Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Joining the Conversation, Being the Conversation

It has been much too long since I've posted here on The Loop. The past several weeks have been filled with exciting, but time consuming, progress as well as a bit of panic due to some hardware failures. Anyway, lets get to it.

The hot topic right now in most spheres of marketing is “how do we join the conversation?” Between Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and all the other social sites that are enabling people to communicate in new ways we have our hands full. So, how DO you join the conversations that take place in these venues?

First, make a note, you can’t just start a Facebook page and hope people will be your friend. Take this past election for example. Every time McCain dropped “my friends” into a speech, twitter exploded with people replying “I’m not your friend!” You can be sure that you will get a similar response if you put up a Facebook page and try to be your members’ friend. As much as we’d like to be, we just aren’t their friend; we are their credit union.

People use these social sites because it offers them something. That might be a way to keep track of long time friends who have moved or are in school, entertainment, activism, etc. So, ask yourself this question before trying to get into the social media space, “what would this offer our members? What’s in it for them?” If you’re not providing something useful or engaging in the space you become just another advertisement that will be largely ignored.

The trick is to engage people and to show them that there is a person/people behind your logo. Be a person, do something that engages them and encourages their participation.

Don’t think this takes millions in your marketing budget either. There are so many great free tools and networks online that require little to no monetary investment. It just takes creativity, time, and knowledge of who your members are.

Here are a few simple things to remember when trying to engage your membership.

Get them involved

Let your membership feel like they are in control. Give them a space to interact with you, or be in the space that they are already conversing in. Encourage them to participate, and offer them something for their participation. Let them know that their input matters and that that this is their credit union (and in turn their website, and their branch, and their community).

Get them engaged

The best way to get your membership engaged is to actively participate in something. Maine State Credit Union just ran a photo contest that allowed people to submit their photos of “Maine through a Mainer’s eyes” to be used as the header images on the website as a small scale test of user generated content (pardon my cliché). We got over 200 photos from over 20 people (all members). I then put all those photos into a Flickr account (thanks to a great tip from Morriss Partee) and added them to several Flickr groups dedicated to photos of Maine. This attracted quite a few eyes to Maine State Credit Union’s Flickr account, the contest, and hopefully the institution itself. This has led to a lot of great conversations via email with members from all over the state about where they live and the places they love in the state.

Just a side note, running this contest cost almost nothing other than an investment of time and effort.

Start Conversations

Be a person, talk like a person, and interact like a person. If you are running a contest, or any other campaign geared to encourage member participation, try to be personal. Strike up a conversation. Make a comment on their participation. As an example, many of the photos that came in during our contest here at Maine State Credit Union were of places that I have been and it was actually quite fun to start conversations about those areas of our state. Find a common ground with your members and be a person they can identify with through conversation.

Join Conversations

There are some very easy, and cheap, ways of tracking what is being said about your credit union. Set up Google Alerts and keep track of what is happening online. If somebody posts a blog that mentions your name (especially if they are an existing member) leave a comment and join that conversation. If you want your members and potential members to be engaged with you, you need to be just as engaged with them.

Be a Person

Sign your blog posts with your name, not your credit union’s name. During your interaction with members online, be personal and avoid canned email responses. There is always something you can comment on or say that can really break down that “us vs. them” feeling that usually comes with an email from a financial institution.

So, be creative, be a person, and have fun with it. Find the tools that best fit your goal of engagement and be an active participant in your community. Show them that you are there because of them and that they are the ones that make the credit union go ‘round.

I wish you all the best this Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scientific Method in Marketing

chemistryRon Shevlin posted a great article a while back about getting your business into social media. This quote from Ron really caught my attention,

As “innovation mania” sweeps through the halls of marketing, many marketers are looking to experiment with social media, lest they get “left behind.” While I’ve got nothing against experimenting, I am against experimenting for the sake of experimenting.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

If there was one thing that I got out of chemistry class during high school, it was scientific method (and possibly a love of making things change color, burn, and explode).

Scientific method always calls for a control, a set of variables and the discipline to change one variable at a time to see the effect versus the control.

This doesn’t simply apply to chemistry, physics or biology, but any instance of experimentation.

The creation of a new idea is always exciting. It’s easy to get excited about social media and rush to put a blog, MySpace page, or Facebook page up for your credit union to “experiment” with social media.

Without the principals of scientific method, it isn’t really an experiment at all.

Create a control

Creating a control is extremely important in experimentation. When applied in science it means running an experiment once without any variable present, like growing a culture of bacteria without any substances present to measure its rate of growth.

In marketing, you can create a control by running a pilot. Test the original idea within a selected group and measure their reaction.

Before piloting, identify what the variables in the project are so you can measure the response accordingly.

The other important aspect of creating a control group is to make sure the people in that group fit the programs target audience. Identify the types of people you want to aim for with the finished product and find people that fit the bill. What’s the use of testing a product targeted towards youth with a group that includes a portion of people who are 35+. That would be like testing the reaction of a flu virus to penicillin by testing the penicillin on a mold culture; it just doesn’t make sense.

Change one variable at a time

Once you have your variables and target audience identified and have started piloting the project, measure how your control group is responding based on that set of variables.

Don’t expect, or try, to overhaul the whole project at once based on the feedback you get. Make small changes one variable at a time and measure the effect it has on the control group as a whole. If you change everything at once, you will never know what variable it was that caused peoples reaction to become more positive or negative.

The purpose of a pilot should be to collect actionable data, and the more things you change at once, the harder it becomes to identify the specific changes that caused the reaction in the control group.

Test, test, and retest

The advantage to running a pilot before a full launch is that you get the chance to play with those variables. If you launch a product to the public and then change it every few weeks, people are going to start getting annoyed.

Take the opportunity to change variables in a closed environment. Test people’s reaction to each change methodically and carefully. Analyze their responses to each change and track the changes that elicit a positive response.

By doing this, you can create a finished product that reflects the nuances of peoples preferences and create a product that resonates as completely as possible with the target audience that was reflected in your control group.

So if social media fits into your brand strategy, go ahead and experiment, but do it right.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Are You Advertising Your Security, or Proving it?

Its no secret that credit unions aren't often in the media spotlight. So, like most other credit union folks out there, I've been really excited to see so much positive press coming out about credit unions.

I recently attended the 2008 Partnership Symposium in Fishers, Indiana. During the Idea eXchange section of the conference we discussed pretty heavily what credit unions should be doing during this financial crisis.

What should credit unions be saying to take advantage of the situation, and take advantage of all the positive press that has been given to credit unions.

My suggestion? Say nothing.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

You can say whatever you want. That doesn't mean its true.

Even the giant banks that are seeing most of this financial mess are saying "hey we're cool, everything's cool, we're safe and sound! Seriously, trust us."

Every single bank out there, including those that have recently failed, have touted the security and financial soundness of their institution. Many of those claims have been proven false.

Add this to an existing lack of trust in financial institutions...

and you get a large population of America who just had their skepticism proven. People are tuning out the feel-good, "don't worry, we're safe, trust us!" messages more than ever.

It doesn't matter what you say as a financial institution right now, it will be met with a large dose of skepticism.

It doesn't matter that you are a credit union putting out reassurances and not a bank because...

People don't see a difference between banks and credit unions.

As a certain CUSkeptic pointed out at the Partnership Symposium a couple weeks ago, to most people there is no difference.

I see the difference, and the fact that you are even reading this blog probably means you see the difference, but to your average Joe Sixpack its all the same thing.

So we're just supposed to sit here and wait?

In a way, yes. There isn't much we, as credit unions, can do by pumping out advertising to emphasize our security. Between consumer unease, distrust, and fear it probably isn't going to be heard or trusted if its coming from your marketing department.

Say nothing, but do everything.

The real opportunity here is not the chance to spout marketing that touts your security, but the opportunity to prove it.

Pay attention to all this positive press.

This may be the closest thing we get to a national brand. We have nationally trusted press selling the virtues of the credit union movement for us. They are telling the people that read their papers, blogs, and articles what they see as the unifying benefits of belonging to a credit union.

I don't think anyone would argue that this press is reaching, and being trusted by, far more people than an ad on local cable or a page on your credit union's website.

What we need to do now is...

Make sure we live up to the hype.

Take this positive press for credit unions and use it as a litmus test for how you are meeting expectations. Are you living up to the credit union "brand" that is being presented in these articles?

The best thing we can do to take advantage of the current financial situation and the positive press it's brought credit unions is to live up to what the people who people trust are praising about the credit union movement.