At some point, most financial institutions will find themselves in this boat: they’ve either lost their marketer (or someone on the marketing team) or have finally reached a point where it’s time to hire a marketer.
Eventually, you’re going to have to hire a marketing professional. When that time comes, it is useful to prepare ahead of time and have a few questions ready in advance for the occasion. Following please find a few suggestions for these important probing questions. The way the candidate answers could not only serve as a determining factor in hiring him or her, but also the future direction of your financial institution.
- What is the last business book you read? If this is a fresh out of college hire, the response might be some sort of textbook. However, for more seasoned marketing professionals, expect a more current response. The probing question here is not so much how much of a bookworm they are, but if they are reading and staying up-to-date on current trends in the industry. If they are, terrific. If they are not, you might want to consider a different candidate. Serious marketers realize their education doesn’t end on the day they get a diploma. It only begins. Your bank or credit union deserves someone who cares enough to stay abreast of trends and topics in marketing. Tip: the goal here is to find a candidate whose most recent book is something in the business realm, not Fifty Shades of Grey. Look for a candidate who is up-to-date on current and relevant marketing books. Examples could include The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and Grow by Jim Stengel.
- What was your biggest professional disaster and how did you recover from it? Anybody can talk about their successes. Resumes are full of them. Where we learn the most, however, is often from our failures. By probing a candidate about a professional failing (and we’ve all had them) you can get to the root of their identity not only as a person but as a marketer and whether or not they are too prideful to share such mishaps. Those open to sharing how they screwed up and what they learned are probably a better match for your bank or credit union and someone whose hubris is too much for them to admit to mistakes. You can even argue that your bank or credit union will benefit more from hiring an individual that has made a big mistake and learned from it, than one who either hasn’t yet or can’t admit to it. Tip: find a candidate that is not shy about sharing specific answers with you. You want somebody in your marketing position with the guts to say “I screwed XYZ up really badly, but learned ABC from it.” Generic answers and non-specifics are not of much use to you or your financial institution
- What is something about our brand that doesn’t work and how would you fix it? Here you are asking a candidate for somewhat of a mini marketing audit (and also discovering whether or not they took the time to research your financial institution before the interview). A candidate with the nerve to tell you what they like and don’t like about your existing brand may very well be the individual best to guide your bank or credit union into the future. Tip: choose someone that gives you great details about your brand, not something you already knew. Look for the individual that can dig deep enough to find out where you are making mistakes — for example: inconsistent logo usage, promise-service gaps and other branding mishaps.
When the time comes for your bank or credit union to hire marketing professional, having a few questions ready in advance is a not bad idea. By applying these (and other) questions during the interview process, you are more likely to find the individual best suited to take the lead in your marketing and branding efforts.
“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
The above quote starts chapter one in Greg McKeowan’s book Essentialism. While the book deals more with how you handle your multiple responsibilities, there are plenty of business applications as well. Especially for banks and credit unions.
The way of the essentialist is “less but better.” McKeowan asks a searing question: “are you investing in the right things?” Think about that for a minute: is your financial institution investing in the right things? My guess is there are several non-essential initiatives you need to eliminate.
There are multiple areas to consider applying the essentialism principle to your credit union or bank:
- Marketing—Your bank or credit union is probably marketing A TON of products. But are they the RIGHT services? It’s the same with community involvement. There are probably multiple events with which you are associated. But are they the right ones? Your marketing will be far more effective if you cut the clutter and focus your message.
- Branding—One trap many financial institutions fall into is trying to be all things to all people. However, the most successful banks and credit unions focus on a niche. As Seth Godin says, “the way you break through to the masses is to target a niche.” Your branding will be far more effective if you narrow your target audiences.
- Planning—Nowhere is setting priorities more important than in your strategic planning process. Your strategic plan should not look like some giant “To Do” list. In fact, we recommend following “The Power of 3” concept when it comes to strategic planning. Focus on three key initiatives. Your planning will be far more effective if you choose a few strategies.
Let’s go back to the post’s title and focus on a couple of action items:
- Eliminate—There are things in your marketing, branding and planning you should STOP doing. What are they are? Make a list and eliminate them. We tend to add and add and add. We never eliminate projects, people or processes. Maybe it’s time you stop adding and start eliminating.
- Non-Essentials—There are initiatives your bank or credit union are doing that are not essential to the core of your business. Think about your website and branches. How many non-essential products (from outside vendors) are you promoting that bring you very little revenue and have nothing to do with your financial institution? Maybe it’s time you conduct a review and determine what is most important.
Eliminating non-essentials is hard work. It’s far easier to say “yes” to everything. However, if you want your credit union or bank to perform at high levels, do some trimming.
People receive over 3,000 advertising messages a day (more or less depending on your source). But are they receiving your credit unions’? They probably are not receiving your messages if all you are doing is making noise.
As author Jim Stengel says in Grow, “You can’t have a highly effective business culture without highly effective communication. A business that communicates as one team with one dream can make beautiful music together. A business that communicates at cross-purposes is just a lot of noise.”
Today, marketing is not about sending your messages and hoping someone sees them. Marketing is about connecting.
So how do you know if your marketing is effective or if it is just a noise-maker? Here are some questions to honestly answer:
- Does everything match—From business cards to brochures to logos to websites, all your marketing should look coherent. Over time (as multiple people touch and produce your marketing), your brand can lose consistency. Line all your marketing pieces together and see if it passes the matching test.
- How professional do your materials look—Your offline and online materials say something about your credit union. Are they communicating that you are a “mom and pop” shop with hand written or photocopied material? This is especially relevant with in-branch materials. Examine your pieces and see if they pass the professional test.
- Is your communication real—The best marketing practices today communicate what is real and authentic about your brand. Do the stock photography images you use in your newsletters, brochures, etc. look like your members or like “perfect people.” Look at your visuals and see if they pass the reality test.
- How short are your messages—People’s reading and attention spans are at an all-time low. You are doing good if you can get them to skim the bullet points in your copy. When it comes to the written word, less is best. Review your writing and see if it passes the short test.
”The highest-quality businesses—the fastest growing, most profitable and most innovative—share a common thread: their high-quality communication,“ Stengel adds. “Everything expresses and supports the brand ideal.”
So is your marketing supporting your brand or is it just making noise?
Today will examine words that describe the modern business development professional. In the same vein, this is not a scientific or comprehensive list. Rather, it is simply intended as an introductory and 30,000 foot view of terms relevant to business development professionals in the year 2015. As you may recall from an earlier post, the smarmy sales guy is dead/
- Not-Smarmy. Yes, I realize that is really two words, but there’s a hyphen in between, which helps. Far from the business development person of decades past, the modern business development professional cannot rely solely on a sales emphasis. Today, business development professionals will identify more closely with relationship building and partnership nurturing, over sales. Rather than purely pushing revenue numbers up, today’s business development professional looks to match products and services with potential consumers. Enhanced revenue is a natural byproduct of this re-imagined job function. You must be real, authentic and genuinely able to empathize with the consumer.
- Civic. In the past, business development professionals worked in silos like boardrooms, back-offices and the occasional golf course. Today, they must strive to be a much more visible element of the communities in which they live and work. Business development professionals, acting more like branch managers in many ways, will seek out opportunities to be visible and engaging in the public eye. Opportunities like this include community events, local group meetings and even area school activities. Far from working at existing as the smarmy salesperson of the past, the modern business development professional is to be seen as open, engaging and genuine. And this doesn’t just mean attending meetings – you must also be plugged into committees and other work groups that roll up their sleeves and get he jobs done.
- Brand-oriented. To succeed, the modern business development professional must truly buy into the brand of the company or person they represent. This means they must live the brand, love the brand and endorse the brand. This will require a close relationship with the marketer or marketers in charge of branding efforts. Rather than working as a rogue field agent, today’s business development professional will fully integrate themselves as a key component of the larger marketing and branding function. By doing this, they not only develop a closer and more meaningful relationship with the company they serve, but also with the target audiences they are charged with attracting.
Just as with modern marketers, the modern business development professional is an evolving person. While we can use certain keywords to help describe this person, no three-word list can cover it all. What other words might you suggest to help describe the modern business development professional?
I recently finished reading Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. It is a fascinating book about how doing less actually helps you accomplish more. In sum, it takes discipline to focus your professional and personal life.
After introducing his concept, McKeown divides his book into three sections: explore, eliminate and execute. Applying that approach for credit unions and banks you can quickly see there are the same three “Es” for strategic planning. Here the three areas along with a potential trap to avoid with each:
- Explore—Examine what you could do at your financial institution. This phase should take place well before your actual planning session. Make sure you are getting input from your staff, your target audiences and your board. But don’t stop there. Spend time reviewing industry trends. In other words this is all about data and feedback. Include surveys, focus groups, demographic data, etc.
- Trap—Gathering so much data (even “big data”) that you have too much information. You can quickly fall into “paralysis by analysis.” While data is awesome, it can actually slow down strategic thinking. Make sure you are not bogging down in data.
- Eliminate—Examine what you should do at your financial institution. This phase should take place during your actual planning session. This step is perhaps the hardest of the three. We are really good during planning sessions developing tasks, action plans, priorities, etc. But executives and boards struggle when asked the question “What should we stop doing?” The truth is your plan’s ultimate success is determined here: with a clear and sharp focus.
- Trap—Walking away from your strategic planning session with a giant list of 5, 7 or even 10 strategic priorities. The best credit unions and banks focus. You don’t have to do everything at your financial institution: you have to do the right things.
- Execute—Examine what you are doing at your financial institution. This phase should take place the minute your strategic planning session ends. We often think as soon as the plan is put together in a fancy three-ring binder that we’re done. Nothing is further from the truth. In actuality, it’s just getting started. Execution requires your entire team (executives, management and front line staff). Make sure you communicate the plan consistently and frequently.
- Trap—Avoiding accountability. What measures did you put in place to ensure your top strategic initiatives are on track? Successful execution means successful monitoring (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly). Make sure you are reviewing your plan regularly.
If you explore your strategic options, eliminate the ones that are not the most important and execute the plan with follow-up, your credit union’s or bank’s strategic plan will have this “E” attribute: excellent.