A core value is a principle that guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationships with the external world. Companies that are guided by those core values tend to have greater success. Think Zappos, Toms Shoes and Chick-Fil-A.
Every financial institution has values. They not be in writing. They may not be on a wall. And they may not even be the right ones. But rest assured your bank or credit union has values. But do core values really matter to a financial institution? They absolutely do if you want to enjoy more success and more growth.
One credit union that recently launched and is now living their core values is DuGood Federal Credit Union in Beaumont, Texas. Their vision statement is “We will be a leader in the cooperative industry, responding to the changing needs of our members and our community.” But what does that really mean to their staff?
To reinforce that vision the credit union developed eight core values as guiding principles for the organization:
“Our employees naturally carried out the core values because they were practicing them on a daily basis,” said Jada Kelley, DuGood FCU’s president and CEO. “We chose them as a group.”
When it came time to launch the core values, DuGood FCU held an employee wide training day (on Veterans Day) to engage and reinforce these values with all staff. During that special day, the credit union did the following:
- Had a western-themed day to make the event more casual
- Played games and had team building activities throughout the day
- Reviewed the credit union’s history decade by decade
- Had branch managers give testimonies about the impact the core values were having on their members and community
- Had an outside speaker energize the staff about the importance of core values and their role in living them
“Combining the history with an outside expert’s insights helped employees learn practical applications and accountability,” Kelley added. “The return on investment for this type of marketing helps us grow our reputation quicker.”
What would Kelley recommend for other institutions considering investing in building and living core values?
“Adopt real values that matter to your members and that you are practicing already,” she says. “I would let the employees have more input than just the management team.”
In chatting with a financial institution CEO recently, they said they were going to cut doing a strategic planning session from their budget in the upcoming year. Why? The board felt they needed to control expenses and not doing a planning session (or using a facilitator to do one) was one way to save money.
While my response on the phone was cordial, when I hung up the phone I wanted to scream. “Are you kidding?” I get the importance of the bottom line and meeting your budget. But not planning for the future because you want to save a few bucks in the present is shortsighted. In fact, it’s ludicrous.
Is there a cost to planning? Of course. You might go off-site or out of town. You could hire a facilitator. You have to pay for a few meals. Those expenses add up and depending on the group size, location and facilitator those totals may not be cheap. You may even be in financial situation where examiners are hammering you to cut corners in every possible way (including with strategic planning).
But let’s be real clear: there is a cost to NOT doing strategic planning:
- When you don’t plan, you have no future
- When you don’t plan, you have no direction
- When you don’t plan, you fall into mediocrity
- When you don’t plan, you focus only on the emergencies and crises
- When you don’t plan, you eventually become a branch of another institution (think merger)
As a strategic planning facilitator, am I biased on this point? Of course! But I’ve seen this principle time and time again in organizations I’ve worked in and in ones with which I’ve consulted: the most successful banks and credit unions commit to strategic planning on a regular basis no matter what the external environment is like. In good times and in bad times.
You could even make the argument that if you are having financial challenges, that is the most important time to conduct a strategic planning session.
I asked a board member of a very successful credit union why they were bringing in a facilitator from the outside to conduct their planning session. Their growth numbers were high, their average consumer age was low and they were a top performer among their peers. Things were going so well, why did they even need to do a planning session?
His response: “The reason we are performing so well is we committed many years ago to ALWAYS do a planning session every single year—no matter what. We believe that is the secret to our success. Every year we carve out time to focus on our strategy.”
Planning requires a cost. But not planning—in the long run that’s even more expensive.
During the Louisiana Credit Union League’s recent marketing conference, Taylor Wells, Matt Purvis and myself had the opportunity to conduct a “Tear it Up” session.” Attendees brought various marketing pieces to the workshop and then panel offered their feedback regarding how to improve them (or “tear it up”). We reviewed e-mail campaigns, YouTube videos, billboards, direct mail, newsletters, statement inserts and all sorts of other material.
During the session several general trends emerged regarding how to improve the marketing pieces at your financial institution. Here are the top 10 principles:
- Cut the copy—As marketers, we tend to write way too much. We cram our pieces with too much data and information. Once your piece is crafted, review it and reduce the copy by 50%.
- Make pieces scannable—People do not have time to read all your marketing (see first point above). White space is your friend. Stop the long paragraphs and just use bullets and numbers.
- Use tips and stories—People love stories. So use them in your marketing. Consumers also crave quick financial tips and information. So provide it.
- Let the visual dominate—Consumers are drawn to pictures. Make the visual element the key to any of your marketing pieces.
- Avoid clip art—It’s cheesy, looks cheap, and makes you come across as a mom and pop shop. Invest $25 in a good picture rather than using something from clip art.
- Watch acronyms—We’re all guilty of using them from time to time. The financial industry is full of them. Try not to shorten your name or your products.
- Entertain and relate—Use humor and make yourself personable. People don’t want a sales pitch; they want to be entertained. Financial institutions are boring so look for ways to spice up your marketing.
- Avoid placing text over images—When you put text over an image you make the wording hard to read. Let the picture speak for itself and make sure any text is around, above or below the image.
- Video is powerful—Drop those traditional annual reports and brochures and replace them with clever video. Remember that YouTube is the number one search engine for consumers under the age of 30.
- Reposition your pieces—You are producing great stuff (and great copy). So use it in more than one place. This is especially important if you are using a content marketing strategy. For example, you can turn a three minute video into multiple shorter segments you can use on your website, YouTube channel, e-mail campaigns, etc.
All marketing needs feedback. Even if you don’t have the luxury of showing your pieces to a panel of peers you can use the above tips to improve your efforts.
There are many things we want to own in life: a car, a home, a pet. As a bank or credit union there are also things we want to own: success, profitability, and our customers’ or members’ business.
For financial institutions, there is something else we should strive to own: the circle.
While there are many potential target audiences (generational, income, race, etc.) one strategy banks and credit unions can employ is a geographical one. And that’s where “owning the circle” comes into play.
With each one of your branch locations, draw a circle around it. You can make that circle three miles, four miles or even five miles but draw it. And for marketing purposes, you should “own” everything in that circle.
Examples of items you should own in your branch circle include the following:
- Small businesses
- Home owner associations
- Movie theatre and mall advertising
- Gas station kiosks
- Schools (elementary and high schools)
- Community events
Whatever and wherever it is, you own it. Simply get on Google Maps and review everything that is in that radius. Consumers inside that circle should know you because they shouldn’t go anywhere without seeing your messages.
While technology is certainly reducing the need for branches these days and digital banking is a major trend, most consumers still define convenience by where your branches are located. And they want those branches in their backyard. So the smaller the circle (three or four miles depending on your specific market) the more ideal it is.
While there is also a trend towards globalization in our world today, there is a counter trend: localization. People want to do business with people they know. That is where the circle strategy has an advantage.
We also need to stop thinking like financial institutions and think more like retailers. One strategy retailers use is to maximize their stores by leveraging their location. In real estate it’s all about location, location, location. While that is true with your branch strategy you must go beyond simple location. You must own everything near that location.
As Seth Godin once said, “The way your reach the masses is to target a niche.” And one niche worth investing in is the immediate circle around all your branches.
Everyone is different and every generation is different. Marketers certainly know that. There is a seismic gap between the Mature Generation and the Millenials. Even Baby Boomers and Generation X have their fundamental differences.
However, too often we tend to lump Generation X and Generation Y together. Even their names (X & Y) are too similar. Smart marketers (and executives and boards) are wise to recognize that you must fundamentally reach these two key demographics in radically unique ways. Strauss & Howe, the leading demographers, define Generation Y as those born between 1961 and 1981 (currently between the ages of 33 and 53). Generation Y are those born between 1982 and 2003 (between ages 11 and 32).
Consider these key points:
- Generation X is growing up, raising families and living their careers—Repeat after me: “Generation X are no longer the kids.” They are raising the kids (yes, that is a scary thought!). Gen. X live incredibly busy lives. They are the soccer moms and the entrepreneurs (and sometimes both). Generation X can actually have kids from diapers to college.
- Generation Y is family oriented—“We are seeing a closer relationship between generations than we have since World War II,” says Jeffery Arnet, an expert on emerging adulthood. He goes on to say, “These young people genuinely like and respect their parents.” Guess what, mom and dad? They come back! While Generation X celebrated their independence and uniqueness, Gen. Y is closer to their parents.
- Generation X was formed by technology—This was the first generation to grow up with cable TV, remote controls and computers in their homes. So yes, Generation X loves and embraces technology. They especially use those technology tools to stay connected (see Facebook and Pinterest demographics while keeping in mind that Facebook is skewing older).Generation X now has life experiences—These guys have been around the block. Some are bruised and battered. Many are ridiculously busy, juggling multiple kid activities with a demanding career. They are hitting mid-life crises and in some cases even dealing with aging parents.
- Generation Y has technology in their bones—Generation Y will make Generation X look like technological fuddy-duddies. These Dot-Comers are multi-tasking masters: they play video games, talk on the phone, text message and watch TV at the same time. Just ask any Gen. X parent who programmed their phone (clue: it was probably their teenager).
- Generation Y are experiencing first time life events—Going to college, starting the first job, getting married. These are major life events and things Generation Y is experiencing for the very first time. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennial priorities are being a good parent, having a successful job, helping others and owning a home.
So what does all this mean for credit unions and banks? Consider these action steps:
- Market to Generation X and Y separately
- Connect with Generation X through their busy lives and with Generation Y through first time life events
- Reach Generation Y through mom and dad
- Use technology tools to simplify Gen X lives and to help Gen. Y stay in touch with their money
Generation X and Generation Y are unique. So start marketing to them uniquely.