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Martha Bartlett Piland:

If we're just busy offering the same thing that everybody else is offering, then we have to keep doing it over and over and over again to generate business. It really does make you like everyone else.

 

James Robert Lay:

Welcome to the show, Martha. It is so good to share time with you today.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I am glad to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

 

James Robert Lay:

Absolutely. Before we get into talking about your book Beyond Sticky, what's going well for you Martha? What's good in your world right now, personally or professionally? It is your pick to get started.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I think it's fun to talk about what I'm doing personally. I've enjoyed that with Zoom we get to see more about what people are doing in their homes and their pets. So, I will say that in the past few months I am rediscovering the joys of playing piano.

 

James Robert Lay:

Really?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Yeah, when I was in junior high and high school I played and then life gets busy and you set those things aside. Recently, I've gotten interested in doing that again, I'm taking lessons and after I've gotten over that awkwardness of left hand, right hand, reading music again, I'm just enjoying it.

 

James Robert Lay:

Well, I mentioned before we hit record, I was in a punk rock band and a lot of people don't know this about me. Before that, I was actually in the orchestra. I played the viola from sixth grade all the way through my senior year. As a freshman in high school, I sat first chair in the varsity orchestra. I was relatively good. I had a lot of natural talent, I just felt like I was being forced to play by my parents and so kind of did what every high school kid does, rebels a little bit. But now, my oldest son and my oldest daughter, they're both in the orchestra, both playing cello. One is in seventh grade, one is in fifth grade, and my oldest just made region orchestra. So, I always appreciate talking with others who come from a musical background. You mentioned you played in junior high, high school, now you're rediscovering it. What have you found as you're going through this rediscovery process? Just thinking about your own journey, self-reflection, what's been positive for you with this?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I love that it's a different way to use my brain and somewhat like yoga, you have to be totally present.

 

James Robert Lay:

Yes.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

When I'm playing, there's nothing else that is entering my thoughts. I'm getting to just really focus on that and it's amazing the clarity that I have when I'm playing and then afterward that other ideas and things come to me because I've just let my mind go somewhere else.

 

James Robert Lay:

Isn't that fascinating when you think about the creative process? I think it's so easy for all of us to get busy and we get stuck doing that when we create that intentional space to pause, to review, to reflect, to learn, to think, our mind really I think our subconscious mind, is bubbling up all of these new ideas, the things that we've retained but we haven't really given full thought to because we haven't had that time.

 

Before we get into the book, I want to stay on this because it's timely and I'm having a lot of conversations right now with organizations in the Digital Growth University and everyone is saying this season, they feel way too busy, they feel way too overwhelmed. I'm kind of looking at the macro level and I'm like, did we not learn anything from the COVID slowdown? It's almost like we've rubber banded back to where we were before. If not, we're even running faster than we were before. What's your take on this and what are you seeing? What are you observing in this crazy hustle bustle busyness?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I think sometimes being busy is a badge of honor and I think that if we want to be innovative, if we want to grow personally and professionally, we have to carve out that quiet time or those other things that we break from that hustle and bustle. One of the things that drives me crazy is when you meet someone at a networking event and you say, "Hi, how are you?" It's almost like an instant reaction, "Oh, we're so busy." That's hard to start a conversation that way, and again, it's not a badge of honor. I'd rather hear somebody say, "I'm playing viola again or I'm going to have an art show and this is something new for me and I'm outside my comfort zone," or "I'm excited about the work that I'm doing because we are making home ownership more affordable for people, more accessible." That's a great way to talk to someone and learn more about them and make a connection. But it's also good for us to intentionally feed our own brains and spirits.

 

James Robert Lay:

I really appreciate that because it's about being mindful. You mentioned yoga before. If we're not mindful of how we feel, our feelings drive a lot of our behavior and it's all subconscious, and if we're always in this constant state of flurriness and busyness, we're eventually going to hit a wall to where we can no longer be creative, we can no longer be innovative. That's one of the reasons in Banking on Change, I'm writing through what I call the four Seasons for Exponential Growth to where you must create intentional time every 90 days to learn, to think, to do, and then to reflect and review and then repeat that cycle, repeat that process all over again. On the point of learning, I want to dive into your book Beyond Sticky, and as a fellow author I always like to understand, why? Why write the book in the first place? Why write Beyond Sticky? Because I know how much of a heavy lift it is to write a book, so what was your inspiration? Why write Beyond Sticky?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I think some of the inspiration is that there's only so many of us to go around. We're a team of 15, there's a finite number of clients that we can help and yet, many banks and credit unions have some of the same headaches. So with a book, we can scale that advice or that help and perhaps bring some value to their organizations. Though, even though we can't touch them personally, we can share what we've learned by working with others in this space.

 

James Robert Lay:

I agree 100% with you and it's what you mentioned before about the soul. It's almost like we can pour into their souls without having to actually be there physically in their presence. It's the thinking that we're able to transfer. It's one of the reasons that I've been thinking about this idea a lot lately and it's more of a philosophical question, what is the value of an hour in the age of AI? Because an hour has exponential potential, an hour has exponential reach. This conversation will travel around the world and reach the ears of thousands of financial brand leaders. This was not possible a decade ago, maybe even five years ago, maybe even three years ago. The technology was there but the reception on the other end was not. It's just interesting to think about, what are the possibilities now as a brand, not just an organization but an individual as well, being part of the larger organization to make an even larger impact?

 

I'll tell you, before we even crack open the book, I'm a big fan of the subtitle which reads, get off the commodity hamster wheel and create a bank brand people love. It's no secret that digital has commoditized every vertical including banking, but what I appreciate is how you frame the problem around being on a commodity hamster wheel. What do you mean by this hamster wheel that a lot of people are just kind of running and cycling through here?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

The hamster wheel is this urgency and this maybe it's busyness again. If I'm busy, maybe I'm creating something, but the problem is if we're just busy offering the same thing that everybody else is offering, then we have to keep doing it over and over and over again to generate business and how are we doing it? If we're a commodity, it is by low rates or fast service or something else that really isn't a differentiator. Instead, it really does make you like everyone else and then customers buy on price. What we'd rather see is people building value around their brand so that they don't have to just churn, churn, churn, but instead they can be more intentional about how do we bring value to our customers? How do we generate love and loyalty? That then makes everyone feel good instead of this exhausting endless loop.

 

James Robert Lay:

Yes, and I think a question, and I text this to our operations lead yesterday, I asked her, are we busy doing things right or are we busy doing the right things right?

 

James Robert Lay:

And that requires some space to reflect on because you mentioned two words, love and loyalty, and that is really where I have been calling financial brand leaders to commit to put the transformation of people beyond and above the commoditized transaction of dollars and cents. I want to get your take on this because you used the four letter word, you said love, and one of the things that I wrote about in Banking on Digital Growth is the banker's brain is very smart, beautiful, analytical. They're a left brain driven leader, but when we start talking about some of these soft subjects like love and loyalty, it might make a few feel a little uncomfortable. How can we help guide them beyond some of that emotional anxiety? Because it's outside of their natural operating tendencies.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

It is outside of their natural operating tendencies, and yet we all are emotional beings and we all have brands that we love and are loyal to. When we have that for our brand, that love, that loyalty where people want to talk about us, want to be associated with us, then that builds long term revenue because now somebody is emotionally connected, they don't want to switch for something else, they believe that that brand is valuable and important to them. And so, if we want to be beyond the commodity of price, then we have to have something else and really, value outlasts everything.

 

James Robert Lay:

Price is a race to the bottom, I say, because there's always going to be someone who can beat that and I think about a Walmart or an Amazon, but now, and I was talking to my wife about this in 2019, I said, I think, and I could be wrong, but I think in the next decade the micro has the potential to beat the macro and it's almost like it's the way that we see the pendulum swing. It's like everyone, we all went down this path of Amazon for simplicity's sake, but then at the same time, we're seeing the rise of the creator economy and individuals now that are building personal brands and communities and influence and selling direct to them and cutting out the middle person. There's this whole massive transformation happening and financial brands are not immune to that. I want to get your take on misconceptions around branding in financial brands that leaders might have around branding that you would disagree with them on.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Oh, we don't have enough time on this podcast. A lot of times when we first start talking to a client to help build out their brand or to help understand their brand, they'll say, "Oh, well we have excellent service. We know your name, we have fast local loan decisions," as if those are things that nobody else has and those are table stakes. That's like saying you have clean restrooms. We expect you to have fast local loan decisions, we expect you to give us great service, so what else is different about you? What is special? Why should I trust you with my finances? There's got to be more.

 

James Robert Lay:

So what is that? What is more? Let's dive into that because for financial brands to get off of this commodity hamster wheel, to create a brand that people do love, what are the roadblocks? First and foremost, let's talk roadblocks that get in the way, that hold financial brands back, that keep them stuck on the hamster wheel running in this endless loop.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

One roadblock is that there's not a cohesive team throughout the institution working on this. Somebody might think, oh this is marketing's job. Marketing needs to handle this, but it's not just marketing's job and marketing can't do it alone. IT has to be involved, HR has to be involved, operations have to be involved. If we're going to deliver great customer experience, that's not just a flashy ad and a really cool tagline, it's also what do people experience when they come into a branch? Because yes, they still do. What do people experience when they are doing their online banking or using the app? What do people experience when they have a problem? Marketing can't do all those things alone.

 

What else? If we are making a promise such as financial health for all, let's just say that. I like to use that kind of as a textbook example, financial health for all, then how are we delivering that? Again, it can't be just a slogan, it's got to be are we delivering programming to our customers and prospects that help them be more financially healthy? And then flip that on the other side, are we delivering programming to our employees who help them be financially healthy? And then what are we doing in the community to live that brand everywhere? It's essential that everyone in the bank is helping make that happen. Without that, that's a huge roadblock.

 

I think another roadblock might be just lack of clarity, so understanding what is our purpose going to be? Can we have a laser focus? That can be scary because maybe a bank doesn't want to say, well I want my focus to only be on small business and I want to offer a special promise to small business. That's scary because then you're leaving some other business on the table. Yet, is there plenty of small business and more that you could potentially serve? So, I think some of it is a lack of clarity and maybe some fear about narrowing that focus or what is my brand position. Trying to be all things to all people just doesn't work.

 

James Robert Lay:

Let's lean into that a little bit because this is an interesting subject. You mentioned lack of clarity, but I think even more the fear to focus, and I see this a lot, but I think you can speak some truth into this. I can speak some truth into this. I get asked all the time, why don't you take Banking on Digital Growth and bring it into other verticals? I absolutely could do that, but then I would be diluting my focus and losing my expertise that I've built up equity in within a particular niche market segment. You've done the same thing with BANKTASTIC. You've focused in on this industry, you are building a national millennial board to learn and transfer knowledge back into the industry. That would not be possible if you were working in multiple verticals. How did you overcome your fear of focus to say I can focus and create value in this industry because you gave up opportunity to walk away to focus in on this industry?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Well, I'm an entrepreneur so I like the challenges. Maybe we know that our banker friends are risk averse, so that is difficult. But I think with the right amount of research, the right amount of understanding your markets where you operate, the right understanding of your customers or members, I think the opportunity for that focus is there. That doesn't mean you have to intentionally exclude anyone. Of course, we would never do that, but there might be a certain audience segment that we are really well suited to serve and so, why wouldn't we try to offer that value to more of them? That's a win-win. It is scary I think, so back to your question about how do you do it, it could be a process. Maybe you don't just chop that off overnight and say from now on we're only focusing on this kind of business. You might even test a few things. You might do some testing and see what works and what resonates. But I think if you're not continuing to refine and focus, you spread yourself too thin. You can't make an impact if you're trying to be everywhere.

 

James Robert Lay:

Yeah, I like the idea of testing or piloting ideas. It's a great way to learn and to review and to refine. But also one of the things, and I did a keynote speech over the summer in Las Vegas about the potential opportunities around niche banking and I hypothesized that maybe the future of banking is you have a financial brand and maybe it's a community organization that's kind of the parent, but then they have a portfolio of niche brands that are positioned to certain market segments and it becomes more of a portfolio-like play to where the positioning is unique, the product mix is unique, the overall experience is unique to that niche segment. What's your take on that? If we're going to just maybe do a little bit of future-focused thinking here?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I think it's a great idea. I have seen a glimpse of that with Legends Bank and they have Her Bank that's a sub-brand of the bank that is completely focused on women entrepreneurs and small business. They've created a whole ecosystem around that, sort of a club, where they've brought in speakers, they've brought in network opportunities and made an environment in which these women entrepreneurs can learn and share and grow by meeting each other and knowing each other, supporting each other's businesses and then there is the bank to help them with their specific financial needs. I think it's really smart.

 

James Robert Lay:

This is a fantastic example for the dear listener, her-bank.com. From a positioning statement when you open it up, Her Bank, inspired by women for women. Call to action: get started. Subhead: a better banking experience for women will get you to where you want to go. I have immediately fallen in love with this example right here because what Legends Bank has done is they have spun off a niche brand that is still positioned around the overall Legends brand, but the positioning connects and the communication connects more to this market than the general probably Legends brand would ever be able to do. And as a result, they're building a community and I think that's the key. They're now building a community of minds, and when you think about the idea of community in this digital world, community goes far beyond borders and boundaries and zip codes. Community resides in the minds of people. What's your take on that?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

I think it's absolutely right. We still crave connection and support from each other and that community, especially if you're a small business or if you're some other niche that has financial needs, of course there are a lot of those, then that makes a lot of sense where like-minded people can come together and how wonderful it is that this bank is supporting that and is actually made it happen. That I'm sure took a lot of work.

 

I see neo-banks such as Oxygen Bank, they're really focused on that small business entrepreneur, the people with the side hustle or solopreneurs, they have a lot of luxury to be able to do that because they're not managing a lot of brick and mortars and some of the other things that our community banks or credit unions have to manage. I think this Her Bank is a great way to do that within the structure of a more traditional banking situation, but yet doing something very innovative.

 

James Robert Lay:

TransPecos Bank out of San Antonio, Texas has done something very similar with their BankMD brand, bankmd.com, another niche market opportunity that they're tapping into around the lending to healthcare or to doctors, which is a very unique niche play.

 

I want to loop this back because we're talking about community. Community is external, but community is also internal, the culture. And you touched on this in the book because you have different sections around branding, around culture, around innovation, around business development, around customer experience. I want to dive into the culture piece here for a bit because for the past couple of years, there's been a big focus around CX, customer experience, the front stage of a brand experience, if you will.

 

But I believe that financial brands, their front stage, their CX, customer experience can only be as good as their backstage or their employee experience. I think we're probably going to see a shift to this and I was calling this about two years ago that 2020 to 2030 might be the decade of EX, where if you look at like 2010 to 2020, that was more CX-focused, now it's almost like the pendulum is swinging back internally. I think it's important to have this conversation because over the past two years, we've all experienced exponential change. We're kind of tired of the whiplash effect and I appreciate what you shared. If we're going to provide financial empowerment externally to account orders, we need to do the exact same thing for our team internally too. What are you seeing right now when it comes to culture and the threats to culture that can have a negative impact on the front stage and the overall external brand perception?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Well, I think a major threat that we see right now is the dearth of great talent. Everybody's trying to hire. There are not enough employees to go around. If you want to preserve a culture, you have to first create one and you have to create something that people want to be a part of, so that helps you retain the great talent that you have and it helps you attract the great talent that you want. I've been talking about internal culture for years. We've always felt like to deliver a great brand experience to your customer, your employees have to believe in and love the brand. They have to feel like they're part of something special. Now more than ever, it's also essential that you have that so that you can attract that great workforce. The threat is there are not enough great people to go around and the threat is sometimes those things take time to change, so if you're not working on it now, you should be.

 

James Robert Lay:

I think working on it now, when you're talking about threats and talent acquisition and talent retention, another big threat that I want to dive into with you on is the looming recession that has been floated around. If we look back in history, particularly within the financial services vertical, the very first two things to get cut from a budget during tight times are marketing and training or education. While this might create some short term temporary relief and it might make financial brand leaders feel better in the present moment, what are the unknown longer term threats, the longer term dangers to branding and culture that financial brand leaders might not be thinking about when it comes to cutting things like marketing, things like training, things like education, things like culture that could cause more harm than good?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

The threats are that someone else is thinking about it and someone else is leveraging this opportunity to surge ahead, so if someone is thinking about pulling back or coasting a little bit, they're going to be even further behind.

 

James Robert Lay:

I have seen this, I have lived this, I have experienced this. If I think back to the 2008 crisis, the financial brands that we were working with and guiding back then, those that doubled down on marketing, on branding, on culture, they came out on the other side with almost an exponential growth curve. It was an accelerant. So, I want to get your take on this because you have almost 25 years of experience and knowledge and wisdom and so you have seen this probably at least two times, two different cycles, if you will, maybe three. What would be your recommendation for leaders thinking about pulling back on marketing, thinking about pulling back on training, thinking about pulling back on culture during a recessionary period? What are the opportunities that you see available for them to navigate the complexities of recession with courage and confidence?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

People who are planning for the future, who want their brand to be successful and powerful long into the future are doing things now. It doesn't mean that they do the same things, of course, we've talked about that. They might do the same things differently or they might need to do some all new things. If they need to cut back on their training budget, are there some more creative ways that they can still invest in training? Can they do group meetings? Can they do lunch and learns? Can they create internal ambassadors who learn and then teach their peers? But they need to be thinking about, how are these different ways that we can develop our people so that we keep them? We've already invested in them, we want to keep them because they're great.

 

What do we need to do to keep leveraging our brand? We see what other people are doing. It's easy to see what our competitors are doing in the marketplace. How can we continue to grow on that equity that we have? How can we continue to refine? Do we need some niche brands? Do we need to do something else? How can we learn from others in other industries? What might be happening there that could inspire us?

 

Something else I mention in my book is for people to go on ride-alongs. Go on some ride-alongs with some of your customers. Go to their trade shows or follow them around, follow a PTA mom around in her daily life, or do some things that help you understand, really understand what your customers and prospects are trying to do. Then, you are going to have these light bulb moments that help you figure out how to offer them solutions that are really valuable, that make their lives better, that is bringing value that is not replicated somewhere else.

 

James Robert Lay:

If you go on a ride along, document it, bring a camera or two. You have a tremendous opportunity to create unique content that connects back with whatever this community is, and that's the emotional tie, that's the emotional connection. Once I get through writing Banking on Change, which will be due out in late Q1, early Q2 of next year, I'm immediately going into writing Banking on Expertise because I believe the knowledge and the expertise that bankers have can be communicated through digital to ultimately lift the brand equity of their financial brand as an individual.

 

When you get one and one, that doesn't equal two in the digital space, there's a multiplying effect. What are you seeing in this front around just some of the new modalities to communicate, to leverage brand in the digital space? I'm going to go ahead and I will fall on my sword about TikTok. I'm wrong, I was wrong about TikTok. TikTok is now becoming a viable channel. We're seeing it in the financial services space, we're seeing it with mortgage lenders, we're seeing it with financial advisors. The algorithm is just insane on TikTok, serving up content to where you can create an exponential curve going forward. I think it's almost like we've got to unlearn what we have learned and not make assumptions or let our biases from the past prevent us from moving forward into the future.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

We always have to be learning. We always have to be open. If we think about at its most basic level, where is our customer or where is our prospect? Then that's where we need to be. So, if our customer or prospect is on TikTok, we need to figure out how to be there in a relevant way. If that customer is somewhere else, then we need to be there. But right, you can't just do the same things and banks and credit unions often can be hesitant to get on social media. We know there's so many rules and we have to be careful about what we can and cannot do. But there's still plenty of content that you can develop and if that prospect or customer sees your brand there and that customer or prospect says, ah, they get me, they understand this challenge with my business or they understand this challenge with my family finances, then there's that credibility. You've already started to create that relationship.

 

James Robert Lay:

I totally get the concern about compliance on social media. I think about Fight Club. The first rule about Fight Club is don't talk about Fight Club. And the first rule about being on social media within the financial services space is don't talk about money. I am seeing, particularly within the SMB and the commercial space, lenders who are building social profiles and not even really talking about money. What they're doing is they're actually interviewing other entrepreneurs. They're hosting the party. Greg Martin, who is building a brand around the entrepreneurs banker. He is doing this with a podcast called Aggie Hacks. He's in College Station, Texas A&M, the Aggies, and he's doing this with fellow Aggie entrepreneurs. I think it's just a fascinating way to work around the compliance side because they're not talking about money or the things that compliance would poo-poo on, they're looking at more of just bringing people together for a conversation just like we would've done in the real world, but now we're doing this and building audience, building community around things like minds would.

 

I'm a big believer that all change, all transformation begins with a very small, simple step forward. With that in mind, I want to get your take. What is a small, simple step or an action that the dear listener can take at their financial brand or FinTech to journey beyond sticky, to get off the commodity hamster wheel and to create a brand that people love? One small thing to send them forward.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Do not think of your brand as fast local loan decisions and we know your name. Go back to your purpose, your mission, and your vision statement. What is there? Start right now looking at that before you do anything else. Do you know what your mission is? When is the last time you dusted that off and looked to see, do we have something that is our guiding light that helps us make decisions about how we do our business? That's the first step. Go back and look at that. If you've already got that finely tuned and well defined, then start building out upon that. Make sure that your actions are reflecting back to that. If that is fuzzy, dusty, out of date, then start there and get that straightened out.

 

James Robert Lay:

Fantastic recommendation. Start small, gain clarity into where you've been, where you're at, and where you can continue to grow going forward into the future. This has been a fantastic conversation, Martha. Thank you so much for joining me and sharing your wisdom with our dear listeners. What is the best way for someone to connect with you to continue the conversation that we started here today?

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Well, they can certainly find me on LinkedIn or if they would like to go to our website, banktastic.com. We have a great deal of content there, both articles, videos, and of course, our book.

 

James Robert Lay:

And the book, where can they get the book? Is it on your website? Is it on Amazon? It's a fantastic book. I highly recommend it.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

Thank you. The book is available on our website or it's also available at Amazon or any of the major book sellers.

 

James Robert Lay:

Grab the book, connect with Martha, learn with Martha, grow with Martha. Martha, thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Banking on Digital Growth.

 

Martha Bartlett Piland:

It was my pleasure and it was a lot of fun. Thank you.

 

James Robert Lay:

As always, and until next time, be well, do good, and make your bed.

 

Brief Summary of Episode #244

As the world attempts to return to a pre-COVID level of normalcy, many banks and credit unions have fallen into a pattern of hustling for busyness’ sake.

Rather than leave room for the creative process, they’re packing that space with dead-end work.

Martha Bartlett Piland, President at BANKTASTIC, has a great phrase for this observation in her book, Beyond Sticky: the “commodity hamster wheel.”

“The hamster wheel is this urgency that, if I’m busy, maybe I’m creating something,” she told us.

But as she pointed out, doing the same work over and over isn’t innovation - it’s quite the opposite.

“How do we generate love and loyalty that makes everyone feel good instead of this exhausting, endless loop?” Martha argued. “Be more intentional about how we bring value to customers.

And financial brands can do just that by overcoming their emotional anxieties.

“We all are emotional beings, and we all have brands that we love,” she said. “That builds long-term revenue when somebody is emotionally connected.”

By connecting with the audience and community, we can escape the transactional rat race and begin digital transformation.

 

Key Insights and Takeaways

  • Breaking away from the busyness to regain perspective (3:24)
  • Pivoting back to focusing on giving value to your customers (17:34)
  • Taking advantage of comm channels to spread brand awareness (32:28)

Notable Quotables to Share

How to Connect With Martha Bartlett Piland

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