Three Things That Should Scare You About Your Brand

Three Things That Should Scare You About Your Brand

Happy Halloween - 1This is Halloween week — which means ghosts, ghouls and goblins of all sorts will soon roam the streets in search of trick-or-treat candy and other goodies. It’s a fun time of the year: when people can don costumes and be the monster, character or other personality of their choice. Family traditions like bobbing for apples, carving jack-o’-lanterns and going to haunted houses abound.

With all the focus on fright, Halloween is also a good time to think about a few things that should scare you about your brand. But have no fear — we are also going to talk about things you can do to help solve those challenges and allay those fears.

Here are three things that should scare you about your brand — and ways you can help ease those fears.

  • Even if you don’t think you’re branding, you are. Every single consumer interaction – whether in person, over the phone, via email or on social media channels — brands your bank or credit union. Exactly how it brands your credit union or bank — for good or bad — is up to you.

    Solution: ensure your branding efforts are for the positive. Work with every staff member until they know that they are an integral part of your brand. People are going to walk away from your bank or credit union with an opinion: everyone’s job is to make sure that opinion is a good one.

  • Your brand is just a name and logo. If this is what your staff, board or management thinks branding is all about, you’re due for a good scare. Branding is exponentially more than just a name or a logo. It is who your bank or credit union is, your corporate identity, the DNA of your existence in front of members and customers.

    Solution: staff education about the true nature of branding is critical. Work to realize that branding is far more than just colors on a brochure and words on a website. Your bank or credit union brand is a living and breathing thing. Nurture it like it is.

  • Your brand lacks support from the top. Does your bank or credit union president buy into the brand? Do other C-Suite executives (like COOs and CFOs) care about the brand? If not, your branding efforts are probably dead in the water.

    Solution: strive to gain the buy-in of executive leadership. In order for your brand to survive and thrive, you must have this. Other employees simply won’t buy into the brand if they see that their bosses don’t. Get your executives on board with the brand to help improve your overall branding efforts and awareness. Maybe schedule morning coffee with your CEO to discuss branding. Better yet, get him or her to devote an entire meeting with the executive management team about the brand.

Halloween is a spooky time of year. It’s also a good time to focus on things that should scare you about your brand. Here’s hoping your Halloween when it comes to branding is more treats than tricks.

Give Your Marketing A Check-Up

Give Your Marketing A Check-Up

Check-Up - 1Most everyone hates going to the doctor. Even a routine physical is a pain in the…..well, you get the idea. Whether it’s “turn and cough” or “roll up your sleeve and give us a blood sample,” the experience is less than desirable. However, those regular check-ups are critical to our overall health. They can give you an overall health picture, spot warning signs and catch serious problems before they develop. In some cases, they might even save your life.

It’s the same way with your marketing. You need to routinely check your marketing for its effectiveness. Otherwise your messages can grow stagnant, your visuals can become lame and your results can turn lukewarm.

So how do you conduct a marketing check-up? One simple option is to have a colleague from another part of the country review your materials. Simply get a second set of eyes to give you a second opinion. You are probably too close to your marketing efforts not to be biased. Get that fellow marketing professional to offer their insights.

Another way to give your marketing a check-up is to formally conduct a marketing audit. Just like a personal physical looks at every part of your health, a marketing audit looks at every part of your credit union or bank. From mystery shops of your own branches to mystery shops of your top competitors. From reviewing your marketing plan and calendar to reviewing your organizational chart. From examining your budget to examining your strategy. A marketing audit covers it all.

For example, we recently conducted a marketing audit for one of our clients and reviewed over 100 individual marketing pieces (annual report, brochures, electronic efforts, signs, web site, etc.). That review led to insights they were immediately able to implement to improve their efforts.

A good doctor will not just tell you your current health. He or she will also give you recommendations for improving. A marketing audit does the same thing. Once the review is complete, you will receive strategic and tactical suggestions for improving your marketing. Examples could include working on your brand, reallocating expenses or offering more technology products. Odds are there are areas you can improve strategically.

When was the last time you gave your marketing a check-up? Just like you don’t want to go too long without having a physical, if the answer is longer than two or three years on your marketing review then you better march yourself to a marketing doctor.

Three Brands Suffering from Identity Crises

Three Brands Suffering from Identity Crises

The Power of BrandEarlier this week we started a three-part series on brands facing identity crises and what banks and credit unions can learn from them. So far we’ve looked at JCPenney and RadioShack. Our last installment in the series examines at Barnes & Noble.

Specific brand amnesia: Forgetting about the competition

Patient: Barnes & Noble
I have to add a bit of a disclaimer here: I'm a book nerd. Always have been, always will be. I love to visit bookstores, perusing shelves and stacks looking for literary treasure. This includes frequent trips to Barnes & Noble.

That being said, however, I'm also a big fan of Amazon. I love the ability to log on and (when looking for a book) browse, read reviews, check out the cover, and have it sent via free two-day shipping (yeah, Amazon Prime!). And that's just not something I can do at a Barnes & Noble.

More often than not, just due to space considerations, even the largest bookstore cannot stock every single book that every single consumer could possibly want. That's where the nationwide network of warehouses comes into play. By granting consumers access to virtually any book with a relatively quick shipping option, they gave Barnes & Noble a serious kick in the tail.

In addition to hardcopy books, Barnes & Noble fell way behind the curve when it comes to the digital e-reader revolution. The extremely successful Amazon Kindle has essentially driven the Barnes & Noble Nook into an early grave. The Nook, Barnes & Noble's expedition into e-readers, simply never cracked the market like the Kindle (in fact, Barnes & Noble hopes to revive its e-reader hopes through a partnership with Samsung and its Galaxy Tab 4).

Barnes & Noble apparently let its eyes drop from the competition long enough to completely miss the advent of rapid-fire online orders and digital reading devices. Playing catch-up is difficult enough in a baseball or football game — in the business world, it's nearly impossible. Yes, you can order books online from Barnes & Noble, and yes, it does have its own version of e-reader. The problem is, they came a long time after other options and devices from the competition established a firm foothold in the consumer marketplace.

If you walk into many Barnes & Noble locations now, you'll probably notice that board games, toys, and home decor items take up more and more of the available retail space. This is probably indicative of a slow scramble on the part of Barnes & Noble executives trying to bolster falling hardcopy and digital book sales with other items. This flies in the face of successful branding tenets. When most people think of toys, do they think about Barnes & Noble? No. They think of other, more firmly established toy outlets, like Toys "R" Us. Barnes & Noble, attempting to dilute its core offering with the bevy of other products, is now confusing already pressured consumers in a hyper-competitive marketplace.

Prescription: Brand ahead of the competition. You also cannot allow your company (including your bank or credit union) and its brand to fall behind the times. Practicing due diligence is critical. Call it mystery shopping, call it marketplace research, call it whatever you will — failing to keep up with changing times is a recipe for business disaster. The brand you worked so hard to build-up, that once meant something, can quickly erode under the relentless waters of change like so many sandcastles. Barnes & Noble should have paid more attention to the rise of and other providers of fast online ordering and digital e-readers.

There you have it — three modern companies facing divergent yet significant branding crises. The lessons bank and credit union marketers and brand strategists can learn from these companies are critical. And while none of them are officially dead in the water yet, the future looks fairly bleak for these three. While it is entirely possible one, two, or all of them could find a way to rebrand themselves into relevancy, it is also possible any number (or all) of them are destined for the history books.

Whether it is mixed marketing messages, multiple business personalities, or forgetting about the competition, brand amnesia is a frightening prospect. Taking steps now to address these potential problems within your bank or credit union brand can save significant headache, heartache, and potential extinction in the future.

Thanks for joining us for this three-part series on brands facing an identity crisis. What are some other companies facing similar crises you can think of?

Part Two: Three Brands Suffering from Identity Crises

Part Two: Three Brands Suffering from Identity Crises

The Power of BrandEarlier this week we began a three-part series looking at brands facing identity crises and what banks and credit unions can learn from them. Today the series continues with a look at RadioShack.

Specific brand amnesia: Multiple business personalities

Patient: RadioShack
For decades, RadioShack was a primary go-to source for in-home consumer electronics. Gadgets like the popular TRS-80 home computer brought consumers in droves. Unfortunately, like all good things, the 1980s had to come to an end. Unfortunately, no one at RadioShack apparently got that message (despite a relatively hilarious and self-deprecating Super Bowl commercial this year). For the past decade or so, RadioShack has thrashed around like a guppy on the carpet trying to figure out exactly who it is. Perhaps not surprisingly, squeezing the words "Radio Shack" into the currently used single-word version and an unsuccessful foray into an entirely new name didn't help.

RadioShack has tried its hand in just about every possible combination of consumer electronics you can imagine. From personal computers to walkie-talkies and electronic repairs to wireless phones, RadioShack has dipped its toe into many different waters. The problem is that consumers are simply confused by this revolving door of business personalities. Do you go to RadioShack for MP3 players and televisions? Do you go to RadioShack for cell phones and stereo wire? Do you go to RadioShack for (gasp!) radios? 

To be fair, RadioShack is in a fight for survival not just with multiple business personalities, but with irrelevancy. However, the struggle to reinvent itself might go easier were it not for the bevy of competing identities. When you think of buying something at RadioShack, what's your first thought? The answer doesn't come quickly and when it does, it's a gray area at best. The ongoing digital revolution has left RadioShack in its dust and the company continues to struggle with focusing on a singular identity for the modern consumer. One market analyst referred to the apparent slow death of RadioShack as "death by 1000 cuts." Gone are the days when consumers actually opened up their home electronics to tinker and attempt do-it-yourself repairs. When the nucleus of your corporate identity goes extinct, you have two choices — adapt or die with it.

Prescription: brand with focus. Undoubtedly, executives at RadioShack have asked questions similar to the following: Who are we? Why do people need us? What connection exists between the modern consumer and RadioShack? In order to build a successful brand, all companies (including financial institutions) must answer these questions. The answers from RadioShack are, at best, bumbling and confused. To be fair, the need for a company like RadioShack may no longer exist. Relatively cheap and disposable modern consumer electronics simply do not jive with either the original RadioShack business model or any of its more modern iterations. While it is possible to create focus in a brand message for a company facing challenges like RadioShack, the medical equivalent is probably something like giving antibiotics to a corpse.

Be sure to check out the blog Friday when we wrap up our three-part series on brand identity crises with a look at Barnes & Noble.

Part One: Three Brands Suffering from Identity Crises

Part One: Three Brands Suffering from Identity Crises

The Power of BrandToday we begin a three-part series (posting Monday, Wednesday and Friday) looking at brands suffering from identity crises and what banks and credit unions can learn from these situations. The first stop is JCPenney. This series was originally included as a feature-length article on iMedia. While this series may not feature any direct examples from the bank and credit union world, financial institutions face brand crises with equally deadly results as any other corporate entity. Studying the mishaps and shortcomings of brands outside the financial industry enhances our knowledge and helps prevent something like this from happening to your bank or credit union.

If you're a fan of classic television shows from years past, you might remember more than a fair share ofthem featured, at some point, an amnesia plot twist. Gilligan from "Gilligan's Island," Samantha from "Bewitched," and Tony from "I Dream of Jeannie" all suffered bouts of the mysterious, memory-wiping condition. Conveniently (especially for a 30-minute sitcom), the solution was usually a simple (if painful) knock on the head and all memory was instantly returned.

Corporate brands can also suffer a type of amnesia if those charged with protecting them are not vigilant. When brands forget factors like why they exist, who they are, and the nature of their competition, corporate amnesia could be just a bonk on the noggin away. The lessons we can learn by taking a closer look at the brand crises of three companies can serve as valuable takeaways for safeguarding our own corporate identities.

Specific brand amnesia: Mixed marketing messages

Patient: JCPenney
For millions of people in my generation, an annual rite of passage was the inevitable stop at JCPenney during a torturous back-to-school clothes shopping experience with mom. And if JCPenney wasn't cool back then, it's dipped into negative coolness territory now. The JCPenney brand has suffered mightily in the last couple of decades, with market share and stock shares falling precipitously in just the past year. A key culprit in this decline is its decidedly mixed marketing messages in the face of an onslaught of demographic change. JCPenney continues to struggle in finding its niche when going up against strong competitors like Macy's, Target, and Kohl's. And its hodgepodge of marketing messages, combined with somewhat of a revolving door in executive management, certainly doesn't help. Taglines in the last few years include "When it fits you, feel it," "It's all inside," "Every day matters," and "We make it affordable. You make it yours." Dizzy yet?

Taglines aside, JCPenney also struggles with the in-store look and feel of its brand. In its stores in recent years, JCPenney has featured Martha Stewart Living wares, Walt Disney products, and a variety of other private labels. They also dickered with an "Every Day" pricing structure. Confusingly, this pricing competed for consumer bandwidth with their "Monthly Value" pricing for specific items every month (in lieu of sale prices) and a "Best Price" scheme that applied to select items the first and third Fridays of every month. Confused? Plummeting sales figures seem to indicate consumers certainly are.

So, what exactly is JCPenney? Is it reasonably priced, off-brand clothing for the family? Is it the Walmart of department stores, with something like "everyday low prices" on pretty much everything? Is it a higher-end boutique store with housewares in addition to clothing? Your guess is as good as mine, and as the JCPenney empire continues to crumble, signs are pretty bleak for a recovery at this once proud mall mainstay.

Prescription: brand consistent messages. Your marketing message must be consistent for all consumers, across all channels. The JCPenney marketing message has gone through so many iterations in the last few years, it's no wonder consumers are confused and turning more to the competition. JCPenney (and similarly, your bank or credit union) would also do well to realize that no one entity can successfully be all things to all people. In order for branding to work, you must identify what it is you do well and couple that with the audience that you reach well. Combining these elements greatly increases the chances of marketing and branding success. For JCPenney, a confusing mixed bag of marketing and branding messages is hastening the demise of a store that anchors malls across the country.

Be sure to check out the blog Wednesday when we continue our look at brands facing identity crises with an examination of RadioShack.