Lessons For Banks From A Walmart CEO

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At this year’s BAI Retail Delivery Conference, I had the opportunity to moderate a closed roundtable discussion of the Marketing Leaders Circle (thank you Deluxe!), and as an added bonus, got to interview Lee Scott, the former CEO of Walmart.

As the session was a closed session for senior marketing execs from large FIs, it would be inappropriate for me to share a lot of what was discussed (sorry!). And I will leave it to Deluxe to share what it wants to share publicly about both the CMO discussion and Lee Scott’s comments.

But I will share one takeaway from Mr. Scott’s comments as a key lesson for banks to learn:

Tell a better story.

After apologizing to attendees for the insult I was about to hurl at them, I mentioned to Mr. Scott that it was my opinion that the strategic planning process in many banks was a farce, little more than a budgeting exercise geared at trying to hit some artificially-established financial target.

The heads nodding (no, not nodding “off”) in the audience told me I wasn’t too far off.

I asked Mr. Scott, who is a member of the strategic planning committee on Walmart’s board, “if you were on that committee at a bank, what would you do to ensure that the process dealt with truly strategic issues?”

He then proceeded to tell the story of his experience of when he was on the board of directors of a “bank” — or in this case, Goldman Sachs (sorry, can’t tell you the details of this story, but it was good).

After making a couple of more comments, Mr. Scott summed up his thoughts by saying “I’d make sure the bank was telling a better story.”

A great question came from one of the attendees: “Do you mean telling our story better or telling a different story?”

The answer: Telling a different story.

Lee went on to explain that this didn’t mean doing a better job of advertising.

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Financial services marketers need to be honest with themselves about this. They should — honestly — place themselves on the following matrix:

marketing story telling

Too often, marketers try to change or tweak the story they tell. Ad agencies love that: “Sure, we’d love to take your money to dream up new ways of telling your story.”

But what Mr. Scott is saying is that — for many banks at least, and maybe for the banking industry as a whole — the story itself isn’t that good. Fixing the “telling” of the story isn’t as important as fixing the story. 

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And by the way: If you buy me dinner and drinks at a really fancy, expensive restaurant, I might — just might — tell you what Mr. Scott said about MCX and why Walmart doesn’t try to steal Target’s customers. 

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