Keeping Your Strategic Plan Out of the Weeds

Keeping Your Strategic Plan Out of the Weeds

Banks and credit unions that engage in strategic planning are committing time and valuable resources towards planning for the future. Your leadership team will likely spend hours at the table hammering out the details of your strategic plan for the next several years.

One of the most important ground rules about strategic planning (and a compelling reason to use an outside facilitator to help conduct the session) is keeping the discussion at a strategic rather than a tactical level. Your strategic planning session must be geared towards discussing, understanding and deciding on a course of action that concentrates on strategic initiatives — big-picture items.

It’s all too easy for a strategic planning discussion to jump the rails and plunge into the high weeds of tactical discussions. By tactical, we mean the daily tasks and jobs, the nuts and bolts of operations at your bank or credit union, that keep things moving. These are certainly important and, if not in place, can sabotage larger strategic initiatives. However, your time at the strategic planning table simply cannot be spent debating and discussing tactical issues.

For example, let’s say your bank or credit union decides an important strategic initiative for the next several years involves branding. Branding is a huge concept that touches every single element of your financial institution. The visual appearance of your brand is certainly a part of this. If you’re not careful, your leadership team could fly off the rails and start a discussion of dress code and how a revised dress code could fit the new brand.

Dress code is important. Dress code matters. Dress code impacts the brand. But, friends, dress code is absolutely the last thing you want to talk about during a strategic planning session. It’s an agonizing, tactical-specific discussion that almost always degenerates to a microscopic level of analysis that it makes a thesis dissertation look simple in comparison. This type of discussion does not empower your strategic planning session. Quite the opposite — it can cripple it.

Dress code is just one example of the dangers of your strategic planning session sinking into the murky waters of tactical items. There are many, many others. The important takeaway here is that in order for your bank or credit union strategic plan to be successful, it must keep its focus on the strategic rather than the tactical.

Is Visiting Your Financial Institution a Pain?

Is Visiting Your Financial Institution a Pain?

Let’s face it — most consumers think going to the bank or credit union real pain in the you-know-where. Although financial products and services are important to consumers and definitely have emotional impact, they are not typically seen as “sexy” items which people wish to purchase.

Your bank or credit union should take an honest look at the way in which consumers perceive it and answer the question, honestly – “is visiting us a pain?” If consumers, already halfway dreading going to the bank or credit union actually do have a negative experience there, it’s bad for your brand and your bottom line.

Examine the consumer visit from their point of view. Start with the basics. Is your facility easy to see from the road? Is it attractive (for example, landscaping, paint, etc.)? Once inside, how quickly are your consumers greeted? Do you have a queue system and, if so, does it ask consumers to take it upon themselves to sign in or does your staff take the initiative and handle that for them?

Digging deeper, you should next examine subsequent steps in a typical consumer interaction. How long is the average wait time? Do you provide some type of beverage (water, coffee, etc.)? Once a consumer is seated with a representative, is that person skilled and trained to ask questions or are they simply an order-taker with no real drive?

After examining some of these basics (and the above examples are just a few of the many things you should examine), apply the question again — “is visiting us a pain?” If some of the answers to the questions above included responses like “our landscaping is dead,” “the average wait time is 30 minutes,” and “our staff are poorly trained in asking questions,” it’s likely visiting you is a pain for consumers. Now it’s up to you to fix that.

Ways to address this challenge include taking a look at your brand, training, employee culture and accessible member data. It is critical that your bank or credit union examine the consumer interaction experience from the consumer perspective to ensure visiting you isn’t a pain. Because if it is, consumers are more than happy to take their business someplace more pleasant.

A deep-dive marketing audit is also a terrific way to ascertain how easy it is to do business with your financial institution. For more information on marketing audits, please follow this link.

Is Your Brand Human?

Is Your Brand Human?

If banks and credit unions are speaking honestly and openly, they’d admit their image for the past say, 100 years, is not necessarily a terribly human one. I mean, the most instantly recognizable bankers in pop culture today are probably the Monopoly guy and Mr. Drysdale from the 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Neither of these icons evoke a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings from consumers.

Financial institutions have made great strides in the last quarter-century towards better humanizing their brands. But much work remains to be done. Take a look at your own bank or credit union and ask the same question — “is our brand human?”

Here’s a brief litmus test through which you can run your brand to help answer the question:

  • Do we look like the people we serve? In other words, are you still sporting the traditional suit and tie look? Are your branches still anchored with traditional mainstays like behemoth teller counters, mahogany desks and rope lines? Now, if these elements match your target audiences, terrific. You might not need to change anything. However, if your physical appearance, both in terms of attire and design, do not match the people you want to serve, your brand probably needs humanizing.
  • Do we try to talk to our consumers where they are? If the limit of your communications is still a revolving wire rack brochure stand, your brand is almost certainly in need of humanizing. You must take your brand message and story to consumers where they are. Where they are increasingly is online. How well are you telling your story on social media platforms, via a vibrant two-way website and valuable consumer education related content on your blog? If your answer to these questions is some form of “uhhhhh …,” your brand probably needs humanizing.
  • Do we listen more than we talk? Old-school bank and credit union brands rarely did a good job of engaging with consumers. Moving beyond mere order-taker status, financial institutions with humanized brands now invest in solid engagement training. This entails a lot of work, including training staff towards the importance of active listening, aligning consumer needs with select products and services and speaking more about product benefits than features. All this requires us to listen more than we talk. If your mouth is running more than your ears are listening, your brand probably needs humanizing.

The formal, robotic and generally boring brands of bank and credit union past will struggle to maintain relevancy in today’s consumer-driven society. If your brand needs humanizing, acting now can help establish your bank or credit union as an important part of your consumers’ lives.

The Cost of Not …

The Cost of Not …

No, the title doesn’t contain a typo. Or a missing word. But it is missing something: lost opportunity.

When it comes to many strategic initiatives, financial institutions can have a case of the “nots.”

  • “We’re not going to train our staff because it cost too much money.”
  • “We’re not going to invest in branding because we don’t see the value.”
  • “We’re not going to conduct a strategic planning session this year because it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes there are valid reasons for not doing a particular project. The investment might be too much, the timing might not be right or the project load may already be too high.

However, in many cases let’s call the “not” disease what it really is: an excuse.

When examining whether the cost is too high, the time involved is too much or some other reason credit unions and banks must also consider the cost of NOT doing a particular strategy or project.

In other words, what is the cost of NOT:

  • Developing a unique brand
  • Conducting a strategic planning session every year
  • Training your staff
  • Investing in technology upgrades
  • Changing the way you do business

Those of us in the financial institution arena are a conservative bunch. Boards, CEOs, CFOs, (even examiners) tend to frown on taking risks. While that certainly is a worthy approach when managing the balance sheet it can cause us to develop an overly conservative approach when it comes to our strategy and tactics.

In a recent situation we had a particular financial institution say they were “not going to move forward with staff training because the board just couldn’t come to an agreement on the need.” In their case, a big wad of “not” clogged potential growth. Would training cost them money? Yes. But is NOT training going to cost them even more?

The reality is you may lose more (for example, lost opportunities) than you think you are going to gain by invoking a not.

Branding Lessons From The Amazing Race

Branding Lessons From The Amazing Race

My oldest daughter and I recently auditioned for The Amazing Race at one of their casting calls. For those of you not into reality TV, The Amazing Race is a show where teams of two compete by racing around the world performing various tasks and challenges. While the audition was a total blast (and hopefully one day we’ll get the opportunity to compete), the show itself reminded me of several branding lessons.

When it comes to building a successful brand at your credit union or bank, remember these Amazing Race principles:

  • Think fast—In our tryout we had 90 seconds to tell the producers our story and why we would be perfect for their show. That’s not a ton of time at all. And when it comes to your financial institution’s story, you also don’t have much time to tell it. What is your unique selling/value proposition to consumers? Why should they choose your financial institution over all the others that are out there? You have to be able to answer those questions quickly (try about 30 seconds or less) and uniquely. When the cameras turned on, Elizabeth and I had to give a compelling short story and when consumers turn to you, your financial institution has to give quick answers for how you can help consumers achieve their financial goals.
  • Involve a teamThe Amazing Race is not like Survivor, where you compete as an individual. Rather teams of two run around the world. When it comes to running your brand, you can’t do it in a silo or a vacuum. It will take a total team approach. We remind our branding clients regularly, that great brands are built by people: by visionary leaders, by engaged employees and by loyal consumers. Your brand will not succeed without everyone working together to make it a success. Elizabeth and I made the audition a team effort rather than the “Mark Show” and you have to make your brand about others and not just marketing.
  • Move constantly—When you are running The Amazing Race, you are doing just that: running. Or at least moving pretty fast from location to location via many modes of transportation. And when it comes to your brand, you better make sure it’s in motion as well. Your brand should rarely stay still. As Tom Asaker, author of A Clear Eye For Branding says, “There is no such thing as a branding ‘project.’ Branding is an ongoing process of renewal.” In other words, you should always be working to improve your brand. Rather than sit at home and talk about it, Elizabeth and I had to intentionally move to get to the audition and you have to intentionally move forward with your brand on a daily basis.

In many ways, branding is a race. And to build an amazing brand, think fast, involve a team and move constantly.

E-Scan Offers Digital Marketing Insights

E-Scan Offers Digital Marketing Insights

The Credit Union National Association recently released the 2017-2018 Environmental Scan. The E-Scan offers insights in 10 primary areas affecting credit unions, including lending, economics, technology and of course marketing. The E-Scan is a must-read for any credit union executive and is also an outstanding planning tool to use.

The marketing section is entitled “The Big Deal Behind Social Media.” It also mentions many of the other top marketing trends for credit unions, including disruptors, regulations, Generation Z, the evolution of marketing, highly personalized marketing, consumer preferences and the humanization of digital. But the bulk of the section centers around social media and engagement.

According to the E-Scan, there are five factors that come into play when brining engagement into your social media efforts:

(1)    Bring value first

As the E-Scan notes, “social media isn’t always about direct response…..once you’re identified as a serial promoter, people will shut you off and tune you out.” Look for ways to engage—not sell—on your social media platforms.

(2)    It’s pay to play

“Organic reach is a thing of the past,” the authors say. “Without putting money behind a post, very few people will see it.” The E-Scan suggests credit unions’ posts focus on how your products and services benefit your members, how they are educational and how their brands are making a difference. One of the stats quoted in the E-Scan is that mobile will account for 72% of digital advertising spending by 2019.

(3)    It’s a marathon

Social media is not a one-time promotion or once a quarter tactic. Rather, it is strategic in nature. That means a long-term approach is necessary. It will take several years and use multiple mediums.

(4)    Assist people

What do you do about negative comments or posts when it comes to your social media efforts? The E-Scan actually goes into great detail in answering that important question by categorizing comments into “positive, neutral, negative, troll and abusive.” Each type of comment requires a different type of response. But when it comes to social, a response is needed.

(5)    This is a full-time job

“Put someone on your credit union staff in charge of social media and develop policies for after-hours support,” the E-Scan writes. As we’ve noted multiple times on this blog, there are two S’s of social media: strategy and staff. You can’t have one without the other.

One of the best parts of this year’s E-Scan is the “big questions” it asks after every single section. These questions are strategic in nature and serve as a great starting point for your planning discussions.

These were just a few snippets about social media—there is obviously much more detail about this marketing issue and other relevant areas in the E-Scan itself. To get the full context of the marketing section and to read the other insights, be sure to purchase your copy of the E-Scan. In addition to the report itself, you can also order the full E-Scan package, which includes the E-Scan report, the E-Scan Newsletter, the E-Scan DVD, the Strategic Planning Guide and the E-Scan Research & Advice Portal. When it comes to strategic planning, there is no better resource or tool your credit union can use than CUNA’s Environmental Scan.

Strategic Planning Lessons From Fantasy Football

Strategic Planning Lessons From Fantasy Football

I have several loves in my life: my wife, my daughters, my company. Following close behind those top three is my love for fantasy football. Of course my family would probably tell you it’s not that I love fantasy football: I’m addicted to it. The primary league I play in is celebrating its 27th year (you got that right: pretty much same dudes for over a quarter of a century).

There is no better season of the year than fantasy football season. Especially when it’s draft time (which is this time of year). While poring over endless cheat sheets, reviewing favorite websites (that would be, and loading fantasy football software on my computer (yes, there are such programs), I thought there were actually several strategic planning lessons we can learn from fantasy football.

As your credit union or bank prepares for an upcoming planning session, keep these thoughts from fantasy football in mind:

  • Do your research—I can’t tell you how much time I spend researching fantasy football (ask my wife and she’ll joke “too much!”). The people that typically make the playoffs or win their league are usually the ones that do a ton of homework. Show up with a month old magazine cheat sheet and you’re sure to lose. It’s the same way with strategic planning. The more time you put into your session BEFORE it starts, the better session you’ll have. For example, make sure you are reading CUNA’s E-Scan, reviewing blogs like The Financial Brand and answering pre-session questions. The more preparation you conduct for your session, the better outcomes you’ll have.
  • Make your plan flexible—When it comes to my fantasy football draft I always have a plan. Who I’m going to draft and in what round. And invariably, my arch-nemesis and co-commissioner (the Fighting Jewish) always picks the guy right before I do. As a result, I have to be a bit flexible with my plan. It’s no different with your strategic plan as well. You have to make it flexible. You can’t possibly foresee all the things that might develop in the course of your strategy: a key employee leaves, the local economy struggles, a marketing promotion bombs. Be ready for changes with contingencies. The more flexibility you put into your plan, the better results you’ll see.
  • Identify sleepers—If you want to win in fantasy football you have to pick players no one else thinks is going to do all that great. In fantasy football terms those are guys known as “sleepers.” If you want to win with your strategic plan you have to pick ideas and tactics that others in your market may not be doing. If your competition zigs, you zag. It’s the classic Blue Ocean Strategy For example, rather than doing sales and service training like every other financial institution, maybe you do engagement training. Or rather than doing the same loan and deposit campaigns you do every year you conduct a marketing audit to gain fresh ideas. The more unique you make your plan, the better growth you’ll have.

Another cool thing about fantasy football is how it builds community (something your credit union or bank should do internally and externally). Through the years our league has been there for marriages, divorces, births and more. One of our members passed away after a battle with cancer a few years ago. But through it all, we’ve had this love not just for football but for each other

And if you want to love your next planning session, then remember these lessons from fantasy football.

Advice Trumps Service

Advice Trumps Service

Service, service, service. Ask any credit union or community bank in the country what differentiates themselves in the market and typically that is what you’ll hear: service. But let’s get real. If everyone says they are competing on service, then in reality that doesn’t make you different.

When it comes to financial services, consumers typically move through the following cycle:

Transaction >>> Service >>> Advice

In other words, many people just come to your credit union or bank to do a transaction: cash the check, make a deposit or get some cash. (Of course, if it’s in my mom’s case she might come by just to get your free cup of coffee). Most people view “banking” as a chore. Something they have to do along the lines of picking up their dry cleaning. According to a recent study from Accenture, 80% of account holders say their banking relationship is transactional.

If your members or customers are coming to you simply for transactions, you lose.

Most financial institutions recognized that being order takes (just doing transactions) was not enough. So they embarked upon a service model. Or in some cases a sales and service model. We preached things like “go the extra mile,” “do what is in the consumers’ best interest,” “smile, greet, shake their hand,” and “build relationships.” But as noted in the first paragraph, that’s what every credit union and community bank is doing.

Service as a model is not necessarily dead. But it certainly isn’t different. Not only that, service is not enough anymore. More than likely, the service you are providing right now is just the basics that people expect.

The best way to increase products per household and improve your sales efforts is to move to an advice-based model. With this approach your staff becomes more proactive and your consumers come to you because they know you have the financial answers they are seeking.

As Rob Frankel says in The Revenge of Brand X, “branding is not about getting your targets to choose you over the competition. Branding is about getting your prospects to see you as the only solution to their problem.” In other words, when your members or customers have a financial problem, they should think of your financial institution as the place to come to solve it.

Having an advice-based model is much, much deeper.

So how do you move from being service-based to advice-focused? Here are a few tips:

  • Ensure your staff is trained on all your products
  • Invest in engagement training and not just service training
  • Use a content marketing strategy approach (educate consumers rather than pitching products)
  • Position yourselves as experts in financial services (people buy from experts)
  • Demonstrate how you are saving consumers money with your products

Having an advice-based approach doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. But investing in a strategy that positions your credit union or community bank as THE place to go for financial advice yields huge dividends for you and your consumers.

Three Reasons To Do A Marketing Audit By Year-End

Three Reasons To Do A Marketing Audit By Year-End

While it’s always a good time to have an unbiased third party review your marketing materials, there is one particular period when the analysis can yield the highest impact. That would be the third and fourth quarters.

As John Wanamaker once famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” If you want to know what part of your marketing is working and what part is not, then a marketing audit is the perfect way to find that knowledge.

And doing the audit before next year starts is the perfect time for doing the analysis. Conducting a marketing audit by year-end will:

  • Prepare you for budget season—One step of a marketing audit is a complete review of your budget. Are you spending too much, too little or just right? A thorough audit answers that question. But not just the total dollar amount: how are you allowcating those resources? For example, maybe you should spend more on digital and less on traditional. Credit unions and banks are about to start budgeting for 2018. A marketing audit is a great tool to help you prepare that upcoming budget.
  • Give you fresh ideas for next year—Sometimes we can feel stagnant with our promotions. Like we are doing the same things each and every year. A complete marketing audit offers new perspectives. It brings in best practices for what growing and profitable financial institutiosn are doing with their marketing. As Lori Perkins, vice president of marketing for Rock Valley Credit Union said, “Business is way up since our marketing audit. We’ve had thirteen consecutive months of positive loan growth since the marketing audit. Our assets are up, new members are up and checking accounts are up.” A marketing audit is a great tool to use when you are stagnant or not experiencing desired growth.
  • Jump start your strategic plan—Just like it’s budget season, it’s also strategic planning season. And one of the best outcomes from a marketing audit is the strategic suggestions it gives for improving your financial instition. It serves as a roadmap for your upcoming strategy. As Jay Curtis, president of First Credit Union said, “We were extremely pleased with the marketing audit conducted. I consider the marketing audit process key to our future success.” A marketing audit is a great tool to prepare for next year.

Successful financial institutions have third parties audit their marketing. It just makes them better. And there’s no better time to do a marketing audit than before year-end. If you would like information on how a marketing audit can lead to growth and success, contact Mark at 214-538-4147.

Four Ways To Lead Your Brand

Four Ways To Lead Your Brand

Great brands are built by people. In working with our clients, we use a customized brand triangle approach which says “management leads the brand, employees live the brand and consumers love your brand.”

Barry Sliverstein, in his book Breakaway Brands, says “More and more, management plays a crucial role in the success of a brand that breaks away from the pack.”

But what specifically can an executive at a bank or credit union do to actually lead their brand? Here are four ways you can lead your financial institution’s brand.

  • Set the tone—It all starts at the top. As a leader in your organization, people are going to follow your example. If your brand is built on service, then how are you serving your employees? They will model what they see from you. For example, if your brand culture is fun then you should ensure the workplace is fun. If your brand culture is putting consumers first then you should put your employees first. You set the tone.
  • Identify the gaps—Every credit union and bank has brand gaps. There can be gaps between your brand and your strategy, gaps between your brand and your employees and gaps between your brand and your operations. As a leader you must know exactly where those gaps exists. If you are unsure where those gaps are a great step to take is a marketing audit. You acknowledge (and fix) the gaps.
  • Work the plan—Every financial institution should have a brand plan in place. This plan serves as a guide to determine your vision, your targets, your training and other key elements. But it’s not enough just to have a plan in place. You also must have follow-up. Examples of working the brand include training your employees on your brand, ensuring your messaging connects with your audiences and establishing a brand retail look. It’s not enough just to have a plan; as a leader you must work the plan.
  • Celebrate the results—One of the keys to a successful brand is maintaining brand momentum. Let’s be honest: from a day-to-day perspective, it’s not always easy for employees to focus on living the brand. One way to ensure they are living your brand culture is to celebrate when they successfully do so. Examples include having a brand day, sharing success stories and always spending some portion of any staff meeting discussing your brand. What isn’t talked about (or celebrated) is often forgotten. You must celebrate brand successes.

Building a great brand requires intentionality. It requires leadership. To lead your brand successfully make sure you are setting the tone, identifying gaps, working your plan and celebrating the results.

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