LOFTy Expectations

I’m a big fan of LOFT, the lower-cost little sister to the slightly more upscale Ann Taylor, but their most recent sale probably lost me as an online customer.

LOFT ran a big sale Sunday that offered a 70 percent discount off sale items. Who doesn’t love a good deal? The sale expired at midnight, so I started to browse late Sunday evening on my iPhone. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past browsing–the website constantly crashed. This isn’t the first time that LOFT’s website couldn’t handle extra traffic during a big sale.

LOFT Response LOFT’s response to my concerns voiced on social media Sunday night came on Monday morning–hours after the end of the sale–and instead of addressing the issue through that medium, they directed me to call an associate. Around the same time, I received a tone-deaf email advertising a 60% off flash sale email.

LOFT Flash Sale 07142014

I should note that the social media team at LOFT seems to be responsive to customers on its Facebook page. It’s true that I was disappointed that, instead of addressing the problem through social media, LOFT directed me to contact them by phone–an extra step that I didn’t want to take–but their team is just doing their job.

The real problem lies in the fact that marketing, product delivery and customer service aren’t strategically aligned.

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More Power to the Consumer

Do you know how your customer base wants to interact with your bank?

Yesterday I attended the Bankerstuff webinar, “Branch Transformation: Positioning Your Branch Network for the Future”. Chris Gill, Jim Flannery, and Jason Wolf of Diebold Branch Transformation Advisory Services presented some fascinating information on consumer trends.

Consumer interactions are changing. Teller transactions should decline, and ATM transactions should remain flat, by 2015. Growth will be found in online and mobile transactions, with mobile growing from 5 billion transactions in 2010 to roughly 18 billion by 2015. Additionally, consumer expectations are shifting as they interact with retailers in a variety of industries. What can you learn from retailers? How do your customers interact with you – and how do they want to interact with you?

Consumers have a lot of choice. Within the banking industry we tend to focus on the fact that the number of banks is declining, so there’s not a lot of thought put to the fact that consumers have literally thousands of banks to choose from – and that doesn’t even include the “non-bank” financial products on the market, like Bluebird. Diebold Branch Transformation Advisory Services found that 64% of consumers select a financial services provider based on the brand’s reputation. How are you strengthening your brand?

The branch isn’t dead.

  • 67% of consumers still prefer to go to the branch to make a deposit.
  • 53% prefer the branch for problem resolution.
  • 73% want to open an account, and 67% want to apply for a loan, in a branch.

The trend in the industry – the call for branch transformation – tends to focus on having a more specialized staff, with a shift in the branch from a transactional center to a service & sales hub. Banks may have to guide those consumers that still want to use the branch for transactional matters, like deposits, in order to create a more profitable branch system. Offering the right mix of branch, mobile, and online banking will help lead these consumers to choices that could be more convenient and better meet their needs – and help the branch become more streamlined and profitable.

Keep an eye on the young ‘uns. Gen Y’s and Millenials will hold the most spending power by 2017, and will conduct 40% of transactions. While only 33% of consumers consider mobile banking important when choosing a financial provide, 49% of Gen Y consumers, and 39% of Gen Z, do. But don’t discount the branch: 56% of Gen Z and 58% of Gen Y still consider the number and location of branches when choosing a bank. Where will these customers transact with you? Where will the relationship be? Are you offering the right mix of web, mobile, and branch?

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PwC Financial Services Managing Director, Nate Fisher, highlights how banks can align their pricing structure by using data from customer preferences.

Mike Branton of StrategyCorps shares how to put the retail back in retail checking.

Mobile Can’t Stand Alone

Earlier this month I interviewed the team at Reliant Bank, for an article that will post Monday on BankDirector.com. The piece is a look inside the late summer release of the community bank’s mobile app, but something I couldn’t include in the story was the other efforts the bank is making to achieve growth in a tough economy. Is a mobile app increasingly becoming a consumer expectation? You betcha. But a mobile app alone won’t generate growth. What else is your bank offering its customers?

Do your customers feel rewarded?

If community banking is largely about relationships, do your customers feel the love? Reliant Bank, a newer community bank in an affluent community, offers rewards checking – not exactly novel, but something that Brian Shaw, chief retail and deposit officer, says has resulted in significant growth of the bank’s client base. Customers earn interest for doing things like using their debit card ten times a month, using online bill pay for transactions, and using online banking. Pretty basic stuff that also encourages their customer base to do more online (which probably saves Reliant money too).

Reliant also waves ATM fees – an important thing for a community bank that can’t be on every corner.

Are you reaching out to current – and future – customers?

If you’ve visited this blog before, you know I’m a big fan of financial literacy. As part of their financial literacy program, Reliant offers a popular, high-interest child’s savings account. Reliant has been able to talk to kids in the schools, and the kids are rewarded for saving with $25 from the bank (or a giftcard). Kids are taught to save – and rewarded for it – with the help of Reliant Bank.

Reliant Bank is also active on Facebook, using the channel to notify customers of new programs (like mobile banking) and for community outreach. If you take a look at their page, most of their posts over the past week are about community events, like a bake sale, customer appreciation days, and seminars available to the public.

What does your bank offer that stands out?

Reliant Bank offers a Groupon-like ‘Raving Fan’ program, connecting Reliant’s business clients to retail customers.

The ‘Raving Fan’ program features local businesses, like area restaurants. Reliant’s retail clients appreciate the discounts to local businesses, while their business clients appreciate the free advertising and connection to consumers.

I love hearing stories of banks that are doing something different. Do you know of a retail bank doing something a little different? Maybe a unique branch concept, or a branding standout? Comment below, or email me at emccormick[at]bankdirector.com.

Update: The article “Reliant on Mobile”, detailing Reliant Bank’s summer release of their mobile app, is now available.

Think “Brand” New

Who are the great brand builders in banking? Really, I want to know. I’ve been asking that question lately, to little response. Does this lack of response affirm that community banks have a branding problem? If community banks  plan to grow, brand-building is crucial to growing those deposits. For paper towels, sure, I’ll trust generic – but for my mortgage and checking account, I want to know the institution I’ve entrusted with my financial future.

When it comes to brand-building, I can’t help but wonder if, among community banks, so-called younger banks (say, 10 years or younger) have a slight leg up on their staid half-century-old-or-more brethren. Younger banks – perhaps because they’re scrappy, perhaps because they’re working a little harder against the established competition to gain that market position – always seem to have their marketing & branding ducks in a row. Brand builders know who they are, and know how they differ from the competition. Out of the gate the younger banks have to look at how to differentiate from the rest of the area, many times taking advantage of technology as an efficient and cheap way to expand their reach.

Of course, younger banks have their challenges, but established banks can learn from these scrappy branders. Take a hard look at your brand – are you ready for growth, or are you OK with stagnation?

What’s in a name?
Does your bank name reflect who you are? Is it unique? Would your bank benefit from a new name? While Ally Bank was forced to change their name (due to GM’s bankruptcy back in 2009), the bank has done a stellar job of marketing through that name as an “Ally” to their customers.

How are you expanding your reach?
What are you offering your customers (and how are you attracting new ones)? Online and mobile are great ways to expand your reach – you don’t need to need to have a branch on every corner.

Not ready to take that tech step yet? Paducah Bank of Paducah, Kentucky invites its customers to “Get Wowed!”.  Aside from the usual involvement in the community, Paducah Bank has an ice cream truck for use by businesses, churches, schools and other organizations that bank with Paducah Bank. They’ve also published Wow! magazine (originally Expressions) since 2003, highlighting not only staff but customers as well.

One other thing: ever notice that all the banks that are getting “brand buzz” are heavily engaged in social media?
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Will mobile payments create the most significant revenue opportunities of the decade for financial institutions? Free video from PwC.

Speaking of rebranding: How Ally Bank gets social media right.

(Too) Great Expectations

It’s fall, and that means sports in my house (youngest plays baseball, while oldest plays soccer). Every season, I’m amazed each and every time at some parents and their out-of-whack expectations of their young kid’s success – and at some of the things these parents will say. Overheard at one baseball practice?

“Quit throwing like a girl! Why are you throwing like a girl?” (FYI: that was his mom. Imagine a female redneck voice, and you’ve captured the moment).

The problem with comments like this (aside from the fact that it’s just plain mean to the kids)? They serve as a demonstration that the expectations these parents have are completely above and beyond what their kids can do now. Was I thrilled that my youngest got the game ball last Saturday? Of course! But I’m even more thrilled to see my kids work hard, improve, grow, and have a great time over the season.

The expectations that some parents place on their kids led me to think about the great expectations we sometimes have in business. While it’s great to “think big”, it’s also vital to think realistically and get those expectations in line, both short term and long term, with the steps your business must take to make the bigger goals happen.

We at Bank Director are looking forward to next year’s inaugural Growth Conference in New Orleans. Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and any creative growth initiative is going to require building blocks. Want to make that mobile app happen? Make sure you’ve got the services in place to do that. Want to branch out into social media? Make sure you’ve got a strategic plan built behind it. You’re a community bank wanting to compete with the big dogs? Make sure you’ve got the steps in place to offer the products and services your customers expect.

While I applaud great expectations in business – where would we be without the visionaries that “think big”? – if the building blocks aren’t in place, even the greatest ideas could fail. Lay the foundation, and in a few short years you could be amazed at how far you’ve come.


Credit card firms are testing the waters at Pinterest.

What do you think of LinkedIn’s new “INfluencer” concept? (Explained by Forbes here.)

Are banks being too careful when it comes to risk?

Wanna Reach the Unbanked?

Last week two very interesting items crossed my eye: this look at content marketing for financial services, and CNN Money’s map of the unbanked.

“Insights from the Content Marketing World”, from Financial Marketing News, suggests going beyond the standard newsletters and seminars (though still vital) to visual methods, like infographics and video.

A great example of video (featured here before) shows PanAmerican Bank’s outreach to the underbanked, including the next generation of bank customers.

Of course, being the social media fan that I am, I L-O-V-E this infographic from Capitec Bank of  South Africa.  They polled their customer base via social media to come up with this infographic:

Make Smart Credit Decisions | Capitec Bank

So how does this tie into that unbanked map? Gaining those customers that are underserved will come in two ways: offering the right product mix, and educating the public about those offerings. Infographics and video – along with more traditional content marketing methods, like newsletters and seminars – are a great way to educate your community, and gain some customers along the way.

More around the web:
A digital wallet for the unbanked
Fewer directors & officers are getting sued, and the pace of bank failures has slowed.
Social media lessons from banking insiders – from KPMG

Half-Baked Marketing = Missed Opportunities

Late last week I came across a contest run by a (not local to me) community bank. “What a fantastic marketing idea!” I thought. “What a way to go beyond free gas!” I thought.

“What a way to take an idea only halfway!” was the reality.

The bank had a great idea – a local photo contest (think cute baby) gets the community involved. The bank even set up a dedicated website to allow online voting and entry. The website was attractive, cleanly designed and appeared to be simple to use.

Here’s where they dropped the ball.

Curious, as I am, regarding how far they took the campaign, I search on Facebook. The bank attempted a Facebook page two years ago, but appeared to abandon it soon after. Twitter? Not there either.

Facebook could have tied in wonderfully with this campaign, and helped this contest go viral. I haven’t named the bank, and don’t know how successful the campaign was, but still: what a missed opportunity.

Marketing isn’t limited now to “just direct mail” and “just email” these days, and just a website alone isn’t going to cut it. Look at where your customers are, and where they want to interact with you. Build social media into your marketing mix. As this contest proves, your online presence doesn’t have to be “all about banking” – and promotional tools like photo contests are tailor-made for Facebook.

In other news:

Is Banking’s Future in the Cloud? My debut piece for BankDirector.com. Great insights from Tom Garcia, CEO of InfoSight, Anil Cheriyan, CIO of SunTrust, and Michael Bryan, CIO of Bank of North Carolina.

The FDIC is encouraging banks to reach the unbanked.

Glad to see my colleague, Al Dominick, back to blogging. Will community banks be for sale when M&A picks up?