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Only a marketer could do this to us. Lure us into buying 25 different “styles” of black socks. If I had to do it all over again I would have loaded up on one style. And then when they started to die – load up again – on ONE style. But it’s so hard to do. Think of the wall of styles you’re accosted with at any decent store. All of them individually displayed on their cute little hangars, with a thin piece of tissue stuffed inside so that, like a dog, you are enchanted by the sound of the crinkling. If you did want to load up on just one style you would look like a hog. Destroying the display by leaving a gaping hole and a lonely silver post where the lovely socks used to be.

Last week I gave up matching my black socks. I’m done. Now I just reach in the chaotic drawer and grab two. After all, 50% of the sock is covered by my shoe and the rest by my pant leg. Who cares?

I guess it’s because I’m getting older and realizing that life is just too damn short to sit on a Saturday afternoon squinting, holding up socks in the natural light, laying them side by side, checking their textures to make sure I get exactly two alike to marry. And then the disappointment and mounting frustration of the stray socks.

I’ve noticed that I have more and more of these since I got two dogs……hmmmmm…….someday I’ll find a bounty of black under my fridge. I’m sure of it.


I used to make Christmas cards every year. Depending on the complexity of my design it could take weeks for me to complete. I know people enjoyed them because they saved them. You can’t throw out a handmade card!

I believe there is a direct correlation between the number of cards you send and the number you receive. And I can say for certainty that if they are handmade your receive level is often greater.

But that was years ago and several moves ago. I don’t plan on sending any Christmas cards this year except to a few family members and very close friends- and you know who you are. I’m too busy and not feeling it anymore.

To date I’ve received two Christmas cards. Now I know it’s still early but I don’t expect to receive too many more.

PERSONAL SIDEBAR/SHOUT OUT: Dan, I sincerely hope I get the annual photo Christmas card from you though. I treasure those.

I wonder what the average age of a Christmas card buyer/mailer is??  Probably older than the average age of a credit union member (48).

I cannot imagine my 27 year-old niece picking up a box of cards at the store and taking the time to address them (which also means collecting mailing addresses) buying postage stamps and  finding a post office to put them in the system.

So anywho……it begs the question: “Are Christmas Cards Dying?” Has Social Media negated the need for an annual touch base?


Since I am primarily confined to a bed right now, I’ve been reading a wonderful book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer. I have unlocked the secret to creative thinking and can say with certainty that we do everything humanly possible to make sure we never have a creative spark in the office.

And here’s why. My top five reasons credit unions can’t innovate – in their current state.

#5 – THE PROBLEM: Our offices, board rooms, meeting rooms, lunch rooms are dumps. In my 32 years of working with credit unions  I was lucky enough to work for First Tech CU – where we got it – we needed creative spaces. Our board and meeting rooms were state-of-the art-not-in-the-basement-no fluorescent-light-magic. My marketing department had a play room with bean bag chairs and toys and fun things on the wall. We were allowed, no encouraged, to play.

But most credit unions I’ve worked for or visited have dismal, depressing, cramped, smelly meeting spaces. The most shocking revelation – no natural light. Why do we put our meeting spaces in the basement? The most precious real estate of all – and we hide it in the dungeon?

When it’s time for our weekly meeting the trolls descend to the cave. Now let’s innovate!

THE SOLUTION: Move someone out of a “C” suite and get rid of tables and chairs – bring in a futon and comfy chairs. Paint the walls a bright color. Do a mural of the credit union’s vision. Have some fun!

#4- THE PROBLEM: Agendas, or lack there of. Most meetings I’ve attended as an employee have no agenda. It’s just on the calendar – we need to meet. And so we go around the room seeking the lowest common denominator of a problem and try to solve it. We plan to plan and meet to meet. We “table” things or talk about them offline. The most productive part of any meeting is when it ends. Because then there’s the “meeting after the meeting” (usually in the hallway or bathroom) where the real problems get discussed, but no solutions, no action. Just bitching.

THE SOLUTION: For executive management, the ONLY agenda item for regularly scheduled meetings should be the vision of the credit union. Big and broad and beautiful. Your BHAG. What are we doing right now, tomorrow, this month to work towards our vision?

#3 -THE PROBLEM: An HR professional that views their job as protecting the credit union from an employee filing a lawsuit. We’ve all worked with them. Paranoid watch dogs that scrutinize every piece of clothing, personal item on a desk, internal email, etc. The employee is the enemy and not to be trusted. They dehumanize the staff and break them down to a cog in the machine – one that must obey. They empower with boundaries. They praise with complicated incentive plans. Nothing negative is communicated unless it is documented. Then annually they coordinate the Christmas party or company picnic and wonder why attendance is so low.

THE SOLUTION: Fire them. Get a person in there that truly values people. The whole person. Understanding that the more you truly empower people and make them feel valued the less likely you WILL have a lawsuit. Adolph Coors successfully kept his brewers from every forming a union by simply treating them like human beings. He gave his men time off to be with their wives after having a baby decades before it became law. He paid them well. Quite simply he understood that Coors was nothing without his crew.

#2 THE PROBLEM: Mistaking action for progress. Years ago I was working for a credit union in Eugene, Oregon. Home of the University of Oregon – Go Ducks! I was walking down the hallway to go to the bathroom and I noticed the VP Marketing was just sitting at her desk staring into space. She saw me out of the corner of her eye and snapped to attention. And keep in mind, I was a minion at this CU -not her boss or even her employee. Just a gal that had to pee. She apologized to me for not “working” and joked about her daydreaming. I’ll never forget that – you SHOULD be daydreaming or, creating, or thinking at work. Especially if you’re in a creative position.

I think too often we mistake activity for progress. I mean look at the things we measure. It’s all about volume, output, numbers, results.

THE SOLUTION: Naps. Quiet the mind. Shut down Outlook. According to the book, most innovative CEOs will admit they get their best ideas in the shower. It’s the only time of the day when they have no distractions. They cannot check their iPhone for messages. Can’t be online. Don’t see the piles on their desk. And really can’t be disturbed. Plus the warmth of the water, the clean scent of soap…..ahhhh…..

I was in a brainstorm session with some potential partners last month. We were hitting a creative wall. I excused myself to go to the bathroom (I drink a ton of water). While in there I had an “Aha!” moment. I came back and shared. A few minutes later another person excused themselves – she came back with another piece of the puzzle. Now we saw the pattern and demanded the rest all take bathroom breaks one at a time. It didn’t always work but it clearly showed a pattern. Our minds were free to explore the solution if we were alone and could not be distracted or disturbed.

#1 – THE PROBLEM: No clear vision. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? I love that saying. But think about it. The most innovative companies have a clear vision – a target audience – they know their enemy (their true competitors) and through innovation have made them irrelevant. Apple. Starbucks. Target. Southwest Airlines. Just to name a few.

A clear sign you have no vision. At your last strategic planning session when the facilitator asked you to list the threats to your organization and you said “Banks, increased regulation, and the economy.” You have no idea what business you are in. No clear vision. No target. No point of differentiation.

THE SOLUTION: Hire someone outside of the credit union industry to facilitate your next planning session. Someone who knows a TON about innovative business models but knows nothing about financial institutions. Someone who cannot read your financial statement. You look at that thing every single day – you know it inside and out – why would you spend precious and expensive time rehashing your numbers? What is your purpose?

As the late great father of management, Peter Drucker would say: The only purpose of business in society is to create and keep a customer. Not to make a profit.

Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but rather the test of their validity.

The first step to creativity is to understand why you exist in the first place. How will you create and keep a member?

Now that I’m back in marketing as a full-time employee, there’s pressure on me to come up with a snappy tagline for the credit union. It’s a fact that there have been taglines so clever they have boosted sales, enhanced reputations, and found their way into popular culture.

According to that fount of knolwedge Wikipedia “A tagline is a variant of a branding slogan typically used in marketing materials and advertising. The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and promise of a brand.”

 So a tagline is a promise or a rallying cry of sorts.

You remember these gems:

Got Milk?

Just do it.

It’s the Real Thing.

Or how about these classics?

Delta: We’re ready when YOU are.

United Airlines: Fly the Friendly Skies….(insert sound of needle sliding across a record album). What? Wait a minute.

A  clever tagline cannot help a bad company? A clever tagline could actually piss people off and be used against you? Hell yes. And that’s why I eschew taglines for credit unions.

This year I had to admit I was pretty impressed with the new Best Buy ads. In fact, if I saw one zipping by as I was TiVoing past these intrusions, I’d stop and back up.

It showed a mom shopping at Best Buy and being so impressed with their seleciton and prices – the clerk made the remark “Santa Claus better watch out.”

Cut to Christmas Eve, Santa’s come down the chimney with his paltry little presents and the smug mom nodding at the Best Buy bounty under the tree would say “Game on Santa.” That’s right – cuz Best Buy is better than you old fat man in your red sweatty suit.

Best Buy ruined Christmas and what little reputation they had left when they advertised free shipping on Black Friday and later said “Oops, we can’t fill most of those orders because the response was so overwhelming, so you’re screwed. Merry Christmas.” 

Game Over Best Buy.

Time to review your credit union’s promise. Here are just a few I found:

“Invested in Your Financial Health”
“We’re here for you!” (found at least six examples with one Google search)
“Everything we do, we do for you.” 

Are you fulfilling the promise? Or could it be used as a weapon?

I will end with my personal favorite credit union tagline. And yes, they paid an agency to come up with this.

Wait for it.

“Serves you right.”


The other day in a meeting we were talking about our checking account and someone asked “Now, when you say CHECKING you also mean debit, home banking, bill pay, etc…right?” What a great question. When is the last time you went to the market and stood behind some young person writing a check? I mean our members probably still write checks because their average age is 48 and climbing  but isn’t it time we renamed checking?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – banking is an errand. Our members don’t get to come to the credit union, they have to. And the center of that errand universe is the checking account. Raise your hand if you’ve moved your checking account recently? And I say “moved” because when we open a new account for a member, rarely is it their first ever checking account. They have chosen to move their financial life. There is no bigger pain in the ass than moving your checking account in my opinion.

It used to be as simple as leaving some money in the old account – stop writing checks – and give me a few temporary checks to get me by. Oh, and move my direct deposit. Done.

Today I have to call my wine club with my new debit card number that I probably won’t get for two weeks. Then I have to remember to get online and change my card on my Netflix account. Oh, and re-enter my mortgage information on Bill Pay. Not to mention my stored information on my and records. Temporary checks? What do I do with those? Just try and buy a tank of gas with a temporary check.

I don’t write checks. I try to make my life as automated as possible – so when it comes to changing that world….don’t you dare hand me a switch kit. I have yet to see one that helps me out – instead it just illustrates how difficult this is going to be. Out of respect for this act, I propose we rename checking.

We need to be able to easily complete this sentence:

“I’m going to the credit union to deposit this in my ______________ account.”

Money account?
Transaction account?
Settlement account?
Bluetooth account?

When I bought my iPad last month I finally understood what Bluetooth technology was all about. You see I bought this really cool cover by Kensington that had a Bluetooth keyboard. It talks to my iPod without the aid of wires! Amazing!

Don’t judge! Today technologies are named things like “blue” + “tooth” and we’re supposed to magically figure out what that means?

So now I’m trying to understand Near Field Communication, and Steve Jobs’ obsession with adding it to the next generation iPhone and what that has to do with credit unions. At least the words make some sense. Look at this illustration.

No one disrupts industries better than Jobs. Think about it, the iPad is not something that we needed, and if you remember the early press – that anyone was supposed to want.

And yet, with one simple device Apple made the following industries obsolete:

1. record stores
2. video stores
3. book publishers
4. television
5. cameras
6. telephones (Facetime)

And the following products

1. photo albums
2. playing cards
3. board games
4. CD players
5. phone books
6. address books

and the list goes on and on…..

I have feared for years that someone like Jobs or Bezos would “iPod” this old beast we call banking. I mean we are ripe for revolution. And after the “too big to fail” bank bailouts and economic collapse, people are mad as hell. The sacred cow of banking may be ready for the grill.

When the e-wallet debuts in all of its Apple glory – will it make us obsolete? It could make debit cards irrelevant, right? The key to this is the payment system that already exists in iTunes.

According to a Tech Crunch article:

The main goal for Apple would be to get a piece of the $6.2 trillion Americans spend each year on goods and services. Today, the company pays credit-card processing fees on every purchase from iTunes. By encouraging consumers to use cheaper methods – such as tapping into their bank accounts directly, which is how many purchases are made via PayPal – Apple could cut its own costs and those of retailers selling Apple’s products.

That makes me believe that we are still needed. We are the authorized movers of money after all.

The Federal Reserve System will keep us safe.  According to my friend Wiki Pedia:

Their duty is to conduct the nation’s monetary policy, supervise and regulate banking institutions, maintain the stability of the financial system and provide financial services to depository institutions, the US government, and foreign official institutions.

Whew. And they are doing a bang up job.

There’s nothing like a good ol’ recession to make us question everything. It’s been said that people work together best, when there’s a crisis. That’s when we really pull together as a team.

Well, we’re in a crisis. So forgive me if I’m blunt, but these times give me no choice.

Here are the brutal facts:

  • Credit unions are literally dying of old age. I met a CU professional yesterday who told me the average age of their membership was 71. I replied “Are you sure that’s not the average age of your board?” Nope. The members. Then I asked the obvious, “What’s your loan-to-share ratio?” He just chuckled.
  • This year Generation Y will outnumber the Baby Boomers (the largest generation in US history). Boomers are beginning to die. The youngest Gen Yer is getting their driver’s license next year. The oldest will turn 36. There are 70 million of them. In two years they will all be old enough to enter into a legal contract (get a loan on their own).
  • Mathematically speaking credit unions did not need Generation X (the smallest generation in US history). Therefore we didn’t bother to market to them, or figure them out, or listen to them or even begin to understand what the next generation will demand. This is largely the cause of the 48 year old member age average, and why it still climbs.
  • Credit union members aged 25 to 42 have dropped by 17% in the past two decades. These are our prime borrowers.
  • The proliferation of community chartered credit unions (post HR 1151) did not result in increased market share for the industry. Rather, membership flatlined for the first time in history.
  • The majority of the sitting credit union CEOs are within 5 years of retirement. They can see the finish line. Consequently, many of them will put blinders on to avoid distraction. They are entering the lame duck phase, and are not likely to make any big changes.
  • Mergers will be used as big fat band-aids. But the wound will not heal. It will begin to fester.
  • Social media is not a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. If you don’t get it, embrace it, and practice it – you’re toast.
  • The recession and NCUA assessments sanction inaction.
  • Shiny happy stock art people used in marketing will kill us. Cut it out!
  • You cannot calculate an ROI for every damn thing. It’s an excuse we hide behind so we don’t have to take a risk.
  • Brittany S. Pearce is a better performer than Britney Spears. (I’m a Gleek)

My oldest sister is living what I would consider “off the grid.” She does not have a land line, the internet or cable television. She doesn’t even own a car. She does have an iPhone and a MacBookPro however. She has a Netflix account and watches DVDs. She uses her iPhone to connect to Pandora and hooks it up to portable speakers. She checks email on the phone. I guess you could say she’s AT&T’s beeotch which is hardly off the grid,  but you get the idea.

It’s been fun to watch her make this transition. She’s saving a ton of money (which was her original driver) and has improved greatly the quality of her life. It’s very vogue in Portland, Oregon to live simply.

Last night I was having dinner with a dear friend and when the bill came he insisted on paying for the wine. How many times has this happened to you? You’re with a group of people, enjoying a wonderful meal and the bill comes and chaos ensues. Math is hard people and then there’s the tip and do they have cash, and who has change for a twenty and let’s just have the waiter split is two ways…..ugh. Instead, he asks if he can just “bump” us the money.

Sounds like fun! What the hell does that mean? It’s an iPhone app that accesses your PayPal account and let’s you easily send money immediately to your dining partner. It even does math for you by calculating tax and tip.

Granted, your PayPal account has to be attached to a checking account which means you’re still on the grid – BUT, this could completely eliminate the need for a debit card and certainly kill off the paper check for good if the technology is widely adopted.

I guess my point is this. Credit unions move people’s money. Period. For the most part we still rely on old school methods for achieving this. Bumping money with your iPhone is like toasting with a glass of champagne. It’s fun, it’s hip, it’s the future. We need to be a part of that future.

What if you had $0 dollars in your marketing budget this year? How would you spend it?

Chris Tissue, Industry Analyst for Callahan & Associates, Inc. published an article last week that showed the sharp decline in educational and promotional expenses among credit unions. The average decrease 11.4% from 4Q 2008 to 4Q 2009, with the largest credit unions cutting back the most.

Every credit union in the US started with a marketing budget of zero. Zilch. Nada. And for years they thrived by focusing those resources on building member loyalty. They built loyalty by listening to members’ needs, responding with relevant products, and recommending solutions. The members in turn bought more from the credit union and told their co-workers and family members about the co-op.

Several years ago, Diana Dykstra decided to return to those old school methods. She is the CEO of San Francisco Fire Credit Union. When she first became CEO the credit union had changed their name to SFFCU and expanded to a community based charter. This angered the loyal firefighters and their families. They felt somewhat betrayed. So, she decided to switch it back to San Francisco Fire and really crank up loyalty among them.

Her boldest, bravest decision was to refund all ATM surcharges. You see, they only own a couple of ATMs and even though they participate in the Co-Op and Shared Branch networks they knew that members hated being charged to get their money. So when it happened –  poof – charges reimbursed.

Did this cost them money? Absolutely. But guess what? It’s the number one reason cited on Yelp! that people feel love and loyalty towards the credit union.

She also does some “old school” things like giving little Snickers bars to members when they come in and she pays for their parking. I guess you could classify this as marketing dollars. And probably the most expensive thing she does – she personally responds to emails from her members. If you go to her website you’ll see the Ask Diana link on the main page. Several members on Yelp! reviews credited this unselfish act as the reason for their loyalty.

Diana won’t use her loyal members’ money to woo in complete strangers with membership bribes that promise free iPods. She doesn’t have to.

Instead, 64 members have voluntarily taken the time to review her credit union on Yelp!. She has earned the highest rating – 5 stars. The next closest credit union in her area is Patelco Credit Union with 24 reviews and 3.5 stars.

You simply can’t buy this kind of love.

The first time I heard the phrase “product propensity” was when a vendor was trying to sell me a matrix mailing system. That’s when you send new members a series of letters informing them of the next product they should have – based on their product propensity study.

On the surface it sounds like a great idea.  I guess where I have a problem with it is this. At some time in everyone’s life, you need what we sell.  Our products are commodities. It would be like my dry cleaner sending me a nice letter saying: “We noticed you brought in a jacket to have it cleaned, did you know that we clean pants too? Bring us your pants. We’ll clean them.” knows what propensity means – an inclination to behave in a particular way. Amazon doesn’t sell things we need. They sell things we want. And they make money when they help consumers make purchase decisions.

Case in point. I went to Amazon this morning to pre-order Awkward Family Photos. According to their data base, people like me also buy Sh*t My Dad Says and Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong.

Do I need any of these books? No. Do I want them? Maybe. Did they help me buy more – cross sell – absolutely. They are on to my propensities. They also don’t stalk me (call me or send me unwanted mail). They simply place it out there for me to find – I have to opt in.

“Marketing is not a campaign, it’s a commitment.”

Joseph Jaffe

We don’t sell funny books. We move people’s money. That’s a lot more serious. It’s a real commitment. And like any relationship, it requires time and trust before I’m going to give over everything.  So stop sending me your letters adorned with shiny happy people pushing me-too-products and start paying attention to my needs.

You may need to sell more credit cards, but seriously, I don’t need or want another one. I have a propensity to buy too many books. You should know that by now.

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March 2023