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Category: Word of Mouth

Reviews: Good, Bad, Necessary Evil?

I remember the first presentation I saw about the power of online reviews. The speaker instructed us how to use our smartphones to take quick testimonials right on the sales floor whenever we had a happy customers. I looked at my notes from the presentation and read …

“Get them to post their reviews before they even checkout. That’s when they are happiest.”

I also remember around the same time reading about Yelp and the problems with reviews there. Yelp was accused of suppressing good reviews and only showing an equal mix of both good and bad reviews. Yelp’s argument was that most good reviews were false anyway and that the people reading the reviews needed to see both the good and the bad.

I had never even looked at Yelp because I thought it was only for restaurants and west coast businesses. I immediately checked out our listing. To my surprise (and delight), there were no negative reviews posted, mainly because we didn’t have any negative reviews.

Then I got the extortion letter from Yelp. If I signed up for advertising with them I could control (somewhat) my negative reviews. I remember thinking three things at that time.

First, I didn’t have any negative reviews to control on Yelp.

Second, I didn’t see the return on investment for running ads on Yelp, partly because I didn’t and still don’t see much return on investment for any brick & mortar running online ads, and partly because I didn’t see Yelp as a big deal for indie retail.

Third, anyone that was already looking me up or finding me on Yelp was either going to visit me because I was an indie toy store or not visit me because I was an indie toy store. The reviews were a minor part of the decision process. More importantly, anyone who didn’t know me, then found me on Yelp, and was debating whether to visit was basing their decision on every single interaction they had ever had with an indie toy store.

The reviews were just the reinforcement of their already-established bias.

That’s the reality of how we read reviews. We first have an established bias based on our own beliefs and previous experiences. We look at reviews to reinforce those beliefs. We’ll justify away negative reviews for places we expect to love, and discount the reviewer’s opinion when it is at odds with what we expect.

In the back of our mind, we’ll also wonder how many of these reviews—good and bad—are simply made up.

About the only time we’ll heed the reviews is when they are heavily slanted to the negative. When everyone is saying something bad, we’ll decide the business is an outlier and shun them.

(Note: I talked about how to deal with negative reviews here.)

Does this mean you should ignore reviews for your business? Absolutely not! You should always be checking your reviews. If they slant negative then you have a problem you need to address with how you run your business. Even one bad review might be enough to warrant a change in policy to make the experience better for your customers.

If they slant positive, great! Keep up the good work!

Only if you don’t have any reviews (because you’re a new business or have only recently claimed your online profile) should you actually go after getting them. If you’re running your business correctly, the good reviews will take care of themselves.

Because of confirmation bias, though, you don’t have to lose sleep over your reviews. Just keep an eye on them from time to time and make sure you run your business so well that the positive organic reviews outweigh the negative ones.

At the end of the day the most important “review” is the one-to-one where your current customers talk about you to their friends.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Of all the reviews online, pay most attention to your Google reviews. These are the ones that most people will see because A) Google is the top search engine. B) Google Maps is the top Map App.

PPS If you are a restaurant, reviews are much more critical than if you’re a retailer. How you respond to each review goes a long way to how people will view your restaurant. Read this about negative reviews.

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.

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?

Self-Checkout – The Best, Worst Thing About Retail

I hate the self-checkout. When Kroger first introduced it in Jackson I had a couple of the most frustrating checkout experiences of my life. I swore I would never go back to Kroger again. (I already hated the narrow aisles and the not-so-intuitive location of everything in our Kroger store. This was the icing on the cake!) On top of my own frustrations with using it, the self-checkout was eliminating workers. One employee could now service six checkout lanes at once. I didn’t like that, either.

My argument against the self-checkout isn’t just because of my own incompetence at using them or the employee issue. I see them as a wasted moment in the store for an employee to surprise and delight the customer one last time. It is the last impression you make on your customer and, at best, a self-checkout station can only be neutral.

The closest a self-checkout ever came to surprise and delight for me was the first time I went through one without a hassle. Unfortunately, that instantly raised the bar of expectation, at which the self-checkout has fallen miserably below on several occasions.

I do use them—especially in big-box stores—for a couple reasons. First, when you only have a small load, they are often the only “express lane” options now, and no one wants to be stuck behind a couple full grocery carts for families of six. Second—and this is the reason so many customers actually “like” self-checkout—most stores have poorly trained, horrible service at the checkout. There is no surprise and delight because no one has taught them how to surprise and delight. Neutral beats poor every time.

THE CUSTOMER’S EXPECTATION

To understand how to surprise and delight a customer at the checkout, you first have to understand what a customer expects. Customers at checkout are far different from customers who are shopping.

Time is mostly immaterial to a shopper. She will take all the time she needs to hunt for solutions, compare options, and make a decision to buy. But once that decision is made, time is now of the essence. She wants to check out quickly, accurately, and with as little hassle as possible.

Speed, Competence, and Attitude are the three attributes you need to be great at the checkout.

Unfortunately, you rarely get all three. More often than not, you only get one of those attributes in a cashier. I have been in lines where none of the three attributes were shown. Those stores are killing their customers, driving them to the self-checkout lanes, and more importantly, driving customers away for good. Since self-checkout can never be more than neutral, it can’t make up for all the horrible encounters a customer has had with a live cashier.

I understand why the big box stores do it, though. It isn’t just the cost-savings. They know that neutral is better than their cashiers can perform on average, so they’ll take the trade-off.

For your store, however, the checkout is your chance to make a positive lasting impression and cement the trust, loyalty and word-of-mouth that comes with surprise and delight. You just need Speed, Competence, and Attitude.

SPEED

A customer at checkout doesn’t want a sloth. You put your energetic people at the register who move quickly, whether running things through a scanner, typing in numbers on a screen, or handwriting a receipt. The customer recognizes people who move slowly and that gets them feeling impatient. Evaluate your checkout process to see where you can speed it up and where your cashiers can give the impression of speed through energy and enthusiasm.

COMPETENCE

Your cashiers have to know their registers inside and out. They have to know how to handle and fix problems quickly and easily. They have to know how to handle themselves whenever a surprise does happen to show that they are completely in charge of the situation. I understand that bigger stores often don’t trust their cashiers, so they limit what problems the cashiers can solve without a manager’s authorization. You need to authorize all your cashiers to be able to fix all problems, solve all issues, and make changes at the register right away. With the size of your staff, if you don’t trust your employees that much, don’t put them on the register (or maybe you shouldn’t put them on the schedule at all). 

Nothing derails a checkout like a cashier who doesn’t know what he’s doing or constantly needs help to fix problems. If you’re going to do your cash register training on the floor, there better be a competent person standing right over the trainee’s shoulder at all times to keep the register humming.

ATTITUDE

I’ve had cashiers with speed and competency, but the attitude of a dead fish. It didn’t leave me all warm and fuzzy. Cashiers need to be happy people, especially because if someone is checking out, that means bills can get paid. Cashiers need to be engaging and friendly. They need to say Hello. They need to be observant. If the customer has just placed all their items on your cashwrap and is standing there holding her wallet, please don’t ask, “Are you ready to check out?”

I actually had a cashier at Kmart ask me that question as my items were rolling down her conveyor belt. In my best Bill Engvall Here’s Your Sign impression I said, “Nope, these items just looked bored. Thought I’d give them a ride.”

Another dangerous question to ask at checkout is, “Did you find everything?”

The typical response from a customer will be, “Yes.” First, she doesn’t want to hold up the line by saying no and having you or someone else go search for her item. Second, she is secretly afraid that if she says no, nothing will happen, which would be even worse. Third, she may not have found everything because she discovered you don’t carry something she wants, but she doesn’t want to rehash that whole conversation out a second time. So when you ask that question, you’re potentially putting your customer in the position of having to tell a little white lie. That isn’t surprise and delight.

Your cashier has to be observant. Your cashier cannot ask, “Did you find everything?” but she can ask, “Do you need (fill in the blank) to go with (something the customer already has)?” In fact, that is the one area where your cashier can stand tall is in making sure no customer leaves without having everything she needs to Complete the Sale.

Another thing your cashier can do is Praise the Purchase with phrases like, “Oh, you’re going to love using that,” and “I had one of those, it was great!” and “Those are really neat.” They must be sincere phrases (which is why you always want to encourage your employees to use the products you sell), but when used properly make your customer feel smart and confident and happy about her purchases. You’ve validated her and she will remember that. She’ll love coming to your store because it makes her feel smart.

Along with Praise, a great cashier will Give Out Tips for better usage of the product. “That’s a great stroller you’ve chosen. Did the salesperson show you how the wheels snap off easily so that you can clean them when they start to squeak? I recommend a silicone spray. It works better on the plastic.” Not only does the tip make the purchase more enjoyable, it gives the customer confidence in the purchase and eliminates one potential negative (a squeaky wheel) that might cause the customer to be disappointed in the purchase later on.

The cash register is also a place to make sure people are signed up for your email newsletters or loyalty programs or Birthday Club or any other services like that. It isn’t the most ideal place because it takes time (and speed is of the essence), but if your register process isn’t the fastest, it can be a good way to occupy the customer while you’re ringing things up.

Finally, there are two other questions your cashiers might ask …

  • “Do you need help getting those items out to your car?”
  • “Do you have more shopping to do today?”

The first question applies in certain situations, but is an easy (and under-utilized) service to offer when most of your customers are in your own parking lot. The second one is especially important for downtown shops. You can often steer customers to another local store if they have more shopping to do, or to a local eatery if food is next on their agenda. You can even offer to hold their purchases while they go next door for a sandwich (if possible). That would certainly surprise and delight a customer.

To recap, a great cashier will …

  • Complete the Sale
  • Praise the Purchase
  • Offer Tips for Better Usage
  • Sign the Customer Up
  • Help the Customer Out the Door and on with her day

A self-serve checkout cannot do any of those five. That’s why it can never be more than neutral, and often simply a convenient nuisance that saves us from something worse.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yeah, that’s a lot of training you may need to do to make your cashiers great. Then again, if you hire helpful, friendly, confident people in the first place, all you really need to teach them is how to run the register and what your products do (which you should be teaching to everyone on the team anyway). They’ll take to the rest quite easily.

PPS Attitude trumps the other two attributes. A positive, friendly, engaging attitude keeps the customer occupied so that they often don’t notice that you aren’t that fast at the checkout. Similarly, a can-do, I’m-in-charge, attitude gives customers confidence even when mistakes are made and need to be fixed. “Hold on a second, let me get this straightened out,” imparts far more confidence than, “Oh my god, oh my god, what do I do now?” Confidence breeds Trust. Trust leads to loyalty.

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.

How to Find Out Your Business Reputation

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

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

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

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

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

LOCAL COLLEGE STATISTICS CLASS

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

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

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

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

QUESTION #1

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

When someone answered the phone, the student would say …

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

If they said yes, the first question was this …

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESULTS

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

If You Want to Be Known for Something …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be the store known for…

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t just do it. Be known for it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

What Not to Change

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

The first answer by virtually everyone was “breakfast.”

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

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

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

Burgers? Really? That was your big marketing gimmick?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is only one house of pancakes.

There is only one waffle house.

There are dozens of burger and pizza joints.

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

Surprise and Delight for Sales Reps

Today is a Hinkley Donut day. Those of you who have lived in Jackson know what I mean. There are only four of these days each week. Hinkley’s Bakery is the exception to the rule of needing to be open seven days a week to be successful (although they would make waaaaaayyyyyyyy more money if they were open more, it is a quality of life issue, quality of product issue, and a choice they have made, which I respect.)

Hinkley’s Best of Michigan Donuts (I tried to take a picture of a full box but they get swooped up quickly.)

Not everyone likes Hinkley’s Donuts, but enough people do that they were the runaway winner in a poll here in Jackson of the best donuts, and the overall winner in a statewide taste test held by the food writer for MLive, a newspaper with editions in several Michigan cities.

I had sales reps who would only call on me in the morning, and only on Hinkley Donut days. I also had reps who always came at lunch time to either go to Mat’s Cafe for BBQ or Schlenker’s for a hamburger (both also placed highly in their respective categories on MLive.)

Good sales reps know one of the best ways to make connections with the retail buyers is over meals and food.

They don’t have to buy for you all the time, either. In fact, decades ago my parents would take sales reps to lunch at a private business club in downtown where you signed a bill, rather than pay cash or card for the meal. That way the reps couldn’t pay!

Once word got out on the street that Toy House was buying you a nice lunch at a cool restaurant with a birdseye view of the store, all the reps stopped in Jackson for a visit.

Surprise and Delight. We surprised the sales reps, delighted them with a free meal (when the expectation was often that they would have to pick up the tab). Guess who went to bat for us when new products were released, when shipping was tight, or when we needed information?

I was doing a presentation about Customer Service (that dead phrase) with an eclectic group of businesses, not all were retailers. Ernie had a sales force that called on other businesses to sell his product.

I asked him what the client’s expectation was when his team went on a sales call. He said the stuff you would expect like show up on time, dress appropriately, be prepared, don’t waste time, don’t get in the way of their regular business. All good stuff. All expected stuff. If you don’t do any one of those things you’ll have a hard time making the sale.

I then asked him what time of day they made these calls. Some were morning, some were afternoon.

Does your salesperson show up for a morning meeting with a box of donuts for the staff? Not any donut, mind you, but Hinkley Donuts?

Does your salesperson show up for an afternoon meeting with a Klavon’s Pizza Pie? (another Jackson-based restaurant high on the MLive list)

Imagine your sales rep shows up at your store with a box of your favorite local donuts or a pepperoni pizza from your favorite local pizza joint. Does that change the relationship? Of course it does! You’ll talk about that sales rep to all your other retailer friends. You’ll likely try to do more business with that rep, too.

Same thing is true if you, the retailer, do something unexpected like that for your reps. They’ll tell all the other reps and you’ll have a rep-utation that makes people want to do business with you.

Generosity. Word-of-Mouth. Doing the Unexpected. Surprise and Delight. It doesn’t just work with your end-users.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t for a minute think that I am telling you your reps won’t service you if you don’t feed them. Your sales reps are mostly a hard-working group of individuals that don’t get paid nearly enough for what they have to put up with. Heck, feeding them is also just a nicety that keeps them from spending too many days on the road eating fast food. What I’m talking about is another example of how doing something surprising and delightful can help your business (and another example of what surprising and delightful looks like.)

PPS How hard would it be to call the local chamber and ask what is the favorite donut shop or pizza joint in town?