The recent THINK Conference staged by CO-OP Financial Services in Florida included a wide range of opinions and approaches about how to do better in business.
In this case, the business is credit unions. Here is a roundup of some of those speakers and an encapsulation of the ideas they presented.
What Jeff Baxter, guitarist with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, brought to his later career in national security was creativity and a fresh set of eyes. When invited to play the bad guy in a war game against the U.S., he took out the ranking officer on the mission by using Photoshop to send “disfigured” pictures of participants to their spouses. A colonel was so outraged, he actually took a swing at Baxter and at that point the officer was out.
As the war game went on, he destroyed the oil in the Middle Eastern country he was representing and at that point the Japanese threatened to pull out of U.S. Treasuries. Game over.
Jeff Norris, software systems supervisor with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says that vision, risk taking and commitment each impact creativity.
For example, Norris outlined several people who had been involved in the invention of the telephone during his talk on CO-OP’s THINK conference. Obviously, Alexander Graham Bell deserved credit for the telephone but also his wife, Mabel, for recognizing when it was time for the big reveal and Gardner Hubbard, who financed its development despite his doubts.
It’s important to remain open to the impulse of creativity even when it appears completely counterintuitive, Norris explained. For example, NASA explored rocket-style ships that could have kept humans from reaching the moon, but a group of mavericks advocated for rockets that shed parts of themselves at different times during the trip, which seemed bizarre at the time but led to the success of the mission.
By studying statistics rather than relying too much on a gut feeling, Billy Beane, general manager with the Oakland Athletics, changed the world of baseball management. The A’s revenue could not support the big salaries MLB stars were demanding so the team began looking at different bits of data than traditionally used, such as how often a batter gets on base versus his home runs; it turned out those who merely got on base crossed home plate more often than the big hitters. The team sought out players who got on base but might have been weaker in other areas and signed them relatively inexpensively.
“One of the most important things I learned was that the numbers do not lie and that if you trust the numbers they will work,” Beane said.
Look for Partnerships
Queen Elizabeth I strung suitors along to balance foreign powers and preserve peace for England. The queen used partnerships to keep from committing her own resources, Norris explained.
“The question should not be how can I build this, whatever this might be,” Norris said. “The question should be, how can I avoid building this. Can I purchase it, outsource it, or develop it in another way that allows us to preserve our own limited number or resources?”
Make Negatives Work for You
Doug Rauch, former CEO of Trader Joes, explained during his presentation to CO-OP’s THINK conference that it was founded to compete with 7-Eleven stores in California but the intense competition forced it to evolve toward a supermarket chain. But in competing with other supermarket chains, it had to be different. Trader Joes reinvented what shoppers thought of as generic or store brands as more sophisticated private-label products.
Trader Joes also has fun with the everyday necessities with in-store signage designed based on locality, such as a beach theme. It also pushed managers out of back offices and onto the floor to ensure they were placed squarely in front of customers’ needs.
Trust = Cult Brand
Trust has to be cultivated over time. Alexis Maybank, founding CEO of Gilt Groupe, knows a good deal about that. The online outfit trades on exclusivity marketing to excite consumers by allowing shoppers to only by merchandise for a couple of hours a day and changes its inventory quickly to incite competition. Gilt then uses the consumer data generated to further personalize the online shopping experience. It has become one of the most trusted consumer brands–a cult brand–on the Internet by personalizing the seemingly impersonal.
“Credit unions can become that to consumers that financial bond, that link, so we’re a very, very important part of their lives,” CO-OP President/CEO Stan Hollen said in this Credit Union Times video. But first credit unions must overcome their lack of recognition among consumers by investing in advertising and public relations to better tell their very positive story and catapult the industry into a cult brand.
While consumer awareness of credit unions is nudging upward, it’s still dismal. Neil Goldman, senior partner at Goldman Consulting and Strategy at THINK, shared what his firm heard in a series of focus groups with consumers who are not credit union members, and it wasn’t pretty. Many didn’t know what credit unions were or had negative impressions of them. “If you’re not even in the consideration set, the value you present is irrelevant,” he stated.
He suggested that credit unions use some sort of identifying symbol in their marketing and signage that consumers can use to identify credit unions.
With Beane’s A’s, no one paid attention to what they were doing until the Boston Red Sox started adopting it. Once the bigger team gave the idea the nod, others started, too. Credit unions are a small part of the financial services industry, but collectively they’re the size of a very large bank, so they can be the big guys—the Red Sox. And maybe then people will pay attention. Credit unions already have members’ trust, but will they come together to build the cult brand?