Strategic Plan Ownership is Key

Strategic Plan Ownership is Key

Okay, great. So you’ve had a strategic planning session. Everyone sat around a big table, talked a lot, shared ideas, got down in the weeds about controversial topics and maybe even worked with an outside moderator.

You’ve got your plan, printed in full color on glossy paper, bound in folders and in the hands of each participant.

Terrific. Now what? A key part of your strategic planning session actually happens after everyone leaves the table that day. This key element is answered by a simple question — who the heck owns this thing?

That’s right — who owns your strategic plan? Is it your bank or credit union president? Members of the board? Maybe your marketing/branding expert or even someone in business development?

The answer is — everybody owns your strategic plan. Your strategic planning team absolutely must walk away from the table with the understanding that everybody involved, from the CEO/president down the organizational chart, has full ownership of this puppy.

Why is this important? Without everyone embracing their ownership of the strategic plan, it’s much more likely to fail. Certainly, key elements of your strategic plan (such as specific initiatives with time-frames and parties responsible) fall more squarely on individual folders. However, the overall plan (and its success or failure) is the responsibility of everyone on the strategic planning team. No one can be the “fall guy” or sacrificial lamb if parts of the plan should falter. Conversely, no one person should get all the glory and accolades if parts (or all) of the plan succeed.

Strategic plan ownership requires initiative, honesty and buy-in. Make sure everyone around your strategic planning table understands his or her stake in this process. And make doubly sure they understand that (once all the cussing and discussing is done) they are 100% part-owners in the entire plan.

Is Your Brand Memorable?

Is Your Brand Memorable?

While many things combine to make a successful brand, a common denominator is originality. Originality plays strongly into just how memorable your brand is in the minds of consumers. Think about it in terms of memorable pop-culture figures. Johnny Cash made a name for himself in country music as “the man in black.” In the early 1990s, a young Mark Wahlberg was the “it” spokesman for Calvin Klein. For years, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs walked out on stage in his trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck, you knew it was time for a new product unveiling.

You get the idea. Being original and memorable makes for a strong brand. The strength of your brand is critical to the success and growth of your bank or credit union. After all, Johnny Cash was hardly the only country music singer in his era and Mark Wahlberg wasn’t the only model hawking underwear and cologne. Being memorable matters.

Here are a few simple litmus tests to consider when asking the question “Is your brand memorable?”

  • Does your brand represent the consumers we serve and wish to serve? In other words, do you look, sound and act in ways familiar with the people in your marketplace? If your brand serves a hip, upscale Millennial area, doesn’t look and sound like it? If your brand doesn’t (both visually and interpersonally) represent your existing and target consumer segments, it’s not likely memorable.
  • Does your brand look the same across all channels? Take a look at the retail appearance and layout of your branches. Now check-out your website. Next, pull up your app on smart phone. Check out your billboards, banner ads and business development materials. Does your brand look the same across all these (and other) marketing/advertising channels? If your brand isn’t consistent across all venues, it’s not likely memorable.
  • Does your brand make a personal connection? Are you reaching out to consumers with a voice they can understand, with images to which they can relate and in a way that encourages dialogue? Or are you simply pushing brochure-type language that focuses more on product features than benefits and using stock photography that any other financial institution could buy and promote? Most importantly, does your brand encourage a dialogue with consumers in which your bank or credit union takes the time to listen and educate as opposed to sell, sell, sell? If your brand doesn’t make a personal connection, it’s not likely memorable.

There’s a reason people talk about famous pop culture icons, sometimes even long after they passed away. These individuals found ways to promote an original and memorable brand for themselves. If your bank or credit union can craft, implement and consistently deliver a similarly memorable brand, it greatly enhances its chances of future success.

Your Strategic Plan Isn’t Important

Your Strategic Plan Isn’t Important

Get your attention? Good – I hope so.

Now that you have had a moment to catch your breath, let me explain.

British statesman Sir Winston Churchill said: “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find truer words in the strategic planning process arena.

Your strategic plan, once hammered out and put on paper, is really nothing more than a tool for direction, a compass for your bank or credit union to follow in shifting winds. Too often, bank and credit union executives come out of the strategic planning process completely fixated upon that which is on paper. Guess what? Times change. The markets change. The ripple effect of an interconnected global economy means a drop in the bucket in Beijing can be a tidal wave once it reaches Bakersfield.

Your strategic plan absolutely must include the fluidity to adapt to the only inevitability in the business world — change. You simply cannot look at your strategic plan like your television remote control; in other words, something with which you can tap a button and make the world bend to your will. It just doesn’t work that way. Using that analogy, a better way to look at your strategic plan might be like the dial on the radio. Don’t like the station you’re listening to or is it coming in fuzzy? Reach for the dial until you find something you like better of that comes in crystal clear.

One of the greatest values of strategic planning is not the document itself but the time in which your team puts into it. Those days facing each other across the table are invaluable when it comes to confronting differences, acknowledging past successes and failures as well as hammering out some kind of general consensus about the future of your credit union.

Your bank or credit union must have a strategic plan in order to move forward. What that plan requires to succeed, however, is flexibility in its planners when the inevitable change hits the fan. Perhaps the best way to cap off every strategic plan is with the famous Boy Scout motto, “be prepared.” Be prepared for the unknown. Be prepared for change. Be prepared for your strategic plan to require considerable updating the day after the ink dries.

But you know what? This is a good thing. Adaptability is a linchpin of a successful evolutionary process. If your bank or credit union becomes so bogged down in the printed page of the strategic plan, it is far less likely to bounce back to rapidly changing elements in the financial services world entirely outside its control.

Strategic planning, in other words, is not a destination. It is a journey.

Your Brand is More Cultural than Collateral

Your Brand is More Cultural than Collateral

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

During a recent discussion about branding with a credit union marketing audit client, a recurring theme surfaced. The client referred to specific marketing collateral (such as the logo, corporate colors, brochures, etc.) as the brand.

This is a not an uncommon misunderstanding. While specific marketing collateral like your logo, brochures and commercials are definitely a part of your brand, they are not the totality of your brand. When seeking a way to define this somewhat vague notion, the point I emphasized was:

Your brand is much more cultural than collateral.

Again, this misunderstanding about brand is not unique to this particular client. Many banks and credit unions, and their marketing leadership teams, default to defining brand as something collateral. In reality, your collateral (while important) is a relatively small part of your overall brand. The brand itself goes much deeper, straight to the cultural heart of your financial institution.

You can have absolutely amazing-looking collateral (and, during mystery shop experiences I find that many banks and credit unions do fantastic collateral). But none of that matters if your brand (again, a cultural thing as lived by your staff in front of your consumers and each other) falls short.

Think about it this way — your collateral materials are a brand promise you make to consumers. In them you can promise a number of things such as we are the fastest, we are the friendliest, we are the (insert brand proposition here). Those pieces are designed to elicit a response from existing or potential members/customers. Once those people actually make contact with your bank or credit union, however, does the cultural experience your staff provide match the collateral promise? Are you indeed the fastest/friendliest/whatever?

If so, terrific. You are living up to your brand promise. If not, your bank or credit union suffers from a brand gap between its collateral and is cultural. You must repair that gap before it does serious damage to your brand credibility. You cannot be one thing in your collateral and another in your culture.

Your bank or credit union brand is the most important asset it has (and probably isn’t even reflected on any accounting spreadsheet). To advance your brand in an authentic, meaningful and future-focused way, everyone at your bank or credit union must understand that the brand is far more cultural than collateral.

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

An old maxim about conventional military forces goes something like this: “To be successful, an army must be bred, fed and led.”

The same three things apply to your bank or credit union brand in order for it to be successful.

Obviously, there are differences between an army and your brand and slight variations in the definitions of these three words. Here’s how it breaks down for your bank or credit union brand:

Bred: This means you must develop enthusiastic brand ambassadors from all employees, in effect breeding a culture of brand loyalty and excitement. This applies to both new employees when they first enter your bank or credit union culture as well as existing employees regardless of tenure. This generally goes back to how well your brand is backed up by proactive and effective training. Without this training, you’ll have a difficult task breeding the loyal brand soldiers you need to succeed.

Fed: You wouldn’t expect an army to march successfully on less than a full stomach. The same thing applies in a more emotional/spiritual way when it comes to your bank or credit union brand. Some of the feeding of your staff goes back to the previously mentioned training. However, you must also feed their spirit for your brand to thrive. How will you communicating success stories related to the brand? Are you praising staff that do well living the brand just as much (if not more) than criticizing/redirecting staff for brand shortcomings? Unless you feed your brand, you can’t take the bold steps forward required to succeed.

Led: Yes, everyone in your bank or credit union is responsible for taking care of the brand. In this instance, however, led refers specifically to your executive leadership team. Staff will look to these individuals to see just how high they hold brand standards. If your leadership team, including the CEO, aren’t leading the brand in a visible and meaningful way, why should your staff feel compelled to do so? As any great army is led by a great general, so must your bank or credit union brand also be led by individuals willing to do whatever it takes to guide your team to victory.

Bred, fed and led. Armies require this. So do bank and credit union brands. How well is your financial institution bred, fed and lead?