Should Community Banks take the Planet Fitness Approach?

ID-100334953Recently, an acquaintance told me that he and his significant other had joined Planet Fitness.  There is a Planet Fitness near my home, and I had seen their television commercials, but had never visited their location.  Curiously, I asked him questions about it.  Here are a few highlights.

Judgement Free Zone ®

Planet Fitness claims it not a “gym” and their Judgement Free Zone ® tagline firmly stands behind it.  That means, no outside trainers and heavy lifting (i.e. deadlifts and cleans) is highly fround upon; in fact, “grunting” is prohibited.

The Daily Show had a hilarious report on this very subject a few years ago:

 

The concept of Planet Fitness it to create a welcoming environment to either:

  • People new to working out
  • People who just want a causal, laid back gym environment

In other works, gymrats and crossfitters aren’t the target market for Planet Fitness.

Laid Back. With my mind on my money and my money on my mind!

Planet Fitness is using a “laid back” approach that other businesses and non-profits have been applying for years. Take Non-denomiational Christian churches for example; there is one church in my city that separates itself by telling people to “Come as you are.”  In fact, they have even hosted nontraditional meetings in a bar and call it “Beer Church.”

How does this apply to banks?

There are two lessons banks can learn from this approach.  Intimidation and target marketing.

Intimidation

What’s more intimidating than going to a gym?  How about asking a complete stranger for money.  Isn’t that essentially what a loan is?  A person walks into a “Financial Institution” and literally pleads their case to borrow money.

What if a bank were to make banking, particularly lending, less intimidating?  There are several ways of doing this:

  • In Branch Financial Literacy Classes
  • Participating in Get Smart About Credit
  • CRA Initiatives

The list can go on and on; but first, there must be a mentality, a company culture that welcomes these approaches, otherwise it is just blowing smoke.

Target Marketing

A hot, dynamic term in marketing, especially with community banks.  But how targeted is the marketing approach? Let’s consider home equity lines of credit (HELOC).

  • Do you expect someone with a $150,000 home to be the same type of person who owes a $500,000?
  • Do you think a 50 year old married couple with three children in their late teens to mid 20s have the same needs/wants as a married couple in their early 30s?

If not, why do banks consistently market to those customers the same way?

Banks throw a huge advertising net that includes phrases like, “remodeling, vacation, tuition cost” and the list goes on and on.  Instead of trying to jam as much information out there, wouldn’t it be better served to create a message directly targeting a specific market?

Start with your current customer base and/or with the communities you serve.  Is there a specific demographic you are trying to reach?  Once you answer that question, find out what connects each person in that demographic.

Again, go back to HELOCs.  If you already have a customer base, then use a prospecting tool to gather information.  In this case, let’s say a prospecting tool is used to find out where this customer base lives in your area.  From there, use tools to communicate your message to this audience.

  • Direct Mail Postcards
  • Google Adwords targeted to the Zip Code and street address
  • Display Advertising that can be targeted via location AND by common interest

If you are interested in learning more about prospecting tools, then check out CRS Data’s Banker Suite program.  The Banker Suite contains a prospecting tool that allows banks to search for certain criteria within different counties.

So, take the Planet Fitness approach and pump up your marketing results and beat the flabby ads approach.

 

 

 

Commercial Bank Branding and Football Logos

Titans HelmetsHow is it football fans can cheer for teams even though they continue to disappoint fans season after season? Better yet, how can banks learn from this during a period of employee turnover?

Let’s use the Tennessee Titans as an example.  I’m a huge Titans fan and became a fan when Coach Jeff Fisher was the head coach, Eddie George was the starting running back and Steve McNair was leading the team as quarterback.  All three people are no longer with the Titans.

  • Jeff Fisher: Now coaching the St. Louis Rams.
  • Eddie George: Hosting a college pre-game show for Fox.
  • Steve McNair: Traded to the Baltimore Ravens in 2005, retired in 2008 and passed away in 2009.

This season, The Tennessee Titans have a record of 2-10, and consist of:

  • Coach Ken Whisenhunt: A head coach who runs a traditional offensive scheme that contradicts Coach Fisher’s “Run-n-Gun” approach during the McNair era.
  • Running Back Committee: Instead of a starting running back, the Titans use a three-man approach.
  • Quarterback Problems: The Titans have started three different quarterbacks this season.

So why…why do I stay a fan of the Tennessee Titans.

Steve McNair was traded to Baltimore, so why am I not a Ravens fan?

Coach Fisher is in St. Louis, so why am I not a Rams fan, instead of staying with the Titans? 

I originally became a Titans fan due to proximity.  I live in Tennessee, and the Titans are in Tennessee.  But it soon become an emotional connection as the Titans seem to be an underdog.  Shoot, even when Steve McNair was chosen as MVP in 2003, he had to share the title with Payton Manning.

What can Banks take away from this?

Recently I wrote a post that touched on hiring commercial lenders based on their loan portfolio.  The flip side of this is what happens when a bank loses a commercial lender that has a successful portfolio.

Loosing a Strong Loan Producer

It happens to just about any community bank.  The have a top producing commercial lender who gets an offer they can’t refuse from a competitor.  They leave and immediately the bank accepts the fact that they are going to lose current customers due to “their banker” leaving.  Many times, banks start building a reactive checklist, but what if they started a proactive campaign.

Reactive Approach

Making a ListAs the bank starts searching for a replacement, the bank will also review the leaving commercial banker’s portfolio so it can be divided up between their current commercial lenders.

A good bank will also look at the profitability of each customer in the portfolio to see who is unprofitable and see this as an opportunity to “lose” this customer.  Plus, they will make sure to focus their attention on profitable and potentially profitable customers on the list.

This is a good strategy that every community bank should follow, but consider adding a proactive strategy that may already tie into your marketing and sales efforts.

Proactive Approach

Instead of waiting for a commercial lender to leave, consider these tactics to entrench your customers into your bank’s brand.

  • Email Communication: Let’s assume your bank’s sales culture has a calling program in place where your commercial lenders are required to meet with their entire portfolio at least three times a year.  If that is the case, what other forms of communication does your bank use to communicate to these customers?  A bank can create an email program where the bank is sending meaningful information.  It can be about a new service, business advice or anything else that the customer would deem useful.  This approach not only keeps customers in the communication loop, but also ties them to your bank’s brand beyond the commercial lender.
  • Customer Recognition: Find ways that your bank can recognize this customer and their business.  For example, if the commercial customer has a retail business, highlight their business to your customer base, and make sure the customer knows about it.  You may even want to let a bank executive notify the customer.  That way the customer now has a connection another banker in your organization.
  • Connect on Social Media: If you have a company presence on social media, make sure you are connected to your customer base.  Better yet, if your CEO or other executives are on a social media platform (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest), make sure they are connected with the customer and engaged with them.
  • Team Approach: Most likely a commercial lender works with a team of people when dealing with their customers.  It may be a loan processor, or maybe a cash management specialist.  Either way, it is important that your commercial customers know the entire team.  Make sure your commercial lender introduces the support staff to their customers, or at the very least, their top customers.  Also consider creating a mentoring program, where the commercial lender takes an up-and-comer out with them on customer calls.

Brand Focus

You are connecting your customer to other people and outlets of your bank.  This will continue to establish the brand of your organization by reenforcing the strengths your bank has, and will make any customer think twice before they leave you to join their “former banker.”

Now if the Titans can just get their act together, I won’t be looking for another NFL franchise.

Finding Mr. Right

Having trouble selling a product or service that you think is perfect?

Inspector Jacques ClouseauCommunity banks are finding themselves in this situation.  More and more people are looking to outside competitors for banking assistance.

  • Credit unions are supplying people with low-interest rate car loans.
  • Reloadable pre-pay cards are offering an alternative to traditional checking accounts
  • Mobile apps are creating new ways to pay for bills and exchange money between people

These three options are great, but here’s the catch: community banks offer some (if not all) of these services. The problem is that people either do not want do business with a bank or they are unaware that banks offer these services.

How can community banks overcome this issue?

Image Crisis

Inspector and Chief InspectorIt is no surprise that banks have received bad publicity over the past 6 years.  Bank closures, bailouts and fraud have caused public opinion of banks to collapse.  Unfortunately for community banks, people tend to lump big banks and local community banks together in this mess.

To help overcome this, banks need to work on their public relations efforts by reaching out to potential customers and to the communities they serve.  The issue is that many community banks are stretched thin, so it is important that a consistent message is communicated so you can maximize your exposure.

Keep a consistent message

Call it a tagline, slogan or sayin’, but whatever you call it, make sure you keep it consistent.  By keeping a consistent message, people will start recognizing it.  But remember, even if you and your staff are getting tired of the message, keep it up.  The last thing you want to do is keep changing your message.  Constant change means you are hitting the restart button with your audience.

No Exposure

Inspector and WomanIs your bank advertising, communicating and marketing in the right places? For example, if you are wanting to grow your customer base among 20 -34 year olds, then advertising on an AM radio station between the hours of 10am – 1pm may not be the most effective place.

Make sure you are where your market is, and focus your attention to it.

  1. Research where your target market is.
  2. Craft a message that will get their attention and give a call to action.
  3. Follow through to see if your efforts are working or if it needs tweaking.

As previously mentioned, most community banks are stretched thin, so make sure your communication is done in a creative way that will get people’s attention.

Creative Communication

If a bank wants to increase the number of CDs it has, then running an average newspaper advertisement may do the job, but that doesn’t mean you can communicate the same way when trying to reach a digital based customer.

If you are trying to reach a young, digital audience, then find out where these customers are. Do you have a presence on Twitter or Instagram?  If not, think about how you can translate your message on these sites. Even if you do have a social presence, what are you doing locally to get their attention?  If you can effectively communicate on a digital and local level, you will amplify your message and yield stronger results.

Pay Attention

Inspector BombBefore jumping into new waters, be sure to research.  Make sure your perfect product/service is what your intended target market wants.  Once it is launched and you have communicated your message, listen to your audience.  If your audience likes it, use that as a stepping stone.  If your audience has issues with it, use that as a stepping stone too.

The last thing a community bank wants is their efforts to backfire and blow up like a bomb.

 

 

 

Rich Rod and Commercial Lenders

Coach Rich Rod AngryWhat does Coach Rich Rodriguez and commercial lending have to do with one another?  Better yet, how can banks learn from his career history when it comes to hiring a new commercial lender?

Let’s start with the latter and work our way back to Rich Rod.

Commercial Lending Hires

Since working in banking, I have seen two schools of thought in the hiring process of commercial lenders.

Hiring From Within

When a commercial lending position opens up with the Bank, the position is filled with a banker who wants to be a commercial lender.

Pros

  • Promotion: The bank can raise overall morale by promoting someone that already works for the bank.
  • Culture: The new commercial lender already knows the culture of the bank, will have a rapport with bank staff,  and will understand the expectations of the position.

Cons

  • Training and Development: The new commercial lender will need time to learn the position and develop into a commercial lender.
  • No Portfolio: The new commercial lender comes with no established customer portfolio, which can slow down production in the loan pipeline.

Due to the cons of hiring from within, a bank may fast track the learning and customer portfolio curve by hiring a seasoned, experienced commercial lender

Hiring Outside the Company

A bank may want to see an immediate spike in their loan pipeline and hire a commercial lender from a competitor.

Pros

  • Immediate Pipeline: An established loan portfolio can lead to new loan revenue from the lender’s current customers that are not bank customers.

Cons

  • Culture Shock: The commercial lender needs to learn the culture of the bank, learn the processes and build a reputation with the staff.
  • Lack of Loan Revenue: Just because the new lender has a customer base at their previous bank, doesn’t mean they can easily bring their customers with them.

Regardless of the decision, a bank is rolling the dice when hiring a new lender, but let’s compare the previous two examples with the coaching career of Rich Rod.

Early Success at WVU: Hiring from Within

Rich Rod WVU ThumbRich Rod was hired as WVU’s head football coach in 2000, but that wasn’t his first experience as a Mountaineer.  Here are the highlights of Rich Rod’s life before accepting the head coaching position at WVU:

  • A native West Virginian
  • Attended WVU and played defensive back for the Mountaineers
  • A student assistant coach
  • Served as a volunteer assistant

Rich Rod was a logical choice for WVU and during his time there, the Mountaineers exceeded expectations by dominating other teams in the Big East and becoming a nationally ranked top football program.  He was able to hit the ground running due to his long relationship with the Mountaineers.

A Michigan Rocky Ro(a)d: Hiring Outside the Company

Rich Rod MichThe University of Michigan saw the winning record Rich Rod had at WVU.  The Wolverines wanted a winning coach and had heard Rodriguez was getting frustrated with the new President at WVU.  They made the coach an offer he couldn’t refuse, and Rich Rod officially replaced his West Virginia blue and gold for Michigan’s gold and blue.

Rich Rod only spent three years as the University of Michigan’s head football coach.  What happened?

Short Sighted Vision

Michigan wanted a winning coach and they knew Rich Rod already looked good in blue and gold.  Seemed like a winner, right?  What Michigan didn’t realize was that Rodriguez’s offensive strategy, the spread offense, didn’t fully match the football players at Michigan.  This would require a change in players and in staffing.  In fact, players ended up leaving Michigan, citing “offensive behavior” but one has to wonder if it really had to do with “offense changes.”

A move from traditional offense to a spread offense doesn’t happen overnight, it takes seasons to accomplish.  Unfortunately for Rich Rod, the Wolverines didn’t have the patience to see it pan out.

Culture Clash

It is well documented that Coach Rodriguez didn’t get along with the Michigan environment.  He wasn’t a “Michigan Man.”  He didn’t plan on conforming to what boosters and the Michigan administration and boosters wanted from their coach and it came back to haunt him.

Learning a Lesson: What Works for You

This is just one example of several when it comes to hiring.  Just because it didn’t work for Rich Rod and Michigan, doesn’t necessary mean it will not work for your organization.  Shoot, look at what Rodriguez is doing at Arizona.  To date, they have had two winning seasons, and this season they have the opportunity to win the Pac-12 Conference Title.

If your bank does decide to hire outside the company to fill a commercial lending position (or any other position), consider the following points

  • Thorough background check: Go beyond the credit and criminal check, get to know the person.  Find out if they are going to be a good fit for the position and your organization.  Do they have the same values as your company?  Will they fit in with your bank’s strategic plan?  To answer these and other questions, you will have to have several interviews and include different people to sit in on the interview.
  • Loan Portfolio Review: There is no true way to review someone’s loan portfolio before you hire them.  That said, it is important to have some level of due diligence to ensure the new commercial lender’s customer base matches your bank’s target market.  If your bank is focused on growing commercial and industrial (C&I) loans by creating relationships with manufacturing companies, it may not be in your bank’s best interest to hire a lender who only focuses in commercial real estate (CRE) lending.

Hopefully this Rich Rod metaphor helps you and your organization the next time you need to find your next commercial lender.

Football and Your Company’s Depth Chart

WVU+Dingle+BerryWhat lessons can companies and department managers learn from college football this season?

If your company is suffering from a talent shortage, then you may find the following post rings true in your organization.

Backstory: College Football

College football season is wrapping up and fans are either excited about their team’s successes or questioning what went wrong this year.

As a WV Mountaineers fan living in Knoxville, Tennessee, it has been a season of ups and downs for the two teams I hear the most about: WVU and UT.  Both teams had very close games, but couldn’t close the deal.

Why?  My humble opinion: each team’s depth charts.

Not enough experienced people

If a college football team has to burn a redshirt and start a true freshman, then their chances of success are slim to none.

WVU: In the Mountaineers’ case, they don’t have enough depth in their defense.  An article written in The Charleston Daily Mail last month sheds some light on this subject.  In the article, writer Mike Casazza, points out:

WVU played nose guard Darrien Howard even though he was on track to redshirt. The defensive line was without the starting defensive end and a backup nose guard against Texas Tech.

UT: The University of Tennessee has done a great job recruiting young, strong athletes.  That said, they are still lacking depth and it has hindered their overall performance.  The Tennessean was able to point that out in an October 31st  article.  In this article,  Coach Butch Jones addresses the depth issue head on by stating:

We need much, much more depth.  A lot of that will be addressed in recruiting.

Both coaches are obviously aware of their depth issue, and both of them have stated in several interviews that they are committed to fix this issue with short-term and long-term tactics.

How does this relate to business?

Regardless if you have a huge corporate organization or a small business, do you have the right people to fill in when needed?  Since I’m in the banking industry, I’ll use banking as an example for the business industry.  When I speak to most HR directors and managers in banking, two issues typically pop up in the conversation.

  1. Succession Planning
  2. Reduction in Branch Staffing

These two issues are independent from each other but do have a connection when a bank is reviewing their business depth chart.

Succession Planning: Who’s going to be in charge next?

The GodfatherMore and more Bank HR conferences and webinars focus on bank succession planning.  In fact, this issue continues to be a sticking point with bank regulators.  Regulators not only want to make sure a bank has long-term vision, but they also want to see how a bank is acting upon the long-term vision.

A 2013 article from American Banker, states a few facts about the lack of succession planning:

The absence of a thorough succession could derail a bank’s strategy, opening it up to a takeover. Since 2008, the average bank CEO age is roughly 58, while CEOs of banks that have been sold have averaged about 61, according to a study from Morgan Stanley. For the 35 bank deals announced during the first nine months of last year (2012), the average seller’s CEO was approaching 65.

Now if you work for a bank and your CEO is approaching, or has already reached, 65, don’t start panicking yet.  Just because you don’t know if there is a succession plan doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  There could be a succession plan written and approved by senior management and the Board of Directors.

But as previously stated, is the bank acting upon the plan?

Ask yourself, is there appropriate training in place?  Are the future leaders of your bank learning about possible future roles?

  • If your CFO is in place to be the CEO, are they learning about how to lead people?
  • If the CCO is next in line, does that person understand what needs to be done to raise low-cost/non-interest deposits?

If you answer no, again, don’t panic.  There is still time to fast track training and different ways to approach it.

Reduction in Branch Staffing: Do you have the people, but not the talent?

Old Bank Teller LineBanks across the country are running into the following issue.

For decades banks have staffed their branches with tellers.  Now with a decline of in-branch transactions, some banks are loaded up with a staff that doesn’t have anything to do.  Will they have to lay off teller (a current trend) or have they started training these tellers for other positions within the bank?

There are two factors to consider when training tellers (or anybody): skill set and passion.  For example, if you plan on transitioning a teller to mortgage lender, think about…

  • Skill Set: Does the teller have some of the natural qualities needed for this type of position.  Do they enjoy working with people?  Do they understand that mortgage lending requires a level of knowledge regarding regulations?
  • Passion: Most of the skill sets needed can be done through time via training, but passion is an internal mechanism that a person must have.  Without it, all the training and skill sets in the world will amount to nothing.  Make sure they have passion and find ways to keep that passion alive.

In order to successfully make this transition, branch managers, human resources and senior management all have to be on the same page.  All three must work together to identify what areas need more depth and then find the person who can fill in the depth gap.  This opportunity itself is another blog post for another day.

Wrapping Up

Whether it is football or business, being the best means always improving and looking for opportunities.  In order to do that, you have to make sure your team is loaded with not only play makers, but with rising stars.  Make sure to prepare your rising stars so that they can move into the play makers position as seamlessly as possible.

 

Tactics vs. Strategy

Chess and PeopleI recently finished my last year of the American Bankers Association’s School of Bank Marketing and Management and had the honor of graduating with a great group of bankers from all walks of life.  There are several topics and schools of thought that are still running through my mind, but one concept has been lingering in the forefront: Tactics vs. Strategy.

When I talk about marketing with someone, usually tactics often get confused for strategy.  The biggest example I hear is:

What email strategies are you using?

Using email to get your message out and sell a certain product or services is a great tool, but it should not be considered a strategy.

Two other tactics that often get confused with strategy are social media and online advertising.  These three tactics are the latest communication tools business are using to market their companies to existing customers and prospects, but it is a shame that they are being confused with strategy.

Tactics Before Strategy

Years ago, I worked with someone who believed our bank needed to be on Facebook.  I didn’t fully disagree with him, but when I asked him why, his answer was,

Everyone is on it.

Now I don’t know what kind of childhood you had, but when I heard this, I wanted to answer with what my mother use to say:

If everyone decided to jump off a bridge, would you?

But instead of being snarky, I started a conversation with him by asking, what would we post on Facebook.  After the conversation, he realized our bank wasn’t positioned to be on Facebook and he never asked the question again.  Don’t get me wrong, his heart was in the right place, but he wanted to start a tactic without even thinking about an objective or strategy.

What is Strategy?

In its simplest form, a strategy is a plan to bring about a result.  For example, if your bank needs to raise deposits and decides the best way to do this is by increasing the number of checking accounts, you create a strategy to bring in more checking account customers.  That is the beginning level of the strategy.  You then start breaking down the steps of the strategy

  • Dollar Amount Goal
  • What type of Checking Accounts
  • Target Market
  • Budget
  • Tactics to Attract Target Market

The list can go on and on, but eventually leads to what type of tactics you will use to obtain your goal.

What’s More Important: Strategy or Tactic?

Tactics need strategy and strategy needs tactics.  Tactics are the actions you take to put your strategy to life and reach your goal.

Ever work with someone who says they are an “ideas man”?  Drives me crazy when I hear that.  Ideas are great, but without action, they’re nothing.  Sun Tzu put it best when he said:

Sun QuoteThink of it this way, as much effort that you put in thinking out your strategy, you need to put that much effort into your tactics.  Phoning in a tactic will not produce the same results in the amount of time as a fully thought out tactic.

Have you ever had to explain the difference between strategy and tactics to someone?  What examples did you use when communicating the differences?

 

 

Direct Mail: SMH

confusedA coworker recently gave me a copy of what a competitor sent his spouse in the mail.  To say the least, we had a good laugh after looking at the business card and the four pages of inconsistent sales pitches.

Beyond the laughter, it did get me thinking about direct mail marketing.

What is successful direct mail marketing?

Yes, there is a level of target marketing that goes with it, but when you move past creating a mailing list, what can be done to improve the message?

Consistency

TargetsBe consistent not just with your message, but how the overall presentation looks.  For example, a four page direct mail piece should be printed on the same printer instead of having two of the four pages were printed in color, while the other two pages, which should be printed in full color, are printed on a black and white printer.

Here are other points to consider in consistency.

  • Branding: It may sound silly, but if a direct mail piece doesn’t look and feel like it came from your company, then you need to go back to the drawing board. The before mentioned direct mail piece had 2 distinctly different bank logos for the same bank.  Two logos!
  • One Messenger: The competitor’s letter had a business card from a sales rep, an introductory letter from a Vice President and an additional sales letter from an Executive Vice President.  Why not create one piece that contains one contact person?  That way there is one point person who can help measure the success of the mail campaign.

Relevance

RelevanceIf you have done all the work narrowing down a target market for your direct mail, you should make sure sure the mail piece is relevant to your target market.

Signatures Count

When you are sending a letter as a direct mail piece, the signature is an important part of the letter.  A proper signature ends the letter on a good note and adds a level of humanity to the advertisement.

  • Lose the Top Executives: Unless your CEO or top executives lives in the community, chances are people don’t care if they sign a direct mail piece.  Forget the CEO and executives and use your local senior staff member.  That way people can relate to them and put a face to the name and, more importantly, to the business.
  • Real Signature: A low quality digital copy of a signature doesn’t cut it anymore.  It looks cheap and gives the wrong impression.  If your direct mail piece is a formal letter, then it needs to include a real signature. It’s proof that you took the time to at least sign it and shows a good attention to detail.

Clear Call to Action

A direct mail piece should grab the readers attention quickly and have a call to action that is easy to understand.

  • Simplify the Message: If it takes more than two pages to explain your message, then there’s a problem.  Keep it simple and quickly explain the message.
  • Spell out the Call to Action: A direct mail piece should not only sale a product or service, but also needs to let the reader know how to purchase the product or service.  Clearly state who to contact and how to contact them.

In closing, remember, a little extra planning and proper execution can go a long way.

Have you ever received a direct mail piece you really liked? What did you like about it?

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