Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

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

An old maxim about conventional military forces goes something like this: “To be successful, an army must be bred, fed and led.”

The same three things apply to your bank or credit union brand in order for it to be successful.

Obviously, there are differences between an army and your brand and slight variations in the definitions of these three words. Here’s how it breaks down for your bank or credit union brand:

Bred: This means you must develop enthusiastic brand ambassadors from all employees, in effect breeding a culture of brand loyalty and excitement. This applies to both new employees when they first enter your bank or credit union culture as well as existing employees regardless of tenure. This generally goes back to how well your brand is backed up by proactive and effective training. Without this training, you’ll have a difficult task breeding the loyal brand soldiers you need to succeed.

Fed: You wouldn’t expect an army to march successfully on less than a full stomach. The same thing applies in a more emotional/spiritual way when it comes to your bank or credit union brand. Some of the feeding of your staff goes back to the previously mentioned training. However, you must also feed their spirit for your brand to thrive. How will you communicating success stories related to the brand? Are you praising staff that do well living the brand just as much (if not more) than criticizing/redirecting staff for brand shortcomings? Unless you feed your brand, you can’t take the bold steps forward required to succeed.

Led: Yes, everyone in your bank or credit union is responsible for taking care of the brand. In this instance, however, led refers specifically to your executive leadership team. Staff will look to these individuals to see just how high they hold brand standards. If your leadership team, including the CEO, aren’t leading the brand in a visible and meaningful way, why should your staff feel compelled to do so? As any great army is led by a great general, so must your bank or credit union brand also be led by individuals willing to do whatever it takes to guide your team to victory.

Bred, fed and led. Armies require this. So do bank and credit union brands. How well is your financial institution bred, fed and lead?

Debunking Three Strategic Planning Myths

Debunking Three Strategic Planning Myths

Accomplishing something complex without a plan can be challenging – especially running a business. Yet, some financial institutions have never created a strategic plan. Imagine trying to build a house without a blue print. That’s pretty much what these financial institutions are doing. They are trying to build a business and a brand without any type of plan to guide them.

Strategic planning, when done well, is extremely effective. It provides specific direction, defines strategies to support that direction and helps the organization determine how to spend money and allocate staff effectively.

Strategic planning not done well is a different story. Usually, ineffective planning happens when leaders fall into certain traps or subscribe to common myths about the right way to do planning.

Myth: We just have to get through the next few days and planning will be over

Truth: Strategic planning is an every-day affair

Your strategic plan should be in action every day your financial institution’s doors are open for business. That doesn’t mean you are sitting in a daily meeting planning strategy. It means you are carrying out the goals and actions defined during your annual planning session. It means your board is reviewing those goals and actions monthly or quarterly and holding management accountable to the strategy developed during that annual session.

Strategic planning often fails, not because the strategy is unsound, but because nobody bothers to follow-through with the strategy once the planning session is over. That’s when the real work begins. That is when you put ideas into motion. If nobody at your financial institution does this, there’s no point in planning at all.

Myth: Planning is only for executives or managers

Truth: Proper planning involves every employee

Executives and managers may make the final decisions, but they can’t possibly decide what is in the best interest of your financial institution, its employees and its customers or members without input from those people. It just can’t happen.

Ask employees what processes work and what needs improvement at your financial institution. Encourage them to offer solutions. If your strategy includes something massive like replacing your core processor, involve the people who use that system in discussions prior to your planning session. Find out how a major change will impact their jobs. Consider the time needed to train them on a new system. All of that ties in to your strategy. The more input you receive before you make a decision, the more support you will get from employees when it’s time to implement that decision. Making decisions in a vacuum slows progress and often hinders it altogether.

Myth: Your strategic plan must remain top secret.

Truth: Communicate your strategy and goals to every employee at your financial institution.

Employees cannot execute your strategy if they don’t know what the strategy is and how their jobs contribute to it. Everyone’s job description and goals must tie back to your strategic plan in some way. If it doesn’t, you don’t need them.

Communicate your strategic plan to every employee. Do it in a big meeting or delegate managers to communicate with the people who report to them. Each employee needs an explanation about how their job ties to your financial institution’s strategy. Their performance and goals should directly support some part of the plan, and that is how they should be evaluated on their annual performance reviews. Everything should tie together.

Construction workers cannot build a structurally sound house with a solid foundation unless they all have access tothe same blueprint and understand their role in the project. The same is true of your financial institution’s strategic plan. Get input. Communicate plans to your employees and remember that planning done well is planning that happens every day your doors are open for business.

Don’t Greet Consumers the Way Pizza Inn Greeted Me

Don’t Greet Consumers the Way Pizza Inn Greeted Me

By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On the Mark Strategies

My son turned 14 recently. To help him celebrate, we took him and a group of his friends to an escape room, then head to a pizza buffet. Is there anything better than unlimited pizza for teenage boys? Unfortunately, that plan came to a screeching halt when we entered the restaurant.

About five feet into the establishment, we were “greeted” by a man behind a counter in a logo T-shirt who said, “We close in 20 minutes.” The buffet still had pizza on it, so I asked him if they would be adding to it before closing. He said, “we might consider a special request.”

We turned around and left, which is what your customers or members (or potential ones) would do if someone at your financial institution greeted them with such blatant rudeness. It was their loss and your gain, because here’s what you can learn from Pizza Inn’s poor service.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. We easily had five other restaurant choices without having to get back in the truck. How many other choices do consumers have if they walk out of your financial institution unhappy? If there’s at least one other bank or credit union in sight, you can pretty much guarantee they won’t be back.

Always deliver on your brand promise. I walked in carrying a huge birthday cake. It should have been obvious to anyone with functioning eyesight that this was more than a group of people visiting a buffet. We were there to celebrate a special occasion, and Pizza Inn took that away from us. I was curious to see how that behavior compared with their brand promise, so I did some research. The Pizza Inn website reads, “It’s been a privilege serving loyal guests for more than three generations. Come and start your own family tradition with us today!” I don’t think this is the treatment Pizza Inn had in mind when it created its brand plan.

Consistency is key to a successful brand. We arrived at 8:30 p.m. According to the restaurant’s website, it is supposed to be open until 11 p.m. on Friday evenings. When we walked past the building at 9:30 p.m. to get back to our car, the place was dark. The information on your website must match the information in your branches and on your signage. If you can’t communicate your hours of operation consistently, potential consumers are unlikely to trust you with their money or anything else. It seems small in the grand scheme of things, but everything matters in branding. You must be consistent, even with the smallest details.

As much as I like Pizza Inn’s food, this experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I won’t return to that location, and my brand loyalty is questionable at this point. Perhaps Pizza Inn can afford to lose customers. I’m guessing your financial institution cannot.

Why Your Corporate Culture Matters

Why Your Corporate Culture Matters

Brand. Values. Culture. We throw these words around quite a bit in corporate America, often with minimal regard for what they actually mean or the impact they have. Sometimes we even hang them on the wall as proof that we’re important enough to have them.

None of that matters if you don’t practice what you preach (or prominently display). Do your employees even know what your bank or credit union values? Perhaps the better question is do the behaviors within your bank or credit union reflect what you say your culture is?

Every credit union, every bank, every business has an internal culture whether they recognize it or not. The way management treats employees is part of your culture. The way employees treat each other is part of your culture. The way your bank or credit union makes your employees feel when they are at work is a big part of your culture.

Why does any of this matter? Because your corporate values and your internal culture impact your brand strength. If your internal culture is weak or inconsistent, your brand will be, too.

Culture Gaps

When you market your bank or credit union one way but deliver a completely different level of service or experience, that is called a brand gap. When you define your corporate values and culture one way but employee behavior and performance contradicts it, we call that a culture gap.

For example, the poster hanging in your branch claims respect is one of your values, but managers frequently belittle their subordinates and employees thrive on disrespecting each other. That’s a culture gap. Or, your corporate values claim to respect and embrace all ideas, but employees are ridiculed or turned away when they attempt to share. That is a culture gap. You have to close those gaps to improve your culture and your brand, and it has to start at the top. Executives and managers must emulate your bank or credit union’s values in everything they do. If they act one way and expect their employees to act a different way, you will never close those gaps.


When you ask someone if they like their job, the answer almost always relates to how the company makes them feel or how their supervisors treat them. If you treat your employees like they matter, it makes them feel good. A simple e-mail that says, “Thank you for taking care of (insert situation). You really saved the day,” is an easy way to make someone feel good about themselves and their job. Letting an employee take an extra twenty minutes at lunch one day so they can eat with their kid at school indicates you value what’s important to them. When you consistently make your employees feel like they matter, they willingly do more for you.

If your bank or credit union creates great employee experiences, your employees will create great consumer experiences. That is how your culture and your brand thrive.

Branding Has No Org Chart

Branding Has No Org Chart

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

While conducting staff brand training for a credit union recently, a young member of the executive leadership team spoke up and said something profound. It’s sage advice for any bank or credit union entering new brand territory.

The individual in question said “when it comes to our brand, there is no org chart.”

Truer branding words were perhaps never spoken.

His statement came after a few moments of explanation in which I explained that every person at the credit union, regardless of position, branch or title, has a vital role to play in the brand. Taking it even deeper, I gave every employee in the room the unofficial title of “brand ambassador.”

The individual quoted above is absolutely right. When it comes to the brand of any bank or credit union, there really is no traditional org chart. Rather, branding is the responsibility of every person at the credit union from the CEO to the leadership team, frontline, backoffice, HR, marketing, IT, you name it. When done correctly, with spirit and enthusiasm, embracing the identity of the brand falls squarely on the shoulders of everyone at your bank or credit union. The brand org chart flows uniquely horizontally rather than vertically.

Any brand is only as strong as its weakest link and no individual at your bank or credit union wants to (or can’t afford to) be that weakest link. A brand is a result of how it is lived both between employees and the consumers they serve. When a bank or credit union adopts a brand, titles go out the window and everyone truly must become a brand ambassador (and this also applies outside traditional office hours and outside the four walls of your bank or credit union).

This certainly isn’t to say your executive leadership team doesn’t play a vital leadership role. In order for your brand to be successful, the leadership team must (believe it or not!) lead it. When the executive leadership team leads it, then staff will live it. Then and only then can your consumers come to love your brand.

But it’s really not about the org chart and who reports to who. When it comes to your brand, everyone reports to everyone as everyone is uniquely and equally responsible for the strength and integrity of your brand.

What CEOs Want From CMOs

What CEOs Want From CMOs

What do credit union chief executive officers want from their chief marketing officers (or the person leading their marketing efforts)? That is a burning question Jeff Rendel sought to answer. He presented his findings at CUNA’s Marketing & Business Development Certification School (which if you have not attended is a “must do” event for every credit union marketer or business development person).

As part of his research, Rendel received over 400 responses from credit union CEOs.

“Talent is overrated,” Rendel said. “The responses showed that 61% of CEOs are not satisfied with the innovation shown by their CMOs and 53% of CEOs feel they aren’t getting the strategic thinking they need from marketing.” He went on to note that 47% of CEOs are unsatisfied with the level of agility demonstrated by their CMOs and 51% of CEOs are looking for better member insights from their marketing leaders.

So what do CEOs really want from their marketing team? According to Rendel, four traits were paramount:

  • Innovation
  • Strategic thinking
  • Agility
  • Member insights

“Marketers must keep up with the pace of change,” Rendel noted. “What impresses the CEO is when the marketer thinks more strategically and delivers bottom line results.”

Through his interviews and responses, Rendel offered the new CMO job description:

  • Member intelligence expertise—know what members want
  • Help drive the business strategy—have strategic thinking across all disciplines
  • Forward thinker—ability to create the future
  • Teamwork—collaborate and involve other departments
  • Agility—keep an open mind and respond quickly
  • Business growth—have an ability to generate and grow profitable sales revenue

Rendel added the following list of items that REALLY impress the CEO:

  • Delivering the impossible
  • Leading change; being uncomfortable with comfortable
  • Aligning marketing with strategy
  • Leveraging digital and data for growth

Impressing your CEO is not about designing a really cool looking brochure or newsletter. It’s about thinking strategically, focusing on the member and delivering results.

Setting Up Listening Posts For Your Marketing

Setting Up Listening Posts For Your Marketing

“Can you hear me now?” is a question made popular by Verizon several years ago. Now their competitor Sprint is making fun of and using Verizon’s former spokesperson in a new marketing campaign.

But are you hearing what consumers are saying about your credit union or bank’s marketing? In his book Content, Inc., author Joe Puluzzi says, “Listening posts are all about getting as much feedback from a variety of sources as possible so you can find the truth.” Marketing is not just about sending. It’s about receiving. It’s about listening.

Want to improve your marketing’s effectiveness? Then try listening more to consumers.

Here are three ways to setup listing posts when it comes to your marketing:

  • Surveys—Ask your members or customers what they really think about you. They’ll tell you. But watch “bland” and “boring” questions. When helping our clients develop their brand plans, we often survey consumers to get a feel for how they truly perceive their financial institution. One of our favorite questions to ask is, “If ABC Credit Union or Bank were a car, what type of car would it be?” That is a more emotional question and elicits deeper level insights into how they really perceive you.
  • Conversations—One of the absolute best ways to discover what people think about your marketing is simply to talk with them. Sometimes the higher we move up the organizational chart the farther away we get from the consumers we serve. So when I was an executive at a financial institution I would routinely visit the branches and just chat with people who were coming in. Ask them what they think about your website, whey they bank with you and what matters to them in financial services. It’s amazing the insights you can learn from a short five-minute conversation.
  • Social media—Are your people saying anything about you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social channels? Granted, many folks use social media to vent their anger. However, reviewing your Facebook account to see likes, comments, complaints, etc. offers a trove of information. Do people love you, hate you or even worse are they indifferent about you? Remember, social media is “social.” If you are only using social media to distribute information you are missing an opportunity.

And what happens if after you establish these listening posts you hear absolutely nothing? Crickets. Silence. That actually tells you quite a bit as well. It tells you no one is hearing your marketing messages. Probably because it is too boring. Remember, no one talks about a boring business.

And no one succeeds with their marketing unless they are listening.

Note: This article originally ran October 4, 2016.

Training and Brand: When Your Employee Training Misses Its Mark

Training and Brand: When Your Employee Training Misses Its Mark

Increasingly, banks and credit unions recognize the importance of regular and deeper-level consumer engagement training for their employees. And rightly so – as competition in financial products and services only deepens, banks and credit unions that thrive are those which focus to a greater extent on keeping their employees highly-trained and in-tune with their brands. Brand training is critical.

However, banks and credit unions sometimes miss the mark when it comes to their employee training format. All too often, they focus employee training programs on specifically how employees should do their jobs while glossing over the vitally important element why employees should do their jobs.

Generally, training to the how of a job is relatively simple. You train to a task (such as teller drawer procedures, compliance paperwork, lending documentation, etc.) over and over to such an extent that it becomes second nature to the employee. This isn’t a bad thing. Obviously, to be successful, employees must know how to do their jobs. However, when it comes to differentiating from the competition and establishing strong brand propositions, banks and credit unions must also teach your employees why they are doing their jobs. Many people can balance a drawer or process loans. What can your bank or credit union do that they can’t? The why answers this question.

The why goes directly back to brand. Why does the teller balance his drawer? Why does the compliance officer review countless documents? Why does the loan specialist meticulously collect information as part of the decision process? The surface-level answer goes directly back to the how of job performance. But the deeper consumer engagement level answer speaks to the why of job performance and brand building.

Training employees why they do their job (as it relates to the brand) gives them a much deeper knowledge and understanding about the importance of their role inside the credit union, regardless of position. It also grows their confidence and empowers them in their positions to make decisions, interact with consumers and grow the brand organically via authentic consumer interactions.

Learning how to do a job is important. A farmer wouldn’t be very successful if he didn’t know, for example, at what depth to plant certain kinds of seeds. However, a deeper level learning as to why you do a job is even more important. The same farmer carries the knowledge that he is feeding his family, the larger community and maybe even the world. The same applies for your bank or credit union. How is good, but why is better. And the why is your brand.

Note: This post originally ran September 1, 2016.

Budget Priorities for 2018

Budget Priorities for 2018

Fall is a love/hate relationship for credit union and banking marketers. Love football season—hate budget season. Love falling leaves—hate falling budgets. Love cool temperatures—hate hot budget conversations.

Yes, it is indeed budget season in many credit unions and banks. A time for heated discussion on the financial instruction’s bottom line. Forget strategic planning—the true strategic priorities are often determined in the budget season and not the planning season. This is when you decide if you have the resolve (budget) to meet those strategic objectives you’ve set.

There are a number of items your credit union or bank should consider as you carefully make your 2018 plans.

Here are a few:

  • Your marketing audit—We audit everything in the financial services industry. But one area that is sometimes skipped in auditing is marketing. A marketing audit will review all your pieces for consistency while also giving you strategic and tactical ideas. As one of our clients said recently of the marketing audit, “It gave us great feedback on where we need to focus our energies to grow better and serve our members. Having a fresh set of eyes on all your materials is a great way to better your brand.” Don’t let 2018 pass you by without reviewing your marketing.
  • Your journey map—What is it like for someone to do business with your financial institution? Have you actually taken the time to map both the process and the experience? And then have you trained your employees to that experience? In other words, you need to operationalize your brand. Engagement training impacts the bottom line so significantly that many institutions are replacing sales & service training with engagement training. Don’t let 2018 pass you by without investing in your journey.
  • Your digital efforts—Traditional marketing is not just changing; it HAS changed. Direct mail, billboards, TV, radio and even statement inserts are all going the way of the dinosaur. In a recent conversation I had with James Robert Lay, the CEO of the Digital Growth Institute, he noted that about 35% of all your marketing budget at a credit union or bank should be devoted to digital marketing. Don’t let 2018 pass you by without increasing your digital marketing spend.
  • Your brand—Branding touches everything. As Ray Davis, former CEO of Umpqua Bank said in Leading for Growth, “If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know your brand is just about the most valuable marketing asset you’ve got.” If your brand truly is your most valuable asset, then how are you investing in that asset? Two practical steps you can take include developing a brand plan and conducting brand training for your employees. Don’t let 2018 pass you by without leading your brand.

Your budget conveys your priorities. You will notice a theme for 2018: your priorities should include your marketing, your experience, your technology and your brand. If you spend your dollars in those areas, you will reap the return.

Your Brand: Like It, Love It, Want Some More of It?

Your Brand: Like It, Love It, Want Some More of It?

If you’re a country music fan, you might recall the 1995 Tim McGraw hit “I like It, I Love It.” The repeated refrain goes on to say “… but I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.” How does this apply to your brand? In many ways.

If your consumers like your brand, that’s a good thing. For a start. If consumers like your brand, there’s a pretty good chance they might come back again.

If your consumers love your brand, that’s even better. But you’re just getting the engine started. If consumers love your brand, there’s a pretty good chance they will not only come back to you again but also choose you over your many competitors.

If your consumers want some more of your brand, you’ve struck branding gold. If consumers want some more of your brand, they’re much more likely to be thoroughly dedicated to it, saturated with its messages and prone to spreading the good word about it to their friends and family. This is the pinnacle for which your brand should aspire.

And that’s really where you want your brand to be. Liking it is a good thing. But simply liking something is ephemeral, fleeting and shallow. Loving it is better but still not deep enough. To establish a firm brand hold on your consumers, you must devote the time, energy and resources to move the needle to “want some more of it.”