How to Focus Your Strategic Plan

How to Focus Your Strategic Plan

In his book Launch, author Jeff Walker says, “Your most scarce resource is focus.” When it comes to strategic planning, you often examine your resources. Do we have enough staff, time or budget to complete a certain strategic initiative? Those are typical resource questions.

But before examining those issues, maybe you should examine a broader challenge: how focused is your strategic plan? In a recent post, we examined Four Ways To Avoid the Strategic Plan Drift. One of those tips was to focus your plan.

So if focus is a resource, how do you accomplish that key task with your strategic plan? Here are four ways:

  • Limit your strategic initiatives—Do not walk out of your strategic planning session with a giant “To Do” list of 10, 20 or 30 things. Ideally, you should have somewhere between three and four major strategies you are trying to implement in the coming months and years. Too many strategies results in no strategy and a lack of focus.
  • Have hard conversations—Spend time in your session talking about the “elephant in the room” issues. Don’t hold back. Raise the hard subjects. Examples might include mergers, an underperforming branch or department, a lack of a brand, leadership shortcomings, etc. Every credit union or bank has “issues.” If you don’t talk about the real issues affecting your growth then you will have a lack of focus.
  • Set action plans, deadlines & budgets—My bachelor’s degree is in journalism. So I have deadlines drilled into me. Are deadlines drilled into your strategic plan? Rather than having vague ideas or “hopes,” put pen and paper to your strategies. This is especially important when it comes to the budget. Make sure you are allocating proper dollars to your top initiatives. If you don’t put dollars to your plan then you just have a wish list and no focus.
  • Look for highest impact—Think of your strategic plan like a row of dominoes you are trying to knock down. Which one or two strategic “dominos” that if you knocked them down everything else at your financial institution would fall into place? When you identify those strategies, then those are the ones with highest impact. Focus your plan on those areas first. Examples could include leadership development, loan growth, updating technology or rebranding. Don’t try and do everything, rather do the most important things.

Walker is right: focus is actually a resource. There is only so much time, so much money and so much staff. If you treat focus like the precious resource it is, then your plan’s likelihood of success increases exponentially.


The Differences Between Strategies and Tactics

The Differences Between Strategies and Tactics

Strategic planning sessions are critical to your financial institution’s success. But all too often what starts as time devoted to examining big picture issues turns into a discussion about the minutia. This is the classic challenge of going from 30,000-foot issues to 5,000 (or lower) foot issues. For example, rather than discussing your five year branching strategy you start talking about the colors in the lobby.

The bottom line is there is a difference between strategies and tactics. While they are both important you need to make sure that when you are “doing strategy” you do strategy. Keep the following differences in mind when it comes to strategy and tactics:

  • Strategy is long-term, tactics are temporary
  • Strategy focuses you, tactics distract you
  • Strategy stays, tactics change
  • Strategy inspires, tactics overwhelm
  • Strategy sets direction, tactics veer
  • Strategy gives vision, tactics give headaches
  • Strategies are big, tactics are small

You can even use the above list as a tool in your planning session. For example, give this of simple bullet points to everyone ahead of time. Or even have it displayed on 3×5 cards at people’s seats. But use it as a visual reminder.

The above list may give the impression that tactics are not important. That is not the case at all. The point is that it’s all too easy for strategic sessions just to become glorified tactical discussions.

One practical step to keep your strategic focus is to hold the tactical discussion and session on a separate day. Then when your veer off the strategy road into an operations lane you can say “let’s discuss that item during our action plan phase.” You can even keep a flip chart with the word “Tactics” on it and when someone raises an operational detail write that item on the flipchart. Capture the idea and come back to it.

If you want a more effective planning session then remember there are differences between strategies and tactics.


Bridge the Generations, Your Brand Must

Bridge the Generations, Your Brand Must

First, my thanks to syntax-challenged Jedi Master Yoda for helping me craft the title of this entry.

More than likely, this isn’t the first thing you’ve read about the upcoming Star Wars reboot opening in theaters in December. I am an unabashed lifelong Star Wars fanatic and have had December 18, 2015 circled on my calendar since the movie’s announcement. Not quite excited enough to spend thousands of dollars pre-purchasing tickets two months ahead of time, but still excited.

I’m also interested to see how the Star Wars brand may potentially evolve as the new films develop. Disney purchased the franchise from George Lucas and will undoubtedly put a new spin on the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the rest of the gang.

But — will I like it?

Star Wars faces a challenge to its brand with these new movies. Much like a bank or credit union considering a brand overall or even an entirely new name, they will have to find a way to toe the line, appeasing both original fans of the franchise (that started in late 1970s) and new fans coming on board just now. In other words, they’ll have to find some way to appeal to Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Homelanders, in one fell swoop.

Not an easy task.

Your bank or credit union cannot be all things to all people. However, what are some ways you can bridge the generations with your brand? Following are a few ideas.

  • Define your audiences. If you attempt to craft an identity that will work for everybody, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You must spend time identifying key target audiences. For example, will your credit union specifically target young, professional women? Are you going after the aging baby boomer demographic? Or are you really going to concentrate on acquiring millennials? Once you identify your target audience, you can more specifically focus your brand towards those people.
  • Focus on details. In branding, everything As I mentioned earlier this year, Disney is a terrific example of paying attention to brand details. At any Disney resort property, you will notice a great deal of attention paid to the smallest of details, from shower knobs and towel racks to employee names and consumer service. The old saying goes “the devil is in the details” and this definitely applies to branding. Inattention to detail can cripple any brand. Just ask Quiznos.
  • Avoid brand gaps. Sure, it’s your marketing staff and executive team that primarily develop and promote the brand. But it is your frontline staff that must live it every day in order for it to succeed. You can have the greatest brand in the world but unless your staff buys into it wholeheartedly, it can also fall apart. This gap between brand identity and consumers is deadly. Once your brand makes a promise to consumers, it must live up to it. If it fails to do so, the brand gap widens, mistrust grows and wallet share decreases.

Taking steps such as defining target audiences, focusing on the details and avoiding brand gaps are ways to help ensure your brand appeals to a broad array of consumers. And there is no brand too big to fail. Just look at how the critics slammed Star Wars Episodes I, II and III. Take steps now to make sure that your brand is seen as cruel and timeless like Darth Vader and not irritating and unappealing like Jar Jar Binks.

Your Brand Must Include Passion

Your Brand Must Include Passion

As part of the overall branding process when working with bank and credit union partners, we typically walk them through exercises and scenarios that help determine key elements including vision, mission and employee message.

A recent credit union partner, however, decided to take it a step further, identifying their specific passions as important enough to include in their overall branding plan.

Nymeo Federal Credit Union in Frederick, Maryland ($257 million assets, 24,000 members) executive team members stepped up their brand game by identifying the following passions as key elements of their comprehensive brand identity. Specific passions identified were:

  • Helping members live better lives
  • Becoming a lifetime financial partner with our members
  • Making member financial education a priority
  • Having a positive impact in the communities we serve

“When we entered the branding process, our executive management team felt strongly that taking time to identify and discuss the passions that drive us as a credit union was important,” said Kristina Morgan, Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for Nymeo. “We have a fun, quirky and eclectic brand — and specifying the passions that drive that brand was an important part of our overall branding exercise.”

As discussed in a previous blog post, you have to love your brand in order for it to succeed. Your bank or credit union must identify the things about which it is passionate, endeavor to hire passionate people and subsequently train for specific skill sets.

By identifying key things they are passionate about, the executive team at Nymeo elevated their overall brand plan to a higher level. Instead of flying blind and relying on clichéd and hackneyed passions like “good customer service” and “friendly employees,” they delved deeper into their brand genetics for specific and authentic direction, concentrating specifically on lifetime relationships, financial education and strengthening community ties.

Certainly, elements such as vision, mission and employee message are important parts of overall brand plans. However, to capitalize on the time and energy bank and credit union executives put into branding, they are well served to also spend time discussing and discovering the specific passions brought to the table when it comes to dealing with consumers.

So, what is your bank or credit union passionate about?

Brand Awareness Is A Trap

Brand Awareness Is A Trap

In a recent brand training class I was conducting for one of our clients I asked the participants what were some of their favorite brands. Several of them said Geico (of lizard and caveman fame). When they gave those answers, I asked why. Many said because the commercials were funny, they thought the lizard was cute and the ads made them laugh. Then I pressed some more: did those that said the liked Geico have any of their products or services. Not a one raised their hand.

They were aware of the Geico brand but never used the Geico brand. What good does it do a brand if people are aware of it but never use it. Not much. This is the brand awareness trap.

Several clients have inquired recently about doing brand surveys in their markets. These local financial institutions want to know how well their individual credit union or bank is known in the communities they serve. While certainly attainable, that type of research is fairly expensive to conduct. And the results usually don’t offer the insights you are seeking. Think about it at the credit union level: according to CUNA, 71% of Millennials don’t even know what a credit union is (much less your individual credit union).

This is another example of the brand awareness trap. A better gauge of perception in your area is market penetration. How much of the market or share of wallet has your institution captured? Honestly, who cares if people know about you? I’m much more interested in if they use your products or services.

Of course, they have to know you first before they can use you. But the best way for consumers to get to know your brand is through word of mouth (through their friends and family members). And no amount of research and data about how well they do or do not know your financial institution is probably going to move them.

Data is important. Research is valuable. We need to know how our own consumers and employees feel about our brand. But people who don’t use our products and services already? Their lack of awareness doesn’t reveal all that much.

As Scott Bedbury eloquently put in A New Brand World, “brand awareness has become marketing fool’s gold.” Or more of a trap