"What are we doing? How are we doing it? We call it educate, engage, convert. If we can get you the information in an engaging way, you're going to come to us.”  -Bo McDonald

Fear and chaos are eroding the impact of modern marketing campaigns. In a world that was already bursting with mixed marketing messages, the COVID-19 crisis added yet another layer of confusion.

How can financial brands break through the noise?

Bo McDonald is the president and CEO of Your Marketing Co., where he emphasizes the importance of asking difficult questions to determine root problems. Bo summarized his perspective in a recent article, 4 Reasons Your Credit Union Marketing Isn’t Working, and shared additional thoughts with James Robert Lay on the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast.

Calming the Chaos in Financial Brand Marketing

There’s a tendency in business to always be striving to move faster, faster, faster. While speed is part of survival, it comes with a downside: too little time to stop, think, and plan.

Bo tells his people, “Not everything is a 911.” It’s vital to slow down sometimes, calm the urgency, and reflect on the bigger picture.

Are we really helping people? How can we all enjoy a better life?

Calming the chaos starts with calming our minds. The COVID-19 pandemic caused billions of people to reevaluate their lives and choices, with many of them realizing they weren’t in a good place. There’s nothing like a global health emergency to remind us all that not everything is a true emergency.

Related Content: How Financial Brands Can Gain Clarity and Move Beyond the Circle of Chaos

In the financial world, we constantly operate in a reactive state. Financial brands tend not to “mind the gap,” especially when it comes to marketing. Decisions are often knee-jerk reactions that come from upper-level executives who dictate what to do next. This leads to a constant state of chaos.

Interrupt this habit by starting new projects with a rule from Bo: “Ask a freaking question.”

If someone is explaining all of the problems the marketing department needs to solve with a new campaign, you can say, “Let’s pause here. What problem are we trying to solve?”

What Dogs Can Teach Us About Marketing

Getting to the core of a marketing problem is critically important. When you miss this step, you’re just throwing money away, not to mention time and human resources.

Bo relates the story of a dog food company that repeatedly redesigned its packaging to achieve boosts in sales. Each time they unveiled a redesign, sales would spike temporarily and then come straight back down. 

Finally, an office worker at the dog food company spoke up at a meeting. She said she’d stopped feeding her dog their brand. Why? Because the dog didn’t like the taste of it. While the marketing team had been working so hard to create dozens of new campaigns, nobody thought to consider, “Do dogs even like the taste of our food?”

This is an excellent example to share with your marketing teams because it shows the value of background research and problem-solving. Dig down into your customers’ pain points and discover what’s limiting your potential success. Only then can you build successful marketing campaigns.

Into the Depths of Fear at Financial Brands

Fear is ever-present in financial brands. There’s the fear of regulatory noncompliance, fear of losing customers, and the fear of losing your job, just to name a few. The average CMO’s tenure is about 40 months, which is the lowest in a decade. This brings fears of failing to keep up with the pace of change, plus missing out on ever-changing marketing opportunities.

A bank CEO faces other flavors of fears, like angering the bank’s board or losing their CEO job just a few years from retirement. Big, bold decisions could rock the boat so strongly that the whole organization capsizes.

There’s also a penalty for speaking the truth at many organizations. The person who raises their hand in a meeting and says, “Here’s a problem,” might face backlash from their colleagues and supervisors. 

Related Content: The 4 Fears Stopping Your Team's Digital Growth

It’s a culture of fear that trickles downhill. The CEO fears the board, the marketing department fears the CEO, the salespeople fear constant changes from marketing, and so on.

How can we expect our front-line employees, like customer service, to do their jobs fearlessly when their superiors are terrified too?

Paradoxically, even success is a fear in many financial organizations. What if their innovative new plan works? Will they have the resources to support it? Can they maintain the rapid pace of change?

Bo says the antidote to fear is perspective. When a new issue arises, seek deeper information rather than immediate answers. Gather numbers. Dig up data. Take your next step based on doing your homework instead of making snap judgments. 

Breaking through fear is also about facing up to the possibility that you are the problem. Is it possible that your background, assumptions, or limitations could be hampering your organization’s success? Instead of running away from this fear, face up to it and welcome help from other subject matter experts.

Committing With Courage

“Passion” is a big buzzword in the business community. Executives and consultants talk about finding your passion and discovering what your company is passionate about. 

But Bo prefers the word “commitment” instead, saying, “I see a lot of passionate people but because of fear, they’re not committed.” Passion is just a red herring. Without commitment, there’s no action, regardless of passion. 

In the day-to-day financial world, commitment makes all the difference in accomplishing big goals. Today’s top credit unions stand out because they have better commitment and decision-making than their competitors. They have boards that are willing to embrace failures as learning experiences, even as they stay committed to the larger goals they’ve set.

This level of commitment takes courage. When your organization struggles to find this courage, it helps to do some contingency planning that functions as a bravery-building exercise.

For example, Bo likes to do an exercise where he asks, “What if Facebook went away?” It’s almost a laughable concept to some, but Facebook remains a reliable crutch for many financial institutions. Over the past decade, they’ve built a routine of blasting out weekly or daily information on their Facebook page.

What if Facebook disappeared and you had to find a new way to replace those lost connections? What would become your next #1 social media platform? Is it Instagram? TikTok? YouTube? What would you create? Who would be in charge of that content? 

The 1-Person Marketing Problem

Many financial organizations have a single person who’s doing severe damage to their ability to innovate. It might be a CEO, board member, or even an old-fashioned marketing guru who’s not keeping up with the times. 

This type of person tends to be technology-averse and a proudly old-fashioned thinker with significant institutional knowledge. They’re severely risk-averse and they look at innovative new projects and say, “Not us. We’re not doing that.”

People like this do enormous damage. If you have a small army of them within your board or C-suite executives, it will be nearly impossible to transform your organization into one that can adapt and transform.

Joining the Financial Brands of the Future

The financial brands that survive and thrive in the future will be the ones having the toughest conversations right now. They’re asking questions like, “Are we in the right place? Are we positioned to take advantage of X, Y, and Z? What’s holding us back” 

If you’re unsure whether your organization will be a survivor, consider whether your culture fosters a spirit of trust. Does your board trust your leadership team? Do your front-line on-the-ground employees trust their managers? Top-to-bottom trust is what it takes to succeed.

But remember, we have to trust ourselves, too.

Only when we trust ourselves can we build interpersonal trust and organizational trust.

Transformation starts from within.