In a recent Success Magazine article, Robin Sorenson, founder of Firehouse Subs, said, “All conversations were about how we presented the brand. We focused on things we were really passionate about and everything ended up working out.”

Think about that for a minute: every conversation (be it strategic or tactical) went back to the brand. As many experts will tell you, “branding is everything.”

Sorenson elaborated on their brand-centric strategy by saying “It’s really all about our culture and matching our brand.” He noted that in their line of business, competitors can duplicate many things, “but not the Firehouse brand.”

So when it comes to your strategic planning session, what are you talking about at your credit union or bank? Too much time is spent on the financials, past performance, data analysis and tactical plans. While those items certainly have their place if they become the centerpiece or dominant talking points your planning session is not focused on the right thing.

In other words, you can have many conversations during your planning session, but are they the right conversations?

Here are some ways to make sure branding becomes a central part of your planning process:

  • Ask “What is our financial institution about?”—Try answering this question is six words or less (small enough for a business card and large enough for a billboard). Look far and wide.
  • Answer “What makes us different?”—When answering this question, however, you CAN’T use words like “community,” “service,” and “people.” Those words are all over used and do not distinguish you from your competition. Dive deep and get real.
  • Conduct a pre-planning survey about branding—Survey board members, executives and front line staff about the current state of your brand. Get everyone’s feedback.
  • Make branding an agenda item—If it’s not on the list of talking points you can forget about it being discussed. Carve out time for an honest discussion.
  • Ensure marketing has a seat at the planning table—While everyone is involved in branding, marketing tends to drive the bus. If marketing is not involved in the strategic planning process then it’s likely that bus is going off a cliff.

In the planning process, your financial institution does indeed need to talk about everything (loans, service, products, long-range issues, competitor threats, positioning strategy, etc.).

However, if you are not making your brand one of your central discussion items, then you are wasting your time.