About sales

12-18-2011- 3

This is my mother Julia. She’s 90. At Christmas she gives us money because she doesn’t understand how her own remaining five children, the grandchildren and the great grandchildren navigate life. The price of things, the speed at which things come into and go out of fashion – it’s all too much for her. Interestingly – when she asks her kids what she should get their children, they’re not so sure either. They too are amazed at the pace of change in their lives. Interestingly, the kids enjoy the money because they can do what-ever they want with it. But my mother doesn’t think giving money is a gift because it takes no thought or insight. For my mother a good gift should be a creative revelation for the recipient.

Segue to Frank Wehrmann on creative design and branding.

When I am asked to design an advertising campaign or comment on one, I ask to see the consumer U&A research first. If the client doesn’t have any but is prepared to do some, great! There’s hope. 

If not, odds are that I can’t help the client. 

Like my mother, the people at the top are not in touch with what’s going on at the street level. They just pretend to be. They see people shopping and see lots of stores having sales. So when some stupid ad agency tells them they need to do a sale as well, they’re more than willing to do one. Follow the leader – like little lemmings to the sea.

Like my mother, I don’t think giving away money is very creative or insightful. Actually it’s pretty stupid. If they were smart they would add, rather than chip away, at their brand’s fragile value proposition.


CBC Radio Canada

I didn’t really get into CBC until I got married. My wife introduced me to CBC 16 years ago and now I’m hooked. Because my wife’s parents lived in Winnipeg, we went to Winnipeg and the family cottage in Kenora a few times a year. En-route and there we tuned into CBC Radio and TV. The content continuity made us feel at home although Toronto was a long way off. Over the years CBC, the local and national personalities have become part of the brand family we welcome into our home, car, hotel room and cottage.

I listen to CBC while I’m traveling because I have learned that I will receive the same content – no matter where I go. If I can’t get it off-air or by cable, I can try the internet. If all those media-channel options fail, I look for NPR. NPR is different, but has the same sensibilities and also carries some CBC content.

For years I worked with new franchisors who didn’t understand why brand consistency was important. I often used car rental, fast-food and hotel chain examples to help them understand. In the future I’ll be using CBC as well – because it’s not just a practical thing. It’s a cerebral thing as well.


Why I miss George and not Bruno

Over the last 35 years I’ve worked  on lots of different accounts and hundreds of clients. George and Bruno were both real clients. Here’s why I miss George and not Bruno.

While George didn’t believe that advertising could help the Canadian division of the international Brand he managed, he kept an objective, open mind and listened to reason.  Every call, letter, fax or e-mail from George began with ‘Dear Frank, could you please . . . ’ and ended with ‘Thank-you very much.’ He showed me, our agency his team-mates, the franchise and his customers how common courtesy, common sense and the common touch can be used to build a Brand-Loyal Business one customer at a time by addressing our basic need for acceptance, dignity and respect.

The collateral benefit of George’s approach included the following – and more:

  • he brought out the best in me as an individual,
  • he encouraged me to become a great, not just a good, agency director,
  • he offered our Agency the benefit of the doubt when things went wrong and heaped on the praise when things went right,
  • At George’s meetings you parked your ego at the door because the meetings probed and challenged emotions and intellect to ensure all stakeholders agreed with, could support and would defend the decisions made there.
  • We all worked long hard for George, and the brand we nurtured as a team.

In the end we proved George wrong. Our promotions worked so well that we often ended the campaigns earlier than planned.

Bruno had a sign on his desk: “If anything goes wrong – someone will die”. Professionally he didn’t like Partnerships. He had one with his wife: that’s it. He liked people that did as they were told. Bruno liked being in charge and in control. It was VERY important that all stakeholders thought Bruno was brilliant.

While Bruno was a regular guest at our agency, and was always available for a cross country TV shoot, lunch, dinner and golf, to make the most of any event the spotlight had to be on Bruno from start to finish.

Bruno did whatever it took to make his numbers and did not care who got thrown under the bus when additional traction or a lighter load were called for. He never expressed appreciation because, in his mind, we didn’t exist – or if we did, only by his grace.

While little dictators like Bruno may have a role in our society, it’s definitely not in any play that involves marketing, advertising or customer service.

Great ideas are most often discovered where a key operational insight and an emotional contradiction collide like a pair of freight trains. Getting to that intersection takes intelligence, leadership, teamwork, insight and trust.

In the end Bruno lost most of the business advertising brought in because his operations rarely delivered on the advertised claims.


A brief history of discounting in Canada

In the 1950’s Steinbach’s car salesmen were the top of the country selling more than 250 cars annually. But that wasn’t good enough.

In 1960 the Steinbach’s car dealers held a special promotion where anyone who came to Steinbach to buy a car had their hotel, restaurant and transportation paid for by the Steinbach Dealer Association. People came not only from Manitoba but also from Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Many other business owners took note. The rest is history, greed and folly.

  • Over 60 years of discount promotions have taught three generations to shop for the lowest price and avoid the MSRP at all cost – pun intended.
  • The discount mentality has spread like a deadly virus to every product or service category.
  • Major markets like Winnipeg have become so obsessed with getting the lowest price on an item they will abandon local merchants and drive all the way to Grand Forks to get a ‘better (cheaper) deal’.
  • Low price promotion shoppers are so addicted to getting more for less that they do not care that they are ruining the economies of their home town, province and Canada to get their fix.
  • Discounting forces manufacturers and service providers to move their companies out of Canada.
  • Small service businesses depend on customers that believe that quality and service are important.
  • Large businesses dredge the market with low price promotions and reduce small business survival rates.
  • Countless studies show that a customer that is treated well and is educated along the way is far more loyal and will pay more for and item. This bodes VERY well for smart manufacturers who are able to reinvest their higher profits into R&D that leads to better, more satisfying products.

I dare you to do promotions with a higher calling.

I dare you to look at your business and customers differently and ask yourself “how can I serve them better?

I dare you to look at your business the way Mr. Jack Layton looked at Canadians.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

I dare you.


Can I come home to your brand?

The first store I can recall going to is Mikie’s Corner Store. Mikie was my first brand ambassador and I was four years old. His place offered me everything I could imagine and a whole lot more than I could afford. When I was seven, we moved from Parkdale to High Park and I got to know Pete’s Sunny Bar. Pete’s store was right across from Annette public school and he held me and four other generations of students captive until he died a few years ago. Now his daughter does the same. In high school, there was Mr. Yonka’s Variety Store. I bought my first pack of cigarettes there. Summer jobs and University took me downtown to a whole new world called Yonge Street.

This is what Yonge St. looked like in the 70's - and how it looks now.


All those people, lights, sights and sounds drew me away from the corner stores I had grown up with and exposed me to a whole new world of products and services – most of which I had never imagined. My old ‘brand loyalties’ were severed as I explored the shops and bars of Yonge Street by night and worked or attended school a few streets over by day. I was 16.

As a little boy my loyalty was to a Mikie’s Corner Store and the brands my parents told me I could trust.

Psychology played a big part in my shopping destination and purchase decision.

As a teenager I sought out stores that allowed me to experiment with new people, products and services that my parents did NOT approve of. Discretion became an important purchase variable. 

Psychology played a big part in my shopping destination and purchase decisions.

As a young (and then mature) advertising professional, I remained on Yonge Street another 20 years working for agencies like Foster, MacLaren, Baker Lovick and Ogilvy & Mather. The street changed, my needs changed. Now I knew what I wanted, when I wanted it and how I wanted it. I found a handful of stores that served me well and they still have my business today.

Psychology still plays a big part in my shopping destination and purchase decisions.

The world wide web works the very same way. On any given day there are some people who are using the web for the first time, and some who are closing their web browser for the last time.

We need to think of the online experience as an extension of the off-line experience – and vice versa –  because cognitive dissonance comes into play when you offer customers on and offline experiences that are not congruent.

Whether you’re building your online brand or offline brand presence, get to know all of your customers: the young and the old, the new and the regular, to ensure that you understand what they are buying and how they are using what they buy. Their product and service utility insights will help you ensure that your brand is mentally ‘visible’:  that I can find it, stay with it for life, or come home to it after I’ve gone through my exploration phase.

Aspirin™ is the first brand my mother introduced me to and is still my friend. I use it the same way she does. Duct tape is different. A few years ago my son made me a gorgeous silver duct tape kilt. He changed how I look at that product, where and how I now position it.

The two safest places for a brand are in the user’s heart and mind.

Streets and web addresses change. But, like any good friend, you’ll track down those you love.