The end-goal of a strategic planning process includes a set of clear objectives. It is these strategic initiatives that guide your bank or credit union moving into the next several years. However, poor objectives can just as easily kill a strategic plan and render your investment wasted.
What are poor objectives? What are the things your strategic planning team must avoid when it comes to objectives at its next session? Consider the following:
- Unclear objectives. You want up-front and easy-to-read language in your objectives. Now is not the time to wordsmith and impress everyone with your vocabulary. Your objective must be clear, driven by action verbs and book-ended by start and end dates.
- Un-led objectives. If a ship or plane start a journey without a seasoned captain, they are unlikely to make it very far. Your strategic planning objectives are the same. To succeed, they must have a leader. This could be a single leader or perhaps a small team of leaders, depending on the objective. Lack of leadership for your objective condemns it to failure before it can start. If no one leads it, no one is responsible for it and if no one is responsible for it no one will care.
- Un-reported objectives. Putting your objectives down on paper is just a start. Making sure they have a leader (or leaders) is a next step. In order to be truly successful, however, your strategic objectives must also include regular reporting. After the strategic planning session itself, ensure that leaders of specific objectives understand they are responsible for reporting back to the team on the status of their objectives. Failing to do this is like pushing a raft onto the rapids and putting your trust in the rocks and rushing water. The end result won’t be pretty.
Since well-defined objectives are the desired outcome of a strategic planning session, it makes sense to give them a terrific head-start on their journey towards completion. This includes making sure they are complemented by things like clarity, leadership and regular reporting.
There are plenty of good reasons to conduct a marketing audit (the On The Mark Strategies proprietary method by which your bank or credit union takes an intensive deep-dive look into its marketing strategies and tactics). However, there are also many good reasons not to conduct a marketing audit at your bank or credit union.
Here are three:
- Don’t conduct a marketing audit because you already know what your competition is doing. If you already know what the other banks, credit unions and non-traditional competitors in your area are doing when it comes to consumer engagement, branding, marketing and experiential design, you probably shouldn’t conduct a marketing audit.
- Don’t conduct a marketing audit because you are already happy with your marketing budget. If you already know how well your marketing budget addresses the rapidly-changing financial products and services marketplace and you are content with the amount of your marketing budget, you probably shouldn’t conduct a marketing audit.
- Don’t conduct a marketing audit because you’re not interested in industry best practice ideas. If you already have a firm grasp of every idea, new, old and unthought-of, you probably shouldn’t conduct a marketing audit.
- You’d like to have a better idea of what your competition is doing (as well as the current status of consumer service in your own branches);
- You want a better idea of how effective your marketing spend is and direction on how to maximize your marketing budget); and
- You are interested in picking up new industry best practice ideas from across the country, then …
… you might want to conduct a marketing audit.
Banks and credit unions that engage in strategic planning are committing time and valuable resources towards planning for the future. Your leadership team will likely spend hours at the table hammering out the details of your strategic plan for the next several years.
One of the most important ground rules about strategic planning (and a compelling reason to use an outside facilitator to help conduct the session) is keeping the discussion at a strategic rather than a tactical level. Your strategic planning session must be geared towards discussing, understanding and deciding on a course of action that concentrates on strategic initiatives — big-picture items.
It’s all too easy for a strategic planning discussion to jump the rails and plunge into the high weeds of tactical discussions. By tactical, we mean the daily tasks and jobs, the nuts and bolts of operations at your bank or credit union, that keep things moving. These are certainly important and, if not in place, can sabotage larger strategic initiatives. However, your time at the strategic planning table simply cannot be spent debating and discussing tactical issues.
For example, let’s say your bank or credit union decides an important strategic initiative for the next several years involves branding. Branding is a huge concept that touches every single element of your financial institution. The visual appearance of your brand is certainly a part of this. If you’re not careful, your leadership team could fly off the rails and start a discussion of dress code and how a revised dress code could fit the new brand.
Dress code is important. Dress code matters. Dress code impacts the brand. But, friends, dress code is absolutely the last thing you want to talk about during a strategic planning session. It’s an agonizing, tactical-specific discussion that almost always degenerates to a microscopic level of analysis that it makes a thesis dissertation look simple in comparison. This type of discussion does not empower your strategic planning session. Quite the opposite — it can cripple it.
Dress code is just one example of the dangers of your strategic planning session sinking into the murky waters of tactical items. There are many, many others. The important takeaway here is that in order for your bank or credit union strategic plan to be successful, it must keep its focus on the strategic rather than the tactical.
Let’s face it — most consumers think going to the bank or credit union real pain in the you-know-where. Although financial products and services are important to consumers and definitely have emotional impact, they are not typically seen as “sexy” items which people wish to purchase.
Your bank or credit union should take an honest look at the way in which consumers perceive it and answer the question, honestly – “is visiting us a pain?” If consumers, already halfway dreading going to the bank or credit union actually do have a negative experience there, it’s bad for your brand and your bottom line.
Examine the consumer visit from their point of view. Start with the basics. Is your facility easy to see from the road? Is it attractive (for example, landscaping, paint, etc.)? Once inside, how quickly are your consumers greeted? Do you have a queue system and, if so, does it ask consumers to take it upon themselves to sign in or does your staff take the initiative and handle that for them?
Digging deeper, you should next examine subsequent steps in a typical consumer interaction. How long is the average wait time? Do you provide some type of beverage (water, coffee, etc.)? Once a consumer is seated with a representative, is that person skilled and trained to ask questions or are they simply an order-taker with no real drive?
After examining some of these basics (and the above examples are just a few of the many things you should examine), apply the question again — “is visiting us a pain?” If some of the answers to the questions above included responses like “our landscaping is dead,” “the average wait time is 30 minutes,” and “our staff are poorly trained in asking questions,” it’s likely visiting you is a pain for consumers. Now it’s up to you to fix that.
Ways to address this challenge include taking a look at your brand, training, employee culture and accessible member data. It is critical that your bank or credit union examine the consumer interaction experience from the consumer perspective to ensure visiting you isn’t a pain. Because if it is, consumers are more than happy to take their business someplace more pleasant.
A deep-dive marketing audit is also a terrific way to ascertain how easy it is to do business with your financial institution. For more information on marketing audits, please follow this link.
If banks and credit unions are speaking honestly and openly, they’d admit their image for the past say, 100 years, is not necessarily a terribly human one. I mean, the most instantly recognizable bankers in pop culture today are probably the Monopoly guy and Mr. Drysdale from the 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Neither of these icons evoke a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings from consumers.
Financial institutions have made great strides in the last quarter-century towards better humanizing their brands. But much work remains to be done. Take a look at your own bank or credit union and ask the same question — “is our brand human?”
Here’s a brief litmus test through which you can run your brand to help answer the question:
- Do we look like the people we serve? In other words, are you still sporting the traditional suit and tie look? Are your branches still anchored with traditional mainstays like behemoth teller counters, mahogany desks and rope lines? Now, if these elements match your target audiences, terrific. You might not need to change anything. However, if your physical appearance, both in terms of attire and design, do not match the people you want to serve, your brand probably needs humanizing.
- Do we try to talk to our consumers where they are? If the limit of your communications is still a revolving wire rack brochure stand, your brand is almost certainly in need of humanizing. You must take your brand message and story to consumers where they are. Where they are increasingly is online. How well are you telling your story on social media platforms, via a vibrant two-way website and valuable consumer education related content on your blog? If your answer to these questions is some form of “uhhhhh …,” your brand probably needs humanizing.
- Do we listen more than we talk? Old-school bank and credit union brands rarely did a good job of engaging with consumers. Moving beyond mere order-taker status, financial institutions with humanized brands now invest in solid engagement training. This entails a lot of work, including training staff towards the importance of active listening, aligning consumer needs with select products and services and speaking more about product benefits than features. All this requires us to listen more than we talk. If your mouth is running more than your ears are listening, your brand probably needs humanizing.
The formal, robotic and generally boring brands of bank and credit union past will struggle to maintain relevancy in today’s consumer-driven society. If your brand needs humanizing, acting now can help establish your bank or credit union as an important part of your consumers’ lives.