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This is How You Get Word of Mouth Pro-Level

If you’ve ever been to my Suggested Topics page, you will notice that my Breakout Session about Word-of-Mouth says I will teach you “four simple, yet effective ways to generate word-of-mouth and get people to brag about your business to others.”

If you have ever been to one of these presentations, you know that I give you a fifth bonus way to get people to talk about your business. That bonus way is through your advertising. When you create ads that people want to see and hear, they talk about them. That’s the goal at every Super Bowl. All these advertisers want is for you to be talking about their ad Monday morning.

There is more to it than that, though. To truly generate word-of-mouth that helps your business, the talk has to be about how great your business is, or how important it is for people to visit you, not just about how creative or funny you are.

We got that kind of word-of-mouth with our Men’s Bathroom Ad.

The script was this …

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking customers into the men’s bathroom. Yes, my staff was taking men and women, young and old, into our men’s bathroom. And they were coming out laughing, smiling, oh yeah, and buying, too. I guess when you have a product this good, you just have to show it off however… and wherever… you can. The men’s bathroom… Gotta love it! Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

I ran this ad twice a day Monday-Friday for the month of August in 2008. The day it began the deejays starting talking about it on the air wondering what was going on in the men’s bathroom. By day two the deejays on the stations where the ad WASN’T airing were talking about it. By day three the local TV station was talking about it. Everyone was speculating about what was in the men’s bathroom and people were coming in droves to ask about it, see the product, oh yeah, and buy it, too. In March 2009—seven months after the ad had aired!—I had a customer walk into the store asking about the men’s bathroom because it was what dominated conversation at Christmas dinner at the adult table.

Image result for morris jenkins bobby
Bobby from the Morris-Jenkins TV Ad Campaign

Here is another example of how an ad can generate powerful word-of-mouth courtesy of Roy H. Williams. Roy designed an ad campaign for a heating & cooling company featuring Mr. Jenkins, the owner, and Bobby, one of his drivers. The ad campaign has run for 6 years. “Bobby” has become a Charlotte, NC icon. But the actor who plays Bobby in the commercials is moving to California. The company ran one last ad featuring Bobby where Mr. Jenkins gives Bobby $100,000 to go pursue his dream in Hollywood.

The local TV news ran a story on that ad. Let me repeat that … The local TV news in a major market ran a story about a fictional character in an advertisement for a local heating and cooling company. You cannot buy that kind of advertising.

(Or maybe you can, if you have the guts to first run amazing ad campaigns that people want to see and hear.)

First read Roy’s MondayMorningMemo about the ad campaign and why it worked so well.

Then watch the news story. (Get your tissues out.)

Are your ads getting this kind of love?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We watch television and movies for the characters first and then the storyline. If the characters are interesting, we’ll forgive a weak storyline. David Freeman explains that the difference between interesting characters and boring ones is in their Core Values. When they have three to five character traits or values that are consistent throughout the movie, we relate to them. If they have less, we are bored. If they aren’t consistent, we don’t connect. The same is true with your brand. Your brand is the three to five core values you have as a business. The more consistently you show those values—including in your advertising—the more people will relate with you.

Connecting the Dots to Make Your Hiring Better

We sold a ton of dot-to-dot books over the years. I bought them by the number count – 10, 20, 50, 75, even 100-count dot-to-dots. I loved dot-to-dots as a child. My favorite was to try to guess the picture before putting pencil to paper, seeing the image in my mind. A few years ago there were some dot-to-dots designed for adults with up to 1000 dots in a single picture. (Yes, you needed a magnifying glass and a super thin mechanical pencil to do some of the more complex pictures.)

Today I want to connect a few dots for you in the hiring process.

If you have read my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, you know that to find the best employees you need to find the right character traits for the job. For instance, if you are hiring a sales person, you want someone friendly, engaging, and able to solve problems. If you are hiring a bookkeeper you want someone organized, detail-oriented, and task-driven. The best person for the job has to bring those traits to the position. You can’t train those.

Yet, the first thing I do when I work with a client to help them write a job description and list of the traits they need to hire for a specific position is talk to the client about his or her personal Core Values. If you are the boss, the owner, the final decision maker, your Core Values become your company’s Core Values. What is important to you personally will be what is important to you professionally. It is where you will spend your most time, energy, and focus. Roy H. Williams and David Freeman taught me that.

It is not just enough that the people you hire possess the traits necessary to be successful on the job. To truly become an asset on your team, they need to share some of the same values you and your business share.

Toy House Character Diamond and Core Values
The Toy House Character Diamond – our Core Values that drive our business.

For example, my core values are Having Fun, Helpful, Educational and Nostalgic. While it isn’t important that you match those values perfectly, the more you match, the better we will get along.

Fortunately for me, a toy store attracted mostly people who like to Have Fun. I also hired specifically for the trait of being Helpful. My office manager had traits I will never have of being ultra-organized and detail-oriented. But she also was amazinglyHelpful. On top of that, she celebrated the seasons and holidays even more than I did. My key jack-of-all-trades guy had a level of Curiosity that surpassed my own. My event planner took Nostalgia to new levels and was always trying to Teach others. One of the most common phrases I heard her say was, “You can do that. Here, let me show you.”

When your staff doesn’t share your values, you get frustrated. You feel as if they don’t get you or what you are trying to do. Oh, they get you. They just don’t put as much value on the things most important to you. They may have all the other traits perfect for the job and may even be performing to a high level based on those traits, but if you don’t value the same things, you’ll always feel disappointed by them.

Connect the dots.

I saw a snippet of a training my good buddy Tim Miles did for business leaders managing their people. The slide had three words. “Walk the talk.” Tim goes on to tell you that you have to be consistent in what you say to your team and what you do personally. We all know that hypocrisy causes distrust. The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do style of leadership doesn’t last very long. The strongest organizations are those where the leaders walk the talk. Your Core Values come into play here, as well.

When you let your Core Values guide you, you will always walk the talk, because you are starting and ending with the very essence of your being. Your consistency will never be questioned because even in moments of stress, your Core Values will guide everything you do. Your staff will know exactly where you stand at all times.

When Tim mentions that you should walk the talk, he isn’t saying that you have to have done every single thing you ask your staff to do. He is asking that you lead through consistency, that your actions match your words. I don’t like filing papers away. I hired a bookkeeper who loves filing papers away. What we both share is a deep desire for being helpful. It isn’t as important that I know how to file as it is that I show her I will be helpful to her and ask that she be helpful to me in return. Her way of helping me is by doing the stuff I cannot or don’t want to do. It just so happens that she has the traits of being organized, detail-oriented, and task-driven to go along with the value of being Helpful.

Connect the dots.

Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive, says that to get the best out of your employees you need to offer them three things—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Autonomy allows them to do the job their way without the feeling of being micro-managed. Mastery means they are getting the opportunity to gain skills, learn, and become proficient at the task. Purpose means they understand why they are doing what they are doing.

Your Core Values come into play here as well. Of the three motivational elements, Mastery and Purpose are easy. Give them training and experience and feedback and they’ll become masters. Purpose is simply understanding your Core Values and what greater goal you’re trying to accomplish. Autonomy is the hardest of the three.

For you to be the kind of boss who checks in with your employees rather than checking on your employees, you have to develop a level of trust. It is far easier to develop that trust with people who share your Core Values than it is without. You know at the end of the day that their inner voice speaks to them in a similar language as your inner voice, so you trust that their decision process, while maybe not as experienced as yours, will be similar enough to meet the goals of the organization. Autonomy is tough when you don’t trust the employee. Without it, you won’t get the highest level of productivity. As a side note, if you are quick to trust, but your values don’t meet, you might get the wrong kind of productivity.

Connect the dots and you will see how your Core Values come into play in creating your own Dream Team.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Go back and look at all the best teams you’ve ever been a part of. I can promise that you’ll find the individual members of the team shared many of the same core values. It took me a while to notice that in my own life, but in hindsight it is as easy to see as the arrow in the FedEx logo.

PPS When I say shared values, they don’t always have to be a perfect match. My jack-of-all-trades guy had the value of Curiosity. Not exactly the same as my value of Education, but close enough to be the kind of fit that made our team rock.

What Media Do You Own?

The one thing I hate about having my house for sale is all the stuff I have boxed up to make the house less cluttered. There are 9 boxes filled with my books sitting on shelves in the basement. Many of those books I have read more than once. A few of them I keep reading over and over.

If you ask me my favorite books, for fiction I’ll tell you The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander—a five book series published in the late 1960’s that I have read over a dozen times, including twice reading them out loud to my boys. You may recall that it was book #4 Taran Wanderer that gave me the lightbulb idea of hiring for character traits, not experience, thus leading to my first book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art.

Image result for wizard of ads trilogyFor non-fiction it is The Wizard of Ads Trilogy by Roy H. Williams. I have never read a book before or after that was as equally enjoyable to read as it was informative. Although not yet to a dozen, I have read all three books several times. In fact, last night I went and pulled book #2 Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads out of one of the boxes in the basement.

Yesterday I read an article with ten tips for marketing this holiday season and it had one tip I keep hearing over and over that I know Roy had refuted in the book. The tip was to make sure you are in as many channels as possible this season because otherwise you won’t reach all your potential customers.

Roy calls this one of the sacred cows of advertising in chapter 3 “Dead Cows Everywhere.”

Here are some things I want you to think about before you spread yourself too thin across multiple media.

  • You will never reach 100% of your market. No matter how many channels you choose, you can’t get to them all, so it is folly to even try.
  • You don’t have the time and resources to do every channel well. You don’t have the budget of Coca-Cola or the marketing team of Pizza Hut. At best you have a social media director and a handful of somewhat helpful sales reps running your advertising at your direction (while you juggle all those other hats like HR, CFO, CEO, firefighter, and bottle washer).
  • Advertising and marketing yourself in a channel poorly is not only a waste of time and money and resources, it could be detrimental because a poor first image is worse than no image at all.
  • If you were able to convince just 10% of the market to shop with you, your cash registers would sing like angels.

In one succinct chapter Roy points out that a customer who sees your billboard, hears your radio ad, and reads a social media post likely won’t make the connection between those three fragmented campaigns in a way that reinforces your brand. Our brains don’t work that way. They aren’t wired that way.

You are better off picking one or two channels where you can be truly effective and focus all your time and money and resources on those to the point that you own each media. Yes, own it! There is that one business in your town that owns billboards. You know who I’m talking about. There is another business that owns radio.

If you really want to be noticed and remembered, be the business that owns one of the media outlets. Win Facebook by being the one who posts the most shareworthy and memorable posts that engage and get customers to like, comment, and share. Own the radio by being the business whose ads are actually anticipated and talked about at water coolers when the new ad starts. (When people talk about your ad at the water cooler, then you know you’ve finally written a good one. I’ve had that happen several times. It should be your goal with every message.) Own the billboards by having the kind of posters that people tell their friends to drive by and see.

You likely don’t have the resources to do all that in every channel, so pick one. Own it.

The cool thing when you own a media is that not only do you get more bang for your buck (you become first in people’s brains because you get a bigger share of mind than what you actually spent), you also keep your competitors from being noticed in the same media. They fade into the background or they look boring and dull in comparison.

In the same chapter, Roy kills another sacred cow called Gross Rating Points. Reaching 100% of the market 10 times is the same as reaching 10% of the market 100 times in terms of cost. Yet convincing 100% of the market 10% of the way is not the same as convincing 10% of the market 100% of the way. When you spread yourself over many channels, you face the risk of convincing 100% of the people only 10% of the way. When you own the media, you have a far better chance of convincing the people you reach to shop with you.

There are a lot of great marketing tips out there. Spreading yourself too thin across too many channels is NOT one of them.

If you can’t own a media channel, put your resources where you can. That is what will get the angels to sing.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It isn’t just how much you spend, it is what you say. Spend enough and speak boldly. Say something surprising and powerful. There are two coffee shops in my town that both use billboards with equal frequency, but one has a far more creative team creating fun and memorable (and sometimes controversial) boards. Ask anyone in town which coffee shop is the one on all the billboards and 90% will name the guy with all the fun boards. You tell me who owns that media?

PPS Here are some of the radio ads I used to try to own that media.

When Being Clever Backfires

We were standing on the back patio looking up at the stars. The big dipper was only slightly obscured behind a tall cedar tree. You could see enough of it to recognize the constellation.

“Where’s the North Star?”

I pointed directly at it, proud of my astronomical knowledge.

“That’s it? That’s not very impressive.”

Have you ever thought you were being clever and then had someone just blow it up for you? That was one of those moments. We had a good laugh.

Unfortunately for some companies, they roll out something they think is clever without first testing it to see how quickly and easily someone might punch holes in their cleverness, or not understand the inside joke, or simply just not think it is that impressive.

My friend in California sent me a picture of exactly that.

The back of this employee’s shirt says, “I can make it right.”

Does that mean they expect to screw up a lot? That was the first thought my friend had when he saw the shirt. It was the first thought I had when he shared the story. I’m sure it is the first thought on many people’s minds.

There is something to be said for admitting your flaws and taking responsibility for your mistakes, but it probably isn’t the best idea to tell people that you expect to make mistakes. A lot of them. All the time. So much so that your staff is going around proclaiming that their one skill is in being able to fix problems and make them right.

Maybe you should train them to do it right the first time?

As a customer, my expectation is that you will make it right. Period. If you don’t, I won’t be back. Telling me on your shirt that you are trained for that doesn’t necessarily instill any new confidence in me because it makes me immediately think you’re prone to making mistakes you need to fix a lot. This shirt gives off the wrong vibe.

That’s not very impressive.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There is nothing wrong with being clever. Just be sure you have someone you trust look at it before you roll it out. Not your staff, though. They see the inside joke you see. Have an outsider tell you their first impression, then decide if you’re okay with that impression before you go live. Cleverness can be good when done right, but can also backfire when people don’t get the joke.

I’m Looking For Work

Since closing up Toy House last December I have been writing, speaking, coaching, sailing, selling, and singing for my supper. It has been an interesting adjustment from the steady paycheck of selling toys. It has been filled with highs and lows and stimulating conversations when people ask me how I’m enjoying “retirement.” I’m a few decades away from that word. I need to work.

The past few days I have thrown my hat into the ring for some full-time job openings in southern Michigan.

Yes, I am looking for work. 

This is me. Always smiling. Always ready to help.

Here is my resume: (Please excuse my bragging—that’s what resumes are for, right?)

27 years as a Team Builder: Developed, Organized and Led Team Building Activities utilizing Low and High Ropes Courses, Wilderness & Experiential Activities, and designated tasks to promote better communication, cooperation and trust for groups ranging from adolescents to corporate America. Led and Facilitated Training Programs to teach others to be Team Builders. Wrote and published blogs and articles on Team Building.

24 years as a Purchasing Agent: Created and Managed Open-to-Buy programs for multi-million dollar retail store. Negotiated Terms with Vendors. Made Purchasing Decisions for millions of dollars of inventory. Designed Merchandising Displays including Revamping 16,000 square feet of display space. Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Inventory Management, Pricing, and Financials,

22 years as a Marketing & Advertising Director: Developed and Managed Advertising Budgets between $20,000 and $120,000 annually. Made Advertising Purchases and Created Content for TV, Radio, Newsprint, Billboard, Direct Mail, Email, Facebook, In-Store Signage, Business Flyers, and Press Releases. Conceived, Organized and Hosted several public and private Marketing Events. Made Public Appearances at Networking Events, on Radio, and TV. Built websites for www.ToyHouseOnline.com and www.PhilsForum.com (among others). Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations. Wrote book on Advertising called Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t).

21 years as an HR Director: Hired, Trained, Scheduled and Managed a team of 12 to 30 employees. Created an Employment Manual and Training Program. Planned, Organized and Led monthly Staff Trainings and Meetings. Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Hiring & Training and Customer Service. Wrote and Published a Book on Hiring and Training called Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. 

27 years as a Speaker/Teacher: I have given over 100 seminars to other businesses, led over 100 training workshops for staff development, facilitated over 100 team building events, conducted over 100 presentations on shopping to customers, and taught over 100 classes for new, expectant fathers at our local hospital.

9 years as a Writer: I have written four books, dozens of magazine articles, hundreds of different advertising content, and 788 blog posts (counting this one.)

I am looking for work.

You can hire me to do Private Coaching, one-on-one, in the area you need the most help. (For a lot of people that has been hiring and training.)

You can hire me to do Presentations and Workshops. My Customer Service presentation takes a unique approach by helping you define each point of contact a customer has with your business and measures your performance at every step along the way. Like my Hiring & Training presentation, this works with any type or size of business. In fact, it was a manufacturer who paid me the highest compliment telling me I had given him the “million-dollar idea” he needed to take his business to the next level (as he flew away on his private jet.)

You can hire me to help you revamp your Marketing & Advertising. Whether temporary as a coach/consultant and/or to help you create new content, or full-time as a Manager or Director, I will bring insights and skills that will move the needle for your business.

You can hire me to Write. My specialty in writing is to teach and persuade. I’m sure you can figure out how to use that in your business.

I’m not a perfect candidate. Most people look at my resume and get hung up on the fact I have Bachelor of Science in Geological Oceanography from the University of Michigan. That was 28 years ago. I barely remember that child (but I still know more about shoreline erosion than anyone really needs to know.)

Or they want to discount the above experiences because I didn’t do it in corporate America. I can see that. Of course, I did all those jobs simultaneously (plus twelve years as CEO and CFO) for a store that in 2009 was named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America!” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. That’s not corporate America, but it does speak to my ability to learn and my ability to stay organized and focused while juggling a lot of responsibilities in a fast-paced environment.

I’d be happy to discuss these and any other reservations during the interview.

I am looking for work. Do you know anyone who can use a guy like me?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I apologize if this post sounds too much like bragging. I really do need more work. I want you to know I’m not just a blogger who thinks he knows something about business. I have walked the walk. I have made many mistakes and learned from them. I don’t have the business degree, but I did have the toughest teacher ever—real life! You get the exam first and then you get the lesson. Please share this post with anyone you know who could use a guy like me.

PPS You know my Core Values are Having Fun, Helping Others, Education and Nostalgia. My ideal job is teaching and helping others. It is what I do best and I enjoy it thoroughly. My second passion is marketing & advertising, finding new ways to drive traffic. That and Free Cell are my two favorite puzzles to solve. If the right opportunity comes along, however, I’m game for just about anything that lines up with my values.

When to Take a Political Stand

I watched my Detroit Lions lose yesterday after another controversial last-second call by the refs. I expected Facebook this morning to be filled with Lions fans questioning the call and talking about how we got robbed once again by the refs (by the way, I think the ruling was correct, but I don’t like the rule or how it ended the game. That’s my stance.)

Image result for lions martha ford during national anthem
Martha Firestone Ford standing with Lions Coach Jim Caldwell. ESPN photo

Instead all I found was post after post wondering who stood, who kneeled, who didn’t even show up for the National Anthem. After President Trump’s remarks in Alabama, this was the story crossing my newsfeed, with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Everyone is taking a stand on this topic.

That raises an interesting point.

When is it okay as a business owner to take a political stand?

Some consultants will tell you NEVER. You cannot afford to alienate the 30% of the population that strongly identifies with the other party. They may be right. Sometimes it is best not to rock the boat or alienate anyone unnecessarily.

At the same time, however, you become more attractive to the 30% of the population that strongly identifies with your stance. There is something to be said for doing and saying things that solidify your relationship with your tribe.

The real issue, however, is that your customer tribe is yours because of your Core Values, not your political identity. My core values are Fun, Helpful, Educational, Nostalgic. It would be folly of me to believe that any one political party has a lock on any of those four values.

The only time you should take any type of political stance is when it is directly guided by one of your core values. When your stance is for (or against) something that has a profound impact on your core values, then your tribe will be standing arm in arm with you, regardless of party affiliation.

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights grants you the right to free speech. It does not grant you the right to be free of all consequences. Taking stands earns points from those who agree with you and alienates those who disagree. When your stance is perfectly aligned and consistent with one of your core values, those whom you alienate will be people who likely did not share that value in the first place. Make sure you are okay with losing some people in the process before you step up to the mic.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even when the stance lines up favorably, pick and choose those fights carefully. They take a lot of energy away from working on your business and can often backfire. The saddest thing to me about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem isn’t about respect or a lack thereof. It is that his actions haven’t had the effect he hoped of spurring a new round of discussion about racism and profiling. It has only fueled heated discourse on respect, entitlement, and patriotism.

PPS If you do find yourself taking a stand as a business or as a business leader, remember these three rules …

  1. Whenever possible, be positive. Rather than be against something, be for something else.
  2. Offer a solution. If you don’t like something, offer an alternative. Instead of looking like a whiner, you present yourself as an intelligent, thoughtful person who has given both sides of the issue a good, hard look and wants to see a positive outcome.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Sometimes you will end up on the wrong side of a fight. Better to apologize and move on than dig your heels deeper into the sand and make it worse. Admitting fault helps you win back those who were opposed.

Where to Spend the First Million

Reports are that Toys R Us has secured $3.1 billion in financing to get them through the holiday season. Thanksgiving is only nine weeks away. I have a plan for the first million dollars they should spend that will change the culture in their stores immediately and just in time for the critical holiday season. It will take about seven weeks to fully implement. Have David Brandon call me ASAP.

There are 866 Toys R Us and Babies R Us locations in the United States. I would fly the 866 store managers in to headquarters for a full day of training. That training would include a morning segment and an afternoon segment.

The morning segment would be all about toys and play value including:

  • The Importance of Play Value on Child Development
  • The Elements of a Great Toy
  • The Different Ways Children Play
  • Smart Toy Shopping

The afternoon segment would be all about hiring and training a staff plus how to raise the bar of customer service and would include:

  • Determining the Character Traits for the different positions on the team
  • Interviewing Techniques
  • Developing a Training program for New Hires
  • Developing a Continual Training Program for current staff
  • Raising the Bar on Customer Service

The morning would be about changing the way the company as a whole looks at the products they sell and gets them to shift their mindset away from “selling toys” to “solving problems” or “helping children develop.” As I explained previously, this is the direction they should have taken back in 1998 when Walmart surpassed them in overall toy sales. This is where they should have gone to reclaim their throne as the “king of toys.”

The afternoon would focus on raising the bar for the staff by finding better people, training them better, and creating a lasting program to continually raise the bar on their servicing of their customers. Even a big chain like Toys R Us that doesn’t offer a lot of fancy services like free gift wrapping or year-round layaway can still find new and better ways to treat customers by meeting and exceeding their expectations.

The managers would end the day equipped with new skills for hiring, training, and managing their staff while also teaching their staff and their customer base about the importance of their products and why customers should be choosing to shop at Toys R Us for all their toy needs.

Not only would Toys R Us see a profound shift in customer satisfaction this holiday season, but with better hiring of the seasonal staff, the managers would have a better pool of employees to change the culture of their stores going forward. Better hiring skills have a cumulative effect year after year.

The cost to TRU breaks down like this …

  • 866 managers flown in for training x $800 per person for flight and hotel = $692,000
  • Assorted costs for training room, lunches, and printed materials = $58,000
  • Fee for me to do 7 weeks of training (at 25 managers a day, it would take 35 days to see them all, or seven 5-day weeks) = $250,000

It would be the best million dollars they spend all year. But they better hurry. Thanksgiving is only nine weeks away.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re an independent retailer you’re hating this post. Everything I just explained that TRU should do is exactly what sets you apart from the category killer and big-box discounters you compete against. If you’re an indie retailer, though, you have secretly been scared that if the category killer in your industry ever “got it” and decided to do what I’ve outlined, it would make your job that much harder. Here’s the kicker. Do it first. Do it before they get smart.

PPS My rate may seem a little high, but that’s because I’m here to help my fellow indie retailers and small businesses succeed. If the chains want me, they’ll have to pay. You, however, can hire me to do all that for your business at fraction (very small fraction) of that cost. Get a couple of your fellow local retailers to join you and you can split it even further. Call me.

Working “On” Part 4 – The Game Plan

When my dad retired in 2005 his biggest concern for me was what was my plan. He’s a football fan just like I am. We’ve heard coaches time and time again talk about their Game Plan for beating their opponent. We had a new opponent that had just opened in Jackson named Walmart. How was I going to beat them?

The newspaper had asked me a similar question when Walmart announced the opening of their super center in Jackson. “How will you compete with them?”

Phil Wrzesinski ringing birthday bell
Phil Wrzesinski rings the Birthday Bell at Toy House on 11-11-11

My answer to both was the pretty much the same. “We have over five times the selection of toys as Walmart and several services they don’t offer, not to mention the smartest staff in town. The better question is, How are they going to compete with us?”

Sure there was some hubris involved. You can be a little confident when you do have a plan.

Our Game Plan was simple.

  • Increase our levels of customer service.
  • Offer more in-store activities and events.
  • Create more memorable moments.
  • Set up more demonstrations and hands-on displays.
  • Write more powerful messages for our advertising and marketing.

We were going to take our competitive strengths and put them on steroids.

Even with Walmart opening that summer, in 2005 we had our largest Christmas season ever. Two years later we surpassed every record in top line sales. 2008 was looking to be another record-breaker, only falling short at the last moment. (I think the housing bubble burst had something to do with that.) 2009 was the most profitable year in the 60-year history of the store. Even when we decided to close seven years later, our share of our shrinking market was still holding steady, even with Amazon’s growth into toys.

The key to a successful Game Plan is two-fold.

First you have to get the strategic part right. I knew we couldn’t compete with Walmart on price. I also knew they couldn’t compete with me on service. If a football team has a great player no one can tackle, you keep feeding him the ball until they stop him. I was going to keep improving my customer service and in-store experience until no one could match it.

Second, you have to have concrete steps to achieve each point of your strategy. I created year-long training schedules to transform my staff, focusing on small, incremental improvements each month to reach our goals of better engagement with customers and better selling skills. As a team we evaluated our current event offerings and came up with new ideas to make sure we had something special going on every month. My buyers were instructed to look for more toy demo options from our vendors.

Believe it our not but our Birthday Bell—one of our customer’s favorite activities—didn’t come into existence until 2010 as we were trying to come up with ways to offer more memorable moments. (Nostalgia is one of our Core Values.) That bell is now at a local museum.

Here are the steps you need to take to develop your Game Plan.

  • Identify your Core Values. The most effective Game Plans must fit within and accentuate your Core Values. If they don’t, they won’t last.
  • Evaluate both yours and your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Be brutally honest. Figure out where you have the competitive advantage and where you don’t. Highlight and exploit where you are already better and concede (or at least don’t waste valuable resources) on the areas where you cannot win.
  • Develop concrete actions you can take to increase your competitive advantage that also fits within your Core Values.
  • Play the long game. If you already own the competitive advantage in an area of your business, growing it slowly and incrementally helps your gains stick better with your staff and customers. Every bit of growth is positive, no matter how small because everything you do builds on what you have already done.

Having a Game Plan gives you two other benefits.

First, it makes working “on” your business easy. You have the blueprint right in front of you at all times. You have your marching orders for what to do next. Your Game Plan determines the kind of people you hire and the kind of services you offer. It guides your decisions and makes those decisions easier. You even have the tools for measuring your progress.

Second, it keeps you from chasing after every new fad that comes down the pike. You and I both know how often we get bombarded by some salesperson with the “next great thing” that will transform retail. When you have a solid Game Plan you can determine much more easily if the next new fad fits for you or doesn’t. You can also see whether it will affect your competitive advantage or not.

Any coach can tell you that talent alone doesn’t win games. It takes a solid Game Plan that plays up your competitive advantage and solid execution of that Plan to seize the day. If you want to win in retail you need to schedule part of every week for working on your Game Plan.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you don’t have a competitive advantage, then you need a major disruption. You need to do something huge and wild and spectacular that sets you apart from your competition. Offer a brand new service no one else would ever think of doing (like Amazon did with drone delivery). Change up your product selection to get into a niche no one else is touching. Think of it as the trick play in football. No one saw it coming. Then build on the momentum it gives you.

PPS Not sure where your strengths and weaknesses lie? Check with your local business agencies. Some of them offer SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) at low or no cost. Sometimes an extra set of eyes is all you need to see what you missed.

The Table Ad That Will Make You Cry

The salesman said something that has stuck in my head for over two decades. “Most people only buy one dining room set in their lifetime. If you buy it right, you have something that is passed down through the generations.”

He was right.

My aunt is still using the table my grandparents bought when she was young. I played cards at my cousin’s house at a table with initials carved in it from family members who were gone long before I was born. My own dining room table is twenty three years old and counting.

True Value created an ad that captures that sentiment perfectly. Watch it here. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Here is the transcript from that ad …

During the depression my grandfather went hungry around this table.
Before leaving for Vietnam my uncle ate one of his last meals in America around this table.
This table has played host to everything from Christmas dinners to Grandma’s bridge tournaments to arguments about politics and sports.
This table has had fists pounded on it, pumpkins carved on it, and babies spit up on it.
Four generations of children have had to sit at this table until they ate all their vegetables, one of them just last week.
This table has a story. This table is a story. And the story doesn’t end any time soon.

This ad hits all the emotions of a dining room table perfectly. This ad is written for the Nostalgia crowd. That’s one of my core values which is why this ad resonates with me. It also fits most of the principles of a powerful ad.

This ad 1) tells a story, 2) speaks to the heart, 3) doesn’t look or sound like any other hardware store ad out there, 4) makes only one point – that we are the store for people who want to restore keepsakes and memories. 5) It speaks to the nostalgia crowd and the do-it-yourself tribe. 6) It covers enough universal memories that it could very well be your own table.

About the only thing it doesn’t do is connect you solidly back to the brand.

By itself, this is a highly emotional ad that makes you think about your own table and all the memories it holds. But it doesn’t make you think about True Value. To do that it needs to be a series of ads with a similar feel that over time will begin to resonate because it will tell an even larger story about the brand.

The important takeaway is that one great ad won’t necessarily move the needle. It is when you craft a series of ads, a campaign with the same style and flair that people come to recognize as you the instant the music or voice or image opens, then the magic begins to happen.

If True Value were to do a series of ads like this over a period of time, they would begin to own the hearts of the Nostalgia crowd. They would get the top of mind awareness for the people who share that sentiment and believe what they believe. They would establish themselves as the brand for those who want to restore and refinish and value the old-style craftsmanship. One ad won’t do that. One ad will make you think of tables. A series of ads gets you to think about the brand.

My favorite compliment about my advertising for Toy House was not about any individual ad. It was when people said they couldn’t wait to hear the next ad. It is the series of ads that truly speaks about your brand and tells your customers what you believe.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The ad copy is poetry. All great ad copy reads and sounds like poetry. Then again, the poet’s job has always been to take something you already knew, reframe your perspective, and make you feel something. Oh, and the ad-writer’s job is to take something your customers already know, reframe their perspective, and make them feel something. But you already know that.

Breaking Down the Typical Car Ad

My son wrote an amazing car ad right off the top of his head. He did it in response to the boring-to-downright-excruciatingly-bad car ads we were seeing while watching football over the weekend.

You know the kind of car ad I’m talking about.

  1. It starts with a close up of the curves and shiny paint job of some new car while a voice talks in hushed tones about beauty or design or craftsmanship.
  2. Then you see the full vehicle driving on a winding road through the mountains or doing donuts on the salt flats of Utah or cruising through some generic downtown while the words “professional driver on a closed circuit” flash briefly at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Then the vehicle is parked. If it is an SUV it is on top of a mountain with a panoramic view. If it is a sedan or sports car then it is shot from above looking down on the car with a city landscape in the background. (Or in Buick’s case – both!)
  4. Then big numbers flash on the screen with a bunch of small print, and a voice telling you in rapid-fire, small-print kind of speech that if you work for the company you can get some amazing deal on a lease or something like that.

Outside of the testimonial ads*, isn’t that pretty much 80-90% of the car ads out there?

Let’s break down what these ads are telling you.

Scene 1, the opening shot, is supposed to subliminally suggest sex. The hushed tones, the close-ups, the reveal-a-little-but-not-the-whole-thing. Yeah, that’s the tease to get you interested. The problem is that most of the vehicles tend to be morphing into each other to the point you can’t tell them apart without their logo. Right now Mazda is running an ad where the vehicle is completely covered on the outside while people test drive it and then they reveal the logo at the end to the driver’s surprise. If you can’t tell a Mazda from a BMW by the shape of the car, does design really matter that much? For years now Buick has been running ads about how people can’t even recognize that the car is a Buick. So much for design branding.

Scene 2, the driving sequence, shows the car going through its paces, not your paces. You won’t ever get to do donuts on the salt flats or go speeding around traffic-free, hairpin turns in the mountains. You’d like to do that. But you won’t. You aren’t a “professional driver on a closed circuit”. How does it handle stop-and-go traffic during rush hour? How tight is the turning radius for pulling into the parking lot at Costco? How bad are the blind spots when you’re backing up out of the drive? For 99% of the buyers, that’s more relevant than mountain driving, anyway.

Scene 3, the parked vehicle, is the glamour shot. They all finish with the glamour shot. Supposedly this is so you can recognize their car from all the other similar looking cars when you finally go out to buy one. The shot signifies that we are nearing the end of the ad. This wouldn’t be bad if there had been some kind of story coming to an end. This wouldn’t be so bad if it actually was the end. But it isn’t.

The glamour shot is simply the background to Scene 4, the offer. Big, bold numbers and a bunch of fine print showing up telling you that if you work for the company and are approved you can get some version of this vehicle “right now” for only $999 down and $230 a month. This part of the ad drives me crazy.

First, the deal they are offering comes with pages of fine print, the first being you have to be an employee to get this deal. Really? You’re paying millions for this commercial to tell the 209,000 people of GM about a sale just for them? Why not send them an email and save a few million? Otherwise, you’re just telling the 317 million people who don’t work for GM that they will have to pay more.

Second, no one actually gets that deal. No one. The car has too many extra features or you aren’t fully approved with an 850 credit score.

Third, the deal takes away from any of the feelings the ad may have stirred (granted not many feelings, but still …). The ad goes from one about how sleek, sexy, powerful, luxurious, rugged, adventurous, green, and quiet the vehicle is to, “Hey, it’s on sale!!!!” The person looking for a deal doesn’t care about all those other adjectives. The person who cares about those adjectives is less concerned about the deal. The offer waters down the message for both groups.

No matter how you slice it, these ads don’t speak to your heart. They don’t tell you a compelling story. They try to make more points than anyone could remember. They look and sound like everyone else. Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, Lexus, Nissan, even Kia are all spending millions without moving the needle.

When you go to create your ads for your business, do me one favor. Don’t fall into the trap of, “Well, the big companies do this so it must be right,” kind of thinking. I’ve just shown you how really big companies can do things incredibly wrong.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *Even the Chevy ads with “real” people showing off their awards and using testimonials aren’t nearly as effective as they think. One study shows that more people find these kinds of ads less believable than find them more believable.

PPS Sorry. I just made it impossible for you to watch any more car ads without thinking about this post. Hopefully you’ll laugh more than cry about the absurdity of them all. Me? I die a little inside each time.

PPPS I went back and looked at the car ads from the UM football game. Lexus swaps out driving in the mountains with driving in a black gigantic showroom of some kind. Nissan shows cars driving on a football field. Like either of those is going to happen in real life.