I had the opportunity during CUNA’s Marketing & Business Development Council’s Conference to chat with Randy Harrington, the CEO and founder of Strategic Arts & Sciences. I’ve known Randy for multiple years and he truly is a genius when it comes to financial services, technology and strategic planning. One of Randy’s best traits is that he pushes and challenges your thinking.

We touched base on a variety of topics because I wanted to pick his brain regarding the state of credit unions and branding when it comes to strategy, technology and marketing. Below is our Q&A.


What is the next big thing in credit unions and banks?


The future is a bookend thing. On one side is people who can serve members end to end regardless of position (for example, not just lending). On the other side of the bookend are people who are available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. That kind of access is the opportunity.

For example, if you need a physician you need him when you need him (not just when he is available). It is a 24/7 mentality. It is happening whether we like it or not. That is the consumers’ expectation. It’s what the market expects now.

High performing financial institutions are going to have to pivot.


What tips would you give to improve strategic planning?


I’m seeing boards break free of the ritual of strategic planning. We have tended to worship the agenda. But honestly, the best strategic planning sessions are the ones where you have great conversations with the board. In general, we “over agenda” the session. There is certainly a place for an agenda but try to weave everything together rather than having it all segmented out.


What concerns you about credit unions and banks?


The big warning: boards tend to split demographically rather than over the issues. It’s okay and I don’t mind when boards disagree and are split on the issues. However, if those disagreements are rooted in demographic differences then that is a problem. For example, if the young people think one thing and the older guard thinks something else.

It’ a different world now. I worry that boards need to be fresh when oftentimes they are stale.


How are strategic planning and technology related?


It is about means and ends. Technology will be a means conversation all the time. But it’s often overstated. Sometimes in the production of the plan we say, “During phase one we’ll get our act together, then in phase two we’ll do something else.” There is no “there, there.” You are going to be reinvesting in technology forever. Not just in phase one.

Technology never stops. Don’t put it in some sort of phase thing.


What trends do you see in marketing?


The massive social push and the loss of saturation based media. In some ways we are going back to the future where referral based marketing is the ultimate expression of marketing success. If you get the referrals, that is the ultimate.

We also have to do “sense-based” marketing. By that I mean we need to make sense of the data. For example, rather than just looking at what your NPS score is and celebrating success or having concerns on failures, try to make sense of it. So if someone gave you a 9 or 10, why did they score you that way? We don’t need to be making sense, we need to be in the act of sense making. Instead of just looking at scores, go talk to consumers and ask them. Engage with them.


Of course, my favorite quote from Randy’s interview wasn’t in the context of a question but rather just a random comment he made. He said, “If I like your marketing, it probably sucks.”

His point was that he is not your target audience. I wonder how many marketing campaigns get killed because too many executives and board members don’t like it when in fact if they like the campaign it may not be reaching your intended niche.