Getting The Boss To Blog (Or At Least Let You Start One)

My friend Tim McAlpine writes:

What if your credit union could acquire new members and sell products by blogging? I’ll bet there would be a lot more credit unions blogging if the leadership and marketing department understood how they could use this new medium to better connect with members and to sell more products and services. The alternative is to bury your head in the sand and send out yet another direct mail piece that yields a 1% response rate. Am I wrong or am I right?”

Tim, I’m really sorry to say this in a public forum, but you’re wrong — on a number of fronts: 1) You confuse acquisition marketing with retention marketing; 2) You confuse relationship building with selling; 3) You completely miss a number of alternative tactics; and 4) You pooh-pooh some potentially good economic returns.

I believe that to develop a strong relationship — whether we’re talking about in a business or even personal sense — two parties have to be engaged (not the “to be married” kind, wiseguy). And I believe in the potential for a blog to help banks and CUs develop customer relationships by engaging customers in conversations that they probably would not have entered into otherwise.

But while a blog might be the final tipping point that gets a prospect to join the CU or open an account at a bank, it’s very likely to not be the main selling point. And it’s very likely to not even impact very many prospects at that. Especially — and this is the critical point — when compared to other tactics and approaches to customer acquisition.

This last point hints at why Tim’s blog post rubbed me so wrong. Blog advocates (I’m not saying Tim did this) too often come off with an attitude that just screams “OMG, blogging is the answer to all of our marketing prayers! We just have to start one! It doesn’t cost anything! We HAVE TO experiment! You JUST DON’T GET IT!”

OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the common thread among too many advocates is the lack of context — that is, how will a blog fit in with our investments (of both money and time), and with our overall business and marketing strategy?

Anyone advocating for a blog at their financial institution better be prepared to answer the following questions:

1. Who else is doing this? It’s great to be a pioneer, but many senior execs are, understandably so, a little on the risk-averse side. So you better be prepared to tell them who else in the CU/banking space is blogging, and, just as importantly, what types of blogs they have.

2. What results have they achieved? It’s not just an ROI calculation. Citing the stats that Verity CU has made public is good data. But I’d also want to be able to tell the senior execs how many customers and prospects participate in other firms’ blogs.

3. How do they deal with negative comments? This is such a common objection or fear that you better be ready to deal with it. Personally, I think you can turn it into an advantage — namely, by showing that you plan to publicly acknowledge negative comments and demonstrate the firm’s commitment to satisfaction and timely service (or something like that).

4. Who’s going to write blog entries? The advocate is likely to say “I will!” That could be the wrong answer. I spoke to one exec at an FI that was contemplating a blog who said “I’m not sure I want Marketing to be the primary contact point to our customer base. That’s what our account managers are for.” If you’re going to emulate Verity CU’s approach (which I like a lot) — with contributors from Marketing, HR, and the exec team — then you better line up that support before going upstairs to advocate for a blog.

5. What are we going to write about and how often? On the other hand — and I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing Verity, here — it’s the 22nd of January, and they have one blog post up for the month (which does a great job of linking Bob Dylan to its Velocity checking account, by the way).

6. What should we stop doing in order to free up the time to blog? Here’s where I think a lot of the blog advocates just don’t get it. Smart CEOs don’t just manage the ROI, they manage their firm’s attention span. They know it’s better to focus on the right number of the right initiatives. If you’ve got the time and energy to start a blog, then somebody — you or your boss — has been underutilizing you. Managing even medium-sized organizations is about making tradeoffs. I’m not saying that every exec is going to ask this question — but you should have an answer to it.

7. How will we know if we’ve been successful? “Stop our direct mail efforts” is not the answer to question #6. If I send out 10,000 direct mail pieces and convert 1% to customers, that’s 100 new customers. Assuming $0.50/piece and $50 profit per customer per year, that’s 100% ROI at the end of year two. And you’re scoffing at that? My assumptions could be way off here, but the point is that other marketing efforts have projected costs and returns associated with them. Blog advocates better walk into the exec suite with some projections of how many customers are going to be impacted by a blog, who those customers are, and how the blog is going to impact their relationship with the CU/bank.

8. How does this fit in with our current acquisition and retention efforts?
This is another area where blog advocates don’t button everything down — they don’t put the proposed blog in the broader context of the firm’s overall marketing strategy. As a blog advocate, this is where I would trot out Wells Fargo’s student lending blog, or better yet, Common Wealth CU’s (Canada) Young & Free blog that puts a blog at the core of a coordinated, focused strategy for attracting a specific market segment to the CU.

9. Is there a strategy behind all this? In other words, have you thought about the answers to the previous questions, and put them all together in a cohesive fashion. Are you walking into the exec suite ready to talk business and marketing strategy?

You’ve got to remember that you’re not the only one whispering ideas into the CEO’s ear. The call center wants to add 50 people, cuz’ hey, what better way to develop member relationships than to have more staff in the call center for them to talk to. Branch managers want more branch personnel, cuz’ hey, what better way to develop member relationships than to have more staff in the branches for them to interact with.

Now tell me again: Why we should drop everything and start a blog?

Technorati Tags: , ,

19 thoughts on “Getting The Boss To Blog (Or At Least Let You Start One)

  1. Ron, I like this post because you say what I always struggle to say when I hear people talk about how, with a blog being so darn easy and FREE to set up, you should automatically start one.

    First of all, time is money, so blogs are in no way free. It takes time to write posts, motivate others to write, help people edit and format their posts, moderate comments, market your blog so that people even know about it, comment on other sites in an effort to get people to come to yours, etc. It is a lot of work, just like any other marketing effort.

    I think Verity’s blog is a success because we don’t try to use it to sell our products and services. To me (I don’t speak for Shari), it is just a way for people to get to know the folks that work at the credit union. That’s why we let people blog about almost anything they want! It’s genuine and sincere and hopefully, when you read it, you don’t feel like we are just trying to sell you something.

    Obviously I think blogs are great. But I don’t think they are necessary for every organization.

  2. @Terrell: A few posts ago, I wondered why, if a CU wasn’t successful at marketing to its existing potential member universe, why expanding the universe would make them any more successful.

    It’s the same thing w/ a blog.

    If a bank or CU isn’t successfully selling its products and services through the channels they’ve been using for years, then why would they all of a sudden by successful just because they started a blog?

    You and your colleagues at Verity are challenging some long held marketing beliefs. Traditional marketers think they can measure the return on every marketing message. You’re making a bet that having a conversation with a customer leads to a better connection, which leads to a deeper business relationship.

    There’s nothing wrong w/ using a blog to directly sell products (vs. indirectly like Verity does), but Tim’s blog post makes it seem like a panacea. IT IS NOT.

  3. As usual, good points Ron.

    Maybe I went way around the bend to try to make my point. I am trying to get blogging to be seen as a valuable part of a marketing plan that can actually contribute to the bottom line. Right now, it is seen exclusively as a feel good brand builder that does not or should not contribute revenue. There is room for both approaches. My view is not a panacea.

    I agree with your point, “How does this fit in with our current acquisition and retention efforts?” I also agree with Terrell, that free isn’t really free.

    You say, “As a blog advocate, this is where I would trot out Common Wealth CU’s (Canada) Young & Free blog that puts a blog at the core of a coordinated, focused strategy for attracting a specific market segment to the CU.”

    Fair enough, let me trot out Young & Free for a moment. Look at our case study on this program at http://www.currencymarketing.ca/youngfee and you will see a coordinated campaign that uses every available tactic (including direct mail that performed very well by the way). At the core is the message, “if you are under 25 and living in northern Alberta, visit our microsite, follow the blog and check out our new account.”

    You ask, “Why should we drop everything and start a blog?”

    You shouldn’t drop everything. You should consider blogging as a great addition to your overall marketing and communication plan. To trot out Common Wealth again, the credit union has more new members in the last three months than in the last three years and millions of dollars (yes millions) in brand new money in the credit union that they are paying zero interest on. This initiative is only three months old and will continue for years, so I am cautious to reveal too much of the results yet, because it is still very new and because our client Common Wealth probably wouldn’t appreciate it too much).

    You will bring up the fact that things are different in Canada. You’re right, free chequing (checking) is brand new here and FIs don’t have to pay interest on this money.

    My point here is that if you can create a product or service that truly is a game changer and not simply the same as every other FI offering, your credit union can use social media as the hub of a coordinated campaign. It can be very effective in driving new business.

    I get cc’ed on the Young & Free account sign up requests from the microsite and let me tell you, I have to clean out my in-box everyday. We don’t push product on the site, we hint at the account occasionally on the blog, but overall this is about giving a voice to an under-served generation and in turn this generation is connecting and bringing new business to the credit union. Is it too salesy? I don’t think so.

    I agree with Terrell that the Verity blog is a great example of a genuine sincere window into the heart of their organization. I follow it and read the posts. I also agree that Vancity’s Change Everything community is also a great initiative. Both of these are not about driving new membership and selling product. This takes a very forward thinking executive to not tie it to the bottom line.

    A blog can drive business and if credit union leaders knew this, maybe more would consider a blog as an important initiative.

  4. @Tim: I think the Y&F campaign is brilliant. But it’s part of a marketing strategy, intended to attract younger consumers to the CU, that happens to use a blog, because — IN THIS INSTANCE — it’s the right channel/right approach for the intended audience.

    The approach that Common Wealth took — hiring (?) someone to maintain the blog — is a wildly creative and unique approach to reaching and connecting with the target audience.

    Your blog post doesn’t really make this very clear. You refer to the Y&F blog as having “an obvious product marketing focus.” I beg to differ — Larissa writes about potatoes, fanpop (whatever that is), saving money by not drinking coffee, etc.

    That’s not selling. At least not the way most people in the industry think of it.

    Do I think that a blog is a great way to strengthen relationships? Absolutely. But I disagree with your comment that “there would be a lot more credit unions blogging if they understood how they could use this new medium.”

    There would be more CUs blogging if they had well conceived strategies for reaching young consumers. If the strategy is focused on attracting Baby Boomer consumers looking for the financial advice that their current banks and brokerages aren’t giving them, then I don’t think a lot more CUs would be blogging.

  5. Ron – On my flight to New York to speak at Online Innovations, I was reading my out-of-date O Magazine and, as luck would have it, there was an article on blogging for weight loss.

    Erin Shea (ejshea.com) had a great quote “blogging is a very conscious act. It ‘s intimate, deliberate, and involves active thoughts.”

    Perhaps I am overly idealistic and supremely naive, but it seems to me, the more people I can get in my organization who are communicating in a way that is intimate, deliberate and active, the more chance we will have to be successful in our endeavors.

    Thanks for the post. I agree with Terrell. You presented this perspective in a very articulate and sensible way.

  6. I just had this conversation today with a client. I just turned over a membership strategy report and included social media as a component, but only specifically targeting their youth members and with a socially aware slant.

    A blog can only be part of a larger strategy. On it’s own it is a digital newsletter. I know from experience, most credit union marketers hate dealing with the hassles of putting the newsletter together so asking them to do it twice is like trying to sell ketchup popsicles to a woman in white gloves.

    There are lots of types of blogs, and I very much like them and do recommend them to SOME of my clients – but this is what I tell them:

    “In for a penny, in for a pound”

    If you are not going to take this seriously, don’t waste your time. There are plenty of other things that you can do with your time, money and resources. But if you are serious about it and really want to do it right – I think the potential is unlimited.

    I would even go as far as to say, a good blog, executed properly with a solid strategy could generate at least 500 youth accounts in a year on it’s own. Of course this depends on the market (town with a population of 1,500 need not apply). But there would be a tricky way to make it jump.

    But what if you don’t care bout youth accounts. Here in California there is a huge, non english speaking Latino/Hispanic community of people. What an awesome use of blog technology. Explaining real world solutions to those with internet access who may be afraid to call or come in and ask questions. Of course this would have to be teamed with a community outreach program.

    Anyway, I have drifted on. If I had to throw a number out there I would say maybe 20% of the credit unions out there has a reason to blog. There is an angle that they can work that would make their blog special or important to their community. Some of these credit unions are affinity based, some are SEG based. But I think 20% is a good solid number.

    But then again, what does my opinion count… I am just an advocate 😉

  7. @Tony: Thanks for your comment. First off, an advocate’s opinion counts for a lot — as long as it’s supported by facts and well-reasoned arguments (vs. desperate pleas).

    Second, I would challenge one aspect of your comment: That a blog is a “digital newsletter”. Newsletter implies one-way flow of communication — blogs are two-way. In addition, few of the newsletters I’ve seen (even the best ones, and regardless of whether or not they’re digital or not) deal with a lot of personal opinions and issues of the people in the organization putting out the newsletter. Yet, in blogs like Verity’s, the bloggers do discuss a lot of personal things.

  8. There’s so much to comment on here – I’m going to focus on two big points.
    1. I do believe direct mail has run its course. The math doesn’t work anymore. Unless you have some type of “coupon” or some way to verify that the business you got was a direct result of the piece, how do you know that business wouldn’t have come to you because of word of mouth?
    I would argue that 1% is still a 99% (or more) failure rate and if that many of your members/customers don’t care, you’ve just launched a negative campaign against yourself.
    2. I feel like the “blog” is merely the rotary phone. It’s the first social media communication device that ended up in mass production. We’re going to get more sophisticated as we move forward and I think the blog of today won’t look the same in a couple of years. It’s a new marketing discipline that we need to learn.
    Markets are conversations now. And markets are getting smarter faster. The conversation is going on whether you have a blog or not. Better to join in and learn the new language, than to remain on the sidelines watching your business erode.
    I’m at the Net Promoter Score conference right now (oh yes Ron – with my peeps) and the survey tool of NPS combined with social media can be powerful in generating loyalty. And loyalty equals repeat business. AND it doesn’t COST as much as a lame direct mail piece.
    I await my Shevled button (see Tim McAlpines post)
    http://www.currencymarketing.ca/index.cfm?method=blog.bloglist

  9. @ Shevlinator

    I didnt mean to say that a blog and a newsletter ARE the same thing (I would never say that).

    What I meant is that is how the credit union folks I talk to see the process of blogging. It is just another thing that needs a strategy developed, articles researched and written. Basically a bunch of work with questionable results.

    Denise is right that the current form of social media is very much the rotary phone (as personal geocities pages 15 years ago were the telegraph machine).

    I think that we will see some serious convergences take place. At CES this year we saw that big television manufacturers are incorporating wireless tech and rss readers built in. I would say that it may only be 3 or 4 years before tweets show up on my cell phone and feeds (from your subscribes blogs or myspace buddies or whatever) display on my cell phone “Home Page” as they are posted.

    I think most blog advocates see this trend emerging and are concerned that opportunities are being missed. Credit unions can always jump in later (like they did with websites) but they run the risk of being behind the pack trying to keep up instead of seeing how the technology works and innovating and leading. Look at how many really old and really bad credit union websites are out there.

    Good post and excellent conversation.

  10. Pingback: How many CUs should be blogging? « EverythingCU.com World 2.0 Adventure

  11. oh Denise, why do you antagonize Ron so?

    This issue got to me. Ron as always has given some extremely practical and wise advice.

    Now can we all meet at BarCampBankNewEngland in April and continue this discussion well into the night?

  12. @Wazaroff: I read your comment and shook my head. I figured if there was anyone out there who would read this post and say “been there, done that” it would have been you and your colleagues at Van City.

    @Gene: Don’t worry about me. I’ve come to learn that there are three types of dissenting commenters:

    1) Anonymous crackpots. these people don’t leave their real name, tell me I’m an idiot for saying something they disagree with, then go away and never come back.

    2) Logical, rational arguers. These people poke holes in my arguments with logic and evidence drawn from real world experience.

    3) Religious fanatics. I use the term “religious” here not to refer to organized religions like Christianity, Judaism, etc. but management religions. Just like no amount of proof that an atheist can offer is going to convince someone who believes in God that there is no God, management religious fanatics cling to their beliefs in the face of logic, reason, and evidence that dispute and disprove their claims.

    I will only respond to those who fall into bucket #2.

  13. I tend to agree: as much as I advocate blogging, I deal with a lot of small companies who don’t understand the time and energy that goes into it. Spending 1-2 hours/day blogging is no big deal for a college student, but when it comes out of your work day, it isn’t free; it’s a business expense and you have to weigh it against other forms of marketing.

    At the same time, even as someone entrenched in the online market, I tend to look at and use mailers, especially when it comes to local services. I’m surprised people are knocking a 1% return rate; I know we talk about 2%+ conversion online, but many people fall far below that. At the same time, I know dozens of small companies spending $1000s per month on PPC advertising with negative ROI.

    I’m not defending any one particular approach, but any time we start to over-evangelize and stop tracking results, we’re in trouble. It doesn’t matter whether our approach is cutting-edge or old-school.

  14. Pingback: How long does it take to blog? « The CU Skeptic

  15. @Ron – I can always learn a lot from a better marriage of strategy and blogs, and your conversation is doing just that. I am evolving my thinking about what a blog can do for Vancity, and this discussion provokes good thought, and confirms some of my directional thinking.

  16. Interesting…this thread made the leap into the Real World, when William brought it up when he was on stage as part of blogging panel at Net.Finance Innovations in NYC today.

    BTW…William Azaroff, Shari Storm and Trey Reeme really educated the crowd on the trials and tribulations of blogging. I think they probably scared more people away from blogging, but at least they brought a dose of realism to the conversation. Nice work.

  17. Pingback: Blahg Blahg Blahg Blahg-I’m sick of hearing about Blahgs! « EverythingCU.com World 2.0 Adventure

Comments are closed.