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.

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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.

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!

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?

This is the second installment in our five-part series about the main elements of bank and credit union word of mouth marketing. Please see the first installment to learn about the first T, Talkers.

Topics: The Second T
Once you have identified your Talkers with clarity and confidence, and you’ve answered the question “what do these Talkers care about?” you’re ready to move on the second T: Topics. If the (paraphrased) WOMMA definition of word of mouth marketing is to “give people something worth talking about, and make it easier for them to have that conversation,” then Topics are the first half of that equation. With Topics, we’re asking ourselves, “now that I understand my bank or credit union’s Talkers really well, what will I be able to give them that they will find so interesting that they simply will not be able to keep their mouths shut?!”

What They Find Interesting…Not You
One of the hardest parts of this for banks and credit unions is putting yourself in the Talker’s shoes firmly enough to understand what they find interesting…and realizing that what they find interesting is not what we as daily practitioners find interesting. To our presidents and CEOs, our “excellent service” is unendingly fascinating…but not so much to an average person. Sometimes what people find interesting is the seemingly inconsequential stuff, like pink envelopes or dog biscuits for pups.

“OMG, have you heard about _____?!”
Simply put, what you’re trying to do is be able to fill in this blank. What would make the Talker proactively grab a friend, and say, “OMG, have you heard about ____?” The answer to this, of course, is completely reliant on who the Talker is, and what matters to them…which is why Talkers are the first thing you must focus on. Once you think you have a Topic, insert it into this blank and see if you could imagine someone actually saying that.

What Can We “Give” Them To Talk About?
While this question is challenging to answer, the answers are actually quite unlimited. We could give them something tangible they might find compelling, like a gift of some kind or something they unexpectedly come across and can physically interact with. We may give them a piece of information, such as something that’s not public knowledge–a piece of insider info that makes them feel special. Or, we may give them an experience of some sort, which they feel compelled to talk about because it was so noteworthy. For instance, that could be a hug instead of a handshake. Or you went to Starbucks and brought them their favorite latte before you met with them.

Next Post: Tools
At this point, you’ve got a solid list of Talkers, and you know what each one cares about. You also have identified Topics you can give each Talker group, that they will find so interesting they can’t keep it to themselves. In the third post in this series, we’ll cover Tools: the vehicles you can create to let the message spread further and faster.