Brand Traps To Avoid

Brand Traps To Avoid

There are traps everywhere when it comes to growing your financial institution. External traps (think about your competition). Internal traps (think about your employees). Regulatory traps (think about the NCUA and FDIC—well, don’t think about them unless you want nightmares!).

You get the idea: whether it is changing trends, changing consumers or changing technology the speed at which the financial services industry is moving is like lightening. There are potential pitfalls everywhere you turn.

But perhaps the greatest traps to watch when it comes to your bank or credit union are your brand traps. There are many places—traps—your financial institution must avoid when building or reinforcing your brand.

As we review a few brand traps to avoid below, keep in mind the most deadly traps are the subtle ones. When looking at the traps below keep in mind we assume you already have a brand plan, a targeted niche audience and strong messaging. Those are the basics. If you don’t have those in place, don’t worry about the traps because you are already in a deep hole.

With that in mind, here are a few brand traps to avoid;

  • Cliché Differentiation —STOP saying what makes you different is service, people or the community. EVERYONE says the same thing. Give your brand vision, message and mission the logo test: put your hand over your logo and just read your tagline or vision statement. Now could those words be anyone else’s? Are they cliché or do they truly represent what you are all about. And most importantly, do those words differentiate yourself from the marketplace?
  • Low Employee Engagement—According to Gallup Research, 56% of all employees are not engaged with their employer and another 18% are actively disengaged. That means only 26% are actively engaged with your brand. If your employees are not living your brand, then your brand will never succeed. Nothing kills a brand more than low employee engagement. The trap many leaders make is that they ASSUME that because they themselves get and understand the bank or credit union brand, then all their employees do as well.
  • Out of Touch LeadershipJohn Maxwell once said, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Apply that quote to branding: everything about your brand rises and falls based on your leadership. A disconnect between management and staff can quickly develop when it comes to brand. Ask management and board “what is your financial institution about” and then ask your front-line staff the same question and you might be surprised when you compare answers.
    • Solution: Listen to your staff’s brand struggles.
  • Lack of attention to detail—Ray Davis, CEO of Umpqua Bank and author of Leading for Growth says, “You can’t have a strong brand and be lax about the details.” We often think of branding as a “big picture” issue and it certainly is. However, strong brands focus on every single detail of the organization. When it comes to branding, everything matters.

Traps can sneak up on you quickly. Even if you feel you’ve built a strong brand, be sure to stay alert and avoid these snares.

Three Steps To Improve SEG Development

Three Steps To Improve SEG Development

Credit unions are consistently looking for new ways to improve their business development efforts. After all, adding new members is the lifeblood of a growing credit union. But how can credit unions improve their select employee group (SEG) efforts?

The following three steps will help make your SEG development initiatives much more effective:

  • Provide Employee Development
  • Help People Self-identify Their Goals
  • Speak “Client”

Below is an explanation of each step:

Provide Employee Development

Businesses don’t know what a SEG is. They probably don’t even know the difference between a credit union and a bank. But that’s not what gets them up in the morning. Improving their business does. If you can help make their employees happier and more productive, then you will get their attention. That being said, please note that the next section – self-identification.

Note: Take a look at the Filene Research Institute paper on Financial Stress and Workplace Performance. You’ll also want to check out Gallup’s State of the American Workplace.

Help People Self-identify Their Goals

Employers can be an outstanding area of growth for credit unions. But you can’t just walk in the door and start selling employees your products. Actually, people are not open to receiving help unless they have self-identified that need (it’s an ego thing). So how do you make this happen? It’s simple. Just ask.

These are two questions that almost everyone in your organization should ask that will help you truly support your clients, including business partners:

  • Financially, what is the one thing you are trying to improve right now?
  • What can I do to help?

Note: A person’s business goals oftentimes look like “Work smarter, not harder.” Their personal financial goals look more like “take more vacations and save for retirement”.

Speak “Client”

Once your SEG or member has told you what they want to achieve, you have the answer. Now it is your job to help them achieve that goal. It is not your job to make that person as smart as you are when it comes to your products or services. There is an old saying that applies here: “Tell people what time it is; not how the watch works.”

Make it simple for people to engage you in their business and lives. Just ask them the two questions and keep tying what you do back to their goal. If they want to know more about how the watch works, they’ll ask.

In Summary: Link member services to SEG and business development.

Whether you are working with a SEG or a member, the key to improvement is self-identification. And the way to make this happen is to just ask these two questions:

  • Financially, what is the one thing you are trying to improve right now?
  • What can I do to help?

If you can integrate this into your business development model, then you will have a simple and repeatable system to financially support every employee in every business. This is how you can turn your SEG operation into a business development machine.


Joel Busboom is the founder of The Inspired Workplace. You can check out his website here:

Four Ways to Avoid The Strategic Plan Drift

Four Ways to Avoid The Strategic Plan Drift

Strategic planning sessions are fun (or at least they should be). You examine your successes and failures, brainstorm new initiatives to grow, put timelines together and wrap it all up with a pretty PowerPoint presentation. You strategize, you plan, you prioritize.

And sometimes, then you drift.

Strategic plans face many obstacles when it comes to success: external threats, unexpected economic downtowns, unfortunate staffing challenges, etc. There are several ways you can lose strategic momentum or fail to reach your goals. But one of the greatest traps you must avoid is the strategic plan drift.

As Darren Hardy, publisher of Success Magazine and author of The Entrepreneur Rollercoaster says, “You see, we don’t fall off course, we drift off course. We don’t fall off our workout schedule, our diet, our resolutions, our goals—we drift.”

He goes on to say, “We drift ever so slightly and slowly without realizing it. Then a while down the road, we finally regain consciousness, only to realize we are completely off course.”

Once your plan is crafted, then the tasks of running your credit union or bank can easily dominate your daily routine. You don’t intend to drift, but somehow you fall off your desired path. So how do you avoid having your strategic initiatives drift? Here are four ways to not fall into that trap.

Focus your plan

Your strategic plan’s success starts with focus. If you have five or more strategic initiatives then you actually have too many, which results in a lack of focus. More does not always mean better. In fact, the more on your strategic “To Do” list the more overwhelming it is. If your plan feels like a tidal wave then it’s easy to start drifting.

Track your progress

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: what is not measured is not accomplished. Sure we look at our plans every three or six months to see how we are doing. But that’s not enough. You need to track your progress weekly and monthly. Break those strategies down into smaller bites and measure how you’re doing. Keep in mind that measurement is more than just numbers. You can’t measure your success just in ratios and spreadsheets. If your plan lacks tracking then it’s easy to start drifting.

Engage your staff

It doesn’t matter what is written on your planning document—it’s your staff that is going to determine its success (or failure). Make sure you talk with your staff about what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization. But engaging is more than just talking. It means seeking their input, making changes based on their feedback and involving them in as many aspects of strategic planning as possible. If your plan lacks staff engagement then it’s easy to start drifting.

Hold each other accountable

People are either afraid of or avoid accountability. But the reality is we all need accountability. Financial institutions and their strategic goals certainly need accountability. As executives, you are responsible for your credit union or bank’s goals. Don’t shy away from having hard conversations with each other about what is really going on in your organization. Loan numbers not what they should be—ask why. Branding efforts not connecting with consumers—ask why. If your plan lacks accountability, then it’s easy to start drifting.

You don’t want your strategic plan to be like a ship without a rudder. You don’t want your strategic plan to drift aimlessly among the waves. So avoid that drift by focusing your plan, tracking your progress, engaging your staff and holding each other accountable.



Banking in the Bedroom And Bathroom

Banking in the Bedroom And Bathroom

You’ve probably heard it said that mobile banking means consumers can interact with your financial institution far and wide. Banking anywhere. Banking everywhere. Banking on the go.

How about banking “while you go?”

According to a recent survey conducted by Feedzai:

  • 46% of all mobile banking users have made transactions in the bedroom
  • 30% of mobile all banking users have made transactions from the bathroom
  • 13% of mobile baking users have made transactions while driving

These transaction types include withdrawals, deposits and checking balances (insert your own bathroom humor joke here).

For the Millennial Generation, the numbers are even higher:

  • 60% of Millennial mobile bankers have conducted a mobile banking transaction in the bedroom
  • 20% of Millennials have made a mobile banking transaction from a bar

As Feedzai CEO Nuno Sebastio said in BizReport, “People use their smartphones as a tool to shop and bank, even in the most liberal places.”

This recent data means consumers are conducting their banking just about anywhere—except the branch. If you are relying on your branches to market, then you are watching your bank or credit union become older and older.

As Randy Harrington, president of Extreme Arts and Science, once said, “what are you doing to reach consumers on the small screen?”

Consider the following action steps when it comes to your mobile strategy:

  • Make enhancing the mobile experience one of your top strategic priorities (what does your mobile app actually do?)
  • Use a brick and click strategy (combine your online and offline strategies)
  • Turn your branches into sales machines (if your branches are only doing transactions and not selling, they are unprofitable)
  • Take creative risks when marketing mobile products (consumers are using these devices in bedrooms, bathrooms and bars)

The move to smartphone and tablet banking is not a trend—it’s a sea shift change. But don’t just read about these statistics and trends. Act on them by improving the digital experience with your credit union or bank.

The Economic Impact of Gen. Y On Financial Institutions

The Economic Impact of Gen. Y On Financial Institutions

Both credit unions and banks have to reach younger consumers if they want to thrive in the future. While you might want to, you can’t write off Generation Y (those born between 1982 and 2003). However, the importance of this niche market goes beyond just the need to younger.

When it comes to the Millennial Generation they are going to have a huge impact on financial institutions. A recent article in The Dallas Morning News summarized their headline this way: “Make way for the millennials, America’s economic force of the future.

The piece provided many insights about Millenials—especially ones that will have an economic impact on financial institutions. Below are a few highlights along with my take on what it means for credit unions and banks:

  • “They’ll spend more money on new technology, they’ll start the next Google, and they’ll become the main breadwinners for their families.”
    • What it means for financial institutions: Embrace your technology tools or die. Mobile banking, wearable technology and even biometric technology are not options; they are must-haves. Stop being a laggard when it comes to your banking technology.
  • “Estimates of millennials’ purchasing power vary widely, but a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report put their annual spending at $200 billion — a fraction the size of the $1.2 trillion U.S. Hispanic consumer market.”
    • What it means for financial institutions: This may sound contradictory, but you don’t HAVE to reach Gen. Y to be successful. You can target an even more powerful niche: U.S. Hispanics.
  • “The average millennial earned $33,883 in 2013, compared with $40,352 for workers of all ages,according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.”
    • What it means for financial institutions: Heavily market your credit cards. While their income is low, their spending is high. That means many of them have significant credit card debt. You could also take a “counter” approach and educate them about the disadvantages of high balance credit cards.
  • “The average amount of student debt for college graduates in 2013 was $28,400, up 2 percent from 2012,according to the latest data from the Institute for College Access and Success.”
    • What it means for financial institutions: Look for ways to help recent college graduates refinance those college loans. They have tons of collegiate debt. Consider creating a special refinance college loan debt product. Also consider how this high student loan debt is going to impact credit scores and loan applications.
  • “For now, millennials’ employment, income and debt struggles have kept many of them from buying a home, a trend that echoes through the economy. Overall, low homeownership rates mean millennials are not building home equity and not benefiting from home price appreciation.”
    • What it means for financial institutions: Nothing good from a long-term perspective. If you are relying on mortgages to grow your loan balances, don’t look to Gen. Y. Many simply cannot afford homes these days. Fight this trend by designing creative ways to help millenials get into their first home.
  • “A recent survey by Principal Financial Group found that nearly two-thirds of workers who are 23 to 35 started saving for retirement before they were 25, but less than one-third save 10 percent of their salary through an employer-sponsored plan.”
    • What it means for financial institutions: If they aren’t saving for retirement through their employer, they have to be doing it somewhere else. That “somewhere else” should be your credit union or bank. Heavily promote “do it yourself” financial planning through your financial institution.

The Millennial Generation is indeed going to have a heavy impact. Not just on society. Not just on the economy. But also on credit unions and banks.



What is Your Financial Institution’s Appendix?

What is Your Financial Institution’s Appendix?

This entry comes from Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies.


When I was about 14-years-old, a sharp and searing pain rocked through my lower abdomen early one morning at school. Before lunch that day, I was on the operating table having my nearly-ruptured appendix removed. It was a rough few days, especially for a teenager looking forward to the start of summer.

During my recovery, I came to find that the appendix is considered a virtually useless organ in the human body. But man, can it still cause pain (and in some cases, even death).

So it seems as if there is at least one organ the human body can do without. In fact, with that nasty thing removed and fear of a future rupture eliminated, I functioned better than I did before. We can say the same thing about certain processes and products within financial institutions. When you sit down and really think about it, what is the appendix (or appendices) at your financial institution? What could you do without? What would you be better off without? What can you shed and be a nimbler, more responsive and more dynamic entity?

This requires you to take a long, hard look at your financial institution. A great time to do this is during the strategic planning process. Typically during a strategic planning session, banks and credit unions do a great job of adding more to their plates. More projects, more committees, more busy work, etc. However, this is simply more likely to overload and burden and already-stressed staff and system.

With this in mind, doesn’t it make sense to look for things that you can eliminate from your bank or credit union? Think of it like a hot air balloon. In the past, some carried heavy sandbags when they flew. When the pilot wanted to go higher, he simply dropped a sandbag or two. Think of the heights your bank or credit union could attain if it was able to dump a few unneeded sandbags from its load.

Following are a few quick ideas to consider when looking for your shop’s appendix.

  • Too many products and services. Are nine different checking accounts too many options? Do consumers really care that you offer discounted amusement park tickets? And does anybody still call the automated telephone teller to check their balances anymore?
  • Too many fees. This one is talked about a lot, but still warrants discussion. Yes, fee income is important. But so is keeping consumers happy. Are your products and services fee-heavy?
  • Too many branches. Yes, physical branches. As more and more consumers turn to mobile ways of interacting with their financial institution, fewer are coming into branches. Are these brick-and-mortar locations dragging you down? And is the money you spend on them keeping you from expanding your mobile and digital offerings?

A ruptured appendix is no fun. But once you recover and find out you’re better off without it, it’s not so bad. Similarly, looking at things in your bank or credit union that you can do without is also a potentially stressful process. But in the end, shedding those extra sandbags is good for both your bank or credit union and its consumers.

Tribal Affiliation: Why Your Financial Institution Needs One

Tribal Affiliation: Why Your Financial Institution Needs One

At the dawn of human civilization, tribes and groups of men, women and children gathered around communal fires in their villages to listen to tales of the past. Often, it was up to one person, the tribal storyteller, to relate these histories and lessons. The storyteller (sometimes thought of as history’s first historian) was responsible not only for keeping the memory of the past alive but also for passing along valuable lessons about the present and the future.

Now think about the tight-knit tribes in our times. Fans are good place to start. You have probably seen those fans that get to the stadium six hours early to tailgate. They’ve got official logo T-shirts, hats, flags and more. Go-to examples of these rabid fans include Ohio State, the University of Texas, the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns.

Most of these people come from disparate backgrounds. But they are brought together and drawn by a common tribal affiliation (in this case, fans of the same team). This also works in the corporate world. In fact, the phrase “fan boy” was created for people (both men and women) who are eager and early adopters of all Apple products. You’ve probably seen news video of them lined up outside Apple stores days in advance hoping to get their hands on the latest and greatest gadget.

This type of tribal affiliation of sports teams and corporate entities is a tremendous brand asset. It is unlikely that any of these organizations could ever buy enough television, radio or web-space to solicit these kinds of responses and enthusiasm.

Your bank or credit union needs a tribal affiliation, too. And the only way to establish that is by building and nurturing a deep-rooted and authentic brand. Your brand is who you are, what you do and what you mean to consumers. And with so much competition out there in financial services, you simply cannot afford to blend into the background. What are some things you can do to help your brand and tribal affiliation stand out to consumers?

  • Get creative. Don’t be afraid to break a few molds. Adopt a unique timeline, dress code or innovative way of interacting with consumers. Southwest Airlines made a name for itself by encouraging its pilots and flight attendants to interact and joke around with passengers. They took something that was typically seen as mundane (flying) and found a way to make it fun.
  • Use social media. Most of your consumers hang out there, anyway. Find ways to interact with them in real-time on the channels they use most. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. And don’t try to sell to them on social media. People will see through that quickly and drop you like a bad habit. Use social media to engage in conversations and ask questions of consumers.
  • Present a unified face. Sports fans love their logo wear. Gadget fans love to show off their latest toy. This is unity of brand and your financial institution must do the same thing in order to enhance its tribal affiliation. Encourage (or require) all staff to dress in approved logo-wear and follow scripts that guide them through the consumer interaction process. Everyone needs to be on the same page and all your consumers need to see that.

Whether it’s a tribal elder around a campfire 5,000 years ago or a beer-swilling college football fan in the stadium parking lot today, people still need storytellers. The storytellers give roots, a future and a sense of community. In order to survive, your bank or credit union needs the same type of tribal affiliation.

What Jazz Teaches Us About Marketing

What Jazz Teaches Us About Marketing

There are all types of music: classical, hard rock, rap, grunge and country. And then there is jazz—a unique music style born in New Orleans. During the Credit Union National Association’s Marketing Management School (held in New Orleans), Hattie Bryant opened the week with a session on “All That Jazz.”

“Jazz actually teaches us quite a bit about marketing,” she noted. “Jazz tells a story; it tells us how to feel. It’s the same with marketing: it tells a story and it’s about feelings.”

So what does jazz teach us about marketing? Consider the following:

  • Jazz is a musical conversation—In today’s social media world, marketing is no longer about sending marketing messages. It’s about having conversations. When it comes to marketing, are you just making noise that consumers are tuning out or you really taking time to have conversations? Just like you want to listen to jazz music, you want to listen to your target audiences.
  • Jazz is in the moment—If you have ever listened to jazz music, you know you can get wrapped up in the song you’re hearing. When was the last time your members or customers got wrapped up in your marketing? Look for ways to give your targets an experience they will share with others. Just like jazz is in the moment, you need to provide consumers a “wow” experience.
  • Jazz is complex—Anyone who has ever tried to play jazz music knows it’s anything but easy. It’s hard to play. And marketing can be hard to execute successfully. Marketing is a strategic function inside your financial institution. So treat it that way. Marketing is no longer about brochures and newsletters; there is a great deal of sophistication and strategy involved. Just like jazz is complex, you want to ensure you are using smart marketing strategies.
  • Jazz is about feelings—Jazz music is extremely soulful and actually tells a story; it’s all about how it makes you feel. Marketing is certainly no different. When it comes to your marketing efforts are you telling your story and connecting with consumers on an emotional level? Just like jazz is about feelings, you need to make your branding efforts more emotional and you need to tell your financial institution’s story.

Do you want to make your marketing more successful? Then try making your marketing more like jazz music.

Smell your bathrooms

Smell your bathrooms

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.

Everything about your financial institution communicates something about your brand – even how your bathrooms look and smell. Think about it this way. When you are on a road trip, are you selective about where you take your pit stops, or will you stop anywhere?

I realize nobody is going to stop at your financial institution just to use the restroom, but if they don’t trust your bathrooms, they may not trust your ability to handle their money, either.

When Toys R Us was rebranding, it brought in a third party expert to lead the process. One of the first things the consultant did was walk the CEO all the way to the back of the store where the restroom was located and ask if his wife would feel comfortable using that bathroom. Why? Because it’s important to look at these details from the customer’s perspective. Women are the toy retailer’s key demographic. If they won’t use the bathrooms, or more importantly, if they won’t let their kids use the bathrooms, they aren’t going to shop there very often.

We have a client that gave its customers a big piece of wood with a key attached to it when they needed to use the restroom. That screams truck stop, not financial institution. Think about it. If you manage potentially thousands of dollars of someone’s money at your financial institution, don’t they deserve something a little more tactful that doesn’t scream, “I’m going to the bathroom,” to everybody they pass on their way to the restroom? If your bathrooms can’t differentiate your financial institution from a truck stop, how do you expect your brand to differentiate your bank or credit union from your competition?

These may seem like small details, but they matter. Starbucks once did a study on how much money it could save by switching from two-ply toilet paper to one-ply toilet paper. That one seemingly small detail would have saved the company thousands of dollars, but the CEO wouldn’t hear of it. He said everything matters, and he was right.

Do you have cheap, ratty toilet paper in your bathrooms or do you provide your customers with Charmin? Does your bathroom look freshly painted or old and worn? Are your sinks and toilets clean…really clean and not rusty or stained? Do your faucets and fixtures shine? How does your bathroom smell? Have you looked at your bathrooms from a female perspective?

If you are targeting women – the people who manage the finances in the majority of U.S. households, you have to appeal to their standards. Does your bathroom pass the smell test? Do yourself and your brand a favor and smell your restrooms.

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

What is the Wake Your Strategic Plan is Leaving?

What is the Wake Your Strategic Plan is Leaving?

“When you get an entire organization that’s mindful of its wake, some pretty incredible things can happen.”
—Kip Tindell, CEO, The Container Store

In his book Uncontainable, Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, talks a great deal about the importance of wake. By wake, Tindell refers to those waves and ripples of consequences that follow our every action.

So what is the wake your strategic plan is leaving?

Every action you take in your long-range planning session will impact your credit union or bank. It will leave a wake. And not just directly, but indirectly as well. Those ripples can be positive or negative.

With every decision you make you must consider its effect on at least three key areas. Keep in mind the following items when it comes to your plan’s ripples.

Your focus

Much of strategic planning has to do with choices and priorities. In other words, you can’t do every possible strategic initiative. With every choice you make you are also choosing NOT to do something else.

One of the best practical things you can do in a strategic planning session is to have an honest discussion about focus. You should cut, cut and cut again until you have the absolute most important two or three items narrowed down when it comes to your goals, objectives and priorities. Just remember, that focus will have ripple effects on initiatives you WON’T do.

Limiting your focus leaves a wake by removing the unimportant.

Your staff

More than likely, your staff is overwhelmed with all they need to accomplish. If you are presenting a 20 page plus strategic planning document most of them won’t read it, much less understand and embrace and it.

So how does the strategic plan you developed impact your staff? Take some time in your session to address that question. No matter how well written or smart your plan is, it’s your staff that will execute it (or NOT execute it). One of the biggest ripples of a strategic plan is how it effects your employees.

Helping your staff understand your plan leaves a wake by removing their confusion.

Your target audiences

You can’t be all things to all people. So stop trying. Choosing who you want to reach absolutely impacts those that are not in your niche audience. For example, if you need to get younger as an institution then one of the wakes you might leave is stop designing products and services for the older generations.

When crafting your strategic plan you must always keep your target audiences in mind. Start with the “who” question before the “what” and “how” questions.

Focusing on a few key groups leaves a wake by removing an “all things to all people” philosophy.

For every action you take in strategic planning, there is an equal reaction. There are wakes you leave with your focus, your staff and your target audiences. Keep all three in mind and the impact your decisions have on each.