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).
Banks and credit unions tend to put a great deal of emphasis on the brick-and-mortar aspect of the retail experience. And that makes sense, as financial institutions are every bit as much of a retailer as the traditional big-box stores and malls are. However, the rapid rise of e-commerce means that an ever-increasing number of consumers will prefer to do business with you digitally or, at the very least, will check out your website presence before setting foot in a physical location.
Understanding that, there are a number of litmus tests which you can apply to your bank or credit union website. Following are just a few of those.
Give consumers a reason to visit your website. It may sound arbitrary, but it’s anything but. Simply slapping a digitized version of your brochure line on the website and expecting consumers to click happily to you isn’t going to happen. Your digital retail experience must offer a compelling reason for consumers to drop by. Are you offering high-value consumer information? Online-only specials? Regardless of the reason why, the very fact that your website offers a reason to check it out as opposed to a physical location is important.
Don’t just push information. Ensure your bank or credit union website also elicits feedback from consumers. You can accomplish this with online surveys, easy access to email feedback and prominent links to your social media platforms. Consumers will quickly tire of a massive “data dump.” By asking for their feedback and participation, you deepen the consumer relationship and heighten their exposure to your brand.
Keep text and navigation as simple as possible. Your bank or credit union website is not the place to impress people with vocabulary (or certainly financial institution jargon). Keep your text short and sweet. Similarly, nobody wants to hunt for information several pages (or clicks) deep. In fact, for every click someone must execute in order to find information, they are increasingly less likely to pursue that information. Keep your navigation simple and shallow.
If the porch of a home is its street-facing showpiece, your bank or credit union digital retail experience (most prominently expressed by the website) serves the same purpose. Ensure that your website puts the best possible foot forward for your financial institution.
Language and words matter. Especially when you are undertaking a branding or marketing project.
Too many times when doing branding efforts and marketing campaigns the term “target” or “target audience” is used. But the word target implies you are shooting at something or someone. And no one wants to get shot.
What do consumers really want from you? They want to be your partners. They want you to help them. They want to know you have their back.
Yes, target marketing matters. You certainly can’t be all things to all people and you must allocate your marketing dollars wisely by choosing certain segments with the right messages.
However, in our effort to focus we sometimes lose sight that people are people.
Think in terms of what type of people you help the most. Who benefits the most from your products or services? Whose unique needs are you best at meeting? That mindset changes the focus from a target to a person.
What words can you use besides “target?” As mentioned above, try partner (and if you are a credit union stop using the term select employee group: no one knows what that means). You can also try “ideal member or customer.” Perhaps “key group” is an option.
Any of the words above work. They imply your focus is on the consumer and not just what they can do for you. Branding and marketing is not about you—it’s about them. And the “them” don’t want to be your target.
Think about yourself. Would you rather be someone’s target or someone’s partner?
Marketers are word people. We like words. After all, that’s why we’re in marketing. But are consumers reading your words? In all honesty, probably not. Why? One reason is because we are writing too much.
It’s time we cut the copy.
People are consuming their information in small bites. The reality is they don’t have the time or the interest to read everything you are writing.
As marketing guru Seth Godin says, “Say what you need to say, then leave. Less is actually more.”
Where possible, use bullets, lists, subheads and short paragraphs. If necessary, break a long item into multiple pieces. The key is to make your copy “scannable.” Time how long it takes to read the article, brochure, postcard, web page, etc. If it’s more than 90 seconds, odds are they will go to something else.
How people consume your information is changing. They are far more likely to be reading your e-mail on their phone. And in a phone format, that means you need to use less text.
Where possible, use video rather than text. People are viewing far more than they are reading today.
Completing a marketing audit will help examine your materials for length and effectiveness.
In visiting with a client recently we were talking about her newsletter. When I noted the amount of copy in her piece she confessed, “If I received our newsletter in the mail, I wouldn’t read it.”
So for this post, I’m going to practice what I preached.
Cut the copy.
When it comes to branding, it is not enough just to have a vision, a tagline and a logo. A “must-have” in any successful brand initiative are employees who buy into your brand. People who are living your brand promises every day.
But that is easier said than done. So how do you successfully gain brand engagement with your entire staff? According to one credit union it all starts with brand training.
“One of our key strategic measures is employee engagement,” says Urjit Patel, senior vice president for Smart Financial Credit Union. “At Smart Financial we feel that our employees are the brand.”
During a recent rebrand, the credit union held a one-day brand camp. At this event—conducted on a traditional “banking” holiday—all employees gathered together to learn about their new brand. On that special day various employees (executives and “brand ambassadors” from multiple departments) shared many aspects of the new brand.
But the brand camp was just the beginning. It’s what happened after that day that helped reinforce the brand launch.
Smart Financial recently had all their employees—not just the front-line—go through a customized brand training session, where they learned how to live the brand every day in their individual jobs.
“Whenever you execute large enterprise wide change, it’s critically important to make sure all staff are properly indoctrinated to help you achieve your short and long-term strategic goals,” Patel said. “We truly want all employees at Smart Financial to have a personal connection to our brand thereby creating brand ambassadors in the process.”
One creative technique Smart Financial did as part of their brand training was to have all the employees sign their name to a brand board. This step got the employees up during the session and had them physically show their commitment by signing a branded board.
“Gaining commitment to sign the boards helps show how we are all on the team to make sure our brand and vision is executed seamlessly all the time,” added Patel. “Accountability to have the right people in the right positions living our vision and brand is vital for our future growth.”
According to Patel, there was real power in having employees actually sign their commitment to live the brand. “Every employee has submitted their personal goals to live the brand. We have captured this information and talk about it at the branch, department and executive team meetings.”
But the boards are not just a one-time training exercise. They are actually a tool to use moving forward. “At quarterly all staff meetings we display our signed brand commitment boards and share successes in how our people are living it daily,” Patel says. All new hires will go through the brand training and “we will display the brand boards to show all parties how we have gained commitment towards our brand from all staff.”
Smart Financial is already seeing success with employee engagement from the brand training. “We are seeing different business lines within the organization already talking daily about our new vision and communicating across company departments to help each other succeed,” Patel said. “We are capturing member interaction success stories from frontline and back office department employees to help show how everyone can make a difference. We are taking new initiatives in how we reach out to the public to grow our market presence through our brand.”
Patel is absolutely correct: great brands are built with engaged employees. And getting your employees engaged starts with brand training.
Several years ago when I was an executive at a financial institution, one particular copy machine in the marketing department kept breaking. Almost on a daily basis, something would go wrong with it. It was such a commonplace occurrence for it to break that I was on a first name basis with the repairman.
One day when I hit “print”, I could hear the noise of yet another unfixable paper jam. I flew out of my office saying all the choice words your mother told you to never use at work. Once I calmed down I realized the real problem wasn’t with the copy machine—it was with me.
I had accepted that the copy machine was going to break all the time. It was just the way we were doing business. I was not doing anything (like replacing the machine) that would solve the long-term problem.
So what are you seeing in your credit union or bank that you are just accepting? Here are a few areas to explore.
- Complacent staff—We are pretty good about dealing with unethical employees. But what about those people who are just “mailing it in.” You know who they are: they’ve quit, but they just haven’t told you yet. The biggest threats to your brand come from within. Are you seeing some unengaged employees that you are just accepting their 70% buy-in?
- Underperforming branches—Branches are a major investment for any financial institution. We want to give them every opportunity to succeed and provide a return on those building dollars. At some point, those assets must become profitable. It’s easy to let pride get in the way: closing a branch may seem like a backwards step. You must take emotion out of those types of decisions. Are you seeing a branch that has underperformed for years that you are holding onto because you are afraid to make a hard decision?
- Dirty bathrooms—Your bathrooms communicate something about your brand. In many ways, branding is about the details (even the detail about your restrooms). When we do marketing audits for our clients, we do the “bathroom smell test.” Why? Because no amount of marketing can overcome a poor restroom. Are you seeing unclean restrooms but ignoring them?
- Slow procedures—Consumers today want to do business (especially financial business) where it’s easy. Answer this question: how easy is it to do business with your credit union or bank? In other words, there might be policies or procedures that are slowing down things. Granted, some of those might be out of your control. However, there is a good possibility you can review internal issues for improvement. Are you seeing antiquated ways of doing business because of unnecessary or outdated polices and procedures?
Have you ever said “that’s just the way we do business” or “that’s just the way we do things around here?” If that’s the case, then you might be seeing things you are just accepting. Maybe it’s time you look at your credit union or bank with an outsider’s view.
How do credit unions and banks reach the Millennial Generation with financial products and services? That is a burning question financial institutions have asked—and will continue to ask—for years.
A recent study from Yahoo reveals solid data financial marketers can leverage to their favor (if they apply the information). According to BizReport, here are some key findings:
- Most (67%) of Millennials are interested in learning more about finance
- Nearly half (48%) watch personal finance video content
- Most (82%) consume financial content via their phones
- A large percentage (37%) are interested in live streaming finance events.
John Piontkowski, Vice President & Industry Lead (Finance) for Yahoo, says, “Millennials are digital-first consumers, which means they’re not just reading articles but watching video content on multiple devices. Financial brands need to keep this in mind and develop content that is optimized across screens.”
So from a practical standpoint, what tips does this information yield when offering financial products and services to those in the Millennial Generation. Credit unions and banks must:
- Make video a core medium—In too many financial institutions video is just an afterthought. We focus all our time, creative and copy on “traditional” mechanisms (e-mail, newsletters, in-branch posters, etc.) and may do video as an “add-on” or last minute feature. But the study shows that Millennials are consuming finance content via video. Think of all the financial literacy material you have and answer this question: how much of it is in video format?
- Make all marketing material mobile friendly—The numbers don’t lie: 82% of Millennials are consuming that financial content via their smartphones. Content optimized for mobile means short bites of information, easy to read on the small screen and highly scrollable. Think of your marketing pieces and answer this question: how easy is it to see on a smartphone?
- Focus on key life events—Notice that the study talked about finances (and Millennials viewed finances) in terms of “finance events.” In other words, it’s not about conducting a transaction or getting a loan for this generation. It’s about having an event or experience. Going to college, buying their first car, starting a job, owning a home, etc. are financial happenings and big deals. So make sure you are capturing these moments in your members’ or customers’ lives. For example, you could have them video those experiences and talk about how those moments were possible because of your financial institution. Think of your recent marketing campaigns and answer this question: how much of it was promoting a life stage event rather than a product?
The Millennial Generation is different. We are therefore going to have to adapt how we reach them with our financial products and services. As Piontkowski notes, “Marketers that spend time understanding millennials and their preferences will be able to build better campaigns that drive awareness and loyalty.”
For a complete copy of the study, click here.
“Communication and language have changed,” writes Chris Brogan in his recent weekly business advice piece (which you can only receive by subscribing to his e-mail list, which I highly recommend). He goes on to say, “It has to be received and understood for it to be communication. Otherwise, it’s noise.”
As a credit union or bank, are your marketing messages getting lost in all the noise? Perhaps it’s because you have not changed your communication. If you are still using the same tools, same messages and same campaigns from even two years ago then you are not adapting.
Brogan identified the following five communication trends:
- People aren’t reading as much. Nineteen minutes a day.
- Language is shifting. From “conversational” to “informal.” From “in depth” to “as brief as possible.”
- Visuals are more and more core to everyday language.
- It’s even more brief. Like Facebook messenger brief.
- Multi-touch communication across a variety of platforms is more the norm than “where’s that one place I know I can reach them” communication.
So what does all this mean for financial institution marketers? Plenty. Here are four steps you can take immediately to maximize your communication efforts in this ever changing fast-paced world.
- Cut the copy—If you do nothing else, reduce all the words you are using in your marketing efforts. People just are not reading your stuff anymore. Enough said.
- Conduct a marketing audit—The highest impact action step you can take to immediately improve your marketing efforts is to conduct a comprehensive marketing audit. While everything is audited in credit unions and banks, we rarely review one of the most important areas: marketing. Check out this video on how a marketing audit brings success.
- Use more video—Newsletters, brochures and annual reports are old school. Your credit union or bank needs to adapt by using more video. Answer these questions: what percentage of your target audiences are viewing video and what percentage of your marketing materials is in video?
- Use creative visuals—Images matter more than words. So stop using clip art and even canned, “perfect people” pictures. Instead, use real members or customers. The more creative and attention grabbing your marketing materials are, the more likely they are to be seen.
Think about your marketing efforts. Are you cutting the copy, auditing your marketing, implementing video and using creative visuals? If not, then you need to change how you communicate.
When strategically planning your financial institution’s future, credit unions and banks often bring in outside facilitators to help them. It is too difficult to navigate potential pitfalls and you never want one person to dominate the meeting. There is just something magical about having an outside perspective help you facilitate your strategic planning process.
However, successful planning is not just having anyone facilitate your session. Successful planning is having the right person that matches your unique situation.
Many times, a potential partner will ask you several exploratory questions to learn more about your institution. It’s best if you turn the tables and ask them some questions as well. However, rather than focusing on traditional inquiries like price and testimonials, you should make some deeper level queries.
Here are four questions you should ask any potential strategic planning facilitator:
- What book are you currently reading?—This quickly tells you if they are spending time learning. You want a facilitator who is familiar with current business models and strategies. You can also follow-up by asking what blogs they consistently read. If the stumble on these questions or if they throw out books from 10 years ago, that’s a red flag. A great facilitator is a reader.
- What trends are seeing you in financial services?—You want an up-to-date partner that is going to challenge and push you. A strategic planning facilitator (especially for credit unions and banks) should know what is happening in our industry. If they answer that trend question with “less physical branches and more digital” then that’s a red flag because everyone knows that trend and it’s been around for years. A great facilitator knows the trends.
- When was there a time when your facilitation process didn’t work & why?—Everyone knows and brags about their successes. That’s easy. But ask the reverse by inquiring about a failing situation. And getting to the deeper level “why” helps understand if they blame others or if they learned from a challenging time. Asking this question also helps see if they are a good match for your current situation. A great facilitator is not perfect.
- What is unique about your planning process?—Let’s be honest: conducting strategic planning sessions can get boring at times. Especially if you are doing the same things over and over again (like the SWOT analysis—which you should throw out!). Ideally, you want a facilitator that uses unique and different exercises. For example, we developed the trademarked Five Star Credit Union Analysis. We also always start with some type of strategic planning game or exercise to get participants up and moving. A great facilitator is different.
If you want your strategic planning process to be the best then you have to have the best facilitator. Finding that right match means not just answering their questions but asking your own.
by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” I never understood this saying until recently. As far as I was concerned, the strong members of your group could compensate for the weaker ones, as long as the weak members were outnumbered. It doesn’t work that way.
My son’s soccer team recently merged with another team because neither had enough players to make a roster. The two halves of the teams live in different cities, hold separate practices and train with different coaches who have different coaching philosophies. Our half of the team took first place four consecutive seasons. The other team was always toward the bottom of the pack. Combined, we’re at the bottom of the pack.
Financial institutions most likely relate to this, because they usually have teams of employees at different branch locations with managers who manage differently. Do any of those managers exercise business practices that contradict your brand? Those are your weak links, or brand gaps. Even if it’s only one manager at one location, that branch weakens the overall strength of your brand.
Following are a few suggestions to strengthen or repair your weak links:
Staff buy-in is critical to your brand’s success. That starts with brand training. We conduct brand training for every branding client we work with, because it’s so important. Brand training explains what branding is, how it impacts your credit union and how employees must live the brand in their jobs daily. It gets everyone on the same page and excited about your brand promise to customers or members. Repeat it regularly and be sure every new employee experiences it. If you have to take the training to certain locations and deliver it multiple times, do it. Your brand depends on it.
Every executive at your financial institution must lead the brand. They must be living examples of the culture and values that define your brand. If your brand is friendly, say hi to employees on the elevator or in the hallway. Learn their names. Smile. Employees tend to imitate whatever behaviors your executives exhibit – positive or negative.
Your brand is not just your logo or your dress code or the framed values hanging on the wall. Those are all pieces of your brand, which encompasses everything about your financial institution. It is a way of life for your employees on the job, and it needs to be enforced. The marketing department often polices how your logo is used and what branches look like, but every manager is responsible for monitoring his or her employees. You want all employees to get on board with your brand, and hopefully with adequate training and leadership (and sometimes discipline) they will. Those who refuse are no longer a fit for your organization. They are your weak links and should seek employment elsewhere.
Banking is a competitive industry in which differentiation is already a challenge. You cannot afford weak links. That doesn’t mean every employee is perfect all the time. It means they embrace the brand, try every day to live the brand and help your customers or members grow to love your brand.