It’s a question many businesses debate. Does it make more sense to brand your organization or focus on sales? There are many in the business world who are loyal to one side or the other. Those who see the big picture understand there’s more to consider.
Branding and selling are not either/or propositions. A business can have one or the other, but the true value to both the organization and its customers is when branding and sales work together.
Branding is designed to differentiate your organization from all others—even those financial institutions that seem to offer the same services you do. It creates a perception in the mind of consumers that there is no credit union or bank like yours. It’s not just marketing. It is everything your brand is known for – the products you deliver, the way you deliver them, the way your employers treat members, the way your credit union fixes mistakes, the cleanliness of your branches, the look and feel of your logo and marketing collateral, the way your employees dress and even the cleanliness and smell of your restrooms. Your brand is your credit union’s image, strength and reputation, and everything you do creates a feeling or emotion in your members when they hear your name.
Selling is the day to day engine that drives your organization’s success or failure. That should be a frightening proposition for credit unions that continue to reject the idea of a sales culture. If your credit union is not adding new members, increasing account penetration among existing members or increasing asset size, your credit union is not growing. Selling is not about pushing a product or service the member doesn’t need. Selling is about knowing your members and offering them solutions that will benefit them. If you have a member with a large balance in his money market account who has enough to benefit from a special high-rate CD, wouldn’t he be grateful that you’re willing to pay him more for his money as opposed to offering him a credit card he may not need? That is what effective selling is all about.
The best formula for success is when branding and selling intersect. Your brand helps create customer loyalty, which make it easier to sell more to existing members. Selling to existing members is also more cost efficient. Plus, loyal customers tend to sell the credit union for you, because they are the ones who use the most products and services. Just remember, it’s your sales force that can make or break your brand. A negative experience with one touch point can negate all the brand equity you build with other touch points. A positive experience can completely leverage the power of your brand and elevate it in the eyes of your members. You can say your brand is one thing, but it’s the member experience that defines their perception.
Read the March issue of my monthly e-zine for more in-depth information on the intersection of branding and selling.
Branding is a word that easily bantered about in credit union circles today. Successful credit unions certainly focus on their brand. As Jim Stengel says in Grow, “In short, businesses are now only as strong as their brands, and nothing else offers business leaders so much potential leverage. That is why I believe every business leader—whether you are selling cars, chemicals, or cosmetics—needs to think and act like a brand leader.”
It’s easy to for credit unions to say “let’s do branding.” However, a true branding project takes resolve.
Here are four resolutions your credit union will have to make as you go through a branding project:
(1) Resolve: To determine your remarkable difference
What makes your credit union different? Can you answer that question without the words, “people, member, service or community?” A true branding project will involve a deep dive analysis into your credit union’s culture and DNA. That is no small tasks. And sometimes you may not like the answer. For example, the answer to “what makes your credit union different,” may be “we don’t know” or “nothing.”
One credit union successfully building its differentiation strategy is Leominster Credit Union (Massachusetts). “We are in an extremely heavily banked area,” says Janet Belksy, vice president of marketing for Leominster Credit Union. “We needed a way to stand out in a commoditized crowd.” Leominster’s differentiation strategy included market research, competitor analysis, market potential, who was in the market and how they could leverage their strengths. There was not one area of the credit union the differentiation plan did not touch.
You must resolve to not just do a surface level look—you must dig deep.
(2) Resolve: To terminate certain employees
It doesn’t matter what your brand differentiator is if your employees don’t practice it. Your employees must live your brand every day. They are your brand ambassadors. Not all of your employees are going to buy into the brand direction you take your credit union.
This is when branding gets extremely difficult. Are you resolved to terminate employees who are not “on the bus” as author James Collins puts it? You brand will only go as far as your employees are willing to take it.
You must resolve to eliminate those in your credit union with bad attitudes.
(3) Resolve: To be consistent
One of the three “Cs” to a strong brand is consistency. And this is another area where many credit unions struggle. Do all your branches look alike? Does your website have the same look and feel as your branches? Do your marketing materials match or are they completely different?
Branding touches everything: your break rooms, your bathrooms, your call center, your staff, your marketing materials and so much more. It is hard work to maintain the consistency necessary to have a strong brand. You may have to become a “brand Nazi” when it comes to logo usage, dress code and other key parts to your brand.
You must resolve to have an internal drive to have branding touch all parts of your credit union.
(4) Resolve: To practice patience
Branding is not a one-time thing you cross off your marketing “To Do” list and then move on. Branding is a long term process. While the initial phases take months, it takes years to develop a strong brand. It is easy to lose branding patience, especially in today’s world of wanting immediate results.
There are internal and external components to building a strong brand. There are strategic and tactical aspects to branding. There are visual and creative parts to your brand. All those things take time. Every year you will need to focus part of your strategic plan on your brand. If you don’t you will lose brand momentum.
You must resolve to take your time with branding.
Don’t make your brand resolution like a New Year’s resolution. Make it stick. Resolve to improve your brand by determining your remarkable difference, by terminating select employees, by being consistent and by practicing patience.
The more resolve you have the better brand you will have.
If your credit union is not growing, it’s dying. Every credit union professional and board member wants to grow their credit union. But how? One way is to read Grow, by Jim Stengel. The subtitle says it all: “How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies.” I recently finished it and the book is immediately on my “must read” list for all credit unions. It’s that good.
Stengel studied 50,000 brands as part of a 10 year growth study. From that list he identified 50 companies (or the Stengel 50) that were 400% more profitable than the S&P 500. By conducting a deep dive analysis into these organizations he showed there were five “must-dos” for an organization to experience phenomenal growth:
(1) Discover an ideal in one of five fields of fundamental human values
(2) Build your culture around your ideal
(3) Communicate your ideal to engage employees and customers
(4) Deliver a near-ideal customer experience
(5) Evaluate your progress and people against your ideal
It would take several blog posts to capture every key element. However, below are a few of the most salient quotes from the book along with credit union application.
“Maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They’re inseparable.”
- Credit union application: Your credit union’s ideals matter. If your credit union is truly focused on people, the profits will come. Your credit union should determine what your core values are and make sure your vision and mission are not just words on a wall but something your employees live every day.
“Brand ideals, my research associates and I have found, are what enable today’s greatest companies to set the pace in their categories and leave their competition far behind.”
- Credit union application: Branding makes a difference—and branding is not marketing or advertising. Branding is what your credit union is about. Does your credit union have a brand ideal? If it doesn’t, don’t expect to grow.
“Remain stuck inside your current business model, and your business’ days are numbered.”
- Credit union application: Credit unions have to change. We can’t be the same institutions that our parents and grandparents used. We must adapt. We must evolve. In your strategic planning session this year, your credit union must spend time discussing how you will do things differently.
“Extraordinary success is one of the most dangerous situations in business.”
- Credit union application: Don’t rest on your laurels. It is human nature to become complacent when things are easy. Thanks to Bank Transfer Day and positive press, many credit unions experienced solid membership growth last year. Don’t rest on that success—expand upon it.
“Numbers alone can’t be your North Star.”
- Credit union application: As financial institutions, credit unions focus on things like return on assets,rreturn on investment, capital ratios, etc. Those are all well and good. But we can’t become consumed with those measurements and let them be our guiding force. That may lead to short term growth, but in the long run that hurts our main focus: members.
Those are a few of the major points and quotes Stengel makes. Grow immediately makes my top list of business books to read. I would recommend credit union executive teams read and discuss it and incorporate many of its ideas into your upcoming strategic planning sessions.
“Ultimately, like it or not, the one thing that matters most in determining whether your business succeeds or fails miserably is marketing.”
—Darren Hardy, Publisher of Success Magazine
Can I be honest with you? When I was a senior marketing executive at a credit union I probably had more failures than successes. I would swing and miss just as often as I would hit a home run. For example, one year I had this genius idea to have all the tellers wear hard hats for a “Build Your Wealth” promotion. Since I don’t have much hair, I didn’t think about the ramifications of “hat head” for our front-line folks.
We all make mistakes—the key is learning from them. Below are five classic marketing mistakes to avoid at your credit union (and trust me, I’ve done them all so I speak from experience!).
(1) Doing too much
This is a classic mistake many marketers make. Most marketers are over-achievers and want to do it all. Eventually that mindset will burn you and your credit union. When a CEO asks to promote a certain product or push a particular project, we always say, “yes.” Even if we have 10 other things on our “To Do” list. You can’t keep adding project after project without something suffering.
The solution: prioritize (try saying, “which one of these other promotions or projects do you want me to put aside?”).
(2) Going from promotion to promotion
I recently blogged about “The Ideal Length of a Marketing Promotion.” As James Robert Lay commented, “So many times we disagree with credit unions as they want to push things to 8 weeks or even 12 weeks….I love your recommendation about doing less campaigns throughout the year while being more effective with them. There does not always have to be something going on.”
The solution: reduce your number of promotions. Allow time to breath between campaigns.
(3) Making marketing tactical and not strategic
Too many times marketing is about newsletters, brochures, inserts, websites, etc. Those are all important but they are also all tactical. How much time are you spending on the strategic side of marketing at your credit union? These include new products, target audiences, competitor analysis, differentiation, branding and advanced sales.
The solution: Allocate regular weekly time to focus on “big picture” issues your credit union is facing. Spend some time thinking and not just doing.
(4) Following a fad and not a trend
There are tons of fads in marketing (just see Pinterest). Astute marketers know the difference between a trend and a fad. For example, social media is a trend; Pinterest is a fad. The worst thing you can do is offer a product or service just because every other financial institution in your area is. Some current trends to follow include video marketing, search engine optimization, Facebook and interactive marketing.
The solution: Study, study, study. Be sure you are keeping up to date by reading everything from The Financial Brand, The Filene Institute, CU Insight, CU Water Cooler, CUNAverse, CUES, CU Magazine, Credit Union Times and other industry publications.
(5) Expecting too much with too little
Sometimes credit union executives’ and boards’ expectations about marketing are unrealistic. If we just throw a few dollars in the marketing budget then our loan volume will triple and new members will flock to our credit union in droves. Marketing doesn’t work like that. The best marketing involves consistency. It can take months (or even a full year) before results are actually seen. Does marketing work—absolutely! But marketing doesn’t work miracles. The worst thing a credit union can do is to cut the marketing budget because they don’t think they are getting a return on their investment.
The solution: Set realistic expectations. Review prior history to determine future goals. Talk to your peers about results they are seeing. And measure everything.
What about you and your credit union? Are there mistakes you’ve made we from which we can learn? Please feel free to share them.
There was a great deal of media (and social media) buzz about the newest iPad model. An interesting article asked the question “What Will Your iPad Look Like in Ten Years?” While it’s fun to conjecture about exciting new offerings like HD retina displays, upgraded speed and better memory, it seems like at least some part of the target market comes away disappointed with the latest and greatest.
Credit union professionals might find it interesting to take a similar serious look at where their workplace might be in a decade. This isn’t about formal one, three or five-year plans, although those certainly have their place and value. Rather, look at it as an exercise in the fantastic. Call it an informal “What Will Your Credit Union Look Like in Ten Years?” Like dreaming of the bells and whistles you’d add to your iPad, iPhone or other gadget of-choice, what would you do with your credit union?
While technology and the ways consumers digest information will continue to evolve, we can be certain of one thing: member service will always be paramount. Be careful, then, to remember that all the high-tech chrome and polish in the world doesn’t matter if we fail to do a superior job of addressing member service needs.
As part of this fun exercise, consider the following questions:
- If you were a member, what would you want your credit union to offer in ten years?
- Does your credit union have an individual (or team) charged with keeping an eye on potential future products, services and trends?
- Is your credit union setting aside time, energy and capital to invest in these potential ideas?
- Does your credit union have a formal one, three or five-year plan?
- If so, do you visit it often and compare progress to-date with the progress predicted?
Fantasy author and futurist Jules Verne once said “Whatever one man is capable of conceiving, other men will be able to achieve.” The great realities of tomorrow start with the dreams of today.
Be sure your credit union is thinking huge.