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Three Questions That Have All the Answers

(Note: I submitted this to Wizard Academy for a project where they asked business leaders what our two to three secrets are that have helped us succeed. My three secrets are these three questions…)

I have been told that I have an uncanny knack for taking difficult ideas & concepts and breaking them down so that they are easy to understand. Others call it a God-given talent. The true secret is in three simple questions.

I was twenty-three when I learned about the power of these three questions. I was working at YMCA Storer Camps teaching Team Building through Wilderness and Experiential Education programs when John Foster and Phil DeLong taught me all about, “What? So What? Now What?” as a way to process learning.

It looks like this…

WHAT? What happened? What did we do? What worked? What didn’t work? Where did we start? Where did we end?

These are questions that talk about the CONCRETE. These are the questions that help us identify the task we attempted, the action we took. When working with a group doing a team building exercise, the first step is to make sure we are all on the same page with what actually happened. So we ask the What? questions. We ask them to relive the experience and talk through what they did.

SO WHAT? So what did we learn? So what can we infer from our results? So what does that show us? So what will we do differently next time?

These are the questions that talk about the ABSTRACT. After we identify what we did, we have to learn from it. We have to extract the lessons. When working with a group on a team building exercise, if we don’t learn from what we did, then we are merely playing. The So What? questions draw out that lesson or idea. The So What? questions give the activity meaning.

(Note: if you don’t establish the What? first, you’ll have a hard time drawing out the So What? lessons. So What? questions can only be asked after the What? has been firmly established.)

NOW WHAT? Now what will we do with this new understanding? Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? Now what is the next step? Now what will we do when we get back to the office?

These are the questions that talk about the APPLICATION. Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? A good team builder not only helps a group learn the lesson from their activity, but also how to apply that lesson to other parts of their life. It is one thing to learn about proper communication while crossing a swamp with a string of tire swings. It is something else to learn how to apply straight-forward, no-mincing of words, chain-of-command communications to the office to keep everyone safe and swinging in harmony, too.

(Note: if you don’t establish the So What? lesson first, you’ll have a hard time drawing out the Now What? applications. Now What? questions can only be asked after the So What? lesson has been firmly understood.)


Even though I spend more time running a retail toy store and teaching classes to fellow retailers than I do team building, I find that I am using What? So What? Now What? most every single day.

I use it training my staff… What did we do for this training activity? We asked questions, had to listen to the response, and then repeat the response back to the other team member. What were some of the problems? Trying to remember what was said. Why was that a problem? Because we weren’t used to repeating back, only responding. What was in your way? Not listening properly. How did repeating back what they said help? It forced us to listen better and helped us be more accurate. Why would this be important? The better we listen and be accurate with what a customer says, the better we can solve their problem.

I use it interviewing for new employees… Tell me about a time when you received Great Customer Service (concrete). So what made that so special? (abstract). How would you apply that to you working here? (application).

It is especially effective when I teach classes and do workshops. Just a few weeks ago I did a one-hour class on Inventory Management for pet store owners. This class involves a lot more math and fewer jokes than other workshops and classes I teach. The feedback and vibe from the audience during this class is the lowest of any class I offer. The only real way I can evaluate how things are going is from the questions the participants ask during Q&A. If they are asking What? questions then I failed miserably. They didn’t understand the math I want them to do. If they are asking So What? questions then I still failed miserably. They understood the math but don’t get why they need it. But if they are asking Now What? questions then I know I got the point across and they just want to apply it to their own situation. At last week’s class, all the questions were of Application.

I even use this with advertising. If I want to make a factual point (concrete) then I have to explain why it is an important point (abstract) and what to do with that point (application). More importantly, if I make an abstract point, I better back it up with concrete facts if I want people to apply it.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this model of questioning, but once I did, it made facilitating and leading others much easier. Whenever a discussion bogs down, I simply drop back a level of questioning and make sure we have established the previous level before moving on. This gets everyone back onto the same page. This is my simple little secret for making difficult ideas understandable.

  • What did we do?
  • So what did we learn?
  • Now what will we do with that knowledge?

Learn to use it in your life. It will make a difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It even works with children. I use it with my boys all the time. They get a lot of Aha! moments through these questions.

I Want Your Business in My New Book

Have you downloaded the free eBook Making Your Ads Memorable? Getting people to listen/read/see and remember you is the first step in advertising. Getting them to take action is the second step. Most people fail on the first step and then wonder why the second step never happened.

The guide is fairly straightforward and simple with a couple of examples. The price is pretty good, too. Free.

Those of you who have downloaded it have asked for more. More explanation of the techniques. More examples of those techniques in action.

Just for you, I am working on a new, expanded book that will jump into the deep end of each technique including how and why they work. I plan to include many examples of each technique.

I could easily just make stuff up for fictitious companies and call it good. But I believe it will be a better read if I use real companies and real people trying to meet real needs with their advertising.

I want your business in my new book.

All you need to do is send me an email (phil@philsforum.com) with the following stuff…

  1. A quick description of your business (include contact info, taglines, etc)
  2. What you hope to accomplish with your advertising (draw traffic? sell a particular product? get into the top of a customer’s mind?)
  3. Three unrelated words (English and recognizable and suitable for the FCC, please)

I will take your info and, using the techniques I describe, write a 30-second piece of ad copy around your advertising goal incorporating the three words.

Why the three words? Two reasons:

  • To show you how you can be more creative than you originally thought
  • Because using interesting words in unique combinations gets attention

If you send in a submission you will get…

  1. First right of refusal. You can tell me yay or nay if you don’t want what I’ve written to be in the book.
  2. Freedom to use the copy for your own purposes. Yes, I give you the copyright of the copy I write for you. No charge.
  3. A free copy of the book once published. 
  4. Publicity from being in the book.

I think that’s a fair exchange. Don’t you?

I already have a handful of submissions. I need about twenty more to tip this project. Will you be one of the tippers?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You don’t have to be a retailer to send in your submission. In fact, I’ve already received submissions from life coaches, writers, and teachers. This will be a fun book to read that will help a lot of small businesses get better, including yours. Take three and a half minutes and send me an email. The only tricky part will be coming up with three words.

How to Get Customers to Fall in Love With Your Products

Dr. Ross Honeywill says there are two types of customers – NEO’s and Traditionals. Traditionals are all about the Price. NEO’s, however, care more about Design, Authenticity, and Provenance than Price. Get the NEO to fall in love with the product and you’ll make the sale.

Roy H. Williams says there are two types of customers – Relational and Transactional. Transactional customers are all about the Price. Relational Customers, however, are looking for someone they can Trust who will lead them to the right products they can fall in love with.

The Diffusion of Innovation says there is a big chasm between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. The Early Majority want the tried and true commodities that have a proven track record. They will go wherever they can find the best deal. The Early Adopters love the new and unique and have to have the latest, greatest, regardless of price.

You can discuss the nuance between the three theories until the end of the earth and never fully reconcile them into one theory.

Or you can pull out the one thing all three agree on and run with it all the way to the bank.

The money is in getting your customers to fall in love with your products and your store.


Remember falling in love? You don’t analyze it. You don’t weigh out pros and cons. You don’t look at the features and benefits.

You draw smiley faces. You doodle his name on the worksheet you were supposed to turn in. You imagine what it will be like to be together. You visualize walking hand in hand. You picture the two of you on a date, at the park, in the movie theater. You see the future of you with this other person.

Bob Phibbs says that customers who are shopping are in a different mode than customers who are buying. Customers who are shopping are in analytical mode. They are gathering info, measuring and weighing options. Customers who are buying, however, have to get out of that mode and into wonder and love. They have to see themselves already owning and using the product.

In other words, they have to fall in love with the idea of owning the product.

You have been wrongly taught for years that your job is to give your customers information. Features and benefits, features and benefits, features and benefits. In today’s online world, they already have most of the information they need before they set foot in the store. Your real job is to get them out of analyzing the product and into visualizing already owning the product.

You can do that two ways…

Ask Visualization Questions:

  • How do you see yourself using this product? 
  • What are your plans for this product? 
  • How will this look in your home? 
  • Where do you see yourself using this? 
  • What is your ultimate goal for this item?

Use Assumptive Statements and Questions:

  • Most everyone who buys one of these gets a second as a backup. Do you want to get two today or just the one?
  • Would you like me to giftwrap these items while you finish shopping for the rest of the list?
  • You’re going to be really happy with your choice of that product.
  • When you get this home, to make sure you get the full use out of it, be sure to…

Before you start thinking those sound snarky or sneaky or gimmicky, remember that your customer came into your store looking to solve a problem or fill a need. Your job, therefore, is to help her solve a problem or fill a need. If you leave her in analytical mode, you won’t solve her problem or fill her need. She’ll leave in search of more information and most likely have someone else solve her problem or fill her need.

If you make her fall in love with the product, you’ll make the sale, whether she is a NEO, a Relational Customer, an Early Adopter, or any other label you want to give her.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You still need to know all the information. In part, so that if she has faulty information, you can correct it. In part, because she may need one or two more pieces of information to help her visualize the product properly. In part, so that she will trust you as the expert.

The One Loyalty Program You Need to Grow Your Business

Your brain has a gatekeeper. His name is Broca. He protects your brain from all the boring, mundane and predictable in the world.

Roy H. Williams, aka, The Wizard of Ads, was the first person to introduce me to Broca. Most advertisements fail because Broca saw them coming a mile away. But it isn’t just ads that Broca blocks.

Tell me all the mundane things you did yesterday. Bet you can’t remember them all.

Tell me all the surprising things that happened yesterday. Bet you nailed that list.

According to Roy, “Surprise is the foundation of delight.”

If you want to delight your customers, you have to do something surprising. If you want to make your customers’ experience memorable, you can’t be boring, mundane or predictable.

Strativity Group Inc. in a new survey, found that people who had been “delighted” by their favorite brand were more than twice as likely to be brand-loyal than those who weren’t delighted.

Another Royism… “If a person expected something to happen, and it happened, there can be no delight.”

  • If you give your customer less than she expects, she’s going to shred you.
  • If you give a customer exactly what she expects, at least she won’t shred you, but she won’t be loyal, either.
  • If you surprise a customer with more than what she expects, you’ll be memorable and she’ll be loyal.

Go ahead and surprise her. That’s the loyalty program you really should be offering.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The easiest way to surprise and delight her is to evaluate all the interaction points a customer has with your store from the front door to the checkout and figure out exactly what she expects during each encounter. Then figure out what you can do that is a little bit more than she expects. It is far cheaper to you and more effective on her than any discount you might offer her.

PPS Need a head start on evaluating what she expects? Download the FREE e-book – Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!

I Need Your Help for my Next Book

(Update 5/3/17: The book is almost finished. But I need your help to get it off the ground. Please go to my indiegogo campaign and make a donation and I’ll send you a signed copy the day I pick up the books from the printer.)


It is time to write a new book. Something fun. Something helpful. Something about marketing and messages and creativity.

I know exactly what I want to write, but I need your help.

But first, the inspiration behind this book… A couple years ago, during an online discussion, a friend gave me a crazy suggestion for advertising Toy House. His exact words were…

“Hey, Phil, according to this data, your next advertising campaign should use kittens. Or kittens and bacon. Or even better, kittens and bacon and Kim Kardashian, though I fail to see how can THAT be done in a way that’s appropriate for a toy store.”

I immediately came back with…

“Would Kim Kardashian feed her kitten bacon? Would you even care?  Would you care what toys she bought? We wouldn’t. Celebrity endorsements do not make toys fun. Play value makes toys fun. Toys that engage your mind and involve you in the creation of play are fun. Celebrity endorsements make things sell faster. They don’t make them better. We’ll focus on the better toys and leave the Kardashian endorsements to the other stores. By the way, Kim’s kitten doesn’t eat bacon – but ours does! Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”

Another friend added…

“Okay: rap music, slow dancing, high fructose corn syrup — go!”

I quickly countered with…

“Would you slow dance to rap music? It’s kinda like high fructose corn syrup. A shortcut that works, but just doesn’t feel right. Unfortunately many toys are made the same way, with shortcuts such as tying into a popular movie or TV show just to get sales. It works, but it doesn’t mean the toy is good for you. We won’t sell high fructose corn syrup type toys. Licensing means nothing if the toy doesn’t also have play value. That’s how we cut the rug. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”

We decided that if you take a message a business is trying to share, plus three unrelated words, with a little creativity you can craft that into a message that gets attention, is memorable, and still makes your point clearly. The result is often more interesting than the usual boring messages we ignore.

Sometimes, to unlock your inner creativity, you just need a few examples to get you started. This will be your book.

Here is where I need your help.


I need at least 100 solid submissions of 150 words or less.

Each submission needs three things in those 150 words:

  1. A quick description of your business (include contact info, taglines, etc)
  2. The message you’re trying to share or point you’re trying to make
  3. Three unrelated words (English and recognizable and suitable for the FCC, please)

Your submission will be on one side of the page. My response will be on the other.

Send your submission to phil@philsforum.com with the phrase “Creative Message Book” in the subject line. (Don’t forget your contact info)

If you get picked for the book, you will get three things:

  1. An email back showing you what I created (and a final chance to decide whether you want to be in the book or not)
  2. Freedom to use the creative I created for you in your own business free from copyright infringement
  3. A free copy of the book once it is published

Please send in your submissions and share this with your fellow business friends. It’s time to write a new book.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I considered a kickstarter campaign for this endeavor to help offset costs and get a little more publicity. For now I’m backing this myself (you know me and freebies). I still might do a kickstarter if I don’t feel this post gets enough worthy submissions. If you submit before I launch a kickstarter, you’ll get all the benefits without paying a penny.

PPS I do not guarantee that the messages I write will be a cure-all for your business or should become the sole basis of your advertising campaign. The goal of this book is simply to give you ideas on how to write more creatively. I will share some of the reasons behind the choices I make to give you pointers for crafting your own message. You may choose to use your message or create something new. Either choice will be fine by me.

PPPS You must have the authority to authorize your company’s info to be included in the book. If you are not that person, make sure you have their approval before you submit.

PPPPS Whew, that is enough disclaimers for now.

What You Have in Common with Disney

I spent last week at Walt Disney World. As with any theme park, there are always upgrades being done. But instead of just “pardon the dust” signs, Disney plastered their walls with Walt-isms. I snapped this picture of one while chasing my boys to the next ride…

“We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” -Walt Disney

Then Roy Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, hit me with this Monday Morning Memo (if you haven’t subscribed to this free email yet, you are missing out big time!!).

To sum up Roy’s Memo… 93% of successful companies have been successful because of their ability to improvise and adapt. 

Keep moving forward.
Keep opening up new doors.
Keep doing new things.
Keep going down new paths.

It works for Disney. It works for 93% of all successful companies. It will work for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have many thoughts, stories and ideas from my trip that I will be sharing over the next few days. Forgive me if I gush too much. Walt is one of my heroes. You’ll definitely like the stories.

The Best Sweepstakes/Email for Small Businesses

You all know I’m a fan of Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. (Look down the right-hand column to see how many posts I’ve tagged him.)

You also know I have studied a number of Wizard of Ads Partners like Tim Miles and Jeff Sexton and follow a lot of their work.

You also know that I am a life-long learner always looking for more information to consume to be better at what I do. If you’re reading this blog, it is likely that you are, too.

That’s why I’m telling you to follow this link…


The link will take you to a Sweepstakes offer of over $3000 in materials from Roy and others associated with Wizard Academy.

Most importantly, it will sign you up for an email newsletter that will bring you amazing articles from a wide variety of Wizard Academy Alumni – Nobel prize winners, best-selling authors, NASA scientists (yes, true rocket scientists!), marketing wizards, and business owners just like you and me.

I hope you win. (The emails alone will make us all winners.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I entered. I also get extra entries when I send people to enter, but I’m not sure if this blog will qualify to get me those extra entries (you can tell them Phil sent you). That’s okay. I’m more about getting you signed up for the email and all the goodies in it (I’ve already received one email and found tons of value). That’s the real value.

How to Write Like a Poet

Poets force you to see things differently.
Poets get you to feel things you weren’t already feeling.
Poets influence you with words.

Advertisers rarely make you crack open an eye.
Advertisers rarely make you feel anything but indifference.
Advertisers rarely use the right words.

Unless the advertiser writes like a poet.

A groan echoed through the terminal.  A gate change, and now another delay.  Grumbling, shaking heads slumped in their seats.  Then it appeared, a small white rabbit on a mother’s hand, and a two-year-old boy became unaware of the discontent surrounding him.  His laughter?  Contagious! …infecting smiles on travelers of all ages.  Smiles? In an airport? The power of puppets.  Your puppet smiles are waiting for you at Toy House in downtown Jackson.

But how do you learn to write like a poet?

Roy H. Williams told me that we write as well as we read. He told me to go get a poem-a-day book. If you want to write poetry, you have to read poetry.

I took his advice and got this book.

You should get one, too.

Phil Wrzesinski

PS Read one poem a day. Read it two or three times. Read it out loud and try to figure out how it would sound in the author’s voice. You won’t need a whole year to see your own writing begin to improve.

Give Them Something to Talk About

Roy H. Williams told you that to get Word-of-Mouth you have to do one of three things…

  • Over-the-top Design
  • Over-the-top Customer Service
  • Over-the-top Generosity

This falls into that first category.

Huge kudos to Kristina Smith, who made all the signs (that’s her in the photo). Notice that we positioned this so that when you take a photo of your kid next to it, you get the big Toy House sign in the background.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Roy says there are three, but I’ve discovered two more ways to get customers to talk about your business. Check out my free download Generating Word-of-Mouth.

PPS Yes, this is also a form of Branding. If you remember, two of our Core Values are Fun and Educational. Not only are the signs fun and interesting and whimsical, they also point in the right directions (almost) and they have miles on them.

Storytelling 101

“Tell more stories!” they shouted at you. “Stories sell!” they exclaimed. “It’s the best way to market yourself!” they bellowed. After the ringing in your ears faded, you said, “Okay, I have stories to tell.” You start telling them. But deep in the back of your mind, where you let few people enter, you’re wondering. Are my stories interesting? Are people even listening?

Seth Godin said it best today when he wrote, “Here’s how to know if you’re on the right track: if you stop a story in the middle, the audience will insist you finish it.”

Yes, your stories are interesting, but you might not be telling them right. How do you become a storyteller that has people on the edge of their seat waiting for the next line?

Jeff Sexton knows. He writes the best blogs about storytelling in an advertising sense that I’ve ever found. You could spend a day or two reading his past posts and learn more than you ever would on a college campus.

Roy H. Williams, is the master, well, um, the Wizard. He was nicknamed the Wizard of Ads and it stuck because it is true. His Wizard of Ads trilogy of books is to this day the most fascinating series of books I’ve ever read.

Here are some basics I’ve learned from these masters.

Start with something interesting. You need to hook the listener right away. You can fill in the background later (if at all).
Choose what to leave out. Details slow down the delivery and distract from the story. Cut out all the descriptions that aren’t absolutely necessary (which is like 95% of them).
Leave in the verbs. Stories need action. Action is excitement. Action makes people want to see what happens next.
Surprise me. If I already know how the story ends before I get to the second line, I’m outta here!
Tie the ending to the beginning. People want resolution to their stories. If you hooked me with an interesting opening, I want to know why that is important at the end.

Your writing is influenced by your reading. Read great books by great storytellers. Look for these clues in their writing. Mimic it in your own. Write. Write some more. Test it on your friends. Stop in mid-story and see what happens. Test again with new openings and new verbs. Write some more. Tell some more.

Soon your audience will be demanding you finish.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some of my most powerful ads have been stories like these…

She almost fell out of the pew.  Her pastor actually called Toy House the Promised Land for kids.  Right there in front of a packed church.  The lady on her left leaned over and said, “You work there, don’t you?”  She nodded.  The lady leaned in again, “I love that place.” She couldn’t help but smile.  “Me too,” she whispered back.  It’s the promised land for kids and adults.  Just ask the lady sitting on your left.  Toy House and Baby Too is an impact partner of Home.fm.  We love to see you smile.

What is your earliest Christmas memory?  Mine was grandma and grandpa sitting on a bench handing my sister and me our gifts.  I was only three, but I tore open that package with the speed of a six-year-old.  A towel, a white, Raggedy Ann towel.  I smiled a big smile, unfolded my towel and plopped down.  I couldn’t figure out why my sister was crying.  After all, she got Raggedy Andy and he’s way cooler.  Merry Christmas from the Toy House in downtown Jackson.  We’re here to make you smile

Christmas Eve, nineteen sixty-five.  He didn’t know if he would make it.  Nine months of active duty, he missed his family.  And he was an uncle now.  His sister had a baby girl, a precious little child for which a stuffed animal from an airport gift shop just wouldn’t do.  When his dad picked him up in the family sedan, he asked, “We got time to stop by the Toy House?”  “Of course, son.  Welcome home.”  Merry Christmas from the Toy House in downtown Jackson, an impact partner of Home.fm. We love to see you smile.