By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
My family recently took a road trip spanning several thousand miles. With spotty cell coverage for much of the drive, I had a lot of time to look at billboards – how they are used, what they promote and what goal they are trying to achieve. If you work for the many financial institutions that struggle with whether or not to spend money on billboards, or with what message to advertise, these observations may help you clarify your decision.
The majority of billboard advertising fell into one of three categories. They were either promoting brand awareness, promoting a restaurant/entertainment venue at a specific exit or displaying a public service message (i.e. save water, go to church, don’t start forest fires, etc.). These are the only three objectives financial institutions should consider when incorporating billboards into their marketing plan. I saw a lot of billboards across 2,000 miles, and I don’t recall seeing one billboard promoting a specific product or rate. What differentiates your brand from others? That’s what you want on your billboard. A good example is this image of a McDonald’s billboard differentiating itself from expensive coffee places.
Less is more
The most effective billboards had very little copy. Sometimes it was as simple as “food” or “clean bathrooms” with a logo and an exit number. You have about eight seconds to grab someone’s attention with a billboard. Keep the message brief. A good rule of thumb is to use a business card as your guide. If it doesn’t fit on a business card without you having to squint, your message may be too long for a billboard. Six to eight words is your maximum. If you can’t do this, billboards are not for you. See examples here.
This is where many businesses struggle – especially credit unions with field of membership boundaries. Billboard owners will give you statistics on who drives the roads where their billboards are located, but much of it is subjective. How many drive that route every day? What is their gender and how much money do they make? Sometimes billboard demographics are a gamble. You also have to consider the type of road it is. I was traveling on interstate highways where exits were often few and far between. The billboards were targeting long distance drivers. A local highway where people most likely travel the same route every day might be a better choice for your financial institution.
Billboard advertising can be pricey and often involves a long-term commitment. If you are trying to capture the attention of an entire community, sometimes sponsoring festivals or other community events where your employees can speak one-on-one with potential customers and members is a more effective use of your marketing dollars. It comes down to your anticipated ROI based on how much money you plan to spend during a specific time frame and how many people you expect to reach.
Every credit union or bank wants a strong brand. And branding is often an initiative on many strategic plans. However, wanting a strong band and actually having a strong brand are two completely different things.
So how do you know if you have a strong brand? You can give it a “Three E” test. On a scale of one (low) to five (high), grade your financial institution in the following areas:
- Emotion—According to a recent survey from Customer Thermometer, 64% of women and 68% of men have felt an emotional connection with a brand or business. The survey noted, “…it pays to develop an emotional bond.” So how do you do that with a checking account or a loan? You don’t. You need to make sure your brand is not about your products or services, but rather about how the consumer feels when doing business with you. The more emotion you inspire in consumers, the stronger brand you have.
- Engagement—The financial services industry is a relationship-based business. As a recent CU Times article noted, “Is your staff developing personal relationships with members? Do your members know you care?” Your employees need to stop selling and start connecting. If they engage with consumers, the sales will come (in fact, we have found that engagement training is much more effective than traditional sales and service training for our clients). The more you engage with consumers, the stronger brand you have.
- Experience—A great article from The Financial Brand recently spotlighted Solarity Credit Union and how they are competing primarily on experience. The credit union wanted to be the number one experience provider in financial services nationwide and were recently recognized as just that. The credit union developed an entire CX strategy, changed their hiring & training practices, used experience as their guiding strategic principle and created feedback loops among other proactive steps. They just didn’t talk about experience, they created and delivered it. The more you give consumers a differentiated experience, the stronger brand you have.
Giving your credit union or bank the “Three E” test is the easy part. The challenging part is taking the steps necessary to build a successful brand around emotion, engagement and experience.
Lafayette Schools Credit Union is a financial institution with big priorities. The credit union has experienced the value of training its employees, and it continues to invest significantly in growing its employees into leaders.
“I think about the mid managers who report directly to me, and I see growth” said Connie Roy, CEO of Lafayette Schools Credit Union. “They seem encouraged, and they’re learning to lean on other leaders in the credit union who have similar issues.”
That wasn’t always the culture at LSCU. Like most financial institutions, LSCU hired more people as the credit union grew. However, as the number of employees increased, the level of cohesiveness across the organization declined. So did the level of service.
No financial institution can afford to deliver unsatisfactory service – especially one heavily impacted by the bust of the oil and gas industry not that long ago. On The Mark Strategies helped LSCU management craft a customized member engagement program which defines specific service standards and staff expectations.
“We hire young people all the time and they don’t know what good service looks like,” said Roy. “With Mark’s help, we’ve come together as an organization and the expectations are crystal clear. This is who we are. This is who we serve. We broke it down, and they are getting it. They are really, getting it.”
That was the beginning of an entirely new way of doing business. LSCU learned to invest more in employee development, including regular leadership training.
“We’ve decided that we’re done with hiring,” said Roy. “It just wasn’t working. We’re 55 employees now. We have determined that we want to grow our own leaders. Leadership all trickles down and it’s working. Leadership skills have been enhanced and they’ve been made top of mind.”
The credit union chose a customized leadership training approach through On the Mark Strategies.
“I love the way we can customize our training,” said Roy. “It centers around our needs. It’s not just a cookie-cutter PowerPoint presentation. Bringing these mid managers together has been really beneficial. The way Mark presents it, they get it, and for him to bring it in house for us is a huge cost savings. I’m not having to send six or eight people out of town at a time.”
Roy is very pleased with the results of their investment. Managers are engaged with their staff, and they exemplify the behavior they expect of their employees. Member engagement is now a way of life at LSCU, and the credit union has the cohesiveness it was lacking.
“Our member engagement program has brought consistency at all locations which is what our goal has been all along,” said Roy.
When you launch a new brand at your bank or credit union, all the glitz and glamour of the kickoff party and initial training feels pretty good (especially if you’re a former marketer like me). I remember the feeling well.
I also well remember that the “new car smell” of the brand didn’t last for long. That’s not to say your brand still isn’t cool, vital and relevant after roll-out. Far from it. However, the real work in branding comes not so much before or during the launch but after the launch.
It’s in the days, weeks, months and years after the launch of a new brand that the real labor comes into play. As a brand leader at your bank or credit union, it is your responsibility to reinforce (and sometimes enforce) brand standards. This means you won’t always be the most popular person at your financial institution. During spot-checks for brand adherence at branches, I was regularly referred to as not-so-nice names by staff. I had to grow a thick skin and so will you.
Working as the brand enforcer, you’ll have to take a stand when it comes to sticking to what the brand represents. If you let little things (homemade marketing collateral, dress code violations, deviations from the consumer engagement plan, etc.) happen, your brand will slowly erode. It’s kind of like the loose string on a sweater we’ve all had. If you don’t snip that string and mend the ravel quickly, it can fall apart. The same principle applies to your brand.
Yes, you’re going to have to correct dress code no-no’s to the brand. Yes, you’re going to have to monitor that homemade brand collateral we all love/loathe so much. Yes, you’re going to have to listen to how your staff interacts with each other and your consumers in order to ensure brand standards are upheld.
Again, this won’t always make you the most popular person in your financial institution neighborhood. And that’s okay. Much like being a mom or dad, the goal of a brand enforcer is really not so much being a friend as it is being a parent/caregiver. And if you care about the brand your bank or credit union has labored to create and launch, you’ll do the right thing by it which sometimes means making unpopular but important decisions to protect it.
As financial institutions look to better-implement their brand footprint in the communities they serve, increasing importance is placed on community involvement. This isn’t old-school community involvement where you could get away with having a table or booth at an event with a couple of passive employees handing out flyers. Community involvement that works well in 2017 is defined much more by proactive, deeper-level meaningful interaction between bank or credit union staff and the populations they serve.
A terrific example of this comes from Denver Community Credit Union (Denver, CO; $315 million assets; 25,000 members). In its quest for community involvement, Denver Community focuses on a number of key areas including financial education and a heightened awareness of the brand.
“Since Denver Community implemented a financial education program in 2005, it has reached tens of thousands of people with the message of financial empowerment,” said Helen Gibson, VP of Marketing and Education. “In 2016, 2,395 people attended classes at the credit union, listened to podcasts, or participated in financial coaching.”
Denver Community invests in financial education as a differentiator in its market and sees a definite return on investment. “In 2016, 85 membership leads, 89 loan leads, and 224 additional products and services were gained that are directly tied to the work of our community relations coordinator,” Gibson added. “It is believed that many more members and products are gained through the branding activities of the coordinator, but they can be difficult to track due to confidentiality of participants in partner organizations.” In fact, the Denver Community program won an award in 2014 for its community impact from the Mountain West CU Foundation. This video details the program in-depth and shows the impact on members and the greater community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBz9qb6sOE0
However, Denver Community does more than financial education in its community. It also continues to evolve its staff training to include financial education. “In February 2017, our community relations coordinator presented an abridged version of our Money Makeover class for our staff,” Gibson noted. “Measured results indicate that in the time period before the class, staff opened on average 6.4 accounts every ten days. After the training, this boosted to an average of 10.0 accounts every ten days.”
“In addition, the types of accounts opened after the training directly tied to the content of the class,” Gibson elaborated. “This type of personal behavior change impacts member service because our staff understand how to guide members to deepen their relationship with the credit union and advance members’ financial futures.”
Denver Community involvement with its populace also reaches beyond financial education. “In 2014, Denver Community began a program with a non-profit partner advertising on Facebook,” Gibson said. “Denver Community pays the non-profit to boost a post that is co-branded, and the non-profit uses a portion of the payment for unrestricted income. Facebook statistics show that the non-profit gains likes and engagement from the carefully crafted post.”
Key Takeaways: The community involvement lessons here from Denver Community Credit Union are many. For example, the ability to quantify your community involvement is critical. Gibson offers a number of quantifiable metrics (number of class attendees, accounts opened before and after training, etc.). Staff education is also critical. Finally, creating partnerships on social media with complementary non-profit entities is also a solid example from which other financial institutions can learn.
Denver Community continues to expand its community involvement programs that give the credit union an ability to demonstrate clarity of message, consistency, and constancy within its target markets at an affordable price. This type of involvement is also invaluable when it comes to strength of brand, market and wallet share.
The words “lasting” and “Millennial Generation” don’t typically seem to go together. Most people’s false stereotypes of the Millennials include they are over-praised whiners, kids who jump from fad to fad, and a group that is more concerned about technology connection than personal interaction.
However, according to a recent e-book from Credit Union Student Choice, financial institutions can successfully connect and build relationships with Gen. Y. Offering more than just theory and a bunch of statistics most people already know, Millennials: How Credit Unions Can Build, Strengthen and Maintain Lasting Relationships provides practical tips and suggestions for reaching this key demographic. And at 38 pages in e-book format you can quickly review the pertinent points.
In all honesty, it is one of the best resources I’ve read in many years on a topic (reaching the Millennial Generation) near and dear to almost every financial institution. It has many answers to questions credit unions and banks are asking when it comes to reaching Gen. Y. Like, “who are these people,” “how do they really like to be treated,” and “what changes should financial institutions make to connect with them?”
One of the best aspects of the book is the practical tips and tactics it offers. For example, it is filled with case study after case study of credit unions that are successfully growing their Millennial Generation market. The book even ends with a step by step process for developing your own Millennial strategy.
Some of the key insights include:
- Not all Millennials are the same—The book notes that one of the obstacles is the age diversity of Generation Y. The oldest Millennials are already buying houses and raising kids. The book astutely notes that there are multiple sub-groups of Gen. Y, such as the HENRYs (highly educated, not rich yet).
- Milllennials like experiences—While the Millennial Generation loves their tech toys, they love experiences even more. Including experiences at your branches (yes, the book notes that 82% prefer brick and mortar stores).
- Millennials require a long-term student loan strategy—The middle section of the book goes into great detail about the student loan issue and how financial institutions must make a strategic decision regarding the issue: either help young people pursue their college dreams with student loans or face the challenge of not connecting with Millenials. The book even gives seven factors to consider before formulating your long-term strategy.
If you are serious about getting younger as a financial institution and reaching the Millennial Generation, then Millennials: How Credit Unions Can Build, Strengthen and Maintain Lasting Relationship is a must read. To request your copy of the book, simply click here.
Do a quick Google search for banks and credit unions in your hometown. Notice the signs for businesses as you drive to and from work that offer loans. Quickly you’ll notice that your financial institution is not the only choice for consumers in your marketplace.
Differentiation is key. Your bank or credit union must give consumers a reason to choose you over the competition. Otherwise, you risk slipping from a valued brand to just another commodity amongst a cacophony of other unremarkable choices.
When working with banks and credit unions on branding plans, one of the key questions we like to ask goes something like this: “What is the one thing that only your financial institution can provide to consumers?” This is also sometimes referred to as a value proposition.
When answered honestly, it’s is a difficult and soul-searching exercise. I say “honestly” because too many financial institution executives tend to default to the all-to-easy “it’s our people” or “it’s our service” answers. While you probably do have terrific employees and a great selection of services, guess what? Every other financial services provider in your marketplace is saying the same thing. Friendly employees and product/service selection are no longer valid marketplace differentiators. They cannot support a brand, let alone make it different/valuable enough for consumers to choose you.
Think about that for a moment. What is your bank’s or credit union’s “one thing?” What is the singular element that, due to your unique cultural/retail DNA, only you can provide consumers? And how much harder is it to answer once you take the fallback “people and service” option off the table?
If the answer doesn’t come to you immediately, your brand needs fine-tuning. If you, as a leader of your financial institution, can’t quickly describe the one thing you do best, how can you expect your employees to do the same in front of consumers? More importantly, how can you expect consumers to know and, in turn, come to you instead of one of your competitors?
What is your “one thing?” If you don’t know, it’s time to do some serious thinking.
Plenty of banks and credit unions participate in some sort of mystery shop process. However, we’re talking about a different kind of mystery shop — a brand mystery shop that focuses much more on your unique brand culture and how well it is (or is not) lived by your employees in front of every consumer, every day.
Why should your bank or credit union conduct a brand mystery shop as part of a larger marketing audit process?
- To tell you more about your competition. Typically as part of a marketing audit, we mystery shop not only the bank or credit union client but also competitors identified as important in the marketplace. By mystery shopping your competition, you gather invaluable business intelligence regarding their approaches to consumer engagement, which you can then compare and contrast to the results from your own internal mystery shops.
- To see what happens to your brand when you’re not looking. Remember how wild kids in class went when a substitute teacher showed up? And how well-behaved they (hopefully) became when the regular teacher returned the next day? The same sort of dynamic applies here. When a bank or credit union president/VP or manager is in the room, you can expect staff to (typically) more actively and enthusiastically live the brand. However, how they behave (both with each other and with your consumers) when there isn’t a constant management presence is important. A mystery shop will let you know if your staff is living the brand without management oversight.
- To shine light on things you might not notice. Because you spend so many hours a day in your office (or branches) it’s easy, over time, to stop seeing little things that matter in branding. And you must remember — everything matters in branding. A good mystery shop experience with a granular focus can illuminate things that, due to the grind of daily work, you might miss. Examples include outdated marketing collateral, violations of dress code, extended consumer wait times and other unpleasant surprises. A mystery shop might even let you know, as has happened several times during our mystery shops, that the background radio station you pipe into your lobbies also regularly plays commercials from your competition. Not a good thing.
The mystery shop element of a marketing audit will give your bank or credit union many things, both positive and negative, to consider. In order to maintain/improve your brand and safeguard market share, you must be willing to hear both. An honest mystery shop does that for you.
In banks and credit unions, we tend to spend a lot of time talking about what the brand says about us (our financial institution). This is certainly important as the brand must be an accurate reflection of your unique retail culture and environment.
However, a critically important element of the brand mix is sometimes overlooked. What exactly does your brand say about your consumers? What does your brand (in its entirety) say about the men and women who choose your bank or credit union as their financial institution? What does this say to them about themselves and, just as importantly, what does this say about them to their extended circle of friends, family and colleagues?
Consumers choose to do business with a particular brand for a reason. Sometimes it’s price (think Southwest Airlines). Sometimes it’s ease of access (think Amazon). Sometimes it’s experience (think Disney). Often, it is a combination of these (and other) elements. So when creating and living your financial institution’s brand, you must consider what that choice represents about your consumers. Are they choosing you because you have the fastest loan turnaround decision time in town? Because you offer the most branches and/or the best online access? Or do they prefer you over the competition because of the unique cultural environment offered by your brand?
For example, you can certainly buy a cheaper motorcycle than a Harley-Davidson. Yet millions of Harley fanatics wouldn’t ride anything else. They’re not buying a motorcycle nearly as much as they are buying a lifestyle. The same thing applies to retail shopping. You have your Walmart people and your Target people. Each choice says something about what is important to a particular consumer. The same principle applies to your consumers. Does your brand accurately reflect the reason they choose you over the competition? If not, you are in danger of drifting into brand disconnect waters, which represents serious trouble for your brand.
Successful brands are authentic. Successful brands represent something accurately. Successful brands also speak about the lifestyle preferences of those who choose them. What does your bank or credit union brand say about consumers that choose you?
Bank and credit union training programs tend to spend a lot of time talking about the introduction between a consumer and a staff member. This makes sense, as first impressions are vital. However, the way a staff member concludes the consumer interaction is just as important. After all, this is a critical marketing touch-point and potentially the last thing the consumer will hear from his or her financial institution.
One of the more famous retail closing statements comes from Chick-fil-A. As part of their branded experience, every employee is trained to use the phrase “my pleasure” whenever a customer says “thank you” or otherwise expresses a need or desire. This phrase has become such a ubiquitous part of the Chick-fil-A culture that some customers, so used to hearing “my pleasure,” will actually ask an employee “aren’t you supposed to say something now?” if that employee fails to follow the brand script.
Banks and credit unions should pay similar amounts of attention to the closing statements used by their staff when interacting with consumers. Financial institutions primed for success typically map out the consumer interaction process, complete with scripting to guide employees through both the verbal and nonverbal interaction that comes with every consumer encounter.
A terrific example of this comes from Heart of Louisiana Credit Union. At the end of every member interaction, in person, on the phone or via digital communication, every staff member says “thank you for being a part of the heart.” Similar to Chick-fil-A, this statement has become such an important part of the credit union’s brand culture that members now expect to hear it. This is branding gold.
Of course, as with the other elements of your consumer interaction experience, the closing statement must be authentic to who you are. In the case of Heart of Louisiana Credit Union, the statement goes extremely well with their branded culture (and name). By taking a brand-perspective look at your financial institution, as well as its consumers, you can also develop a closing statement that deepens the consumer relationship and increases brand awareness (which is really just a fancy way of saying enhancing consumer top of mind awareness about your bank or credit union).