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“Talkers”: The First Step in Developing Word of Mouth for CDFIs

28 May

Welcome to the second post in our series about creating powerful word of mouth marketing for community development financial institutions. As we mentioned in our intro to WOM for CDFIs, using the Andy Sernovitz/Word of Mouth Marketing book approach to developing WOM, there are five key elements of developing word of mouth. Conveniently and alliteratively, they all start with the letter ‘T’:

  • Talkers: who will be most likely to talk about us (when given something worth talking about)?
  • Topics: what will these Talkers find so interesting that they can’t keep it to themselves?
  • Tools: what can we do to make sure the Talkers are able to share the Topics easily?
  • Taking Part: once we’ve spurred word of mouth with our Talkers about our Topics, how can we join the conversation?
  • Tracking: now that there is WOM about our CDFI, how can we keep track of it and measure its impact on our business?

Today we dive right in and start learning all about the first ‘T’ for CDFIs: Talkers

Who Are The Talkers for CDFIs?

Talkers are the people who are mostly likely to talk about you–IF we give them something that’s worthy of talking about.

Because of the many different audiences and stakeholder groups your CDFI communicates with, you likely have a long, varied list of Talkers you can focus on. And while the exact Talker groups will be different for each CDFI, there are definitely some common categories of potential Talkers to consider:

  • Loan applicants
  • Current borrowers
  • Your investors
  • Your partners
  • Media people (reporters, etc.)
  • Depositors (if you’re set up as a depository institution)
  • Lawmakers
  • Local movers and shakers
  • Your staff

Be as specific as possible in segmenting your list. For instance, you may choose to break “current borrowers” down into three smaller groups: small business borrowers, individual borrowers and affordable housing borrowers, because they have different attributes and perspectives.

And remember, companies don’t talk; people talk. In other words, Talkers are not organizations….they are individuals. The ACME Foundation isn’t a talker. But Susan, who does communications for ACME, might be. So even though you may categorically label Susan and Dan as “investors,” remember as you brainstorm that it’s Susan and Dan specifically who will be flapping their lips–not their company.

Action Step: Pick the top five Talker groups you feel are most relevant for your CDFI. Choose from the list above, or add in your own ideas.

Example:  After brainstorming your Talker list, you’ve identified the following five Talker groups as your highest priorities:

  1. Current small business borrowers
  2. Current individual consumer loan applicants
  3. Reporters who write about economics in your region
  4. Local city council members
  5. Your staff members

What Will They Talk About?

The next question you need to ask yourself is “what will this Talker group be likely to talk about?”  And while working to answer this question, you may likely find yourself asking another deeper question: “What matters to this Talker group? What do they care about?” It’s no surprise: the things that matter to them are the things they are most likely to talk to others about.

The answers to these two questions, of course, are different for each Talker group. So you must brainstorm specific answers to these questions one Talker group at a time.

Action Step: For each of the previously identified Talker groups, brainstorm what matters to each of them, and what they are likely to talk to their friends about.

Example: Current Small Business Borrowers.  From brainstorming, we think they care and are likely to talk to their friends about:

  • Growth: Increasing sales and growing the business
  • Vision: Seeing their dream come to life
  • Financial Stability: Being able to continue making their payments on time
  • Stress: Avoiding and managing the pressure

Where Can We Find Them?

The final question we must ask ourselves about Talkers for now is, “where can we find these Talkers?” In other words, how can you reach them and where can you interact with them? Depending on your Talker groups, the answer may include some of the following (and many others):

  • Publications
  • Local business events
  • Local social/community events
  • Out and about around town
  • At their home or place of business
  • Mail
  • Email
  • Online
  • In-person meetings with them

Action Step: For each of the previously identified Talker groups, brainstorm where you can find these people when you are ready to reach out to them with your word of mouth marketing efforts.

Example: Current Small Business Borrowers.  From brainstorming, you realize you can reach them in the following ways:

  • In the mail, via your regularly scheduled correspondence with them (statements, loan docs, etc.)
  • During regular in-person meetings with them to review their loan and or check in on their business
  • Email, in the email newsletter you send to borrowers
  • Local business events where they are networking

Next Article: “Topics”

The articles in our word of mouth marketing series are cumulative and sequential. Now that you’ve got a good understanding of Talkers, we can move on and talk about the second ‘T’: Topics: “What Can We Give These Talkers That They Will Want to Share?”

Introduction to Word of Mouth Marketing for CDFIs

29 Apr

This is the first post in an extensive series of about the very important topic of word of mouth (WOM) marketing for CDFIs.  In this series of posts, we will discuss what word of mouth is, how to develop buzzworthiness, remarkability and WOM-friendliness, and generally getting other people to do your CDFI marketing for you–for free!

[Word of Mouth Marketing a topic near and dear to our hearts here at CBC. In fact, a few years ago we created a separate brand for our WOM work here at CBC, and we called it PSST!]  

word of mouth marketing for CDFIs

What is Word of Mouth for CDFIs?

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association defines word of mouth quite simply:

Someone sharing something interesting with someone else

And it’s indeed really that simple. But while it’s simple, it’s not necessarily easy to create. For CDFIs, word of mouth is several things:

  • Existing borrowers telling prospective borrowers about you
  • Foundations telling their peers about you
  • A bank sending you a lead to a potential borrower
  • Employees telling their friends about you
  • Government policy makers spreading your message
  • And more–anytime someone is spreading your message on your behalf!

OK, Then What is Word of Mouth Marketing for CDFIs?

If we understand the definition of word of mouth, then what is word of mouth marketing as it relates to CDFIs?  We like to define word of mouth marketing as Andy Sernovitz (sort of considered the father of the formalized word of mouth marketing industry) has defined it:

Giving people giving people a reason to talk about you, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.

So what does that mean for CDFIs? It means several things:

  • Making our ‘WHY’, vision and mission compelling and clear
  • Communicating our story in a way that is “sticky” and memorable–making it easy for others to retell it
  • Creating experiences for borrowers, employees, partners, investors and more that they cannot stop talking about
  • Joining the conversation that you’ve sparked
  • And more

Make no mistake: word of mouth marketing is a discipline all its own–it has its own “science” and techniques that make it work. It’s not about “being nice to people,” or “doing something silly so it will go viral.” Instead, it’s about strategically identifying what things others will find impossible to keep to themselves, and then giving them this share-worthy message in an easily sharable format.

Why is Word of Mouth So Important for CDFIs?

To be honest, word of mouth is incredibly important for any company or organization. Yet, most of these organizations are really not very good at it. Financial institutions and CDFIs specifically are no exception. But the good news is word of mouth marketing can be learned.

CDFIs have important stories to tell, and important missions to fulfill. With that in mind, CDFIs deserve word of mouth arguably more than any other type of organization. Yet, word of mouth is not granted by a higher power to the most deserving; it’s a reward for those organizations who earn it. Word of mouth is “earned media.”

Speaking of “earned media,” one of the benefits of word of mouth is that it doesn’t cost a lot of money; it does, however, cost a lot of energy and hard work. This is a good situation for CDFIs, who often don’t have a ton of money to work with–but the trade-off is investing greater energy in becoming buzz worthy.

Word of mouth is also more powerful than traditional marketing. Why? Because people trust and believe the recommendations and referrals they get from their friends and colleagues far more than they trust and believe paid marketing messages! Reflect on your experiences as a consumer and you will quickly realize how true this is. If your best friends tells you “Chez Delish is amazing!” it carries a lot more weight than if you see an ad from Chez Delish that says “we are amazing!”

There are many benefits of word of mouth marketing, and we will continue to explore them throughout this series.

What Are the Elements of Word of Mouth Marketing for CDFIs?

To make this series of posts about WOM for CDFIs as clear and helpful as possible, we will organize our posts around the “5 T’s” that Andy Sernovitz explains in his great book, Word of Mouth Marketing. These 5 T’s provide a simple, clear and cumulative framework for understanding how word of mouth works. Here is a quick preview:

Talkers: who will be most likely to talk about us (when given something worth talking about)?

Topics: what will these Talkers find so interesting that they can’t keep it to themselves?

Tools:  what can we do to make sure the Talkers are able to share the Topics easily?

Taking Part: once we’ve spurred word of mouth with our Talkers about our Topics, how can we join the conversation?

Tracking: now that there is WOM about our CDFI, how can we keep track of it and measure its impact on our business?

Recommended WOM Reading for CDFIs

Upcoming posts will be published one at a time starting in the very near future! In the meantime, if you are already intrigued by word of mouth marketing for your CDFI (and we hope you are!), here is some excellent recommended reading and resources you can explore to get a head start! Also, of course you can always contact us to chat about helping spark word of mouth marketing at your CDFI.

Word of mouth marketing for CDFIsWord of Mouth Marketing, by Andy Sernovitz

 Purple Cow, by Seth Godin

Free Prize Inside, by Seth Godin

 Likeable Business, by Dave Kerpen

Made to StickMade to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath


Word of Mouth Marketing Association

CDFI Brand Awareness vs. Brand Clarity

22 Apr

Which of the following would you rather have at your CDFI?

  1. MORE people and organizations know ABOUT you
  2. The same number of people and organizations know about you, but UNDERSTAND your brand BETTER?

If you answered #1, you’re wishing for brand awareness. If you went with #2, you voted for brand clarity.

It turns out these are actually two very different things. Each is helpful and important, but for different reasons and in different ways. Let’s explore. Then–guess what–we’ll give you our take!

The Benefits of CDFI Brand Awareness

It’s not uncommon to hear people (at any company) say “we just need to get our name out there.” And at first glance, that makes perfect sense–if people don’t know you exist, they certainly can’t buy your product, refer you leads or become your advocate.  But implied in this comment is a belief that “our brand/product is great, clear and worth paying attention to…we just need to broadcast this perfect message further.” And that’s where the fallacy usually exists. In many cases, the truth is that awareness is low for many organizations because the message is not really WORTH being aware off.

So how do you create a message that’s worthy of awareness? Well, it takes two steps:

  1. Develop a high level of brand clarity (the subject of the next section)
  2. Make the message word-of-mouth-friendly (the subject of our next post)

The benefit of CDFI brand awareness is fairly obvious: when your name is familiar to others, it’s easier to start a dialog with them. One of the risky benefits of brand awareness, however, is that it tends to make you feel good–we all like to discover that we are widely known–and lulls you into thinking that broad awareness will automatically make you successful. Not necessarily the case.

The Benefits of CDFI Brand Clarity

Brand clarity is when a CDFI brand stands for something clear and distinct, and people know EXACTLY what that is. To be clear (pun intended), it doesn’t mean everyone LIKES that brand…it just means that the attributes of the brand are understood without question. As an example, think of Harley-Davidson. Everybody knows exactly what that brand stands for: rebellion, freedom and bad-assness. And while that brand is understood by everyone (it has a high level of clarity), it’s not loved by everyone (including me). It polarizes…which for a brand is a very good thing.

Brand clarity is critical in business–whether for-profit or not-for-profit. When people understand exactly what your brand stands for, they can determine quickly and easily if that brand is something they align with…or not.  Otherwise, without brand clarity you’re left with a whole lot of unclear, uninspired and confused people.

In the CDFI world, brand clarity means your brand must be distinctly its own. While you no doubt share a passion for community development with your fellow CDFIs, this passion is not enough to qualify as brand clarity for your organization. The important question is, “what is OUR unique, one-of-a-kind brand DNA? What is it that makes us who we are…unlike even other CDFIs?” Once we can answer that, we can begin to establish brand clarity.

Our Take: Focus First on Brand Clarity at Your CDFI

If you haven’t noticed yet, we believe CDFIs will be more successful if they focus first and foremost on brand clarity. Once the brand is clear and people “get it,” then it’s time to scale up awareness. But increasing awareness before enhancing brand clarity is not very useful.

The truth is, many companies have high levels of brand awareness–but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily strong brands. Take, for instance, US Bank, a huge company that has tremendous brand awareness (who hasn’t heard of US Bank, after all?). But what would you say their brand stands for? What are the personality attributes you associate with that brand? Good luck answering that one. I study financial brands for a living, and I can’t even tell you.

By comparison, take a look at USAA. You may or may not know about USAA…their brand awareness is high, but not ubiquitous. However, if you know of USAA, you definitely know what their brand stands for: patriotism and the pride of national service.  They are well in touch with their brand, and they realize that while it’s not for everyone, it’s really powerfully connected to veterans and their families. The brand’s attributes are clear, and USAA and its veterans stand for the same thing.

Conclusion: Brand Clarity Comes First for CDFIs

If all you needed was to create more brand awareness, you could solve that problem easily: spend more money on marketing to spread your message further; buy more ads. But in almost every case we’ve seen, the real issue is not brand awareness as much as it’s brand clarity. Take the time to build a clearer, more distinct and distinguishable brand, and the people who are aware of you will understand what your brand stands for without a doubt. Once you’ve achieved that, then go and find more of those people.