Who knew that the little boy who’d started a newspaper or held a neighborhood carnival where he could sell his Quick Draw McGraw and other toys would be a financial marketing strategist and a top industry consultant? Well, actually Mark Weber, president/CEO of Weber Marketing Group, did-sort of.
“It’s been a very fortuitous journey, full of twists and turns, and while I may not have known my exact career path, I always knew the entrepreneurial spirit was just part of my DNA,” said Weber.
While making a living in Seattle in the restaurant industry selling food and doing marketing consulting and design for a financial service company, he saw an ad for an assistant vice president at a credit union. He made it down to the final two, and the position went to someone else.
“So the person who hired the other guy called to let me know. I wrote the better plan but he thought I would be better heading marketing at Washington Credit Union, and that was the start of my credit union career,” said Weber. “I was dropped into it and was in way over my head, but what a fun experience.”
He was then recruited into the banking world and in rolling out retail sales merchandising, he recognized early on in the 1980s the importance of a sales culture. When the Washington division of Gibraltar Savings Bank, which at the time was an $800 million bank with seven branches, was sold off and merged into Pacific Security Bank, his boss at the time took him out to lunch and told Weber, at age 29, to start his own agency, and he’d be his first client.
“At the time they were the 10th largest in the country at the peak of the savings and loan debacle and made some bad loans in Texas. Over 120 people were laid off. It was hard to see what became of this great organization with an incredible culture,” said Weber. “I told him he was nuts, no way, then decided to take his advice and helped him raise $12 million to launch a new bank and that was the start of my agency.”
So began the seeds for Weber Marketing Group. Recognizing that the traditional advertising and media driven model was not the wave of the future, Weber focused on strategically helping organizations internally in transforming their culture and building tools to promote growth.
“Sales culture branding wasn’t on the tip of anyone’s tongue 23 years ago,” said Weber. “This idea of credit unions wanting to be a true retail service oriented brand, that was the motivation to help move the bar on business not based on graphic design or relegated to brochures, but we really at the core focus on strategy first and implementation second.”
Drawing on his experiences over the years, he wanted his firm to be an environment of learning, understanding and engagement that gives back by making a difference in the world. Employees are encouraged to plug into their passions volunteer, teach and lend their talents within local communities. In addition to offering countless white papers and doing pro bono work for a variety of nonprofit and small organizations, Weber Marketing group has been busy working with Agros International, which helps the rural poor in Central and Latin America. For him it’s simply about doing good for others in need.
“We tend to gravitate to helping those organizations willing to dig deep into their culture, core messaging and are open to a complete rebrand, that is where we can have the greatest impact as an organization and my passion is to take on impossible jobs” joked Weber. “Volunteering, my parents gave me that from a young age and is something I teach my kids as well. It’s about what’s the message going to be at your funeral service. Will it be you made a lot of money and bought lots of stuff or that your built relationships, made a difference in the lives of the poor and helped those much less fortunate?”
In the industry for 25 years, Weber said the top branding/marketing challenges for credit unions boils down to confusion about what they are coupled with low awareness, lack of a distinctive or relevant brand and striking the balance of a need for growth and earnings.
“The question is can credit unions find the true cooperative sense of where they began 100 years ago and be the best, most relevant co-op you can be in today’s world,” said Weber. “That means being the best at something you absolutely can deliver uniquely on.”
He added that with many credit unions still struggling with young member growth, it has never been more important to distinguish themselves in a meaningful way.
“If credit unions aren’t bringing those young people into the fold, not growing single-service members into deeper relationships, making it clear that my credit union is a viable alternative to the bank across the street, are they putting themselves in a position looking out 20 years from now where they are aging themselves way too fast,” said Weber. “If you think about it, that’s what happened to the savings and loan industry, it aged itself out of existence with wrong suite of products, services and positioning.”
That means going beyond just offering good service or being nice to members.
“Trade great experience for good service. When you say good service, there tends to just be a focus on the branch. And the reality now for millions of people is their mobile wallet, so the minute we settle for just delivering good service we’re dead,” said Weber. “The thing about great experiences is that it is not just locked into service alone. Experience is technology, the simplicity of a process, thinking about ways to make banking easier, less of a chore, so I’d focus on that in place of just good service.”
He also believes that the vast majority of credit unions won’t ever be true sales cultures.
“It’s not in their DNA, at core not able to transition the culture, people and organization into a focused sales culture that’s sustainable,” said Weber. “The challenge and opportunity is to build a brand focused organization and when you think about living out a brand it can get to the sale. Focus on the experience, quality of member relations by asking good questions about their lives, what matters to them and the way they bank. Organizations that understand culture, building what they have today, that embrace, understand and are driven by core value, can deliver a relevant brand experience that’s better, richer, faster and more tailored. In the absence of a well-focused brand, all you are left with is being nice, and rarely have I walked into bank branch where they weren’t nice.”