“Sight counts the seeds in the apple; vision counts the apples in the seeds.”
We’re about to enter high season for credit union planning sessions. During those facilitations, the credit union’s vision is typically reviewed. What is our vision? Are we living our vision? Are we on the right track with our vision?
But what really is vision? The above quote is one of the best definitions of vision I’ve ever seen: sight counts the seeds in the apple; vision counts the apples in the seeds.
“We have adopted the same methods and measurements of big banks and Wall Street,” says Patrick Adams, CEO for St. Louis Community Credit Union. “We are judging ourselves by our quarterly call report measurement data. No one is planting trees for other generations to sit under. No one is thinking long term anymore.”
Those are sobering words from a wise leader within the credit union movement.
So let’s be honest and real. As senior executives and board members let’s ask some gut-check questions:
- Are we more concerned with our year-end bonuses (based on the credit union’s yearly financial performance) than our credit union’s five year future?
- Are we making short-term financial gain decisions (for example raising fees to get more non-interest income) instead of trying to help our members?
- Are we more concerned about our net income or our members’ financial well-being?
- When was the last time we offered a new product or service that our members truly loved?
- Are we more concerned about asset size or member service?
- Are we tracking financial ratios more than we are member experiences?
These are hard questions and certainly not meant to offend but rather to challenge. Quarterly and yearly financial performance and tracking are critical to your credit unions’ success and health. However, there are times when we should pause and ask ourselves some key questions about our vision.
So when it comes to your credit union, are you counting seeds or apples?
As financial institutions, credit unions tend to focus on numbers, ratios and operations. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the most successful companies today are those that are marketing driven. Think Apple, Disney, ESPN, etc.
I had the opportunity to visit recently with Patrick Adams, CEO of St. Louis Community Credit Union. Adams is well known in the credit union movement, often speaking and keynoting multiple national conferences. If you’ve never heard Adams speak you’ve missed a real treat. He is both hilarious and poignant. He makes you laugh and think—at the same time.
In addition to his speaking, Adams has turned St. Louis Community Credit Union into a national success story. When he started as CEO a few years ago the credit union was near $140 million in assets; today it is over $205 million in assets. And while most credit unions are experiencing less than one percent new member growth, St. Louis Community Credit Union is growing members at a 13% to 15% clip. Yes, you read that right: 13% to 15%.
So how has Adams done that? He’ll tell you it’s because they have built a marketing driven credit union.
“Marketing is the most important role,” Adams says. “Every successful business is marketing driven. Nobody shrinks into success. Those companies that have a strong brand grow more effectively than those with a weak brand.”
Adams notes that the CEO plays a key role in the marketing function. “It starts at the top of the organization,” he says. “The CEO has to get behind marketing and see it as an investment and not expense. There are three things CEOs worry about: growth, profit and risk mitigation. Marketing allows all three of those to occur.”
How much did St. Louis Credit Community Union apply these marketing driven principles? So much so that they were counterintuitive during this recession. While many institutions were pulling back, they focused on growth. In fact, Adams challenged his management team to develop 12 new products and services in 24 months. They also deployed two new branches. “Everyone was going to hunker down, so we knew the market would open up to us.”
So how else do you build a marketing driven culture? Adams offers these insights:
(1) Focus on people
“If you take care of people, you’ll have profit,” Adams says. “We chose not to pile onto consumers. We should stay off their back and not keep looking for ways to add fees; if we’re driven by profit we won’t care about people.”
(2) Think like retailers
“Your world changes dramatically when you think like a retailer,” Adams notes. “Retailers focus on pricing, product development, service, foot traffic, hours, etc.”
(3) Ask key questions
“We always ask two key questions at our credit union: is it good for our members and is it good for our staff,” Adams says. “The answers to those questions drive our efficiencies.”
(4) Live the brand from top to bottom
“CEOs have to create a proper environment for employees to live the brand,” Adams says. “We can’t preach service and brand and yet reward staff for operational goals (perfect balancing, audit functions, etc.). We can’t just talk to talk: we have to walk the walk. We must get everyone focused on the overall purpose of the organization.”
Do you want to see similar results at your credit union? Then use Patrick Adams and St. Louis Community Credit Union as an example of a credit union that is marketing driven.
Many credit unions are still struggling with their social media strategy and tactics. We all know we should do social media, but let’s be honest: it’s a tough nut to crack (or at least crack well). One book that helps with understanding the social media conundrum is Engage, by Brian Solis. I’ll be honest with you: it’s a hard read (more like a textbook than a business book). In fact, there were many times when it was painfully slow. However, there were several points Solis made that were particularly helpful. Below are a few quotes from the book along with credit union application.
“Engage or die”
- Credit union application: If your board or management team in struggling with why to be involved with social media use this quote. It’s a perfect answer to the “why social media” question. Social media is about engagement.
“Authenticity + wisdom + engagement + reflection + adaption + participation = trust, loyalty and authority.”
- Credit union application: You can’t leave out any of these elements with your social media presence. Failure to apply any of these elements will reduce your effectiveness. Are all of these parts present in your brand and website?
“Some of the most popular blogs are in fact, company blogs….they live and breathe the human persona of the brand that they’re created.”
- Credit union application: Your blog should not just be an information dump. The best corporate blogs have some personality to them. Make sure your credit union blog is not too corporate. Give it some life.
“The primary metric for business success is measured in profitability and market share, not friends and followers.”
- Credit union application: Stop measuring friends and followers. Those are nice metrics but they really don’t mean anything unless your blog is engaging members and your bottom line growth numbers (new members, loan volume, etc. are increasing). When it comes to social media, ROI is an inexact science at best. Engage does offer some great thoughts on social media ROI.
In one chapter, Solis offers a social media plan outline (note: obviously, this isn’t a quote from the book).
- Credit union application: Every credit union needs a social media plan (not just an employee social media usage policy). Do you have a formal social media plan (just like a formal marketing or brand plan)? If you don’t Engage gives a sample outline you can follow (worth the price of the book).
Those are a few of the major points and quotes Solis makes. While Engage doesn’t make my top list of business book recommendations (see my posts on The Referral Engine, Crush It, and Everyone Communicates Few Connect, for some of the books I like more), it does offer good suggestions on blending your brand with your social media efforts.
There’s a reason why successful companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on retail marketing. Plain and simple, image sells. Why? Because your retail environment—the way a facility looks and feels—is directly related to the total member experience.
And let’s be clear: now credit unions need to think like retailers. You are no longer just in the financial services industry: you are in the retail industry.
Think about Starbucks. Ten years ago, did any coffee drinkers in their right minds think they would ever pay $5 for a grande cinnamon non-fat latte? Probably not, but Starbucks isn’t just selling coffee. It’s selling an experience. Each cup of java is brewed to customer specificationswhile they socialize with friends or read the newspaper on comfy living room furniture. It’s the same scenario whether the shop is in San Diego, Miami or anywhere in between.
If busy people will pass by three or four drive-thru windows, get out of their cars and wait in line sometimes five minutes or more on their way to work just for a cup of coffee, is it possible that they would pass the same number of financial institutions to get to yours? Sure—if the experience fits.
Retail marketing and brand strategy go hand in hand. Your brand strategy should touch every part of your operation, from the way your branches look and feel, to the message you’re promoting, to the level of service you provide your members with every transaction. Just like your marketing message should differentiate you from the competition, so should your visual impression.
“Retail branches deliberately convey the message that members are welcome to come inside and explore credit union services. If members are in a hurry, they can be steered to self-service technology. If they're willing to talk, retail branch employees are eager to engage them in a discussion about what the credit union can offer,” said Mark Weber, president of Weber Marketing Group, in CUNA’s Marketing & Business Development white paper (published a few years ago) entitled Retail Branch Design. Weber Marketing Group is a national leader in the fields of financial branding and retail branch environments.
In the past three to five years, credit unions have done some innovative branding to make their branches more retail-oriented. Some have started small with play areas and related branding that occupy children while their parents conduct business. Others are adding juice bars and internet kiosks to attract college-age members. Some credit unions have classic cars emerging from walls and meeting areas dressed up like 1950s-type kitchens.
A branding expert was recently working with the CEO of Toys R Us. One of the first things he did was take the CEO to a Toys R Us location and into the women’s bathroom. He turned to the CEO and said, “Would your wife feel comfortable going to the bathroom in here?” and walked out. Even the way your bathrooms look and smell affects your brand and your members’ experience. Try giving your branches the bathroom test.
Many design features influence member interaction. For example, teller counter placement, retail displays, lobby signage, and any self service kiosks. Your branch retail design is communicating something about your brand.
Many credit unions are now adopting a “pod type” approach with their tellers. This design abandons the traditional teller windows in favor of concierge stations—thus removing the physical barriers between the members and credit union employees. As a result, the environment becomes more relationship oriented instead of transaction oriented.
Credit unions have evolved significantly in the past decade, and the competitive arena has changed. You need to ask some pertinent questions and be honest with your answers:
- What type of experience are your members getting from your branches?
- How do your branches look and feel?
- Do your branches match your brand?
- What about the bathroom test? Would you send your family members to your branch restrooms?
Look at your branches from your members’ perspective. You might be surprised at what you see.
Credit unions need to reach Generation Y to survive in the future. Duh. Since credit unions’ average membership age is 48 it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where credit unions will be in five or 10 years if they don’t penetrate the up and upcoming Dot Com Generation. Credit unions will be dead.
Multiple dates are used when it comes to the various generations. According to Strauss & Howe, the leading demographers of our country, Generation Y are those born between 1982 and 2003, so they are currently between the ages of eight and 29. There are approximately 78 million Gen Yers in the country. There are many traits that describe this key demographic, but here are some of the most important (at least for credit unions to consider):
The key word to describe Generation Y is diversity. “Gen Y is the most racially diverse population in our nation’s history,” notes a Filene Group special report. Those younger than 18 are twice as likely as adults to identify themselves as multi-racial in the census.
- Credit union application: Make sure one of your target markets is a racial minority (Hispanics, African-American, etc.).
(2) Media savvy
This generation of teens and twentysomethings is the most marketing-savvy group ever. They are multi-tasking masters: they play video games, talk on the phone, text message and watch TV—at the same time! They are also incredibly hip to what marketers are trying to do: brands that are real and authentic will connect with this group.
- Credit union application: Ditch the hype and pitch the value. Don’t rely on one medium to reach them.
(3) Family oriented
“We are seeing a closer relationship between generations than we have seen since World War II,” says Jeffery Arnet, a University of Maryland psychologist. “These people genuinely like and respect their parents. According to Monster College, 69% of college students reported they planned to live at home after graduation and 21% said they planned to remain there for more than a year.
- Credit union application: Use the parents as an entry point to Generation Y. To see more detailed action steps for this point, check out the post “Reach Gen. Y Through Mom and Dad.”
(4) Technology driven
Forrester Research notes that the Internet is now an integral part of a young person’s life (just as previous generations came to depend on the automobile and television). And just as cars and television triggered significant social shifts, Forrester suggests that what it calls the “Net-Powered Generation” will come to expect certain privileges as consumers.
- Credit union application: Stop talking about technology products and start implementing them. These include live chat support, account to account transfer (outside your institution), text alerts/messaging, and mobile banking among others.
(5) Financially smart
We sometimes cast the young as financially naïve; that would be a mistake with Generation Y. Recent statistics indicate that 37% of Gen-Yers expect to start saving for retirement before they’re 25. Among those eligible, 70% of Gen Y respondents in a recent retirement survey indicate they already contribute to their 401k plans.
- Credit union application: Don’t talk down to people from Generation Y (even if they dress funny and have multiple tattoos!). Most importantly, give them information and not a sales pitch—they’re smart enough to figure out what to do.
To learn more about Generation Y and how to reach them, be sure to attend the webinar, “Why Y: Strategies to Reach the Dot-Com Generation” on June 22nd. This inexpensive webinar offers an extensive overview of the Dot-Dom Generation, practical ways credit unions can market to Dot-Comers and financial products Dot-Comers find appealing.