Eliminate the Non Essentials

Eliminate the Non Essentials

“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

—Lin Yutang

The above quote starts chapter one in Greg McKeowan’s book Essentialism. While the book deals more with how you handle your multiple responsibilities, there are plenty of business applications as well. Especially for banks and credit unions.

The way of the essentialist is “less but better.” McKeowan asks a searing question: “are you investing in the right things?” Think about that for a minute: is your financial institution investing in the right things? My guess is there are several non-essential initiatives you need to eliminate.

There are multiple areas to consider applying the essentialism principle to your credit union or bank:

  • Marketing—Your bank or credit union is probably marketing A TON of products. But are they the RIGHT services? It’s the same with community involvement. There are probably multiple events with which you are associated. But are they the right ones? Your marketing will be far more effective if you cut the clutter and focus your message.
  • Branding—One trap many financial institutions fall into is trying to be all things to all people. However, the most successful banks and credit unions focus on a niche. As Seth Godin says, “the way you break through to the masses is to target a niche.” Your branding will be far more effective if you narrow your target audiences.
  • Planning—Nowhere is setting priorities more important than in your strategic planning process. Your strategic plan should not look like some giant “To Do” list. In fact, we recommend following “The Power of 3” concept when it comes to strategic planning. Focus on three key initiatives. Your planning will be far more effective if you choose a few strategies.

Let’s go back to the post’s title and focus on a couple of action items:

  • Eliminate—There are things in your marketing, branding and planning you should STOP doing. What are they are? Make a list and eliminate them. We tend to add and add and add. We never eliminate projects, people or processes. Maybe it’s time you stop adding and start eliminating.
  • Non-Essentials—There are initiatives your bank or credit union are doing that are not essential to the core of your business. Think about your website and branches. How many non-essential products (from outside vendors) are you promoting that bring you very little revenue and have nothing to do with your financial institution? Maybe it’s time you conduct a review and determine what is most important.

Eliminating non-essentials is hard work. It’s far easier to say “yes” to everything. However, if you want your credit union or bank to perform at high levels, do some trimming.

Are You Marketing Or Just Making Noise?

Are You Marketing Or Just Making Noise?

People receive over 3,000 advertising messages a day (more or less depending on your source). But are they receiving your credit unions’? They probably are not receiving your messages if all you are doing is making noise.

As author Jim Stengel says in Grow, “You can’t have a highly effective business culture without highly effective communication. A business that communicates as one team with one dream can make beautiful music together. A business that communicates at cross-purposes is just a lot of noise.”

Today, marketing is not about sending your messages and hoping someone sees them. Marketing is about connecting.

So how do you know if your marketing is effective or if it is just a noise-maker? Here are some questions to honestly answer:

  1. Does everything match—From business cards to brochures to logos to websites, all your marketing should look coherent. Over time (as multiple people touch and produce your marketing), your brand can lose consistency. Line all your marketing pieces together and see if it passes the matching test.
  2. How professional do your materials look—Your offline and online materials say something about your credit union. Are they communicating that you are a “mom and pop” shop with hand written or photocopied material? This is especially relevant with in-branch materials. Examine your pieces and see if they pass the professional test.
  3. Is your communication real—The best marketing practices today communicate what is real and authentic about your brand. Do the stock photography images you use in your newsletters, brochures, etc. look like your members or like “perfect people.” Look at your visuals and see if they pass the reality test.
  4. How short are your messages—People’s reading and attention spans are at an all-time low. You are doing good if you can get them to skim the bullet points in your copy. When it comes to the written word, less is best. Review your writing and see if it passes the short test.

”The highest-quality businesses—the fastest growing, most profitable and most innovative—share a common thread: their high-quality communication,“ Stengel adds. “Everything expresses and supports the brand ideal.”

So is your marketing supporting your brand or is it just making noise?

Three Words that Describe the Modern Business Development Professional

Three Words that Describe the Modern Business Development Professional

Today will examine words that describe the modern business development professional. In the same vein, this is not a scientific or comprehensive list. Rather, it is simply intended as an introductory and 30,000 foot view of terms relevant to business development professionals in the year 2015. As you may recall from an earlier post, the smarmy sales guy is dead/

  • Not-Smarmy. Yes, I realize that is really two words, but there’s a hyphen in between, which helps. Far from the business development person of decades past, the modern business development professional cannot rely solely on a sales emphasis. Today, business development professionals will identify more closely with relationship building and partnership nurturing, over sales. Rather than purely pushing revenue numbers up, today’s business development professional looks to match products and services with potential consumers. Enhanced revenue is a natural byproduct of this re-imagined job function. You must be real, authentic and genuinely able to empathize with the consumer.
  • Civic. In the past, business development professionals worked in silos like boardrooms, back-offices and the occasional golf course. Today, they must strive to be a much more visible element of the communities in which they live and work. Business development professionals, acting more like branch managers in many ways, will seek out opportunities to be visible and engaging in the public eye. Opportunities like this include community events, local group meetings and even area school activities. Far from working at existing as the smarmy salesperson of the past, the modern business development professional is to be seen as open, engaging and genuine. And this doesn’t just mean attending meetings – you must also be plugged into committees and other work groups that roll up their sleeves and get he jobs done.
  • Brand-oriented. To succeed, the modern business development professional must truly buy into the brand of the company or person they represent. This means they must live the brand, love the brand and endorse the brand. This will require a close relationship with the marketer or marketers in charge of branding efforts. Rather than working as a rogue field agent, today’s business development professional will fully integrate themselves as a key component of the larger marketing and branding function. By doing this, they not only develop a closer and more meaningful relationship with the company they serve, but also with the target audiences they are charged with attracting.

Just as with modern marketers, the modern business development professional is an evolving person. While we can use certain keywords to help describe this person, no three-word list can cover it all. What other words might you suggest to help describe the modern business development professional?

The Three “Es” of Strategic Planning

The Three “Es” of Strategic Planning

I recently finished reading Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. It is a fascinating book about how doing less actually helps you accomplish more. In sum, it takes discipline to focus your professional and personal life.

After introducing his concept, McKeown divides his book into three sections: explore, eliminate and execute. Applying that approach for credit unions and banks you can quickly see there are the same three “Es” for strategic planning. Here the three areas along with a potential trap to avoid with each:

  • Explore—Examine what you could do at your financial institution. This phase should take place well before your actual planning session. Make sure you are getting input from your staff, your target audiences and your board. But don’t stop there. Spend time reviewing industry trends. In other words this is all about data and feedback. Include surveys, focus groups, demographic data, etc.
    • Trap—Gathering so much data (even “big data”) that you have too much information. You can quickly fall into “paralysis by analysis.” While data is awesome, it can actually slow down strategic thinking. Make sure you are not bogging down in data.
  • Eliminate—Examine what you should do at your financial institution. This phase should take place during your actual planning session. This step is perhaps the hardest of the three. We are really good during planning sessions developing tasks, action plans, priorities, etc. But executives and boards struggle when asked the question “What should we stop doing?” The truth is your plan’s ultimate success is determined here: with a clear and sharp focus.
    • Trap—Walking away from your strategic planning session with a giant list of 5, 7 or even 10 strategic priorities. The best credit unions and banks focus. You don’t have to do everything at your financial institution: you have to do the right things.
  • Execute—Examine what you are doing at your financial institution. This phase should take place the minute your strategic planning session ends. We often think as soon as the plan is put together in a fancy three-ring binder that we’re done. Nothing is further from the truth. In actuality, it’s just getting started. Execution requires your entire team (executives, management and front line staff). Make sure you communicate the plan consistently and frequently.
    • Trap—Avoiding accountability. What measures did you put in place to ensure your top strategic initiatives are on track? Successful execution means successful monitoring (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly). Make sure you are reviewing your plan regularly.

If you explore your strategic options, eliminate the ones that are not the most important and execute the plan with follow-up, your credit union’s or bank’s strategic plan will have this “E” attribute: excellent.

Three Words That Describe the Modern Marketer

Three Words That Describe the Modern Marketer

Have you ever taken one of those self-help quizzes in popular magazines? You know, ones with titles like “10 steps to a healthier you” or “five quick and easy ways to improve your relationships?” These are popular in magazines like Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health.

While this isn’t one of those quizzes, it is entertaining and even a little bit enlightening to consider ourselves in such condensed terms. You may have seen questions like this in a survey: questions such as “Please describe the way you feel about Company X in a few short words.” If marketers had to settle on a few short words to describe themselves, what might they be? Below are a few ideas. This is not a conclusive list, nor anything remotely scientific. Just a candid and good-natured look at the marketing persona.

  • Inquisitive. Marketers, by nature, must be curious about the changing world around them. Consumer demographics are in a state of constant flux and marketers must be on top of that. It doesn’t matter if you earned a BA or even a master’s degree in marketing, journalism or a related field 15 or 20 years ago. The world is a dramatically different place than it was in 1995. Marketers, just as much as the companies they work for and advise, must constantly find ways to stay relevant and current. An inquisitive personality can make this happen. Modern marketers will seek to learn more about the world around them, availing themselves of resources such as business books, blogs, relevant websites and social media outlets. The best way to stay young, both personally and professionally, is to never stop learning. Check out great business books like Grow, Good to Great and The One Thing,
  • Likable. Marketers simply cannot afford to have gruff and abrasive personalities (that’s what CFOs are for – just kidding!). What may have worked well in boardrooms in the 1950s and 1960s won’t fly today. Just as much as the companies and products that help sell, marketers must also successfully sell themselves. This means coming across as open, honest, caring and even loving. It is the goal of every marketer to help consumers come to love a person, product or company. They must also help their clients and employers love them.
  • Analytical. While a good part of the marketing job function lies within the creative realm, successful marketers must also have at least a cursory knowledge of math and analytics. Rather than locking horns with chief financial officers and accountants, the analytical marketer knows at least enough to talk shop with them and can hopefully defend their financial decisions based on substantive data and information. It’s kind of like walking onto a new car lot. You want to know enough about both the vehicle in which you are interested and the sales process to hold your own with the salesman. Successful marketers will care enough about their role to back up the importance of what they do with good, solid numbers. Modern marketers must be adept in such concepts as ROI, cash flow, income statements and bookkeeping.

These are just three words that describe the modern marketer. A more comprehensive list could easily include hundreds of words (both flattering unflattering). Marketers, more now than ever, help chart the course of their own professional destinies and define who they are both as individuals and as a profession. Words like inquisitive, likable and analytical help start this process. What words might you add?

IP Targeting Offers Marketing Tool for Credit Unions & Banks

IP Targeting Offers Marketing Tool for Credit Unions & Banks

Traditional marketing methods—direct mail, TV, newspaper ads—are struggling. More and more consumers are spending more and more of their time online. But how do you reach them there? A tool credit unions and community banks can use is IP (Internet Protocol) targeting.

“IP targeting provides a laser focused Internet marketing solution for credit unions and local community banks,” says Angela Ostroff, marketing consultant for Cox Media Group. “Financial institutions can find their members or customers where they are shopping—online. It allows you to place your display advertising in front of only your qualified consumers through the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.”

This digital tool can provide a reduction in cost/consumer, flexibility in messaging and detailed analytics to enable ROI tracking to specific community demographics.

What is IP Targeting and how does it work?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is simply a numerical label assigned to devices participating in a computer network. The IP address is used as an indicator of geographic location (geo-IP), determining approximately where an Internet user is located, useful for search results, geo-fencing, security, fraud detection and of course, marketing. As an example, a community credit union can provide a database list of all potential members for their credit union. The list is “run” against a database of millions of global IP addresses. From there, a custom campaign is created with targeting and monthly metrics. The marketing can be targeted by geography, demographic, context, and behavior.

“IP Targeting allows financial institutions to reach scalable and targeted audiences without using cookies or tracing individual behaviors or usage patterns,” Ostroff adds. “Additionally, the IP address does not contain personally identifiable information. It is an anonymous way to aggregate the audience the bank or credit union needs and wants to reach.”

The IP targeting technology allows banks and credit unions to advertise more efficiently while maximizing marketing dollars. The custom campaigns can create numerous targeting options as well. For more information about how Cox Media Group is using IP targeting for financial institutions, you can contact Ostroff at 412-237-1204 or check out their website.

Is Your Credit Union or Bank Like Downton Abbey?

Is Your Credit Union or Bank Like Downton Abbey?

I admit it. I watch Downton Abbey. While that probably means I have to turn in my “man card,” I actually like the British drama period piece. Every Sunday night I curl up on the couch with my wife and daughter and tune to PBS.

Having watched all four seasons and now into the fifth, I was struck by how similar the themes they address in the show actually apply to financial institutions today. Downton Abbey covers broad subjects such as change, the past vs. the future and differences between the classes. While banks and credit unions certainly don’t have royalty (unless you count CEOs as kings and queens), there are similarities between the show and financial institutions.

So in your credit union or bank like Downton Abbey? Consider these questions:

  • Are you trapped in the past? Downton Abbey covers a tumultuous time period in British history. The old Edwardian society is crumbling while a new one is evolving. Some characters embrace that change while others struggle with it. How about your bank or credit union? How consumers conduct their financial transactions is changing. It’s no longer done at the branch (or even computer). It’s all mobile and digital. While we financial institutions talk a good game, how is your strategy actually adapting to address the new consumer? If your bank or credit union doesn’t change its strategy new entities like BankMobile and com will overtake you.
  • Are you recognizing the differences between executives and front line staff? Part of the Downton Abbey dynamics is sometimes referred to as “upstairs/downstairs.” As in the royalty were upstairs and the servants were downstairs. Think about your own organization. Is the hierarchy such that your front-line staff feel more like servants than team members? When was the last time anyone from the “C” suite genuinely recognized the contributions of a teller, loan officer or service representative? If your bank or credit union doesn’t change the way it treats its own people, your brand will never succeed.
  • Are you struggling with change? During the 1920s the entire class system was radically changing. Change was hard then (as evidenced by how hard Lord Grantham adapts). And change is hard now in the financial services industry (as evidenced by the lack of innovation coming from banks and credit unions). When was the last time you did something truly unique with a new marketing tactic? If your bank or credit union doesn’t effectively embrace new marketing techniques (digital, a sales based web site, social media, etc.) you are doomed to be a commodity.

While Downton Abbey is a wonderful show, it would make a terrible financial institution. Answer the above questions honestly and see if there are ways you need to adapt before your bank or credit union castle tumbles.


Marketing Audit Insights Reveal Common Areas of Concern

Marketing Audit Insights Reveal Common Areas of Concern

One of the most interesting jobs we help clients with are marketing audits. Described simply, marketing audits are designed to take an extremely granular view of a bank or credit union’s marketing efforts from A to Z. This includes looking at competitor and internal mystery shops, marketing plans and calendars and promotional materials.

After having completed many marketing audits for clients both large and small, from coast-to-coast, a few common insights have emerged. By reviewing these insights found below, it’s possible for you to decide if a marketing audit would be helpful your bank or credit union.

  • Insight: too much clutter in the branches. Banks and credit unions are often guilty of allowing and keeping far too much clutter in their branch locations. This clutter can come in the form of old and outdated materials, brochures and pamphlets from business partners and even disheveled-looking community bulletin boards. Rather than allow this clutter, strive to keep your branch facilities tidy and organized. Conduct periodic “marketing sweeps” that look for old and outdated materials and ensure that you are using available marketing space to promote your own brand and not that of others.
  • Insight: your own bank or credit union level of consumer service isn’t as good as you thought it was. Similar to the findings of an external mystery shop, finding out that your own consumer service isn’t up to par is also a jarring experience. However, marketing audits make it possible for you to review and correct the shortcomings, rather than allowing decreased wallet and market share to the correcting for you.
  • Insight: the marketing and/or business development organizational tree is not optimized for success. Occasionally, those tasked with leading the marketing function of a bank or credit union (such as marketing managers or marketing vice presidents) are not invited to the table when it comes to higher-level executive management decisions. This is generally a mistake. Those involved with leading the marketing of a bank or credit union should have a place at the table with the executive team. Also, more and more banks and credit unions are finding that it makes more sense to have their branch managers lead local business development efforts.

Those are just a few of the findings that have come from many marketing audits for clients. By looking for ways now to help avoid issues like too much clutter, inferior consumer service and inoperative organizational trees, your bank or credit union can take leaps ahead towards improving its performance.

Why Bother with Mission and Vision Statements?

Why Bother with Mission and Vision Statements?

Let’s face it — in this day and age, many people are jaded to the notion of mission and vision statements. And not without reason. Companies large and small have developed ridiculous sounding mission and vision statements, from the verbose and pompous to the shallow and unrealistic.

Where the disconnect really occurs, however, is when a company (or a bank or credit union, for that matter) simply fails to live up to the promises made in its mission and vision statements. So, why should your bank or credit union even bother with a mission or vision statement?

To begin this process, give some thought to the mission and vision statements you already have (if you have them). Are they simply framed documents hanging on a meeting room wall, gathering dust? Can anybody at your bank or credit union recite them, or even parts of them? If this is the way you handle your vision and mission statements, you may as well pull them down off the wall and free up the space for something else.

Mission and vision statements are still important for a variety of reasons. However, for those reasons to hold water, employees must be held accountable for living the mission and vision statements. It’s simply not enough to see them hanging on the wall everyday (or even to be able to recite them). Your staff, from the president to the back office and front-line staff, must actually live out the promises you make to consumers in your vision and mission statements, every day. Without actually living up to its promise, any vision statement is hollow and falls flat.

What are some ways you can help your staff live up to the promises found in your vision and mission statements?

  • Use every opportunity to review the vision and mission statements. Every time you have a staff meeting, department meeting or other get together, make sure you go over the vision and mission statements. Ask employees who can recite them by heart, and reward that effort. Ensure that staff are exposed to the vision and mission statements, every day.
  • When you see a staff member living the vision and mission statements with a consumer, reward that effort. It could be something as simple as making eye contact and greeting them by their name with a smile. However the employee lives out the vision and mission statements, it is important that that person is recognized in front of his or her peers for having done an excellent job in furthering your bank or credit union brand.
  • Mystery shop yourself. Using an unknown outsider, review your branch facilities to see whether or not employees are actually living out the vision and mission statements beyond the walls of a meeting room. Hopefully, all your hard work in promoting your bank or credit union vision and mission statements is actually seeing the light of day in front of consumers. If your mystery shop reveals otherwise, at least you know and can begin the correction process right away.

Yes, many vision and mission statements have become fodder for late-night comedians. And honestly, too many banks and credit unions have done a poor job crafting and delivering on the promise of vision and mission statements. However, they are still an important part of your bank or credit union branding efforts and should be lived by your staff every day.


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