How Your Marketing Creative Impacts Your Marketing Strategy

How Your Marketing Creative Impacts Your Marketing Strategy

Your marketing strategy drives your marketing creative. Not the other way around. However, creative is vitally important to your marketing plan’s execution. The most unique strategy in the world is meaningless unless the creative pops and sizzles.

So how do you strike the right blend between creative and strategy? We asked Jim Foley, On the Mark Strategies creative director, a series of questions when it comes to that issue.

  • How does strategy drive creative?

Without strategy you are really just creating graphics for the sake of creating graphics. It becomes more of a beauty contest or about pretty pictures. If you define your strategy well your creative should be the execution of your strategy.

  • How does creative impact the strategy?

Creative is the execution of the strategy or information gleaned in strategy sessions. Therefore you circle back around to utilizing the creative to further develop the strategy. Quality creative that pops will also help your overall brand strategy. For example, if your strategy is to increase consumer engagement then having unique and clear creative will better connect your brand with the consumers you are trying to reach. People don’t necessarily ‘connect’ with logos—they connect with people—but logos and cool creative can illicit strong emotional reactions.

  • When designing websites, what are three key elements financial institutions must consider?

The first thing is to remember that the majority of your users are coming to your website to login to their accounts. Therefore, cross-selling your services in that environment is beyond important. Second, you need to create the corporate brand vibe that allows a potential customer to understand you and how you are different from other banks or credit unions. Third, keep your website focused. It has to be easy to navigate and easy to get to resources whether you are on a laptop or mobile device. Websites sometimes start simple and then end up confusing consumers because financial institutions put so much information into it. You must make your website usable and relevant.

  • What is the right blend between creative and strategy?

They are 50/50. They are the ying and the yang. Together they form balance. When you do one more than another you are out of balance. If you use too much creative without enough strategy you may not hit your goals and objectives. Conversely, it may be pretty but it might not get the results you are seeking. If you are too research driven but your graphics are dull and boring then you are not going to attract the attention of those you are seeking.

  • When you are creating a campaign how do you take strategy into consideration?

There are different parts of your strategy: target audience, message, reactions you are trying to gain from the end user. The creative has to follow those objectives or they will not be as effective. As Steven Covey once said, “you begin with the end in mind.” That strategy quote also applies to creative: your creative should start with the overall strategic goals and objectives of the particular campaign.

  • How do you bring brands alive creatively? How do you take the research and brand strategy information and develop a unique and impactful look for clients?

Through visual cues such as fonts, colors, and images. All of those items play a huge role when it comes to communicating your brand. For example, when we are helping clients with branding projects we use a mood board exercise that helps guide the creative direction. That exercise—which involves you creatively and visually describing your credit union or bank—brings colors and graphics into executing the brand based on your strategy.

If you are interested in better connecting your marketing or branding strategy with your creative efforts, On the Mark Strategies can help you do just that. Contact Mark at 214-538-4147 or e-mail

The Value of Off-Site Strategic Planning

The Value of Off-Site Strategic Planning

The office. For many workers, this is the place you get to around 8 AM and don’t leave until 5 PM (or after) every day, pretty much five days a week. Love or hate it, the office is the place many of us spend the majority of our time any given day.

While having a job and an office to go to every day is a terrific thing, familiarity can breed contempt. That’s why it’s important to consider moving your strategic planning session off-site rather than hosting it somewhere at your credit union facility.

Here are a few additional reasons why taking your strategic planning meeting off-site is a good idea.

  • A new location will generate new ideas. Sure, not every credit union is going to send its management team to the Bahamas, but even going to a conference room across town gets you out of your familiar surroundings and can help attendees develop new ideas.
  • A new location will lessen distractions. If you keep your strategic planning meeting at your credit union facility, odds are you encounter daily interruptions. Instead of devoting themselves to contributing to the strategic planning session, attendees are tempted to spend time checking emails, returning calls and interacting with other employees. When you take your strategic planning session off-site, these distractions aren’t nearly as much of an issue.
  • A new location will build camaraderie. Since you are meeting at the credit union, you are on anyone’s pre-designated “turf.” Office location, seniority and old-fashioned territoriality are no longer a factor. Every strategic planning session attendee, from the first year rookies to twenty-plus year veterans, are on the same playing field.

While taking your credit union strategic planning session off-site generally comes with an increased investment and requires additional time and planning, the above reasons (and many more) offset those expenditures. When you’re talking about something as important as your growth and development plan for the next five or ten years, a relatively small matter like an off-site session makes good sense.

Strategic Plan Ownership is Key

Strategic Plan Ownership is Key

Okay, great. So you’ve had a strategic planning session. Everyone sat around a big table, talked a lot, shared ideas, got down in the weeds about controversial topics and maybe even worked with an outside moderator.

You’ve got your plan, printed in full color on glossy paper, bound in folders and in the hands of each participant.

Terrific. Now what? A key part of your strategic planning session actually happens after everyone leaves the table that day. This key element is answered by a simple question — who the heck owns this thing?

That’s right — who owns your strategic plan? Is it your bank or credit union president? Members of the board? Maybe your marketing/branding expert or even someone in business development?

The answer is — everybody owns your strategic plan. Your strategic planning team absolutely must walk away from the table with the understanding that everybody involved, from the CEO/president down the organizational chart, has full ownership of this puppy.

Why is this important? Without everyone embracing their ownership of the strategic plan, it’s much more likely to fail. Certainly, key elements of your strategic plan (such as specific initiatives with time-frames and parties responsible) fall more squarely on individual folders. However, the overall plan (and its success or failure) is the responsibility of everyone on the strategic planning team. No one can be the “fall guy” or sacrificial lamb if parts of the plan should falter. Conversely, no one person should get all the glory and accolades if parts (or all) of the plan succeed.

Strategic plan ownership requires initiative, honesty and buy-in. Make sure everyone around your strategic planning table understands his or her stake in this process. And make doubly sure they understand that (once all the cussing and discussing is done) they are 100% part-owners in the entire plan.

Is Your Brand Memorable?

Is Your Brand Memorable?

While many things combine to make a successful brand, a common denominator is originality. Originality plays strongly into just how memorable your brand is in the minds of consumers. Think about it in terms of memorable pop-culture figures. Johnny Cash made a name for himself in country music as “the man in black.” In the early 1990s, a young Mark Wahlberg was the “it” spokesman for Calvin Klein. For years, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs walked out on stage in his trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck, you knew it was time for a new product unveiling.

You get the idea. Being original and memorable makes for a strong brand. The strength of your brand is critical to the success and growth of your bank or credit union. After all, Johnny Cash was hardly the only country music singer in his era and Mark Wahlberg wasn’t the only model hawking underwear and cologne. Being memorable matters.

Here are a few simple litmus tests to consider when asking the question “Is your brand memorable?”

  • Does your brand represent the consumers we serve and wish to serve? In other words, do you look, sound and act in ways familiar with the people in your marketplace? If your brand serves a hip, upscale Millennial area, doesn’t look and sound like it? If your brand doesn’t (both visually and interpersonally) represent your existing and target consumer segments, it’s not likely memorable.
  • Does your brand look the same across all channels? Take a look at the retail appearance and layout of your branches. Now check-out your website. Next, pull up your app on smart phone. Check out your billboards, banner ads and business development materials. Does your brand look the same across all these (and other) marketing/advertising channels? If your brand isn’t consistent across all venues, it’s not likely memorable.
  • Does your brand make a personal connection? Are you reaching out to consumers with a voice they can understand, with images to which they can relate and in a way that encourages dialogue? Or are you simply pushing brochure-type language that focuses more on product features than benefits and using stock photography that any other financial institution could buy and promote? Most importantly, does your brand encourage a dialogue with consumers in which your bank or credit union takes the time to listen and educate as opposed to sell, sell, sell? If your brand doesn’t make a personal connection, it’s not likely memorable.

There’s a reason people talk about famous pop culture icons, sometimes even long after they passed away. These individuals found ways to promote an original and memorable brand for themselves. If your bank or credit union can craft, implement and consistently deliver a similarly memorable brand, it greatly enhances its chances of future success.

Your Strategic Plan Isn’t Important

Your Strategic Plan Isn’t Important

Get your attention? Good – I hope so.

Now that you have had a moment to catch your breath, let me explain.

British statesman Sir Winston Churchill said: “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find truer words in the strategic planning process arena.

Your strategic plan, once hammered out and put on paper, is really nothing more than a tool for direction, a compass for your bank or credit union to follow in shifting winds. Too often, bank and credit union executives come out of the strategic planning process completely fixated upon that which is on paper. Guess what? Times change. The markets change. The ripple effect of an interconnected global economy means a drop in the bucket in Beijing can be a tidal wave once it reaches Bakersfield.

Your strategic plan absolutely must include the fluidity to adapt to the only inevitability in the business world — change. You simply cannot look at your strategic plan like your television remote control; in other words, something with which you can tap a button and make the world bend to your will. It just doesn’t work that way. Using that analogy, a better way to look at your strategic plan might be like the dial on the radio. Don’t like the station you’re listening to or is it coming in fuzzy? Reach for the dial until you find something you like better of that comes in crystal clear.

One of the greatest values of strategic planning is not the document itself but the time in which your team puts into it. Those days facing each other across the table are invaluable when it comes to confronting differences, acknowledging past successes and failures as well as hammering out some kind of general consensus about the future of your credit union.

Your bank or credit union must have a strategic plan in order to move forward. What that plan requires to succeed, however, is flexibility in its planners when the inevitable change hits the fan. Perhaps the best way to cap off every strategic plan is with the famous Boy Scout motto, “be prepared.” Be prepared for the unknown. Be prepared for change. Be prepared for your strategic plan to require considerable updating the day after the ink dries.

But you know what? This is a good thing. Adaptability is a linchpin of a successful evolutionary process. If your bank or credit union becomes so bogged down in the printed page of the strategic plan, it is far less likely to bounce back to rapidly changing elements in the financial services world entirely outside its control.

Strategic planning, in other words, is not a destination. It is a journey.

Your Brand is More Cultural than Collateral

Your Brand is More Cultural than Collateral

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

During a recent discussion about branding with a credit union marketing audit client, a recurring theme surfaced. The client referred to specific marketing collateral (such as the logo, corporate colors, brochures, etc.) as the brand.

This is a not an uncommon misunderstanding. While specific marketing collateral like your logo, brochures and commercials are definitely a part of your brand, they are not the totality of your brand. When seeking a way to define this somewhat vague notion, the point I emphasized was:

Your brand is much more cultural than collateral.

Again, this misunderstanding about brand is not unique to this particular client. Many banks and credit unions, and their marketing leadership teams, default to defining brand as something collateral. In reality, your collateral (while important) is a relatively small part of your overall brand. The brand itself goes much deeper, straight to the cultural heart of your financial institution.

You can have absolutely amazing-looking collateral (and, during mystery shop experiences I find that many banks and credit unions do fantastic collateral). But none of that matters if your brand (again, a cultural thing as lived by your staff in front of your consumers and each other) falls short.

Think about it this way — your collateral materials are a brand promise you make to consumers. In them you can promise a number of things such as we are the fastest, we are the friendliest, we are the (insert brand proposition here). Those pieces are designed to elicit a response from existing or potential members/customers. Once those people actually make contact with your bank or credit union, however, does the cultural experience your staff provide match the collateral promise? Are you indeed the fastest/friendliest/whatever?

If so, terrific. You are living up to your brand promise. If not, your bank or credit union suffers from a brand gap between its collateral and is cultural. You must repair that gap before it does serious damage to your brand credibility. You cannot be one thing in your collateral and another in your culture.

Your bank or credit union brand is the most important asset it has (and probably isn’t even reflected on any accounting spreadsheet). To advance your brand in an authentic, meaningful and future-focused way, everyone at your bank or credit union must understand that the brand is far more cultural than collateral.

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

Is Your Brand Bred, Fed and Led?

This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

An old maxim about conventional military forces goes something like this: “To be successful, an army must be bred, fed and led.”

The same three things apply to your bank or credit union brand in order for it to be successful.

Obviously, there are differences between an army and your brand and slight variations in the definitions of these three words. Here’s how it breaks down for your bank or credit union brand:

Bred: This means you must develop enthusiastic brand ambassadors from all employees, in effect breeding a culture of brand loyalty and excitement. This applies to both new employees when they first enter your bank or credit union culture as well as existing employees regardless of tenure. This generally goes back to how well your brand is backed up by proactive and effective training. Without this training, you’ll have a difficult task breeding the loyal brand soldiers you need to succeed.

Fed: You wouldn’t expect an army to march successfully on less than a full stomach. The same thing applies in a more emotional/spiritual way when it comes to your bank or credit union brand. Some of the feeding of your staff goes back to the previously mentioned training. However, you must also feed their spirit for your brand to thrive. How will you communicating success stories related to the brand? Are you praising staff that do well living the brand just as much (if not more) than criticizing/redirecting staff for brand shortcomings? Unless you feed your brand, you can’t take the bold steps forward required to succeed.

Led: Yes, everyone in your bank or credit union is responsible for taking care of the brand. In this instance, however, led refers specifically to your executive leadership team. Staff will look to these individuals to see just how high they hold brand standards. If your leadership team, including the CEO, aren’t leading the brand in a visible and meaningful way, why should your staff feel compelled to do so? As any great army is led by a great general, so must your bank or credit union brand also be led by individuals willing to do whatever it takes to guide your team to victory.

Bred, fed and led. Armies require this. So do bank and credit union brands. How well is your financial institution bred, fed and lead?

Debunking Three Strategic Planning Myths

Debunking Three Strategic Planning Myths

Accomplishing something complex without a plan can be challenging – especially running a business. Yet, some financial institutions have never created a strategic plan. Imagine trying to build a house without a blue print. That’s pretty much what these financial institutions are doing. They are trying to build a business and a brand without any type of plan to guide them.

Strategic planning, when done well, is extremely effective. It provides specific direction, defines strategies to support that direction and helps the organization determine how to spend money and allocate staff effectively.

Strategic planning not done well is a different story. Usually, ineffective planning happens when leaders fall into certain traps or subscribe to common myths about the right way to do planning.

Myth: We just have to get through the next few days and planning will be over

Truth: Strategic planning is an every-day affair

Your strategic plan should be in action every day your financial institution’s doors are open for business. That doesn’t mean you are sitting in a daily meeting planning strategy. It means you are carrying out the goals and actions defined during your annual planning session. It means your board is reviewing those goals and actions monthly or quarterly and holding management accountable to the strategy developed during that annual session.

Strategic planning often fails, not because the strategy is unsound, but because nobody bothers to follow-through with the strategy once the planning session is over. That’s when the real work begins. That is when you put ideas into motion. If nobody at your financial institution does this, there’s no point in planning at all.

Myth: Planning is only for executives or managers

Truth: Proper planning involves every employee

Executives and managers may make the final decisions, but they can’t possibly decide what is in the best interest of your financial institution, its employees and its customers or members without input from those people. It just can’t happen.

Ask employees what processes work and what needs improvement at your financial institution. Encourage them to offer solutions. If your strategy includes something massive like replacing your core processor, involve the people who use that system in discussions prior to your planning session. Find out how a major change will impact their jobs. Consider the time needed to train them on a new system. All of that ties in to your strategy. The more input you receive before you make a decision, the more support you will get from employees when it’s time to implement that decision. Making decisions in a vacuum slows progress and often hinders it altogether.

Myth: Your strategic plan must remain top secret.

Truth: Communicate your strategy and goals to every employee at your financial institution.

Employees cannot execute your strategy if they don’t know what the strategy is and how their jobs contribute to it. Everyone’s job description and goals must tie back to your strategic plan in some way. If it doesn’t, you don’t need them.

Communicate your strategic plan to every employee. Do it in a big meeting or delegate managers to communicate with the people who report to them. Each employee needs an explanation about how their job ties to your financial institution’s strategy. Their performance and goals should directly support some part of the plan, and that is how they should be evaluated on their annual performance reviews. Everything should tie together.

Construction workers cannot build a structurally sound house with a solid foundation unless they all have access tothe same blueprint and understand their role in the project. The same is true of your financial institution’s strategic plan. Get input. Communicate plans to your employees and remember that planning done well is planning that happens every day your doors are open for business.

Don’t Greet Consumers the Way Pizza Inn Greeted Me

Don’t Greet Consumers the Way Pizza Inn Greeted Me

By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On the Mark Strategies

My son turned 14 recently. To help him celebrate, we took him and a group of his friends to an escape room, then head to a pizza buffet. Is there anything better than unlimited pizza for teenage boys? Unfortunately, that plan came to a screeching halt when we entered the restaurant.

About five feet into the establishment, we were “greeted” by a man behind a counter in a logo T-shirt who said, “We close in 20 minutes.” The buffet still had pizza on it, so I asked him if they would be adding to it before closing. He said, “we might consider a special request.”

We turned around and left, which is what your customers or members (or potential ones) would do if someone at your financial institution greeted them with such blatant rudeness. It was their loss and your gain, because here’s what you can learn from Pizza Inn’s poor service.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. We easily had five other restaurant choices without having to get back in the truck. How many other choices do consumers have if they walk out of your financial institution unhappy? If there’s at least one other bank or credit union in sight, you can pretty much guarantee they won’t be back.

Always deliver on your brand promise. I walked in carrying a huge birthday cake. It should have been obvious to anyone with functioning eyesight that this was more than a group of people visiting a buffet. We were there to celebrate a special occasion, and Pizza Inn took that away from us. I was curious to see how that behavior compared with their brand promise, so I did some research. The Pizza Inn website reads, “It’s been a privilege serving loyal guests for more than three generations. Come and start your own family tradition with us today!” I don’t think this is the treatment Pizza Inn had in mind when it created its brand plan.

Consistency is key to a successful brand. We arrived at 8:30 p.m. According to the restaurant’s website, it is supposed to be open until 11 p.m. on Friday evenings. When we walked past the building at 9:30 p.m. to get back to our car, the place was dark. The information on your website must match the information in your branches and on your signage. If you can’t communicate your hours of operation consistently, potential consumers are unlikely to trust you with their money or anything else. It seems small in the grand scheme of things, but everything matters in branding. You must be consistent, even with the smallest details.

As much as I like Pizza Inn’s food, this experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I won’t return to that location, and my brand loyalty is questionable at this point. Perhaps Pizza Inn can afford to lose customers. I’m guessing your financial institution cannot.

Why Your Corporate Culture Matters

Why Your Corporate Culture Matters

Brand. Values. Culture. We throw these words around quite a bit in corporate America, often with minimal regard for what they actually mean or the impact they have. Sometimes we even hang them on the wall as proof that we’re important enough to have them.

None of that matters if you don’t practice what you preach (or prominently display). Do your employees even know what your bank or credit union values? Perhaps the better question is do the behaviors within your bank or credit union reflect what you say your culture is?

Every credit union, every bank, every business has an internal culture whether they recognize it or not. The way management treats employees is part of your culture. The way employees treat each other is part of your culture. The way your bank or credit union makes your employees feel when they are at work is a big part of your culture.

Why does any of this matter? Because your corporate values and your internal culture impact your brand strength. If your internal culture is weak or inconsistent, your brand will be, too.

Culture Gaps

When you market your bank or credit union one way but deliver a completely different level of service or experience, that is called a brand gap. When you define your corporate values and culture one way but employee behavior and performance contradicts it, we call that a culture gap.

For example, the poster hanging in your branch claims respect is one of your values, but managers frequently belittle their subordinates and employees thrive on disrespecting each other. That’s a culture gap. Or, your corporate values claim to respect and embrace all ideas, but employees are ridiculed or turned away when they attempt to share. That is a culture gap. You have to close those gaps to improve your culture and your brand, and it has to start at the top. Executives and managers must emulate your bank or credit union’s values in everything they do. If they act one way and expect their employees to act a different way, you will never close those gaps.


When you ask someone if they like their job, the answer almost always relates to how the company makes them feel or how their supervisors treat them. If you treat your employees like they matter, it makes them feel good. A simple e-mail that says, “Thank you for taking care of (insert situation). You really saved the day,” is an easy way to make someone feel good about themselves and their job. Letting an employee take an extra twenty minutes at lunch one day so they can eat with their kid at school indicates you value what’s important to them. When you consistently make your employees feel like they matter, they willingly do more for you.

If your bank or credit union creates great employee experiences, your employees will create great consumer experiences. That is how your culture and your brand thrive.