For decades, financial marketers have promoted what their institutions do and how they do it. Why? Because it’s easy. And because it’s easy, almost every financial institution ends up promoting the exact same three things:
1. Great rates
2. Amazing service
3. Parity product features
The commoditization of financial services has only increased as the volume of “me too” messages grows louder — compounded by the rise of digital marketing. To differentiate your bank or credit union from the noise, your marketing must transcend what you do and how you do it. Instead, you must start by focusing on people and purpose.
What’s Your Mission?
Working with 450 banks and credit unions around the world, I’ve found that a vast majority of their mission statements look and sound the same. A quick exercise would be to take your existing mission statement, replace it with that of a competitor, and see if it would make any difference. Ask staff to recall your mission statement from memory, and see how they do.
The problem with these mission statements (beside being laden with corporate feel-good buzzwords) is that they dwell on internal commitments while only half-heartedly address consumers’ needs and concerns. Many simply aren’t memorable or believable — tinny rhetoric. And most are uninspiring for staff, for management, and for accountholders. They do not provide a strong perspective or foundation to build a modern digital marketing sales engine.
If a typical financial institution created a mission statement for its digital marketing strategy, it would probably read something like this:
“Our mission is to produce and distribute content that generates leads for loans and new accounts that improves the lives of our accountholders.”
A mission statement focused on your interests results in self-serving content that provides little to no value for consumers in search of financial guidance while wasting valuable time and resources for your financial institution.
Defining Your Purpose for Digital Marketing
The complexity of traditional financial institution mission statement is itself a reflection of the complexity of the organization, which, in turn, then manifests externally in the form of a convoluted digital consumer journey that is punctuated with self-serving and disjointed content.
A mission statement should be a way to communicate the purpose of the organization. This statement should also help set the direction and tone for your organization’s digital marketing sales engine.
Strategic coach Dan Sullivan once noted, “No further progress and growth is possible for an organization until a new state of simplicity is created.” Henry David Thoreau bemoaned that “life is frittered away by detail — simplify, simplify,” to which Ralph Waldo Emerson quipped, “One ‘simplify’ would have sufficed.”
To simplify, you must find focus and clarity. You should give your digital marketing purpose. But where to start? Looking outside of the industry, there are numerous stories of organizations who have changed their mission and purpose as they journeyed towards growth.
In 1895, John Deere understood farmers did not need another “tool,” but rather needed a resource that could help them implement the surge in new and emerging agricultural techniques. Instead of telling farmers to “buy your tractors from us” in a traditional product catalog — like so many of their competitors did — John Deere offered farmers The Furrow, a magazine full of insights, educational material and agricultural tips. More than 120 years later, The Furrow is still in print, published in over 40 countries and 12 different languages.
What’s the relevance here? First, it’s that “content marketing” isn’t a new concept — far from it. John Deere’s unique twist on their catalog — turning it essentially into a magazine — proves the timeless value of strong content (regardless of medium). But it also illustrates how companies can extend their mission beyond shallow corporate rhetoric. John Deere focused on helping first and selling second. Here’s what John Deere’s mission might have looked like at the time:
“Our mission is to produce and distribute content for the primary purpose of improving the business of farmers with a secondary purpose of selling farm equipment.”
You can find examples of purpose-driven content marketing strategies within the financial industry as well. American Express OPEN Forum was created with the purpose to help small businesses succeed. This is defined in the OPEN Forum mission statement: Insights and resources dedicated exclusively to the success of small business owners.”
American Express launched OPEN Forum not because they wanted to become hippies with an altruistic mission, but rather because they saw how the success of small business would, in turn, help their own business grow.
“We already had a large part of the pie,” explains Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP of Partnership & Business Development at AmEx. “So our biggest opportunity was with small businesses. If they grow, we grow.” Today, AmEx OPEN Forum is one of the world’s leading resources for small business owners… who just also happen to offer business credit cards.
Differentiation by Helping First and Sell Second
You can establish true differentiation from the competition and rise above the great rates, amazing service, and commoditized product features promoted by other banks and credit unions by simply being a helpful guide for consumers as they move through the different stages of their buying journey.
For many financial institutions, this starts by establishing a mission and purpose defining why you exist. Your purpose is your financial institution’s higher calling that transcends what you do and how you do as it is rooted in moral authority. You exist to guide consumers and account holders beyond their questions and concerns and towards their hopes and dreams.
Once your digital marketing’s purpose has been defined, you will have established a solid foundation upon which you will build your digital marketing sales engine, fueled by helpful consumer-focused content, to propel your future growth.
James Robert Lay is the CEO of CU Grow and since 2002, he has helped guide over 420 financial institutions around the world, including Italy’s largest bank, on a mission to simplify digital marketing, so banks and credit unions will grow through training, planning, and implementation. He has spoken at over 120 industry events and is often quoted in many industry publications including US News and World Report, The Financial Brand, American Banker, The Digital Banking Report, CU Times, CU Journal, NerdWallet, Credit Union Magazine, CUES Magazine, Independent Banker Magazine and CO-OP THINK Magazine.