Breaking Brand Habits

Breaking Brand Habits

“So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit.”
– Musonius Rufus, Roman Philosopher

Habit. Routine. The way we do things. The way we’ve always done things. It’s all too easy to fall into what the author above referred to as wretched habit. Sometimes routine is a good thing. But when it comes to the brand at your bank or credit union, doing something habitually may come at a price, especially when you’re doing it “just because we’ve always done things that way.”

For example, if you’re running a used car loan promotion every April simply because you’ve always run a used car loan promotion every April, it might bear reconsideration. Similarly, if something as mundane as your dress code (let’s say coat and tie) no longer matches the look and attitude of your consumer base, you need to think about it.

Most powerfully, if you haven’t taken a good, hard look at your brand and the experience consumers go through when interacting with your bank or credit union in a while, it’s time. Getting into bad brand habits is detrimental to your financial institution. You may be interacting with consumers in a way that doesn’t help grow and maintain your brand.

Examples of bad brand habits that can harm your bank or credit union include:

  • Greeting inconsistently. What you say and how you say it matters, even to people that come into your branches on a daily basis. A standard greeting representative of your brand is important.
  • Living with stinky restrooms. In branding, everything matters — from the boardroom to the restroom. A malodorous restroom speaks poorly of your brand.
  • Trying to be all things to all people. To be successful, your brand must target carefully cultivated niches of consumers rather than trying to cast an impossibly wide net over everyone.
  • Failing to train staff to brand. Your staff can’t live his brand unless they are trained to it. Good brands are backed up by good training programs.
  • Using brochures as a crutch. Brochures, like most things, make good servants but terrible masters. If your staff must rely on reading verbatim from a brochure when discussing products and services with the consumer, you’ve got problems.

Breaking a bad habit isn’t always easy. Ask anybody who has tried to shrug things from cigarette smoking to nail-chewing. However, in the case of your bank or credit union brand, breaking out of a habitual rut is important to your overall success.


How a Lost Panda Explains Benefits Over Features

In banks and credit unions, we spend a lot of time talking about why it’s important for staff to discuss products and services more in terms of benefits than features.

Features are easy. Features are the bullet points inside brochures that describe the different elements of, say, a checking account. Features are readable. Features are also, frankly, boring. The vast majority of consumers simply don’t emotionally relate to features. Benefits, however are entirely different.

Stated simply: features tell while benefits sell.

A new commercial from Tile absolutely nails this concept.

To be upfront, I have purchased and used Tile products before. They’re helpful when trying to track down easily-lost things like keys and wallets. And you can load yourself up on the features of Tile. However, it’s the emotional impact of the benefits of using this particular product as illustrated by the commercial that really hits home. Nobody gives a rat’s read-end about things like search radius, Bluetooth connectability and battery life when their sweet baby girl has lost her precious stuffed panda. Good grief, check out some of the comments after the video. Hundreds of people openly admit to crying while watching the commercial.

As the video powerfully illustrates, the features matter little. The benefits are what stick it to the heart. This is brand gold.

So how does this Tile video apply to banks or credit unions? You must reprogram your staff to talk to consumers about your products and services more in terms of benefits and features. For example, your auto loans can be described with things like APR, prepayment penalties and term. For the most part, consumers could care less. They’re not there for the features. They are there for the benefit – getting behind the wheel of that new car. Shift your staff thinking to talking about all your products and services more in terms of how they benefit the member, his or her life, finances, dreams, etc. This could include broad statements like “using our app to deposit checks remotely can save you lots of time,” “refinancing at a lower rate will save money for your monthly family budget” and “starting a Christmas savings account early in the year can save you stress and headaches when it comes time for holiday shopping.”

And if you don’t believe this works, just check out the commercial again. I’ll wager good money you get at least a little choked up when that little girl found her panda.

Growth Is Not a Strategy

Growth Is Not a Strategy

Ahh, strategic planning. That fun time of year when every bank and credit union gathers its key leadership team and stakes-out a roadmap for the future. Goals are discussed, dreams are debated and (hopefully) most folks leave the table feeling heard and that at least a portion of their agenda was captured in the plan.

After facilitating hundreds of strategic planning sessions for banks and credit unions, a number of commonalities come to the surface. One of which is the following — growth is not a strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. Growth is important. Growth is largely why we have strategic planning sessions. But growth, in and of itself, is not a strategy. Neither is saying something like “our bank\credit union will reach $X in assets by year-end.” “We want to grow XYZ” as a bullet point in your strategic plan looks good but will likely achieve little when viewed in this skewed light.

Growth, while not a strategy, is a goal. Your bank or credit union can’t afford to confuse the two. Strategic planning sessions are designed to whittle the ideas down to a top handful to which everyone can agree. You can certainly assign a set amount (things such as loan volume, total number of members/customers, ROA, etc.) as a goal, but again, this is not a strategy. The strategy involves the steps your team must clearly define that help achieve the goal.

A goal, you see it the top of a ladder; strategy is represented by the individual steps. One is worthless without the other.

For example, if your bank or credit union assigns total loan volume to strategy status, you must subsequently delineate a clear and achievable set of actions you will take in order to achieve this goal. In this example, the loan volume (growth) is not a strategy but rather a goal/initiative. Simply slapping this down on paper and feeling good about it later will not help you achieve the goal. This is where your strategy comes into play. How will you achieve this loan volume? With what specific, measurable and achievable resources? Who or whom will drive this initiative? What is the budget you can allot towards this initiative? Do you have the operational capacity to achieve this initiative? Questions like these (and many others) define and drive strategy.

Using an experienced and results-oriented facilitator during your strategic planning session is a great way to help push your bank or credit union to new heights and ensure you’re not simply jotting down numbers and aimless goals in place of true strategy.


Banned Crutch Words for 2018

Banned Crutch Words for 2018

Every bank or credit union has its own unique way of handling internal communications. How well you communicate with staff has far-reaching implications, including your culture and brand. However, there are good ways to communicate and not-so-good ways to communicate.

With that in mind, there are a few horrific words and phrases you should absolutely avoid in your content marketing strategy. These clichéd, hackneyed and over-hyped roadkills of the communications world are definitely to be avoided. Please keep an attentive eye open for the following and delete from your vacabulary this year (and every year).

  • Synergy. Or synergize. Or synergistic. Or any other variation of this corporate bizspeak abomination.
  • Touch base. Just say “let’s visit” or “let’s meet.” Or even “can we set up a time to talk?” This isn’t second grade and we’re not playing tag with someone stuck being “it.”
  • Mission-critical. Unless you work at NASA, stop saying this. You’re not putting a man on the moon.
  • Core competency. Instead of this, human beings are more likely to say (and understand) “things which I do well.”
  • Strategic dynamism. When I tried to think of something clever to say after this one, my brain literally imploded (which reminds me, stop saying “literally” before everything unless it actually literally occurred).

The way in which you craft messaging, both internally among staff and externally for your consumers, matters. For the most part, real people prefer and understand real words and phrases. Avoid the lazy content atrocities above and go with authentic language that communicates your authentic message.


Dirty Brands: How Clean Is Your Brand?

Dirty Brands: How Clean Is Your Brand?

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

A few days ago, I made an early morning trip to a local big-box athletic supply store in search of new walking shoes. I entered the store as one of the first customers of the day and right away could tell they hadn’t cleaned up from the day before. The floors were dirty, merchandise was scattered about and nothing looked clean.

When trying on something in the dressing room, it got even worse. Un-purchased clothes from the day before still hung on the racks and dust bunnies and someone’s used Band-Aid (yuck) were on the floor. It just wasn’t a pleasant experience.

How your bank or credit union facilities appear absolutely matters to your brand. You can have terrific consumer engagement from staff and all the right talking points in your brand mantra but it doesn’t really matter if consumers are distracted by an unkempt appearance.

As we conduct mystery shops as part of the On The Mark Strategies marketing audit process, a few examples of “dirty” bank and credit union brands include:

  • Dead houseplants and/or greenery. What does it show your consumers about how you will care for their accounts if you don’t care enough about your plants to water them once in a while? I’d rather look at cheesy plastic plants than wilted, dead real ones.
  • Filthy restrooms. If your bank or credit union restroom has all the ambience of a heavily-used truck stop restaurant, your brand is in trouble. In branding, everything matters — from the boardroom to the restroom.
  • Cluttered bulletin boards. Unfortunately, we see this all the time. If your bank or credit union allows a community bulletin board in the foyer or lobby area, keep it clean. Yellowed, tattered and torn yard sale advertisements from months ago don’t help your brand and send a signal that you just don’t care how things look.

Branding is everything — including the way your physical locations appear and smell. Going back to the example above, if your brand has a dirty-used Band-Aid on the floor of the lobby, you’ve got trouble. Few consumers will trust you with their money if you can’t keep the building around it clean and attractive.


Service Is More Than Being Nice

Talk to any credit union or bank executive for more than five minutes and more than likely the topic of a sales and service culture will arise. Phrases like “what makes us different is our service,” “we focus on serving our consumers and not selling to them,” or “we have a service culture in place but not really sales.”

One of the problems with most banking sales and service cultures is that your employees are confused with those terms. They think service is one thing and sales is another. That service is good and that sales is evil. Or that service is just being nice.

But let’s be clear:

Service is more than being nice

People expect service today—they expect you to be nice.

True service is:

  • Digging deeper to find what someone truly needs
  • Understanding that service = sales
  • Offering a consumer a product that is going to help them save money or earn more money
  • Discovering the consumer’s dreams rather than just taking their order

For example, if a consumer is in your financial institution and is asking for a credit card increase true service is NOT just completing that transaction with a friendly smile. True service is realizing that what they need is a better way to save money while managing their debt and helping them do that with a home equity loan (rather than the credit card).

In many cases, people don’t know what they want, especially when it comes to financial services. People wake up and say “I need a car” not “I need a car loan.” They come to your financial institution not looking for products but looking for solutions to their problems.

And the solution is not just being nice to them.

Our employees must understand that not offering a consumer a solution that is good for them is actually disservice.

Is Your Marketing Plan Drifting?

Is Your Marketing Plan Drifting?

Most marketers start the New Year running. We get our track shoes on and we begin implementing all those creative plans we put together in the fourth quarter last year.

But before too long other priorities other than our marketing plan arise. If we are in financial services, our asset liability (ALM) needs can adjust, executive management can change the strategic course of our institution or we could encounter personnel challenges. And before too long we look up and our marketing plan is off course.

A few years ago I wrote poste entitled “Four Ways to Avoid the Strategic Plan Drift.” In that article I quoted Darren Hardy, publisher of Success Magazine and author of The Entrepreneur Rollercoaster as saying “You see, we don’t fall off course, we drift off course. We don’t fall off our workout schedule, our diet, our resolutions—we drift. 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.”

Those same words of wisdom apply to our marketing plans: we must ensure we don’t drift off course. So how do we avoid the marketing plan drift?

Here are three ways to avoid that trap:

  • Promote brand above product—The marketing plan at your credit union or bank is probably focused a great deal on your institution’s products: checking accounts, auto loans, investment services and mobile banking among many others. You name the financial product and we financial marketers are promoting it. But if all you do is push your products then you will quickly drift away from your plan. Why? Because your plan needs a heavy dose of branding. You want consumers to bank with you because of who you are, not because of what you offer or the rate you are giving them. Promoting your brand and not just your products helps you avoid that marketing plan drift.
  • Conduct a marketing audit—Even if you have a marketing plan in place, is it the right plan? Have you had an outsider review your marketing strategy? One of the best ways to gain that perspective is through a marketing audit, which will include a thorough review of your plan. It also gives you suggestions on your plan and helps determine if your budget matches that plan (a common problem in financial marketing). Reviewing your marketing through a marketing audit helps ensure your marketing plan does not drift.
  • Review your plan regularly—It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day of financial marketing. Getting that loan promotion out the door, training staff on your new checking product or making sure that social media update gets complete. When the day to day captures too much of our attention then the plan gets discarded or put on a shelf. One tip is to spend the 10 to 15 minutes the first part of every week looking over yearly or quarterly goals and objectives. Another suggestion is to make sure the entire executive team reviews the marketing plan on an ongoing basis. That will help you focus the entire institution’s priorities when other issues arise that can cause you to get “off plan.” Spending time on a scheduled basis to review that plan avoids the drift.

Let’s be honest: unanticipated things are going to take place this year. That is life as a marketing executive. However, you can avoid having those potential distractions take your marketing plan off course by promoting your brand, conducting a marketing audit and reviewing your plan regularly.

Four Podcasts Every Financial Marketer Should Listen To

Four Podcasts Every Financial Marketer Should Listen To

I’ve blogged for years on the importance of reading. In fact, the more you learn the more you earn and one of the best ways to learn is to read. But let’s be honest: it’s hard to find time to read. Between personal and professional obligations most financial marketers are running with their track shoes 24/7.

If you don’t have as much time to read then a great alternative these days is listening to podcasts. In fact, 40% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast. Whether when driving to your job or while you are working out listening to solid content is a great alternative to just reading content. Listening to the right podcasts, however, is critical.

So if you work in a credit union or bank and have marketing in any part of your job duties, here are four podcasts you should absolutely be listening to:

  • Building a Story Brand (Donald Miller)—I recently started listening to this podcast while reading Miller’s book (Building a Story Brand) and am completely hooked. The general subjects cover how to clarify your message and always include practical ways to improve your messaging (something all us marketers need). One of Miller’s common sayings is “when you confuse, you lose.” You certainly won’t lose by listening to his podcast.
  • Marketing Over Coffee—This one seems more like a conversation than a podcast. That’s probably because it is recorded at an actual coffee shop with hosts John Wall and Christopher Penn talking about the latest marketing trends. One of their concepts is that “marketing and technology are intersecting.” To make sure you know all about that intersection then make sure you are listening to this podcast.
  • Social Media Marketing—Speaking of keeping up with trends one of the greatest challenges financial marketers face today is knowing all that is going on with social media. If you want the latest news, trends and buzz when it comes to all things social media there is no better place to turn to than host Michael Stelzner and his Social Media Marketing podcast. One of the best things about the podcast is that each show starts with a suggestion for a new tool or app you can use. And if you want to maximize all you are using with social media then listen to this podcast.
  • Duct Tape Marketing—One of the best marketing authors today is John Jantsch. He has written best sellers such as Duct Tape Marketing, The Referral Engine and The Commitment Engine. On his podcasts he consistently interviews marketing thought leaders as they share their stories and secrets. If you want a secret to help with your marketing, then listen to this podcast.

I can personally vouch for each of the above podcasts. I listen to every one of them on a regular basis when I’m running. It’s a great way to take in new content.

What about you? What other podcasts would you recommend?

Don’t Let Research Become Procrastination

Don’t Let Research Become Procrastination

Member or customer surveys. Net promoter scores. Mystery shops. Focus groups. Marketing customer information files (MCIF). Web analytics. When it comes to gathering research there is certainly no shortage of options for financial institutions. But with all that fantastic information also comes a trap.

The procrastination trap. Some might even say the “paralysis by analysis” trap.

That trap goes something like this: you are about to make a big decision (for example, building a branch, launching a new product or changing your name) so you start gathering research. You review key data from your system, which takes a few weeks or months. Then you think you need to ask current members or customers their opinions so you conduct a survey, which takes another few weeks or months. Then you realize you should study your markets so you conduct a focus groups, which takes another few weeks or months.

Before you realize it, you look up and what once started as an easy and somewhat fast decision has turned into an unnecessary several months long project. Sometimes in an effort to please everyone or make sure you are 1,000% correct you do more and more and more research.

Just to be clear: I am not saying research is unimportant. You should certainly use all the research tools at your disposal. In fact, research is a fundamental cornerstone when it comes to marketing. For example, in our trademarked four-step branding process, step number one is research (including surveys, branch audits, market analysis, demographic data, etc.). You can’t develop a strategy without research.

However, sometimes too much research—or research that takes too long—can slow down a decision you know in your gut is correct. In other words, I would venture to say that when it comes to most credit unions or banks, they probably know what strategic decision is correct. The problem is not the data or lack of information: it’s delaying making the decision.

You should absolutely use research. Conduct surveys, study your market and pour over numbers.

Just don’t let research slow down the actual strategic decision.

Culture Trumps Comp

Culture Trumps Comp

You know the tune: “Money, money, money, money. Money.” The one by the O’Jays (For the Love of Money). We often think that when it comes to motivating or keeping our employees engaged it’s all about the money. Turns out that may not be the case.

According to a podcast from Donald Miller, he noted a recent survey that indicated “90% of employees prefer culture over compensation.” He emphasized, “Studies show that employees who fit well with their organization are likely to stay and show superior job performance.”

Think about that for a minute. While what you pay someone is certainly a factor in their performance, loving what they do and whom they do it for is actually more important. In other words, culture trumps compensation.

As Miller said in the podcast, “If you create a company culture of service, you’ll attract and retain amazing employees who will share your brand’s mission and dedicate themselves to brining customers back to you consistently.”

So what does that mean for credit unions and banks? Here are three things you have to “get” when it comes to your culture:

  • Get the correct culture—What is your financial institution’s culture? Is it service focused or all about the bottom-line? Is it community-driven or numbers driven? Is it a truly extraordinary experience or is it or more about transactions? Is it employee focused or all about the executives? One thing is for certain: you do have a culture at your credit union or bank. The key to success, however, is having the right culture in place. Branding touches everything, especially your culture. If you haven’t spent time analyzing what it’s like to work for your organization and what it’s like to do business with your organization, then you should absolutely do a deep dive into creating the culture you desire. Culture doesn’t just trump comp, it trumps everything.
  • Get the correct people—As Jim Collins famously said in Good to Great, “you have to get right people on the bus and get the right people in the right seats on the bus.” While success begins with creating the right culture it continues with having the right people implement that culture. That means hiring more for culture than for skill. The reality is you can teach an employee how to read a credit report, how to make collection calls or how to balance a teller drawer. It’s much more important that they approach those tasks with the right attitude. With the right brand culture in place. For example, if your culture is all about experiential service then an interview question you can ask is “Tell me about a time when you gave extraordinary service on your last job?” Culture doesn’t just trump comp, it trumps people.
  • Get the correct accountability—Once you have the right culture and people in place you can’t stop there. You have to review that culture and those people on a regular basis. And you have to have the guts to fire people for a lack of a culture match. Yes, I said that: you have to let people go because they don’t fit your culture. We tend to carry people longer their mothers carried them in their wombs. We’d rather keep an average performing employee who isn’t a culture fit than go through the pain of being short-staffed for a period of time while waiting to hiring a better culture fit. While we may fire someone for being out of balance or stealing, when was the last time you fired an employee because they were not living your culture or brand? If they are not living your culture, then they are stealing: they are stealing from your brand. Culture doesn’t just trump comp, it trumps accountability.

If you want bottom line success at your credit union or bank, those positive financial results start with your culture.