Building a Culture of Innovation

According to Eric Ryan, Co-Founder of Method, brand marketing starts with people and then extends to products. No matter your industry, if you can get authentic culture and great products right, marketing becomes much easier.

After years of experience working in advertising and marketing, where he saw the influence of culture over brand marketing, Ryan wanted to take his understanding of consumer motivations and apply it to a tired, unsexy category: cleaning products. “Cleaning products” represent an enormous category yet it’s a sea of sameness, making it ripe for disruption (much like the financial industry). Ryan saw an opportunity to apply his marketing expertise to create a new product that could go up against incumbents like Proctor & Gamble and Tide. That’s how Method was born.

Ryan knows what it takes to stand out in a price-sensitive category dominated by a handful of big players who say and sell the same things — that's why his message for financial marketers is so relevant. Ryan’s approach to creating Method was to take what was working in one industry and borrow it for another, and he encourages you to do the same. Here’s how you can take Ryan’s experience at Method and apply it your own financial institution:

1. Start with Culture

At Method, everything starts with culture. Every Monday at 9am, they do an all-company huddle meeting. Based on a random name drawing, it is run by a different person each week, who will read an advocate letter to reinforce who they work for (their customers) and how they are contributing to society. The team-led aspect of the huddle prevents it from becoming a top-down exercise and provides a regular barometer of how the company culture is doing. Culture is like a muscle you flex, says Ryan: if you do it every week, people get good at it.

2. Keep It Weird

Since getting the product right means getting the people right, Method has a fairly extensive interview process that ends with a “homework assignment” to test the chemistry of a prospective hire. It consists of three questions and the last question is always the same: “How will you help keep Method weird?” To Ryan, weirdness is accepting different ways of thinking because weird people change the world. For Method, it is a competitive differentiator to keep a small business spirit as they scale. The bigger they get, the smaller they act. As a leader, you have to create the space for that to flourish — how do you allow your employees to discover where they thrive?

3. Balance Strategy & Creativity

Method’s key to success lies in the difference between design thinking (creating new choices to drive differentiation) and business thinking (decision-making from a set of existing alternatives). We call these two approaches to thinking “Artists” and “Operators” respectively, and striking a balance between the two is key to running profitable business with incredible imagination and creativity. Creativity can inform strategy and vice versa. Set up a financial institution with a creative director and CMO who are visionary and you will find that potential and existing customers appreciate innovation — especially in a stagnant industry.

4. Perfect Your Product

Your products and services are a souvenir of the culture. Once you have that down, it’s your job to help the audience connect with it. For Method, a green cleaning products company, this means inviting the audience into their mission of combatting toxic, harmful products with their eco-friendly ones. Method also prioritizes aesthetics and design, something that Ryan points out is largely forgotten in the financial industry. Through visual identity and positioning you have the unparalleled ability to transform a brand and influence behavior — take advantage of it! Consider how you can take the root of banking, trust, and put a fresh, modern twist on it for an experience that sets you apart from legacy and emerging players.

5. Inspire Advocates

According to Ryan, marketing is easy if you have a strong company culture and differentiated, solution-focused products. Your job as a leader is to build a model of advocacy by providing transparent, responsive, and honest treatment to customers and employees alike. For instance, the leadership at Method wants their whole company to feel ownership over the brand, so they train everyone on brand voice. This small shift makes it easy for people to get on board with marketing ideas and perpetuates an authentic culture that is true to Method’s mission. This creates a set of shared values that equips everyone on your team to become advocates for your business. When they see that energy, your customers will follow suit.

When it comes to building a strong brand and growing their business, Ryan sees tremendous opportunities on the horizon for financial marketers. The culture shift that is happening as the Millennial generation takes center stage puts the banking industry at the highest risk of disruption — but with risk comes reward. If your institution can build an innovative company culture and then execute it through thousands of small but meaningful touchpoints with your customer, you will be positioned to win big.

You can see Eric Ryan’s full talk from The Financial Brand’s Forum 2017 here