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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Places To Go, People To See

Shameless plugs for upcoming events you should be at:

BarCampBankNE. April 5 at America‚Äôs Credit Union Museum in Manchester, NH. The un-conference conference. I’m really looking forward to finally participating in one of these. Wondering if I’ll be able to contain my tendencies toward being overtly opinionated and confrontational. We’ve got 12 people registered so far — I’m sure there’s room for more.

Finovate. April 29 in San Francisco. Thirty-eight firms exhibiting, two spots left. I have no doubt that Jim Bruene will fill those spots — and every one of the seats reserved for attendees. If you’re attending, please let me know. There’s something going in SF that night that I’m planning to go (and really excited about) — wanted to see if I could round up a few people to go to this with me.

CUES Experience. May 13-16 in Minneapolis. Yes, it starts to get warm in Minneapolis by mid-May. Which doesn’t matter, because the speaker list and agenda on this conference is hot. Highlights: Off-site visits to Pixel Farm Interactive, Summit Brewing Company, and Minnesota Twins. Also to the Mall of America, but I’m not sure how that won’t become a shopping excursion.

Forum CU/Trabian Partnership Symposium. October 1-2 in Fishers, IN. The 2007 Partnership Symposium was so good that I begged Forum to let me come this year. They’re letting me host, which means interviewing speakers after their presentation, facilitating discussion, making sure things stay on track (or not, if that’s better). I promise there will be no “Zuckerberg@SXSW” like sessions here! This conference will include the unveiling of the CU Skeptic. I’m hoping I can be the one to pull the bag off his head.

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