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Connecting Through Stories (Part 1)

When people ask me what was my favorite Christmas gift, I often answer my first guitar. I still have it—an Eterna EF-15 six-string acoustic guitar by Yamaha—hanging on the wall with my other guitars. I get a lot of joy from playing guitar.

When I first got the guitar I wasn’t very good at playing it, nor was I as motivated to learn how to play as I thought I would be. It was harder than I thought. Then I met Tim Murnen.

The Eterna is the second from the right.

Tim and I worked together at YMCA Storer Camps. Tim didn’t teach me to play guitar, he inspired me. You see, Tim wrote his own songs, powerful, emotional, poetic visions. I wanted to do that too. So I started learning how to play guitar. Tim had ignited a passion in me.

Recently I found an old notebook that had several of my early songs in it. I pulled a guitar down from the wall and began picking at a few of the tunes. It was amazing how quickly they all came back into my memory. They weren’t good. In fact, all but two of them would probably fall under the Geneva Convention rules for cruel and unusual forms of punishment. But it was fun to see the progress I have made from those early days.

The other Christmas gift that stands out in my mind was given to me by my radio advertising sales rep. Most years the radio station would give me a mug filled with candy or a clock with the station logo on it or some other tchotchke gift that collected dust on a shelf for a year or two. Linda, however, gave me a copy of Roy H. Williams book, Wizard of Ads.

That book ignited another passion in me. I was only halfway through the book when I found out there were two sequels. I ordered the trilogy the next day and started my journey into the world of advertising and marketing. The books spoke to me in powerful ways.

I was thinking about these two gifts recently, and the connection between them.

Both were about storytelling. Songs tell stories. The best ads tell stories. Tim told stories. Roy told stories.

Both were about emotions. Songs speak to the heart. The best ads speak to the heart. Tim spoke to the heart. Roy spoke to the heart. (My early songwriting didn’t really tell stories or speak to the heart. Hmmm … I’m sensing a pattern.)

One of my favorite singer/songwriters is the late Harry Chapin who wrote such fantastic, heartfelt songs like Cats in the Cradle, Taxi, and A Better Place to Be. He was the ultimate storyteller. His live album is even called “Greatest Stories Live.” It is an album I can never grow tired of hearing.

I’ve always loved stories. Love reading them. Love telling them. Every night when my boys were younger I would tell them a story. Often they would challenge me to make one up on the spot. I would ask them, “Real or made-up?” If they said made-up I would ask, “Funny or scary?” Then we’d get into the story. Those nights are some of my most favorite nights of all.

Where is the lesson in this for retailers? It is understanding the connections we make through storytelling.

Linda gave ten businesses the same book for Christmas. I was the only one who took it and ran with it. The other nine set the book on a shelf with the other tchotchkes and never went down that path. For them, Linda worked the same way she always had, with professionalism to a tee. But our relationship grew by leaps and bounds until I became one of her biggest fans and cheerleaders.

You’re going to tell a story. Not everyone is going to connect with it. But those that do connect will become the spark that sets your business ablaze. Don’t worry about the other nine. Focus on the connections you make, not the ones you miss. Those connections will always be deeper and more profound (and more profitable).

Speak to the heart and the hearts that respond will speak of you the way I speak of guitars and wizards.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My son wrote his college application essay on how he remembers facts and data better when they are in a story than just through plain old rote memorization. There is a lesson in that story for all of you teachers out there, too.

PPS This is the “why” stories work. Tomorrow we’ll discuss “how” to make them work. How to use stories is a big part of my workshops on advertising, but there is also an element of storytelling in The Ultimate Selling Workshop. Make sure you sign up soon.

Did Nike Make the Right Call?

Legendary UCLA basketball coach and hall of famer John Wooden had several rules for his teams. One of them was no long hair and no facial hair.

“One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. ‘It’s my right,’ he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. ‘That’s good, Bill,’ Coach said. ‘I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We’re going to miss you.’ “  -Rick Reilly “A Paragon Rising Above the Madness”

I have always loved that story. Sometimes, to “have strong beliefs and stick by them” will cost you. Are you willing to make that sacrifice?

Image result for Nike 2018 just do it colin kaepernickThat is basically the heart of the new advertising campaign by Nike that features Colin Kaepernick with the slogan …

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

Not only is that their campaign, it is what Nike itself is doing. The company has taken a hit for this campaign. Stock prices have dropped. People are threatening a boycott of the company. People are making videos showing them burning and destroying their Nike clothing.

The funny thing is these protesters are doing the very thing the ad purports. They are sacrificing ever buying Nike clothing because they believe so strongly against Mr. Kaepernick’s form of protest.

But I’m not here to talk about the politics. Let’s explore instead the decision Nike made to release this ad.

TAKING A STAND

The ad itself is about taking a stand. Nike had to believe there would be short-term backlash. I also believe they will see those gains comeback in multiples. Why? Choose who to lose.

Advertising is interesting. It works primarily like a magnet. Its ability to attract is in equal proportion to its ability to repel. In other words, for every person out there burning a pair of shoes, there is someone else lining up to buy Nike that wouldn’t before. I saw one post on FB from a friend showing the ad. He wrote one word … “#nikeforever.”

Nike is betting on a large segment of the population becoming more engaged with their brand because of their stand. Millennials and Gen Z are two generations who want to know where you stand, and will use that to influence where they spend their money.

One more thing to understand … Nike never actually endorses Colin’s protests, only his willingness to sacrifice for his beliefs. While not everyone will see it that way, many do notice the subtle difference.

NOT AS BIG OF A RISK AS YOU THINK

The other thing at play here is that general public opinion favors the side Nike has taken. According to a 2017 Seton Hall Sports Poll, 84% of Americans believe it is okay for NFL players to protest. 49% did express that the players should find a different way to protest, but that means 51%, or a slight majority, are okay with what Kaepernick has done. I am pretty sure the Nike advertising team knows those numbers and are willing to piss off a handful of people for a chance to more strongly attract the other 84%.

Plus, when you look at the demographics more closely, the number of athletes, especially African-American athletes, who support the protest is even greater. At the end of the day Nike is an athletic apparel manufacturer. Appealing to athletes at the expense of others is a smart marketing plan for an athletic apparel company. Choose who to lose.

WINNING WORD OF MOUTH

Another positive for this campaign is the way it has gone viral. I’m talking about Nike. Every news channel is talking about Nike. Bloggers all over the world are talking about Nike. Social media is sharing the ad by the millions. Nike has probably now received enough free advertising exposure with this campaign to pay Kaepernick ten times over.

The only question left is to see how strongly are these Nike beliefs and how much is Nike willing to sacrifice in the short run to stand by these beliefs (and the gains they will make in the long run).

The lesson here is that it is okay to take a stand. In fact, the two youngest generations who will be influencing most of the spending over the next couple decades are looking to see where you stand on issues. But you have to do it smartly. Nike took a stand that aligned with their Core Values and more strongly attracted their base customers. Back in March I gave you this post to talk about when you should take a stand. Read that and you’ll see how Nike’s decision to include Colin Kaepernick in this year’s Just do it campaign makes even more sense.

Although Colin Kaepernick probably wouldn’t be allowed on a John Wooden team, I believe John Wooden would have admired him.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The only thing that would make this Nike campaign better, in my opinion, is if the company aligned its own business practices with the same slogan. While founder Phil Knight vowed to clean up the company after reports in the 1990’s of child labor and sweatshop conditions, reports and protests of sweatshops surfaced again a year ago.

PPS Although Nike doesn’t like to see anyone burning their clothing, they probably took into account the fact they have contracts with dozens upon dozens of colleges which will keep some of the demographics of the protesters still in their camp. I doubt too many hardcore University of Michigan fans are going to drop Nike completely. Maybe they’ll cover up the logo, but they already paid Nike for the shirt. I predict Nike’s stock will climb back up by early next year after a strong fourth quarter in sales. They also took into account that many people shop for shoes without a care in the world of the political leanings of the company. Athletic apparel is also a fashion industry. If the fashion fits, people will buy it. If the shoe works because of fashion or design or fit, people will buy it.

PPPS You should see some of Nike’s other ads in this year’s Just do it campaign. From an advertising stance, I love them.

“Attracting Millennials” and “Ten Mistakes:” Two New Free eBooks for You

I have a file on my computer named SCHEDULE. It has every schedule I ever created for the Toy House staff dating back to the fall of 1996. That was the year my dad turned the hiring, training, and scheduling of the staff over to me. In 1997 I hired my first Millennial. Granted, the term was still in its infancy, and the defining characteristics of this new, emerging generation born between the years of 1981 and 1996 (according to The Pew Research Center) or 1982 to 2000 (according to the US Census Bureau) were yet to be labeled.

Regardless of the years (or labels) you use to define “Millennial,” in the twenty years from 1997 to 2016 I hired, trained, and worked alongside dozens of people from this generation. I even raised a son born in 1998 who falls under the US Census Bureau’s definition, and while I laughed at all the jokes and negative stereotypes given to this group of people, I knew many of the older guard were missing something.

I often run into people who hear the word Millennial and automatically think Lazy, Self-Absorbed, Selfish, Entitled, Snowflake.

Yet in 2005 when I was called for a job reference for the first Millennial I ever hired, I told the employer, “If you don’t hire this person, you will be making one of the biggest mistakes in your HR career.” She was one of the hardest, smartest, most intrinsically motivated people I have ever known. She just celebrated her thirteenth year with that organization.

What is funny to me is all those negative stereotypes assigned to Millennials were previously assigned to Gen X, and before that used to describe the Baby Boomers. I think we tend to look down on the younger generations and never believe they work as hard as we did. Do that at your own peril.

If you are looking to hire or sell to Millennials, instead of looking down your nose at them, I suggest you look up to what they aspire and meet them there.

They don’t have all the answers, but they are asking some interesting questions that we all should be considering.

Questions like …

  • How do I live more Eco-Friendly?
  • How do I create a more Sustainable world?
  • How do I stay out of Debt?
  • How do I avoid falling for the Hype?
  • How do I help the Collective to grow?

If you want to attract this generation and all their spending power to your store, you need to help them answer those questions and more. You’ll find plenty of ways to do that in my new Free eBook Attracting and Selling to Millennials on the Free Resources page of my website.

(PS The eBook is great, but this is one presentation where the live version is so much more mind-blowing than the print version. Contact me to schedule a time to talk to your team or organization.)

 

The other new Free eBook is called Ten Mistakes That Sideline the Sale. This is strictly a Customer Service book that focuses on some easily correctable mistakes we all make. Some of them are mistakes we make thinking we are offering Great Customer Service, when really we’re killing the mood. Some of them are mistakes that happened to me just this past weekend.

If you’re looking for simple things your team can correct that will immediately affect your bottom line, you might want to start with this list. Pick one or two to work on each month and you will be pleasantly surprised at how many more repeat and referral customers you’ll get this holiday season.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You might be wondering why I give these away for Free. Heck, I don’t even make you subscribe to my blog to get them. One reason is that I have subscribed to several blogs myself just to get information, and while I get some information, mostly I get email after email trying to sell me something to the point that I am afraid to subscribe to anything new.

I don’t want to be that person to you.

Another reason is that I want you to succeed. If the point of writing this blog is simply for me to make money selling stuff, then it doesn’t fit with my Core Values of Having Fun, Helping Others, and Education. The point of this blog, my website, and my purpose for Phil’s Forum is to help as many small businesses as possible. The money will take care of itself.

Finally, while I know you can bypass the whole concept of paying me to be a speaker or coach and just download all this content, I also know by hiring me you get an experience and information that goes far beyond these three to six page eBooks. In the live presentation you get this information tailored to your specific industry. You get context and relevancy and tips and ideas directly related to what you do day in and day out. You get the chance to ask questions, get clarity, and expand the topics to fit your needs. These eBooks are simply the notes from presentations, written generically to fit the most possible industries. They are reminders for those who have sat through a live presentation, minus some of the stories you’ll never forget that drive home the point but take too much ink.

PPS One last thing … I also know not every independent retailer has the budget to hire a coach or go to a big retail conference. If you’re in this category, you deserve to have access to this kind of information as much as the next person. Consider me a library. Borrow as often as you’d like.

Are Your Ads Standing Out or Getting Lost?

Last Monday I had to rent a van to move some furniture for my son’s new apartment at college. While the rental went smooth, as did the delivery of the furniture, I did something I hadn’t done in a while. I listened to FM radio. In my vehicle my phone is connected via Bluetooth so I listen to my own playlists. In the rental van I didn’t have that opportunity.

I tuned in a classic rock station out of Lansing (94.9 WMMQ) until it broke up as we got closer to Ann Arbor. There I was able to get a classic rock station out of Detroit (94.7 WCSX – yeah, didn’t have to move the needle much). 

Image result for old radio in carOn the ride home, as 94.7 was breaking up, I switched back to 94.9 just as a song was fading out and an ad-block was starting. Nine minutes and eighteen 30-second ads later, the commercials ended and the station started up a 25-minute rock-block.

Nine minutes of advertising! Eighteen advertisers all in a row!

Two days later and I can only remember one of the ads. It was about a golf scramble. I don’t remember when, where, or who it was supporting. I just remember that it didn’t make me want to play golf or support the charity (the only two reasons you would overspend for an outing like this).

The other seventeen ads had nothing memorable. There was a cheap poke at men being stupid, although I forget why. I’m pretty sure there was a car ad with a bunch of numbers thrown at me for how much down, how much a month, and how much interest over how many months if I was an employee. There had to be a drug ad because I distinctly remember being bombarded with all the legal fine print talk of all the ways this drug will make my life worse.

That’s it. That’s all I can remember of eighteen advertisers in an ad block I listened to intently.

How much do you think someone who doesn’t care about advertising is going to remember?

This isn’t a knock on radio. (Although if I were an advertiser on that station, I would be drawing up my contract to make sure I was never in a block longer than four minutes. It is hard enough to stand out among eight commercials, let alone eighteen.) This is a knock on lack of creativity and lack of understanding just how much we tune out advertising.

If you want to get someone’s attention, you have to say something unexpected. If you want them to remember you, you have to make them feel something—anything—happy, sad, angry, nostalgic, or even frustration!

I might have remembered your ad if you ran something like this …

I served them ice cream. 8:30 in the morning and I served my staff ice cream. Some looked at me like I was crazy. Others dug right in. Yeah, I’m a little unconventional that way. Kinda like how we staff the store. I have more staff on the floor than stores double our size. Some think I’m crazy. Others love it. There’s always someone available to help you. It takes a little more ice cream, but it’s worth every scoop. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Or this …

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 in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Your advertising is up against a bunch of obstacles. First, our brains are wired to tune out all ads. Second, we purposefully do what we can to avoid ads. Third, your ad is competing to be seen and heard among thousands of other ads.

  1. Boring doesn’t cut it.
  2. Data doesn’t cut it (see rule #1)
  3. “Me too” ads that sound like everyone else’s ads doesn’t cut it.
  4. An ad that doesn’t connect emotionally doesn’t cut it.

Get me interested by saying something different and original. Then make me feel something. That’s how ads truly work.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This doesn’t just apply to radio ads. This applies to Facebook and all other social media. This applies to your email newsletter. This applies to the posters you put up in your store about upcoming events. Do something surprising, unexpected, and heartfelt. It doesn’t cost you more—but it does make you more.

PPS This actually is a knock on radio, this station specifically. Just like your goal is to get your customer to want to come back, the radio station’s goal is to want to get their advertisers to sign up again. When a radio station puts this many boring ads together in this long of a block, they are simply looking at their advertisers as short-term money. That’s a lets-pay-some-bills block, not a lets-make-our-own-customers-happy-because-their-ads-are-effective block. I would hate to be a salesperson for this station because they are creating a huge base of businesses who “tried radio” but didn’t see the results. Don’t create a bunch of customers who “tried your store” and don’t ever want to come back.

Having Fun, Helping Others, Eating Lunch

For the past three weeks I have been making several drives from my home in Jackson to the Oakland County area for lunch. For those of you not in Michigan, Oakland County is one of the three counties (including Wayne and Macomb) that makes up the Greater Detroit Metropolitan area. Oakland County is the northernmost of the three and includes several cities, villages, townships, and lakes.

Oakland County is home to twenty-one Main Street programs in the various cities, villages, and townships, and also home to one of the largest county-wide Main Street support programs. It was Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) that hired me to make these drives each week to do a “Lunch-and-Learn” series of workshops. The workshops are four-week-long tracks on one of three topics: Selling & Customer Service, Marketing & Advertising, or Retail Math.

We rolled this out to three different communities. Two of the communities chose Marketing & Advertising, one chose Selling & Customer Service. All three are reporting back with incredibly positive feedback. Other communities are already bugging MSOC to be included in the next round.

The fun part for me is that I like driving and I love doing these presentations, mostly because I know the difference one or two good tips or techniques can make for a small business.

The fun part for the attendees is that they get a free lunch (or breakfast) and four 45-minute presentations jammed with eye-opening ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, and surprisingly simple techniques to improve their businesses.

The fun part for you is that there is still time to plan a Lunch-and-Learn in your neck of the woods (as long as you are within two hours driving time from Jackson which would include Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Detroit, Flint, and Lansing areas).

Here are the three tracks with class titles and descriptions.

Option A: Marketing & Advertising

  • Week #1 Boosting Your Brand to Attract the Right Business – A quick lesson in branding to show you how a well-crafted brand makes a huge difference in attracting the right types of customers and business. You’ll learn how to uncover the true value in your brand and make your brand stand out in the crowd
  • Week #2 Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget – Seven different ways you can get the word out about your business and draw traffic in without spending a fortune. You’ll learn how to leverage your talents and time to attract more customers to your business right away.
  • Week #3 Making Your Ads More Effective – We hate ads, not because there are too many, but because most ads suck. This presentation will show you the six principles that make the difference between your ad being remembered and acted upon or being simply ignored. You’ll learn techniques even the most highly paid professionals sometimes get wrong, and how you can apply them to your own advertising efforts
  • Week #4 Generating Word-of-Mouth Advertising – We all know Word-of-Mouth advertising is far more effective than traditional advertising, but do you know what it takes to actually get your customers to talk about you? This presentation shows you four proven ways you can generate word-of-mouth advertising. You’ll walk away with tips and techniques that get people talking the very next day.

Option B: Selling and Customer Service

  • Week #1 Selling in a Showrooming World – Online shopping is here to stay. So is the concept of Showrooming, where a customer uses your store to touch and feel the product before ordering it online cheaper. This presentation shows you the two types of customers, how to recognize them, and the very different ways you sell to them. Learn this and you’ll close far more sales than ever before.
  • Week #2 Raising the Bar on Customer Service – Every store thinks they offer Great Customer Service, but every customer can regale several stories where the customer service fell far short. This presentation gives you a different perspective on customer service and shows you how to up your game so that Great Customer Service is only the minimum. You’ll learn how to surprise and delight customers at every turn.
  • Week #3 Building the Perfect Salesperson – Finding the right salesperson is the key for any organization. But how do you identify the perfect fit? This presentation will change the way you look at interviewing and hiring and even training. When you’re done you’ll have a better understanding of how the best companies find the best employees time and time again.
  • Week #4 Training and Motivating Your Team to Perform Their Best – The carrot and stick might be good for a donkey, but it won’t get the best out of your team. This presentation will show you what really motivates people to do their best work and how to get the kind of creativity from your team that sets you apart. You’ll also learn how to turn staff meetings and training times into something your staff looks forward to attending.

Option C: Retail Math

  • Week #1 Reading Your Financial Statements – Your accountant will be glad you attended. This presentation will show you in layman’s terms how to read the two most common financial statements – the Profit & Loss and the Balance Sheet. You’ll learn how they are calculated, what they show, and an intuitive way to use them to check the financial health of your company. It isn’t as scary as it sounds.
  • Week #2 Inventory Management – Cash is King. In retail, the biggest use of your cash is your inventory. This presentation will show you simple and smart ways to manage your inventory levels better including how Open-to-Buy programs work and easy ways to increase cash flow. You’ll learn how to turn slow moving merchandise into cash and make your inventory work for you.
  • Week #3 Pricing for Profit – Most businesses leave thousands of dollars on the table because they don’t understand the principles behind how to properly price their products or services. This presentation shows you how you can raise prices and increase unit sales by harnessing the power of perception. Learn these techniques and you’ll start making more money the very first day.
  • Week #4 Unlocking the Hidden Cash in Your Business – There is more to retail than just buying and selling product. This presentation will show you some different ways to measure your business and some simple ways to make a little extra cash that might just be the difference you need to pay yourself a bonus this year.

If you just read those and said, “Dang, I could use this!” pass this post along to your DDA Director, your Chamber of Commerce, your Main Street Director, your Economic Development Director, your Shop Local director, and tell them, “Dang, we could use this!”

(Heck, you don’t even need one of those organizations. Just get a few other small businesses together and give me a call.)

Then contact me. We’ll go over what it would cost, creative ways to finance it, how to get the food and venues, and what dates to schedule this fall to have some fun helping small businesses grow and thrive, all while having lunch.

Sound yummy to you?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not within that two-hour drive? No worries. Instead of four lunches, we’ll do one big brunch and put all four lessons into a three-hour workshop. Call me.

PPS The beauty of what you’ll learn in these tracks is that the dividends are immediate. With many of the lessons you’ll see results right away. Having this information fresh in your mind leading into the busy holiday season will make a huge impact on your bottom line this year. Lets get some dates locked in now.

PPPS If you’re in Oakland County, MSOC is already working on the budget for 2019. Contact John Bry at MSOC and let him know you want in. If you want something this fall, however, check with the other organizations in your community to see if they will help you organize this.

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.