Difference - 1The short answer to the title’s question (how to make your financial institution different) is to read the book Difference by Bernadette Jiwa. The book’s subtitle captures the essence of what the author strives to achieve: a one-page method for reimaging your business and reinventing your marketing.

Does your credit union’s or bank’s marketing and branding need to be different? If so, then reading (and doing the accompanying “difference map”) offers a starter-kit for creating such difference. One of the best things about the book is that it is a quick read. But don’t mistake quick for lightweight. Difference offers six key areas worth exploring: your principles, your purpose, your people, your perception and your product. She also gives you that one-page tool for creating a difference map (that alone is worth the price of the book).


Below are some of the key points Jiwa makes and how we can apply them.


(1)    It isn’t the person with best idea who wins; it’s the person who has the greatest understanding of what really matters to people.

You have to matter to your target audience. If you don’t they will ignore you. When we focus on differentiating ourselves in the marketplace, we naturally focus on our competition: how we can be different from them. Jiwa argues you don’t have to create new products (for example, Starbucks didn’t create coffee) but you do have to create new experiences of using the products.

  • Application: During your next strategic session (either with your senior team or board) ask “when it comes to financial products and services, what really matter to people?” Then formulate your strategy and tactics around your answer.

(2)    You can’t begin to tell a story without understanding why that story should matter to people you want to serve

Similar to the above point, it’s all about people. The people you are trying to reach. Jiwa makes the point that you can’t build a great business just by being different. She says, “You need to create ideas and experiences that give people reasons to care and to belong, not just reasons to choose.”

  • Application: Tell more stories in your marketing. But don’t tell a story just to tell a story. Make sure the story relates to your target audience. Also explore this question, “What is the experience like to do business with our credit union or bank?”


(3)    Marketing is not a department, it’s the story of how we create difference for our customers

This is so true: people see marketing as a department. It’s not. Marketing is a philosophy on how you should run your financial institution. In other words, marketing is much more about emotion. It’s about changing how people feel.

  • Application: Make sure marketing is a key strategic function inside your bank or credit union. Beyond that, get marketing to permeate the entire organization.  Focus your marketing on feelings, not just facts and figures.

(4)    Your purpose is not what you do, but why you do it

I get many questions about “what’s the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. Jiwa says it better than I ever could: your vision (purpose) is why you exist. Your mission is how you deliver that vision.

  • Application: Don’t let that 20-year old outdated vision or mission statement sit on a wall somewhere. Rather, spend time developing a killer vision statement that actually means something to you, your employees and consumers. If you need more information on how those vision statements help financial institutions, check out my post on “While Most Vision Statements Fall Short.”

Those are just four points Jiwa makes that helps financial institutions. There are several other ideas I highlighted in the book that will help your credit union or bank as well. And as noted above, completing the “Difference Map” is something every financial institution should do.

To gain a full understanding of The Difference Map and how it works, be sure to read Difference.