexibility, or it just is what it is and there is nothing you can do.
  • Was it a misunderstanding between the reviewer and what your staff meant to say/do? See how you can eliminate this misunderstanding in the future.
  • Was it a legitimate complaint that needs a follow-up? See if you can contact the reviewer individually and settle the problem.
  • Was it just completely unfounded and patently false? (See below)

Be honest in your answers to these questions. Often a negative review is a legitimate complaint about a policy you have that might be more business-friendly and less customer-friendly. It might also be exactly what you needed so that you knew what your staff was doing behind your back, and how certain team members were treating your customers when you weren’t around.

If you respond to a negative review (and that is a huge IF), you should only do so for one reason—to thank the person for their review and apologize for their experience.

People are going to read your bad reviews. More importantly, they are going to read how you responded to those reviews. If all you do is get defensive and try to combat the reviewer, everyone else will believe that you’re hostile and not open to suggestions. If all you do is stoop to the level of the reviewer, you’re no better than them.

Instead say something like, “Thank you for making us aware of [the situation.] I am sorry that you had such an experience. The staff and I have discussed this at length to make sure we don’t have this problem again. We hope that you will give us the opportunity to serve you in the future.”

You don’t have to admit there was a problem. (Most often, negative reviews are based on misunderstandings.) You only have to own up to the fact that a customer, whether by her own actions or yours, had a bad experience in your store. “I’m sorry,” goes a long way to healing that experience and making others believe you are a caring company.

Most importantly, when you respond like this, the other people reading the review will see that you responded and apologized and took steps to correct the problem. That not only reassures them that they won’t have the same problem if they visit your store, but also that you are willing to listen to customers and put their needs first. That perception is what wins hearts and loyalty.

THE OUTRAGEOUS NEGATIVE REVIEW

You’ll get a bad review from time to time that has no basis in reality. It is simply bashing you for no reason or a made-up reason. Those don’t deserve a response. Leave them alone. The people that write these kinds of reviews probably won’t respond, even if you do try to engage. If they do respond, someone willing to write something that false will continue to write BS so you’ll never win. Either report them, block them, or ignore them. Don’t ever try to engage with them.

Most people who read reviews online will do like the judges in certain sporting events. They’ll throw out the best and worst reviews and read all the ones in-between.

There is only one response to those completely unfounded, totally false, negative reviews. Simply say, “Thank you for this review. We will look into it.” The other readers will see that you take all reviews seriously, and that is far more important than getting into a shouting match, being defensive, or calling someone out for being a loon.

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

Negative reviews, like credit card fees, are part of the cost of doing business. Don’t take them personally. Don’t attack the reviewer. Don’t go on the defensive. Do answer a few questions internally and see if there are steps you can take to reduce these types of reviews in the future.

If you make your policies customer-friendly, your staff highly trained, and your store an experience of wonder and delight, those negative reviews will be heavily outweighed by the positive ones.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes your policy is the way it is for reasons beyond your control. We got a negative review for not taking back a used breast pump. Because of bodily fluids, we weren’t allowed to take it back. Occasionally you’ll have something like that. A short, simple, it-is-out-of-our-control explanation is okay in a situation like that. Otherwise, take the high road Every. Single. Time. Period. Period. Period. Other people are more concerned with your response than with the actual review, and what they think is all that matters.

PPS If someone has a legitimate complaint, see if you can solve it offline. Once solved, go back to the review (if they haven’t taken it down) and thank them for the opportunity to work with them to solve the problem. To the people reading the reviews, this is sometimes more powerful than having zero negative reviews. The average person knows you aren’t a one hundred dollar bill, too.

Cutting Expenses The Wrong Way

I was in Walmart yesterday. I had to pick up a few things. At the checkout, the cashier kept doubling bagging all of my items. I asked her why.

“These bags tear so easily that almost everyone has a ripped bag at the end. They used to be better but these new bags are too thin.”

Image result for walmart grocery bagsI hope for Walmart’s sake that the new bags are less than half the cost of the old bags. Otherwise their cost-cutting move is costing them more than it saves.

I get why they did it. I’ll bet their bags are a huge expense for them. I’ll bet someone pitched them the idea of a cheaper bag, or knowing Walmart, they probably went to their vendor and demanded a cheaper bag. The only way to make it cheaper was make it thinner. And now their employees are double bagging everything so that you can get your groceries home in one piece.

How’s that cheaper bag working out for you?

Bags, like so many other non-merchandise items, seem like a hassle expense. You know you need them but you hate paying for them. I know I did. But that didn’t stop me from buying better, thicker bags than I probably needed. Mostly because I also looked at bags as being a reflection of my brand. Cheap, flimsy bags send the signal that I care about my money more than I care about you. Sturdy, reusable handle bags say I care about you more than I care about money. (Remember that Values post I just wrote?)

The problem is that we too often look at our expenses as single, individual entities instead of how they fit into the whole. We make decisions on those expenses purely on a financial basis instead of thinking about how we want to present ourselves and how we want our customers to feel about us. You have to consider everything, otherwise your cuts may end up costing you more.

In the 68 years we ran Toy House, one of our most profitable years was 2009, smack dab in the middle of the great recession. I had to cut expenses that year to get that profit. Here is a post I wrote January 11, 2010 about how I cut those expenses … “Cutting Expenses the Smart Way”

Sometimes you need to cut expenses. How you cut them is often more important than how much you cut them.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This trip down memory lane looking at old blogs has been fun for me. Maybe it will be fun for you. Here is a link to one page with all 897 blog posts to date.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

I played the role of Father in The Nutcracker Suite on stage at the Michigan Theatre. I was in eighth grade. It was part of our LEAP class (Learning Experience for Academic Progress). It was a play more than a ballet, although we did have a dance troupe come in and do some dance numbers. I don’t remember much of anything about the play itself. I couldn’t tell you anything about the story, the other characters, or even my performance. About all I remember was I played the role of Father and I loved being on that stage.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

I’ve never really been afraid of standing on a stage in front of people. Oh sure, I had a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in my stomach moments before I took the pulpit to do a guest sermon at church. But those butterflies settled down the moment I began to speak.

Whether it is a crowd of 500 at a trade show conference, a group of screaming kids in the dining hall at camp, or a room full of revelers at a brewpub, I love to perform.

That’s why when I began building Phil’s Forum I focused on speaking and presenting, doing workshops and seminars and webinars. That’s what brings me the most joy (and people said I was pretty good at it.) 

But my real goal, my true focus of Phil’s Forum is about YOU. Your success. That’s all that matters.

That is the reason behind all the Free Resources for you to download. That is the reason behind writing over a thousand blog posts for you to consume. That is the reason behind offering all those classes, presentations, workshops, and webinars for you to attend.

That is the reason why you’ll find a new page on my website.

Many of you have contacted me about private, one-on-one consulting and coaching. While I often said yes, I didn’t have a plan in place for how to handle and structure those requests. Nor did I have a firm concept for how I felt I could best work with you.

Until now.

Coach /kōCH/ (noun) An instructor or trainer. A tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.

A Consultant is someone you consult for advice and opinions. A Coach is someone who teaches you how to do what you need to do to be successful.

I am chock full of advice. I give it away freely. You can shoot me an email with a question and it is highly likely I will answer it (for free). If you read this blog regularly then you can probably guess my opinion on a topic before you even ask. Lots of people get paid for their opinions. It always seems a little disingenuous to me. If you make your living that way, you always want to keep your client in a position of needing your opinion. There is almost a built-in need for keeping a client partially in the dark so that they don’t form opinions on their own.

A Coach, however, knows that his role is to teach you something so that you can do it yourself. A coach puts you in the best position to succeed.

I know this is mostly semantics. There are amazing consultants out there who really are more like coaches. They teach. They instruct. They help you grow. They never hold back.

Words, however, are important. Choose the right words and your advertising messages will sparkle. Know which words make up your Core Values and your business will attract the right people. I needed to know which word I wanted to use and why before I could be of best service to you.

I chose the word Coach.

If you want one-on-one, private, specialized instruction to learn how to:

  • Hire Better
  • Train Better
  • Serve Your Customers Better
  • Market Yourself Better
  • Manage Your Inventory Better
  • Manage Your Staff Better
  • Manage Your Cash Flow Better

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

The first meeting is FREE. In that meeting we’ll discuss where you are, what problems you’re facing, what tools you might need to solve those problems, and how best I can help you. After that I’ll send you a few different proposals explaining what I will do, what it will cost, and how we’ll measure success. From there the choice is yours as to how much coaching you want.

While my love is still the stage and I hope to spend as much time there reaching as many people as possible, coaching is the next best way I can help you find your path to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I do coaching remotely. We’ll use phone and email to get the job done. (Or if you want to fly me out to meet face-to-face, I’ll let you do that, too. The best way to get me to town is to convince your local Chamber or DDA to hire me for a presentation and have them pay my way.)

PPS One thing I will ask of any client who wants my coaching services is for you to know your Core Values. You can download the new, updated worksheets here.

PPPS Yes, you can hire me to do stuff for you, too. I’ll run a Team Building event. I’ll write your Hiring ads. I’ll write your advertising messages. I’ll teach your staff how to sell. I’d rather teach you how to do those things yourself, though. That’s what serves you best in the long run.

Your Advertising Media Reference Guide

Here are links to the recent posts on how to best use the different advertising media. Like I said before, all advertising works and all advertising doesn’t work. It depends on two factors, how you use the media and what you say (work on that last one first, then pick the media best suited to say it.) You’re going to want to bookmark this page and share it with your fellow business owners. Before you spend a penny on advertising, spend a few minutes reading these posts.

Television – The Super Bowl of Ads: Television is a powerful branding tool and a powerful direct marketing tool. The downside is it is expensive and people spend as much time and energy trying to avoid TV commercials as they do trying to see TV content.

Radio – The Marathoner: Radio works best for long-term branding campaigns. You can reach a lot of people at a reasonable rate. You just need a great copywriter to craft the kind of ads that can get people’s attention. Boring ads that sound like everyone else are where most radio dollars are wasted.

Billboards – The Drive-By Advertising: In terms of eyeballs per dollar, billboards are one of the best values out there … As long as you can tell a heartfelt story in one picture and six words.

Does Newsprint Even Exist Anymore? Even though it has fallen out of favor with most advertisers, newsprint (whether in print or on a screen) advertising can work if you remember to create the ad the same way a journalist creates a story. You need an engaging picture and a killer headline to grab someone’s attention with this passive media.

Magazines – Speaking to the Tribe: Magazines are newsprint without the daily frequency or the large readership. That’s the downside. The upside is that the niche readership of the magazine means their readers are already qualified members of your tribe. Speak their language and win their hearts.

Why Email Works (And When it Doesn’t): One of the more affordable ways to reach your current customer base to get them back into your store. This post includes tips for getting better open rates and more traffic in the store.

Shares, Comments and Likes (How to Get Facebook to Work for You): Social media is exactly that—social! When you learn how to have two-way conversations and how to reach customers in a way that makes them interact, you’ll find the time you spend on social media is finally worthwhile.

Websites – The Silent Salesman: In today’s retail landscape where everyone has the Internet in their pocket, you need a website. Here are some tips for how to build a website worthy of your brand.

Direct Mail – Do the Math: Direct Mail is for Direct Marketing. You need a relevant offer at a relevant time to a relevant audience to make it work. You also need to know the math to see if the ROI is worth it. This post shows you the math.

Yes You Can Buy Word-of-Mouth Advertising: The most effective form of advertising is Word-of-Mouth. It has always been that way. This post shows you where to put your “advertising” money if you want to get people to talk about you.

Google AdWords – Wasted Money or Well Worth It? When you have a great solution and can convince people of that on a single web page, you can get a lot of customers through Google AdWords. If you don’t have a great solution or cannot communicate that solution well, you can blow through a lot of money quickly with little to no effect.

Mobile Marketing – Winning the Transactional Customer Today: Mobile marketing works well for making a Direct Marketing offer, but be careful how you use it. If you have a “deal-of-the-day” or are a restaurant with daily “chef’s specials” it can be highly effective, but as a branding tool, it won’t get the job done.

Movie Ads, Placemats, Yellow Pages, and More: Here are some of those other more obscure and/or obsolete media someone may try to pitch you. Be wary.

If there are other media you are considering that aren’t covered here, let me know. I’d be happy to explore the ideas with you. As always, if you ever have a question about your marketing and advertising, whether it is about your message, your media choice, or anything else, send me an email.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If none of these forms of advertising are in your budget, go to the Free Resources page and download one of my Marketing on a Shoestring Budget pdf’s. You’ll find a few more tools to throw into your marketing and advertising toolbox.

Movie Ads, Placemats, Yellow Pages, and More

One thing I actually do miss about being in my retail store was all the ad sales reps with their crazy pitches. Sure, they were a distraction, but as a student of advertising I also saw them as a mental exercise to try to figure out if they were effective and how would I best be able to use them. Plus, I’ve never been one to shy away from a good distraction. (Squirrel!)

To wrap up our discussion of the different media for advertising, here are some of the more obscure or obsolete forms of advertising I’ve been pitched that someone might try to pitch you.

MOVIE SCREEN ADS

Upside: You have a captive audience sitting in the theater that cannot fast-forward and will be much more likely to watch your larger-than-life, powerful, heartfelt television ad.

Downside: You won’t get a lot of frequency. Many people don’t arrive early enough to see the ads. It costs you the same regardless of how many butts are in the seats.

Pro Tip: Watch the movie release schedule carefully. You’ll get far more viewers the weekend of April 27-29 this year than the weekends before or after. Plan your ads around the blockbuster releases.

 

 

PLACEMAT ADS

Upside:  Yeah, still working on that.

Downside: Passive ad, usually monochrome, covered by a plate, and not seen by the person who, if they had time to read the ads on the placemat would most likely be staring at their phone instead.

Pro Tip: This isn’t an advertisement. It is a “sponsorship”. If you want to donate to a worthy cause through placemat ads, then so be it. (If there isn’t a cause, spend your money elsewhere.)

 

PROGRAM ADS

Upside: People who arrive at an event early will read the program. They might even look at the ads. If it is a school program, they might even hold onto it a little while longer and show it to a relative.

Downside: Limited audience, passive ad, and usually black & white.

Pro Tip: This is most definitely a sponsorship more than an advertising media. If you want to support the program, place the ad. Put it in your sponsorship expense column, though. (Note: those sports posters with the boy’s wrestling program schedule are pretty much the exact same thing as a program.)

 

YEARBOOK ADS

Upside: People keep yearbooks for decades.

Downside: People don’t look at yearbook ads for decades.

Pro Tip: Like program ads, this is a sponsorship. Treat it accordingly.

 

YELLOW PAGES

When phone books were still being produced, you needed to have your free listing, but paying for anything more was never the best investment. Now they are promoting yellow pages online. Have you ever seen a yellow pages listing show up in the organic feed of your Google search? And if so, was it above the actual website for the company you were searching? No, me neither.

 

CLOSED-CIRCUIT TV:

Select businesses like your local coffee shop will place televisions in their shops that will run loops of ads for the customers. Nope, nope, and nope. Don’t place one of these in your store to annoy your customers. Don’t waste your money annoying someone else’s customers.

 

If any of you get a pitch for a newfangled advertising media that I haven’t yet covered, let me know.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I used to spend money on Yellow Pages. Took years to wean myself off and put that money to better use. It broke my heart to say no to high school kids selling yearbook ads because these kids were just learning how to be salespeople. Rejection can be tough. We had thirteen high school yearbooks in our county. I couldn’t afford to sponsor them all. I always tried to be polite and encouraging and thank the students for coming in.

PPS Sponsorships aren’t a bad thing. They just aren’t an effective form of advertising. If you’re going to do some sponsorship ads, at least put the effort in to make the ads sparkle. At least those few who see your ad will know you’re a top-notch business. I did some placemat and program ads over the years for causes I believed in such as Toys for Tots (our largest charity) and the high school boys swim team (of which my son, like me in my day, was one of the captains), but purely as a form of sponsorship. The picture above is a color business-card sized ad I had ready to go. I also had a slew of business-card sized ads optimized for black & white for sponsorship purposes shown below.

Google AdWords – Wasted Money or Well Worth It?

On four different occasions I received coupons in the mail from Google. Each one was worth $10 to $25 to be used on Google AdWords. I started researching how to use AdWords. I learned about different search terms and how some terms will be more expensive than others.

For instance, the word “toys” was going to cost me far more per click than the word “crayola”. The more generic the search term, the higher the cost to get clicks.

Image result for google adwordsWait, let’s back up a moment. For those of you who have never used Google AdWords, here is how it works. You select a word or phrase you wish to use. If someone searches for that particular word or phrase, your name will appear in the paid section in the search (above the organic results) if—and this is the key—you agreed to spend as much per click to be one of the top three to five businesses who also chose that word.

Yes, it is a bidding war to get eyeballs to your link and clicks to your website. The more you are willing to pay-per-click, the more likely you’ll make it onto the page. That’s why it is important to pick the proper words. The more common the word appears in searches, the more businesses will pay to get on that page. The more obscure the word, the cheaper the pay-per-click.

In other words, Google AdWords is a game you play. You can pay more for the more common search words and fight the crowds trying to reach the masses, or you can choose cheaper words that might not get the overall traffic but can still draw people to your site. You have to find the right mix.

Oh, but it is far more complicated than that.

First, you have to choose the right words. Second, you have to write a short blurb—shorter than a tweet—that might actually convince someone to click on your paid link rather than the organic results. Finally, you have to have your AdWord link to a page that has the actual solution the searcher desires. Your account gets charged every time someone clicks, whether they spend ten minutes or ten seconds on your site.

Here is the truth about paid search results …

The only person who clicks on a paid search result is someone who has a problem and is looking for a clear-cut solution.

If you are considering using Google AdWords, you need to ask yourself the following questions …

  • Do I have a solution for a problem people are actively searching?
  • Is that solution on my website or can I create a web page with that solution?
  • Is my solution one that can be easily described in 96 characters or less?
  • Is my landing page optimized to convert traffic into sales/solutions?
  • Will I make enough money with my solutions to cover the cost of acquiring clicks?

Those are some tough questions. The last three are the heart of the matter. Not only do you have to have a solution, you have to have a landing page that the searchers go to that not only solves their problem but convinces them you are the best solution and gets them to buy from you right away.

In other words, this isn’t the place to put your Branding Dollars. This isn’t the place for building Top-of-Mind Awareness. This is the place for solving problems for customers desperate for a solution. If you can do that, you can drive a lot of traffic via Google AdWords.

If you’re going that route, here are some things to do:

  • First, work on the solution. Make sure your solution is simple, clear, easily understood, and exactly what customers will want.
  • Second, work on your landing page. You choose where the searcher lands when she clicks. You want her to land on the solution page. Make sure that page is optimized to be clear and simple and easy to navigate. She shouldn’t have to click more than once to know everything she needs to know. Take down as many barriers between the customer and the solution as possible.
  • Third, once you have your solution, figure out the most common words and phrases someone might type into a search bar if they are looking for that solution. The more exact you are, the more likely you’ll get the right people clicking. This, more than anything else, will help your conversion rate go way up.
  • Fourth, determine exactly how much you are willing to pay for each click. Google will give you a range of what to expect. Make sure you are getting your money’s worth.

The cool thing about Google AdWords is the analytics. They’ll tell you exactly how well your campaign is running. You’ll know how many people are clicking, what it is costing. You can figure out your conversion rate from there. (Conversion rate is simply the percentage of how many of those who click actually use your solution.) According to this article, the best ecommerce sites are converting over 6% of their pay-per-clicks. Your ROI, then, is to figure out what each conversion is worth to you, and whether you are getting the conversions you need for the money you spend.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is all about Direct Marketing. The return on your investment is in the strength of your solution and your ability to find the people with the right problem you can solve. Google AdWords is a powerful tool for that purpose, but only if you have a great solution people need.

Before you embark on Direct Marketing, though, please read this article from Roy H. Williams. It will help you understand a little more about the solutions you might want to offer.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I call them solutions instead of offers. That is the mentality you need to take if you are going to use PPC advertising effectively. The people searching aren’t looking for “offers”. They are looking for solutions. Make sure you give them one or your money will be wasted, and wasted quickly. The first $100 I spent on Google AdWords was gone in less than an hour at an average rate of about 33 cents per click. They all went to my home page where they stayed an average of less than eight seconds. There was no solution on that page. No conversion.

PPS A lot of businesses like mine (speakers, consultants, etc.) will use PPC advertising to get your email. The method of operation goes like this. You search for something. I offer you a free solution. You click on my link. I make you subscribe with your email before I give you your free solution. Then I bombard you with emails trying to convince you to sign up for my paid services. It is the tried and true method for many in my position. (Well, okay, I don’t know how “true” it is, but it is tried by several people.) It also isn’t me. I believe if my free content helps you, I’ll get enough paid business to keep doing what I do.

PPPS The analytics that Google offers in their AdWords program is one of the best tools out there. You can A/B test your solutions, your blurbs, your landing pages, your budget, and every other element of the campaign to see what works best. But if you don’t first have a great solution and know exactly what words people are using to search for that solution, nothing else will move the needle enough to make it worthwhile.

Websites – The Silent Salesperson

Over the last few weeks I’ve given you my thoughts on how to use the different media types for advertising. So far we’ve covered Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, Magazines, Email, and Social Media. All of these are choices. You don’t have to do all of them, or any of them, for that matter.

In fact, I would recommend that if you want to do any of the first five, you choose only one of them and do it incredibly well. You likely don’t have the budget to do more than one well.

Email and Social Media are more about time than money. If you have the time, do both.

There is one form of advertising, however, that I consider a must in today’s business climate—the website. You gotta have one.

Click on this picture to check out my sister’s web page for her art.

Whether your customer base prefers to shop online or shop in brick & mortar stores, he or she uses her smartphone or computer to look you up. You need to claim your business on Google so that you show up in their map app, but that only helps the people already looking for you in your area.

Your website is the tool that convinces people who don’t know you that you’re worth a visit.

First Rule of Websites

You don’t have to have eCommerce on your website to be successful.

Right now the buzz words in retail are phrases like “seamless omnichannel shopping” and BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In Store). Those are important for big chains with multi-million dollar IT departments (and zero customer service training). If you have the means to do that, either through your industry partners, trade organizations, or your own team of coders, all the power to you. If you sell online through your own website, that’s a bonus. But it isn’t a requirement for having a successful website.

You can have a site that is purely informational, one that shows customers what you do, where you are, when you’re open, and (most importantly) what to expect when they visit. Just make sure you follow Rule #2 to the letter.

Second Rule of Websites

Every single page must have a clear and distinct purpose.

Before you create the content for a page, ask yourself why the page exists. Ask yourself who you expect to visit that page and how you expect they will find it. Ask yourself what is the single most important point you want that visitor to draw from the page. Ask yourself what action you want that visitor to take next after visiting that page. Your answers will shape the content and look of the page. The more clearly you define each page’s purpose, the more value you bring to your visitors.

When I was creating the Toy House website, my goal for the site overall was to drive traffic to the store. Phrases like, “when you visit …” peppered the site. But each page had its own goal in mind. For instance, our About Us page started with a series of “I Believe …” statements to show our Core Values and make an emotional connection with people who believe what we believe.

“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.” -Simon Sinek, Start with Why, TEDx Puget Sound

Third Rule of Websites

Your website is your silent salesperson. Make it your best.

It is the first impression a customer has of your store. It is the first step in creating that relationship with your customer. You need to put your best foot forward.

If I told you that you could only have one salesperson working the floor today, would you pick your worst or your best person? If I told you that you could only have one person in charge of greeting all customers, would you have your worst or best greeter? If I told you that you could only have one person answering your phones today, would you pick your worst or best phone answering person?

You rarely get a second chance to make a first impression. Your website has to reflect the best of you and your business. Put the time, effort, and money into making the best impression you can.

Fourth Rule of Websites

Your hours, phone number, and address have to be prominent and easy to find.

If you want to drive traffic to the store, you have to let them know where and when. If your goal is strictly eCommerce, you can bury that information in the Contact Us section of your website. If your goal is to drive traffic to the store that info has to be everywhere. Don’t make your customer go look for it.

People browsing websites at home on their desktop the night before a shopping trip might take the extra steps to find that info. People browsing on their phones in the parking lot of their previous stop (or outside the school where they just dropped off their child) aren’t going to dive very deep to find the info they want.

Fifth Rule of Websites

It has to be compatible for mobile platforms.

If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, the font will be too small for anyone to waste their time reading it. You will have lost most customers before they even began. Nowadays it is hard to find a web-designer who doesn’t make a mobile-friendly website, but if you have an old site on an old platform, you need to look at it on your phone, your friend’s phone, a tablet or two, and a desktop to see how it looks on those devices. If it isn’t clean, easy-to-read, and simple to navigate, it is time for you to upgrade.

Follow those five rules and your website will be a useful tool for your business. It is a necessary tool. Customers expect that you’ll have one. Since you’re going to make one, make it a useful tool, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Just to overwhelm you a little bit more in thinking about your website, here are some other things to consider …

  • Post a video tour on your website. People only do what they have already pictured themselves doing in their own mind. Give them a quick visual of your store (two minutes or less, or several short videos of each department, updated regularly).
  • Make sure your Core Values and beliefs are evident on every page of your site. Whoever is writing your content has to know and understand your values.
  • Turn your About Us page into an I Believe page. Let people know what you believe. Here is an example from Toy House. Here is one from LauraJoyWarrior. Here is one from PhilsForum.
  • If you draw from more than five miles away (or are in a hard-to-navigate part of town) include a map and directions.
  • Make any “click here” navigation buttons large, self-explanatory, and easy-to-find.
  • Make sure your website is listed and linked on every one of your vendor’s “where-to-buy” lists, on your Google business page, and everywhere else someone might find you. The more inbound links you have, the better you will do in the search engines.
  • Update your site regularly with new information, new pictures, new content. (Blogs and links to your emails are one easy way to do this.)
  • If your hours change with the seasons, make sure they are updated across every platform including Google, Facebook, and your website.

PPS When you are interviewing someone to create your website, ask about those rules above. If they don’t have a thoughtful answer or opinion about those topics (even if they disagree), they are likely a “template” designer who uses the same easy template to make something fast and cheap that looks like everyone else. If you want to look like everyone else, go right ahead. If you want to be a destination that stands out in the crowd, find someone who wants to make that happen for you.