The Grateful Dead on credit unions: Rethink your assumptions

Ugh, your bottom line is shrinking again. How can that be? You work hard. You’ve paid your dues. Your staff is pretty good. How can you get unstuck and kick-start growth?

Four simple words: Rethink traditional industry assumptions.

Simple words, yes, but so difficult to do. Start with this. Is your revenue generation model the same as it was when people checked the Yellow Pages for your number and location?

The Grateful Dead got it right and that’s a bit scary. But when Jerry Garcia and company turned the music industry upside down a few decades ago, the Dead created a new business model that was the exact opposite of every other band’s revenue stream at the time. While most artists and bands were focused on album sales as a primary revenue source, they did something new and daring. Other bands toured to support record sales. The Dead focused on touring.

True, it’s always easier to follow your peers and mimic their business model than it is to innovate, but you do not need to turn a blind eye to your competitors. You do need to avoid the temptation to be a mirror image of them. Winners in today’s dog-eat-dog world win because of their unique business models – not because of new technology or complicated product improvements. Take Uber, for example – 40 million people do every month. They didn’t win just because of their app; they score because they challenged an outdated business model and provided an option that removed a lot of friction of the taxi experience.

Who are others who have successfully accomplished this? eBay (versus the traditional yard sale), iTunes (instead of MP3s and downloading), Walmart (versus a trip to several local stores) did. Much like the Grateful Dead, these brands said, “Screw what our competitors have been doing for years” to disrupt a level playing field and build a whole new range for themselves.

By rejecting the core assumptions that have worked for decades, these companies allowed themselves to stand out from their competition while creating unique value propositions not easily replicable by virtue of red tape or stale thinking on behalf of their competitors.

What can you do to achieve huge success that will leave your competitors scratching their heads as well as being unable to keep up with you? Those four words again: Rethink traditional industry assumptions.

It’s difficult. But, like the old saying goes, you eat the elephant one bite at a time. Here’s a few action steps to get you started on your first bites:

  1. List the three things you are better at doing than your main competitors (hint: rate and service should not be in this list unless you can back this up). My guess is if you’ve gotten this far in the post and are interested in moving forward, rate or service are not your strong points.
  2. List the three things you are worse at providing than your competitor (rate and service are acceptable answers here if they apply).

If you’ve written “nothing” as the answer to both, congratulations! There’s nothing unique about your brand. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re happy staying right where you are. In the words of the Dead: “Some folks look for answers, others look for fights.” Do both. Search for answers. Then pick a fight with the status quo. Look back every now and then to watch the naysayers wither on their vine while you flourish and pick off their fruit one by one.

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co. A marketing firm that started serving credit unions nearly a decade ago, offering a wide range of services including web design, branding, ... Web: Details