Strategy Means Pruning

Strategy Means Pruning

When it comes to your marketing, we’ve written about cutting the copy. For your strategy, however, you need to cut the priorities. In most planning sessions credit unions and banks add tasks, strategic initiatives, timelines, and tons of data.

How often do we actually cut things in our strategic planning sessions? Probably not enough. The reality is, true strategy means pruning.

Try answering this question at your next management team or board meeting, “What do we want to be the best at?” As noted in the Myth of Excellence, you can’t be great at everything. So stop trying. You have to choose your priorities. And that requires a great deal of strategic pruning.

Here are some tips when it comes to those strategic trim downs:

  • Prune, prune and prune some more until you get down to three or four strategic initiatives (with three being ideal).
  • When you cut don’t cheat: don’t combine two priorities into one or don’t put a bunch of sub priorities under one larger heading.
  • Cut to the core essence and priorities you are currently facing.
  • Communicate your priorities to your staff (don’t let them become overburdened with an overwhelming plan).

Some examples of what your credit union or bank could prune down to include a certain product (make acquiring car loans or checking accounts your top priority). Or maybe your focus is your people (knowing that if you invest in developing your people, you’ll get great results). Perhaps it’s teaching your employees how to engage with rather than sell to consumers.

The point is to determine that one thing that if you could only accomplish it during the next planning cycle, everything else would fall into place (a concept from the book The One Thing; a great read, by the way).

The most successful organizations focus. They prune. So rather than ask, “what are we going to put into our strategic plan this year?” ask “what are we going to remove from our strategic plan?”

You Don’t Own Your Brand Story

You Don’t Own Your Brand Story

While you may think you get to decide if your bank or credit union brand story/identity is authentic and meaningful, quite the opposite is true. Here’s the potentially painful revelation — the final arbiter of your brand identity (and its authenticity) is completely in the hands and voices of your consumers.

Maybe you really push the brand story that you are noble (for example your bank or credit union’s community activism or charitable donations). Or perhaps you’ve gone the accessibility route, really hyping your brick-and-mortar and digital access points. Or, like many banks and credit unions, you push the tried-and-true (but also boring and vulnerable) “we are the friendliest in town” mantra.

Regardless of your brand story, what you say must be what you present. There are plenty of brand standard guideline documents out there not worth the paper on which they are printed because they just don’t truthfully reflect consumer’s actual experience with your bank or credit union. Maybe you do a lot with the community but just don’t promote it and consumers don’t see it. Maybe you launched an app last year thinking that was an achieved goal only to find your competition launching new and updated apps that are a heck of a lot better than yours. Or maybe, as is too often the case, you preach about friendliness yet the staff your consumers encounter are anything but.

Since your consumers are the ones you desire to fully embrace your brand, you simply must relate a brand story that is authentic and that with which they can emotionally and mentally connect.

The only way to figure this out is by deep-diving into your bank or credit union corporate culture to find out two things:

1) What you do well and 2) What your consumers expect.

The intersection of these two things is your brand sweet spot. Anything outside that runs the risk of inauthenticity and rejection by your target audiences

The lesson here, the how-two, is simply living a brand that is authentic to who you are as a bank or credit union. One terrific example of this is UniWyo FCU based in Laramie, Wyoming. Fully embracing the wide-open Western heritage of their location and membership, the credit union adopted a brand of “Live Life Boldly” and does so on a daily basis. Terrific examples of this can be found in their many video posts.

Since it’s the consumer that ultimately owns your brand, not you, do the best you can to nurture and sustain it by living a brand that is both unique and authentic to your cultural identity.

Strategy Takes Initiative

Strategy Takes Initiative

As we close the books on 2016 and enter the New Year, strategy is probably top of mind for most financial institutions. Credit unions and banks are either reviewing plans they made in the Fall for 2017 or they are busy preparing for a first-half of the year strategic planning session.

Plans, however, will remain just that—plans. Unless you are intentional. Goals are not accomplished by osmosis.

Strategy is no different than those of us that are embarking on diets, starting to exercise or eating healthier as part of our New Year’s Resolutions. All the good intentions we have will only last a few weeks (if not just days) unless we intentionally commit to achieve our goals.

So what can you do to take initiative with your strategy? Here are four ideas:

  • Review your plan regularly—All too often once the strategic plan is written and documented we put it on a shelf and never look at it until the next planning cycle or until the examiners show up in the office. How often should you review your plan? At least a monthly deep dive with the executive management team. Successful C-Suite executives review their top line strategic objectives weekly or even daily (to help them make sure their financial institution is focused on the right things).
  • Share your plan with your staff—No matter what your strategic goals are, you’re not the one who is going to accomplish and implement them. Your staff is. Everyone—including the tellers and front-line staff—should know what your bank or credit union’s strategy is. Share the love. Help them see the connection between their day to day job duties and your organization’s goals. You can share the plan in an all-staff function, in department meetings, via e-mail, with one-page summaries, in person, one-on-one, or group settings. Just make sure everyone knows what you are trying to accomplish (and why).
  • Update your plan as necessary—There is no such thing as the perfect strategic plan. All plans will need adjustments as you go through the calendar year. One tip is to schedule an actual mid-year update planning session where you go line item by line item, updating any issue that needs it. Maybe an unforeseen expense arises, perhaps the economy tanks, or you lose/gain a key employee. You can’t predict the future but you can adjust to changing trends in the marketplace.
  • Get outside accountability with your plan—One thing we offer our strategic planning clients is six months worth of support provided after the session. Why? Because much of successful implementation involves accountability and help. These can take the form of regular phone calls, on-site updates, webex, etc. You don’t have to use your facilitator for accountability. You could even partner with another financial institution in another part of the country, sharing each other’s plans and giving regular updates on their progress (good and bad).

As we tell all our clients, strategic planning is a process, not a date on the calendar. And part of that process includes taking initiative with those plans and not just putting your planning document in a binder.

Four Strategic Planning Myths

Four Strategic Planning Myths

In a recent post we talked about Four Branding Myths. While we referenced Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and Elvis, we also “myth busted” a few common assumptions when it comes to branding.

The same holds true for strategic planning. There are many myths, half-truths and false assumptions when it comes doing strategic planning. It’s critical that executives don’t fall for these planning folk tales.

And just like the Myth Busters had to set us straight about whether or not wind alone can blow the feathers off a chicken, it’s time to bust a few myths when it comes to strategic planning.

Here are four strategic planning myths:

  • Strategic planning is a date on a calendar—When asked “when do you do strategic planning” the answer should be “always.” There are times of the year when you are more focused on long-term issues. However, successful credit unions and banks do planning all year long. The reality is strategic planning is a process, not a date on the calendar.
  • Strategic planning is something we can do ourselves—When I was an executive at a large financial institution there were years when we would do strategic planning internally and not use an outside facilitator. Even though we had a seasoned executive team, the sessions we used an external facilitator were a million times better than when we didn’t. There is just something magical about having an outsider guide your discussions. The reality is strategic planning requires outside help.
  • Strategic planning is about numbers—If you are spending more than 30 minutes reviewing your financial performance as part of your planning process, then you are diving way too much into analysis than strategy. As Ray Davis, author of Leading For Growth and CEO of Umpqua Bank says, “You cannot grow your business if all you are doing is worrying about the numbers.” The reality is strategic planning is not a review of your financial statements.
  • Strategic planning is just a SWOT exercise—The classic “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats” exercise is THE most overused tool when conducting strategic planning. In fact, we encourage our clients to throw out the SWOT. Use other tools such as our trademarked Five Star Credit Union Analysis, the Myth of Excellence or anything that is fresh and new. The reality is strategic planning is boring unless you bring new tools to the process.

Obviously, there are key aspects to strategic planning that are set dates, that you do yourself, that involve numbers and that look at your SWOT. However, to believe those steps or those parts are the keys to strategic planning is to believe in a strategic planning myth.

Just Having a Different Brand Isn’t Enough

Just Having a Different Brand Isn’t Enough

Society, and the advertising industry which feeds it, is increasingly obsessed with the notion of being different. And while there’s nothing wrong with a diversity of appearance and ideas, simply being different for the sake of being different isn’t enough to drive a successful bank or credit union brand.

There are many ways in which a financial institution can try to be “different” in its brand. You can go for a quirky name, fun corporate culture or dive hog-wild into community events. Then again, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things (as long as they are true to your unique bank or credit union culture) simply doing those things to be different isn’t enough. More important than mere differentiation is consumer buy-in. In other words, your members or customers must actually care about who you are. Following the tried-and-true consumer formula, most are concerned with “what’s in it for me?” and whether or not your bank or credit union aligns with their personal values.

Merely being “different” is not enough to solicit this deeper emotional idea of consumer care. For example, in the 1980s Coca-Cola launched a new flavor that famously flopped. Life Savers flirted with a soda (and tanked miserably). One of the stranger examples comes from Clairol’s late 1970s combination of yogurt and shampoo (consumers rejected this in droves). Turns out, just being different isn’t necessarily a golden ticket to brand success.

In order to establish genuine differentiation and consumer connections, your bank or credit union must establish a brand and value proposition that resonates internally and externally. This effective technique is not something you develop in a thirty-minute meeting. It requires the input of your leadership team, employees, current consumers and potential consumers. Typically, successful brand and value propositions employ the help of an outsider’s perspective.

Being different is fine. If every brand looked and acted the same way, consumers would have little reason to choose one way or the other. But just being different for the sake of being different is also boring (and potentially financially detrimental). To avoid fading-out in all the white noise blasting consumers, you must go for the genuine one-on-one brand experience that only a narrowly-focused game plan offers.

One-on-One Brand Experience Focus

One-on-One Brand Experience Focus

If you’re like a lot of people, as a kid you spent time playing pickup one-on-one neighborhood basketball games. When you didn’t have enough kids for two full teams and you’re shooting on one basket (as was usually the case) this was the way to play.

Think about your focus in those games. You were solely keyed-in on your opponent. It wasn’t as if you were one player against many. In this one-on-one experience, you were able to channel your energies into (and against) one other person. This laser-focus was a key driver in whether or not you won the game.

The same thing applies to consumer brand experience. Bank and credit union professionals (especially marketers) tend to think about their brand touch as it applies to mass groups. For example, “how many people viewed this video?” or “how many direct mail pieces did we send last month?”

While it is important to expose as many people as possible to your brand, you must learn to do so with focus. No one bank or credit union can be all things to all people, and none should try. That’s a recipe for disaster. Digging deeper into your consumer field, finding out who these people are and then comparing that to your product and service offerings allows for a deeper brand experience focus.

Brand is also best expressed on an individual level. It’s great if 10,000 people liked your Facebook post, but it’s even better if a smaller number are exposed to a genuine and authentic brand experience sitting across the desk from one of your employees. Similar to the basketball game mentioned above, these one-on-one interactions are typically those which consumers recall and share with family and friends – all good news for your brand.

It almost seems antithetical, but your brand is better empowered by thinking in terms of smaller group exposure rather than traditional mass-marketing terminology. In other words, thousands of direct mail postcards, while perhaps offering a cursory glance to more consumers, aren’t worth as much as a smaller number of deeper interactions across desks, and lobbies and community events when your staff interacts with consumers and shares your authentic brand message.

Using Video to Attract Consumers

Using Video to Attract Consumers

The importance of using online video in your digital marketing portfolio will only continue to grow. Increasingly, banks and credit unions invest more money every year in using video to attract new consumers and retain existing ones.

While it is now obvious that consumers are drawn to video content online, you must remain aware of exactly the kind of video for which they look. Simply slapping something in front of the camera will not necessarily do the trick. According to a recent study from Accenture Interactive, there are caveats to consumer video affinity.

  • You must use innovative video technology and strategies. Is your video content optimized for both traditional computer screens and mobile devices (smart phones and tablets)? Are you simply posting videos to your website, or are you concurrently running them on social media platforms where your consumers are likely to congregate? Golden 1 Credit Union recently utilized a compelling video strategy in a sneak-peek of the opening of the Golden 1 Center.
  • You must support a cause in which consumers believe. More and more, consumers (especially Millennials) are drawn to brands to support causes in which they believe. Do your videos clearly show your bank or credit union involved in local community events?
  • You must provide humor. Yes, humor is tough. However, the financial institution that can pull off genuine and authentic humor in its video strategy is a step ahead in the game. For example, check out this Pinterest page.
  • You must provide visually appealing video content. Your video content must also catch the eye. You simply can’t get away with two people talking in front of a white background anymore. Your video, in order to catch the consumer’s eye, must offer deeper and richer visuals to compel attention. GTE Financial accomplishes this in their “Magic Minute Dash” video.

You spend time and money on your financial institution videos. It makes sense that you fine-tune them for success. Using innovative strategies, supporting causes, employing humor and presenting visually appealing content are keys to making this happen.

Brand is Storytelling, Not More Ad Clutter

Brand is Storytelling, Not More Ad Clutter

Your bank or credit union brand does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it scrambles to survive amongst a cacophony of other voices vying for consumer attention, from other banks and credit unions to non-traditional new players in the financial marketplace.

The most powerful way for your financial institution can stand out amongst this crowd comes in creating a powerful brand. That brand, however, is driven not by massive amounts of direct mail postcards, online videos, social media posts or billboards. It is primarily driven by the story it tells and whether or not that story resonates with consumers.

In other words, generating more ad clutter does not equate to brand equity. Relatable storytelling does a much better job creating that.

The easiest way to tell your brand story is by listening to consumers. Seek out your happiest customers or members and ask them why they are pleased. While personal interviews generate terrific information, you can also try to accomplish this with online surveys. However, in order to capture the most authentic stories, you must be able to attribute them to members/consumers by name and (hopefully) with a photo of an actual person. Brand storytelling demands real names and real pictures, not generic aliases and stock photography. Depending on the size of your market, the people that see and hear these testimonials will likely recognize the people giving them, which lends further credence to your brand storytelling efforts.

Additionally, everyone at your bank or credit union must be on-board when it comes to brand storytelling. This responsibility does not fall solely to your marketing department. Your board and executive team must be on the hunt for authentic consumer stories. Your employees (particularly front-line staff) must also engage with consumers and ask the kinds of questions that elicit brand-fan stories. Certainly your marketing team must be efficient in telling the stories so that your consumers perceive them as authentic and compelling. In 2015, Gesa Credit Union did a terrific job with a member testimonial/storytelling campaign in their “My Gesa Story” initiative.

Think about how stuffed your mailbox (both digital and physical) gets every week with flyers and ads. Most of these go straight to the trash. The last thing your bank or credit union needs is another pile of useless advertising clutter that is simply flushing money down the drain. Compelling financial institution brands are built on storytelling, not marketing debris.

Four Branding Myths

Four Branding Myths

There are many myths in our midst today. Bigfoot is roaming the Pacific Northwest. The Loch Ness Monster is swimming in Scotland. Elvis is still alive and eating donuts in a coffee shop. While those are somewhat innocent or goofy folk tales, there are serious myths when it comes to branding.

And just like the Myth Busters had to set us straight when it came to what duct tape can actually do it’s time to bust a few myths when it comes to branding.

Here are four branding myths:

  • Branding is visual—When most people think of branding they think of logos, colors and pretty printed materials. While all that is well and good, those should be the last steps in a branding effort. Research and strategy are far more important when you are studying ways to improve your communication efforts with consumers.
  • Branding is external—When you embark upon a branding or rebranding effort much time is spent on your target niches. While that is certainly critical to your success, it’s important that you begin with an internal look. What is your vision? What are your core values? Why do you exist as an organization? Branding requires you spend a great deal of time looking inward.
  • Branding is a one-time project—As Tom Asaker, author of A Clear Eye for Branding, says,“There is no such thing as a branding ‘project.’ Branding is an ongoing process of renewal.” To some degree you will always be doing branding at your credit union or bank. In fact, the most successful brands today (think Apple, Amazon and Starbucks) promote and focus on their brand much more than their products.
  • Branding is marketing’s responsibility—Let’s make this clear: everyone has a role to play in branding. In our trademarked branding process, we say executives and managers lead your brand, employees live your brand and consumers love your brand. If you don’t spend a ton of time with your staff on brand training, your branding efforts are destined for failure.

Obviously, there are key aspects to branding that are visual, that are external, that are one-time efforts and that mostly involve marketing. However, to believe those steps or those parts are the keys to branding is to believe in a branding myth.

Focus On Audience And Not Competition

Focus On Audience And Not Competition

Focus On Audience Not Competition banks credit unions

Focus On Your Audience, Not The Competition

In the financial services industry we can obsess over our competition. What is Jones National Bank doing in the community? Have you tried the mobile app from Big National Bank Brand? How is ABC Credit Union opening so many new accounts?

While it’s important to maintain a healthy eye on your rivals, when it comes to branding your credit union or bank you should focus your efforts on your audiences and not your competition. Why? Because branding is often more about internal aspects than external factors.

One of the main internal components of your brand plan is your audience (and note, we’re not using the term “target” because that implies you are going to shoot your targets (no one wants to be a target audience).

Here are three ways to make sure you maintain your focus on the consumers and not the competition:

  • Study your consumers—You can’t reach those you don’t know. So learn as much about your potential niche groups as possible. For example, many financial institutions want to get younger so one of their target audiences is “the Millennial Generation.” But as we noted in this post, that is way too broad and vague; there are several sub-groups of the Millinnials (like HENRYs, Millennial Moms, DINKs, etc.).

  • Develop a brand plan—Every financial institution needs a brand plan, a document that details its vision and its messaging. One of the brand plan’s key components is a list and description of whom your financial institution is trying to reach. You cannot be all things to all people. So stop trying. Determine which consumers you want to focus your branding and marketing efforts.
  • Train your staff—Once you have your key consumers identified, then you can provide specific training to your employees on how best to connect with those key consumer groups. For example, we’ve conducted generational training for some of our clients. This instruction helps employees learn how to talk with consumers that are different from them.

Please note I’m not saying the competition doesn’t matter—it does. As you develop your brand you certainly want to create one that is unique and different in the marketplace. Of course, the only way to do that is to make sure you don’t replicate what others are doing.

However, the best brands worry far more about the consumers than the competition.