August 2016

Make Your Plans Bulletproof

2016-08-22T18:32:47-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |

This week at work, bulletproof your ideas.

If you’ve got a new idea, a plan, a program; find people you trust who can poke holes in it for you. Not someone who is going to agree with you, nor someone who will simply be combative. Get someone to provide instructive criticism.

The Starbucks marketing team used to practice this all the time. Often to implement an idea would require efforts from the Operations team, the Supply Chain team, the Creative team, the Legal team, the Customer Care team and others. So, instead of declaring or demanding, “This is our idea, now do it!” We would check with each group who had some stake in the program – see how we could make it better for them without diluting the program.

This worked swimmingly.

We got great feedback, fixed things before they broke, and had built-in buy-in from the various teams. We didn’t have to sell or pitch them on the idea – they were part of building it.

October 2015

7 Steps To Build Your Annual Plan Like A Pro

2015-10-21T16:18:01-04:00 Categories: create, Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , |

It is the time of year again when we start thinking about next year… The plans, programs, and activities that will allow us to meet and exceed our 2016 goals.

We at Idea Sandbox like to approach nearly any type of planning as if it were a road trip. Like a road trip, you need to figure out:

  • Where you are,
  • Where you want to go, and
  • What you need to get there.

We’ll break it down into these bite-sized chunks:

  1. Goals, Goals, Goals
  2. Focus / Business Themes
  3. Seasonal Objectives
  4. Seasonal News
  5. Budgeting
  6. Consumer Promotion
  7. Localized Goals

Now a little more detail on each area:

1. Goals, Goals, Goals

How easy or hard are your sales goals for next year?

How well did you meet this year’s goals? Do you need to be super aggressive? Or can you relax a bit?

Break your sales goals down by quarter and month. Then, concretize goals by converting them to understandable quantities.

Instead of asking store teams to increase sales by $45,000 per location, it is much easier to grasp if they can:

  • Add 10 more customers per store per day,
  • Increase ticket by 50-cents more per customer, or
  • Try to get 3 more dessert orders per shift.

So, once you figure out what sales goals need to be met, you can then plan to add non-sales specific initiatives in the “easier” months. Conversely, you’ll want to plan marketing initiatives when it seems making goals will be a challenge.

Beyond sales goals, what about your performance with Customer Service scores? Local Review Sites? Number of hours of community service or donation amounts? How is your customer database of newsletter subscribers?

What goals do you have for Customer Experience or the Brand for this upcoming year? Are you continuing existing initiatives? Need to start new ones?

Keep all these goals in mind. They may drive a key focus, messaging themes, promotions, and need to be incorporated into your planning calendar.

2. Focus / Business Themes

A business focus or theme represents overarching sentiment, messaging, program or experience for a time period. It may center on a customer facing initiative such as customer experience, new products or services. Or it may be internal focused supporting competitive issues, strategic weaknesses, etc.

Their duration could be for years, or for a quarter, or a season. Like anything you want groups to rally behind, a business focus often has its own tagline, a rallying cry! Here are a few faux-examples:

  • “100 in 3!” – A goal to increase sales per location by $100k during a fixed period of time. “Grow $100k in 3 (months)”
  • “5 Star Success!” – Service goal to get locations to score 5-stars on their secret shopper reports.
  • “Light Bright” – Competitive goal to increase sales during your slower evening daypart.

Sales Goals + Business Theme → Seasonal Objectives + Seasonal News

Typically your sales goals and business theme will drive your seasonal objectives and news. Sometimes you’ll use your seasonal goals to determine the focus.

3. Seasonal Objectives

Use your Goals from above and split them appropriately through the year. Break them down by season, quarter, or promotional period. For example, at Starbucks the Christmas holiday season was a very intense sales period that lasted from mid-November to just after the New Year. There were sales and service goals set solely this 7 or 8 week period.

4. Seasonal News

What do you have planned to meet or exceed your seasonal objectives? These may include:

  • products,
  • services,
  • programs, or
  • initiatives.

Back to the Starbucks example. For the Christmas season the “news” is intense. Back in the day, for a limited-time in-store would feature:

  • Holiday beverages (Gingerbread Latte, Eggnog Latte, Peppermint Mocha Latte),
  • Christmas Blend coffee,
  • Tazo Joy tea,
  • Special food items (Cranberry Bliss Bar – that tastes awesome paired with Christmas Blend),
  • Holiday themed serveware for home – coffee mugs, plastic tumbler cups, etc.,
  • Coffee Brewer / Espresso Machine sale,
  • Christmas music CDs,
  • Product Bundle Giftpacks and gift tins (created specifically for the holiday season),
  • Community Give-Back Coat, Toy or Book Drives,
  • At one point Garry Trudeau “Doonesbury” merchandise (profit went to charity), and
  • Pushing heavily, Starbucks Gift Cards!


This promotional period had the highest number of featured and new products, and the shortest number of weeks. But, we knew a great Christmas season would roll into a great new year!

All these new, limited time items create news for customers. In fact, during the Holiday season Starbucks turns their white cup with green logo red. Some customers start to salivate just seeing the red cup. For them Christmastime starts when Santa is in view during the Macy’s Parade and the red cups arrive at Starbucks.

Fun fact: January thru March – the First Fiscal Quarter of the year and typically slower time for restaurant and retailers is Starbucks second fiscal quarter. Starbucks decided Q1 takes place from October thru December – a busy time of the year. This ensures Starbucks starts off the year strong with a great Q1. Clever, huh?!

What do you already have planned that is “news worthy?”

If you don’t have news, you may need to create it. This is where – during the Sales Goal portion of your planning – having an honest understanding of how hard or easy it is to make your goals is important.

5. Budgeting

If you haven’t already, you need to determine the investment needed for funding the programming to meet or exceed your goals and objectives. This may range from training, to advertising / marketing budget, product or service development, and more. There are two ways to look at this funding…as an expense or an investment. We always feel money spent to improve the experience for customers is an investment that delivers return.

6. Consumer Promotion

I’ve always thought of a promotional theme as the bow that ties together all the programming and activity in a way that is relevant and meaningful to the customer. This is where we build the communication and marketing programs to communicate the themes and news to our customers. Since you know what you’ll be featuring, what your “news” will be – what will be the theme to tell the story?

7. Localized Goals

If you aren’t a single-location organization, you’ll want to consider how you’ll split the sales responsibilities among your leaders, departments, and locations. And you’ll want those teams to break goals into those concrete, understandable measures.

Yes, we know we’ve simplified the steps, but hopefully this will serve as a nice guide for you and your team in prepping for an amazing 2016.

Happy Planning!

Paul's Name
Paul (and the Idea Sandbox Team)

August 2015

“How to Solve Problems” 1947-style

2015-08-05T14:47:12-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

I recently discovered this 8th grade arithmetic book from 1947 on the bookshelves at my parents’ house. It’s got a great collection of images that match the mid-century art style of Idea Sandbox. In addition to the images, I found this piece on page 304 providing suggestions for students on problem solving.
Hot to Solve Problems

[click for larger view]


Before you try to work any problem, read it carefully to be sure you understand it; then follow this plan:

  1. Find what the problem tells.
  2. Find what the problem asks for.
  3. Decide what process or processes should be used and in what order.
  4. Estimate about what the answer should be.
  5. Solve the problem.
  6. Check your work to be sure you made no mistakes.
  7. Check your answer with your estimate and see if it is reasonable.

You can stop reading at this point if you’d like. But I want to go on a bit further and dig a little deeper. How may these math rules apply to everyday problem solving.

1. Find what the problem tells.

In investigating your problem, what do you know about it? What facts do you have? What can you be sure of? What are you perhaps taking as a given or an assumption that may not actually hold true. Gather the facts.

2. Find what the problem asks for.

What is missing? What are you solving for? In math you have an ‘eventual’ solution, for example you know you’re looking for the value of x. Business problems aren’t necessarily that straight forward. So, instead of an ‘eventual’ solution, what are your ‘potential’ solutions? What customers our groups do you need to consider?

3. Decide what process or processes should be used and in what order.

What marketing tools do you already have in place that may help solve your problem? What additional tools should you consider. In business, as in math… If you try to solve a problem using the wrong method you won’t end up with the intended (or correct) result.

4. Estimate about what the answer should be.

I like this step. Before you do any work, think about your intended outcome. An estimate will do two things for you (a) it helps you play out the situation as a dress rehearsal in your mind. (b) It allows you to estimate the outcome. To predict – based on what you know, and where you want to go – what your result will be.

5. Solve the problem.

Ah, working it out. I see this step as crafting your plan. Create the approach. Not launching something at this stage. First build the plan that answers what the problem asks, from step 2, using information, including what you know from step 1.

6. Check your work to be sure you made no mistakes.

Now make that plan bullet proof… weave it out of Kevlar. Did you account for all the things the problem is asking for? Have conditions or assumptions changed since you started building the solution?

7. Check your answer with your estimate and see if it is reasonable.

That makes perfect sense in math, but we don’t necessarily do that every time in business, do we? I like this step. Take the picture of the outcome you painted in step 4 and see if what you have come up with matches that expectation. Nice.

In the end, I see this list as a project management flow. These are key steps that help you ensure you’re not forgetting something important, and proceed with clear expectations in mind. I like it.

What is your reaction?

June 2014

12 Tips For Successful In-Store Events

2014-08-24T15:38:37-04:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , |

No matter what you call them… your customers, clients, consumers or participants – they are all Guests when they visit your location. Being a great host to those visiting your location is no different from entertaining friends and neighbors at your house.

While we do think about details when planning a big event at home, as restaurant and retail owners, we and our teams need to be a great host to Guests every day.

Here is our guide to being a great host to Guests – from preparation and during to after your event.

♦ Planning ♦

Have A Plan

You’ve got to prepare and plan if you want to make a great impression. You can’t just wing it and hope it comes together.

At home you’d use PaperlessPost, Evite or good, old-fashioned printed invitations. At your location, if you are hosting a special event (a sale, grand opening, seminar, etc), you’ll use postcards, social media, and good, old-fashioned printed invitations.

Plan for how many people you want and expect to attend. Plan to have enough: food, drink, entertainment, supplies, and helpers to make the experience just as pleasant and fresh for the first to arrive and the last to arrive.

Additionally, at your location part of your preparation is making sure you have enough staff, that they get time to take breaks and lunch – so they can stay fresh and “on” for your guests.

Invite People

This sounds quite basic… But, if you want Guests to show up, you’ve got to let them know it’s taking place. Give enough advance notice so your Guests can work the event into their calendar.


Sounds basic… but… put your best food forward. A great chance to do a “spring cleaning” – making your place spick-and-span.

At home you make sure at least the rooms your party guests will be in are clean. The main room, kitchen, living room and bathrooms. You vacuum, dust, wash windows… making sure your place is comfortable and leaves a great impression. At your location – it should be the same thing. Each day should be prep-cleaned. Why does dust build up on your light fixtures, merchandise shelves, and massive dust bunnies on the floor? You wouldn’t let that happen at home.

Ambiance: Sights

At home, in addition to cleaning, you may want to make sure you’ve spruced up the place with decor. Put out a few vases of fresh flowers, light candles. Finally hang those pictures, get the carpet cleaned. Too at your location, be sure you’re keeping your decor looking fresh. Maybe change out the drab silk plants. Take down a few of the notes and stickies that are collecting at the POS area.

Ambiance: Smells

What does your place smell like when people first walk in? Is it pleasant and welcoming?

At home the smell of appetizers and cookies baking may be all you need. But, your cleaning helps to rid your place of any stale smells. At your retail shop and especially at your restaurant, the smell of cleaning supplies and bleach is not a good smell. We want to see you keep it clean, not smell it! Get an outsider to tell you how your place smells. We spend so much time in our locations we no longer can pick up if there are any unpleasant odors.

Ambiance: Sounds

What sounds do you hear? Is there music that fits your event? Do you bring in live entertainment? Are there sounds guests shouldn’t hear? Employees gossiping to each other? Loud kitchen noises?

♦ During ♦

As Guests Arrive…

Greet Guests – Make sure someone is there to greet and welcome your guests as they first walk in. Make a nice first impression. This is the same at home or at your business location. A smiling, cordial, warm greeter is a perfect way to introduce Guests, and especially new Guests to your location.

Don’t Let There Be Strangers, Make Introductions

At home, you would introduce your guests to your spouse and family. And introduce one Guest to another. You’ll let them know where the bathroom is, where they can get a drink and where the snacks are. At your location…while maybe you’re not having customers meet each other, it makes sense to ensure they know who on your team is there to assist them – make their experience better.At your location, you don’t want customers to be strangers to your offerings – your products, services – and the layout of your location.
Here are the changing rooms. Here is the bar. The toilets. The coat check. Here is how you order. Here is how you pay.

As It Continues…

Re-Stock & Refresh – As people dig into your offerings, the display is going to be depleted and messed up – whether a bowl of buffalo wings, a shelf of shirts, or wall of widgets. Plan to refresh with extra supplies, straighten up what gets messy, and take away what’s finished.

Join The Fun – Make sure you mingle with your Guests. Take this opportunity to get to know who is attending and get to know more about them.

Look For Cues – Watch your guests for non-verbal cues that they may need help. Make sure they don’t look too warm, too shy to ask for help, that their glass isn’t empty.

As People Depart – As they depart, thank them for coming! Ensure they know the event was even more special because they were there. Send them home with a party favor. Perhaps even an offer to return again soon!?

♦ After ♦

Send Thank You Notes – While the Guest is typically supposed to send a “thank you” note, as a business – why not send thank you notes to your Guests? Let them know you appreciated their visit.

We hope this guide helps you and your team be the best host to all your Guests.

January 2014

How does the Price of a Product Affect the Marketing Plan for the Product?

2014-08-24T15:29:47-04:00 Categories: Crackerjack Marketer, grow|Tags: , , |

POINT: John Moore

The price of a product doesn’t necessarily affect its marketing plan. Objectives still need to be set. Strategies must be identified. Tactics need to be developed. Constraints (budget & timing) must be listed. None of that changes with low-priced or high-priced products.

What does change are the strategies and tactics needed, relative to how a product is priced given its competitive landscape.

As mentioned earlier, high priced products need a rich story behind it in order to justify its premium price. That story needs to come through in the strategies and tactics used to gain customer attention in hopes of earning a purchase.

How a product is priced relative to its competition will significantly affect its marketing plan.

The more competitors a product has, the more difficult it will be to gain customer attention.

The more similarly priced competitors a product has, the more difficult it will be to earn a purchase.

The onus is on the marketer to create imaginative strategies and tactics that breakthrough the cluttered competitive landscape.

Fast food retail marketers face this conundrum every day. Prices are similar across the board for fast food retailers. Every fast food retailer competes on price from Taco Bell to Burger King to Subway.

To standout from all their competitors, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Subway need to be more imaginative in what they say, when they say it, how they say it, and whom they say it to.

Taco Bell continuously showed creativity when they  were running their “Think Outside the Bun” marketing.

Burger King continuously tries to be more uniquely creative than McDonald’s in its marketing efforts. (Doesn’t always work for Burger King.)

Subway continuously, and with sharp focus, shows its creativity in marketing its $5 foot long sandwiches and in telling its eat healthy story.

The simple fact remains, a brand, no matter if its priced high or low, must be interesting to get customers interested. A marketing plan needs to follow through on the “be interesting” positioning.


I’m going to keep this one simple as I think the answer is simple… A great marketing plan won’t change based on the price of a product.

Whether you’re selling low-priced cotton swabs or multi-billion dollar cruise ships, the marketing plan should be geared to do the same thing:

Define ways to meaningfully engage with your intended participants (target audience) with the right message, in the right place, at the right time

Crackerjack Marketer

October 2012

A "Complete Sentence" Creates A Complete Strategy

2017-08-21T16:19:31-04:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

To obtain the best results from our marketing plans, we need to make sure our approach is well-thought and complete.

This is especially true of trending marketing tactics, (i.e., social media and discount coupon sites).

 We feel pressure to use these because they are popular and we’re worried about missing out. But, how do you determine what tactics best suit your needs?

An approach I have successfully used to test marketing strategy is to form a “complete marketing sentence.” Below I provide details and a ready-made template. Enjoy!

Similar to the way English grammar requires you to pair a subject and verb for a complete thought, marketing grammar requires its parts of speech for a thought to be complete.

The marketing plan was successful diagram

To ensure your marketing tactics make sense, you’ll need:

  • The Strategy – what existing company strategy supports the idea, making it worth pursuing?
  • Your Audience – with whom do you wish to connect.
  • The Tactic – the activity you’re planning.
  • Timing – when you plan to do the activity.
  • Why this Audience Cares – the pain in their life you are solving.
  • The Benefit of the Benefit – the effect this has on the quality of life of the audience.

Once you have all the parts identified, plug them into the structure – to form the complete idea.

The Structure:

Sentence Structure
Here, let me give you a “complete” sentence.

[Build awareness of our “Lower Employee Churn” program] among [CEOs]

thru [Direct Mail postcards] implemented [the first week of October 2012].

The audience cares because [it can significantly lower training costs and increase morale]

thus [allowing them to reaffirm their leadership role].
Here’s the background for that sentence.

You offer company leaders a training program. It teaches them how to keep their employees happier and, therefore, reduces the number of employees that quit. You want to let these leaders know about this program through a direct mailing.

The Parts:

  • Strategy: Build awareness of our “Lower Employee Churn” program
  • Audience: CEOs
  • Tactic: Direct Mail postcards
  • Timing: the first week of October 2012
  • Why They Care: it can significantly lower training costs and increase morale
  • Benefit of the Benefit: allows them to reaffirm their leadership role.

That complete sentence again…

[Build awareness of our “Lower Employee Churn” program] among [CEOs]

thru [Direct Mail postcards] implemented [the first week of October 2012].

The audience cares because [it can significantly lower training costs and increase morale]

thus [allowing them to reaffirm their leadership role].

Next time you’re wondering  if a marketing tactic has been well-thought, try “completing the sentence.”

Handy Template: Download your Complete Marketing Sentence Template. [PDF, 59kb]


August 2011

Creating Marketing Plans that Get Buy-In from Bosses and Create Buyers from Consumers

2014-08-24T15:33:41-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

CrackerJack Marketers, John Moore and I, will be sharing secrets, tips, and techniques we’ve learned as retail marketers in creating the most effective marketing plans.

Crafting a CrackerJack marketing plan isn’t easy. Your boss wants a plan that’s going to meet or exceed business objectives AND be embraced by internal departments within your organization. Your boss’s boss demands a plan that drives higher sales and increases traffic. And your customers desire better products and experiences at lower prices. In this webinar you will learn how to accomplish all of that and more.

In our Creating Marketing Plans that Get Buy-In from Bosses and Create Buyers from Consumers webinar – among other lessons – you’ll learn how to:

  • Get Built-In Buy-In from within your company.
  • Weave your plan out of “Kevlar,” making it bullet proof to departmental critiques.
  • Convey “overt benefits” to customers and potential customers.
  • Use “backcasting” to develop short-term tactics leading to long-term impact.
  • Use a CrackerJack Marketer approved Marketing Plan Template
Cost: $4,000* (MEGA discount available. Read below.)
Date: Wednesday, August 31
Time: 12 noon – 1:00 PM (EST)
Registration: Click To Register!
* Use the discount code: CRACKERJACK and receive a 99% discount and pay only $40.00

All attendees will receive a battled-tested CrackerJack Marketing Plan template, a detailed PDF summary of the webinar, and an overall boost in confidence.

May 2010