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,

Bryce

 

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Conversations with a Mirror

man-in-mirrorPM1

It has been said, “We are all a work in progress.”  While I believe that we all are a work in progress, sometimes we can find ourselves “stuck”. Maybe we’re a work in progress, but if we think about it and are honest with ourselves, sometimes we find that we haven’t been doing much work at all. Maybe we’ve been too busy with our careers, family or something else. Sure, we’re working, but we’re not working on ourselves.  I recently came to the realization that I hadn’t been working on myself.  Actually, it took a couple of really good friends to tell me that I need to wake up.  I needed to make some serious changes because I was totally unaware that my behaviors were not matching my intentions. It didn’t take me long to realize that no one was going to do the work for me, so I decided it was time to take a long hard look at myself in the mirror.

We all look in the mirror. Most of us do it daily to make sure we don’t look like a hot mess when we get to work.  What most of us don’t do is take the time to look into the mirror and really see ourselves. Reflect. Dream. Plan. Think. Get comfortable in our own skin.

I didn’t do this for a number of reasons:

  1. It doesn’t feel natural
  2. It’s not comfortable (It was actually really uncomfortable.)
  3. We might not even have the slightest idea that something is “off”
  4. We might not want to know who we really are because we’re satisfied with the persona we project as a natural defense mechanism

There are many other reasons but these are mine and I am owning them. I am sure you have your own reasons, too. I did it, though. It wasn’t fun, but it made me realize how much work I have to do.

So, now I’m in the process of trying my best to mend the relationships I have neglected. Show people who I really am. I’m not telling them who I am, I am showing them. Life is hectic. As we get older life finds a way of getting more and more complicated and slowly, but surely we lose little bits of ourselves. This becomes a problem when you lose the aspects of yourself that other people like. I don’t consider myself a workaholic, but I do have an unhealthy “obsession” (I can’t think of a better word and I don’t want to use a thesaurus) with working until I find myself drained. Drained of the excitement I once had. Drained of the energy to do anything else that once was fun. Drained of the energy to put forth my best self. Luckily for me, I have some really good friends who aren’t afraid to call me out on my bullshit.

So what am I driving at here? Put simply; you have to work on yourself first if you eventually want to put others first and create authentic human relationships. I’m talking work relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships. If you aren’t comfortable with yourself and you’re unaware of the areas you need to work on, chances are you will never be able to be present for the people who need you. And if you take nothing else from this blog, there are a lot of people who need you. If you’re reading this, there’s a really good chance that I need you, your talents and everything else you bring to the table.  And if I need you, I can guarantee that a lot of others need you, too.

Putting yourself first can sound selfish and it certainly can be when we’re not careful about what “putting ourselves first” really means. Life isn’t all about me, but I know that if I am not working on my emotional intelligence, reflecting on my words and being aware of how I interact with others, I am probably of little value to anyone.

So, take the time to look in the mirror. You might not like what you see at first or you might love what you see. Either way, it’s completely okay. If you like what you see, keep being you. The world needs what you have to offer. If you don’t like what you see, start working on yourself, the world needs what you are keeping hidden and have to offer.

We’re all a work in progress. Some of us just need to end our lunch break and get back to doing the work that will change our lives and the lives of others.

Without wax,

Bryce

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.

Planning

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.

Execution

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.

Tracking

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,

Bryce

Lessons Learned by a Young Professional

Lessons learnedThis past weekend, I made an outlandish and uniformed comment via one of my favorite social channels, Facebook.  My statement was about credit union trade organizations and the role that they play. While my intentions were to create a meaningful dialogue, my comments turned into a direct attack on the organizations that work every day to further the reach and impact of credit unions. I am deeply saddened and disappointed in myself for my words and actions and I apologize to everyone that I have offended or discredited.

I realize that my statements reflect negatively upon me personally and may be perceived to represent the thoughts and beliefs of the various organizations I am a part of.  I can assure you that the thoughts I expressed this weekend were entirely my own and were formulated with no empirical evidence to support them. This past weekend was most definitely a low for me.

While it would be easy to ignore my mistake or downplay the impact my words had, I realize as a Wisconsin Credit Union YP, it’s more powerful to own up to my mistake and share what I have learned.

I should never let my desire for meaningful change, my passion for credit unions and my impatience cause me to lose sight of the end goal.  As a firm believer in the power of cooperative finance (cooperative anything, really), I believe that every credit union young professional can learn from me by remembering to be mindful that we are an industry founded on cooperation and that the cooperative principles are our biggest differentiator from other financial institutions.

After reflection, it’s clear to me that it takes diversity to make an industry great.  We need our trade organizations to help us grow professionally and our trade organizations need us to provide them with constructive feedback and insight into the topics that we feel we need to gain a better grasp on.  Most importantly, we need organizations like CUNA to carry the political advocacy torch for us.  But, CUNA cannot do it alone.  We need the fresh ideas of professionals – young and seasoned – to bring new thoughts and viewpoints to the table to keep our efforts effective and fresh. The credit union industry is very diverse and is made up of  “shops” large and small.  Credit union vendors are an excellent way to help smaller credit unions make up for inefficiencies due to lack of resources human and/or capital and remain relevant in their respective marketplaces. Though we face big challenges, when we move forward together, we are unstoppable.

As I look forward to working in the credit union industry for many years to come, I know that the lessons I learned this week will help to guide my way of thinking as I continue to grow professionally.  They have reinforced my understanding of the importance of remaining accountable for my thoughts, words and actions.  I hope that my fellow young professional friends can use some of the above takeaways in order to further their own professional growth and be the assets that we need them to be so that we can continue to grow and make a positive difference in the lives of current and prospective credit union members.

Sincerely,

Bryce Roth

Where #DontTaxMyCU Falls Short

imgresIt’s Governmental Affairs Conference week and political advocacy for credit unions is all the rage.  Political advocacy has never been more important for an industry that serves over 96 million people and seems to be regulated more and more with each passing year.  If you read the title of this blog, you might think that this is a post intended to bash the #DontTaxMyCU campaign and that couldn’t be further from the truth.  The #DontTaxMyCU campaign has been wildly successful among credit union folks and it appears that we have even captured the attention of Washington without having to write a big check like some other financial institutions may or may not do.  But how much further can #DontTaxMyCU really go?  Does it resonate with credit union members?  Here’s my take and a few things I believe credit unions need to do if they really want political advocacy to reach a whole different level.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a political analyst, but we all have a basic understanding of how lobbying goes.  Groups of all kinds are knocking on the doors of their respective representatives whenever they get the chance and there are always two basic assumptions in play.

1. The lobbyists have their own agenda.  In the case of credit unions, credit union employees want less regulation and we want our tax status to remain the same.  We all know why credit unions SHOULD keep our tax status and we also know that if we don’t, we will not be able to provide the services we currently offer, we won’t be able to serve the under served and a lot of us will be out of jobs.  We are fighting for our very survival.

2. Politicians (most) know the facts one way or another.  This isn’t a new issue, it’s just become so much more real.  Politicians are in a constant battle to keep their backers happy.  One vote cast the wrong way could mean the end of their career.  Essentially, politicians and lobbyists are both fighting to survive.

In any competition or fight, there is always a winner and a loser.  If we can assume that we (credit union folks) are up against the banking industry and politicians who like the banking industry because they have a lot of money, we need to be at our very best if we hope to stand a chance on the issue of our tax status.

Knowing how important this issue is, how many of us have thought long and hard about how we are trying to tackle this issue?  My guess is that some have, but others are just going through the motions because that’s what they/we’ve been told to do.  Here’s the problem: The vast majority of credit union members have no idea that their credit union has a special tax status.  Think about that.  Now think about how many of your members even know that your credit union’s business model is fundamentally different that that of a bank.  Lastly, think of how many of your members call your credit union their bank (I honestly don’t care what members call us, but I think you can see where I’m going.)

If our members don’t know these points, how could a message as simple as #DontTaxMyCU really gain steam in the consumer world?  Unfortunately, it can’t.  I know that tons of people have gone to great lengths to build an awesome website and create collateral pieces spreading the #DontTaxMyCU message, but those will only be effective if each credit union takes a more proactive form of advocacy through the lens of member education.

This is a pretty complex issue and even some of us in the credit union industry don’t totally understand the implications of a change in our tax status, how can we expect our members to understand the magnitude?

So what do we do?  I believe the answer lies in the 5th Cooperative Principle.  We need to educate our members in a way that makes this issue real to them.  We need to think like we do about other things in our life.  We need to think about “what’s in it for me?”  At the end of the day, when you are asking someone to do something that is above and beyond what they normally would do (contact a representative), you had better make certain you’ve given them a darn good reason to take action.

How can we educate our members?  In my opinion we need to get our members together to really dive into the issue.  We should be holding town hall meetings in our branches, we should be creating political advocacy groups among our members.  We should be running this thing like were trying to become President of the United States.  What message do you think would get more people’s attention:

#DontTaxMyCU

or

Because of possible government changes, we may have to raise our loan rates and charge more fees, soon.

A hashtag is great because it’s trendy, but hashtags were never meant to tell entire stories.  This is a story and it’s worthy of more than a social media tracking invention.  We need to have real conversations with our members that tell them the real life implications of this important issue.  I’m not saying the #DontTaxMyCU hashtag is bad, I’m saying it needs to have more substance.  When I use substance, I do not mean tweeting or posting on Facebook, “#DontTaxMyCU Go visit this website for more information.”  This is not a winning strategy.  Besides, when it comes to social media, most posts containing links are clicked on the least (especially on Facebook) when compared to posts of plain text, images and videos.  Social media is not the answer for this fight (can you believe I wrote that?)  Social media is but one leg on the stool that we need to create if we want to create member urgency and involvement.

With many credit union annual meeting coming up, is this issue on your credit union’s agenda to be discussed?

What are some ways your credit union is engaging your members in political advocacy?

Without wax,

Bryce

The Energy Equation

this-basic-equation-is-all-you-need-to-know-about-saving-moneyThis title makes me sound like I am a physicist or something.  I assure you that I am not.  However, I am quite in-tune with human emotions and behavior.  While I’m now in marketing, my first love has always been psychology and sociology.  What makes people do the things that they do?  Why do certain groups form?  How and why do people choose to interact the way that they do?

I think that we all should question ourselves occasionally.  Why are we putting in extra hours?  Why do we love (hopefully) what we call work?  What is the source of our motivation?  What are we trying to accomplish?  It’s cliché to say stop and smell the roses, but it’s human nature to get caught up in all of the projects and responsibilities that we have.  It’s not human nature (at least not mine) to actually take time to be a part of our everyday experiences.  I’m still working on this myself, so, please do not assume that I am speaking from an enlightened state.  Nope.  This is more of a philosophical blog.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that our lives are made up of a never-ending (well it does end at sometime) series of moments and like the saying, “You learn more from your loses than you do from your victories” speaks to, at every moment of our lives, we are either winning or losing the moment.  Since no one that I know of is “winning” at every moment (with the exception of Charlie Sheen), I think it makes sense to reflect on our experiences.  Here’s the kicker.  You can’t reflect on something if you haven’t truly experienced it.

Maybe we don’t want to question ourselves.  Maybe we’re afraid of the answers we might find.  I’m sure that I wouldn’t be completely satisfied with all of my responses, but if you don’t uncover areas you can improve on, you’ll never reach your full potential.  The lesson here is that in all aspects of your life (faith, family, social, work) we should all be striving to improve.  Personally, I’d like to be a better teammate at work.  I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that being liked is nice and being respected is even better, but how many times are we actively assessing our interactions with others?  How can we create a rapport with people if we aren’t honest with ourselves about how we are treating or leading others.

So, the question is this: How much energy are we putting into “doing” compared to the amount we put into the assessment of the things we do?  My guess is that for myself and many others, there is an imbalance in favor of the former compared to the latter.  What do you think?  Do you have any tips or tricks?  How can we better assess ourselves?  Let me know by leaving a comment.

Without wax,

Bryce

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

geicocavemen2ORIGINALLY POSTED ON CHATTERYAK.COM

 

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,

Bryce