Archive for November, 2010

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.


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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.

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