word of mouth marketing is consumer-to-consumerI want to see some job postings out there, offering positions at community banks and credit unions–not as a sign of our industry’s stability, but as a sign of a new way of thinking. These job postings will have a new kind of job description: no B2B or B2C experience required. In fact, none wanted.

Why? Because there’s an entirely different type of experience this new position requires: C2C.

C2C is consumer-to-consumer…also known as word of mouth. And it’s a completely different skill set. Instead of asking the traditional B2B/B2C question “how can we persuade the buyer to engage with us,” C2C asks, “how can we get the consumers to engage with each other…and give them something to talk about.”

So get that job posting out there. Put it on craigslist. Put it on industry job boards. Or better yet, take this opportunity to practice what you’re hiring someone to do. Ask yourself, “what would make candidates want to talk to each other about this job?”


Most banks and credit unions strive to have competitive–if not superior–rates on products and services. The belief is that offering 2.50% APR on an auto loan leads to far more success than offering 3.00% APR. Makes sense…mostly.

Any consumer can (and does) look at 2.50% as better than 3.00% on an auto loan–the numbers are easy to compare, and the smaller one is always better. The credit union or bank offering this superior rate is probably getting more business because of it.

BUT: if tweaked a bit, their superior loan rate could create even more of an impact on consumers–and result in more word of mouth.

On a $15,000, 48-month auto loan, the rate difference between 2.50% and 3.00% only equates to $3.30/month in savings in the payment for the customer/member. That’s nothing. They aren’t even going to notice that $3.30 difference each month at all. So, they’re getting a better rate but without any of the buzzworthy gratification of feeling like they are saving.

But what WOULD feel gratifying to them? Receiving one single lump sum $40 check at the end of each year of the auto loan. A substantial rebate–a pleasant, buzzworthy surprise in the mail. Enough to treat yourself to a dinner out, a new shirt, or a deposit into your vacation fund.

Same Investment, More WOM
To the bank or credit union, the investment is the same ($40/year in rate concessions), but it’s packaged in a different and more interesting way; a way that might cause the customer/member to tell a friend, “woah, I got a $40 rebate in the mail today!” Plus, this approach would result in better member/customer retention because people would need to stick around in order to get their rebate check.

[As you know, we here at the PSST!/CBC family are huge advocates of applying business concepts from other non-financial industries. In fact, the idea we’ve shared is very similar to, though not inspired by, how REI runs their business as a co-op]

The Bottom Line
There are many ways to make the seemingly mundane aspects of financial services more buzzworthy and interesting. You just have to open your eyes to a new, word-of-mouth-oriented way of thinking, and peel away all the assumptions and limitations we’ve self-imposed as an industry (for example, we assume the savings from a lower interest rate must be amortized evenly across a loan’s life).

Or, if you can’t do it yourself, you can always call PSST! and CBC!

One of the biggest purposes of word of mouth marketing for your bank or credit union is to create a higher level of brand engagement. Simply put, WOM helps give people a reason to care about your company.

That’s why we were excited when the cool folks at the Credit Union Times called our friends at CBC for their thoughts on the important topic of brand engagement. They also then called our partners at Market Insights, and the resulting article, Engagement: One Size Doesn’t Fit All, is chock full of excellent insights from CBC and PSST!’s Jeff Stephens and Market Insights’ Brady Walen.

We think you’ll like the article. Check it out: Engagement: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Don’t Forget CBC’s Brand Engagement Webinar on March 30, 2011

Also, since you’re into brand engagement, don’t forget to register for the upcoming webinar by our pals at CBC, Brand Engagement: The Holy Grail for Banks and Credit Unions.

As we mentioned in yesterday’s long-overdue issue of the OMFG! e-mail newsletter about word of mouth marketing for banks and credit unions, we’d like to offer you a sweet little deal: a free copy of Andy Sernovitz’s leading (and aptly-titled) book on buzz, “Word of Mouth Marketing.” This book will give you a great overview of the concept of word of mouth marketing at your bank or credit union, and is loaded with examples from every corner of the business world.

Here’s all you have to do:

  1. Set an objective for your bank or credit union’s word of mouth marketing efforts this year.
  2. Contact us using the Request an Estimate form, and tell us about your goal. It takes about 12.3 seconds.
  3. We will schedule a time to discuss your word of mouth marketing goals and efforts at your bank or credit union, and then send you a copy of the book.

And in case you are not yet subscribed to the OMFG! email newsletter, subscribe now and you’ll get monthly doses of advice and tips on word of mouth marketing for your bank or credit union. For instance, yesterday’s issue featured the article, 3 Ways to Brainstorm Word of Mouth Marketing, which answers the big question: “we want to build WOM–but where do we start?!”

Many banks and credit unions offer a fairly standard referral program–either on an ongoing basis, or as a special campaign. The offer is simple and predictable: if you refer a friend and he/she joins/becomes a customer, then you both receive a spiff ($25 each, etc.).

There’s a good chance this program is taking money out of your pocket unnecessarily.

Let me give you an example. I recently joined a new gym, which offered a referral reward. They asked, “who referred you to us?” The truth? Nobody. But I do have a buddy who already works out there. So I answered, “my friend Josh,” knowing that Josh would then get a month free at the gym, and I would score brownie points with him.

This is a problem…and the reason is simple: you’re paying people to do what they were going to do anyway. In my case, I was going to join that gym regardless. At your bank or credit union, if they truly found your offering compelling enough to refer a friend, they would do it anyway. If they don’t find it compelling enough, $25 isn’t going to change that.

It’s importance to understand the difference rewarding a behavior, and behavior modification. Simply put, with your referral program, you’re wanting the latter…but paying for the former.

Rewarding a behavior is retroactive–you give them a pat on the head for something they already did. Behavior modification is giving someone an incentive to do what they otherwise wouldn’t.

The problem is this: the “incentive” most banks and credit unions try to use is tangible or financial (cash or swag). Based on the principles of word of mouth marketing, though, the real incentive a person has for telling others is the feeling of importance, VIP-status or helpfulness that they get from making a referral (more on this in the free download, Bottling the Buzz: Harnessing Word of Mouth Marketing to Beat the Competition


The Takeaway: If you want positive ROI on your referral program, you need your company to be extremely buzzworthy, which is what makes people WANT to tell others about you.


We often discuss with our colleagues from CBC, that when we look back at our highlight reel over the last several years, great partners are often in those awesome replays with us. Having great partnersips allow us to expand our capabilities, introduce ourselves to clients we might not have otherwise met, and do amazing work.

CBC and PSST! Are looking for great partners that we can create some buzz with—together.

Establishing partnerships brings up a few very important questions:

  • How does it work?
  • Are we a good fit to partner?
  • What makes for a good partnership?
  • How do we get started?

To answer these important questions, we’ve developed our Guide to Partnering With Creative Brand Communications (also applicable to PSST!), available for download on the CBC website.

If your company provides complementary services to PSST! or CBC and feel we would make good partners and create a mutually beneficial, synergistic relationship, let’s talk.

Don’t buy now

There are three words that almost always generate buzz in the business world, yet are almost never spoken because companies are so afraid to utter them.


Consumers rely on companies (like, say, banks and credit unions) for expert advice. I rely on my HVAC guy to tell me how best to manage my home’s heating equipment. I rely on my bank or credit union to give me advice on how best to structure my debt or savings to reach my goals. Etc.

Consumers also expect, from experience, that while they generally trust the company they do business with, that the company is going to make recommendations that are also in the best interest of the company itself. Of course, this often means recommending the consumer buy something from the company. That way, both the company and consumer win…right? Not necessarily.

It can be highly buzzworthy when a bank or credit union recommends something to a consumer that is NOT in the best interest of that bank or credit union. It’s unexpected, and it demonstrates to the consumer that the financial institution is truly being objective, and on acting in the consumer’s best interest.  For banks and credit unions, this may be:

  • Advising a consumer with bad credit to apply for a mortgage at a different institution where their chances of approval are higher
  • Telling a consumer about a higher rate on a deposit product at the credit union down the street
  • Advising a potential investor making a trade in their portfolio–a trade that would earn the company a commission

There are SO MANY banks and credit unions who talk about building a brand of being “a trusted advisor” (a good platform but a tad common). If you are truly a trusted advisor, it would be IMPOSSIBLE to act in the consumer’s best interest without at least occasionally recommending something that your company either doesn’t provide, or doesn’t have the best option for.

And here’s the real kicker: ultimately, it IS in your best interest to say DON’T BUY NOW. Why? Because you’ve now proven you are truly a trusted advisor, which greatly increases loyalty because the consumer knows you’re very objective, and in their corner. You’ve also likely generated referrals and created a good deal of buzz, because the consumer is so surprised you would recommend something not in your best interest.

To this date, the number one post ever written on the PSST! Word of Mouth Marketing for Banks and Credit Unions blog has been “Oregon Ducks and Nike Master Word of Mouth,” written nearly two years ago.  This weekend, as the #1 Oregon Ducks crushed the Washington Huskies, my friends brought up a common complaint about the Ducks’ black jerseys (one of many jerseys they have) that got me thinking more about word of mouth and how banks and credit unions can learn from it.

Oregon Ducks Black Football Jersey

See the name on the black jersey? Didn't think so.

This year, the Ducks have black jerseys with the names of the players on the back….but the player’s name is also in black. It’s completely unreadable, even when there’s a closeup, let alone from a distance.  Most people–avid Duck fans included–complain that this is extremely stupid because it defeats the purpose of having the name displayed if you can’t read it. They assume the lettering is there as a functional tool to identify the player.

But from the perspective of word of mouth, the jersey design is smart. How do we know? It’s simple: people are talking about it. I’m blogging about it. My friends are complaining about it. The announcers comment on it. People have noticed, and it makes them talk. How many times do you hear announcers commenting about Alabama’s jerseys? Never. USC’s jerseys? Never. The black lettering was put there by marketing geniuses at Nike to get people talking. And it’s worked.

There are a couple financial industry lessons in here is this:

1) Not everything at your bank or credit union is simply functional–even the things you assume are only functional are not. Deposit slips. Account statements. Pens. Coffee cups. Toilet paper. Every touch point provides an opportunity to get people talking if you invest energy in figuring out how.

2) WOM is about giving people something worth talking about–not necessarily making them love you. Give them a reason to form an opinion, even if that opinion disagrees with yours. Remember, you can’t bore your way to success in business–you have to get people to take notice.  Banks and credit unions have a VERY hard time getting people to buzz about them, primarily because they haven’t given people anything WORTH talking about.

Go Ducks…and go get some WOM.

Our friends at WOMMA have defined word of mouth marketing as:

“Giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.”

For any company, this is easier said than done–admittedly. For banks and credit unions, it’s proven to be extremely challenging, for two reasons: a) banking isn’t really all that worth talking about, and b) marketers in banking are largely only experienced in fairly traditional marketing means.

I’m here to tell you that the hardest part about word of mouth marketing for banks and credit unions has nothing to do with marketing. Instead, it has everything to do with the first part of WOMMA’s definition: “creating something worth talking about.”

You see, creating a bank or credit union worth talking about is not about marketing. It’s simply about creating a remarkable company. It’s about creating a Purple Cow (in Seth Godin language). It’s about making the guts, the insides and the real essence of the company–not just the facade–special and interesting.  If you think of WOM as marketing, it’s easy to slip into a mindset where WOM is about creating interesting packaging; a buzzworthy cosmetic exterior people will talk about.

What further solidifies this problem for the financial industry is that creating an interesting marketing facade is easy (just pay an agency to do it for you), while creating a truly buzzworthy company is very hard (requiring lots of sweat equity and commitment to change). And in the banking industry, we tend to take the easier route…only to find it that it creates only fleeting buzz, if any at all.

Dear Readers,

This is just a quick note to let you know that unfortunately the http://www.psst-marketing.com website and email is completely down, and has been since the morning of Monday, August 2. In fact, the http://www.creative-brand.com site was down briefly as well, and emails to creative-brand.com email addresses are still not functioning. We were the victim of a phishing program that was using our site to host fraudulent content without our knowledge.

If you have tried to visit our site or contact us, we apologize for the inconvenience. We are working hard to resolve this nightmare. If you need to contact us, please do so with this temporary email address: creativebrandcommunications at gmail.com, or call us at 503-249-9363.

Thank you.