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Reaching the Unreachable

I was asked an interesting question yesterday morning at a Breakfast Business Boot Camp I’m doing in Oxford, MI. “How do you get past the moniker of this being a ‘business’ program to reach people who could use what you’re teaching but don’t see themselves as a ‘business’?”

The question was asked by a minister who saw value in the marketing & advertising series I am doing in Oxford this month. She has found great value in the first two classes but hasn’t yet convinced other churches of the value of attending these “business” classes (even though they are free and you get fed).

Image result for out of reachThat is a universal problem with all of us. How do we convince people who we know would benefit from our products but don’t identify themselves as a typical customer of our business to become customers?

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” -Benjamin Franklin

There are two ways to reach those people who don’t identify as your typical customer and convince them to shop with you.

The first is through your Core Values. When your business is transparently consistent with your Core Values through your actions, products, and services, and your website, advertising, marketing, social media, etc. reflect those values as well, people who share those values will perk up and take notice.

They still might not believe you have a product or service they need, but they will think of you first when the time arrives that they might need something you offer.

This is the backbone of all branding and relation-building advertising.

Just understand that not everyone will relate to your core values, whether they could use your services or not. That’s okay. You couldn’t service 100% of the population even if you wanted to. Your best customers will be the ones who share your values. Speak to them. Don’t worry about the rest. There are plenty of people in your market who share your values. If you can convince that crowd, you’ll have plenty of customers to keep you busy.

The second way is through Word-of-Mouth. Only when their friends tell them about your business might they even consider becoming a customer of yours.

To answer the minister’s question, first, there will always be people who need what I’m offering but won’t ever see themselves as my “customer.” Second, part of my business model (and yours, too) is to understand that you can’t reach everyone, but if you surprise and delight your current customers, they will help you reach the unreachable. Some of those unreachable will become customers. I am hoping I have done that with this minister and that she will bring some friends to next Wednesday’s presentation.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are in the Holly, MI area and would love to get some free ideas, tips, and techniques to drive traffic through your door, into your store, onto your site, or sitting in your pews, I am doing the same presentation at noon today at the Holly Village offices (Marketing and Advertising on a Shoestring Budget) I did yesterday morning in Oxford. Next week I’ll show you how to Make Your Ads More Effective (Oxford on Wednesday at 8am, Holly on Thursday at noon.)

PPS Yes, this post is as much about Market Share and Customer Service as it is about Advertising. You got that, right?

Ask Your Customers What They Want

The one “service” my biggest competitor had that I didn’t was a Birthday Club. I wanted one for my customers. I already knew one thing I would do differently. That was the big Birthday Bell you got to ring when you came in to celebrate your birthday. What you probably don’t know was that I actually wanted a bigger bell than the 32-pound brass bell we ended up getting.

Phil holding the Birthday Bell

I wanted to run a hole through the ceiling and put a little steeple on top of the store with bronze church bell inside. That way, when you rang the bell, not only would everyone in the store know you were celebrating your birthday, so would everyone outside the store.

Unfortunately that would be a potential violation of the noise ordinance, so we went with the indoor bell.

The two parts of the Birthday Club I wasn’t sure about were the offer and the age limit. So I asked my fans on Facebook.

I first asked what people got from other birthday clubs for kids. Most birthday clubs offered a small coupon good on a larger purchase with a limited time frame to redeem. The general sentiment was that $2 and $3 coupons, especially when they came with strings attached such as a limited window to redeem and a minimum purchase, were of little interest to the child and often not enough to even garner a visit to the store. That was useful information. I knew I had to go big or go home.

With this knowledge, I sent out a postcard that was a $10 gift certificate—no strings attached. Well, okay, we had one string attached. It could only be used by the birthday person. Period. How that person used it was up to the individual. The postcard never expired. The postcard didn’t have to be used with anything else. There was no minimum purchase (although you didn’t get change back if the purchase was less than $10).

A lot of people gave us the postcard and 59 cents for their birthday purchase ($9.99 plus 60 cents for MI sales tax).

A lot of people spent way more.

Our average ticket for the birthday postcard was just under $30, which meant we made a profit (albeit a small one) on those transactions. More importantly, the postcards drove traffic. Over the last couple years we averaged over 300 postcards a month. That’s over 10 per day. Imagine ten happy customers ringing a bell and having fun spending their free money. Not only did it create excitement in the store and drive traffic, it drove word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone took pictures and video of their kids ringing the birthday bell that they posted on social media. On top of that, it created lifelong memories. I have had several customers come up to me since we closed saying that was the one thing they miss the most!

I had one more question to ask … “How long should the Birthday Club last?” Some stores aged you out at 10 years old, some at 12 years old. I wondered what my customers thought.

When I asked that question of my fans on Facebook one mom answered, “40?”

I didn’t need any more answers (although I got several that echoed her sentiment). I knew right then and there our Birthday Club would have no age limit. Sure, some of the parents and grandparents used their postcards to buy gifts for the little ones. Some, however, bought stuff for themselves. One young lady celebrated her 96th birthday by ringing the bell and buying two new decks of cards.

Without asking my customers, I might have structured the Birthday Club quite differently and it wouldn’t have been the successful program it was.

Toy House Birthday Bell

Find out what your customers want. Give them that and a little more.

We only had the Birthday Club and the Birthday Bell in the last decade of our operations, but it quickly became the highlight and focal point of a visit to Toy House. The bell was engraved and now rests in the capable hands of Ella Sharp Museum where they pull it out for special displays of Jackson’s history.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The Birthday Club worked on a variety of different levels. The ringing of the larger-than-life, 32-pound brass bell was about creating memories and spreading the word through social media posts. Rarely a day went by that we weren’t tagged in a photo or video somewhere. The $10 gift certificate was an act of generosity that outshone our competitors and positioned us as being more customer-centric than they were with all the strings attached. The no expiration on the postcard allowed customers flexibility for using it whenever it worked best for them. One family saved them all up and made a family trip in for everyone to spend their cards on one special day. One family was always traveling around their daughter’s birthday so they appreciated not having to “use-it-or-lose-it.” Another family held it for their son to celebrate his December birthday in July. Any time you can delight your customers, you should.

PPS If Goodyear had asked its dealers (its customers), I’m sure they could have helped create an even better system that would surprise and delight the end-users more than the frustrations they caused yesterday.

The Internet Isn’t Winning

You’re losing.

Case Study #1

Image result for a5 scooterMy son wanted to buy a scooter for getting around campus. Not an electric scooter, mind you, but a simple two-wheeled scooter similar to the one he had as a child but with higher handlebars and a larger weight limit. He is a college student with Amazon Prime. He researched it online as do most kids his age. He could have bought it and had it in two days. Instead, since the website said Walmart had it, he asked if I would take him to Walmart.

Two stores later, no scooter, no sign of that scooter having ever been in either store. Guess where he’s going?

Case Study #2

A friend needed a specific type of blood sugar test strips for the machine she got. The store where she used to get them had an empty slot on the shelf for over a week. Two other stores she tried didn’t have that style. Another store had them but for over double the price.

Guess where she went?

Case Study #3

I went shopping with my other son. He has particular tastes when it comes to pants. The last style that he liked has been discontinued. After trying several stores and pants we finally found another style he liked at REI. They had one pair—in one color—in stock in his size.

“You can get more colors and sizes online,” said the clerk.

Case Study #4

Another friend was in Dick’s Sporting Goods. She found a pair of shorts she liked but not her size. The clerk, after telling her they didn’t have her size, didn’t even offer for her to go online where she not only found her size, but also found they were on clearance, even though no one had bothered to mark them as such in the store.

Case Study #5

Another friend told me she stopped shopping at Younkers because the prices at the register never matched the prices on the shelves. Sometimes the prices were higher, which meant she had to get someone to go look at the shelf tags while customers lined up at the register behind her, and then fight for the right price. Sometimes the prices were lower, which, had she known, she would have bought more than one. Either way, each trip to the checkout was fraught with anxiety and stress.

I could go on and on about several times the customer service was so poor, the selection so lacking, or the experience so frustrating, that the best solution is to avoid going shopping in brick & mortar stores at all.

When I moved back to Jackson in 1993 the Jackson YMCA was transforming one of its squash courts into a rock climbing gym. Because I had led rock climbing trips before, they hired me to supervise it. When I met with my new staff for their first day of training I explained to them that there were NO regulations guiding how rock climbing gyms should be run, mainly because these gyms were relatively new and there hadn’t been enough injuries or accidents or insurance claims to force those regulations.

I told the staff that we would NOT be the cause of any such regulations. Our gym would be run at the highest standards of safety. We only had two incident reports in eight years and no major injuries.

Today you need to have the same conversation with your staff.

Your store will not be the cause of driving anyone to the Internet to do their shopping.

  • Your store will have the must-haves in stock.
  • Your store will have the merchandise properly displayed, priced, sorted, and available.
  • Your store will have a staff that knows the products inside and out including not only what you sell, but the most popular products you don’t sell (and why you don’t sell them).
  • Your store will be the store that offers solutions to problems.
  • Your store will be the store that makes checkout a breeze.

That’s what keeps people in the store and off the Internet. That’s what winning in the store looks like.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My son is living proof that even today’s youth still want to shop in a store. The stores just aren’t doing their job of making it worthwhile. Worse yet, each poor brick & mortar experience reflects poorly on all brick & mortar stores, especially when it happens at an indie store that is supposed to be the pinnacle for customer service.
Don’t be that store that brings everyone else down.

It Never Feels Like Work

Last weekend YMCA Storer Camps celebrated 100 years of camping. I was there celebrating with over 834 of my closest friends. I’m not exaggerating when I say 834 of my closest friends. Many of them are people I haven’t yet met. But I know if and when I do meet them, we’ll hit it off immediately.

One of the reasons I know this is because the camp’s Core Values are perfectly aligned with my Core Values and shared by the other 834 people in attendance.

Toy House Character Diamond and Core Values
The Toy House Character Diamond and my Core Values!.

Having Fun? Check! It is a camp after all!

Helping Others? Check! The motto of camp is “I’m Third” meaning God is first, others are second, and I’m third. The camp also celebrates different mottos for the first five years of your camping experience. The fifth and forever motto is Service.

Education? Check! Storer is one of the largest Outdoor Education Centers in the country and has been leading the way with innovative curriculum for environmental and experiential education for decades. I learned how to teach on the banks of Stoney Lake.

Nostalgia? Check! I did say it was the 100th anniversary, right?

It is quite rare that you will ever work for someone else’s organization and have it align so perfectly with your own values. The one organization you can count on to most perfectly align with you will be the one you run. That’s one of the benefits of being your own boss.

The beauty of having your business aligned with your Core Values is that it never feels like work. That is why I always encourage business owners to spend some time uncovering their Core Values.

  • Once you know them, you can tweak your business to align more perfectly.
  • Once you know them, you can change the parts that don’t align at all.
  • Once you know them, you can amplify them within the business so that others who share your values will be attracted to your business.
  • Once you know them, you can hire people who share those values.
  • Once you know them, you have a blueprint for making all decisions going forward.

I am willing to bet that all 834 people at camp last weekend shared at least one of those Core Values with camp (and with me). It was those values that drew these people back for the reunion and celebration.

I am lucky and blessed to have worked for two organization, encompassing most of my life that have perfectly aligned with my Core Values. The work I do under the banner of Phil’s Forum is more of the same—Having fun helping others through education (with a healthy dose of perspective from reliving my past experiences and drawing out their lessons).

When you align your work and your values, it never feels like work and you never want it to end. Who wouldn’t want that?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is a link to some worksheets that will help you uncover your Core Values.

PPS There were hundreds more people who couldn’t make it to the camp this weekend for the celebration who also shared some of the camp’s values. There are thousands in your town who also share your values. How do you become a beloved business? By creating a tribe of customers who feel the way you feel.

How to Find Out Your Business Reputation

Some of you read them. Some of you don’t. I often get asked why each blog post has a Postscript (PS) or two. Postscripts are also called “afterthoughts.” In the case of my blog, I use them to reinforce different points made in the post, without clunking up the writing. I also use them to clarify and/or sum up something I’ve said. Often the PS is an action step or an application of the idea posed by the post. Sometimes it is a humorous anecdote or story from my past experiences.

Sometimes the PS hints at the next post. That was the case yesterday.

According to Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, your brand is “every single interaction someone has with your business, plus how they feel about it.”

In other words, your brand is not your slogan, your color scheme, or your logo. It is the way people feel about your business. It is your reputation.

In 2005 I wanted to know what people thought and felt about Toy House. Before I could create a stronger brand, I had to know from where I was starting. To do that, I needed to do a survey. Here is what I did.

LOCAL COLLEGE STATISTICS CLASS

Image result for phone surveyI contacted a professor at Spring Arbor University who taught statistics. Fortunately I already knew him. We had met at a networking event (one more reason why you should attend those events).

I told him what I wanted to do. I had a survey. I had the questions. I just needed someone to figure out the sample size, do the calling, and compile the results. It would be a live exercise for his statistics students. I agreed that I would write a letter of recommendation for all the students who participated, and that I would host a pizza party for the students when they had the results.

The professor thought it would be a fun exercise, and put it into his lesson plan at the appropriate time.

The students did the math and figured out we would need a sample size of 400 Jackson County residents to accurately measure the entire county within an acceptable margin of error. They also devised a random way to find those 400 people using the phone book. Each of the twenty students was then tasked with getting twenty survey results back within a two-week window.

QUESTION #1

The script I gave the students came from Roy. In a class I took, he showed me how to get an accurate assessment of where Toy House stood in the minds of Jackson County residents. It also showed how I compared to other stores selling toys in the area.

When someone answered the phone, the student would say …

“Hello, my name is (____). I am a Spring Arbor University student. My statistics class is doing a survey on toy shopping habits in Jackson County. Can I ask you a couple questions?”

If they said yes, the first question was this …

“Please name all the stores you can think of that sell toys in Jackson.”

The students had a worksheet with all the possible places listed and a few blanks for some out-of-the-box thinkers. As the person named stores, the student would number them in the order they were named. After the person stopped, the student would say, “You named (list of all stores they named). Can you think of any others?” This went on until the person said they could not think of any others.

The beauty of this question is that it helps you see how much awareness people have of your existence. You also see how you compare to everyone else in your town. It was eye-opening to see what percentage of Jackson County shoppers knew we existed. The results looked like this.

  1. Toys R Us 84.1%
  2. Meijer 82.3%
  3. Walmart 69.5%
  4. Toy House 64.8%
  5. Kmart 59.1%
  6. Target 45.2%

Thirty-five percent of the population could not think of us when asked to name a store that sold toys in Jackson. That was a shocker. (So was the fact the 16% couldn’t name the iconic national brand of Toys R Us and over half the population didn’t think of Target as a place to buy toys.)

QUESTION #2

Once the first question was answered, the student would then say, “For the second part, I am going to read you a few words. From the list of stores you just gave me, I want you to tell me the first of those stores that comes to mind with each word. There is no right or wrong answer. Just blurt out the first store you think of.”

The list of words I had the students read included positive words like Affordable, Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value, and Welcoming.

The list also included negative words like Arrogant, Cluttered, Confusing, Dark, Deceptive, Dirty, Expensive, High Pressure, Indifferent, Over-Priced, Pushy, and Rude.

The list also included one word that upon reflection could be considered either positive or negative—Cheap.

The deal here is that whoever is mentioned the most for that particular word owns that word in the minds of shoppers. That is your reputation, good or bad.

  • We owned the words Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value and Welcoming from the positive list, and Expensive and Over-Priced from the negative list.
  • Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap.
  • Kmart owned Dark and Dirty.
  • Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy.
  • Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list.

(Note: in that first survey, no one owned Arrogant. We were in a virtual tie with both Walmart and Toys R Us for that word.)

The one thing I didn’t include in my list of words was all of our Core Values, but mainly because I didn’t know them in 2005 like I did in 2007. We did a second survey in 2007 adding Education and Nostalgia to the list and owned those words hands-down. The only other changes in 2007 were that Walmart tied us for Value, and we took over Arrogant.

RESULTS

There were several takeaways from these results. The first was the lack of awareness for our giant, colorful store that had been in business for 56 years in the heart of downtown Jackson. More people mentioned Walmart, yet they had only been open a couple months when this survey was done. When we did the survey again in 2007, our name recognition jumped from 64.8% to 76.0%, whereas Walmart’s only went from 69.5% to 76.5%. We were still fourth overall, but had closed the gap significantly. (TRU and Meijer held steady.)

I was okay with owning the negative words Over-Priced and Expensive. That’s a common belief of indie retailers and I expected it. I was especially okay because we also owned Value. Value and Expensive are not exclusive. Value and Over-Priced don’t go together, but for every person that thought of us as Over-Priced, there was someone else who saw the Value in our offerings. I was okay with owning Arrogant in the 2007 survey, too, since I also owned nine of the ten positive attributes.

Most importantly, we owned the things we wanted to be know for. We owned our Core Values of Helpful, Fun, Education, and Nostalgia. We owned the things we were already advertising such as Friendly, Knowledgeable, and Quality. We owned the one word that made my mom the happiest—Clean! So we knew we were on the right track with our advertising, but more importantly we were on the right track with our actions.

Advertising cannot change your reputation. It can only enhance it. Actions speak louder than words.

Now you have the blueprint for doing your own survey to find out where you stand compared to your competition. If you don’t like your results. First change your actions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The interesting question about doing a survey today is whether to do it online or by phone or both. Back in 2005 and 2007 most people still had landlines. Today, if you only do a phone survey with numbers generated randomly from a phone book (assuming those still exist), you’re missing out on a huge segment of the population. That will be the challenge for your statistics class to figure out. It might cost you a little more than pizza, but it will be totally worth it.

PPS One other benefit from the survey was that I had a classroom of 20 college students who now knew about our store and saw the reputation we had. That alone was worth the pizzas and a quick letter thanking them for running the survey.

If You Want to Be Known for Something …

Back in high school I had a friend who lived in a house that was hard to find. We always went to his house to play games because we could always get free pizza from Domino’s. They had their “thirty minutes or it’s free” campaign going, yet the drivers could never find his house. Thank goodness this was in the days before GPS.

In my high school days Domino’s was known in the pizza industry for fast delivery. Little Caesar’s was known for their “pizza, pizza,” two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Pizza Hut had the Pan Pizza. Everyone had their niche.

Image result for hamburglarThe burger industry was similar. Wendy’s had fresh-not-frozen (and Where’s the beef?). Burger King had flame-broiled. McDonald’s had the Hamburglar.

If you wanted to make a name for yourself in the pizza or burger industry you had to do something completely different. The more you looked for ways to differentiate, the better.

When Domino’s faltered and gave up their fast delivery guarantee, Little Caesar’s stepped in with an even faster claim—pick it up any time, it’s hot-and-ready. Little Caesar’s isn’t going to win any taste tests, but if you have a bunch of kids to feed, a twenty-dollar-bill and a trip through the drive-thru fills a lot of little bellies.

By now you know IHOP wants to be known as “International House of burgers.” They launched a clever viral campaign to highlight the fact that along with all the breakfast stuff, they also have burgers on the menu. It is getting a lot of talk, but not about the burgers. I have yet to hear one remark about the actual burgers good or bad. I have yet to hear one reason why I should try their burgers. They have done nothing so far to stand out in the burger crowd.

If you want to be known for something, you have to do something no one else is doing. 

Pizza Hut offers three different thicknesses of crusts. Little Caesar’s has pizzas ready for immediate pick-up without having to order in advance. They are doing something different.

I originally was going to title this blog “How to Stand Out in the Burger Industry” and help IHOP out. Here are some things no one is doing on a national level with hamburgers …

  • Home Delivery – why is it that pizza and Chinese food are the only foods delivered to our door regularly?
  • Free Sliders with every meal – You want to let people know you have burgers? Put a small, tasty slider on a plate and deliver it at no charge no matter what they ordered.
  • Condiment Bar – Wendy’s tried this at one time. It might be worth trying again, but with really cool and different condiments that make people talk.
  • The 24-Hour Burger – most IHOPs are already open 24 hours. Why not tout the breakfast burger? Heck, we’ve already been putting bacon and fried eggs on burgers for years, just not at eight o’clock in the morning.

Here is the lesson for you, the indie retailer. You don’t have to be known nationally for something. You only have to own it locally. The kicker here is you have to do something completely different from your competitors, preferably something they would never even think of doing.

Be the store known for…

  • Home Delivery
  • Giving away free stuff
  • Customizing things
  • Selling stuff made locally
  • Having live entertainment
  • Having classes and demos

Walmart right now is running a radio ad touting themselves as “The Best Toy Store in America.” Just like IHOb, this campaign is gonna flop big time.

You are judged not by what you say, but by what you do.

No one believes Walmart is the best toy store right now, and unless Walmart does something other than have the typical messy, unorganized, poorly-stocked, warehouse-shelved, no-one-to-help-you toy department they currently offer, no one is going to change their minds because of a radio ad. When Walmart opened in Jackson in 2005, the newspaper reporter asked me how I was going to compete with them. I said …

“With free gift-wrapping, layaway services, home delivery, tons of toy demos, weekly events, triple the toy selection, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand to answer all your questions, the better question is, ‘How is Walmart going to compete with us?’ “

Don’t just do it. Be known for it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I was a little arrogant in my answer. Fortunately, thanks to a survey I did shortly after Walmart opened, I reaffirmed what I already believed. In that survey we owned the words Clean, Friendly, Knowledgeable, Caring, Fun, Helpful, Welcoming, Quality, Value, Over-Priced and Expensive. Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap. Kmart owned Dark and Dirty. Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy. Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list. What words do you own?

What Not to Change

By now you’ve heard the buzz about the International House of Pancakes and their big announcement. They are changing their name from IHOP to IHOb. They made the announcement and asked us to guess what the “b” meant.

The first answer by virtually everyone was “breakfast.”

Image result for ihob logoI could wrap my head around that. I love their Colorado Omelette. They have waffles, French Toast, and crepes too. Pancakes are out of favor because of all the low carb diets. That would make sense.

Heck, I could even have seen it if this was just a marketing gimmick and the “b” was going to stand for bacon. Bacon is trendy and popular right now.

But then in a “Hey, New Coke, hold my beer,” moment they announced the “b” stands for “burgers.” 

Burgers? Really? That was your big marketing gimmick?

First, let me reassure you that they are not actually changing their name. They are doing some temporary signs and making a big stink about it through the media. In one way, it has worked. We’re all talking about them. In another way, they have definitely brought attention to the fact they have burgers on their menu (and have for some time).

But here’s something worth thinking about when it comes to branding. The vast majority of people were going with either breakfast or bacon because that is what the restaurant is known for. That is IHOP’s reputation, which by extension is the restaurant’s brand. No matter how many viral campaigns like this, they will neither change that perception nor ever be known as the burger joint. As much as this campaign has gone viral, it isn’t likely to get too many new customers going to IHOP that weren’t going already. In fact, it might drive some customers away who think they have stopped selling pancakes.

Not only was this campaign confusing to a lot of people, trying to be known as the burger joint is probably the worst arena to enter. It is already crowded with all the fast food joints, the Red Robins, the Inn & Outs, and a slew of other players. IHOP owns the pancake title. Hands down. They own it better than Coke owns Pepsi. Yet Coke tried the exact same tactic with New Coke and watched it become the poster child for failed marketing campaigns.

I know some of why they did it. It is tough being the frontrunner. It is tough getting people excited about your pancakes when you already own the category (and pancakes are not quite as popular as before). The people at IHOP saw this campaign as a brand-extension, a way to be known for more than pancakes. Unfortunately, there was a better way to do that.

Saying that you are known for burgers when you aren’t won’t work. Simply saying your burgers are great won’t change anyone’s mind, either. Having taste-tests won’t move the needle much (or Pepsi would have overtaken Coke during the Pepsi Challenge campaign). But asking your tribe, the people who already love IHOP for your breakfasts, to try a burger next time they are in, might get a few people to switch. Speaking to the people who love IHOPs for being open 24 hours (in certain locations) and reminding them you have more than breakfast might get a few people to try the burgers. Offering small sliders as a side with the pancakes (there’s a little surprise and delight for you), would be far more effective in getting burgers into everyone’s minds.

Then if your burgers really are good, people will talk. That’s the kind of talk that moves the needle. Right now people like me are talking in the wrong direction.

Right now the talk isn’t even about whether the burgers are any good or not. Most of the talk is about what the heck were they thinking? That doesn’t help the brand one bit.

The lesson in all this is simple. If you are known for something already, don’t confuse people by trying to be known for something else. Instead embrace it, amplify it, and become it so fully that no one will know anyone else but you in that category.

There is only one house of pancakes.

There is only one waffle house.

There are dozens of burger and pizza joints.

When you can be the only one, be the only one, and be happy with that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are thousands of great breakfast restaurants including some regional chains and plenty of local joints, but in the national scheme of things, no matter where you go, if someone is asked to name a pancake joint, IHOP will be at or near the top of that list. That’s the power of their brand and the source around which the rest of the chain revolves. Move away from that and the brand will falter.

PPS Marketing and advertising cannot change your reputation for the better. Only actions will do that. Confusing people or trying to get them to believe something other than what they already believe hurts the brand more than it helps because it erodes more confidence away from what people already believe. Telling people their old Coke they’ve drunk for years doesn’t taste good (even though it was the best seller by a wide margin) wasn’t a smart move. This move by IHOP stands right beside that.

PPPS You’ve heard it said there is no such thing as bad PR. That statement is wrong. Don’t believe it.

Getting People to Talk – Part 3 (Domino’s for the Win!)

A new restaurant opens in town. Fine dining. The early reviews are good. Everyone is talking about it. Expensive, but worth it. The desserts are extraordinary. You call up some friends and the six of you make a reservation. While you’re waiting for your meal you see desserts going past. It looks like every table has ordered something scrumptious. You look at the menu and your mouth begins to water. Then you look at the prices and the six of you decide maybe you’ll share a couple of them instead of everyone buying one.

The meal is done and you’ve picked up the dessert menu one more time to choose a couple to share when your waiter walks over and says, “You guys have been such a fun table, I’d like to buy everyone a dessert on me.”

Would you be talking afterward about a meal like that? Of course you would! For the price of some sugar and flour (that the restaurant has already baked into the price of the meal), the restaurant is buying word-of-mouth through Generosity.

The key here is that they did not advertise it, it was given with sincerity, it had value, and it was unexpected. When you can give something away like that, people will talk.

Yesterday my son pointed out to me something that fits that criteria. He told me Domino’s Pizza is filling potholes. I had to Google it right away.

Image result for domino's pothole
Image from Washington Post

Domino’s Pizza is paying communities real money for their crews to go out and fill potholes. All the community has to do is take a few cellphone pics of the crew and spray chalk the Domino’s logo with the phrase, “Oh yes we did” onto the newly filled pothole when they’re done.

The city manager of Milford, Delaware explains how they gave him $5,000 to fill potholes in his town. With a budget of only $30,000 for fixing potholes to begin, an extra $5,000 goes a long way. The spray chalk on the logo might seem offensive to some, especially if you don’t like Domino’s Pizza, but the talk they are generating from that money is unbelievable.

Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, it brought value. Yes, it was done without advertising. You can argue sincerity all you want, but the comment from Kate Trumbull, VP of Advertising for Domino’s is spot-on …

“This idea came from when you hit a pothole and you have a pizza in your front seat. It’s kind of a dramatic moment and dials up the fear factor that something would happen to your delicious pizza,” said Trumbull. “It came down to how we’re so passionate about pizza – and every single piece of the experience.” (from Yahoo)

Here is the clincher. They spent $5,000. Their logo was washed away with the first rain. The town of Milford, DE was just under 10,000 people in 2010. You can look at it as only 50 cents to reach everyone in that city. You can look at it as a way to make the roads better for their delivery vehicles. But the best way to look at it is that the city manager wrote an article in the Washington Post about it. The news stations all did stories about it. People who saw it on the road all told their friends about it.

The word-of-mouth—even from the people who hated it—is through the roof! Everyone is talking!

Even the haters are probably acknowledging that the potholes needed filling. Their complaint is likely just about the commercialization of it and where that may lead.

I give Domino’s a hearty win for this campaign. It is the kind of creativity that helps a campaign budget reach far beyond the money you spend. That’s the power of Generosity.

Four elements to make Generosity work for you:

  • Don’t advertise it
  • Give freely from the heart
  • Give something of value
  • Give something unexpected

You don’t have to pave the roads to get people to talk, but I’m sure you can find something of value you can give away for free.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We gave away free helium balloons all day, every day. It helped parents get crying children out of the store, and helped them come in more often for “looking trips”. When helium balloons became expected, I brought in an art teacher to teach my staff how to draw doodle animals on the balloons. We never got the kind of talk Domino’s did, but people still talked, and that’s all that mattered.

PPS No, if you don’t like Domino’s Pizza, it probably won’t make you rush out and buy a pie. But it just might make someone on the fence, buy a “thank-you pie” just for fixing that pothole at the end of their street. It also has a long-term effect of making you feel just a little better about Domino’s as a company, and that ripple effect, while hard to measure, will be huge. Now, if they double-down and add some generosity to their product when they deliver it, they’ll knock it out of the park.

Origin Stories – Getting People to Talk Part 2

We were sharing our origin stories at the hotel lobby bar last weekend. I was attending the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy as a speaker instead of a retailer. As a speaker I get to meet a whole bunch of new retailers.

One of them asked me how I got my start as a speaker. Another asked me how I got into the toy business. Pretty soon we were all sharing those stories. They were all quite fascinating.

Phil Wrzesinski on Toy House Float in Rose Parade 1970
Phil Wrzesinski, age 3, riding the Toy House float in the Jackson County Rose Parade 1970

One guy had an earlier career working for Publishers Clearing House. Another was a nanny. Several toy store owners I have met over the years were former teachers. I was working with juvenile delinquents before selling toys full time, but my first job at Toy House was riding on the float for the Rose Parade. When we get together we share those stories with flair and pizzazz.

Yet outside of our industry get-togethers I never seem to hear those origin stories.

Stories are fun to share. Stories posted on websites or told in ads or shared on social media come with an implicit authorization to share them. And many of these stories are Shareworthy.

In fact, many of the origin stories of the products you sell are Shareworthy, too. You probably have already heard how the Slinky was supposed to be a spring for keeping sensitive ship equipment safe and steady. You also may know that Play-Doh was originally designed to be a wallpaper cleaning compound.

When I launched the new and improved Toy House website a few years ago, I included a less-than-brief history full of pictures and details of our 67+ years of business, including how and why we got our start. I did the long form of our history with all the photos because Nostalgia was one of our Core Values.

I was surprised how much word-of-mouth it garnered, too.

On several occasions I had customers tell me how they had heard one of the facts from that page. That was an unexpected benefit.

We love to share stories.

Men love to tell stories because we speak vertically. For men, communication is like a ladder. Did what I say raise me up in your eyes or lower me down? Knowing and sharing a story raises me up a rung. (Asking directions lowers me down. Ladies, now you know why your guy won’t ask.)

Women love to tell stories because they speak more horizontally. Did what I say draw me in closer or push me away? A story is just an excuse to draw your friends in closer and bring them into your world of knowledge. (Men, now you know why she wants to ask for directions. It gets her into the inner circle.)

If you want people to talk about your business, you have to give them something to talk about.

Start telling the origin stories of your business, your products, and your services. You’ll be amazed at how quickly those stories make the rounds.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Over-the-Top Design and Story Telling are just two of the five different ways you can generate Word-of-Mouth for your store. As I told the audience at my talk last weekend, there are two types of customers who aren’t shopping with you right now: A) Those who don’t know you, B) Those who think they know you. That second group will only change their mind through word-of-mouth from their friends. To learn the other three methods, check out this.

PPS “Our History” was buried as a link off our “About Us” page. The About Us page needs to first establish those Core Values and begin building the relationship before you’ll get people to start sharing your stories. That’s why social media is an even better platform. Those people have already bought into you and your store. It was made for sharing. Give people something worth sharing.

Give Them Something to Talk About (Part 1)

My eyes always glazed over. Didn’t matter if it was Toy Fair, ASTRA, the All Baby & Child Expo (ABC), the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (JPMA) Trade Show, or SuperZoo. By the end of the day my eyes were glassy, my pupils were dilated, and my senses were overloaded. One booth after another melded into the landscape until none of them stood out.

” … until none of them stood out.”

Last Monday I walked the tradeshow floor at the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. The day before, I did a presentation about how to get people to talk about your business. One of the ways is to have Over-the-Top Design.

Have some element of your store (or booth)be it the design of your building (like Estes Ark in Estes Park, CO), an element of your store like the chalkboards or directional signs we had in front and on the side of our building, an element inside your store such as our Circus Mirrors, Electric Train Display, or LEGO building/racing ramp, or even through the products you might sell such as the 32,000 piece puzzle we had that weighed 42 pounds and was almost 18 feet long when finished—be so crazy and unexpected that customers have to tell their friends about it.

Eighteen rows of vendor booths later and only two stood out.

Lenny and Mark from Marky Sparky

The first was Marky Sparky. Mark Rappaport and his company Marky Sparky had been honored earlier that morning as the ASTRA Vendor of the Year, an honor well-deserved. The day before, he and his sales manager Lenny Breeden sat through my presentation on word-of-mouth. Lenny came up afterwards and said, “Wait until you see our booth tomorrow.” He was right.

What they did was simple. It didn’t cost much either. But it was innovative, unexpected, interactive, and fun. Mark created a “target” for their Faux Bow out of straws jammed into a box. Now you could shoot their indestructible foam/plastic arrows into the target and they would stick just like real arrows into a bale of hay. People were lining up to take turns shooting the bow.

At the end of the day, when I asked retailers what they saw that looked cool, the most common answer was, “Did you see the target at Marky Sparky? That was cool!”

Marky Sparky was winning the battle of word-of-mouth.

The second most common booth I heard about was selling jumbo hula hoops. Yes, jumbo! Hoops that were close to six feet in diameter! Apparently the larger the hoop, the easier it is to hula. These were designed to help adults get into hula-hooping (and the fabulous core exercises it offers). The booth stood out, not only because of the number of old people like me trying to hoop for the first time in thirty years, but because they had over-sized a product we all knew and loved. Interactive, unexpected, and larger-than-life fun.

In a trade show filled with 18 aisles of booths and over 500 vendors, only two booths had done something so over-the-top to stand out among the rest. I saw booths without decorations. I saw booths simply filled with chrome or wood shelves and products displayed military-style on those shelves. Some booths had active people manning the booth jumping out in front of us to shove catalogs in our hands as we walked the aisles. Other booths had people sitting in chairs staring at their phones, wondering why no one was stopping. But only two had done something worth talking about.

You have to do something to stand out.

This applies to any business anywhere. Whether you are a booth at a trade show, a retailer in a crowded retail market, or even an advertiser during the Super Bowl, all that matters is at the end of the day, are people talking about you? If they are talking about you, you’re winning. If they aren’t, you’ve melded into the landscape and become invisible, forgettable.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of change. One thing you need to change right now is to add some design element that is so over-the-top that people say, “OMG! Did you see that??!!” 

It can be outside where people see it driving by. It can be inside that gets people into the store. It can be a display or demo. It can even be a product you “sell” (we never expected to sell our 32,000 piece puzzle, we just used it to get people to talk—and sold three of them!!)

For best effect, make it unexpected, interactive, and larger-than-life fun.

Nice job, Mark & Lenny!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There was one other booth with a WOW Factor. The folks at Spooner Boards had a ramp for their mini-surfboard type toys and were showing off their product by doing tricks and stunts on the ramp. The problem is, they’ve done that every year so it wasn’t unexpected. Change. Once you set the bar high, you need to keep raising it higher to get more word-of-mouth. That’s why we were constantly adding new elements of over-the-top design to Toy House over the years.

PPS This is Part 1. I’ll tell you some other ways to get people to talk about you in future posts.