“When I hear about a company moving backwards, I get excited.”
—Joey Reiman, CEO of
BrightHouse, in the book Grow, by Jim Stengel

Every bank or credit union wants to grow. Grow loans. Grow deposits. Grow checking accounts. That growth focus often means focusing on the future. What strategies and tactics are going to work in the coming months, quarters and years? In fact, future forward momentum is so important, financial institutions even carve out time in their busy calendar to conduct strategic planning sessions on a regular basis. Why? To focus on the future.

But what if one of the best ways to move forward was to look backwards?

The reality is we can learn a great deal about the future by studying the past. In fact, if you want your marketing, branding and strategic planning to improve, then take a look back. Here are four ways to look backwards:

  • Study your legacy—This is absolutely critical when building your brand (or when you are rebranding your financial institution). Who founded your credit union or bank and why did they start it? Examining your roots is critical for growth. For example, when we do name changes for our clients we also do a deep dive into their history. You never ditch your legacy, you build on it.
  • Study your successes—This is paramount when you want to improve your marketing. “What was the best marketing campaign you ever did?” is a great question to ask. However, a deeper analysis will examine what aspects (terms, creative, message, etc.) of the campaign made it successful. Success is actually a trap because it can lead to complacency. You never over celebrate your successes, you built on them.
  • Study your defeats—When playing baseball as a kid there were times when I would muff a pitch and I would want a “do-over.” Do you ever want a “do-over” in your marketing campaigns? In all honesty, I learned more from my mistakes as a marketer than from my successes. For example, I famously made all the tellers wear hardhats during a particular campaign because the hard hats went with the construction theme campaign. After several dirty looks and a botched promotion I learned the valuable lesson of gaining staff buy-in to wacky ideas. You never wallow in defeat, you learn from it.
  • Study past companies—This type of analysis (reviewing other organizations) should play a critical role in your strategic planning process. For example, during your next planning session pick out one or two companies that have had monumental strategic failures (Blockbuster) or success (Apple) and ask, “what can we learn from these case studies?” As philosopher George Santayana once famously said, “Those that cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” You never avoid studying others, you analyze them.

Focusing on the future requires discipline. Just make sure that when you are looking into the future you don’t forget to take a look back.