Oct 17, 2008

Our Blog is Moving

Two years ago, we started writing this blog to share our insights, ideas and experiences. Over time, we’ve realized that we’re due for some changes – for two important reasons:

  • We do a lot of work with credit unions, and we know that the “grow your bank” title doesn’t sit well with our credit union friends.
  • We like the wordpress platform more than the blogger platform

The new blog is called Market Insights Insider and can be found at: miinsider.wordpress.com.

If you’ve included the grow your bank blog on your blogroll, please note the change. We appreciate the links and expect to create a blogroll on our site as well.

Oct 13, 2008

My Thoughts on GM and Chrysler

This past Saturday there was an article in The New York Times about the merger talks between GM and Chrysler.

I am both amused and skeptical about a merger of these two auto giants and, from my perspective; two wrongs do not make a right. It speaks volumes about trying to fix a systemic problem (products that don’t resonate with the American consumer) with outdated solutions (assuming that manufacturing efficiency is the magic bullet to change things). In an industrial economy that was the US was during the 1950s, and even until late in the 20th century, economies of scale could be gained by combining operations.

This is not to say that economies of scale are not still possible, but what would be the result of two merged auto giants that are both out of touch with what their customers want? An efficient and streamlined auto behemoth that makes vehicles that its customers do not want.

I say all of this to point out the fact that the successful companies of today and tomorrow maintain a razor share focus on the customer needs and keep improving what they deliver and how they deliver it. By way of contrast, take Toyota for example. It focuses on a few models and it does so very well. They make two of the best selling sedans in the country, the Camry and the Corolla; they obtain continuous feedback from customers about how to keep improving it, and then implement many of these improvements to keep the customer interested in buying.

Until the American auto manufacturers learn the lessons that this time in history provides, I suspect that a merger may do little to position them for the long term. The financial services industry can learn by the example of the auto industry woes that cost cutting and operational efficiency will only get them so far. Only a sustained commitment to planning and positioning itself for the future, understanding the needs of current and future customers and balancing out short term and long term needs will keep customers coming back.

Oct 3, 2008

My Partnership Symposium Top 10

After spending the last two days at the Partnership Symposium, I’m convinced that this conference is one of the best in the financial services industry. Here’s ten reasons why:

10. Many of the attendees wore jeans.

9. After seeing that many of the attendees wore jeans on the first day, more people wore jeans on the second day.

8. Admission to the conference was only $125.

7. The dinner reception managed to combine Oktoberfest and Rock Band.

6. Smart use of technology. The presentations were broadcast live over the Internet, and twitter was used to allow audience members to pose questions throughout.

5. There was definitely a sense of community among the attendees. The conference served as an extension of an online community in some respects – giving people like me the opportunity to meet people face-to-fact that I’ve only talked with online – and it managed to bring other attendees into the mix.

4. The Q & A session with presenters was the best I’ve seen at a conference. Rather than opening the floor to audience questions after the presentations, each presenter was asked some really challenging questions from Ron Shevlin – and these points spurred additional conversation and really enriched the conversation.

3. Instead of handing attendees a binder with session handouts at the registration table, conference organizers gave each attendee a small piece of paper with the wi-fi access code.

2. I’ve never seen so many macbooks and iPhones in the same room at the same time.

1. The speakers were really smart - they are among some of the most innovative and involved people in the industry. And the respect among the speakers really showed – especially as some of them prefaced their presentations with how nervous they were about talking such a highly acclaimed group.

If you have the opportunity to attend the Partnership Symposium next year, I highly recommend it. Besides, aren't we all looking for an excuse to travel to Fishers, IN?

Oct 2, 2008

Fearful Leaders

Today, National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed Jean Ann Fox, Director of Financial Services at the Consumer Federation of America, about the impact of recent bank failures, mergers and buyouts. The story suggested that with the consolidation of some of the larger banks, consumers have an opportunity now to “reshop the market and see if you can get a better deal at lower cost at a smaller bank.”

There is no doubt that the turmoil in the world’s economic markets and high profile bank failures will contribute to customer churn, especially in some markets. But are small community banks prepared to take full advantage of that churn, or are they approaching the ocean of opportunity with a teaspoon? Many community bankers haven’t taken the time to understand their market; or ensure that their brand is relevant to that market...so they don't know how to reach out to their potential customer in meaningful ways. In fact, in this very moment fearful leaders are busy cutting marketing budgets and putting off strategic growth decisions. They could benefit from advice offered today in Seth Godin's blog:

"Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren't right or the water is too cold or we've got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

What a shame. What a waste.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year's Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn't already running my own business, today is the day I'd start one."

Sep 19, 2008

Blow Up Your Marketing at the ABA Marketing Conference

Earlier this week at the ABA Marketing Conference, I had the opportunity to join Jeff Stephens from Creative Brand Communications in an episode of his bi-weekly Banktastic podcast Blow Up Your Marketing. Take a look at what conference attendees had to say about the conference.

Blow Up Your Marketing episodes can be seen on the Banktastic blog. Check them out, and watch for future episodes.

Sep 18, 2008

Going Green: Social Responsibility vs. Marketing Tactic

On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend the round table discussion “Going Green” at the ABA Marketing Conference. And, having seen a number of institutions jump on the green bandwagon over the last year – I think the conversation missed some important points.

First of all, the complete name of the session was: “Going Green: It’s the right thing to do – so how do we do it right?” While many consider adopting green practices to be the right thing to do from an environmental standpoint, the session focused instead on it being the right thing to do so institutions don’t get “left behind.” As we’ve talked about before, making choices so you don’t get left behind only contributes to the commoditization and sameness we’re seeing throughout the industry. And, these kinds of efforts, especially when tied to “going green” (with the increasing awareness and sensitivity to greenwashing), can really do more harm to your institution than good – a point that was never made during the session.

During the conversation, the point was made that going green can be used as a competitive differentiator – in large part because most institutions aren’t pursuing such efforts. But, this conversation quickly shifted to emphasize the fact that institutions that don’t pursue green initiatives will be at a competitive disadvantage. Once again, rather than encouraging institutions to determine on an individual level whether green initiatives makes sense at their institutions – within the context of their markets and their brand positions, attendees were encouraged to pursue these initiatives as means to stay on a level playing field. This was a big red flag for me.

The most important takeaway from the session was: take incremental steps, and be honest and transparent.

I’d qualify this suggestion though – first, determine if becoming a green business makes sense for your institution. And second, recognize the important differences and implications associated with being a green business versus those associated with an institution working to become more environmentally friendly or sustainable.

While allowing customers to sign up for paperless statements certainly reduces paper and the environmental impact of shipping them (not to mention the cost of postage), it’s simply not enough to promote an institution as green. Take a look at institutions like New Resource Bank, Green Bank, and Alpine Bank (the featured bank during this session) as examples of those that have taken significant steps to become more environmentally sustainable – and they did so before promoting it in their marketing materials and campaigns.

Sep 16, 2008

Buzzwords at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference

Over the past few days at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference in Denver, we've heard quite a few ideas and concepts being talked about repeatedly. Some of what we're hearing includes:

  • Experience - a concept that we heard a lot about at last year's conference is still on many attendees' minds. Joseph Pine's opening keynote discussed the progression from businesses selling commodities to goods; goods to services; services to experiences; and experiences to transformations. While some institutions certainly pay attention to the complete customer experience, many are stuck simply selling services or goods - which raises concerns regarding commoditization.
  • Transformation - as I mentioned above, Joe Pine emphasized the importance of transformation in today's competitive environment; the idea was mentioned in many of the presentations. As Pine described it, beyond creating a customer experience, successful companies will be those that are transformational - those that are able to transform their customers' lives in some respect. The emphasis here raises concerns for me, as many institutions havn't fully grasped the concept of creating and managing the customer experience - which needs to happen before trying to become transformational.
  • Differentiation - we've heard much more discussion around the issue of differentiation than we did at last year's conference - which is encouraging. While the marketers here seem to understand the importance, we are hearing a lot of frustration around how to convince senior management and boards that differentiation needs to be part of the overall marketing strategy.
  • Segmentation - a topic we didn't hear much about last year, segmentation has certainly become a much more well-known concept, and one that seems to be working its way into many institutions' strategies. I'm impressed with the level that people are talking about the topic. As an example, people were talking about the many segments that make up Generation Y - where last year, the broad group of Generation Y was talked about very generally.

As attendees return home from the conference, I hope that these concepts can make their way into next year's marketing strategies. It's a departure from years past - as none of these concepts offer a turn-key solution - they will vary from market to market, and from one institution to the next.