Act Like a Shark: Keep Moving

Businesses are like sharks: If they don’t move, they die.

April 6, 2011

Businesses are like sharks: If they don’t move, they die.

Stagnant credit unions, or those “at rest,” risk suffering a similar fate.

That’s one reason the theme of this year’s CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference was “innovation.”

You may think you don't have enough time, money, or people to innovate. That’s not necessarily true.

“Less” can be a good thing. Limited resources can force us to be more creative.

You may think of innovation as an extreme, equating it with invention. But radical innovation isn’t required. Incremental innovation is.

Consider this definition of innovation from Market Insights:

“Innovation is a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental and emergent or radical and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations.”

By this definition, innovation can be enormous or miniscule. Either way, credit unions must innovate to survive.

Some thoughts to consider about innovation:

Move somewhere else

Some competitive strategies restrict marketers and business development professionals to frame their market in traditional, competitive terms—anchoring them to the same structure, system, and markets as their competitors.

A better strategy may be to go where others aren’t.

Sam Walton's profitable strategy for Wal-Mart, for example, was to go where no competitor would dream of going: To towns seemingly too small to support a large discount store.

This “go where they aren’t” strategy also fueled McGladrey & Pullen, one of the nation's largest accounting firms. With Big Six firms dominating America's largest cities, McGladrey focused on being the only national accounting firm in much smaller cities.

Southwest Airlines followed a similar strategy and redefined its market.

Ponder this: Are you anchored by traditional “competitive strategies?”

Next: What business are you really in?

What business are you really in?

In the financial services industry, the logical reasons members turn to us—our products, services, and convenience—are just the beginning of potential “relationships.”

Financial services are a commodity where, to a degree, certain products, services, and conveniences are expected.

For years, those in the fast-food industry thought they sold food. Then McDonald’s declared people weren't buying hamburgers, they were buying an experience.

Burger King disagreed. They knew they had a unique point of difference and pummeled McDonald's with, “We're flame broiled, not fried.” But Burger King's sales didn't increase.

Why? Because McDonald's was right: Fast-food hamburger restaurants aren’t in the burger business., a billion-dollar online shoe retailer, understands that customers don’t come to them to buy shoes. Rather, customers look to Zappos to solve problems, which is exactly what they do while having a ton of fun.

And let’s remember the words of Henry Ford: “If I'd listened to customers, I'd have given them a faster horse.”

Ponder this: Are you fulfilling members' needs or fulfilling their dreams? Do you know the difference?

Dare to fail to succeed

Few phobias are more powerful and widespread than the fear of failure. But consider that:

  • America’s best pro basketball teams lose the basketball every three minutes without taking a shot;
  • The world champion in baseball has to win only 57% of its championship games; and
  • Golfing legend Ben Hogan once said that in 18 holes, he usually hit two or three balls exactly as planned.

If you're doing anything worthwhile, you'll encounter failure. Understanding this will make it easier to move forward.

Make a move to do something. Monitor the results. Make adjustments along the way.

If you don’t succeed that time, simply click “reset” and move forward with more experience.

Ponder this: Will you dare to fail to pave the way for success?

Next: Just keep swimming

Just keep swimming

Too often we forget that progress is made in stretches. We don't have to hit a home run to reach home plate.

Even small advances get us where we need to go. The key is to step up, make a decision, and execute.

The idea that little things can provide big effects was tested in 1963 with what’s called the Butterfly Effect.

The question? Could the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Singapore affect a hurricane in North Carolina? The answer? Yes.

Ponder this: Are you consistently making tiny decisions that have the potential to produce enormous, though sometimes distant, effects?

Don't fail to innovate

Credit unions can't afford to be like many other industries—asleep and content with how things have always been.

In the past, change hasn’t been required to realize success. This is no longer the case.

Failure to innovate will not lead to death overnight—but it will over time.

Innovation is about reworking how your credit union does things, incrementally or radically. It’s about keeping pace as to not become irrelevant. It’s about sensing and responding.

It’s about survival.

MICHELLE HUNTER is senior vice president, marketing and development, for Credit Union of Southern California and vice chair of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council.