Culture and Task: Both Required to Live Your Brand

Culture and Task: Both Required to Live Your Brand

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.

Is XBOX the Future of Digital Banking?

Is XBOX the Future of Digital Banking?

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.

Insanity in Strategic Planning

Insanity in Strategic Planning

You have no doubt heard the saying that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Why is it, then, that so many financial institutions fall into this trap? To be fair, it isn’t just banks or credit unions. Many businesses fall into this trap. The longer you do that, the harder it is to dig yourself out.

The same can be said of strategic planning. How many times do you review the same data, come to the same conclusions and make the same goals that don’t get met? That’s insanity. It’s insane to spend all that time and effort to accomplish so little or even worse, move backward.

Strategic planning is meant to stretch your thinking. If done correctly, it is designed to make your leadership team think outside the box, dream big and push your financial institution to step outside its comfort zone. That doesn’t mean making decisions on a whim. You still have to be responsible stewards of your customers’ or members’ money. It means doing some things differently.

Stop doing what doesn’t’ work

You definitely have to review your financial institution’s performance from the previous year. What are you doing with that information once it is reviewed? You should be using that information to decide not only what you should continue doing but also what you should stop doing. If performance was poor, go back several years to see if that is a trend. If it’s costing your financial institution money and producing negative results, you either need to stop doing it or figure out how to do it better. Don’t keep doing it the same way. Remember, that’s insanity.

Use new research and/or tools

When we conduct planning sessions for clients, we incorporate research and tools not just from the financial institution we’re working with but outside sources, as well. Some of those tools include environmental scans, our own industry scan, SWOT and Five Star Credit Unions, among others. Research you might consider includes Net Promoter Score, member surveys, focus groups and any business data that can help you make responsible decisions on where to build branches, how to expand your field of membership or customer base and the like.

Dream big

This is an element missing from so many strategic planning sessions. If you never dream big…if you never envision the seemingly impossible, you may never get there. Earmark a small amount of time on your agenda and give everyone in the planning session an opportunity to answer the question, “If we could do anything we wanted to do as a financial institution, what would it be?” Sometimes a dream isn’t as far from reality as it appears once you start examining what needs to be done to get there.

Doing what you’ve always done is sure to get you the result you’ve always gotten. Do something different during your next strategic planning session. Use new tools. Look at research in new ways. Dream big. You might be surprised at how far that gets you.


All You Need Is Brand

All You Need Is Brand

Note: This article originally ran on Credit Union Insight

Nothing you can make that can’t be made …
No one you can save that can’t be saved …
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time …
It’s easy.
All you need is love …

I must admit up front — All You Need Is Love isn’t of my favorite Beatles tunes. I mostly enjoy their early, youth-euphoric hits right up until about the time of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The last time I heard this particular song, the refrain above really resonated. When you think about it, there is very little in credit union marketing and advertising that hasn’t already been done. Sure, every once in a while somebody will come up with a new idea (Kasasa, anyone?). But it doesn’t take long for the competition to catch up, modify or downright copy and steal fresh ideas.

That’s where the “… nothing you can do buy you can learn how to be you in time” line comes into play. I doubt John Lennon was thinking directly about branding when he penned these lyrics, but it certainly does apply.

That really is the essence of branding. Not trying to copy the competition; rather – discovering who your credit union is and what your credit union is about during a series of deep-dive brand identity exercises. Rate-matching won’t do it. Running a new car promotion every May just because the bank down the street is doing it won’t work. Even coming up with something brand-new (an unlikely event) won’t work because, as noted above, somebody else will eventually copy you.

No – the answer to successful differentiation for credit unions in today’s hyper- competitive financial services marketplace is simply “learn how to be you in time.” Branding is not an overnight thing. When done correctly, the branding journey is a months-long process with dips, speed bumps, u-turns and a few straightaways. And it really is all about you being you. What sets you apart from the competition (and please don’t say service or people — those are simply not strategy differentiation models any longer). What is your credit union good at doing? What is your credit union not good at doing? What demographic sets of the population do you serve well and, just as importantly, which demographic targets are simply not the right match for your credit union and its finite marketing dollars?

Once you establish your authentic brand, it becomes a question of practice and training for your staff to get on-board. I’m pretty sure the Beatles probably rehearsed All You Need Is Love a few times before laying down the studio track. The same principle applies to your brand and staff. Your credit union can’t invest in creating and launching a brand only to let it fall flat on his face due to lack of staff training. Staff training leads to staff buy-in and loyalty. Without a proper introduction to the brand, including all its subtle nuances and unique characteristics, your staff can hardly be expected to live it in front of each other, let alone in front of your members.

Whether it’s a Beatles classic song or even the Bible in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”) the message is the same — it’s pretty hard to come up with something strikingly new in credit union marketing and advertising these days. What is new, what is authentic and what is extremely difficult to duplicate is your own unique brand. Getting there is not an easy journey, but the rewards are worth it. When you own your brand, you own space in which you stand. And no one can take that away from you.

Marketing Executive Addresses Three Biggest Opportunities Facing Financial Institution Marketers Today

Marketing Executive Addresses Three Biggest Opportunities Facing Financial Institution Marketers Today

The world of financial products and services has evolved rapidly in the last two decades. What worked for consumers in 1997 or 2007 just doesn’t measure up to what they expect in 2017. Bank and credit union marketing professionals must always strive to to learn, evolve and keep up with this dizzying change of pace.

However, with change often comes great opportunity. With that in mind, we quizzed Nick Cray, VP of Member Relations and Marketing at AmeriCU (Rome, NY; $1.5 billion assets; 122,000 members). Nick, a long-time veteran of marketing and consumer experience within banks and credit unions offers the following “big three” opportunities facing financial institution markers today:

1) Differentiating credit unions. We see it all the time in industry research- people just don’t know what a credit union is. Even on a micro level, I can’t say how often I hear So, you have to be, like, in the military to join?’ One large issue facing credit unions is simply explaining to potential members who we are and building awareness of the industry as a whole.

2) Standing out from the noise. Once members or potential members are aware that we’re here – so what? They have a plethora of options to choose from. How to make members see you instead of something in the background is critical.

3) Building relationships. In an age where consumers are comfortable with disjointed services (cobbling together Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon; instead of a single cable provider, for example), how do you even begin the conversation about relationships? Credit unions know that they are the best option for many consumers. Unfortunately, those consumers may already see the world in terms of multiple relationships, instead of a primary. Winning them over requires a lot more than good advertising.

Change is tough, especially when the professional world in which we work moves on from the day we earned our college degree or just entered the industry. This effects many bank and credit union marketers today. Staying abreast of these changes and identifying the “diamond in the rough” opportunities that exist for financial institution marketers is critical. As Cray notes, differentiation in a crowded marketplace, positioning consumers to choose you over the competition and building deeper and more meaningful consumer relationships are three such opportunities waiting to be tapped at many banks and credit unions.

Consumer Experience and Employee Experience? Best Practices with Rio Grande Credit Union

Consumer Experience and Employee Experience? Best Practices with Rio Grande Credit Union

We live in a hyper-saturated competitive environment when it comes to financial products and services. Just think about all the other banks, credit unions and non-traditional providers all looking to grab a slice of your consumers’ market and wallet share. One of the strongest ways financial institutions can compete is by establishing a truly unique consumer service experience.

A great example of this comes from Rio Grande Credit Union (Albuquerque, NM; $316 million assets; 30,000 members). Looking to create a truly differentiated and memorable member service experience, they first decided to invest in their overall employee experience. As it turns out, employee experience and member experience are directly related.

“What we’ve discovered is that our Employee Engagement survey (done in April) is predictive of our Annual Member Satisfaction survey (conducted in August),” shared Bill Daily, VP of Marketing and Member Experience. “We’ve made the local ‘Best Places to Work’ the past two years in a row. Our 2016 member satisfaction survey generated the highest score in the 15 years we’ve been tracking it.”

“Our credit union has also taken a number of other steps to help improve employee engagement and, therefore the overall member experience,” said Lily Currin, VP of Human Resources. These steps include:

  • Sharing branch level data for employee engagement rankings and member satisfaction rankings with the individual branch teams. Identifying similar questions in both surveys to drive home the correlation.
  • Sharing the aggregate level ranking data with branch managers. (Branches with more engaged employees have more satisfied members)
  • Asking our branch managers to generate employee engagement plans and hold quarterly meetings with us (the VP Marketing and Member Experience and VP of Human Resources) to discuss progress.
  • Setting aside a piece of the marketing budget for employee engagement.
  • Celebrate our employees’ successes on our in-branch TVs and social media.

“I don’t know if it’s correlation or causation but it’s there,” added Daily “It’s real. And it’s the first lever I’d recommend pulling to move member satisfaction.”

At Rio Grande Credit Union, the biggest step towards improving the overall member service experience is to analyze and enhance the employee experience in the workplace. Although it may sound like an already-learned lesson, other financial institutions are well-advised to refocus on this tenant: satisfied employees that love where they work and buy into the brand are employees that deliver superior service experiences to consumers.

The Power of One Employee

The Power of One Employee

My colleague relayed an experience she had with a pizza delivery driver who gave her dog a dog biscuit when her husband opened the door. Her family has had pizza delivered from the same place many times in the past and nobody has ever brought a treat for the dog. In fact, nobody delivering food from any restaurant has ever brought a treat for her dog. She was pleasantly surprised and called it a wow factor.

Based on previous history with that pizza place, this isn’t a company-wide branding idea. It’s one employee who chooses to live the brand in a simply, yet extraordinary way. It’s an example of how one employee can make your brand that much more powerful.

Now let’s look at the flip side – that one employee who refuses to live the brand. How much power do you think he or she has over the brand? Research from McClean & Company indicates an employee disengaged with your credit union’s brand, costs a minimum of $10,000 a year in lost customers/members, lack of productivity, extra training and other factors. That’s a lot of negative energy being pumped into your brand from only one person.

How can you ensure that every employee is igniting your brand in a positive way?

  1. Encourage them
    Challenge each employee to develop his or her own way to live the brand (within your financial institution’s brand guidelines, of course). Different personalities have different ways of engaging customers or members. Encourage them to use their strengths or even outside interests to their advantage.
  2. Share ideas as a team
    Sometimes people are fantastic executers but mediocre idea developers. Have your team regularly share the special ways they live the brand daily. Others may be able to do duplicate that effort, or they can use another person’s idea as the foundation for something that makes them more comfortable engaging consumers.
  3. Monitor employee performance
    Some employees don’t do what’s expected unless it’s inspected. Your managers have to monitor their teams. If someone consistently resists living the brand, give them more training, put them in a different position more conducive to their strengths or terminate them. Nobody likes to talk about terminating employees, and hopefully you won’t have to. Just remember, you are in business for your customers or members. Your brand depends on employees who live it willingly.

On The Mark Strategies would love to hear about the unique ways your employees live your brand. Please share your stories by leaving a comment on this blog post.

To Billboard or Not to Billboard, That is the Question

To Billboard or Not to Billboard, That is the Question

By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies

My family recently took a road trip spanning several thousand miles. With spotty cell coverage for much of the drive, I had a lot of time to look at billboards – how they are used, what they promote and what goal they are trying to achieve. If you work for the many financial institutions that struggle with whether or not to spend money on billboards, or with what message to advertise, these observations may help you clarify your decision.

Three objectives

The majority of billboard advertising fell into one of three categories. They were either promoting brand awareness, promoting a restaurant/entertainment venue at a specific exit or displaying a public service message (i.e. save water, go to church, don’t start forest fires, etc.). These are the only three objectives financial institutions should consider when incorporating billboards into their marketing plan. I saw a lot of billboards across 2,000 miles, and I don’t recall seeing one billboard promoting a specific product or rate. What differentiates your brand from others? That’s what you want on your billboard. A good example is this image of a McDonald’s billboard differentiating itself from expensive coffee places.

Less is more

The most effective billboards had very little copy. Sometimes it was as simple as “food” or “clean bathrooms” with a logo and an exit number. You have about eight seconds to grab someone’s attention with a billboard. Keep the message brief. A good rule of thumb is to use a business card as your guide. If it doesn’t fit on a business card without you having to squint, your message may be too long for a billboard. Six to eight words is your maximum. If you can’t do this, billboards are not for you. See examples here.


This is where many businesses struggle – especially credit unions with field of membership boundaries. Billboard owners will give you statistics on who drives the roads where their billboards are located, but much of it is subjective. How many drive that route every day? What is their gender and how much money do they make? Sometimes billboard demographics are a gamble. You also have to consider the type of road it is. I was traveling on interstate highways where exits were often few and far between. The billboards were targeting long distance drivers. A local highway where people most likely travel the same route every day might be a better choice for your financial institution.

Billboard advertising can be pricey and often involves a long-term commitment. If you are trying to capture the attention of an entire community, sometimes sponsoring festivals or other community events where your employees can speak one-on-one with potential customers and members is a more effective use of your marketing dollars. It comes down to your anticipated ROI based on how much money you plan to spend during a specific time frame and how many people you expect to reach.

Three Es of a Strong Brand

Three Es of a Strong Brand

Every credit union or bank wants a strong brand. And branding is often an initiative on many strategic plans. However, wanting a strong band and actually having a strong brand are two completely different things.

So how do you know if you have a strong brand? You can give it a “Three E” test. On a scale of one (low) to five (high), grade your financial institution in the following areas:

  • EmotionAccording to a recent survey from Customer Thermometer, 64% of women and 68% of men have felt an emotional connection with a brand or business. The survey noted, “…it pays to develop an emotional bond.” So how do you do that with a checking account or a loan? You don’t. You need to make sure your brand is not about your products or services, but rather about how the consumer feels when doing business with you. The more emotion you inspire in consumers, the stronger brand you have.
  • Engagement—The financial services industry is a relationship-based business. As a recent CU Times article noted, “Is your staff developing personal relationships with members? Do your members know you care?” Your employees need to stop selling and start connecting. If they engage with consumers, the sales will come (in fact, we have found that engagement training is much more effective than traditional sales and service training for our clients). The more you engage with consumers, the stronger brand you have.
  • ExperienceA great article from The Financial Brand recently spotlighted Solarity Credit Union and how they are competing primarily on experience. The credit union wanted to be the number one experience provider in financial services nationwide and were recently recognized as just that. The credit union developed an entire CX strategy, changed their hiring & training practices, used experience as their guiding strategic principle and created feedback loops among other proactive steps. They just didn’t talk about experience, they created and delivered it. The more you give consumers a differentiated experience, the stronger brand you have.

Giving your credit union or bank the “Three E” test is the easy part. The challenging part is taking the steps necessary to build a successful brand around emotion, engagement and experience.

Leadership Training and Member Engagement: A CU Success Story

Leadership Training and Member Engagement: A CU Success Story

Lafayette Schools Credit Union is a financial institution with big priorities. The credit union has experienced the value of training its employees, and it continues to invest significantly in growing its employees into leaders.

“I think about the mid managers who report directly to me, and I see growth” said Connie Roy, CEO of Lafayette Schools Credit Union. “They seem encouraged, and they’re learning to lean on other leaders in the credit union who have similar issues.”

That wasn’t always the culture at LSCU. Like most financial institutions, LSCU hired more people as the credit union grew. However, as the number of employees increased, the level of cohesiveness across the organization declined. So did the level of service.

No financial institution can afford to deliver unsatisfactory service – especially one heavily impacted by the bust of the oil and gas industry not that long ago. On The Mark Strategies helped LSCU management craft a customized member engagement program which defines specific service standards and staff expectations.

“We hire young people all the time and they don’t know what good service looks like,” said Roy. “With Mark’s help, we’ve come together as an organization and the expectations are crystal clear. This is who we are. This is who we serve. We broke it down, and they are getting it. They are really, getting it.”

That was the beginning of an entirely new way of doing business. LSCU learned to invest more in employee development, including regular leadership training.

“We’ve decided that we’re done with hiring,” said Roy. “It just wasn’t working. We’re 55 employees now. We have determined that we want to grow our own leaders. Leadership all trickles down and it’s working. Leadership skills have been enhanced and they’ve been made top of mind.”

The credit union chose a customized leadership training approach through On the Mark Strategies.

“I love the way we can customize our training,” said Roy. “It centers around our needs. It’s not just a cookie-cutter PowerPoint presentation. Bringing these mid managers together has been really beneficial. The way Mark presents it, they get it, and for him to bring it in house for us is a huge cost savings. I’m not having to send six or eight people out of town at a time.”

Roy is very pleased with the results of their investment. Managers are engaged with their staff, and they exemplify the behavior they expect of their employees. Member engagement is now a way of life at LSCU, and the credit union has the cohesiveness it was lacking.

“Our member engagement program has brought consistency at all locations which is what our goal has been all along,” said Roy.

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