Year-end? It’s just August! But yes, you read that title correctly: this August post is talking about the year-end. More specifically, strategic adjustments you might need to make.
As we tell our planning clients all the time: strategic planning is a process not a date on a calendar. In essence, you should be doing strategic planning throughout the year.
As the dog days of August hit, here are some issues you should examine to ensure you are making the necessary adjustments for year-end:
- Celebrate gains—It’s always a good time to reflect on your successes. Many executives and managers tend to focus on what is NOT being done or where we’ve missed the mark. Before doing that type of examination look at your accomplishments first. Did loans grow more than expected, did one branch perform exceptionally well, did you bring in a rock star new hire? Making adjustments starts with celebrating your successes.
- Examine gaps—While success is wonderful, odds are your year has not been perfect. What gaps are you seeing with your strategy and goals? For example, maybe certain marketing promotions didn’t succeed, perhaps there is a significant brand gap or it’s possible your budget numbers are not looking they way your projected them. During this analysis, don’t just identify what the gaps are, but rather why they exist. Making adjustments means examining where you are falling short.
- Study graphs—What are the trends with your credit union or bank? Are you opening more accounts than you are closing? Is loan growth up, down or flat? What about net income and branch performance? This is the perfect time of year to study the first two quarters. You have the data, so examine it. What story does the data tell? Making adjustments means analyzing all the information you have and pulling out nuggets of truth.
- Set a guide—Where do you want to go next? Many financial institutions are going to spend a ton of time in Q3 and Q4 on their strategic plan for next year. This is an ideal time of season to put in place a direction for where you to want to go. This is your roadmap. Your compass. But don’t just think about next year. There are still many days, weeks and months to accomplish this year’s goals. Making adjustments means revising your map.
The year is more than halfway complete. What adjustments are you going to make ensure you end the year strong?
Note: The following is an excerpt from 30 Ideas to Build and Live Your Brand. For a free copy of the complete book, click here.
Brands are not just brochures and logos. They are feelings. They connect with consumers on an emotional level. Those emotions are very much tied to and often triggered by our senses – sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.
Think about one of your favorite memories. Is there a certain scent or sound you associate with it? Does that memory pop up when you taste a certain food or see something special like a painting? Those are the same kind of sensory experiences you want consumers to have when they experience your brand.
That’s not always easy in financial services, because we are not selling tangible goods. But there are other ways to tap into those senses. Umpqua Bank allows some of its business partners to display their goods in its branches. In San Francisco, one of its partners puts out chocolates. A credit union in the southern part of the country pays someone to spend 20 hours a week baking at one of its branches so consumers smell baked goods when they conduct their financial business.
Our sense of smell is actually the most sensitive of the five senses, which means scent can have a powerful effect on consumer behavior. The human nose can distinguish more than 10,000 different odors, and studies have shown that 75% of emotions are triggered by smell. Scent is such a big deal in business that companies pay a lot of money for scent marketing. They brand their own scent.
A few years ago when Sony wanted to make women feel more welcome in its stores, it infused a customized scent of vanilla, mandarin, bourbon and other secret ingredients into its stores. Hunkemöller, a Netherlands-based lingerie retailer, increased sales by 20% when it added a chocolate scent to its stores.
What about sound? A colleague has admitted to me that sometimes she finds herself shopping in a local grocery store much longer than she intended because she enjoys the music piped into the store. She doesn’t even realize it until she finds herself singing along and then looks at her watch. Does she spend more money than she intends to? I’m willing to bet she does.
Humans are multi-sensory beings. We need to make sure we are tapping into as many of the five senses as possible to connect with customers and members. You don’t have to invest in your own branded scent or even pay someone to bake cookies at your branch office. Something as simple as brewing coffee or popping popcorn in a central spot of your branch can arouse the senses. The look and feel of a new car in the branch can invoke the sense of touch. The music you pipe in and the volume at which you play it can impact your audience’s behavior.
Just remember to be consistent. You want members and customers to look for these same sensory experiences every time they arrive. That’s how you connect with them on a deeper level.
Note: This article originally ran on the On The Mark Strategies blog August 13, 2015.
In the financial services industry, the mere mention of an audit makes some people nervous. Often, they start second guessing themselves. What if we made a mistake? What if we’re not as stable as we thought we were? What if they tell us we need help?
Here’s the question they should be asking. If you have the chance to be even better than you already are, don’t you want to take advantage of that opportunity?
Financial institutions conduct financial audits all the time, but how many conduct marketing audits? Unfortunately, far too few.
A marketing audit, as the name implies, is an examination of your financial institution’s marketing collateral, website, social media presence, marketing budget, marketing calendar and marketing strategies. Most of the time, a thorough marketing audit also includes mystery shops of not only your branches but of your competition’s branches, as well.
A marketing audit is a unique opportunity to have an objective third party identify the strengths and weaknesses in your marketing initiatives and observe whether or not what you advertise (i.e. convenience, friendly service, etc.) is actually being executed at your branches. If your financial institution has never been through a marketing audit, here are three reasons you should consider it.
A marketing audit helps your marketing budget
Every marketing budget has a limit, and most marketers say theirs is too small. A marketing audit identifies how much you should be spending and the most effective ways to spend it. If something isn’t working, why should you continue spending money doing it? On the flip side, you may have a campaign you’d like to do more often, but you don’t have the budget to do it. Stopping what isn’t effective clears up more money to do what is effective.
A marketing audit identifies brand gaps
Your job as a marketer is to promote your financial institution and generate interest in consumers. That all becomes pointless if consumers do not receive the service in your branches and call center that you promise in your marketing collateral. That’s a brand gap. You could have the most attractive, attention-getting marketing collateral in the industry, but have nobody to reinforce that in other parts of your financial institution. A marketing audit identifies those brand gaps and provides recommendations on how to close them so your entire organization is more efficient.
A marketing audit gives you permission to say no
It’s no secret that marketing and other parts of the organization don’t always agree. Have you ever had a CEO or other C-suite executive make you do a campaign that didn’t fit with your brand or your target audience? A marketing audit puts the tools in your arsenal to demonstrate why that person’s idea is not a wise marketing investment. Believe it or not, most executives are more willing to listen to your marketing department after they pay a third party to review your marketing efforts.
Marketing defines how consumers view your financial institution. A marketing audit will analyze the effectiveness of those efforts and help you maximize and grow your marketing results.
Note: This article originally ran on Deluxe.
I have the privilege of facilitating workshops for bank and credit union associations across the country. During a recent workshop I conducted on branding, participants took a valuable detour to discuss financial institution name changes.
I have worked in this industry a long time, and I’m still amazed at the stories my workshop participants tell me about how their financial institutions were renamed. Based on that recent workshop, I offer you four methods your financial institution should never use to change its name.
We like (fill in the blank)…let’s do that. Your name change efforts are doomed for failure if the name is selected based on the common interest of a few employees.
“We like butterflies, let’s name it after that.”
“Everybody likes patriotic themes. Let’s go in that direction.”
A name change requires research and strategy and should reflect your financial institution’s potential for growth. It’s not based on what random people like.
Let the CEO do it. Your CEO is taking a big gamble if he or she changes the name without anyone else knowing about it. This actually happened in at least one financial institution we know. The CEO didn’t just choose the name. He also worked with a vendor and had a logo created to match the new name. The result was not good. A name change using this method may work for a small business owned by one person, but your financial institution does not fit that description.
Choose it based on a cool logo. This makes about as much sense as choosing a house because the window treatments in the model home look good. You don’t choose a name based on a logo. In fact, you shouldn’t even have a logo until after your research and name change strategy are complete.
Do everything in-house. I may be biased on this, but trust me when I say the last thing your financial institution needs is a handful of executives and board members sitting around a table re-naming your financial institution. You need outside perspective and legal guidance, among other expertise.
Changing your financial institution’s name is a complex undertaking. It is a lengthy process that involves both internal and external perspective, incredible focus, proper guidance and an extremely open mind. If you expect your efforts to succeed, avoid the mistakes above, all of which are actual decisions made by financial institutions.
Words matter. They matter when you speak them, and they matter when you write them. That’s especially true when you write them down for consumers to read. As much as you would like to believe your customers or members are reading everything you write, they’re not. The truth is they may not be reading anything you write if you aren’t giving them anything relevant or meaningful. Here are some tips for writing copy consumers will actually read.
Get to the point
The phrase “less is more” is so true for marketing copy. Most consumers are browsing your website or skimming your brochures for a specific purpose. Give them the most important information first and continue on with the second most important thing, and so on. It’s called writing in pyramid style.
Have you ever looked for a recipe online and had to scroll past five pictures of the blogger preparing the recipe before you found what you needed? That’s how your customers or members feel when you bury the information they need. If you make them read or scroll too much before they find any information of value, you lose their attention.
Kiss (Keep It Short and Simple)
The most effective marketing pieces are the ones with just enough copy to tell consumers what they want to know. Most of the time, it doesn’t even require full paragraphs – just an introductory sentence or two followed by bullet points.
Years ago when digital marketing first became a thing, marketers took advantage of unlimited space, which allowed them to use as many words as possible to tout their products or services. At the time, consumers ate it up. Technology has evolved, however, and attention spans have become so short that people can’t even put down their phones long enough to drive. They don’t want paragraph upon paragraph of information and industry jargon. They want short and sweet in their own language.
Explain what’s in it for the reader
Marketing teams love their financial institutions, and they want to share everything they know about them with consumers. Is that what their customers and members want to hear, though? Your financial institution has made great strides since the day it opened in the closet of the local general store, but what does that have to do with consumers today? Is that story saving them time, earning them money or putting them in the car or house of their dreams? Consumers want to know what’s in it for them. If you don’t answer that, you’re wasting your marketing dollars on material they aren’t reading.
Focus on benefits over features
Financial institutions are notorious for marketing features over benefits – especially on loans. Terms as high as 60 months. 100% Financing. Quick approval. Those are all features. Turn those into benefits. For example, affordable monthly payments when you choose longer terms, pay no money out-of-pocket and apply, get approved and drive away on the same day. Your customers or members don’t want to pay more than they have to, and they want the process to go smoothly and quickly. That’s what you need to promote. If you have a really unique feature that nobody else has, definitely promote it, but also explain how it benefits the consumer.
When you give consumers relevant messages in the format they want to receive it, you increase your odds of getting a better return on your marketing collateral and marketing dollars.
Note: This article originally ran on Deluxe.
We are now in the dog days of summer, which means many banks and credit unions are thinking ahead about their strategic planning sessions in the fall. As you begin to put together your thoughts and expectations for these critically important days of planning, consider the following questions that may not have come to mind before.
These are questions you should ask of yourself and your strategic planning team before the meeting, so everyone has plenty of time to contribute thoughtful replies. Come to your strategic planning’s table session with the answers to help kick-start a dynamic meeting.
- What is the “elephant in the room” issue no one wants to talk about? Every bank or credit union has at least one, if not more. What is that one issue/challenge of which everyone is aware but about which no one wants to talk? Successful strategic planning sessions require honesty – honest talk and honest answers. For your strategic planning session to be successful, your group must honestly tackle this question (or questions).
- What is the one thing only our financial institution can do for its consumers? In other words, spend some time thinking about that one special thing that only your bank or credit union can do for consumers. And if there isn’t one special thing that only your financial institution can do, that should spur some serious strategic planning discussion.
- What are our consumers’ pain points? This is another tricky question to answer (especially if you’re doing it honestly). Here you are considering every point of consumer interaction with your financial institution (in the lobby, on the phone, via email, during the loan application process, etc.). Chances are, you already have a good idea where the hiccups are in the system from personal experience, listening to your staff or from consumer feedback. Identify these pain points during your strategic planning session and create initiatives to tackle them.
Your strategic planning session must feature an open dialogue in which every participant feels free to air his or her honest answers to questions. Hopefully the three questions discussed here have given you new lines along which to think when it comes to conversations at your next strategic planning session.
Branding is everywhere. From billboards on the highway to jumbotrons in sporting arenas, from park benches and public bathrooms and from clothing lines to tattoos, consumers are exposed to thousands of brands with thousands of marketing messages every day.
With all that marketing noise, is there really a way for individual brands to be heard? The answer is yes, but you have to push through the noise instead of adding to it. In other words, focus on telling your story to the right audience with the right message at the right time. Often that is easier said than done. Here are some tips for cutting through the noise.
Create strong content and make it brief
Content is still king when it comes to marketing.
In fact, it’s more important than ever as digital media becomes the go-to source for information and attention spans get shorter. Content must be relevant, interesting, valuable, and brief. Get to the point quickly! In a day and age when people can’t even put down their phones to drive, you have about eight seconds to grab someone’s attention before they move on to something else. Teach them important financial lessons like improving their credit scores, buying a home, saving for retirement, etc.
Consumers – especially Millennials – need an advocate to help them navigate what has become a complicated world of financial resources. Be their advocate by backing off on the marketing lingo and educating them with valuable content.
Target, target, target
As the marketing noise gets louder, targeted marketing becomes more important. Consumers are more likely to do business with someone they know and like. You have to connect with them on a personal level and get as personal as possible. Obviously, this is easier with existing customers or members. Instead of sending them mass e-mails, send targeted, personalized emails offering solutions or benefits they can use. If possible, market solutions to them inside your online banking platform. Send them personalized text messages. Send personalized mailings via snail mail and follow them up with phone calls.
Targeting potential customers or members is more challenging and often goes back to good, relevant content. When you create content your customers or members want to share, you build a base of followers. That takes time but is worth the effort. If your financial institution has a YouTube channel, a blog, an Instagram account, etc., encourage existing customers or members to share your content. Enable consumers to subscribe with an e-mail address or other information so you can capture that data and expand your target audience. If you have partnerships with businesses, be sure your agreement allows you to market to their employees or members by name and other demographic information.
Associate your branding with a cause
This is especially true of Millennials, but it works for older generations as well. People feel good when their purchases benefit someone or something they care about. Let’s say you run an auto loan promotion and promise to give a quarter percent of the final loan amount to an organization that benefits sick kids or disease research or even a local food pantry. That turns heads and gets attention. Even rate shoppers would have a hard time turning that down if the cause is near and dear to them. Get permission to use the charity’s logo on your marketing materials. Often, consumers will see that logo before they see yours.
Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages every day. Instead of adding to the noise, find ways to cut through it with messages that connect with them through personalization, relationships and emotions or values.
Note: This article originally ran on Deluxe.
Note: This article originally ran on CU Insight.
Traditionally, strategic planning sessions for credit unions occurs in the fall. However, after partnering with dozens of credit unions as a facilitator on strategic plans over the last few years, we can safely say that a growing number both plan and conduct their sessions at other times of the year.
We remind our clients regularly that strategic planning is a process, not a date on a calendar. Therefore, any time of the year is a good time to take a look at ways to improve your next strategic planning session.
Credit unions spend a great deal of time and energy making the commitment and investment in strategic planning. During those crucial days together, executive leadership teams and members of the Board of Directors contribute ideas and dialogue that will both guide and direct the credit union for years to come. Consider the following ideas to improve your next strategic planning session.
- Invite a more job-diverse team. Typically, strategic planning sessions are attended by members of the executive leadership team and the Board of Directors. For your next strategic planning session, however, consider assembling a more job or role-diverse mix. Try to include younger employees (think Millennials) and those you have identified as your “star performers.” Not only will a more eclectic team contribute potentially game-changing ideas, you are also grooming them for future success by making them feel like an important part of the credit union.
- Give your members a voice at the strategic planning table. Not necessarily in person – however, you can provide invaluable member feedback in the strategic planning process by conducting interviews and surveys beforehand. Quiz members about what’s important to them in a financial institution and what they expect. Present this information during the strategic planning session and, with actual member input, you’ll find yourself more likely to act upon ideas important to the membership and less flying blind. One exercise we do is “The Empty Chair Exercise.” Place an empty chair somewhere in the meeting room as a reminder that if a member were in that chair, what would they tell us?
- Clarify the roles of strategic planning and tactical/budgeting. These are very different functions. Strategic planning takes a look at your credit union’s directives from a 30,000-foot level over the next several years. We call it strategic for a reason, rather than tactical. Tactical goes into the daily operations of the credit union. The same can be said for budgeting. If you aren’t careful, a strategic planning session can rapidly devolve into a tactical/budgeting snipe hunt. If everybody on your team focuses too much on numbers and tactics, you are likely to miss the forest for the trees and steer your strategic planning session straight into the confusing high grass of tactics and budget.
A strategic planning session is like a good map or GPS in that it provides reassuring guidance and direction for your credit union for years to come. By assembling a more role-diverse strategic planning team, giving members a voice at the table and clarifying the roles of strategic versus tactical/budgeting, you can help ensure your credit union’s next strategic planning session provides a terrific return on that investment.
When talking about branding, many financial institutions focus primarily on the cultural aspects of consumer interaction. For example, exactly what to communicate to consumers, when to communicate it and with which brand-centric nuance.
While this angle is important, financial institutions must also ensure employees get tasks right. For example, your bank or credit union can have a terrific brand jam-packed with consumer interaction, open-ended questions and discovery probes but if the employee deposits the check to the wrong account, it’s all for nothing.
In other words, your brand requires both culture and task be executed well and consistently in order to thrive.
“While we certainly train our staff to work as brand ambassadors, at the end of the day, if tasks are done incorrectly, the brand suffers” shared Travis Flora, Culture and Values Officer with Commonwealth Credit Union (Frankfort, KY; $1.15 billion assets; 92,000 members). “Often, people think of culture as being separate from task. Culture is seen more as things like smiling, looking people in the eye, using their names, etc. Actually, culture includes tasks that go into providing an extraordinary experience. Our team members recognize the importance of excellence in member service when it comes to living the brand and correctly completing tasks. The two go hand-in-hand.”
I had a recent experience in a Chick-fil-A restaurant that illustrates this point. Chick-fil-A is well-known for their emphasis on customer service (and their famous “my pleasure” response to customer statements). On this particular visit, the young lady working the counter did a terrific job living the brand (warm greeting, friendly smile, using the “my pleasure” brand statement). However, when I got my order, there were several things wrong. My drink was incorrect and they didn’t include a particular dipping sauce I requested. She did a great job living the big-picture brand but struggled with the detail-specific task.
These were relatively minor inconveniences and corrected quickly by the same young lady. However, the example does speak to the greater point – for your financial institution’s brand to succeed, staff must recognize and train to the importance of succeeding living the brand and correctly completing the task to the best of their ability.
By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
I was in the kitchen cooking dinner the other night when my son called out, “Hey mom. Don’t cook tonight. Let’s just order pizza. I can do it right here on my XBOX.” I thought to myself, “Seriously? How addicted are people to their video games that they can’t even stop to order dinner?” Then my mind went immediately to banking (It really did…consider it a job hazard).
If someone is willing to order pizza while playing video games, what’s to say they wouldn’t be willing to do their banking while playing a video game? I know from experience the XBOX Live platform is connected to a credit card so users can buy games and other downloadables with the click of their controller. What if the card doesn’t have enough credit left for what they want to purchase? They’ll either forgo the purchase altogether or load another card. Shouldn’t that card belong to your financial institution? What if users had the ability to apply for a credit line increase from their XBOX, or to transfer money so they could pay their bill and free up space to make that purchase?
Some of you may be reading this thinking it’s all a bit of stretch, and it might be. It also might not be. The point is not to start preparing your home banking platform to be accessible to XBOX gamers. The point is to be open to and ready for new possibilities in digital banking, which often changes faster than the weather.
Prior to 2010, mobile banking was pretty much text message banking. That was only seven years ago. By 2012, Mapa Research reported that over a third of banks had mobile device detection for consumers visiting their websites. That was only five years ago. Remote deposit capture started with USAA in 2009. According to a study by Celent, only 10 percent of financial institutions in America offered the service by 2013, but look at us today. Only four years later, and I’m willing to bet at least 90 percent of financial institutions offer it today. That transition from innovation to every-day occurrence happened in about six years.
The evolution of digital banking has been fast and furious, and its speed continues to increase. Is your financial institution poised for what is on the horizon, or are you still trying to catch up to everyone else? If you don’t have a digital strategy in place, or your digital strategy is outdated, your financial institution’s ability to keep up with mainstream America could be a deal breaker to consumers down the road.