In the earliest days of civilization, before the advent of alphabets and written languages, stories important to a group of people (a family, tribe, etc.) were handed down by storytellers. These people, often held in the highest regard within their social groups, were directly responsible for saving, sharing and passing on the important history of their people.
This continued even with the coming of alphabets and the written word. Oral storytellers became historians that, with chisel and stone, papyrus and later paper and ink, collected, archived and shared important stories. And the trend continues in our digital age. When you think about it, many aspects of social media are simply storytelling that reside on digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The power of storytelling is alive and well. Is your bank or credit union taking advantage of this art when it comes to sharing its own unique story? If not, you are missing out on a powerful marketing and branding tool.
Consumers are attracted to the stories of others. Often these come in the form of testimonials. If you think about it for a minute, you can likely come up with a quick list of consumers that, for a variety of reasons, are happy to be a part of your bank or credit union. Maybe you were able to save someone a chunk of change with a lower interest rate. Or perhaps you were able to offer a second-chance checking account to someone recovering from financial calamity like divorce or bankruptcy. Or maybe it’s simply a lifetime relationship with a member (or a family) that has existed for decades.
Point being — there is power to the stories. Far more power than simply slapping up a bullet-point list of product features. You might convince a few consumers to read a list of features, but the benefits (as told in their stories) are far more convincing forms of marketing and branding.
So tell your story. Be unique to who you are as a financial institution. Harvest and share the stories of your consumers and leverage them as powerful tools to attract and retain new members and customers. It doesn’t matter if we’re telling stories around the campfire or sharing them digitally online. The core subject matter is the same — and the subject matter is the powerful and unique story of your bank or credit union.
Great examples of this consumer story-telling ideal are seen at Prime Financial FCU, First Abilene FCU and Darden CU.
Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies, authored this entry.
While conducting a recent two-day, deep-dive member engagement program training with a client, a discussion arose about individual roles as related to the overall brand.
As part of the training, we take great pains to emphasize the importance of everyone’s role when it comes to supporting a financial institution’s unique branding culture. However, during this discussion, the words of one young woman were particularly poignant and relative to the discussion.
During the class, she meekly raised a hand and (bravely, I think) said “But I’m just a teller. Why is what I do important to the brand?”
I had a mixed bag of emotional reaction to this statement. First, I felt empathy for the young lady, having had many jobs in the past where I didn’t feel that my contributions really mattered. I also felt that she was courageous in sharing such an honest opinion. Most importantly, I felt this was a keen “teachable moment” to really drive home a key point with the class.
When it comes to your financial institution’s brand health, everyone plays a vital role. It does not matter if you are the CEO, VP of Whatever, a back office worker or certainly a teller. Everyone must support the brand, from top to bottom, in order for it to survive.
And while buy-in of the brand is critical from the executive leadership team, I would argue that their role is almost secondary to buy-in from frontline staff, such as tellers. After all, tellers have far more face-to-face consumer interaction than the typical back-office employee. Certainly, the executive staff has to believe in the brand. But if the frontline staff isn’t living it, every day, in front of every consumer, it’s dead on arrival.
Nobody is “just a teller,” “just a CEO,” or “just a back office worker” when it comes to the brand. Your brand is only as strong as its weakest link. And that weak link cannot exist at any level of the organizational chart.
Most statistics indicate Millennials now comprise about 25% of the total US population. That equates to roughly 81 million people. Millennial females make up about half that number, or around 40 million people. As the rise of the millennial generation continues, bank and credit union professionals must focus their efforts more specifically on its female component in order to establish firm market share in the future.
According to the recent article “The Millennial Mystique,” today’s young women do not necessarily share the same values and priorities that their mothers and grandmothers did. Rather, this generation of young women has a different set of values and expectations as it relates to work, money and life experiences. Several statistics from the article relate directly to millennial females relationship to their bank or credit union.
- 87% indicate they are not afraid to chart a different course than their friends
- 84% get excited when something is new or different
- 68% say managing their household is extremely important
- 78% say money is very important in their lives and is also the greatest source of dissatisfaction and stress
- 69% are actively saving for their future
What can bank and credit union professionals gather from the statistics? Plenty.
For example, since something new or different is important, if your financial institution has not rolled out a new product or service in the last 12 months, you are missing the boat when it comes to attracting Millennial females.
Also, with nearly 3/4 of this demographic sharing that managing their household is important to them, banks and credit unions must make financial education a priority in order to attract this population.
Lastly, with so many indicating that money is a continuing source of stress, banks and credit unions should look at this is an open door to combine innovative financial products and services with education in order to cement lifetime relationships with millennial females.
What works for Gen X and Baby Boomer women will not necessarily translate to success when applied to Millennials. Take heed of this generation’s unique financial needs and expectations to improve your financial institutions chances at success with them.
In case you’ve lived under a rock for the last several years, you’ve probably noticed video content has taken over as king of social media feeds. If your bank or credit union has an active social media presence (and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you!?), you must use video to reach members and potential members.
As one example, on Twitter alone, video content stats are staggering. Of the 800 million Twitter visitors a month, 82% actively engage with brands they follow. From these brands, 51% expect news, 49% expect information, 48% expect viral content and 40% expect entertainment. And when it comes to the kinds of tweets you send, keep in mind that videos are six times more likely to be retweeted that photos and three times more likely to receive retweets than static GIFs.
In all of your video content (and not just Twitter) there is a common thread to videos that are watched all the way through. Close to 50% of videos that are watched to completion include something called sequential resolution; that is, a problem that was set up at the beginning of the video is solved at the end. This is an old trick used in 30 and 60-minute television episodes and the same formula applies here. Viewers expect to see some sort of challenge or dilemma solved, neatly and tidily, in a 30-minute TV show or your 30-second online video.
Here are a few extra video tips to keep in mind when crafting your online content. These types of videos tend to receive the most consumer attention:
- Those that feature prominent branding in the first five seconds
- Those built around some kind of live event
- Those with captions and visuals (many people watch mobile videos with their sound muted)
- Those optimized for mobile viewing (on Twitter alone, 93% of video views are on mobile devices)
- Those that feature people in the first few seconds of the video
For a terrific example of a credit union using video to build its unique brand, check out Nymeo FCU in Frederick, Maryland.
Your bank or credit union simply must offer video content if it is to attract the attention of social media users. Make video an integral part of your overall digital branding strategy.
“Those who succeed were—at one point or another in their lives—willing to put themselves in situations that were uncomfortable , whereas the unsuccessful seek comfort from all their decisions.”
—Grant Cardone, The 10X Rule, as quoted in Content, Inc.
After your strategic planning session ends, how comfortable are you? If you’ve really stretched yourself and forged a bold vision for the next several years you should feel a little uncomfortable. Why? Because as John Maxwell once said, “Discomfort is a sign of growth.”
But too many times in our planning sessions we don’t push our credit unions or banks. Not really. We fall back into comfort zones. Strategies we know. Action plans we can accomplish. Deadlines we can meet.
We make easy choices rather than hard decisions. We push those “elephant in the room” discussions to the following year. We leave things unsaid. We don’t tackle the really challenging issues that are holding back our organization.
However, to truly succeed you need to make uncomfortable decisions part of your strategy.
Here are some difficult things you might need to consider:
- Spending more money. It’s all about the bottom line. But what if there are seasons when your credit union or bank needs to make an investment in a project that won’t necessarily yield a return this quarter? For example, you might need to spend more in technology to meet consumers’ demands or increase the marketing budget so you can develop a better brand. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to spend more money.
- Removing complacent employees. There are some people you’ve carried longer than their mother carried them when they were in the womb. You know who I’m talking about: those employees who are not buying into your organization but you keep just to have a body or someone to do the job. We tend to hire fast and fire slow. However, it should be the other way around: we should hire slow and fire fast. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to fire some employees.
- Changing ineffective board. Now we’re stepping on toes. Some boards have people on them they just shouldn’t. The “obnoxious, dominating” board member. The “disagrees with everything” board member. The “totally not engaged” board member. If you are honest with yourself, you know those individuals are holding back your credit union or bank. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to shake up your board.
- Closing underperforming branches. Branches can totally drain your profitability. Especially ones that don’t perform up to expectations. While it’s certainly important to give plenty of time to see if your locations will produce, you must be careful not to hold onto them forever. Branch accounting and analysis are must-haves in any credit union or bank. We like to add, but sometimes we need to cut. It might make you uncomfortable, but you might need to close a few locations.
A ship is safe in a harbor. But ships were not built for harbors. If you don’t make uncomfortable decisions at your credit union or bank then you are keeping your strategic ship in a harbor.
“Can you hear me now?” is a question made popular by Verizon several years ago. Now their competitor Sprint is making fun of and using Verizon’s former spokesperson in a new marketing campaign.
But are you hearing what consumers are saying about your credit union or bank’s marketing? In his book Content, Inc., author Joe Puluzzi says, “Listening posts are all about getting as much feedback from a variety of sources as possible so you can find the truth.” Marketing is not just about sending. It’s about receiving. It’s about listening.
Want to improve your marketing’s effectiveness? Then try listening more to consumers.
Here are three ways to setup listing posts when it comes to your marketing:
- Surveys—Ask your members or customers what they really think about you. They’ll tell you. But watch “bland” and “boring” questions. When helping our clients develop their brand plans, we often survey consumers to get a feel for how they truly perceive their financial institution. One of our favorite questions to ask is, “If ABC Credit Union or Bank were a car, what type of car would it be?” That is a more emotional question and elicits deeper level insights into how they really perceive you.
- Conversations—One of the absolute best ways to discover what people think about your marketing is simply to talk with them. Sometimes the higher we move up the organizational chart the farther away we get from the consumers we serve. So when I was an executive at a financial institution I would routinely visit the branches and just chat with people who were coming in. Ask them what they think about your website, whey they bank with you and what matters to them in financial services. It’s amazing the insights you can learn from a short five-minute conversation.
- Social media—Are your people saying anything about you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social channels? Granted, many folks use social media to vent their anger. However, reviewing your Facebook account to see likes, comments, complaints, etc. offers a trove of information. Do people love you, hate you or even worse are they indifferent about you? Remember, social media is “social.” If you are only using social media to distribute information you are missing an opportunity.
And what happens if after you establish these listening posts you hear absolutely nothing? Crickets. Silence. That actually tells you quite a bit as well. It tells you no one is hearing your marketing messages. Probably because it is too boring. Remember, no one talks about a boring business.
And no one succeeds with their marketing unless they are listening.
“You will always be a failure in marketing, Mark. You need to get out.” Those were the actual words uttered by my first boss at a financial institution. I was serving as a lowly marketing coordinator (so low, I was the one dressing up as the mascot). I was indeed struggling in that job, like spelling the CEO’s name wrong in the newsletter.
At that point in my career I had a choice to make: I was either going to be fired or transferred to the collection department (my version of Purgatory). I was recently married and wanted to stay gainfully employed so I chose collections. For the next four and a half years I served as a collection officer and eventually loan officer. I was quite good at those jobs, was making good money and on track for a management position.
And I was utterly miserable (because I was not doing what I was passionate about). Eventually a job came open at another organization for a lowly marketing coordinator. I took a significant pay cut to try “this marketing thing” again. But my boss at this new organization did not see me as a failure. Rather he poured his life into mine and taught me incredible communication, branding and marketing skills.
Terry Young changed my life. Not because he was a manager—because he was a mentor. If you supervise people, you need to mentor them.
Here are the three I’s of a great mentor:
- Ignite—Great mentors focus on your learning. You need to teach the people you mentor. But you can’t teach what you don’t know. Mentors are lifelong learners themselves. You also need to question the people you mentor. One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is the last book you read?” As a mentor, you should ignite learning in those around you.
- Invest—Great mentors are focused on you. You need to love the people you mentor. Even people unlike yourself. In fact, you can’t lead them until you love them. You also need to serve the people you mentor. In fact, put their needs above your own. Many credit unions and banks say they compete on service. If that’s the case, keep this point in mind: your level of external service to your consumers will never exceed the level of internal service you are giving your team. As a mentor, you should invest time and energy in those around you.
- Inspire—Great mentors focus on improvement. You need to stretch the people you mentor. In other words, challenge and push them. Think of your favorite coach growing up. My guess is they didn’t let you stay stagnant. You also need to emotionally connect with the people you mentor. Michelangelo once said “I saw the angel in the marble and I chiseled until I set it free.” What do you see in your people? As a mentor, you should inspire vision and greatness in those around you.
Leadership matters. In fact, leadership is so important we offer a customized leadership-training program that specializes in taking your supervisors from just being mere managers to magical mentors.
Why? Because no one should feel like a failure in their careers.
The best strategic planning sessions use facilitators. Am I biased on this point? Of course (strategic planning is one of the core services we help clients improve). But as we tell credit unions and banks, we are also going to serve as your frienemy.
A frienemy is someone who is going to love you like a friend, yet challenge you like an enemy. That person who is going to get in your face. That partner who is going to hold you accountable.
As Jim Stengel says in his book Grow, “Remain stuck inside your current business model and your business’s days are numbered.” Too many financial institutions are stuck in doing business the old way because they are using old school facilitators and not new school frienemies.
A good frienemy will:
- Love you and challenge you. Notice that frienemy starts with love. But they are not there just to waive pom-poms. For example, they may acknowledge that your double-digit loan growth is awesome, when in actuality it could be more.
- Push you when necessary. A good frienemy will not let you settle for the status quo. Sometimes the goals we set in strategic planning sessions do not stretch us enough. Consider the using the “BAM” technique: basic, awesome and miracle. Too many facilitators let us set basic goals, while a frienemy will make you stretch.
- Stand up when necessary. Yes, this could even mean standing up to the CEO or board chairman. That is hard stuff—after all, they are the ones signing the check! But the truth is everyone can be wrong: even those in leadership positions. Rather than take the organization in a wrong direction they know won’t work, a frienemy will serve as a guide.
- Tell you what you DON’T want to hear. In other words, they are more concerned about the financial institution than coming back next year. A lot of planning sessions have a lot of “yes” men and women in them. Make sure your facilitator is not one of those people. There is a place for good news. But there is also a place for a reality check.
The next time you seek a strategic planning facilitator, don’t. Rather, seek a strategic planning frienemy.
Branding is not a project. Branding is not one person or department’s job. Branding is not your logo or your look.
Branding is who you are. Branding is your positioning strategy. Branding is how your employees represent your credit union or bank.
In other words, branding touches everything. With that approach in mind, branding requires you to be “all in.” Not one toe in the bath water. Not wading ankle deep into a stream. But rather diving headfirst into the pool.
Many executives and boards give lip service to branding yet too many times their actions don’t support their statements. Here are some quick questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are indeed “all in” when it comes to your most valuable asset: your brand.
(1) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you said “no” to a project, product or event?
A great branding strategy will focus you. With that focus comes laser-like prioritization. Therefore, you will say “no” to certain things. For example, if your target audiences are young people you might say “no” to that senior bingo event you’ve sponsored every year. “All in” with branding means you will stop doing certain things.
(2) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you changed how you do something because of your brand?
As noted above, branding touches everything. That means policies, procedures, products, placement of branches and dozes of other aspects of your financial institution. For example, if your brand vision is serving people who live paycheck to paycheck, yet you only make loans to “A” paper then you’ll probably need to update your loan policies. “All in” with your branding means making changes.
(3) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you conducted brand training for your staff?
No matter what your brand vision, message and tagline are it’s your employees who live your brand every single day. But they can’t live what they don’t know. Rather than give them generic sales and service training you need to spend time educating them about your unique brand and what they can do every single day to live those brand values. “All in” with your branding means educating your staff on your brand.
(4) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you examined your brand gaps?
Every credit union or bank has brand gaps. There can be gaps between your brand and your strategy, gaps between your brand and your operations or even gaps between your brand and your people. For example, your brand messages can emphasize service yet your staff may only provide mediocre service. “All in” with your branding means auditing your marketing for brand gaps.
(5) If you are all in with your brand, when was the last time you fired someone for not living your brand standards?
We fire people for lots of reasons: breaking policy, failing to get along with co-workers or even stealing. But if you are taking branding seriously, you’ll also terminate people for failing to live your brand values and standards. If you don’t have brand standards in place, you may want to start by creating them and putting those in job descriptions and evaluations. “All in” with your branding means holding your people accountable.
It’s easy to say we take branding seriously. It’s entirely something else to backup those words with solid answers to the questions above. If you aren’t satisfied with how well you are “all in” with your brand, then some actions you can take immediately are creating a brand plan, conducting a marketing audit or giving your employees brand training.
It’s that time of year again: strategic planning sessions are in full bloom. Once September hits, it’s not just football season—it’s planning season. With that in mind, now is the perfect time to begin preparing for your upcoming strategic session. Great planning sessions start with asking great questions.
Here are some fresh questions for the 2016-2017 planning cycle. In fact, you can ask these questions in a pre-session survey of attendees (we do that with many of our planning clients) or during the meeting itself.
Regardless of how you use them, below are five questions you should ask during your strategic planning session (along with why you ask them).
(1) What two things (products, attributes, etc.) are we going to “own?”
The answer to this question leads to a focused strategy. For example, is it unsecured loans and checking accounts? Is it auto loans and mortgages? Once you know what you want to be known for, then you develop action steps around that “ownership” strategy.
(2) If we want accomplish just two strategic initiatives in the next 12-18 months, what are they?
We can’t do everything. So stop trying. Rather than walk away with a giant “To Do” list of 10, 15 or even 20 major tasks reduce your strategy to two broad initiatives.
(3) How are we going to get younger?
Almost every credit union or bank is old. The only way to reduce your aging consumer is to make concentrated efforts to reduce your average age per household. But that is a challenge and hard number to move. So making that reduction will require a significant concentration (and not just mere words on an action plan statement). And while you’re discussing this question, don’t forget to have a serious chat about the age of your board.
(4) If we could change one thing about our institution, what is it?
If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. There are many “elephants in the room” that warrant discussion. No one wants a stagnant organization but unless you change how you do things then it’s extremely easy to revert to complacency. So change a few things.
(5) What current project, product or initiative should we cut?
Steve Jobs once said that the secret of Apple’s success was not in the strategies they did (and said “yes” to) but rather what they didn’t do (said “no” to). The best strategy is not about adding but about cutting.
If you detect a common theme in the questions above it’s the word “focus.” Answering these questions requires you to focus your strategy. It’s not easy, but it starts with asking the right questions.
Those are a few ideas to help you kick-start your strategic planning discussion. What other questions would you add to the list?