When it comes to kicking off a digital growth journey, one of the most common questions I receive is, “What should we focus on first? There are so many things that we could do. Do we just pick something and get started?”

Whether speaking at a conference or a post-COVID Zoom call, people are looking for courage and confidence that they are on the right path forward. But because there are so many different paths forward, it can be confusing. It can be overwhelming. And it can also be frustrating. 


When a financial brand has already been dabbling in digital and experienced some failures, it can feel like one step forward and two steps back. But if you've been dabbling in digital, please know that all is not lost. And here's why:

Failure is learning. Failure is the fertile soil in which we plant seeds for future growth.

I understand that when it comes to getting started on their digital transformation journey, many financial brands just want to jump in and get started. But just like you would not jump right into running a marathon without training and preparation, I would not recommend the same here. 

Trust me when I say it will not end well. 

So what steps can your financial brand take to prepare and train for your digital growth marathon?

Before your financial brand can begin the transformation journey, we must first academically define digital growth and develop a unified understanding of this among your marketing, sales, and leadership teams.

Digital growth is a systematic process centered around the modern consumer journey that unifies marketing, sales, operations, and IT to do three things: (1) increase website traffic, (2) generate leads, and (3) convert those leads into loans and deposits.

Once we have a unified definition of digital growth that is accepted throughout the entire organization, the next step is to develop a digital growth mindset. 

The idea of developing an organizational-wide growth mindset is a topic that I go deep into within my book, Banking on Digital Growth. In fact, there are 12 steps that you can apply, but when it comes to getting started on your digital growth journey, I just want to focus on the first three: assessment, awareness, and acceptance.

Step #1: Start with an assessment 

When you plan to run a marathon, you don't just start running. You go to the doctor for a health check. You make sure that your body is capable and healthy to run the marathon. In a similar way, an assessment creates value for you, your team, and your organization when embarking on a digital growth journey. You will gain clarity about where you've been, where you are, and, most importantly, about where you can go next to maximize your future growth potential.

The Digital Growth Blueprint is a key strategic tool that I unpack in my book  Banking on Digital Growth because it gives you an assessment to objectively benchmark the past, the present, and where you can commit to go in the future with courage and confidence. 

This framework is at the heart of everything we teach here at the Digital Growth Institute. 

It consists of nine essential and co-dependent elements that include specific strategies, systems, technologies, and, most importantly, habits to maximize your primary goals for marketing, for sales.

Here's a quick exercise you can do right now to start to assess your financial brand situation:

Answer the following nine questions with a simple yes or no. 

  1. Does your financial brand digitally align with the emotional needs of the people in the communities you serve?
  2. Do your consumer personas go beyond basic demographic data to humanize and, most importantly, empathize with key market segments through your digital marketing and sales strategies?
  3. Do your financial brands' digital marketing and sales communication strategies differentiate your product positioning from other financial institutions that promote the same great rates, amazing service, and commoditized product features that every other financial brand in your community promotes?
  4. Do you have well-defined digital marketing and sales processes in place that empower your team to create the space and time needed to escape doing digital while optimizing digital experiences every 90 days to generate even more leads for loans and deposits?
  5. Do you have full-funnel, digital consumer journeys documented for key product lines that guide people beyond their questions and concerns toward a bigger, better, and brighter future?
  6. Do you have the right digital marketing and sales technologies along with the capability and the capacity to maximize the value they can create?
  7. Do you have well-defined systems and processes for both your digital marketing and sales teams to consistently produce content that emotionally connects with the people in the communities you serve by helping first and selling second?
  8. Do you have well-defined systems and processes to promote the content that your marketing and sales teams are producing through key distribution channels to target, capture, nurture, and convert leads for loans and deposits?
  9. Can you quantify your digital marketing and sales activities beyond vanity metrics to empower your marketing team to rise above being viewed as just a glorified in-house FedEx, Kinko's, or—worse, as I've spoken about many times before—kids that just play with paint and crayons?

As you think through and reflect on each one of these questions, I want to share what Dan Sullivan, Founder and President at Strategic Coach, has shared with me numerous times over the years: all progress starts by telling the truth. 

The more yeses you have in response to these questions, the more possible it is your financial brand could already be headed down the right path. However, there might be ways for you to further maximize these strengths and capabilities you already have in place. 

On the flip side, having more nos isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Instead, frame the nos as areas of future growth opportunities for you to prioritize and focus on so you can get even better going forward.

Step #2: Develop an awareness of your plan

Once you've assessed your unique situation, you'll want to develop a strong sense of awareness throughout the organization, which comes from both training and planning. 

Again, if you're going to run a marathon, you don't just start running 26.2 miles on day one. You have to train your body and follow a plan that guides you every step of the way.

When I've run marathons in the past, I have an app on my phone, and that's my training plan. It keeps me focused, it keeps me accountable, and it keeps me on track to ultimately achieve my goal of running 26.2 miles. 

The same is true for you and your team because training and planning help you become aware of the roadblocks that you're going to need to eliminate, along with the opportunities that are available for you to create or capture as you move forward and make progress on your digital growth journey.

Step #3: Accept the path forward 

Once you've assessed your situation and started to create awareness of the future growth opportunities through training and planning, you can then move on to Step #3 of developing a digital growth mindset: acceptance.

This is where I see a lot of financial brands struggle. They assess their situation. They have a sense of awareness of what they need to do next. But they don't accept the fact, whether that be as an individual, a team, or an organization, that some things are going to have to change. They don't accept that they're going to have to make some tough decisions. 

And because they have a lack of acceptance, they fail to fully commit to the next steps forward on their digital growth journey.

When you sign up for a marathon, the single act of registering and paying the registration fee is an act of acceptance on your part because now you have committed to a specific goal that you will complete in the future. Digital growth requires that same level of commitment.

Following these three steps, in addition to using the nine questions informed by the Digital Growth Blueprint as a guide, will help you gain clarity into where you've been, where you're at, and where you can confidently commit to going next on your digital growth journey.