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Making the Most of a Street Event

Tonight the classic cars cruise into downtown Jackson. The fourth Friday of every month May through September is a Cruise-In. Most every downtown in America has some type of event that closes the streets and draws a lot of traffic. Many malls have special events also designed to draw new traffic.

The key phrase in there is “new traffic.”

DDA’s, Chambers, and other groups organize and host these events for three reasons:

  • As a fundraiser
  • To draw new traffic to the area
  • To make the area seem like a hip and fun place to be
Market sign by artist Laura Joy Warrior

That first reason explains why these events are not always retailer-friendly or in the best interest of you, the downtown business owner. Sure, you might be a downtown restaurant, but they brought in food trucks. Sure you might be a downtown gift shop but they brought in crafter booths. Sure, you might be an expensive luxury store but they brought in a middle income crowd (or vice versa). Those things are bound to happen.

But those other two reasons more than offset the problems of the first if you embrace the event and turn it into farming for new customers.

There are two types of new customers you’ll meet at an event like this:

  • People who don’t know you
  • People who think they know you


That first group includes out-of-towners, newcomers to town, and people you haven’t yet reached with your marketing efforts. What do they need to know about you to be enticed to come back? What special services or products do you offer that would make someone want to drive to visit you? (Note: if all you can say is, “we’re friendly,” that isn’t enough to make people drive.)

You need to highlight what makes you unique, special and worthwhile.

  • Have large signs outside your business that are easily readable telling people about your unique brands they won’t find elsewhere.
  • Have large signs outside your business telling people of special services they won’t find at your competitors.
  • Put a table outside with the kind of products on it that make people want to cross the street to see.
  • Put a table outside with the kind of products on it that make people want to drag their friends over to see.

Put your best, most friendly people out front. Make sure they are fired up about the event and ready to meet new people. Make sure they are well-versed in what makes your store special. Make sure they understand how critical is their mission to make a positive first impression. (Notice how I didn’t say how critical it is to make a sale? Sales are secondary to impressions during an event.)


The second group has already formed an opinion (usually negative) about you. Either they’ve previously had a bad experience, or someone they know had a bad experience, or it just might be a perception that because you are an indie business you have to be more expensive.

With this group you have to change their minds if you want to turn them into customers. You have to begin building trust with those people. One of the easiest ways is to use the concept of FREE. It doesn’t have to be FREE product, but just some giving of your time and energy away for free.

  • If you are a jewelry store, for instance, you could put out a sandwich board that says “FREE RING CLEANING WHILE YOU WAIT!” Get people in the door, clean and polish their rings while they look at all the fancy display cases, and make them feel more comfortable with your business.
  • If you are a shoe store, have a free gait analysis or foot sizing. Show them you really know your stuff when it comes to getting the proper footwear for them.
  • If you are a hardware store, have a power tools demonstration. Show people how to safely use different saws, drills, or yard equipment.
  • If you are a toy store have a make-and-take demo. Or even easier, give away free helium balloons from inside your store. When kids see other kids with helium balloons, parents will ask where they got those balloons.
  • If you are a restaurant, set up an appetizer or quick-bite stand outside. Serve only your best stuff. Give away tastes for free or a stupidly small fee. Set up some outside seating, too, for people who want to hang out and watch the other people at the event. (If it is a family-friendly event, put out a special family-friendly menu.)
  • If you are a clothing store, have a fashion show in front of your store. (Use local celebrities or kids from the high school sports teams as your models for added excitement.)
  • If you are a comic book store, have a comic swap, a drawing contest, or a photo op with one of your best cardboard cutouts.

Be creative, understanding that you are trying to make a positive first impression on a crowd of “new traffic.”


  • Don’t be closed. No matter what your normal hours, be open for the event. This will be the cheapest form of marketing and advertising you will get all year because the event organizers are paying all the money to draw the crowd.
  • Don’t put out a table of just your clearance stuff. Your tired, worn-out, dead merchandise is not the best first impression you can make.
  • Don’t be open, but do nothing. More people switch from their favorite stores because of perceived apathy than any other reason.
  • Don’t give away coupons and discounts just to try to make sales during the event. You’ll only attract a small handful of transactional customers who won’t spend much, and likely won’t be back until the next offer.

If you are going to give away anything to get customers in the store, give out gift certificates that are only redeemable after the event. If you give out gift certificates redeemable during the event, people will only spend the minimum. If you give them out to be used later, not as many will be redeemed, but the ones that are redeemed will be for a much higher ticket, and you’ll have a much better chance of winning them over with your excellent customer service.  People at an event are not necessarily there to shop. Get them back in the store when they are ready to shop and the promo will be far more productive.


A lot of businesses will give away free food like popcorn, bottled water, or cookies during an event to draw customers through the door. It is effective for getting people in the store, but you need to do some of the other stuff listed above to get them to want to come back.

Remember that these events are not about today’s sales. They are marketing events designed to farm for new customers for future sales. Make that awesome first impression and the events will pay off in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The worst is when the event is taking place downtown, but not on your street. The event may only physically close one block, but perceptually it closes all of downtown to your regular traffic. Unfortunately, since you aren’t in the one block, you don’t get the benefit of the new traffic. If this is your situation, you have two options. First, petition the organizers to have a free booth at the event. Go mobile and make it the kind of booth that drives people to your booth and also to your store. Second, if you can’t have a booth, send people up and down the street with tons of helium balloons and gift certificates that encourage the event attendees to visit you later.

My Second Favorite Retail Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have stories like this, too. 

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

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

PPPS Yes, God has blessed me many times over.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I chose the word Coach.

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

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

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

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

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

Your Advertising Media Reference Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

Movie Ads, Placemats, Yellow Pages, and More

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

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


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

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

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




Upside:  Yeah, still working on that.

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

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



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

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

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



Upside: People keep yearbooks for decades.

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

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



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



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


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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

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

Mobile Marketing – Winning the Transactional Customer Today

I remember the first time someone pitched me the idea of mobile marketing—sending texts out to customers to convince them to come into the store. Two things stood out from that meeting. First, they gave me a stat that said there were 4.5 billion smartphones in use on the planet. Second, they showed up just shortly after I had read Seth Godin say, “What if you actually won the race to the bottom? Worse yet, what if you finished second?”

They lost me with the first statistic because it was a blatant attempt to overplay the significance of the smartphone. 4.5 billion phones? Sure, maybe that many had been produced and even sold, but to believe that 64% of the 7 billion people living on this planet were on a smartphone was just a little over-the-top. I wasn’t ready to jump to the conclusion that even 64% of Americans had smartphones. My mom and dad were still using flip phones at that time. My younger son did, too. My older son had an iPhone, but I was still on my Blackberry, barely touching the “smart” part of that phone. In an upper middle-class, tech-savvy, American family, only 50% of us had a smartphone back then*.

(There is a quick marketing lesson here. If your statistics seem too good to be true, you better justify them or don’t use them at all. Any strain to your credibility will kill the rest of your message.)

Image result for mobile marketingThere was a second statistic they gave me (by the way, I would link to these statistics if I could, but I can’t find evidence online to support them) that said 51% of smartphone users responded to coupon offers sent directly to their phones.

That number actually made sense to me. You and I have already talked about the two types of customers—Transactional and Relational.

Here’s a quick recap to jog your memory … Transactional Customers know exactly what they want and are on a hunt to find the best price. Relational Customers are looking for an expert they can trust to help them find the right item. We are both Transactional and Relational, depending on the category and product. About half the buyers will be Transactional and half will be Relational in any category, too. But Relational Customers will be more profitable to you and have more loyalty.

The 51% who responded to deals and discounts on their phone are likely to be Transactional Customers. I tend to lean more Relational. It would drive me crazy to get bombarded with texts like that all day.

That’s the key to understanding Mobile Marketing. It is a Direct Marketing offer that is most likely to be seen and used by a Transactional Customer. It isn’t a tool for Branding. It isn’t a tool for building relationships. (Transactional Customers have no loyalty to anything other than the discount or deal.) It is merely a tool for attracting the least profitable customers out there.

That doesn’t mean Mobile Marketing doesn’t have a place in your advertising toolbox. It can be incredibly effective for specific uses.

If you do have a deal-of-the-day and want to let your Transactional Customers know about it to help you move some inventory, Mobile Marketing can work well for you. If you have a restaurant and want to highlight today’s specials, Mobile Marketing can work well for that, too.

If you’re just throwing out coupons to anyone walking by your door, however, you’ll get traffic, but it won’t be that profitable and won’t have any long-term positive effect. In some cases, you’ll just be throwing money away.

Would I, as a Relational Customer, use a coupon sent via text when I walked into a store? Of course! But that’s just lost profits. I was already going in to buy something and was already willing to pay full price.

As with every form of advertising, there are pros and cons. There are ways it works and ways it doesn’t. Mobile marketing is one of those that has a specific use. If you know who you’re trying to attract and why you’re trying to attract them, then you can pick the media best suited for the task.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS *Even today I find it impossible to believe that 4.5 billion number (and by now I’m sure they are boasting some higher number). Some might argue that for every person not on a smartphone there is some guy on Wall Street who owns three phones. Okay, I get that. But do you want to pay to reach him three times?

Google AdWords – Wasted Money or Well Worth It?

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, but it is far more complicated than that.

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

Here is the truth about paid search results …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

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

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

Yes You Can Buy Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Celebrity endorsements don’t work like they used to. Sure, some fanboys will buy a particular brand because their favorite star told them, but the general public knows these actors, athletes, and entertainers only promote the stuff they get paid to promote. We see right through the pay-to-say ploy and aren’t convinced to buy.

The idea behind celebrity endorsements, however, was a sound investment at one time because Word-of-Mouth advertising was and still is the best, most powerful form of advertising. You are far more likely to try a new brand or a new store or a new product because someone you know and trust told you than you are because that brand or store told you.

The majority of Americans see advertising as the hype that it is. According to an omnichannel retail study done by Euclid, only 53% of Baby Boomers are inspired by traditional advertising to try something new. Generation X is even more skeptical at 40%, and the Millennials are under 33%.

After spending the last two weeks trying to tell you how to use traditional advertising more effectively, I’ve just linked you to a study that says the majority of shoppers won’t believe your ads anyway. (Note: the real reason behind those paltry numbers is because Most Ads Suck and violate the six principles of effective advertising, but that’s a post for another day.)

As the trustworthiness of traditional advertising declines, shoppers are looking more to their friends and family for advice where to shop and what to buy. Word-of-Mouth.

The good news for you is that you can still buy Word-of-Mouth. That’s what celebrity endorsements really are—a company paying someone trusted and known to talk about their products. But I’m not advocating you buy that kind of Word-of-Mouth. The way you buy Word-of-Mouth effectively today can be done four ways:

  • By spending money on the design of your store to make it so fabulous and unexpected that people have to talk about it.
  • By spending money training your staff to the point that they exceed your customer’s expectations to the point your customer has to tell someone just to validate that it really happened.
  • By being so generous giving away the unexpected to your customers, that they have to brag to their friends..
  • By showing off products in your store so outrageous that people have to tell their friends what they saw.
32,000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle!

We sold jigsaw puzzles, over a million pieces worth of jigsaw puzzles a year. (I did the math once.) Mostly we sold 1,000-piece puzzles and 300-piece puzzles, but we showed on the shelf a 32,000-piece puzzle. The box alone weighed forty-two pounds and came with its own little handcart for hauling it away. The finished puzzle was over 17 feet long and over 6 feet tall. I spent $160 to put that puzzle on my shelf. I never expected to sell it. I never really wanted to sell it. In fact, I sold it three times and immediately ordered another one.


Because every week someone would take a selfie with that puzzle and post it on social media with #toyhouse. It was worth more to me for advertising than the profit from selling one every couple years.


I spent $200/board for three chalkboards on the outside of our building where customers could write their own answers to the questions posed on each board.


Because every time a scavenger hunt took place in the city of Jackson, one of the stops was to write something on that board.


I spent another few hundred dollars to create the mileage signpost outside our store.


Rarely a day went buy that someone didn’t take a picture of that sign with our logo conspicuously in the background. Those pictures invariably made their way onto social media.

I spent about a thousand dollars a year giving away helium balloons free to children of all ages. No questions asked. No purchase necessary.


Not only did it help with crying children who didn’t want to leave the store, it made it more likely that parents would bring their kids in the store, knowing they could get out the door with a free balloon (and on Saturdays with free popcorn). Many customers told me that was what they bragged to their friends when asked why they shopped at my store.

You can get your customers to talk about you to their friends and family. You just have to do something worth talking about. Spend the money to be fabulous, outrageous, unexpected, and over-the-top and then let your customers do all the advertising for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You can read even more by downloading from the Free Resources section of my website the pdf Generating Word-of-Mouth.

PPS In 2009 Toy House was featured as “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. Every single business in that book got there because of Word-of-Mouth. Whenever George traveled he asked everyone he met about their favorite places to shop. The stores he heard the most made it into the book. In other words, it was worth it for us to spend so much time and money trying to buy Word-of-Mouth. Oh yeah, and it worked, too!

PPPS Here are the links to the posts on the other forms of advertising … Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, Magazines, Websites, Email, Direct Mail, Social Media

Direct Mail – Do the Math

I like numbers. I like math. I even like algebra when numbers start fraternizing with letters. (I draw the line at calculus, though. I don’t understand why numbers have to go all lumberjack on me.)

It is a good thing because there is a lot of math in Retail. Some of my favorite math, however, was not the pre-made formulas like calculating inventory turns or cash-to-current ratios. It was the math used to figure out if something was working or not.

One of those occasions was trying to figure out the results of a Direct Mail campaign we used to do at Toy House. For several years I sent out postcards around Halloween for $20 off purchases of $100 or more redeemable by the end of November. I used to send out that type of coupon five times a year, but realized I was training customers to wait for the next coupon. When a customer called me to ask when the next coupon was coming so that she could buy a new car seat, I knew I was heading in the wrong direction.

The front of our 2014 Postcard

We weaned our customers down to just the one postcard in November. Now I wanted to know how well it was working and whether it was worth the money.

I kept track of the number of coupons redeemed and the amount spent per coupon. I knew what I spent to produce and mail the postcards. Now I just had to do the math to see if the campaign was worthwhile.

Here is the math from the last Direct Mail campaign in 2014 …


  • We produced 14,000 postcards @ .23 each = $3,220
  • We mailed 13,500 postcards to our mailing list @ .34 each = $4,590
  • We had 687 post cards redeemed (5.1%) x $20 discount each = $13,740

Total cost of promotion: $21,550


  • Average ticket (before $20 redeemed) was $117 = $80,379
  • Profit Margin was 48.7%
  • Gross Profit on coupon sale transactions: $39,144

Net Proceeds from campaign (after deducting costs): $17,594

The total sales of $80,379 represented about 29% of our sales for the month, so it was a significant portion of our business. The real question of the day, however, was how much of those sales did we get because of the coupon and how much was simply us just giving money away on sales we would have already had?

The better question was … “Do I have somewhere else I could spend $21,550 that will generate more than $39,144 in gross profit?”

The mailing was sent to our own in-house customer base of people already familiar with us, so it wasn’t like we were reaching new people. If all of those same people came in and spent only the average for non-coupon sales of $48 we would have been only slightly worse off (687 x $48 = $32,976, which equals $16,059 in net proceeds).

Once I did the math I knew that anything less than 5% return on my direct mail wasn’t worth the time and effort. We weren’t getting the return we needed. Plus, we were advertising for the short-term instead of the long-term. On top of that, we were training customers to wait for the next coupon.

That is the issue with Direct Mail.

On the plus side, you get to tailor a message specifically to the people on your mailing list, and you can do the math to see exactly how much money you made. The downside, however, is that it takes a fairly high response rate to make it worth your while. Unfortunately, response rates rarely get as high as what we were getting each November. (That 5.1% was our lowest. We had a high of 9.6% in 2007!)

We were getting those numbers, though, because we were sending the coupon to our own fan base during the peak shopping time of the year for toys. We never came close to those numbers with the coupons we used to send out at other times of the year.

According to this post on expected response, if you are using an outside mailing list, meaning people who don’t yet know you, your response is likely going to be between 1-2%

If I only had 1.5% response (202 of the 13,500 redeemed), my numbers would look like this:

  • Total cost = $11,850
  • Total sales = $23,634
  • Gross Profit = $11,510
  • Net Proceeds = -($340)-

With numbers like that, the math is pretty easy to understand.

Does Direct Mail have a spot in the world of advertising? Can it be effective? There is one more equation worth doing. What is the lifetime value of a customer? If finding new customers is difficult, but once you find them, they become a gold mine, then yes, Direct Mail can work.

You just have to do the math.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What I found interesting was how our response rate went down over the years. Some might attribute that to the numbing of the deal. Our deal never changed so it became less appealing to some customers. Some might attribute the declining response to the aging out of our customer base. While we did cull our list for bad addresses, we didn’t track ages of the kids and grandkids of the people we sent the postcards. As birth-rates declined, our list became top-heavy with older customers. During the same time that our response was declining, however, our market share didn’t change. I think in many respects, since we were more hyper-focused on our Relational Customers, our list shifted more in that direction. Most importantly, since we were doing the math, we could see the diminishing returns and looked for better ways to spend our money.

PPS We used to mail out a complete newsletter with our coupon. The newsletter went out bulk mail rate to keep costs down. Unfortunately with bulk mail it doesn’t always get delivered in a timely fashion. When I switched to postcards I also switched to first class mail to make sure our postcards got out in time for customers to redeem. We still, however, had several customers who never got theirs or got it too late. That’s why we had a few extras printed above and beyond the mailing list.

PPPS Check out my take on other media including Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, Magazines, Email, Social Media, and Websites

Websites – The Silent Salesperson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Rule of Websites

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

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

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

Second Rule of Websites

Every single page must have a clear and distinct purpose.

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

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

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

Third Rule of Websites

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

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

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

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

Fourth Rule of Websites

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

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

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

Fifth Rule of Websites

It has to be compatible for mobile platforms.

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

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

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