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Annual Meeting Keynoter Ken Schmidt Says to Channel the Power of the People
Wednesday, April 6, 2016 6:45 AM

Keynote speaker Ken Schmidt knows about business—and competition—and he advises credit unions to channel the power of the people. During his talk at the Cornerstone 2016 Annual Meeting and Expo, Schmidt said credit unions are competing against one of the laziest, most uninspired industries in the world—banks.

He points to the thing credit unions care most about:  what the people who are important to us say about us. And more significantly, what do credit unions want them to say and how are they going to get people to say it.

Schmidt has been associated with Harley-Davidson since 1985, and his success in helping rebuild the company’s brand played a vital role in the motorcycle legend’s turnaround from the brink of ruin to global dominance. Now semi-retired, he provides brand-building expertise to many of the world’s best-known businesses. To this day, Harley-Davidson remains his primary business partner and his strongest passion.

If people say to others that you're selling junky products, then you are selling junky products, he notes. Credit unions must channel the power of the people. "It’s criminal that roughly 90 percent of people don’t have any clue what you do," he told the capacity crowd. "I’m sorry, but there’s only one group of people responsible for that."

He said that the common thread running through every business is "the sense that somebody somewhere is going to do something for us that is going to make our lives better. None of that is going to happen."

He asks, What are people saying about you when they leave the credit union, or hang up the phone? When everybody says the same thing, nobody listens any more. Similarly, when you say something people expect to hear, it doesn’t get repeated.

The same goes for the messages you send out to the world. "Vegas has never shown you raunchy imagery," he said. "You do that yourself. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. When no story gets told, no demand gets built."

"You know who I’m picking," he said of choosing a financial institution. "Whoever is closest to my house/work. Is that a way to make a choice about financial services?"

He says credit unions can’t compete on the product, and cites Harley-Davidson. "They have to stand for things that go beyond the product because no matter how perfect that motorcycle, it’s not perfect enough if it’s not designed specifically for you. We will make you pay handsomely to make it yours—spending money and feeling good about it when you leave. We don’t want our motorcycles loud for safety; we want them loud because we are human beings. We want people to look at us, notice us, and react to us."

He added, "We need food, shelter, warmth, and validation." Validation is key. It gets right to the heart of the human species and says, "Look at me!"

He says people at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, are not Harley-Davidson customers—they're Harley-Davidson disciples. When you make people feel good about themselves, other people notice.