Four Principles to Grow Your Credit Union

Four Principles to Grow Your Credit Union

Grow - book coverAt this week’s CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council conference, Jim Stengel, author of Grow, keynoted the opening session. “We are in the business of transformation and we must create
stories that our customers will tell about us,” he challenged attendees. By the way, if you haven’t read his book, it is a must read for financial institution executives (check out this blog post for a review on Grow).

Stengel gave four principles for how to grow your credit union.

(1)   Great brands change people’s lives. According to Stengel, great brands do more than great products or services, they change people’s lives. “Credit unions can be the Northstar for the entire financial services industry,” Stengel said. Application point: think about how your credit union is changing people’s lives. Also, are you pushing your products and services or promoting your brand?

(2)   Great brands are led by artists who care. Stengel argues that CEOs leading successful businesses have high emotional quotients. He notes that artists create things and use the whole brain. He points to the CEOs of REI, American Express and Costco. He referenced a recent Fortune Magazine quote that said, “While you can sometimes teach a dreamer to be a strong business operator, you can rarely teach a businessman to dream.” Application point: Get your CEO, CFO and other top management to think in color and not black and white.

(3)   Culture is the only competitive advantage. Stengel and his associates did tons of research for his book (three years; reviewed 50,000 brands, conducted in-depth analysis of 50 companies). When examining those top 50 companies he noted their employees, “all talked about their culture.” While the researchers might have asked about products, financials, etc. almost every employee wanted to discuss their culture. Application point: You can’t compete on price or product. Every credit union has some type of culture; what is yours?

(4)   Coherence is critical. “The story of business is changing dramatically,” Stengel says. “The best brands are built on ideals and the brand’s inspirational reasons for being—why the brand exists.” Stengel emphasized the importance of keeping that brand coherent in every area. Application point:
Make sure your credit union’s brand is coherent and that everyone in your credit union is on the same page.

Jim Stengel and Mark Arnold
Stengel offered an “ideal tree” with three branches as tips for how to improve your credit union’s growth:

  • Discover what your ideal is (hint: it should be one of the five human values of joy, connect, explore, pride or impact).
  • Build your culture around your ideal (hint: we must learn to operationalize our ideals)
  • Communicate your ideal (hint: you must engage your employees and members).

“Taking these actions to grow is not a straight line and it is hard to do,” Stengel advises. “Brands with higher ideas tap into rich areas of our brains, which leads to higher preference and higher sales.”

Stengel is right: growing your credit union won’t happen by accident. To effectively grow your credit union you must grow your brand and your ideals.

Think Big With Your Brand

Think Big With Your Brand

You have to think big …Think Big- 1

Every financial institution wants a strong brand. Duh. But how do you get there? According to Randy Schultz, brand evangelist and buzz initiator with Weber Marketing, you must think big with your brand. Randy and I had the opportunity to lead CUNA’s Credit Union Certified Marketing Executive Bootcamp recently.

“Just because we’re a financial institution doesn’t mean we have to look like every other financial institution,” Schultz said. “You have to think big. We tend to play it safe. Credit unions that are growing are those that are embracing changing their brands and taking a few risks.”

Schultz gives three recommendations when it comes to thinking big with your brand:  

(1)  Transform—Banking is boring, according to Schultz. “Branding effects everything so we can no longer work in silos,” he says. He encourages credit unions to focus on it all: your core brand, your personality, you products & services, your staff actions and your touch points. Thinking big with your brand means transforming your credit union.

(2)  Inspire—“Branding is the experience that lives inside you,” Schultz says. “Everybody in your credit union should know your brand promise and should be passionate and energized to live it every day.” Thinking big with your brand means inspiring your members and your staff.

(3)  Challenge—He says that we’re not expecting enough from our staff. “We need to challenge our staff to do more than just call the member by their name,” Schultz said. Thinking big with your brand means pushing your staff to serve consumers outside the credit union and not just inside.

Think Big - 2

Ultimately, you want to blend out and not blend in …

“Saying your credit union is Caring, Responsive And Personal is just CRAP,” Schultz jokes (notice the CRAP acronym). He notes that every other financial institution is saying the same thing.  

“Thinking big with your brand means focusing on your targets, finding out what matters to them and delivering them a brand promise that is unique,” he notes. “Ultimately, you want to blend out and not blend in.”

Targets Drive Strategy

Targets Drive Strategy

“The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a large market.”
Archery targets - 1
Sharp financial executives ask a lot of questions. “What is our vision?” “What makes us different?” “Should we offer this particular product?” “Should we open a branch in a certain part of town?” “What technologies should we invest in?” “Where do we spend our marketing resources?”
“What is our value proposition?”

One of the most important questions we must answer, however, is “who are we trying to reach?” In fact, the answer to that question will drive your strategy and many of the answers to the above questions.

As Seth Godin says in the classic marketing book The Purple Cow, “The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a large market.”

When examining your strategy from the lens of your target audience, your strategic questions change:

  • “What does our vision mean to our target audience?”
  • “What makes us different to our niche?”
  • “How will this particular product improve our target audience’s lives?”
  • “Where does our target audience hang out and do we have or need a physical presence there?”
  • “What technologies do our niches use the most?”
  • “How do our target audiences hear about us?”
  • “What is our value proposition to our core targets?”

In other words, your targets drive your strategy. When conducting a recent planning session for a client I asked “who are you trying to reach?” They said “Yes.” It turns out they were trying to be all things to all people—which is no strategy at all. Needless to say, we started their planning session with a discussion about whom they should target.

If you have no target audience then you have no strategy.

Modern Leadership Lessons from Hannibal

Modern Leadership Lessons from Hannibal

“Hannibal was triumph. He embodied it as Hercules personified strength and Odysseus cunning.”
Hannibal - 1

Note: The following post was written by Taylor Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies. 

Let me start by saying clearly, no, I am not talking about Hannibal Lecter, creepy cannibal villain from Silence of the Lambs. I’m talking about history’s greatest Hannibal, the Carthaginian military leader who nearly brought the Roman Republic to its knees (yes, the same Hannibal famed for crossing the frozen Alps with several dozen war elephants). As the book’s authors puts it: “Hannibal was triumph. He embodied it as Hercules personified strength and Odysseus cunning.”

Hannibal - 2

Learning to face the good with the bad and come out on top at the end is the key.

I recently finished a terrific book, Hannibal and Me: What History’ Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure. While we may be talking about a man dead for thousands of years and far more well-known for wiping out legions than leading board room discussion, the book asserts that this legendary figure offers valuable lessons for today’s business leaders.




Key points to take away include: 

The importance of setting goals
Hannibal was tasked with a goal by the Carthaginian political leadership: carry war to the heart of Italy and subdue the upstart Roman Republic. He did not do so rashly or without planning. He spent time assembling men, weapons, provisions and other equipment. He took time to study the terrain of battle and choose what he thought was the best way to win. We can all do the same thing in our business lives. Speed is critical, but not at the expense of quality. Ensure you have the right equipment, training and support to get the job done. And learn as much as you can about your profession and your competitors.

Dealing with setbacks
Even a military genius like Hannibal, despite his amazing list of victories, experienced setbacks. There was dissension amongst some of his troops. Many of his war elephants died while crossing the frigid Alps. He eventually lost an eye in battle and learned to make do with one. There is a lot we can learn from his setbacks. Tenacity is one such thing. Flexibility and knowing how to work with different people is another. Doing the best you can with the resources available to you is also critical. Every day in the business world will not be a walk in the park. Learning to face the good with the bad and come out on top at the end is the key. 

Facing down the odds
In virtually every battle he fought, Hannibal was the numerical underdog. He also fought the majority of his battles on the enemy’s home turf, deep inside Roman Italy. Hannibal routinely used the terrain to his own advantage and slaughtered tens of thousands of Roman legionaries. The modern business leader must also learn to face down the odds and emerge a winner. Facing a tough deadline? Does management expect a seemingly impossible production goal? Are there squabbles and interoffice politics at play that make a trying job even more difficult? Work hard to find ways to beat these odds, surprising yourself, your co-workers and your managers.

Hannibal’s war against Rome forever altered the course of world history. While he was tough, the Roman Republic was tougher and by extraordinary resiliency defeated Hannibal’s genius in a grueling war of attrition. Hunted by the Romans for years, he eventually took his own life rather than face captured. But his life’s lessons of leadership in the face of great odds and setbacks still hold true. While herding an elephant across a snowy mountain may rank as harder than meeting the deadline for your next set of reports, the elementary principles are similar enough so that modern business warriors may learn. 

Every Consumer Is A Mystery Shopper

Every Consumer Is A Mystery Shopper

Remember, every consumer is a mystery shopper.
Mystery Shopper - 2

Mystery shops provide invaluable feedback (both on your competitors and yourself). When conducting marketing audits or branding plans for our clients we typically mystery shop a client’s own branches and their competitors. The process includes walking checking out their establishment, doing a little research, interacting with staff and deciding if we’d do business there.

The results, as you might expect, are mixed. Sometimes we receive truly exceptional service, service a consumer might remember and act upon later. Other times, however, we get truly bad service, service a consumer will definitely remember and tell their friends.

A recent example illustrates this. While conducting a mystery shop in Texas, one of our employees branch visit was less than stellar. He was greeted quickly enough, but when it became apparent he was only “shopping around” that day and not ready to make a decision, the demeanor of the representative quickly soured, everything in her body language, tone and voice changed to reflect that she obviously saw him as a drain on her time and as someone to dispose of quickly. When asked why her organization was the best place for his business (a probing question designed to help find out if staff are familiar with the differentiation points of their place of work), she curtly replied “Well, of course, you’re free to take your business where you want, but I’d like to think we know how to treat people here.”

Mystery Shopper - 1Hardly a resounding endorsement and the scary thing is, this isn’t en entirely uncommon interaction. As leaders or organizations that highly depend on consumer satisfaction and loyalty, think for a moment on just how damaging this type of service experience is.


The key, of course, is to have the right people in the right roles to avoid this type of scenario. Staff consumer service training can help. A positive attitude is critical. Everyone deserves to receive the same stellar service experience. Your organization’s reputation and success depend on it. 

Remember, every consumer is a mystery shopper.