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July 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 7
by Stephanie Schwenn Sebring

Make sure your point of sale and branch design work together.

arrows pointing up with a colorful backgroundWhich came first: branch design, brand, or point-of-sale strategy? All are different, but all are clearly and uniquely intertwined. One just can’t work well without the other. CUs, without effective branch design or branding that captures their culture, conveyed by fresh point- of-sale displays, could risk a loss in member relationships and share of wallet.

Some, like Investopedia.com, call the point of sale the place where sales are made. An early originator of POS, the venerable Anheuser-Busch began using integrated marketing schemes in taverns as far back as 1852. POS included wall hangings, decorative beer trays, and coordinated graphics.

Today marketers persist in finding new ways to bring attention to their own unique selling spaces. Posters, banners, brochures, and videos are popular tools. Lighting, positioning of teller queues, and branch design are also important. Ultimately, how a CU develops its own POS strategy is defined by member needs.

“It’s about maximizing every opportunity,” says Paul Seibert, CMC, VP/financial design at CUES Supplier member EHS Design, 2007 CUES Supplier of the Year, Seattle. “Members are visiting the branch less often. Technology and the pace of life have replaced much of our face-to-face time.” As a result, CUs must make every interaction count.

Find That Million Dollar Point

Every retail environment has one­—the customer’s million dollar focal point. For a CU, it’s the optimal point of member focus. It’s the place the eye picks first, a spot that one gravitates toward. Is it always obvious? Sometimes, but certainly not always.  It is imperative, however, for a CU to find that point and exploit it­—use it to the hilt as a way to connect with members and communicate brand.

According to Seibert, the million dollar point can be found by plotting the members’ path through the branch, then defining primary locations that draw their attention, such as a person or particular service (for example, the cash handling or member waiting area). There are also points along the path where members naturally look for navigation and specific interest. 

Typically these points are in close proximity to the path so the experience is one-to-one rather than a group experience. Lesser points radiate from the path and provide opportunities as well. For example, the area behind the teller counter is valuable because of dwell time, member focus on who is next, and the ability of video to connect at a distance.

Tell Your Story
POS should not only engage the member and connect the brand, but also tell a story. “Branches are often designed with marketing as an afterthought,” says Seibert. “At EHS, we suggest just the opposite. We propose you engineer the branch to create the member experience where merchandising and POS are seamlessly connected.” Merchandising, when created as part of branch design, becomes part of the story and is much more effective.

Well-crafted POS should also deliver a distinct and powerful message. “Have it engage your audience in a visceral, emotive way,” continues Seibert. It’s up
to the marketer to determine and fine-tune this message and ensure it’s delivered every day.

A Relationship Generator  
Key to POS success is for the marketer to fully understand and embrace branch dynamics, including the needs of its target market and the staff serving it. Thus, properly designed POS can improve branch flow and efficiency.

POS displays along the members’ path should guide them through an engineered experience. This includes members passing next to key messaging areas and three-dimensional displays. If the POS display invites members to stop and consider the offering, the path should include an “eddy-out” where they can readily step to the side to engage the POS.

Correct POS placement can also enhance efficiency by using compact designs that focus on messaging, keeping the experience condensed and powerful.

Implications are varied and wide-ranging, but the marketer should fully understand how branch design makes an office both productive and a relationship generator.

When planning the branch around member needs, consider several factors. Who is the CU’s target audience? How will staff interact with members? What is the desired branch layout? This focus enables the CU to determine how members want and need to be served and choose the appropriate business model.

“POS should be fluid and flexible, with change built right into the design,” adds Seibert.

Brand Ambassadors
Staff are a potent resource and the support system for any successful CU. “They also represent and deliver your brand,” says CUES member Roy MacKinnon, CCE, VP/marketing for $1.1 billion/70,000-member First Entertainment Credit Union, Hollywood, Calif. Effective branding and POS open the door to conversation and empower staff to discuss member needs in a natural fashion.

MacKinnon explains that members view tellers as their financial experts; consequently they become your brand ambassadors. So if your brand isn’t particularly embraced by staff, it may not matter how creative or strategically-placed your POS is. Just like any retail environment, it’s your staff who handle the merchandise. Having staff use and embrace your brand is what successful POS is all about.

Branch, brand and POS, when in harmony, cement the connection between a CU and its members. Once in place, it’s up to marketing to observe and re-evaluate branch attributes and keep the message evolving. “Ultimately, it’s the member’s response that becomes the benchmark for good POS,” continues MacKinnon.

POS should also have a clear-cut value message. MacKinnon recommends keeping the message simple by using the 25-foot, three-second rule: “When a message can be easily seen from 25 feet and understood within three seconds, it has much greater chance for success. The message should be something the member can immediately understand, relate to, and want to buy or believe in.”

Grow Financial FCU Takes the Plunge
“After a major rebranding in 2007, our goal was to launch a new banking experience for members,” says Wes Strickland, SVP/marketing for $2 billion/170,000-member Grow Financial Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Fla.

Grow Financial FCU first introduced its innovative branch prototype, the modified “pod,” five years ago in three locations. Since then, Strickland says the new pod design has been hugely successful in attracting new members and projecting the CU’s brand. It was so successful that the concept was used in the downtown Tampa store which opened in 2012, and is now being incorporated into all future store locations.

“When designing our downtown location, we wanted a branch that would capture our brand and demand members’ attention, setting us apart from the plethora of downtown banks. We wanted and needed to be uniquely special.”

For a distinct member experience, Grow Financial FCU decided to remove traditional barriers (like counters) for a more free-flowing space. It incorporated a layout that would allow team members to greet members upon arrival and guide them to their station. “It’s a warm, friendly experience and inviting to the member,” says Strickland.

Pods are located on both sides of the store and are circular in design, enabling staff and members to stand side-by-side during the transaction. “It opens the space for better brand presentation,” he adds.

The launch of the downtown store also featured the Virtual Money Machine, an interactive display using a six-screen HD video wall to get observers to stop, interact with the touch screen, and enter the branch. A video game was part of the fun. “The goal was to catch ‘virtual money’ as it was falling from the sky,” explains Strickland. “Members and non-members were invited to play for a chance to win $25 toward a checking account, $100 toward an auto loan, or $300 toward a mortgage loan.” 

Despite a competitive downtown Tampa market, the store has exceeded its consumer loan goals 10 of the last 12 months, with loan volume increasing by 200 percent. Membership increases every month, and the overall profitability of the center outpaces other locations. It currently ranks fifth out of 22 stores in overall production, and profitability is surpassing other locations. 

Steps to Successful Branch Design
Determine your target audience and their needs.
Integrate merchandising (POS) at the beginning of branch design.
Engineer your space for brand messaging before building.
Don’t ‘cheap-out’ on the communications.
Staff should buy-in to the design.
Every question should be answered by the brand.
Make the branch productive, encouraging action and interaction.

Delivering in the Omni-Channel Marketplace
Grow Financial FCU also believes members should be able to communicate on their terms. Perhaps it’s through an interactive touch-screen kiosk like the Virtual Money Machine or online, or maybe they learn best by watching a brief video. This omni-channel experience can be used in a variety of ways to engage members, both in terms of technology choice and message delivery. 

Using its “More in Return” slogan, Grow Financial FCU uses a word wall at newer locations to communicate its brand. The wall incorporates built-in LCD screens to showcase community investment, initiatives, and some product promotion. “Three LCDs are featured on one long wall,” says Strickland. “Marketing images run across the screens, creating a dramatic, almost 3D effect.”

Start a Conversation
The tone of the environment set by the store POS can provide any CU with the opportunity to speak to its members. The more relaxed the environment, the more likely members are to open up. “Relaxed doesn’t mean unprofessional,” explains Strickland. “It simply means establishing a mood or setting that allows dialogue to start without forcing it.” 

“Let your POS work for you to tell your story,” concludes Strickland. “Remember why your CU was formed and how it has chosen to make a difference. POS can help share your message and get the conversation started.”

The Make-or-Break POS Checklist
Does it have the right placement and position?
Does it have the right message?
Does it integrate your brand?
Does it connect with your target audience?
Does it help staff create dialogue?

Break Out of Brand Lethargy
Embrace your brand’s transformation at every level, says Randy Schultz, VP/marketing at CUES Supplier member Weber Marketing Group. “Get staff and board behind your brand. Ensure they understand its story and how to use it to the fullest advantage.”

When clients visit the Weber offices in Seattle, Schultz likes to include a tour of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose mission is to help all people lead healthy, productive lives in both developing countries and the U.S. Hunger, poverty, and education are all a focus of the foundation.

“The foundation’s POS accomplishes what every business should strive for­—absolute and total brand immersion,” says Schultz. Visually it depicts an amazing and often emotional story using dramatic video and graphic representation. The experience fills the hallways and rooms of the 15,000-square-foot visitor center, including a mammoth visitor photo wall, voices and inspiration gallery, plus interactive displays and visitor workshops. “When we finish the tour, our clients understand the responsibility we feel to evolve their own brand experience.” (View photos.)

Members are Your DNA
For Ben La Macchia, VP/planning for CUES Supplier member La Macchia Group (www.lamacchiagroup.com), Milwaukee, it’s the intensity of the study on membership and culture that creates impactful POS. It’s finding that sweet spot; the point that defines a CU’s inherent qualities and member desires. “We spend hours gathering and analyzing member data; we listen to CU needs; we study demographics; we determine what variables are driving member growth.” All form the narrative for a CU’s unique story.

Defining a CU’s complex personality also means tracking and learning from historical relationships. “This enables you to create a chronological profile of your membership,” explains La Macchia. “It includes the analysis of household statistics and preferences­—where members live, shop, work, worship, dine, and have fun. It’s critical to understand the preferences of your member; it becomes your DNA.” 

POS = Point-of-SERVICE
La Macchia also believes POS is more than just “point-of-sale.” When crafted effectively, it more accurately becomes point-of-SERVICE. This distinction takes branch design and POS to the next level within a rapport-building environment for staff and members. “You’re there to provide a service, not necessarily make a sale,” explains La Macchia. “Once you’ve piqued the member’s curiosity with your POS, you invite them to explore.”

La Macchia elaborates on creating highly-capable, effectual POS: “Make your POS timeless, not trendy. Think about your building materials and colors; elements should be crisp and relevant. Create a level of comfort for your members to foster trust. Engage all of their senses if you can.” 

A prime example from La Macchia is $165 million/9,000-member PCM Credit Union, Green Bay, Wis. The CU’s greeter plays an important role in service delivery, and the reception desk is the focal point upon entry. The friendly, appealing reception area reinforces PCM CU’s service-based philosophy and gives way to an unhampered view of the lobby. A clear path to the tellers is seen beyond the reception desk to avoid queuing or physical barriers. Clean lines, warm colors, and materials that are representative of local geography are used to create a timeless, nature-inspired feel.

La Macchia adds that POS and brand should embrace the CU’s personality and needs of its members. When members feel good in their surroundings, they can relax and have a moment of repose. These moments make it easier to build relationships and plant seeds.

Building Momentum
According to Jenny Bengeult, design manager for CUES Supplier member Momentum, a design-build firm based in Seattle, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to POS. “What works well is an environment, ‘zone,’ or display that breaks down traditional barriers found in a bank environment.”

Momentum’s strength is its focus on member engagement and ability to create lasting impressions. This can be a display or counter with lowered counter heights and barriers, clear back space devoid of equipment and clutter, or an impressive backdrop for marketing and digital displays.

Successful POS can also employ a variety of methods. For those seeking to deepen relationships, Momentum has seen success in the form of smaller, less transactional-looking teller lines. “The large, traditional teller line is shifting to a more transitional concierge line, simple transaction pod, or is even mobile,” explains Bengeult. “This allows a teller to interact freely with members or assist with a higher-value item or perhaps direct them to additional help.”

For those seeking to create awareness of promotions, products and services, Momentum uses the technique of layered merchandising throughout the branch, ending with the main feature at the point of sale (or transactional) zone.

Bengeult describes layered merchandising as an integrated approach that weaves merchandising and a CU’s brand throughout the interior experience. “The first layer or indication of brand can be subtle—it may be a color or material that speaks to a CU’s brand or core values. It’s usually subtle enough that it gets woven throughout the space, but near or visible from the entry. The next layer may be more direct with brand messaging, but is still a backdrop piece. Layers continue to build throughout the branch with the most direct or final layer being promotional or direct product messaging, strategically-placed around the transactional zone.”

Are Members Reacting?
This may well be the best measurement of success for POS. Are tellers able to engage members through conversation? Do members understand where to go and what to do when they visit?

While reiterating brand, POS should engage and be an ice breaker. Whether it’s a compliment or complaint, POS requires continual evaluation and adjustment to ensure it’s working to the CU’s best advantage. In the end, understanding and constructing meaningful ROI measurements enable the CU to assess and adjust quantifiable goals for POS and all of its branding strategies.

Measures for Branch ROI
Decrease in average member age.
Increased relevancy to a specific audience (i.e. younger or more affluent).
Increase in market share for a specific demographic or area.
Increase in wallet share.
Increase in loans, deposits, members.
Increase in the pace of loan, deposit or member growth.

With 25 years of marketing and communications experience, Stephanie Schwenn Sebring established and managed the marketing departments for three CUs. As owner of Fab Prose & Professional Writing, her new focus is on assisting CUs and industry suppliers with their communications needs.

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