Friday, August 28, 2009

Newton's Third Law of Marketing

Marketing is not immune to the rule that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It doesn’t matter what you do, some people will be drawn to it and others will be pushed away. It is a fact of nature, physics, and yes…marketing.

Any marketing campaign should inspire passion, positive and negative. You can’t have one without the other. Without passion, any marketing campaign is destined to flounder in its own mediocrity and will fall, unnoticed, into the blank pages of a book titled “Unremarkable”.

Our fear of a negative reaction, no matter how small, paralyses us and forces us into apathy. We fear that somebody might take it the wrong way so we ignore those that would embrace it. We water ourselves, our creativity, and our brand down to avoid a reaction. In doing so, we create our own self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

We, as credit unions, can no longer afford to coast along; hoping the rate on our ad will bring in new members. We must inspire passion, create advocates (inherently creating “opponents” in the process), and embrace brave new approaches in order to stand out and be noticed.

You can’t please everyone, so stop trying and please the ones that matter to you and your brand.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jeff Stephens on Branding - Maine Credit Union League Marketing Council Workshop

On Tuesday, April 21st I had the pleasure of attending a marketing workshop hosted by the Maine Credit Union League and hearing the ever insightful Jeff Stephens of Creative Brand Communications. If you’re looking for a fresh (may I go so far as to say “off the wall”) approach to branding, Jeff is the guy you want to talk to. I have met Jeff before and heard him speak at the 2008 Forum/Trabian Partnership Symposium. Both presentations were thought provoking to say the least. Though there were common points between the two presentations there are some notes and a few new concepts that I’d like to share from this session.

Differentiating yourself isn’t about breaking the rules, but it isn’t about following the rules either.

The changes required for differentiation should be comforting to the entire team. It should be what makes sense, not “being outside the box”, that is important.

Who cares about the box, where it is, or being outside of it? Being “outside the box” has become…well…in the box!

The good news is that finding your story, telling it, and proving it:
1) Isn’t hard
2) Is something you can start now
3) Isn’t expensive

Building your brand must go beyond marketing.

“Marketing is far too important to be left to the marketing department” – David Packard

Your brand is a collection of experiences that somebody has. Not just members, and not just in your branch during business hours, but every interaction that anybody has at any time with your credit union.

These experiences, or touch points, involve all 5 senses. What does your brand smell like, taste like, sound like, and feel like?

Macro touch points are things like:
  • A branch visit
  • An account statement
  • A website visit
  • A follow-up call

True touch points, however, are the tiny things that make up each of those interactions.

Branding is an inside-out process. You have to find out who you are (your brand), identify all the touch points (taking into account that people have 5 senses), and align those touch points to that central personality, story, or “brand” that makes your credit union what it is.

People experience your brand with more than just their eyes. If somebody was led into your branch blindfolded, would they still know where they are?

The more senses you can associate with your brand, the deeper that association is burned and the harder it is for somebody else to replicate the “recipe” that makes you up.

By being laser focused with your brand by identifying who you are right for and who you are wrong for you will be able to articulate your story with more clarity than ever before.

You can’t bore people into like you.

Your brand should be your measuring stick. You should get that measuring stick out all the time and use it to calculate how well aligned every aspect of your credit union is with your brand. By doing this you will be able to turn arbitrary decisions like the fabric on your chairs, or the paper you use in a direct mail piece, into brand-centric decisions and create a true multi-sensory personality for your credit union.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Lesson to be Learned

The hot topic right now for credit union professionals is, surprise, the conservatorship of US Central and WesCorp credit unions and the corporate stabilization plan. As a colleague of mine (who will remain unnamed) said to me yesterday, “it’s legalized stealing”.

How many consumers say that about their bank or (hopefully less frequently) credit union on a regular basis?

As much as the corporate stabilization plan is going to hurt the bottom line for all credit unions this year I see a thin silver lining. That silver lining is a lesson for all of us to learn.

We (natural person credit unions) are members of the corporate CU’s the same as our members are a part of our credit unions. It doesn’t feel good to have your credit union take money from you for a purpose you don’t find logical or beneficial does it?

We need to make sure our members never feel like we do right now. We should never allow our members to feel like their credit union is engaging in “legalized stealing”. When finding ways to recover from, or ride out, the storm make sure you keep that in mind. Don’t pass that feeling on to your members just because your corporate CU did it to you and the quick fix is to add fees and raise existing ones.

I guess we should all listen to our moms and treat others the way we’d like to be treated.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Its All About The Teamwork!

In my last post I talked about how the board needs to be involved, active, and dynamic. An anonymous commenter said:

I agree with the idea of getting the word out to members about board positions, and trying to encourage qualified candidates to apply for those spots.

But, I may say that the proposal of ideas comes primarily from the CEO and/or the EVP. They are responsible for presenting ideas to the board and then discussing the possibilities of those ideas with them. It is then ultimately up to the board of Directors whether or not to approve funding for any projects that are approved.

The board’s primary responsibility to ensure the credit union is being run in a sound and secure manner. Although they may have ideas that are presented at board meetings they rely very heavily upon senior management to verify weather or not those ideas are justifiable in terms of cost and return.

Credits unions that lack ideas may lack an enthusiastic management team. After all it is the managers that need to inspire the bored board; not the other way around.

For the most part I agree with this masked commenter. However, as Matt the CUwarrior put it, this way of thinking leads to a “chicken/egg argument”. You can’t have one without the other. The board and management (and every level of the institution for that matter) need to work as a team to bring new ideas to the table. They need to inspire each other.

The board should bring ideas from outside the membership. From people they see in their everyday lives; their friends, coworkers, and associates. The management needs to bring ideas in from inside the credit union. From the front line, from the membership who are in the branch, and their friends, family, and coworkers. Everybody has a different circle of contacts and experiences. Why wouldn’t we want to bring in information and ideas from as many perspectives as possible?

The idea creation process can not be placed solely on this person or that person. To be effective, the institution needs to work as a whole to bring in new ideas and cultivate the ones that they believe have potential. Without teamwork, metaphorical “choke points” will hamper any attempt at innovation. Every single person needs to be on board.

I talked about this in an earlier post called “Are You Jamming”, in which I tried to draw a parallel between my experiences in music and the creative process within a credit union.

As I’ve continued learning and experimenting the parallel is more apparent to me then ever.

It is pointless to argue about whether it is the board’s job to motivate management or management’s job to motivate the board. Its like arguing over which one is playing bass and which one is playing guitar. Without one or the other, the “band” can not function as a whole.

Any kind of collaborative, creative process is a team effort. If one member of that team isn’t playing the team falls apart.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Is your Board Bored?

In the age of social networking, dynamic web interactions, and transparent business practices credit unions have one thing that can lift them above the rest. Something that should be just as dynamic as the credit union's interaction with its members, and just as important.

What is it?

It's board of directors.

The purpose of the board of directors is to represent the membership's interests. The board is (ideally) made up of people from within the credit union's membership, voted in by the membership, and that represent that membership's needs and wants.

Unfortunately, many credit unions have let the importance of a representative board of directors slide into apathy.

Today, board leadership and its role in the operation of a credit union need to be more apparent and clear to our membership than ever before. Members need to know who is on their board, what they stand for, and they need to be aware that they can apply to be on, and vote on who is on, the board.

What better way to differentiate yourself from the profit driven, stockholder-pleasing banks than to make your members aware of, and encourage their participation with, your board of directors.

How are you getting the word out and encouraging your members to be involved with your board?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Dynamic Discussion

This was written as a guest post over at Check them out if you haven't already. Trust me, they rock.

Since the advent of advertising (whenever that was), marketers have gone about the task by creating products and accompanying ads that they hope resonate with their target audience and by pushing those ads out hoping people will see them. Sure, if you’re a good marketer and do your research you can create something that gets the attention of some of the people in your target, but in my opinion there is a better way.

No longer can you push out marketing. You have to have a dynamic connection to your membership. You have to have a relationship with your current membership and pull the ideas from them. No longer is marketing an internal, hierarchal process, but one that includes all levels of staff and direct input from membership.

So what am I saying?

You and your staff need to speak directly with the people in your target. Let them tell you what they want and how they want it. Then you can create something that is truly made for your target market from the bottom up.

How do you go about doing this?

Open up dialogue with your current members. If you are going for word of mouth marketing, they are the ones you want to please. Why try and target a group you don’t know/understand when you have a collection of people who you can ask what they want, please them, and have them pass on the good word to their friends and relatives?

You have to find out what the people you currently serve want and provide them with it in a way that gets them talking. Do something so uniquely tailored to that group that they tell others.

You might ask “well we’re trying to capture the youth demographic and Gen Y. We don’t have many of them, how are we going to attract them if we only do things for our current members?”

There is a big difference between “what” and “how”. In talking to your current membership you can find out the “what”. What are they like, what do they want, and what do they need? You can then take those things and deliver them in a way that is tailored to an age, or channel preference. You have to develop a recognizable culture, and then deliver it in a channel that reaches the people that match that culture.

This culture, or brand, should guide everything you do. Remember that you can’t possibly be all things to all people without becoming a faceless, commoditized institution. Keep in mind that you are looking to target a type of person. You are trying to attract people with similar interests, personalities, or common philosophical views. Only when you have established what type of people you are looking to attract should you break it down to something like age.

If you want real word of mouth growth you need to be the best at serving a specific type of person. It’s nearly impossible to compete on the level of “best rate” or “best service”, especially for smaller institutions. Why not compete on the level of “the best place for ______ type of person” and fill in that blank by knowing who you are serving right now.

Start the dialogue, know your members, know what they want, deliver it in the relevant channels, and get your current members talking.