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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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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.

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Fast Company recently had a great article called Five Steps for Consumer Brands To Earn Social Currency, and was filled with insights that credit unions and banks seeking word of mouth can apply.

The main premise is this: “buzz” is of limited value–“social currency” is the real goal.  Based on a study by Vivaldi Partners and Lightspeed Research, the article speaks to several key understandings about word of mouth marketing and social media, which in our experience banks and credit unions have yet to master.

Key Takeaways for Banks and Credit Unions Seeking Social Currency

While we strongly recommend you read the article and absorb its points, here are three key takeaway ideas from the articles that relate directly to banks and credit unions:

  1. It’s Not About the Tools: A hammer is just a hammer and has little intrinsic value until it is applied to the art of building houses. Twitter and Facebook are like that hammer: they, among the other myriad tools, are not an end in and of themselves…they are simply channels to achieve the real endgame: advocacy and engagement.  Keep your eye on the real goal.
  2. Buzz is Fleeting; WOM is Lasting: Getting a bump in followers or attention for a short period of time is easily accomplished by simply doing something wacky enough to get noticed. The hard part is creating long-term brand engagement, and buzz is just the first step in that. This is why things like random acts of kindness in banking and guerrilla marketing are great tools, but cannot constitute a bank or credit union’s entire word of mouth marketing strategy.  A quickie campaign can improve awareness for a credit union, but probably won’t increase membership by itself.  (That’s why the PSST!/CBC word of mouth marketing model has multiple layers with different strategic components)
  3. Make Other People Feel Important: In many ways, word of mouth about a credit union or a bank is not even really about the company–it’s about the people doing the talking. People tell others about cool stuff when it makes them feel good and important to do so. In the Fast Company article, Dunkin’ Donuts’ strategy is all about turning other people into online celebrities.

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We love seeing word of mouth marketing catching on with banks and credit unions. Any form of buzz that a financial institution can generate is a step in the right direction not only for that bank or credit union, but for the financial services industry as a whole.

One of the manifestations of WOM in banking so far has centered around the idea of “random acts of kindness.” Financial marketing stars Umpqua Bank have been known for using random acts of kindness successfully (such as with their ice cream truck, which we can vouch from personal experience does successfully bring smiles to faces!), and the idea has caught on with other banks and credit unions as well.

But I have one fear: I’m afraid banks and credit unions are starting to oversimplify things, thinking that WOM = random acts of kindness. The truth is, random acts of kindness are just one of the many forms of word of mouth marketing.

Remember, word of mouth marketing is a huge, broad topic, with dozens of subcategories of types of WOM. (You can learn about some of the other forms in our word of mouth marketing glossary.) According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, word of mouth is about giving people something worth talking about, and making it easier for them to have conversations. Random acts of kindness are a great way to accomplish this, but only one of many ways.

Much like we’ve said about bank and credit union social media, random acts of kindness does not a WOM program make…but it’s a good start.

Credit unions and banks: If you are doing random acts of kindness today, kudos to you! Keep up the good work! But also keep learning about the other types of word of mouth, and build out a thorough, multi-faceted word of mouth marketing strategy!

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A recent article in US Banker put some numbers behind a message that we’ve been pushing for a long time: social media should not be used as a platform for blatant advertising or product pushing – especially not in financial services.

Only four percent of social media users have ever visited a financial institution’s profile on a social networking site, which might suggest that consumers aren’t really interested in having “social” contact with their bank or credit union. Or, maybe it indicates that financial institutions are just using social media the wrong way. I think it’s a combination of both, but probably more of the latter. Honestly, most bank and credit union Facebook pages are not value adding – they tend to list opening hours and general info, have some pictures from events at branches, etc. None of that gives a person any reason to visit.

Research indicates, “the top three types of messages that consumers indicated were appropriate from a financial institution were: customer service (34 percent), community involvement (29 percent) and educational (28 percent).” Seeing as customer service is at the top of the list, maybe banks and credit unions should take a page out of Zappos’ or JetBlue’s book and start using Twitter/Facebook as one of their primary communication tools. I can think of more than one instance where it would have been helpful if I could have asked my bank a question over Facebook (they are in a different time zone). Unfortunately, the closest thing I could do was message them through online banking, to which it took them three business days (that’s right, THREE) to respond. Unacceptable? Absolutely.

In this day and age, consumers expect quick response from companies – especially the ones they trust with their savings. Social media would help banks and credit unions reach the level of responsiveness that consumers are accustomed to. It may take some effort and learning, but sites like Facebook and Twitter are free, so what’s the downside?

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We’re pleased to share with you the brand new website for our teammates at Creative Brand Communications: www.creative-brand.com

CBC’s site is built to accomplish two main goals:

1) Distributing unique educational content about experiential brand development and multi-sensory marketing for entrepreneurial banks and credit unions. 

2) Giving prospective clients a good sense for what it’s like to work with CBC.

We hope you’ll take a moment to look around the site. CBC will be continuously adding unique new content to the site’s Expertise section, such as new case studies, position papers, presentations and webinars, ExpEditions e-newsletter…and of course blog posts on The Story.

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