Financial Services Marketers Could Use A Beer

At the CUES Experience conference in Minneapolis this past week, conference attendees went offsite to visit firms with a reputation for delivering a great customer experience. I went on the tour of Summit Brewing in St. Paul.

No, I didn’t go just to sample the beer (I’ll keep telling myself that until I really believe it).

Founded in 1986, the brewery has cultivated a loyal following. It’s strategy and philosophy should resonate with financial services executives. Here are some of the comments from Summit CEO Mark Stutrud which resonated with me:

“We’re selfish — we only make what we like.” Stutrud takes pride in repeating his firm’s slogan: We only brew what we love to drink. Whatever’s left over, we sell.” There was a subtle message here that is quite subversive in today’s marketing world. With all the focus today on “voice of the customer” programs, Stutrud seems to be saying that he doesn’t listen to his retail customers. But that’s a wrong interpretation. Stutrud stresses his firms efforts to “be on the streets.” His staff spends a lot of time out in pubs talking to bar owners, bartenders, and end customers about how Summit’s beers.

Instead, the comment refers more to Summit’s adamant refusal to produce a lite beer — regardless of how many customers ask for it. He says it wouldn’t fit with Summit’s strategy or philosophy. I can’t help but wonder how many FIs have the clarity of strategic direction to make that kind of decision.

“We had to overcome the perception that local beer isn’t good.” Stutrud talked about the perception that existed in the market when he started the brewery that imported beers were better than domestic beers, and the [mistaken] impression that the big national brands had a higher quality product than the few smaller, microbreweries that existed.

Stutrud gives Jim Koch of Samuel Adams credit for the success of its ad campaigns that showed off the foreign awards it won, helping to change long-held perceptions about domestic beers. And Stutrud educated the group on how the very nature of brewing a more flavorful beer means that the shelf life of that beer is very short — in effect, showing that the big national brands can’t be higher quality.

The connection to financial services is perhaps the reverse. Smaller banks and CUs have long tried to show that smaller is better — that they’re able to provide better, more personalized service that bigger banks. But not every customer or prospect wants that. Smaller FIs still have work to do to prove to certain segments of customers that they can provide high quality advice and guidance, and a high level of operational effectiveness that larger firms may be perceived to provide.

“We look for people who are passionate about the product.” The people that Stutrud was alluding to were both employees and customers. There aren’t a lot of people working at Summit, and Stutrud wants people who do work there to not only be good at their job, but into the product. And it’s the same with the et of customers Summit tries to attract. In Stutrud’s words, it’s people with that “pub/beer culture.” It reminds of REI, where the folks who work there are not just knowledgeable about the products, but avid participants in the sports and activities those products represent. And it seems like I every time I go into my local REI store, I feel like I’m not worthy to be there, since all the other customers are accomplished hikers, snowshoers, or bikers.

Contrast that with your typical financial services firms. First off, walk into pretty much any bank branch and you’re lucky if you speak with someone who has more than four hours training on any particular product, or any knowledge of what the competitors’ products or rates are. On the customer side, the Summit lesson is something most FIs simply do not get. To engender strong loyalty to a bank or credit union, it takes customers who are deeply involved in the management of their financial lives. Nobody is going to care about your bank or credit union if they don’t first care about financial products and services.

Bottom line: Summit’s story offers lessons for FIs regarding strategic direction and commitment.

Final note: I hope that anybody that reads this post is sufficiently impressed that I recalled all this despite the glasses of Extra Pale Ale, Extra Special Bitter, and Porter that I tried.

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12 thoughts on “Financial Services Marketers Could Use A Beer

  1. There’s a smalltime brewer using a snappier version of Stutrud’s slogan: “We brew it, we drink it, we bottle what’s left.”

    Beer is sure a lot easier to get passionate about than financial services.

  2. Does this mean that there will now be “Pub”CampBank get-togethers?

  3. A few years ago, I had the experience of being in the branch of a big bank when another customer walked in and announced that there was a car being towed in the parking lot. In the minutes that followed it turned out to be one of the teller’s and it was being repoed. It severely damaged not only my trust in that particular teller to handle my transactions, but also in the bank as a whole.

    To bring it back to the beer: While Stutrud obviously wants employees that are passionate about beer, I certainly doubt they desire to hire drunkards or wish any of their employee to become alcoholics. I’d be interested to hear how they handle that balance and those situations. Is it any different than how those in the financial industry would handle an employee who is struggling financially with debt?

  4. @mark: You raise an interesting question, but I think you’re stretching it too far. In Summit’s case, there’s a clear difference between a beer connoisseur and an alcoholic. And working in the brewery does not lead someone to have a drinking problem anymore than working in a bank, and giving out loans all day leads someone to have their own debt problems.

  5. @Ron: I admit it is a bit of a stretch to compare the two, but to be clear, I’m NOT trying to assert that one who gives out loans all day may be more likely to have debt problems. (Or that one who works in a brewery is more prone to alcoholism.)

    I’m proposing that, with bank employees, the repercussions of poor financial situations, especially those that become public, _may_ have a larger negative effect than that of employees in other professions.

    In my mind, the image of a bank teller having her car repoed was more significant than if it had happened at Sears.

    Not sure I’m completely sold on the notion, but it’s out in the open for all to chew on. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I worked at a microbrewery in Colorado and we were all very passionate about our product. Unfortunately, the brewery down the street — New Belgium — had a marketing department and now everyone thinks Fat Tire is actually a good beer! Me, bitter? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Selling and talking about beer is a lot more fun than selling HELOCs and checking accounts. I’ve done both. I find it really hard to compare the two, actually.

  7. I think a firm’s committment to “only make what we like” is something that can be applied to any business including financial institutions. It is hard to get passionate about lame products and penalty fees.

  8. @Jim
    Agreed…but only if you can find a market for “what you like.” Or, using similar words to say something different, only if you can adequately market “what you like.” History is full of companies that stubbornly stuck with “what they liked” much to their own detriment. Just think about companies like Novell with NetWare. NetWare was far superior to Windows Server in a lot of ways but where are they now? Most people don’t realize that NetWare used to dominate the PC Networking space. How ’bout IBM with Token Ring? Or HP with 100VGAnyLAN. Both companies lost a lot of money with those endeavors only to acquiesce in the end and start making Ethernet products. My guess is, that was a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

  9. @Jim: Thx for commenting. I agree you about the applicability across businesses. I think what Stutrud was getting at was that he didn’t want somebody working there that was just looking for an easy 9-5 job cuz it was close to home. He wants even the people working on the assembly line to be into beer, and — I think very importantly — to be proud of the product.

    Is it really that much to ask that the people that banks/CUs hire to be on the front line have a real and personal interest in the world of finances? So that they know and understand what’s going in the industry? And not just parrot back what they learned in their 2.5 hrs of continuing education?

    @Kirk: I can’t help but wonder if a lot of “stubborn” firms stick with what they have because they’re in a state of denial about the changes and realities of the market, and not because they’re sticking with “what they like.”

  10. Pingback: REI and the credit union spirit | The Life and Times of a Credit Union Employee

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