How to Focus Your Strategic Plan

How to Focus Your Strategic Plan

In his book Launch, author Jeff Walker says, “Your most scarce resource is focus.” When it comes to strategic planning, you often examine your resources. Do we have enough staff, time or budget to complete a certain strategic initiative? Those are typical resource questions.

But before examining those issues, maybe you should examine a broader challenge: how focused is your strategic plan? In a recent post, we examined Four Ways To Avoid the Strategic Plan Drift. One of those tips was to focus your plan.

So if focus is a resource, how do you accomplish that key task with your strategic plan? Here are four ways:

  • Limit your strategic initiatives—Do not walk out of your strategic planning session with a giant “To Do” list of 10, 20 or 30 things. Ideally, you should have somewhere between three and four major strategies you are trying to implement in the coming months and years. Too many strategies results in no strategy and a lack of focus.
  • Have hard conversations—Spend time in your session talking about the “elephant in the room” issues. Don’t hold back. Raise the hard subjects. Examples might include mergers, an underperforming branch or department, a lack of a brand, leadership shortcomings, etc. Every credit union or bank has “issues.” If you don’t talk about the real issues affecting your growth then you will have a lack of focus.
  • Set action plans, deadlines & budgets—My bachelor’s degree is in journalism. So I have deadlines drilled into me. Are deadlines drilled into your strategic plan? Rather than having vague ideas or “hopes,” put pen and paper to your strategies. This is especially important when it comes to the budget. Make sure you are allocating proper dollars to your top initiatives. If you don’t put dollars to your plan then you just have a wish list and no focus.
  • Look for highest impact—Think of your strategic plan like a row of dominoes you are trying to knock down. Which one or two strategic “dominos” that if you knocked them down everything else at your financial institution would fall into place? When you identify those strategies, then those are the ones with highest impact. Focus your plan on those areas first. Examples could include leadership development, loan growth, updating technology or rebranding. Don’t try and do everything, rather do the most important things.

Walker is right: focus is actually a resource. There is only so much time, so much money and so much staff. If you treat focus like the precious resource it is, then your plan’s likelihood of success increases exponentially.


The Differences Between Strategies and Tactics

The Differences Between Strategies and Tactics

Strategic planning sessions are critical to your financial institution’s success. But all too often what starts as time devoted to examining big picture issues turns into a discussion about the minutia. This is the classic challenge of going from 30,000-foot issues to 5,000 (or lower) foot issues. For example, rather than discussing your five year branching strategy you start talking about the colors in the lobby.

The bottom line is there is a difference between strategies and tactics. While they are both important you need to make sure that when you are “doing strategy” you do strategy. Keep the following differences in mind when it comes to strategy and tactics:

  • Strategy is long-term, tactics are temporary
  • Strategy focuses you, tactics distract you
  • Strategy stays, tactics change
  • Strategy inspires, tactics overwhelm
  • Strategy sets direction, tactics veer
  • Strategy gives vision, tactics give headaches
  • Strategies are big, tactics are small

You can even use the above list as a tool in your planning session. For example, give this of simple bullet points to everyone ahead of time. Or even have it displayed on 3×5 cards at people’s seats. But use it as a visual reminder.

The above list may give the impression that tactics are not important. That is not the case at all. The point is that it’s all too easy for strategic sessions just to become glorified tactical discussions.

One practical step to keep your strategic focus is to hold the tactical discussion and session on a separate day. Then when your veer off the strategy road into an operations lane you can say “let’s discuss that item during our action plan phase.” You can even keep a flip chart with the word “Tactics” on it and when someone raises an operational detail write that item on the flipchart. Capture the idea and come back to it.

If you want a more effective planning session then remember there are differences between strategies and tactics.


Bridge the Generations, Your Brand Must

Bridge the Generations, Your Brand Must

First, my thanks to syntax-challenged Jedi Master Yoda for helping me craft the title of this entry.

More than likely, this isn’t the first thing you’ve read about the upcoming Star Wars reboot opening in theaters in December. I am an unabashed lifelong Star Wars fanatic and have had December 18, 2015 circled on my calendar since the movie’s announcement. Not quite excited enough to spend thousands of dollars pre-purchasing tickets two months ahead of time, but still excited.

I’m also interested to see how the Star Wars brand may potentially evolve as the new films develop. Disney purchased the franchise from George Lucas and will undoubtedly put a new spin on the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the rest of the gang.

But — will I like it?

Star Wars faces a challenge to its brand with these new movies. Much like a bank or credit union considering a brand overall or even an entirely new name, they will have to find a way to toe the line, appeasing both original fans of the franchise (that started in late 1970s) and new fans coming on board just now. In other words, they’ll have to find some way to appeal to Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Homelanders, in one fell swoop.

Not an easy task.

Your bank or credit union cannot be all things to all people. However, what are some ways you can bridge the generations with your brand? Following are a few ideas.

  • Define your audiences. If you attempt to craft an identity that will work for everybody, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You must spend time identifying key target audiences. For example, will your credit union specifically target young, professional women? Are you going after the aging baby boomer demographic? Or are you really going to concentrate on acquiring millennials? Once you identify your target audience, you can more specifically focus your brand towards those people.
  • Focus on details. In branding, everything As I mentioned earlier this year, Disney is a terrific example of paying attention to brand details. At any Disney resort property, you will notice a great deal of attention paid to the smallest of details, from shower knobs and towel racks to employee names and consumer service. The old saying goes “the devil is in the details” and this definitely applies to branding. Inattention to detail can cripple any brand. Just ask Quiznos.
  • Avoid brand gaps. Sure, it’s your marketing staff and executive team that primarily develop and promote the brand. But it is your frontline staff that must live it every day in order for it to succeed. You can have the greatest brand in the world but unless your staff buys into it wholeheartedly, it can also fall apart. This gap between brand identity and consumers is deadly. Once your brand makes a promise to consumers, it must live up to it. If it fails to do so, the brand gap widens, mistrust grows and wallet share decreases.

Taking steps such as defining target audiences, focusing on the details and avoiding brand gaps are ways to help ensure your brand appeals to a broad array of consumers. And there is no brand too big to fail. Just look at how the critics slammed Star Wars Episodes I, II and III. Take steps now to make sure that your brand is seen as cruel and timeless like Darth Vader and not irritating and unappealing like Jar Jar Binks.

Your Brand Must Include Passion

Your Brand Must Include Passion

As part of the overall branding process when working with bank and credit union partners, we typically walk them through exercises and scenarios that help determine key elements including vision, mission and employee message.

A recent credit union partner, however, decided to take it a step further, identifying their specific passions as important enough to include in their overall branding plan.

Nymeo Federal Credit Union in Frederick, Maryland ($257 million assets, 24,000 members) executive team members stepped up their brand game by identifying the following passions as key elements of their comprehensive brand identity. Specific passions identified were:

  • Helping members live better lives
  • Becoming a lifetime financial partner with our members
  • Making member financial education a priority
  • Having a positive impact in the communities we serve

“When we entered the branding process, our executive management team felt strongly that taking time to identify and discuss the passions that drive us as a credit union was important,” said Kristina Morgan, Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing for Nymeo. “We have a fun, quirky and eclectic brand — and specifying the passions that drive that brand was an important part of our overall branding exercise.”

As discussed in a previous blog post, you have to love your brand in order for it to succeed. Your bank or credit union must identify the things about which it is passionate, endeavor to hire passionate people and subsequently train for specific skill sets.

By identifying key things they are passionate about, the executive team at Nymeo elevated their overall brand plan to a higher level. Instead of flying blind and relying on clichéd and hackneyed passions like “good customer service” and “friendly employees,” they delved deeper into their brand genetics for specific and authentic direction, concentrating specifically on lifetime relationships, financial education and strengthening community ties.

Certainly, elements such as vision, mission and employee message are important parts of overall brand plans. However, to capitalize on the time and energy bank and credit union executives put into branding, they are well served to also spend time discussing and discovering the specific passions brought to the table when it comes to dealing with consumers.

So, what is your bank or credit union passionate about?

Brand Awareness Is A Trap

Brand Awareness Is A Trap

In a recent brand training class I was conducting for one of our clients I asked the participants what were some of their favorite brands. Several of them said Geico (of lizard and caveman fame). When they gave those answers, I asked why. Many said because the commercials were funny, they thought the lizard was cute and the ads made them laugh. Then I pressed some more: did those that said the liked Geico have any of their products or services. Not a one raised their hand.

They were aware of the Geico brand but never used the Geico brand. What good does it do a brand if people are aware of it but never use it. Not much. This is the brand awareness trap.

Several clients have inquired recently about doing brand surveys in their markets. These local financial institutions want to know how well their individual credit union or bank is known in the communities they serve. While certainly attainable, that type of research is fairly expensive to conduct. And the results usually don’t offer the insights you are seeking. Think about it at the credit union level: according to CUNA, 71% of Millennials don’t even know what a credit union is (much less your individual credit union).

This is another example of the brand awareness trap. A better gauge of perception in your area is market penetration. How much of the market or share of wallet has your institution captured? Honestly, who cares if people know about you? I’m much more interested in if they use your products or services.

Of course, they have to know you first before they can use you. But the best way for consumers to get to know your brand is through word of mouth (through their friends and family members). And no amount of research and data about how well they do or do not know your financial institution is probably going to move them.

Data is important. Research is valuable. We need to know how our own consumers and employees feel about our brand. But people who don’t use our products and services already? Their lack of awareness doesn’t reveal all that much.

As Scott Bedbury eloquently put in A New Brand World, “brand awareness has become marketing fool’s gold.” Or more of a trap

Four Ways to Overcome the Marketing Fog

Four Ways to Overcome the Marketing Fog

In his book Launch, author Jeff Walker says, “The very nature of our communications and daily lives has changed radically in just a few short years…we live in a world where the ‘marketing fog’ grows thicker with each passing day.”

The reality is people are bombarded daily with marketing messages. Most consumers receive on average 3,500 marketing messages per day. All those messages lead to some pretty serious fog. And if you are a credit union or bank, that fog only gets worse because most people view banking as boring, tedious and a pain.

To successfully market your loans, checking accounts and deposit products you must cut through a thick fog. So how can you overcome the marketing fog? Here are four ways:

  • Tell stories—People hate marketing but they love a good story. Rather than “push” a used auto loan promotion via your rate tell stories about your members or customers who financed a used car for their college bound student. Tell a story about a family who used an unsecured loan from your institution to adopt their kids. Show pictures of real people using your real products. Stop marketing and start telling stories.
  • Give content—People hate sales pitches but they love relevant information. So give it to them. Show them how to calculate their debt ratio, how to save $50 a month or how to structure a budget. Today’s consumer craves information (not a sales pitch). So give it to them. Stop marketing and start giving content.
  • Personalize messages—People hate mass messages but they love personalization. As Seth Godin once said, “no one wants e-mail, but everyone wants me-mail.” As a financial institution, you now have tons of data on your members/customers (where they shop, how much money they make, what debt they carry, etc.). So use that big data to your advantage by crafting individualized communication. Stop marketing to the masses and start sending unique messages (like you are talking directly to them).
  • Leverage your brand—People hate marketing but they love good brands. In fact, great branding trumps good marketing. Think Apple, Starbucks and Amazon. In each of those cases they promote their brand above all else. The more you prioritize your brand and the less you emphasize your promotions the more success you will experience. Your branding messages are far more important than your marketing promotions. Stop marketing and start leveraging your brand.

If you have ever driven in an incredibly thick fog you know how hard that is. You can’t see everything around you and you lose sight of many details. When it comes to your marketing, consumers might be in such a fog with your messages. Get them out of that fog by telling stories, giving content, personalizing messages and leveraging your brand.

Make Your Brand Consistent Across All Channels

Make Your Brand Consistent Across All Channels

Note: The following is an excerpt from 30 Ideas to Build and Live Your Brand. For a free copy of the complete book, click here.

You will hear a recurring them over and over in this book because it’s that important – details matter. All of them. Everything needs to match.

The colors you use to decorate your branches should be the same colors you use on your website and the same colors you use in your marketing collateral and e-mail campaigns. The verbiage you use in your marketing collateral and on your website should match the language your employees use when speaking to members in person, by phone and through e-mail. The images displayed in your branches should be the same images or at least have the same look and feel as the images on your website, in your marketing campaigns and even on your ATM screens. You must make our brand consistent across all channels.

Every marketing campaign should have a similar look and feel, as well. Sometimes marketing departments struggle with this concept because they are creative and want everything they do to be unique. As commendable as that is, it will sabotage your brand.

Let’s look at some brands that have been around longer than most of us – Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Disney. Have you ever known original recipe Coca-Cola cans to be anything but red? Have you ever seen the McDonald’s arches a color other than yellow? Disney probably has thousands of characters, but the vision of Mickey Mouse on top of the Epcot ball is how consumers around the world identify with Disney. Strong brands are lasting brands in large part because of their consistency.

Check out these images of Coca-Cola ads past and present. No matter how old they are, they all have the same look and feel. The image style is consistent. The colors are consistent. The fonts are consistent. They all have a logo, but even if they didn’t, it would be obvious to consumers that these are ads for Coke.

Now look at the Coca-Cola website. Once again, the colors, style and imaging are consistent. The font on the website even matches the font on the red cans, right down to the hyphen in the URL address. That is how detailed branding gets. You can type in (no hyphen), and that will get you to Coke’s website, but the URL address will change to include the hyphen before the page finishes loading.

Strong brands are consistent across all platforms. The images on McDonald’s website are the same images displayed in its restaurants. The colors on those images are the same colors on the employees’ uniforms, which match the food packaging.

Does anybody look at these prominent brands and think, “I sure wish they would come up with something different?” No. They look at them and think, “That’s Coke,” or McDonald’s or Disney.

That is the same response you want from your customers or members…one of familiarity and connection, one that says, “This is my financial institution.”

That is the response you will achieve when you make your brand consistent across all channels.

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

Recipe for Success: Do What You Do Best

Recipe for Success: Do What You Do Best

My colleague has a son whose soccer team is in first place this season. They haven’t just been beating the competition. They truly are in a league of their own, giving up only three goals so far, yet scoring nearly 40. The truth is they haven’t had much competition to speak of, but they will for the last games of the season. When they talk about it as a team, the coach tells them the same thing each time – if you go out there and do what you do best, you will win.

The same is true in business. When you focus on your core competencies – those things your financial institution does exceptionally well – you succeed. Now, that doesn’t mean never try something new. On the contrary, all businesses have to adapt to their customers’ changing needs, but they should do it within the scope of their core competencies.

Take Nike, for example. A few years ago, Nike tried expanding its business to mp3 players, because its customers often use these devices while wearing Nike shoes. The effort failed, because it strayed too far from Nike’s core business. Nike has since introduced some digital products that are a more natural extension of its core business.

“Doing MP3 players, even though runners would use MP3 players—it was a whole different business,” said Nike CEO Mark Parker in an article at

Read the rest of this blog post in the latest issue of my monthly e-newsletter. You’ll also find information on how to differentiate your financial institution during the holidays. At a time when everyone in the retail sector is making noise, how can you stand out? We answer this question and more.

All About That Brand

All About That Brand

I have a confession to make. I like the Meghan Trainor song All About That Bass. I don’t just like it: I listen to it (even when my girls are NOT in the car). It’s on my playlist when I run. I even nod my head and tap my feet when it’s playing.

Don’t tell anyone this but I even know most of the words.

And speaking of the lyrics, what if we changed her song title to All About That Brand and updated the words just a bit. It might go something like this:

  • “I’m all about that brand, ‘bout that brand”—Is your credit union or bank ALL about your brand? The reality is branding touches everything. From the boardroom to the break room to the bathroom. If your brand is not permeating every department, every branch and every strategy then your brand will struggle. A strong brand is consistent because it’s “all about the brand.”
  • “I can brand it brand it like I’m suppose to”—When it comes to your employees, are they living your brand like they are suppose to? If you ask your staff, “What are we about?” would the answers be all over the place? Many financial institutions struggle with the brand because their staff is not living it. A brand is strong because their team members “brand it like they’re suppose to.”

For those of you that don’t want to change the lyrics, there are actually a couple of the phrases within All About That Bass that have branding applications. Consider the following:

  • “See the magazines working that Photoshop”—Do the graphics you are using in your branding and marketing materials contain “perfect people?” In other words, stock photography and images? Those people are not real! And most importantly, they probably don’t look like the consumers that frequent your credit union or bank. Use real people rather than Photoshop people.
  • “Don’t worry about your size”—Some financial institutions see their size as a negative. We are not as big as Bank of America, Chase or Wells Fargo. So what? Leverage your local involvement. Implement the “own the circle” strategy. Demonstrate how your level of personal service provides consumers an advantage that those big box banks simply can’t do. Use your size to your advantage.

According to Meghan Trainor, the key to attracting someone is to remember that “it’s all about that bass.” When it comes to attracting consumers to your credit union or bank, it’s actually all about that brand.

Giving Your Targets Grey Hair

Giving Your Targets Grey Hair

I recently applied for the TSA Pre-Check security clearance. As part of the process you visit a TSA office in person, provide the proper paperwork and answer a few questions. One of the questions they ask while you are there is “What color is your hair?” I said “brown.” The TSA agent looked at me and then keyed into the system “Grey to partial grey.”

Are you kidding me? If my hair is “grey to partial grey” it’s BECAUSE of the TSA! He made a cursory glance, saw ONE grey hair (okay, maybe more than one) and then assumed the rest of the answer.

But do credit union and bank employees do the same with our target audiences? In other words, do we make assumptions based on one minor (or potentially false) detail?

For example, we assume everyone who is older than 55 does not need a loan so we automatically try to cross-sell them a deposit product. Or we assume one person in the family is the financial decision maker and only talk to them. Or we assume only females are on Pinterest so we don’t market to men using that channel.

Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions. Do you assume characteristics about your target audiences? Do you give them grey hair when in fact they mostly have brown hair?

Marketers like to lump people into neat fitting boxes. There are generational boxes such as Matures, Boomers and Millenials. There are income boxes such as upscale, middle market and low-income depositor. There are racial boxes such as Hispanic, African-American and Asian.

However, assigning broad characteristics to particular groups is dangerous. No one wants to be stereotyped. Everyone is unique and everyone is different. The best way to reach consumers is to get to know them. Their individual traits, desires and dreams.

One of the best things your sales staff and marketing professionals can do is to engage consumers in conversations and get to know them. So stop marketing stereotypes and start engaging in conversations.

Of course, when I think of the TSA I’m not sure I want to have any more conversations with their agents. I’ve already been to second base with them a number of times.