Three Signs Your Strategic Plan Is In Trouble

Three Signs Your Strategic Plan Is In Trouble

If you’re like most other banks and credit unions, you invest a great deal of time, energy and resources in your strategic planning session. And this makes sense. After all, you are committing your financial institution to a particular course of action over a specified time frame (typically, 3 to 5 years).

You have the strategic planning meeting, everyone contributes his or her own ideas and thoughts, maybe a little “cussing and discussing” goes on (not necessarily a bad thing) and, bingo — you have a strategic plan. But how can you tell after the actual session when your strategic plan is in trouble?

Consider the three following “trouble indicators” for your strategic plan.

One — after completion, your strategic plan sits on the shelf for several months. Initial action on your strategic plan after the planning session is critical. This is prime time momentum that you risk losing if everyone goes back to his or her daily routine after the session. Work hard to ensure your team recommits itself to the strategic plan on a regular basis and doesn’t lose the enthusiasm of the session itself.

Two – subsequent strategic planning review meetings are highlighted by the words “we’re still working on that,” “we’re still gathering information” or “this item is still TBD.” You obviously cannot complete all your strategic initiatives in the first quarter (or even year) after your planning session. But delaying for the sake of delaying is deadly for your plan. Use your strategic planning review meetings to highlight concrete achievements made towards your state’s strategic goals.

Three — turnover that impacts key drivers of your strategic plan. Turnover is going to happen, and there’s not too much we can generally do about it. But if you notice the turnover affects key drivers of your strategic plan (in other words, the primary people responsible for pushing it forward) it’s time to take a look at revising the plan. You may need to assign new people to certain strategic planning initiatives or consider shifting the timeframe if a change in personnel leaves the plan shorthanded.

Banks and credit unions enter the strategic planning process with the best intentions. However, the well-known old adage tells us where best intentions generally lead. By taking a look at a few simple strategic planning “trouble indicators,” you can begin to approach a strategic plan from a different angle that empowers it to overcome potential future challenges.

How Much Do Consumers Really Know About Your Products?

How Much Do Consumers Really Know About Your Products?

You (and hopefully your employees) know your products and services. The multiple checking accounts, the various loan offerings, the numerous CDs and investments. But what about your current customers or members? How much do they really know about your products? The answer is “probably not much.”

How many times have you heard someone say, “I didn’t know you guys offered __________?” Insert your favorite product into that blank: mortgages, GAP insurance, business services, free ATMs, leases, investments, etc.

Think about this issue as a math problem. On a scale of one percent (low—they know nothing) to 100 percent (high—they know everything), what is the average percentage your existing customers or members know that you offer? We’re talking about people who already actually do business with you. They already have something with you (a savings account, a checking account, an auto loan, etc.).

Is it 20%, 30%, higher or lower? My guess is it is probably somewhere between 20 to 30 percent. But think about that: that means the average person doing business with you today probably doesn’t know 70% of all the great financial products and services you have.

Let’s take another step with that math problem. What would happen to your bottom line if you reduced that knowledge gap from 70% to 50%? In other words, what would happen if all your current consumers knew at least half of what you offered?

The answer: they would do more business with you!

So what is the solution to this simple math problem? You have to close the awareness gap.

There are two “levels” to closing this awareness gap: the personal level and the mass level.

The personal level refers to getting your employees to inform current members/customers in their one on one personal interactions. Every time they have a conversation or are doing a transaction, simply say something like “I’m glad you have your checking account with us. Do you also know we also offer great investment services?” or “Thanks for cashing your check. I noticed you’re driving a new vehicle. Do you know we have great rates and we can probably save you money if you finance it with us?”

The mass level refers to communication efforts on a larger scale. These include your e-mails, your website, your newsletters and any other mediums and mechanisms you use. It can take the simple form of a product spotlight, a testimonial from someone currently using a product or the top benefits from a particular service.

Marketing is not rocket science. In many cases, it is just getting your existing members or customers to become more aware of what you can do for them.

You can grow your credit union or bank exponentially in 2017 not by adding one single new consumer, but rather getting your entire existing core base to get one more new product or service.

Sales and Onboarding Failure

Sales and Onboarding Failure

I recently received an e-mail from a salesperson at a company whose product I was test driving. I had a two-week trial period, then converted the account to permanent usage. Two days later, I received an e-mail from someone at the company asking how the trial went. He also asked what it would take to convince me to use their product. At least one person at that company had not gotten the memo that I was already a customer. I generally delete sales e-mails, but this presents an important teaching moment that I felt compelled to share.

I deleted the e-mail and brushed it off as a hiccup in their process, but not everyone does that. In fact, the stakes are higher when consumers already have a standing relationship with an organization, like their bank or credit union, for example. How do you think your customers or members would react if you sent them a letter or e-mail inviting them to take advantage of a product they already have? They might brush it off, or they might:

  1. A) get irritated that you are spending time and money on something irrelevant
  2. B) get offended by your lack of attention to their relationship with you, or
  3. C) question your financial institution’s competency

Following up with your customers or members is a critical piece of your marketing and sales strategy. If you don’t have an onboarding process in place to start communicating with your customers or members aggressively as soon as they join, you are missing an opportunity to catch them while they are really paying attention. It’s almost like the honeymoon phase of a marriage. People are more willing to listen and get excited about a relationship in the early stages.

But poor onboarding is just as bad, if not worse, than no onboarding at all. When someone is establishing a relationship with your financial institution, it’s offensive to them when you don’t know what products and services they use. It tells them you are more interested in the sale than the relationship. It makes them feel like just another customer or member. That is the exact opposite of how you want them to feel.

Don’t let this happen to you. If you have an onboarding process, avoid complacency. Always look for ways to make it as streamlined and non-offensive to your database as possible. If you don’t have an onboarding process, get one. When executed correctly, it becomes an effective relationship-building tool.

Three Reasons to Conduct a Marketing Audit

Three Reasons to Conduct a Marketing Audit

This blog entry originally appeared on

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? Aside from the ones we work with, very few actually do this.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Your Brand and The Lego Batman Movie

Your Brand and The Lego Batman Movie

This article contributed by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to check out The Lego Batman Movie at a local theater. A terrific mix of kid-friendly humor with plenty of shout-outs to the old-school Batman (think Adam West and Michael Keaton), the movie was a hit with both children and parents in the audience.

Spoiler Alert: While I won’t give away much in case you haven’t seen it yet, a recurring theme in the movie is that in order to succeed (both personally and as the Cape Crusader) Batman must learn to work less as a loner and more with the team. The same thing can be said of your bank or credit union brand.

Sure, your financial institution leadership team took the initiative to craft the brand and launch it. But now, it’s definitely a team effort. In order for your brand to succeed, it takes a complete and total buy-in of not just your leadership team but also, critically, your staff. And by staff, I mean everyone — front-line, back-office, IT, HR, you name it. Everyone has to believe in the brand and live it in front of each other and in front of your consumers every day in order for it to survive.

Application Point: A number of banks and credit unions invest a great deal of time and money in creating a brand and then simply launch it to the public with little to no training for their staff. This is somewhat like taking a friend to a fishing hole jumping with fish but refusing to give him a worm for his hook. Without that training tool, your staff won’t know how to live the brand and, more importantly, cannot reasonably be expected to represent the brand to consumers.

That’s why brand training is so important. It gives your frontline staff the tools they need in order to understand the brand, live the brand and represent the brand.

If a hard-nosed loner like Bruce Wayne can learn how to work as part of the team, your staff should have a much easier job of it. Back-up your brand expectations with serious brand training and realize better results.

Storytelling Increases Brand Value

Storytelling Increases Brand Value

The results of recent consumer choice experimentation conducted by advertising agency Hill Holiday confirms the rising tide of grassroots data about brand storytelling – products and services that have a story are worth more to consumers than those without.

The research in question looks specifically at four consumer purchase options: hotel studies, works of art, wine and items listed for sale on eBay. In every instance, those items backed up by some sort of personal testimonial had a greater perceived value in the minds of consumers. For example, works of art that included a brief personal story about the artist were deemed 11% more valuable. Similarly, items listed on eBay that included brief descriptions (rather than just pictures) attracted 64% higher bids.

There is a direct application here for banks and credit unions and their brands. Namely — your brand is worth a lot more to consumers if you take the time to tell its story. This is not necessarily the story of your brand as detailed in messaging like vision, mission and tagline statements (although these are important). Rather, the story here must be about your consumers and how they benefit from interacting with your financial institution.

Application Point: You can have the best-looking collateral marketing material in the world but without compelling brand storytelling it’s not worth the paper on which it’s printed. In order to make your brand pop, you have to tell its story. It’s terrific you have low rates on loans and a variety of checking account options. But have you ever taken time to listen to your consumers and learn how they benefit from these products and services? More importantly — do you then relate these first-person consumer testimonials about your products and services in your brand and marketing?

Let’s say you have a lobby poster featuring a consumer standing beside a new truck he just purchased. He got a great low rate. Extended payment terms. Skip-a-pay option once a year. Loan insurance. Terrific. Now, tell the real story. Give a brief bio of the member; why he needed the truck, how he uses it in his business, how it has impacted his personal and financial growth. These are the key points that consumers relate to. Rates are important. Dreams and providing for your family target the heartstrings and are the real essence of your brand story.

If a brief review of a hotel room from someone who actually stayed there increases perceived value by up to 5% (as related by the above-mentioned consumer study), it makes sense for your bank or credit union to tell the story of the people that actually use your products and services. Brand storytelling, in essence, drives up the perceived value of your bank or credit union.

Re-Learning Features and Benefits

Re-Learning Features and Benefits

Ooops. I said it incorrectly. Even for someone that has worked inside financial institutions for twenty years, I still occasionally make that mistake as I transition from thinking about “features and benefits” to “benefits and features.”

Why is that — a simple reversal of the words — so important? The answer is easy. For far too long, bank and credit union professionals have settled comfortably into the “features-dump” method of interacting with consumers. That is to say, when a consumer interacts with a financial institution representative, that person typically goes into a half-asleep recitation of all the bullet point nuts-and-bolts that go along with a particular product or service. For example, they talk about the percentage rate of a certain lending product or how many boxes of free checks you get with this type checking account.

While features are not a bad thing (and financial institution professionals certainly must know their features) they are a snooze-fest when it comes to the consumer. What the consumer wants to hear (and what is more likely to build deeper relationships) is not a litany of features but rather the benefits to that individual. In other words, “what’s in it for them?” That’s where benefits arrive.

There’s an old saying — “features tell but benefits sell.” This is entirely true. Features are the blueprints of a particular product or service, but that’s not usually enough to entice a consumer to make a purchase decision. Rather, benefits sell because they open up the consumer’s mind to the dream that goes along with that product or service.

For example, while a low percentage rate alone is great, what the consumer really is thinking about is getting behind the wheel of that new car or truck. Similarly, getting a free box of checks with your checking account is cool, but maybe that consumer really wants to hear how this account will help him or her get back on their feet after a financial lifestyle calamity.

Idea In Action

The brand team at UniWyo FCU in Laramie, Wyoming is definitely taking benefits and features to heart. In fact, their staff is so hyped about the brand and ways to nurture it that a volunteer “newscast” developed featuring employees interviewing each other about elements of the brand. In the most recent podcast, one staff member interviewed another about referrals and received great information from their lead referral team member that in turn was shared with the rest of the staff.

“In this podcast, one of our team members discussed her secrets to success when it comes to referrals,” said Tara Springsteen, Vice President of Operations with UniWyo FCU. “Very often, as the employee related, it comes down to listening to our members and then describing our products and services not so much in terms of features but of benefits and positive results for our members. When you explain it in terms of being able to save someone money, the message strikes home quicker and clearer than an awkward and potentially confusing description of features.”

For many years, banks and credit unions have trained to “features and benefits.” The challenge in the emerging hyper-competitive digital financial marketplace is reversing the trend and focusing more on training staff to “benefits and features.”

Video Is Great, But Watch Your Generations

Video Is Great, But Watch Your Generations

A recent study from online product review mecca Influenster reveals fascinating online video preference statistics about Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z. While many bank and credit union marketing professionals increasingly turn to video to make a brand impact with consumers, they should also keep in mind their target generation when using this powerful tool.

According to the data, 35% of Gen Xers watch videos daily on YouTube, followed by 49% of Gen Y and 70% of Gen Z. So, video consumption increases as age decreases. However, what are these consumers watching? The majority of Gen X and Gen Y viewers are checking out how-to videos and product review videos. Gen Z has a preference for product un-boxing videos and “haul videos” (basically a video posted to social media site in which someone shows off and describes the products they recently purchased on a shopping binge).

What does this mean for bank and credit union professionals? They must customize their video content for consumers with an eye towards generational differences.

For example, usage statistics indicate video is least popular amongst the older Gen X demographic and wildly popular as consumers get younger. Video content is also critical. Gen X and Gen Y indicate a preference for how-to and product review videos. This indicates your financial institution might do better with this age group by creating videos with a how-to approach.

On the other hand, Gen Z, while still watching product review videos, is also diving into newer genres like product un-boxing and “haul videos.” Thinking creatively, can your bank or credit union create some type of un-boxing or “haul video” featuring products and services you offer?

While video is not the “silver bullet” marketing cure-all, it is a powerful tool that increasingly more financial institution marketers utilize. When creating video, keep a generational approach in mind. What works well for the aging Gen X crowd does not necessarily translate to success for their younger peers in Generations Y and Z.

Strategic Planning Lessons From the Oscars

“And the Oscar goes to……” Was it Moonlight or La La Land? For a few minutes, no one really knew. There was confusion and to some degree quite a bit of chaos. Hopefully those two words (confusion ad chaos) do not describe your strategic planning sessions!

All Jimmy Kimmell joking aside we can learn quite a bit about strategic planning from what happened (good and bad) during this year’s big Oscar show.

Here are four lessons along with practical applications (because learning without application is meaningless) credit unions and banks can learn:

  • Start with something funThe opening number from Justin Timberlake was high-energy. It also set the tone for the entire night. He did a fantastic job involving the audience: getting them on their feet, clapping and singing. Similarly, start your planning sessions with some type of ice breaker or game rather than a boring review of your financials. We often will use games with such as Toss Up or Jenga with our clients to not only have fun but also get people moving and then applying strategic lessons from those activities.
    • Application: Start your planning session with some type of activity that gets people out of their seats. There is magic in movement.
  • Involve the “every man”—About halfway through the festivities, host Jimmy Kimmell brought movie fans on a tour bus into the auditorium for a surprise visit. “Gary from Chicago” shared a magical moment with him, his fiancé and Denzel Washington. While you may not want to invite “ordinary” consumers into your strategic planning session, you certainly want to make their voice heard. One exercise we do with our strategic planning clients is the “Empty Chair” exercise. We place an empty chair near the front of the room and ask “If your customers or members were hear, what would they say they want from your financial institution?”
    • Application: Conduct member surveys and focus groups with your members prior to the session; also, ask for and receive feedback from all levels of the organization (not just executives).
  • Plan for contingencies—Of course, the most memorable event of the night was when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway read the wrong winner for “Best Movie” category. That is a moment that will down in Oscar history. Perhaps they could have prepared or maybe done a better job adlibbing. But nothing like that had ever happened before: and that’s just the point. There are going to be things that come up after your planning session that you didn’t think would ever happen. So be ready for them.
    • Application: No matter what goals you set during your planning session, spend time answering these question, “What can go wrong?” and “What type of contingency plans do we have?”

Don’t let your red carpet strategic planning event turn into chaos and confusion. If you want to make your strategic planning session extraordinary then start with something fun, reflect on the past, involve the “every man,” and plan for contingencies.

Your Bank or Credit Union and Brand Intimacy

Your Bank or Credit Union and Brand Intimacy

Increasingly, you hear people talk about getting consumers to like your brand. But liking a brand isn’t enough. For your bank or credit union brand to succeed, your consumers must love it. And for them to love it, they must feel some sort of intimate connection with it.

Yes, that’s right — intimacy.

While intimacy and a financial institution brand may not seem to go hand-in-hand, there is definitely a place for it at your bank or credit union. So, how can a bank or credit union establish an intimate bond with its consumers? According to a recent report, the top five brands with intimate connections to Millennials are Apple, Nintendo, Netflix, Amazon and Disney. There are lessons to learn here. And don’t shy away because of the Millennial reference. The examples below apply to any age demographic.

While the companies listed above may not have a lot in common on the surface, they all demonstrate ways in which brands can connect intimately with their consumers. Consider the following for your bank or credit union:

  • Emotion over logic. Generally, consumers don’t make purchase decisions based on logic. They are driven primarily by emotion. Companies like Disney do a terrific job of establishing that emotional connection. Are there cheaper places to take your family for vacation than Disney World? Absolutely. But consumers will pay that premium because of the emotional connection, memories and family fun. Your financial institution must also give consumers a reason to choose it when logic says otherwise. For example, while your competitors may have more branches or better rates, you must offer something (generally along the lines of superior experience) that provides an emotional connection and generates brand loyalty.
  • Content is king. Your bank or credit union must provide terrific consumer information in order to stand out from the competition. Simply going for “sell, sell, sell” all the time will only turn off consumers. Companies like Amazon do a great job providing content for consumers (an example of this are customer reviews on Amazon). Your financial institution must also be a leader in content if it wants to establish intimate links between its brand and consumers.
  • Actively listening to consumers. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates famously remarked “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” This definitely applies to banks and credit unions. While we all love the glowing reviews, don’t turn a blind eye towards upset consumers. Hear what your consumers are saying about their pain points in doing business with you and actively work towards remedying those. For example, if you’re getting a lot of complaints about your outdated website, take a serious look at a redesign.

In order for brand to work, your financial institution executive management team must lead it. Your staff must live it. Only then can your consumers love it. Love, in great measure in branding, is determined by intimacy with consumers. So — just how intimate is your bank or credit union brand?

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