Could You Express Your Brand Using Emojis?

Could You Express Your Brand Using Emojis?

Ah, emojis. Those cute little digital images that people can’t seem to resist sticking in text messages, emails and social media platforms.

Remember the good old days when you actually had to type colon, dash, close parentheses to get a smiley face? How barbaric! There are now hundreds if not thousands of detailed emojis to help you cover pretty much every emotion, holiday, animal or situation. And if your smartphone doesn’t have the right emoji for you, you can even make your own.

Since brands are supposed to be the distilled essence of your bank or credit union identity, shouldn’t you be able to express it in terms of an emoji? If so, which one would you use? Following are a few suggestions.

“The Love Eyes Emoji” Are you all about the love? Is your bank or credit union in love with its consumers? And, more importantly, do you express this love to them, every day and in every possible interaction? If so, the “so in love” emoji might best suit your brand.

“The Frustrated/Confused Emoji” Is your brand confusing? Is your bank or credit union professing to be fast, easy and convenient — it is anything but that to your consumers? This is a brand-new gap and is extremely frustrating to consumers. You can’t say one thing and then actually behave in a different way. You must be true your brand.

“The Wearing Sunglasses Emoji” Is your brand super-cool? Do consumers just love you? Are you hip, with it, in with the times? Does your bank or credit union offer the latest electronic bells and whistles, all with a supercool Fonzieheeeeeeey?” Then you might consider the “my future so bright I’ve got to wear shades” emoji.

“The Bored/Blah Emoji” Is your brand the opposite of cool? Are you boring, blah, square, etc.? If so, consumers have little reason to pick you out from the crowded consumer marketplace. If you are the traditional “teller cage and mahogany wood everywhere” financial institution, odds are consumers are bored to tears of you. Your brand could use some refreshing.

“The Pile of Poop Emoji” We’ll just leave this one right here. If this is you, you know you are.

That’s just a few of the thousands of emojis out there. If you had to pick one, or even a sequence of a few, to represent your brand, which would they be and why?

How to Have Your Best Planning Session Ever

How to Have Your Best Planning Session Ever

Before you know it, strategic planning season will be in full swing. Every bank or credit union takes time to build their plan for the upcoming years. But do they do plannning well? Sometimes we leave those strategic planning sessions frustrated, uninspired or even disappointed in the outcomes.

How do you take those strategy sessions from boring exercises in futility to engaging moments filled with hope and a positive sense of direction? Besides throwing out the SWOT, there are several practical steps you can take to improve your next meeting focused on long-range issues.

Here are five practical suggestions to have the best planning session ever:

  • Address issues honestly—Nothing will ruin a planning session more than a group of people who agree on every issue. Make sure your team engages in lively debate. It’s okay to disagree. And the key word here is “honestly.” Too many times we hold back in meetings. Some people are afraid to speak their mind. Eliminate that attitude in your session. One way to address issues honestly is before the meeting have everyone write down their answers to this question, “What is the elephant in the room issue we must address in this session?”
  • Prepare before the session—If you expect an amazing planning session to just happen magically, then keep right on wishing. Because it’s not going to happen without a lot of preparation. And by prep, I’m not referring to the location and meal details. Make sure everyone involved in the session completes a pre-meeting survey of key issues. Also circulate a few articles about relevant issues. Have everyone bring a list of talking points or issues they think you must address. One key to having the best planning session ever is to start that session way before it actually begins.
  • Put away electronic distractions—Nothing kills a meeting more than someone’s cell phone ringing or text alert buzzing. But taking your session seriously is more than just turning your phone to vibrate or do not disturb. How many times have been in a meeting and half the people are glancing at their devices every five minutes? That means they are not fully engaged. And you’ll never have a great session without full engagement. One suggestion is to put all the devices on a side table so that no one is even tempted to look at them. If you take this drastic step then be sure to allow everyone to check those electronic leashes every hour or so.
  • Use an outside facilitator—Some things in life are made for your “Do It Yourself” projects. Strategic planning is not one of those things. Am I biased on this point? Of course. But I can tell you from first hand experience when I was an executive at a financial institution that during the years we hired an outside facilitator the sessions were always better. Why? Because we could focus entirely on the key issues and the facilitator could expertly guide those discussions.
  • Plan off-site—You don’t necessarily have to go out of town (although it helps) but at the very least don’t hold your sessions at one of your offices or the boardroom. That type of setting breeds familiarity. People will sit in the same seats and have the same views. Which means you might get the same results. It’s amazing how simply changing up the setting can impact how differently people think and how much more engaged they are.

Having the best planning session ever means doing that meeting differently. Take those five simple steps above and you will set yourself and your financial institution up for success.

Living Your Brand with a Consumer Promise

Living Your Brand with a Consumer Promise

Financial institutions can’t always predict what greatness will result from a strategic planning session. Great Lakes Credit Union’s session resulted in a unique branding element they call a member promise:

  • We promise to listen, be responsive to your needs, simplify your financial life, and make it easy to do business with us.
  • We promise to build valued relationships by discovering your needs and delivering relevant products and services.
  • We promise to be knowledgeable and respectful: one transaction, one interaction and one member at a time.

This promise is what credit union employees use as a guide to live the credit union’s brand every day. Even better, the promise was developed by staff.

“Our operations staff are the ones who will be carrying out the member promise more than anyone else,” said Yvonne Bailey, senior vice president and COO of Great Lakes Credit Union. “It made sense to actively involve them in the process.”

Bailey asked all branch managers to go back to their staff and put together three sentences on how they serve their members. She and a team of employees then condensed the information and choose the three sentences most suggested by staff.

“It’s a brand promise, but I wanted to call it a member promise. I believe we already offer excellent member service at all points, but having this reminder visible in our branches will enhance the service we give and help differentiate us from competitors,” said Bailey.

The member promise is prominently displayed in the credit union’s branches and in support staff offices so all employee are on the same page.

“I am very conscious that we have to live the brand promise” said Bailey. “We’re not just going to hang it on the wall. We’re going to live it. I had someone tell me that she went into a financial institution and their promise was to treat their members likes family. When she asked if her child could use the bathroom, they told her she couldn’t because it was only for employees. That’s not living your promise.”

Some of the changes Great Lakes has made to better live its member promise include changing the name of it business development department to community development and changing the name of its marketing plan to a member plan. They also discussed and defined specific member demographics they would target to support the member promise, and they plan to continue their relationship management program.

“We call members who have not used our branches in a while. It’s not a sales call at all. We just call to let them know we we care about them, we miss them and we are here for them if they need anything. That seems to be working,” Bailey said.

How does your financial institution live its brand promise?



It’s 1-2-3 Strikes You’re Out … Or Is It?

It’s 1-2-3 Strikes You’re Out … Or Is It?

Have you ever wondered how many strikes you get with your customers or members? How many times can your financial institution make mistakes with the same person’s account before that person gives up on you?

A colleague of mine was talking to me recently about a series of mishaps her family experienced at a local Whataburger. The fast food chain was notorious for getting little things wrong on every order. The family was willing to overlook the small things, but the mistakes kept getting worse.

One night they ordered at the drive-thru, got home and found a completely different sandwich than the one she had ordered. What made it worse was she was dieting at the time, and as she described it, “Never get between a woman and her cheat meal.” She was so angry that she drove back to the restaurant, in the middle of a storm, with sandwich and receipt in hand, demanding the right food. She then informed her family they would be boycotting that location forever.

Her family didn’t listen. They went back without her one day and ate inside the restaurant. When her son bit into his burger, he found no meat on the bun. He took it to the register, and they vowed to fix it. When they brought it back a second time, the bun still had no meat on it. That was the restaurant’s last strike with this family.

Continued mistakes, whether at a restaurant, store or financial institution, boil down to leadership. Yes, it’s the employees who usually make the mistakes with customers and members, because they are on the front line. The question is, why are they making those mistakes? They’re either not being trained properly, not being held accountable for their mistakes or are not the people who should have been hired in the first place.

These are failures that fall on management’s shoulders, and it’s a trickle-down effect. You can replace the people who keep making mistakes, but if you don’t do your job well, the employees who replace them won’t do their jobs well. When they don’t do their jobs well, your service to consumers. How many strikes do you get before they give up on you completely?

This is a relatively easy fix. Start by hiring the right people. Look for personality traits and prior experience that fit the position for which you are hiring. Train your employees well, and frequently. If you can’t train them, find someone who can, even if you have to send them outside your four walls. Finally, define goals and performance metrics for each job position, and hold your employees accountable for meeting them.

When you invest time and resources in your employees, they will invest more in the service they deliver to customers and members.

Four Ways A Marketing Audit Helps

Four Ways A Marketing Audit Helps

Audit. The mere mentioning of the word makes most credit union and banking executives shudder. We have nightmares of examiners being in our offices for weeks or accounting firms digging through all our data.

However, a marketing audit is anything but a nightmare. It is actually a dream.

“We were extremely pleased with our marketing audit,” says Jay Curtis, president of First Credit Union of their recent audit. “It gave us great feedback on where we need to focus our energies to grow and better serve our members. Having a fresh set of eyes on all your materials is a great way to better your brand. I consider the marketing audit process key to our future success.”

Here are four ways a marketing audit helps:

  • Provides strategic suggestions—Marketing is a strategic function inside your financial institution. By reviewing your marketing plan, calendar and budget a successful marketing audit will come back with new strategic suggestions for success. It will also offer industry best practice ideas. Conducting a marketing audit helps you avoid getting stuck in a strategic rut of doing the same things over and over again.
  • Offers tactical growth ideas—There are many small steps you can take at your bank or credit union that will yield immediate positive impact in your marketing area. Because a marketing audit is going to review all of your materials (brochures, website, annual report, newsletters, direct mail, advertising, etc.) it will deliver ways to make each of those items more effective. Examples of tactical suggestions could include cutting the copy, shifting budget resources, dropping direct mail or dozens of other ideas. Conducting a marketing audit helps you improve your marketing’s impact.
  • Identifies brand gaps—Every financial institution has brand gaps. The brand gap is the tension between the operational nature of banking and the creative/strategic skills of branding. There are often gaps between key areas of the credit union or bank. For example, there can be gaps between branding and strategy, branding and staff or branding and operations. At one audit we conducted recently, their brand and marketing pieces were extremely unique and strong. However, their staff delivered terrible service. So there was a gap between their brand and their staff that they had to close. Conducting a marketing audit helps you close your brand gaps.
  • Improves your marketing—The marketing audit is not a “gotcha” audit, where it is looking for everything you are doing wrong in this key area. Rather, a marketing audit’s purpose is to make every aspect of your marketing better. If you want improved return on investment, better results with your promotions and more efficiencies in marketing then an audit provides all that and more. Conducting a marketing audit helps all aspects of your marketing.

Of course, the bottom line is that marketing audit produces results.

As Lori Perkins, vice president of marketing with Rock Valley Credit Union said, “Business is way up since our marketing audit. The marketing audit, looking back, made my job both better and stronger.

If you would like more information on how a marketing audit can help your credit union or bank, check out this video.

Tweens & Banking: A Match Or A Mess?

Tweens & Banking: A Match Or A Mess?

It seems like everywhere you go these days, kids have smartphones, tablets or some other type of digital device with them. I’m beginning to think these technology tools are actually part of their bodies. When our kids were born they gave us pacifiers in the hospital. Now I think hospitals are issuing smartphones to the babies in the cribs.

The latest research indicates that kids and technology are more interrelated than ever before. According to Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study, “technology now plays a bigger role in the lives of today’s kids, they gain ownership of their own devices at a younger age, and increasingly enjoy more access and privacy while online.”

So what does all this mean for credit unions and banks? Plenty.

If your financial institution does not reach the small screen, then it will not reach this generation of digital natives.

Here are a few of the 2016 Digital Trends Study and how it applies to financial institutions:

Kids are tethered to their smartphones

The study notes that the average age now for getting a first phone is 10.3 years old. Let that sink in for a minute: kids have phones long before they are even teenagers. Families also text each other while at home, with 31% of parents surveyed saying their kids have texted them while they are in the same home together.

  • Financial institution application: Any teen or tween marketing campaign must include a mobile marketing component. If you don’t use mobile marketing, you won’t reach these young digital natives. Also, heavily promote text alerts and notifications for the parents when you have mom, dad and teenager on the same account. Ask yourself, how robust is your mobile presence?

Connected kids use gadgets on the go

If you are a parent of kids or tweens, you probably spend an inordinate amount of your time hauling them everywhere. Whether it is going to school, soccer practice, band events, or some other extra curricular activity families are constantly in the car. The study indicates “phones have risen on the list of devices kids look to for entertainment on car trips and remain second only to iPads and tablets as the engagement option of choice for the road.”

  • Financial institution application: Design a financial education game for kids they can play on their tablet or smart device. In essence, you should look for digital gamification options for digital natives. The more you can make financial services digitally fun, the more you will reach this younger generation.

Kids gain access and autonomy

The autonomy and access kids have to the Internet in 2016 jumped significantly compared to just four years ago (and this is across all electronic devices). Key findings of the study include: 24% of kids now have ‘private’ access from their bedrooms (compared to 15% in 2012); 64% of kids now have access to the Internet via their own laptop or tablet (compared to 42% in 2012); and 38% access the Internet via their phone (up from 19% in 2012).

  • Financial institution application: These statistics indicate a long-term approach. When these digital natives hit their borrowing years (and that is coming faster than you think), they will expect a level of independence and do-it-yourself products and services. They are growing up with unprecedented autonomy and access to technology. Strategically, you must answer this question: how many “taps” does it take to get a loan approval at your credit union or bank?

50% of kids have social media accounts by age 12

That stat pretty much sums up the current state of digital channels with this generation. The study notes “most kids score their first social media accounts at an average age of 11.4 years old. The largest percentage of kids—39%—got their first account between ages 10 and 12, but another 11% got a social media account when they were younger than 10.” The study also said Facebook and Instagram represent the most-used social platforms among kids, with 77% using each.

  • Financial institution application: If you are not active on social media, you are invisible. Keep in mind that social media means engagement. It is more than just having a Facebook or Instagram account. There are two “Ss” of social media to remember: strategy and staff. Also, social media is increasingly becoming much more visual so make sure you are using more pictures than text.

When it comes to tweens and banking, your financial institution can either have a mess on its hands or have a perfect match. Taking the insights above from the 2016 Digital Trends Study and applying them to your marketing efforts will help you better reach this newest generation.

Building the Brand Within

Building the Brand Within

If you’ve ever worked on bank or credit union branding projects, you know it takes a lot of time, energy and investment to get one off the ground successfully. You may have the best-looking marketing collateral, vision and mission statements and even dress code around. Guess what? None of that means anything unless your staff is living the brand, every single day.

Unless all staff members, front office, back office, whatever office, believes in and lives out the brand in front of consumers as a daily part of his or her job, your brand is dead on arrival. Bank and credit union professionals are often too enamored of the external component of branding (consumers) and failed to recognize the importance of building the brand within (employees).

Here we’re talking about the internal marketing of your brand. Without that, your staff simply cannot build the emotional connection to the products and services they are responsible for introducing to consumers. If your staff cannot feel the relevance of the brand to their position and that which they are trying to cross-sell to consumers, you can forget about deeper wallet and market share.

While the human resources department certainly has a role to play in integrating employees with your brand, most of that responsibility falls squarely on marketing. It is their job as experienced communicators to not only introduce the concept of brand to staff but also to continually ensure employees understand it, live it and act it in front of consumers.

A critical component in making these things happen is bringing the brand to life for your staff. Just like a campaign geared towards your consumers, your brand must deliver as a campaign to your employees. For example, in one of our recent Brand Ambassador Program newsletters to credit unions, we discussed the importance of staff avoiding complacency when it comes to living and enforcing the brand.

Work to ensure that your staff understands how the brand affects their jobs and how their jobs affect the consumers that rely on your financial institution. For example, you could explain to your front-line consumer relationship team how living the brand and introducing consumers to your products and services helps improve their financial livelihoods. For your back office staff with limited consumer exposure, bringing the brand to life might be something more like highlighting how their support enables frontline staff to do a better job.

Your brand is much more than a printed plan. In order for that plan to work, your internal employee audience must totally buy into it. If they don’t, your brand is about as watertight as a submarine with a screen door. Don’t let your financial institution sink into the brand abyss — work now to ensure your internal market fully gets it.

The Sight and Smell of Branding

The Sight and Smell of Branding

A recent article in Forbes highlights the importance of “inside out branding” — or rather, the importance of considering all of the human senses when it comes to portraying your brand.

Perhaps the two most important when it comes to the brand of banks and credit unions are sight and smell. Both senses are capable of generating powerful emotional reactions from deep within consumers. Is your financial institution making the most of each?

For example, when it comes to sight, is your bank or credit union as visually appealing as possible? When doing the mystery shop component of marketing audits, we take special care to note critical visual elements of a financial institution. These include the attractiveness and visibility of signage from nearby street level, the general neatness and outer appearance of the physical facility and even landscaping. Believe it or not, if your bank or credit union has dead or overgrown landscaping (such as bushes and flowers) it’s a turn-off for consumers. It says that you don’t care about the way your financial institution looks. Inwardly, consumers then make the connection that if you don’t care about how your financial institution appears, why should you care about their business and their financial well-being? We’re not talking about a massive redesign or remodel of your brick-and-mortar facilities. But if all it takes are some well-kept plantings and attractive, visible signage to positively impact consumers’ sense of sight, it’s worth it.

We’ve written about the importance of clean restrooms. And that’s still critical. However, odor and the sense of smell go beyond just your restrooms. For example, think about the critical role of odor in certain brands. I’ve often thought Great American Cookies in my local mall as the best advertising around simply with the delicious aroma of fresh-baked cookies in the air. Walk by any local barbecue joint that cooks outside and see if that delicious aroma doesn’t draw you. Other examples such as deodorants, cat litter and perfumes/colognes are obviously big players in the aroma department. For your bank or credit union, this could mean finding some type of pleasant odor for your lobby. Obviously, you want to keep certain allergies and other health factors in mind. It could be something as simple as a few baskets of potpourri or room deodorizers set to a timer. Baking cookies, popcorn, etc.

When we think about branding, we often focus too much on the print or digital side of things. While these are important, banks and credit unions should also keep in mind appealing to all the human senses in such a way that reinforces their brand. Sight and smell are two important parts of this.

Is your brand rounded out in such a way that it interacts with human senses?

Millennial Insights from the Financial Brand Forum

Millennial Insights from the Financial Brand Forum

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

The Financial Brand Forum is always a terrific event for banking and credit union professionals to gather, network and learn from a diverse array of keynote and breakout speakers. This year’s event in May at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was no exception.

One keynote speaker highlighted the up-and-coming Millennial Generation and provided the audience with a series of startling statistics. Stats, while sometimes guilty of being tedious and boring, can also help serve to give us a kick in our complacency. The following stats about Millennials should do that for your bank or credit union.

  • 73% of Millennials would rather open a financial products or services account with an online company like Google, Amazon or Apple over a traditional bank or credit union
  • 33% of Millennials believe they don’t have a need for a bank or credit union at all
  • 32% of Millennials would give up sex before they gave up their smart phone

What can financial institution professionals derive from the statistics?

Action Item #1: You’d better make your bank or credit union as is easy to work with as Google, Amazon or Apple. With Google, a few taps of your fingers brings you the collective knowledge of the world (and quite a few cat videos). With Amazon, just a few clicks and virtually any item you might need for home or office is on its way. With Apple, you’ve got the power and status symbol of smart phones, tablets and desktops to help you accomplish personal or business goals. Your bank or credit union must strive to fill that financial products and services niche in the same way. No consumers want the hassle of lines, waiting or poor service. Your financial institution must be as fast and reliable as Google, Amazon or Apple if it wants a shot at retaining Millennials’ business.

Action Item #2: You must also prove your relevancy to Millennials. Give them a reason to use you and need you. More importantly, give them a reason to like you. Let’s face it – banks and credit unions just aren’t sexy. But they can fill a need in a consumer’s life (especially a Millennial) that warrants keeping them around. Maybe you’re the only place that will give them a second chance checking account, or maybe it’s financing for that much-needed vehicle. Or it could even be credit score counseling and education. However you can do it, you must prove to Millennials that they not only need you — but they should also like you.

Action Item #3: Good luck with this one. Priorities, people!

Most of the speakers at this year’s Forum spent at least some time talking about Millennials. Your bank or credit union is wise to prepare for their full-blown financial arrival soon.

Who Are You Targeting and Why?

Who Are You Targeting and Why?

It is a fairly well-established fact that in order for banks and credit unions to succeed in branding and marketing, they most focus on specific niche consumer groups. Long gone are the days when financial institutions could simply spray a message using mass media and hope for a great return on investment.

Have you ever stopped to consider who you are targeting and why? These niche groups will, in large measure, determine whether your brand sinks or swims.

Here are a few examples of potential target groups and reasons for going after them.

People that live near your physical branch locations. The closer they are to your branches, the more likely consumers are to do business with you. It’s simple geography. If people have to drive a long way and fight traffic to get to you, they’re less likely to use you. So targeting those that live near your branch locations (and you must set parameters here – such as within certain zip codes or square miles) makes sense for your brand.

Digitally-connected young professionals. These are primarily Gen X and Gen Y. For these consumers, the physical location of your branches isn’t nearly as important as your digital offerings. In order to target and reach these consumers, your website, mobile-responsive website, app and social media presence must be top-notch. These young professionals will expect to conduct the majority of their business with your bank or credit union using their smart phone or tablet — without ever actually having to meet you or come into a branch. Targeting these consumers, while low-touch, offers the added benefit of decreased overhead when it comes to certain additional staffing and brick-and-mortar locations.

Young families. It’s often said that the best way to reach parents is through their children. If you don’t believe that, check out your local grocery store breakfast cereal aisle and look at how many toys they cram into those boxes of sugary snacks. When you target young families, you must offer something of value to every member — including children. Kids clubs and specialized savings accounts can still make a difference, but many banks and credit unions now dig deeper. Some employee age-appropriate educational programs and even checking accounts, debit cards and first-time auto loans for some young consumers to help get them on the right track. Targeting young families is a terrific way for your bank or credit union to leave the brand footprint indelibly in the minds and wallets of your future membership.

There must be a rhyme and reason to the niche markets your bank or credit union targets. Often, these markets are determined as part of your strategic planning or branding processes. Once you decide upon these groups, make a concerted effort to focus your energies and marketing resources on connecting with them and developing relationships that last a lifetime.

For additional emerging niche markets, check out this video.