In 1964, the Rolling Stones scored a hit with the song “Time is On My Side.” Modern consumers seem obsessed with time. We want everything done faster and better. Forget thirty minute TV dinners — we want our meals microwavable in thirty seconds. We buy products to help slow down the aging process, better manage our daily schedules and generally make everything we do faster and easier.
There’s a lot to be said for slowing down in terms of your bank or credit union’s branding efforts. Branding is a lot of things — who you are, what you do, how you behave, the very essence of your corporate DNA. Branding is also not a lot of things — and one of those things branding is not is “rushable.”
There’s no such thing as superfast delivery when it comes to branding. Authentic branding is the result of months and years of careful planning, execution and evaluation. If your bank or credit union comes into the branding process expecting quick results with a new logo, colors and maybe a revamped script for your front-line staff — expect disappointment.
You cannot fake the branding process and you cannot expedite it. Your staff, from the CEO and board of directors on down to back office and front-line employees, must live the brand, every day, in full view of your target consumers. Branding is also something that must be learned and relearned, every day. How well your bank or credit union performed its branding duties yesterday has no bearing on what happens today. In our digital age of online reviews in social media, your brand can be attacked instantaneously anytime a consumer feels slighted, either right or wrong. As with building the brand, repairing and recovering the brand is also a lengthy and time-consuming process. It’s far better for your people to get it right and keep doing it right than to try to recover after a branding mishap.
When your financial institution enters into the branding process, it makes a significant investment in time, money and energy. As with any relationship worth preserving, branding done correctly demands sufficient time and commitment. Bank and credit union senior management teams that start the branding process with this in mind will make an ally of time rather than an enemy. Let time work to the advantage of your branding plan — not to its detriment.
Writing is one of the most important elements of marketing. Whether you are producing printed collateral or digital content, what you say and the way you say it has a huge impact on your financial institution’s image. It affects how your organization’s message is received and shared by your target audience. Strong content also impacts search engine optimization and where your financial institution ranks in search engine results.
Last month, we began a two-part series on the importance of strong writing in marketing by definingwhat good writing is, providing the scientific effectiveness of good writing in storytelling and demonstrating the value of good writing for search engine optimization (SEO). This month, we share tips for improving your writing, which ultimately should improve your marketing content
Know Your Audience
The way you speak to your customers or members in writing impacts their willingness to continue reading. If your business lending copy and your kids club newsletter have the same tone, that’s a problem. Speak the language your audience speaks, and promote the benefits most valuable to that audience. Your job is to sell them on the value of your financial institution. You can’t do that if you’re offending them or losing them in translation.
Be Concise and Complete
Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages. They are everywhere – online, on billboards, in stores, in the mail and on television, among others. People are not interested in weeding through paragraphs of copy to determine what’s in it for them. Say what you need to say, or better yet, what they need to hear, but get to the point quickly. Make your most important point first. Keep your sentences brief – shoot for a maximum of 20 to 25 words. Whenever possible, break up copy with headlines, sub headlines or bullet points. The faster you convey your product or service’s benefits to the reader, the more likely you’ll keep them reading.
Use Testimonials and Stories Whenever Possible
We touched on testimonials last month, but it bears repeating. Testimonials, when written well, evoke the emotions you want the readers to feel. Be selective, though. Don’t just fill your website with generic compliments from customers or members. Use their real-life situations to demonstrate specific examples of how your financial institution takes care of people.
Big Words (and Thesauruses) Are Over Rated
Big words do not equal smarter copy (or a smarter writer for that matter). If you can say something with fewer words or letters, you should. For example, ditch the word utilize and replace it with the word use. It means the same thing, and most people say “use” when they speak. Use “free” instead of “gratuitous.” Replace “approximately” with “almost”, “about” or “nearly.”
For more valuable tips and more detailed information on improving your marketing writing, read the June issue of my monthly newsletter. You’ll also find the link to a humorous video about the downfalls of using a thesaurus, among other valuable resources.
Note: The following post was written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies.
Bank and credit union marketers are continually faced with the challenge of producing an advertising voice that is heard above the din of competitors, both traditional and nontraditional. While this is certainly true in the realm of more traditional marketing venues (direct mail, radio, television, etc.) it’s equally true in the social media world.
Fans of Vanyerchuk’s other works will remember books like Crush It! and The Thank You Economy. Written in a similar tone, it attempts to help marketing professionals more proactively outline social media strategies that can help level the playing field with competitors. As evidenced by the title, the book makes ample use of boxing jargon. For example, the book cautions against going for the right hook (the next promotion designed to completely knock out the competition) every time and instead devoting more energy to jabbing (taking the time to engage with customers and build successful social media relationships).
Vanyerchuk also convincingly argues that due to the perpetually changing nature of the social media landscape, the winning combination of jabs and right hooks also fluctuates. The book states a strong case for the importance of context in social media communication (in other words, that high quality content geared specifically for the different audiences that populate platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is critical).
Readers familiar with Vanyerchuk’s passionate prose and somewhat brusque manner will like what they find in this book. Others, while possibly put off by the occasionally rough tone, can still derive benefit from reading it. All in all, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World does a good job of offering practical advice for bank and credit union marketers on ways to strengthen their social media outreach.
As part of its larger marketing audit services, On The Mark Strategies performs mystery shops. These primarily entail posing as potential customers or members for clients to investigate how competing banks and credit unions interact with consumers. These mystery shops can also be internal, as we pose as a customer/member off the street that has come into their financial institution to conduct a specific transaction.
The value of these mystery shops cannot be understated. Often, clients are surprised (both positively and negatively) by what mystery shops revealed. A few compelling generalizations can be expressed after reviewing several years of information. The data generalized below represents approximately five credit unions and approximately 25 institutions identified by them as prime competitors to mystery shop.
Disconnect between perception and performance. Many strategic planning teams come into and marketing audit and mystery shop situation with preconceived notions about the outcome. Typically, results received, both internally and externally, come as a surprise. And while this can come in the form of employees performing beyond expectations, more often than not it is in those that are not living the brand or executing prescribed methods of consumer interaction.
Outdated and/or inconsistent marketing materials in branch offices. Often existing as islands unto themselves, branches were often found to display older and outdated marketing materials. This includes materials misaligned with existing branding efforts (see below).
Branch offices don’t do a terrific job of living the brand. Branches historically exhibit evidence of the “redheaded step kid syndrome,” in which they feel isolated and left out from the main office culture and the executive staff that typically houses there. And while a lot of this falls on the main office and senior team to remedy, branch offices can also step up and do more. Poor performance on the branch level can also include a lack of consistency with brand standards when it comes to consumer interaction. For your brand to succeed, branches must fully integrate with what the main office prescribes.
Your competition is doing a better job than you think. During mystery shops, clients sometimes come into the process believing that their local competitors are far behind when it comes to service. Results are often contradictory to this misconception. Other banks and credit unions in your area are typically just as interested in superior service and performance and have invested similar amounts of time, money and training in branding to realize that. Simply assuming that because you work hard to provide superior service others lag behind is a recipe for disaster.
While many other generalizations could be made about the mystery shop process, these are just a few of the more prominent ones. One client described the On The Mark Strategies marketing audit and mystery shop process as “brutal, but fair.”
While not every mystery shop is described as brutal, they are often a somewhat uncomfortable experience for the client. But nobody ever grows while they’re comfortable. In order to thrive and succeed, banks and credit unions will embrace the marketing audit and mystery shop process and learn from its results, both positive and negative.