tOSU and their Helmet Stickers

There’s a popular commercial running these days about why The Ohio State University has kept their helmets the same for decades. The commercial explains the logic (in short) behind how and why their student-athletes earn buckeye leaf stickers to be placed on their helmets.

If you were to look up symbolism in the dictionary or online you will learn that symbolism is defined as:

“the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.”

Qualities. Ideas. Symbols.

Symbols can be very powerful. If you have any doubt about their importance, look no further than how popular emojis, avatars and bitmojis are. Symbols are incredibly persuasive because they take complex ideas and simplify them. In the world we live in, I believe we all are looking for more simplicity.

How can we apply this to our businesses? It’s easy. Stop trying to put your mission, vision, and values into words and think about its essence. If you cannot define what you aim to do and why you exist by creating a symbol, there is a very real possibility that your teammates and consumers of your products/services have no idea why you exist.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, can you recite your organization’s Mission Statement? Can you recall your vision without looking it up? When you make your organization’s purpose easy to understand, you create a common language. You create opportunities for your brand ambassadors to understand your purpose, but you also allow them to express your purpose in their own unique way.

People do not buy products. People buy relationships. People buy “stuff” that they can relate to. Even if everyone within your organization did memorize your Mission Statement, would it resonate with your target market? My guess is that it would for some, but it wouldn’t for most.

Simplify your messaging. Empower your teammates and watch the results. You will be amazed.  There IS some value in “doing things the way we have always done them” if what you are doing is truly meaningful and memorable.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

Without wax,




Redefining ROI

ROI-graphReturn on investment (ROI).  Every business person is familiar with this term and if you are a marketer, like me, it’s kind of a big deal.  No matter the nature of your business, marketers spend money to make more money.  It’s a pretty simple concept to grasp, but I’m not convinced that all of us really understand everything that needs to be involved to deliver firm numbers and report results.  So, now that I’ve put my credit union hat on, let’s talk about some of the issues I’ve encountered personally and heard from other people over the years.


It’s astonishing to me how many times I hear that marketers do not have a strategy or plan for the year about what they will be advertising, why they will be doing so at a certain time and how much of their budget will be allocated to a specific campaign.  If tracking is a big problem, this one is even bigger.  If you don’t have a plan, it’s impossible to track.  If you don’t have a plan, you become reactionary instead of proactive.  If you don’t have a plan, your message has a greater chance of getting lost in all the other advertising that is going on around you and your members.  There is certainly no shortage of financial institutions in any market, so, if you don’t know how you are going to deliver your message and why you’ve chosen a certain way, good luck standing out.


If you have a plan in place it is much easier to execute (no brainer, right?), but planning doesn’t mean you have to stay rigid.  Rates change daily and financial marketers are constantly playing a balancing act of gaining deposits or lending money out.  When you have a plan, you know what an ideal year would look like, but you also know where you can reallocate funds should you need to focus more on deposits or loan growth.  I can’t stress enough how these things should be interrelated, but often they are not.


A lot of people aren’t tracking their total marketing spend!  This blows me away, but it’s a bit more complicated than it sounds.  The biggest here is that a lot of credit union folks don’t spend the time to calculate their allocations to each delivery channel and they don’t work close enough with their accounting teams to crunch the numbers before going live to determine what a “win” looks like.  A win isn’t just making more money than you spend, but providing a real value to all of the people who take advantage of what you’re selling.  Great product + significant income = win.  I’m not saying that I am the world’s best “tracker”, but if we all don’t continue to try to improve, we are doing ourselves and our members a great disservice.

The above are only three key aspects of calculating ROI, but let’s get into the whole redefining idea.  You need to generate a return.  Regardless if you are not-for-profit, non-profit or for profit, we all need to make money.  In the case of cooperatives (credit unions are cooperatives, btw), we need to make money so we can re-invest in our members and our communities.  So, the standard ROI is a given.  What I believe cooperative marketers need to really focus on in addition is Return on Involvement (ROI2).  To me, ROI2 is a function of our obligation to practice the Cooperative Principles, manly Concern for Community (#7).

Consider this example:

A local high school submits a proposal for you to run an advertisement in their Fall Sports Program.  You get to place your logo and a sentence or two about your business.  The cost is $200.

Sure, supporting schools is a great thing to do, but when was the last time you (or anyone else) bought a sports program to peruse the advertisers?  probably never.  Where is the ROI2?  You’ve done your part, but what did your institution or your members get in return?  Could you not have been a little more creative and received better exposure for the same dollar amount and still supported the school(s)?  Furthermore, if you sponsor one school in your field of membership then you probably have to do the same for everyone else.  $200 can quickly turn into $1,000 or more.  No good.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes “feel good marketing” is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.  The key here is looking for opportunities to generate ROI and ROI2.  Most of the time, you will have to have a presence at things that your sponsor or endorse.  It’s as simple as having team members at the ready to thank current members for their loyalty or to tell your story in a compelling way that you could never do in a sentence or two in black and white ink.  Use the Cooperative Principles as the filter in which all decisions are made.  If a proposal for sponsorship doesn’t meet at least two requirements, you probably should pass.

The formula for calculating ROI is pretty straight froward and the same could be said for ROI2.  For starters, we can figure out how many people will our marketing spend (sponsorship) reach or directly impact?  Is it hundreds of people or thousands?  What does the business get in return for our spend (how does it help them maintain a program or provide more programming?)  How does this spend benefit the cooperative as a whole and not just our business needs (would our members be comfortable with us spending their money on this?)

So much more could or should be said, but you’ve spent enough of your time reading this far.  What are you thoughts?  Does ROI2 really exist?  Is the idea too much or a purist ideal?  What can we do to make sure we are creating ROI2 (assuming it exists)?

Without wax,


Storytelling: So Easy, Even a Caveman Can Do It.



Content marketing has been around for ages, and it has been a hot topic around the marketing and advertising world for the last several years.  Now, it appears that credit union marketers are taking note (as they should) and that makes us happy.  If you’re not sure what content marketing is, you’re in the right place.  In this blog, we’ll be sharing what we know and we’ll also include some helpful information from other thought-leaders on the subject.

So, let’s get the definition stuff out of the way first.  According to the leaders in the industry, The Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is defined as:

 “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Sounds a lot like social media, right?  Sort of.  Social media is a great delivery channel for your content, but content marketing is so much more than simple tweets and Facebook/Google+ posts.  When it comes to credit unions, content marketing is all about solving the problems of your members.  Now, this seems like a very simple concept to grasp, but solving your members problems is much more complex than the following line of thinking:

 “Members have a lot of credit card debt on high-interest credit cards and our credit card has a lower rate.  Therefore, we should scream our {low} rate from the rooftops.”

The above is what most credit unions have reduced their marketing and advertising messages to.  Your credit union is so much more than a purveyor of loan rate loans and minimal fees.  You see, content marketing is all about telling a story that people actually want to hear.  If we continue to compete only on rates and service, we will continue to lose out to other financial institutions and here’s why: Your members care less about you and more about what you can do for them.

From the beginning of time, people have been telling stories.  From cavemen (and cavewomen) to the Egyptians, the world is covered (literally) in stories.  Bringing things a bit closer to modern times, the first true form of content marketing was created by a little tractor company known as John Deere.  In 1895, the company produced and distributed “The Furrow” a magazine designed to help farmers find solutions to the problems they faced on a daily basis.  The magazine was not littered with ads for tractors and guess what, it’s still being produced today! (Joe Pullizi tells the story way better here.)

So what does this mean for credit unions?  We think it means our industry needs to start worrying more about what our members want and less about what we wish our members would do.  In the end, it boils down to basic psychology.  If you want someone to perform a specific behavior, you need to give them a reason or motivation.  Motivation can be internal or external.  Here is an example of each:

External: If you become a member at ABC credit union, we will give you $25.

Internal: A person is so compelled by your credit union’s story or branding that they want to become a member.

While building a strong and impactful brand is much more difficult than doling out $25 for each new person who walks through the door, an externally motivated member’s affinity toward your brand will be much weaker than someone who saw/heard what your credit union has been doing and sought out membership on their own.  Taking things a step further, if you build the foundation of your membership on externally motivated individuals, it will be much harder for your credit union to get those members to understand the cooperative mindset and you will likely remain in the rut of competing on price rather than value.

In 2014, choose to build value!  Rediscover your credit union’s story and tell it from a perspective that resonates with people (members or not).  Maybe even checkout 6th Story to see how they can help you with your credit union’s story.  Remember that people don’t want to hear from organizations that consistently talk about how great they are.  Get into the practice of demonstrating the value you offer and create compelling stories (content) that you can share via social channels, on your website or in your newsletter (if you still do one of those).  Think about what your credit union does every single day and repurpose that information.

What are your thoughts?

Without wax,


Wrestling and Business

kolat-islamov-single-leg-battleIf you’ve read any of my blogs in the past, you are aware that I am a former wrestler and my love for the sport did not die when my high school career ended.  I learned a lot from hanging around the wrestling room and actually being on the mat.  from time to time, I like to write about how the lessons I learned apply to what I do today.  My blogs are probably mostly a cathartic exercise for myself, but I’d like to think that there might be a lesson or two (alright one lesson) mixed in there.

I’m young-ish and I know I have a lot to learn about my field of work (marketing and advertising), but there are quite a few things that have become quite obvious in my not so tenured professional existence. In this blog I will talk about a few of them and those of you who couldn’t care less about wrestling can just skip over those parts.  Deal?

I’m a tactical person.  Maybe even to a fault.  I have the beginnings of a strategic mindset, but it still needs to be developed.  When you haven’t full developed a skill, you (me at least) tend to fall back on the things that you know that you’re good at and the things that need to be further developed get pushed aside.

What I’ve learned is this: You cannot continue to fallback to your comfort zone and you need to find ways to get the job done well, but push yourself to think about things differently.

A Story:

When I was younger, I was quite obvious that I would rarely be the stronger person in a wrestling match.  This was partly because I was too lazy to do the work I needed to do to gain strength.  Lesson learned.  Anyhow, because I wasn’t the strongest, I built my wrestling style so that I could use my leverage and hips to score a takedown every once in a while.  This worked on most opponents, but when it came to the big matches, I simply did not have the skills to win.


Sure, you can be successful by being good at a few things, but if you really want to be the best at your job, you have to evolve and you have to keep adding to your skill sets.

The outcome of your efforts has much more to do with your desire to finish a job well than it does with all of the events that lead up to the defining moment.

A Story:

Ask any amateur wrestler what practice was like and they will likely respond, “It was hell.”  Besides being “hell”, most practices are pretty much the same.  You drill takedowns, bottom position, top position, you go live and then you run.  Drilling is redundant and tedious, but it’s essential.  They say you perform how you practice and I would agree.  the problem with this is that practice and competition (performance as it relates to business) are two completely different mindsets.  One is a safe environment and the other can be terrifying.  When it’s one man against another in the middle of a gymnasium, you either love it or hate it.  It’s probably a healthy mix of both for most people, if it wasn’t why would they do the sport?  Anyhow, I used to practice and drill and drill and drill some more, but when it came to competition, I had a tough time finishing my takedowns.


Practice and preparation are key to opening up the door to opportunity.  The problem with opportunity is that you usually only have one chance to capitalize on it.  There are hundreds of setup moves in wrestling and a handful of ways to shoot a single leg, but if you aren’t willing to finish (see the job through), well, all of your efforts are for naught.  Whenever you take on a new project, make sure that you’re prepared for everything the project might present and be aware of the things that might occur out of nowhere.

 All the preparation is the world will never make up for a lack of desire to see a project through to the end.

There are plenty more “stories”, but this is long enough.  Leave a comment and let me know what else you think is important in order to build a foundation for success.

Without wax,


There Are Only Two Types of Opportunities

Wrestling and OpportunityI write this blog post under the assumption that the world will not be ending in 18 days.  If the world indeed does end later this month, this blog will be of little or no use to you.

Typically, I blog about credit unions and marketing, but I’d like to take a more macro approach here.  It has recently dawned on me that there are essentially only two types of opportunities that any of use will ever face:

There are only two types of opportunities in this world, the ones we make and the ones we take.

I’m sure someone much smarter than I has said this before, so, I’m not claiming the above as my own, but I think it holds true.  I “competed” in athletics growing up and I am still a passionate fan of folkstyle (not Hulk Hogan) wrestling.  I’m going to use some wrestling analogies  here, but if you’d like, think about your favorite sport and how things might be similar.

There is no professional wrestling league.  Typically, the most elite wrestlers start training at a very young age and their parents spend tons of money in the hopes that their son or daughter (yes, there are some really tough female wrestlers) will receive a scholarship for college.  To me, most of these young athletes have no choice initially in participating in the sport.  Many times, their parents might be pushing them to do something that the child doesn’t really want to do.  If you know anything about wrestling, you know that it is a brutal sport.  It takes a toll on the athlete mentally and physically.  When a competitor steps on the mat to wrestle, it is just him and his opponent.  I digress.  In every young athlete’s life, they eventually make a decision to buy-in or opt out.  This typically happens around junior high.  I think this holds true across all sports.

When the athlete buys-in, they start along a path of creating opportunities.  They put in the extra time drilling moves (think about long hours at home when you’re working on your business budget.)  They run a little bit longer than their teammates (think about that colleague that is always willing to go the extra mile.  Maybe that’s you.)  In either case, they are making a decision to create future opportunities.

All of us know that to achieve success, we need to have a plan, clearly defined (and measurable) goals and a strategy for how we will go about accomplishing the small goals to reach the larger ones.  Without a plan, our efforts can easily become disjointed.  Without small goals, we can become disheartened.  If you’ve ever watched a soccer match, you know that it takes a whole bunch of running back and forth just to setup a halfway decent chance to get a shot on goal.  The same holds true in wrestling.  In the NCAA or Olympic ranks, one score most often determines the outcome of the match.

So how does all of this relate to opportunity?  (I’m so glad I asked.)  I firmly believe that until I realized that if I want something, I am going to have to establish steps to making what I want even remotely possible.  The flip-side of that coin is that once I feel that I may have created an opportunity, then I have to be bold enough to sieze it.

We live in a competitive world.  People get into arguing matches on Facebook about college football games (guilty).  Sometimes I wonder why some of us don’t take that tenacity to succeed with us to the office.  I’m talking about the mindset that failure is not an option.  Nobody is going to outwork me.  I’m going to be the best version of myself today and everyday.  There will be a time that I will be a bit uneasy and have to take a risk to seize the opportunity.  In the end, if I do a lot of work to create or setup a shot (as we would say in wrestling), if I am not willing to commit 100% to taking the opportunity, all of my past efforts were in vain.

There will always be setbacks along the road and we all have different definitions of success.  Setbacks are just different opportunities.  How we rebound from a setback or loss will always say more about our internal drive to succeed than an easy life absent of any and all adversity.

This is already way to0 long.   Bottom line is this: You are the only one who can create opportunities for yourself.  You alone are also the only person that can take advantage of the opportunities that you create.  With a margin of error that is so slim, none of us can afford to be paralyzed by fear.  Sometimes, a moment of hesitation leads to a lifetime of dissatisfaction.

Without wax,


Why ask why?

Remember the “Why ask why, try Bud Dry.” commercials?  This blog isn’t about those.  What it is about is the importance of asking, “Why?”

Why is a pretty popular question asked in conversations between friends, it’s even more popular in conversations between adults and 3-year olds.  Where it’s not as popular is in the business world.  By now, you know I love to talk about credit unions, but I’m sure the absence of “why” in the workplace is fairly prevalent throughout the entire business world.  Why you ask? (If you asked why, even in your head, this blog has already served part of its purpose.)  Well, in my humble opinion, the absence of “why” is primarily due to fear.  More specifically, fear of possible repercussions.  Coming in at a close second, perceived lack of time is another culprit.

If you ask me, “why?” has got a bad rap.  This is probably due to those conversations between 3-year olds and their parents, but let’s set those incidents aside for a minute and look at why asking “why?” is essential to developing sound business strategy.

“Why?” is a portal to deeper understanding.

So, your CEO, President, VP (you name it) has asked you to complete some task.  You and I know that you’re asking yourself, “Why?”, but you wouldn’t even entertain the idea of letting those three letters cross your lips.  Right?  Why?  Because no one wants to questions the boss person (See, I am politically correct most of the time.)  This may be true with some “leaders”, but I guarantee that an effective leader is secretly waiting for you to ask.  For more on leadership, check out Matt Monge.  He’s got a lot of great stuff but this blog is especially relevant to this discussion.

Consider another situation.  Imagine you and your team are assembled around the table discussing a new marketing campaign or business initiative.  Have you ever questioned the motives, intentions or expected results?  Those are pretty important issues if you ask me.  Sure, your leadership team probably (keyword probably) has answers to those questions, but shouldn’t you be privy to those as well? (Sometimes you might not, I get that.)  But, what if a simple, “why” could pull those motives, intentions and expected results into question?  What if a simple “why” could help fine tune those expectations?  What if the expectations are unrealistic?  “Why?” is the only way to start conversations that NEED to happen, but most of the time they don’t.  We must to be flexible or cartilaginous as an industry.  We can start by being flexible with our employees.

If we can not get our entire team (I’m talking CEO to newest employee) to understand why they are being asked to do something, there’s no possible way that the proposed initiative will be as successful as it could be.  We are thinking creatures.  We are asking, “Why?” unconsciously all day long.  It’s time we make a conscious decision to grow in understanding about why we are doing the things we do.

 The best laid plans…

The best laid plans are NOT laid without someone asking, “Why?” (Several times in most cases.)  Bringing a product or service first to market is a great thing, but if you don’t have a clue as to what you’re going to do once it’s “out in the wild”, you’re bound to be spending a lot more time creating a plan of action that could have already been established if one brave person would have just asked a simple question or two.

Even if you launch a product, service or initiative and it’s wildly successful, we still need to ask “why?”  What did we do?  Was it just good timing or did we rock it out because we did all of our due diligence and had a solid plan in place?

If you didn’t quite accomplish what you set out to do, “why?” becomes even more important.  Why didn’t this work (Why is a gateway question)?  What could we have done differently?  What can we learn from this?

No one likes to play 20 Questions, but I’m confident that any sensible business person would choose 20 Questions over a failed business initiative.

In summation

Asking “why?” is essential!  Pick your spots, but seeking a deeper understanding is always a good thing.

Do you have any examples of when simply asking “why?” has helped you?  Any stories of when “why?” may have not been worth it?

I’d love to hear them!

 Without wax,


50 Ways To Lose Your Members

First things first, Paul Simon is a musical genius.  Now that we have a common understanding, I will proceed.

Recently, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover graced my ears.  I did not actively seek out this tune, but the precocity of iTunes shuffle prevailed once again.  Because I’m always thinking about credit unions (seriously, it’s an illness), I thought, “If Paul and Art think it’s easy to lose a lover, it’s probably even easier to lose a credit union member.”

I (think I) know what you’re thinking, and yes, it is a stretch.  Either way, member retention is something that a lot of credit unions don’t focus on.  It’s not to say that we are lazy as an industry, but let’s face it, we’ve all got a lot going on and many of us are lucky to keep our heads erect due to the sheer weight of the multiple “hats” we’re wearing.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of tuning in to a Google Hangout with Tom Glatt and a few others  and he echoed the importance of member growth.  Remember, you can’t have growth if you’re CU is hemorrhaging members.  So, here it is: 5 (not 50) Ways to Lose Your Members (not lover):


1. Don’t make a new plan, Stan

“We always run this loan special in the Spring…”  Times, they are a changing.  Your credit union needs to change with them.  So much is said about “thinking outside of the box”.  I say this, “There IS NO box!”  Let’s stop talking about cardboard and get down to brass tacks.  Be unconventional, question traditions and don’t just do what you’ve been doing for years “just because”.  Credit union members have a lot of choices.  Online banking is taking off and banks are working to become less, well, “bankish” every day.

Banks and credit unions sell the same widgets.  Package them differently.


2. DON’T keep doing what you’re doing

Your credit union is unique, no doubt.  Is your membership aware of your CU’s uniqueness?  It is totally necessary to be innovative with marketing and branding strategies, but other things are better left as is.  Member service (I will only address this topic once) is important.  If you’ve got a member-centric mindset and your credit union lives it every day (every day), please skip to #3.  If not, please proceed.

I’m sure many of you have experienced the member that only conducts their business with a certain Member Service Representative (insert your CU’s title).  Why do members do this?  They do this because at one point, that employee went above and beyond what was asked of them for that member.

In my opinion, if we all went above and beyond, this phenomenon would fade away.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing, but one member’s preference to work with only a specific employee implies that they may have had a less than stellar experience while interacting with a different employee.  We need to strive to provide the best service, we don’t necessarily need to talk about how awesome we are at it, though.  Not sure if you’re employees are making the grade?  Why not employ a mystery shop program?  We need to stay honest with ourselves, outside parties are great at doing this.  No one likes holding their own feet to the fire (if that’s even physically possible.)


3. Hop on the bus, Gus

Get out of the office and get into the community!  Already doing three community activities?  Why not make it six?  If people don’t see you out in the communities that you serve, how will they get to know more about you?  Other than what you post on billboards and run on the radio or TV, how are your members and prospective members learning about you?  Community events, when done correctly are the best marketing your credit union can do.  Let your members see you living the credit union lifestyle.  Start conversations with them outside of the branch.  Ask how your credit union is meeting or falling short of meeting their needs.  Show them that you care (actually caring helps as well) and use their feedback to address issues that need to be dealt with.

Let me be clear here, I am NOT talking about throwing sponsorship dollars around.  I am NOT talking about hanging a banner somewhere with your logo on it and expecting people to see it, actually process it and then make a “buying decision”.  No one does this, no one.  We need to get our brands out there in traditional ways, but if you can get your brand out there and have employees there to talk about making people’s lives easier, your credit union’s success at retaining and attracting new members will skyrocket.  What I AM talking about (Willis?)


4. You don’t need to discuss much?

You may not need to discuss much about “leaving your lover”, but you do need to spend time talking strategy.  Ideally, the amount of time you spend should shake out like this (from least amount of time to most): 1. Talking (everyone loves meeting right?) 2. Planning (“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”) 3. Executing (Not that sort of executing.)

We’re busy, but no one is too busy to do their due diligence.  Plans should always come first!  You may want to be the first credit union on Pinterest (trivial right?), but once you get on the website, what the heck are you going to post?  How are you going to use it to provide value to your membership?  How are you going to avoid being a salesperson?  You can apply this to budgeting, loan growth, marketing, membership growth, you name it.  I’m not casting stones here, but it has become apparent to me that there is a lot of doing, but little thought behind the action.  Lay your plans first, carry them out and then assess what can be done better.


5. Don’t let your meaning be lost or misconstrued

Don’t embrace social (new) media.  There’s no ROI, right?  I’m calling BS on this argument.  You want statistics?  Well, go find them for yourself.  I am more concerned with results.  I’ve been a part of managing social media campaigns for credit unions for three years (impressive right? lol).  There is an ROI and it CANNOT be measured traditionally.  You don’t measure water and square footage the same way, how can you expect to measure two completely different tactics the same way?

I expect, no, I welcome disagreement.  Discourse is good.  Results are better.  What are the results of a properly run social media campaign?  At the credit union I worked at prior to my current venture, we decreased the average age of our membership by 3.5 years in twelve months time.  Furthermore, 86% of net new members were under the age of 46.  Need more?  Here, 60% of that same net new membership was under 31 years old.  Read this white paper for more.  Pick your metrics, work your plan and reap the rewards.

Social media is the easiest way to get your message out of your branches and in front of more people.  It is a relationship builder.  Stronger relationships generally lead to higher member retention.  If you’re lucky enough, you might get people talking about you.  When this happens, sit back and enjoy the show.  I’m not saying Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and whatever other platform you prefer should be your primary focus.  What I am saying is that they provide value to your members and when you have the right person running your campaign, it’s cost effective and high impact.


What are some other ways to lose your lover (err… members?)  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Without wax,