James Robert Lay is so confident that humanized digital marketing and lead generation is the way of the future, he’s bet everything on it.
For more than a decade the team at PTP New Media, now CU Grow, has been focused on helping credit unions destroy the box. But a little more than one year ago, the CEO began questioning the role his company has been playing.
“We’ve had a lot of fun and success generating over 150,000 leads for credit unions over the years, but a big challenge I saw is we could keep doing what we do. At the end of the day all roads lead back to digital,” Lay said. “We’ve had some fantastic growth, but we were becoming a full service agency, and it was time to take a step back and evaluate where we want to go.”
He credits a 2012 CU Water Cooler session by David Baker, principal of management consulting firm ReCourses Inc., as the catalyst for the shift in his company’s journey. Baker advised credit unions to think of themselves as being in the expertise business rather than just the service business. Lay brought Baker in to challenge everything from perspective to position, and the process revealed that to be aligned with Lay’s vision and beliefs, the company had to refocus on its niche and digital roots.
“We started with digital and lead generation, but over the years we lost our way and became a part of the problem,” Lay said. “We’d been providing this set of tools like a website, marketing campaign, referral program etc., but were not taking the time to say how does all this really connect? It’s about challenging credit unions to explore how to align people, product and process in a digital economy in a framework that is relevant and sustainable.”
He likened the past approach to a hardware store selling tools and materials to build a fence.
“You get home with everything, but unless you have the knowledge on how to build it, you have to get someone else to build it,” Lay said. “I was tired of just delivering tools. When you look at the shift in consumers’ buying behaviors, it’s not enough to just get the lead in but also have a framework in place that nurtures that lead over time. Just because a person didn’t take action doesn’t mean that is a dead lead. Maybe the time wasn’t right. With a humanized digital process, content and products can be changed based on a person’s profile.”
Essentially every interaction that individual makes helps build a richer, more nuanced profile, he said. It results not only in a highly personalized experience online or at the branch, but also provides an “in” when the timing is right for the consumer.
“We became CU Grow because we believe communities united around a common purpose, both offline and online, grow together,” said Lay. “Credit unions simply talking about great rates and service is not a sustainable business model. Credit unions can be the foundation that connects families of consumers and local businesses, and helps build local economic growth.”
He added it’s not about features but value.
“When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone he emphasized that in this one device you’ll have a music player, the ability to communicate with others and connect to the Internet. He gave three simple position statements based on consumer benefits and value. When Microsoft came out with its Windows phone, the focus was just on new features,” Lay said. “It’s about looking at how everything fits in the bigger picture and not just marking off a checklist of goals but moving the needle. That’s our focus and I’ll be honest; we’ve had to part ways with a few credit unions this year because they weren’t going to be a viable fit for us.”
Living the mantra he delivers of not being all things to everyone, Lay even has a survey on his site for potential clients to determine if CU Grow will be a match. In addition, the credit union’s investment for each phase is clearly posted online, and no apologies are made for adhering to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work week.
“It’s so funny we don’t like to talk about money, yet we work in the money business,” Lay said. “This entire process of change over the past nine to 12 months has been the scariest time in my professional life. We’ve had to scale back a little to get focused. This is the most defined we’ve ever been, so I’m all in.”