Conduct a Brand Audit

Conduct a Brand Audit

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.

Your brand is everything your financial institution does and stands for – products and services,

customer service, branch appearance, marketing collateral, employee appearance and even restroom cleanliness. Any one of these details can make or break your brand, which means you need to monitor them regularly and audit them occasionally.

Similar to a marketing audit, a brand audit assesses the marketing collateral in the branches – how you display it, if the look and message are consistent on every piece and whether it is neatly displayed or looks cluttered. In the audits we have conducted for clients, we typically have found too many pieces with a look and message that are all over the board and lack consistency.

Mystery shops by an objective third party (not an existing customer or member) are an important piece of your brand audit. An effective auditor talks to your branch employees, taking note of how they greet people and how they treat people. He or she inquires about products and services and may attempt to open an account. This type of feedback from an objective source goes a long way in helping you measure the true member or customer experience.

Western Sun FCU in Oklahoma gained valuable insight when we evaluated its brand as part of a recent marketing audit. We mystery shopped each of its branches and four of its competitors. In one of its branches, our shopper sat for at least five minutes before anyone acknowledged him. After that initial contact, he waited so long for someone to help him that eventually he left. This is information your brand needs to improve.

“They did a fairly thorough review and were brutally honest with their feedback, which was good,” said Western Sun CEO Rob Taylor. “It wasn’t easy to hear everything they had to say, but it was information we needed to know.”

That’s exactly the point. A brand audit is a performance evaluation for your brand. It gives you the information you need to make the changes that will result in a stronger brand. It’s not about pointing fingers and assigning blame for what isn’t working. It’s an opportunity to shine where you excel and improve where you don’t.

If your financial institution isn’t improving, it’s either embracing status quo or moving backward. Neither of these options results in a strong brand. Think of your brand audit as a GPS. If you start heading in the wrong direction, a brand audit helps you get back on track. It helps your organization be accountable for the details that define your brand.

One of the C’s of a strong brand is consistency. You can say your brand is one thing, but if everything your organization does says something else, you have not created a brand that is meaningful to your customers or members. You haven’t created a strong lasting brand. A branding audit will quickly help you determine where you are today.

For a free copy of 30 Ideas to Build and Live Your Brand, click here.

Fresh Content Ideas for Boring Financial Institution Newsletters

Fresh Content Ideas for Boring Financial Institution Newsletters

If you spend any amount of time either working on or reading the newsletters of financial institutions, you’ve probably come to a singular conclusion — most are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Actually, if it was a nice light pastel, I’d rather watch paint dry most of the time.

Here we’re talking mostly about bank and credit union newsletters. After many years of both writing, producing and reading them as a consumer, I can verify that the vast majority are just plain boring.

Yes, they contain information consumers must have. This includes things like disclosures, upcoming business and new product and service announcements.

But holy cow – many financial institutions basically reprint the same newsletter every quarter, and just slap a new date on the cover. Inside, you’ll get the same old spiel — here’s our exciting new used auto refi loan promotion, here are the required annual ATM safety tips, here is the annual call for candidates for the Board of Directors, ad nauseum.

It’s no wonder fewer and fewer consumers actually take the time to read these things. And any information that you might really want to get across to them is drowned by the sea of anticipated boredom.

To help bring new content ideas into your boring newsletter, consider the following ideas.

  • Write about your consumers. People love to read about themselves. Therefore, make every effort to include consumers, their pictures and their stories in your newsletter. This could include things like people celebrating milestone anniversaries with your financial institution, their kids with awards and sporting achievements, etc. Get more of your consumers in print and they are more likely to read your content.
  • Drop the dry and boring financial talk. Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to get the point across about a particular product or service. However, here we’re talking about your vernacular. The vast majority of your consumers are not suit-and-tie financial institution stuff-shirts. Write to people in a language and a tone with which they are comfortable. This doesn’t mean that you dumb-down your language – rather, it means that you choose your words and your tone in such a way that it meets your consumers in their comfort zones.
  • Stop trying to constantly sell something. This is really going to drive your VPs crazy. The simple fact of the matter is, however, people hate to be sold (although they love to buy). Therefore, try to keep your newsletter to a roughly 80/20 principle. That is, 80% of your newsletter should be educational/entertaining and about 20% should be soft-pitch sales.
  • Don’t write about yourself. Your consumers simply do not care about the internal workings of your bank or credit union. I hate to tell you that, but it’s the truth. Unless it directly affects them and their relationship with your financial institution, they just don’t care. They want your doors open at 9 AM, short teller lines and decent rates. Other than that, they just don’t care. So don’t write about it.

Tedious. Dull. Monotonous. Repetitive. If any of these words come to mind when you or your consumers think about your financial institution newsletter, consider a few of the ideas listed above to help improve your newsletter.


To Re-Name or Not to Re-Name

To Re-Name or Not to Re-Name

A recent article in Adweek magazine highlighted the absurdities in a number of Internet start-up company names. These ran the goofy gamut from Qoop and Heekya to Fairtilizer and the surreal Doostang.

The crux of the article is that social media platforms are slowly coming to realize that company names should do more to reflect the power of individual and unique brands, rather than simply try to play off odd, made-up words.

This same tenet applies directly to financial institutions. As consumer demographics and population centers change, more and more banks and credit unions either have or are seriously considering changing their names. While these changes are for any number of good reasons, the end goal is the same — to increase brand visibility and consumer wallet share.

However, for banks and credit unions considering a name change, the road is steep and treacherous. Many decide to enlist the service of qualified vendor-partners to help guide them through this critical process. And while typically financial institutions can realize their growth goals with a comprehensive rebranding effort, from time to time a new name is genuinely required.

Keep in mind, a new name is simply the tip of the iceberg. The much larger (and more important) piece is the rebranding effort. What are a few basic guidelines to follow when looking at potential new names? Following are a few ideas.

  • Avoid unusual spellings. This is a pet peeve of mine. In every town, it seems like there is a restaurant named “Kountry Kitchen.” Why spell the word “country” with a K? If you’re going that route, since both words start with the same consonant sound, why not just call it “Country Citchen?” Because it looks ridiculous, that’s why. Stick with spellings that work in the minds of the majority of people.
  • Keep it easy to pronounce and recall. If your new financial institution name doesn’t immediately roll off the tongue, people are not going to take the time to learn how you think it should be pronounced. And if they’re not going to take that time, they’re certainly not going to remember it. Keep in mind — the biggest reason consumers don’t do business with you a second time around is because they simply forget who you are. A goofy name definitely hurts that recall effort.
  • Ensure the name is actually available. You’d be surprised how many financial institutions latch onto a new name only to find out later that somebody else has already trademarked it. A quick and easy search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark website will let you know if your catchy new name is legally available. You may also want to enlist he services of your own qualified trademark attorney.
  • Keep it short. Similar to keeping it easy to pronounce and recall, keeping your name short enables the average consumer to remember it. Some financial institutions are guilty of long formal names that they then turn into awkward and ugly acronyms. For example, if your new name is Greater Springfield Valley and East Mountains Federal Credit Union, no one is going to take the time to say it, let alone remember the “GSVEMFCU” acronym you slap on marketing materials.
  • Make sure the name you pick is available as a website address. Sometimes financial institutions find themselves in a pickle by selecting a new name and then finding they can’t get the website address. Your website is your brand’s flagship — make sure your new name is available as a domain, especially in the most common formats such as .com and .org.

Nobody is saying that going through a new name process is easy. Far from it. However, it just makes sense for financial institutions considering a new name to look into a few simple guidelines first. It can save major headaches later.



Label at Your Own Risk

Label at Your Own Risk

Marketers love labels. After all, labeling helps us focus our promotions. Since we know for a fact certain demographics are drawn to certain products and services we design entire campaigns geared to one or two groups with mediums we know they use.

But what if that perceived knowledge has some false assumptions in it? Please note I’m not saying target marketing is dead or that you should market to the masses. Far from it. You can’t be all things to all people and niche marketing should absolutely be a major component of your brand.

However, in our efforts to segment consumers we sometimes develop false labels.

Here are 10 labels to avoid:

  • Seniors hate and don’t use technology—The fastest growing segment of Facebook users are actually older adults. Just because someone has grey hair doesn’t mean they won’t use mobile banking or your other e-services.
  • Boomers are aging—Boomers will never grow up, never grow old and never die. They constantly see themselves from a youthful lens. That 60-year old Boomer perceives himself or herself as a young and vibrant 40 year old. Don’t market your investment services with pictures of old people sitting in their rocking chairs.
  • Generation X is lazy—More new businesses today are started by Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981). It’s not that Xers don’t want to work: it’s that they don’t want to work for you. Generation X is in the prime of their careers, which means they are now in the “C” suite and starting their own companies.
  • Generation Y feels they are entitled to everything—Okay, this label is true!
  • Blue-collar workers have no assets—As some of the hardest working people in our country, those with blue-collar jobs actually have financial resources. If they are government or civil workers, they often have a pretty good pension plan as well. With this group, don’t get caught only measuring household income.
  • Hispanics have no money—According to the latest statistics, Hispanic consumers have over $800 billion in buying power. To assume they are only migrant workers or day laborers is making a huge marketing misjudgment.
  • Everyone is on Facebook—While still the dominant social media channel, Facebook is succumbing in popularity to other social networks. Whether it’s Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat or Vine, there are many other tools in your arsenal other than Facebook to reach consumers using social media.
  • Young adults today don’t listen to their parents—These young people genuinely like and respect their parents. One of the best ways to reach the Dot Com Generation is through mom and dad.
  • Business owners are males—There are tons of “mompreneurs” in the market: females who are starting their own business. Many are even doing so while their young kids are at home. Females don’t just control the pocket book in their own household: many control the finances of a small business.
  • Every Texan owns a pair of Cowboy boots—As a native Texan, I had to throw in one reference to stereotypes of my beloved home state! The point to remember is that we also have to watch regional labels in our marketing efforts as well (and yes, I do own a pair of boots).

And by the way, before my Gen. Y friends bellyache and bemoan my comment about how they are entitled, keep in mind that Gen. Y is one of the most influential generations we’ve seen in quite some time. They are influencing technology, consumer trends, marketing and just about everything they touch.

While labels are indeed useful, they are also dangerous. Just as important as it is to know marketing rules, it’s also important to understand marketing exceptions. Look for those exceptions when it comes to labeling certain groups.

The Three Fs of Strategic Planning

The Three Fs of Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is one of the most important things your financial institution does. It’s unfortunate that so many planning sessions result in chaos, unproductive decision making and a plan that serves as a paper weight instead of guiding the organization to success. Something this important should be successful every single time. Use these three Fs of strategic planning to help improve your planning process.

Funnel – The most effective planning sessions are the ones that start with big ideas and end with specific goals and defined action plans. Think of the process like a funnel – wide or broad at the top and narrower at the bottom. As you work your way toward the bottom of the funnel, you increase the amount of detail at each level should have a clear strategy at the end. Read more about this approach in Leading for Growth by Umpqua Bank CEO Ray Davis.

Focus –  Contrary to many businesses which believe they need to be all things to all consumers, we believe financial institutions become more successful by focusing on what they do best. This philosophy is spelled out in The Myth of Excellence. Focus less on what the competition is doing and more on what is important to your customers and members. On the Mark Strategies uses this approach in the planning sessions we conduct for banks and credit unions.

Read about the third “F” in my monthly newsletter. Using all three Fs greatly improves your planning process.

Also in the newsletter, you’ll find information about marketing audits and the importance of catering to your local customers or members when you have branches in different parts of the state or in different states completely.

Follow-Up Key To Strategic Planning

Follow-Up Key To Strategic Planning

Keith Ferazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, once said, “Follow-up is the key to success in any business.” That is certainly true when it comes to the success of your strategic plan. No matter what great strategies you create, if you don’t execute that plan with superior follow-up you just have words on paper.

Think about your current 2015 strategic plan. How’s it going for you? Think about to your Fall planning schedule and meeting. How are those lofty goals, tactics and budget projections looking now that the first quarter is complete?

With three months in the books, the second quarter is an ideal time to assess how your strategic planning follow-up is going. Here are five suggestions to ensure your follow-up is as strong as possible.

  • Review weekly—You read that right: weekly. Too many times, strategic plans collect dust and we only look at them at monthly or quarterly updates. If you hold a “C” suite position at your financial institution, then every Monday morning (or even Sunday night) take 10-15 minutes to review your goals and strategy. Ask yourself, “what are we doing this week to accomplish these objectives?”
  • Receive feedback—Your staff can give valuable insights on how things are really going at your credit union or bank. Conduct an employee survey and ask them for feedback on your goals and your execution. A simple four or five question staff survey can help you understand your strategy strengths and shortcomings. One question you can ask is, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you understand our strategic plan and the role you play?”
  • Compare peers—While it’s not a race, you certainly do want to keep an eye on how your peers are performing compared to your own institution. Are loans up, down or flat? Are they growing assets and how is their income looking? Spending some time looking at peer data and analysis can quickly help you determine if your strategic plan is working or failing. You don’t even have to pull reports. You can simply call five nearby peer and ask, “How is your year going?”
  • Communicate updates—From a follow-up standpoint, one of the best things you can do is to always be communicating with your staff how things are going. Execution involves your staff. While we might initially communicate what the strategic plan is, sometimes we stop there with our own employees. Make sure you are talking with staff on a regular basis what your strategy is and how it’s going. You can even do this informally with small breakfast or coffee meetings where you ask, “What can we do better to accomplish our goals?”
  • Seek help—Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective. So share your plan with a consultant, facilitator or even a CEO in another market. Having a second set of eyes on your plan might help you see something you missed. Ask “what would you do differently with our plan?”

Honestly, planning is the easy part. It’s the follow-up that can be a bear. Set your strategic plan up for success by implementing those key follow-up steps. Remember, what isn’t followed-up on isn’t done.

Don’t Forget These Demographic Groups

Don’t Forget These Demographic Groups

In a recent iMedia post, Greg Kihlstrom identified “Three Forgotten Demographics You Should Be Watching.” It’s an excellent piece and one every marketer—especially financial marketers—should read.

He eloquently says, “We have more discourse about Millennials….but what about everyone else?” He is absolutely right. Every time you turn around it seems like there is an article in The Financial Brand, American Banker, CB Insight, CU Insight, CU Times or some other trade publication about how your bank or credit union needs to reach younger consumers.

While that is certainly true, Kihlstrom reminds us about three demographic groups we should not overlook—especially when it comes to reaching them with technology. Let’s review each and see how they are still relevant for your financial institution.

60+ grandparents

Kihlstrom cites Mashable as noting “43% of Americans over age 65 were using at least one social network site.” They are still the fastest growing group of new social media users. And those in this group with higher household income have an even higher rate of technology adoption.

  • Financial institution implication: While they may not be a strong loan target market, banks and credit unions should not completely ignore this demographic—even when it comes to technology. They aren’t on Instagram, Twitter and Vine. However, they are not complete technophobes. Look for ways to do some type of cross-generational promotion at your bank or credit union where you encourage consumers to post pictures of grandparents with their grandchildren.

Gen. X single without kids

Of Gen. X, Kihlstrom writes, “They get a lot of attention as parents these days, but it’s also good to remember that there are many Gen Xers out there with the disposable income (and time) that comes with not having kids and/or spouses.” More and more Gen. X is online and they are online in traditional channels such as Facebook.

  • Financial institution implication: This should absolutely become one of the key target audiences financial institutions are trying to reach. They are in their prime borrowing years and they have tons of debt. Look for ways to reduce that heavy debt load with debt consolidation loans. From a tactical perspective, use Facebook as a marketing tool with any promotion you are doing. Any loan promotion NOT using Facebook will NOT reach Generation X.

Generation Z

Kihlstrom identifies this group as those born in the mid-2000s or later. For marketers, that means those kids between 11 and 16. He notes that “the have lived almost their entire lives with touchscreens and connected devices. Generation Z is also the most diverse generation and 81% are on social media.”

  • Financial institution implication: If you want to get younger don’t wait until they are 16 to start marketing financial products and services to them. Start early. Look for ways to use Instagram and video in your marketing efforts. Since most of them are using “The Bank of Mom & Dad” look for ways to creatively conduct a social media campaign where the kids teach the parents how to use a new social media tool (like Vine or Instagram), the parents open an account for the kid and the financial institution makes the initial deposit.


The Millenials are getting tons of press and discussion these days. One of your strategic initiatives at your credit union or bank is probably reaching Generation Y.

But ignore these other key groups at your own risk.

Give a Little Lagniappe

Give a Little Lagniappe

I learned a new French/Cajun word recently in working with one of my clients (Lafayette Schools Credit Union): lagniappe. It is the French word for “extra.” For example, if you’re cooking up some great Cajun gumbo, you might add a little lagniappe (something extra in your kitchen) to kick it up a notch.

In creating their unique member service experience, Lafayette Schools Credit Union wants their employees to offer something extra at the end of every transaction. In other words, they want to give their consumers some lagniappe.

“Our vision is that we want coming to our credit union to be like seeing an old friend,” said Connie Roy, CEO of Lafayette Schools Credit Union. “And that means doing something for them that they might not have expected.”

In other words, they are seeking to “wow” their target audiences. Is it working? So far this year, their credit union is experiencing 11% member growth. Sounds like lagniappe gets some extra results as well.

So how can you “wow” consumers at your financial institution? Consider these 10 ideas:

  • Making half of the last car loan payment for your borrower—When someone pays off their car loan they are thrilled. Make half of their payment and watch that smile on their face grow even larger.
  • Bringing flowers to a home loan closing—Buying a home is a big deal (and also filled with lots of paper work). Make the new owners proud with a nice bouquet for their kitchen table.
  • Providing small gift certificates on someone’s birthday (like a $5 Chick-Fil-A gift card)—Don’t just say “happy birthday” to them (everybody does that). Instead buy them lunch.
  • Giving dog biscuits in the drive thru—This is a classic tactic many financial institutions do. Dog owners will love you if you love their dogs.
  • Washing car windows while someone is waiting in the drive thru—Remember the old-timey full service filling stations where the attendant would pump your gas and wash your windows? While you can’t give them a full tank of gas you can wash their windows.
  • Providing cold bottled water on a hot summer day—It’s simple but it works.
  • Walking a consumer to their car with an umbrella on a rainy day—No one likes getting wet when they are running their banking errands. Go that extra mile on rainy days.
  • Offering a small piece of candy or mint after a teller transaction—Nothing puts people in better moods than sugar. That’s why they call it a sugar high.
  • Placing a phone call after the transaction to thank them for their business—Follow-up is they key to success in any business. It takes all of 20 seconds to leave a thank you voice mail yet that message can brighten someone’s day.
  • Greet consumers enthusiastically at the door—“You had me at hello,” is a famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire. Rather than saying “next” or wave the person in line over, start your welcoming process by opening the branch door for them.

Those are a few ideas of how to turn a transaction into a wow experience. What other ideas do you have?

Let’s be honest. Most people see banking as boring. Spice it up with a little lagniappe.

Get Off Your “But”

Get Off Your “But”

Michael Hyatt is one of my favorite bloggers. If you are not following him on Twitter and reading the great information he offers on his website, you should.

One of his posts from awhile back still resonates with me: How To Find Time For That Important Project. In it, Hyatt offers seven steps for getting unstuck and finding time for those important projects.

One of his tips rings particularly true when it comes to developing a strategy at your credit union or bank: “Get off your but.” Not your butt. Your but. In other words, stop making excuses. With your strategic planning process a lot of “buts” get in the way (and probably a few “butts” as well!).

Here are a few excuse cards your financial institution sometimes plays with your strategic plan:

“We could offer that technology, BUT we can’t keep up with all the changes.”

Your technology strategy should never be about keeping up with Jones National Bank. Rather you should take a deliberate approach. Determine if you are going to be an early adapter, a fast follower or a laggard. You don’t have to be the first financial institution to offer a program for the Apple Watch. While technology in the banking sector is certainly moving at a fast pace, that speed should never deter your credit union or bank. Stop using changing technology as an excuse.

“We should focus on our brand, BUT we don’t have the resources to invest in it.”

Your brand is the most valuable asset you have. If you don’t spend adequate resources developing a strategic brand plan then you are actually wasting all your other resources. If your brand is not clear, consistent and constant then any other strategic effort you undertake will more than likely fall short. Devoting resources to a wise marketing spend could be the best use of your funds. Stop using a lack of marketing resources as an excuse.

“We could implement that strategic priority, BUT we don’t want to take that kind of risk.”

Strategic planning sessions often involve a great deal of discussion around risks. Your credit union or bank chooses not to undertake a particular initiative because it’s just too risky. Financial institutions are inherently conservative. While that might be appropriate with some projects there are many instances where taking risk is the right thing to do. And keep this in mind: NOT taking a risk is the same as taking a risk. There are times when it’s time to take risks by hiring young, by making targeting a particular niche and by changing your culture. Stop using a lack of risk taking as an excuse.

“We could have a real planning session, BUT no one wants to devote the time and energy to it.”

Planning done the right way takes time, energy and effort. Some boards are bored with planning sessions. Some executive team members spend the entire session reading e-mail on their phone rather than being engaged in the room. When you commit to conducting a strategic planning session then actually commit to spending the time it takes to make it productive. If the first thing everyone is thinking when the session begins is “when is this thing over?” then your session is doomed from the beginning. Stop using a lack of engagement as an excuse.

Those are four “buts” that can expose themselves when crafting your strategic plan. Make sure those buts are covered.

What Are You Talking About at Your Planning Sessions?

What Are You Talking About at Your Planning Sessions?

In a recent Success Magazine article, Robin Sorenson, founder of Firehouse Subs, said, “All conversations were about how we presented the brand. We focused on things we were really passionate about and everything ended up working out.”

Think about that for a minute: every conversation (be it strategic or tactical) went back to the brand. As many experts will tell you, “branding is everything.”

Sorenson elaborated on their brand-centric strategy by saying “It’s really all about our culture and matching our brand.” He noted that in their line of business, competitors can duplicate many things, “but not the Firehouse brand.”

So when it comes to your strategic planning session, what are you talking about at your credit union or bank? Too much time is spent on the financials, past performance, data analysis and tactical plans. While those items certainly have their place if they become the centerpiece or dominant talking points your planning session is not focused on the right thing.

In other words, you can have many conversations during your planning session, but are they the right conversations?

Here are some ways to make sure branding becomes a central part of your planning process:

  • Ask “What is our financial institution about?”—Try answering this question is six words or less (small enough for a business card and large enough for a billboard). Look far and wide.
  • Answer “What makes us different?”—When answering this question, however, you CAN’T use words like “community,” “service,” and “people.” Those words are all over used and do not distinguish you from your competition. Dive deep and get real.
  • Conduct a pre-planning survey about branding—Survey board members, executives and front line staff about the current state of your brand. Get everyone’s feedback.
  • Make branding an agenda item—If it’s not on the list of talking points you can forget about it being discussed. Carve out time for an honest discussion.
  • Ensure marketing has a seat at the planning table—While everyone is involved in branding, marketing tends to drive the bus. If marketing is not involved in the strategic planning process then it’s likely that bus is going off a cliff.

In the planning process, your financial institution does indeed need to talk about everything (loans, service, products, long-range issues, competitor threats, positioning strategy, etc.).

However, if you are not making your brand one of your central discussion items, then you are wasting your time.