The Formula For Business Success: Branding, Culture, And Strategy With Ken Bator


One of the purposes of niching down is to keep yourself from drowning in a heavily saturated space. In business, you just can’t be everything to everybody because if you’re selling to everyone, you’re basically selling to no one. If you’re looking to jumpstart on finding out how to niche down, then it is best to start with making your message clear. This episode will help you with that as host, Jen Du Plessis, brings in author, host, and founder of Bator Training & ConsultingKen Bator. Sharing his book, The Formula for Business Success, Ken lets us in on some branding strategies that do not only deliver great business results but also create a positive workforce and work environment. He shows us how closely related brand, culture, and strategy are to a business’ success, especially in creating a positive customer experience. Dive in deep into Ken’s wisdom and expertise that will have your employees want to come to work, and customers want to keep coming back like a revolving door of referrals.

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I am grateful that you decided to join us. If this is your first time, thank you and welcome to our community. As usual, if this is your 100th or 200th times because we’re over 200 and some episodes, I want to say thank you for your continued support. Please don’t forget to pay it forward, share it with as many colleagues and friends as you possibly can. Our guest is Ken Bator. He is the author of The Formula for Business Success and the host of Branding the Experience. He teaches organizations how to create environments where employees want to come to work and customers want to keep coming back like a revolving door of referrals. He’s the Founder of Bator Training & Consulting. He is experienced in helping many small to medium-sized businesses reach new levels of effectiveness. He is an expert in brand concept, culture and business strategy. Hence, the subtitle of your book is B + C + S and that is Brand, Culture and Strategy. We’re going to have a blast talking about this because as many of you know, this is a big topic for me about niching and about making sure your message is clear and having clarity of your message so that you aren’t like everybody else. If you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one. We want to be able to shine a spotlight on you and what is unique about you so you can become a magnet. I want to welcome you, Ken, to the show.

Thank you so much. I look forward to being here in particular with my financial background. We’re going to have a great conversation and maybe even have a lot of fun too.

I want to start with what resonated with me. There are a lot of people that are reading that are part of business culture. Remember the old-time, “It’s time to make the donuts.” They’re thinking they have to go to work like that. There are others that are team leads who maybe their employees are saying that about them and they’re struggling to get some business. I’d like to talk about the strategies around creating a positive workforce and work environment. How do you do that through? Why does a brand have anything to do with it? I would think it’s the personality. Maybe you can help us understand that.

To lay the foundation, Jen, and I’ll answer specifically your question on culture. You mentioned the B + C + S formula is Brand, Culture and Strategy. In other words, that’s the image we want to promote out in the public. What is the experience we need to create both for and through our employees and how do we drive more of the right business to our business? When we talk about how brand plays a role in that, branding isn’t simply visual and the messaging. That is a part of it. I consider it a tip of the iceberg. Branding the experience is all about how do people feel when they do business with us. I think that it’s almost impossible to create a positive customer experience if you haven’t created a positive employee or team experience from which that experience is going to create that feeling. It’s going to create that warmth. It’s going to create that, “I pick the right person or the right firm to do business with.” It can happen, but it’s hard. That’s where branding comes into play. It’s not just the visuals, it’s the actual overall experience that our customer members or clients have with us.

Branding isn't simply the visual and the messaging but also the experience people feel when they do business with you. Click To Tweet

It makes sense because this is something that I talk about all the time is with systems and what that end-to-end process is to make sure it’s efficient for you and your team, but very effective for the consumer so that they are compelled to tell their friends about you because of the feeling they got. We know customer service is gone. It’s all about the customer and the feeling that they have. That’s interesting that you take a back step. It’s like, “You can’t love anybody else until you love yourself.” You have to love your team so that they feel that same brand and they want to emulate that to everybody that they talk to. That excitement then leads to that client attraction.

It’s not a brand-new concept, although we’re embracing it a little more over the last few years. You work in the mortgage field and the financial industry. I remember most of my background is financial. I remember going to Baxter Credit Union business partner days. They invited their business partners in and gave awards for the best business partners and they served us food and so forth. They said that every entity that they work with, their employees and their business partners are important stakeholders. In 1996, one of the things that the CEO made clear is that happy employees is equal to happy members. They concentrated not on their members first, but on creating this great environment for their employees not to allow the so-called inmates to run the asylum. It’s to create a very positive environment for their employees where they wanted to come to work and therefore, they wanted to serve the members. That’s what I preach quite a bit. It sounds like you do it as well, Jen.

Yes, in a different way. I teach a lot of business planning classes and that’s one of the things that I tell everybody is your number one client is your team. For me, it was my team, but your number one client is your employees. We jump into leadership with this. As soon as you aren’t a good leader or you aren’t taking care of your team, then they start looking at you and saying, “If you’re going to treat me like this, I wonder how you treat clients. If you’re going to treat the client better than you’re treating me and I’m the one who’s here every day, I have to wonder about your leadership.” That then leads to a lot of turnovers and that’s costly.

Ironically, I was doing a planning session with a small financial institution that’s doubled their assets over the last several years, give or take. The way that they’ve done that is not concentrating on operations and regulations but concentrating on building a unique brand and story and their culture. I was encouraged. This was not even something that I needed to cajole, as you could probably get attest too. You’ve got to keep pushing some clients that inch forward. This organization had grown and instinctively, they figured out, especially leadership, that we’re at a point where it can’t be one or two leaders. We need to get other people involved. In this planning session for the first time, they invited three future leaders to this session with the CEO, COO and the board. It was one of the most dynamic planning sessions that we had because we had new ideas. Also, we had buy-in from these future leaders.

Formula For Business Success: Branding is the actual overall experience that your customer, members, or clients have with you.

I believe that it’s not just communication or engagement, it’s about true involvement. We went through the ‘90s about communication and management. It’s like, “We’ve got to share the financials. We’ve got to share with the team everything that’s happening in the new marketing program itself. We’re not going to ask you opinion and you may not even like it, but while we’re screwing you, we’re going to tell you exactly what’s going on, so there are no surprises that you’re getting screwed.” Everything was engagement like, “Let’s have picnics. Let’s be warm and hug. Let’s ask for your opinions. We may or may not follow it. At the end of the day, we’ll still tell you what to do, but we’re going to engage you and we’re going to give you some cookies and everything else,” granted that was better than communication. It’s about true involvement. It’s about, “How do we get other people? How do we get to your example of a team? How do we get the whole team involved in what we’re doing, where we even give them a budget and say, ‘I’m not going to run this. It’s your idea. Here’s your budget. Here are your parameters. You run with it and do it. As the team leader or the CEO, I’m your resource and I will help you when you need it.’”

I love that because there is that involvement. It’s probably gone a little bit beyond the community. Involvement does involve the community. I’ll give an example. The company that I worked with before I had transitioned, one of the things that I loved about the company is that they are very community-involved. If you had a charity that was not good for you but is something that resonated with you, you could go and so could anybody else to volunteer to build a house for Habitat for Humanity or walk through a cancer ward of a children’s hospital. You could spend that time and the company would still pay you. You had to go and have somebody sign off that you were there and take pictures so that people knew, from a social media standpoint, that the company was involved in the community. I think that in and of itself is great. That’s one way of doing it. I’m curious to know what are some smaller ways that team leads do? Let’s talk about them first and then we can go into CEOs. What are the ways that team leaders could involve their people? I’m thinking of budget and not so much the department, but to get that buy-in with them to buy into the brand because sometimes the brand is already there and this is a new employee. Give us some ideas on ways that people could get started.

I’m going to give you my number one key tip that I tell everybody. If you don’t learn anything else or don’t do anything else, at least do this one thing and you’ll be one step ahead of your competition. Before I get to that, I agree with you on that aspect of letting your employees get paid and do that community service. I know a number of credit unions, one in particular, Mazuma Credit Union out in Kansas City, Missouri. I don’t know how many hours it is, but they pay their employees to serve and do work with a charity of their choice. They get paid and they put it on social media. It’s a great branding tool. I’m glad you mentioned it. My number one tip is to create service standards. You could do this as an organization. You could also do this as a team. You made a key point that you may already have a brand essence.

Frankly, you already have a brand, even if you haven’t done anything actively to build it. Passively, you have a brand and it may or may not be something that you’d like. Let’s say that you are in an organization, maybe it’s a mortgage lending firm or bank or so forth that does have a good handle on what their brand is and who they are. Even as a team or a department, you can hone that and use that to build your team and that you could take portions of that brand. What I usually do is take core values because that’s who we are. I walk teams through creating service standards for either the organization or that department and how that works or better yet, what is a service standard is how we’re going to live that brand? How are we going to create an experience here?

It's almost impossible to create a positive customer experience if you haven't created a positive employee or team experience. Click To Tweet

Some examples, I don’t know if they still have it, Subway has something called the three-second rule, where within three seconds a customer walks in the door, they’re supposed to be greeted, “Welcome to Subway.” Something of a positive nature because they wanted people to feel welcome there. One service standard that I had back in the ‘90s was we’ll answer the phone within two rings or at the very least, let it go to a receptionist or a voicemail, so people didn’t hear it ring and wonder if you are still in business. They’re specific generally on how service is carried out here. When you use the core values as the foundation of that, especially in this case, a brand is already set. You allow your team members, not the team leader, not the CEO, but the foundation of that org chart to create those service standards, at least the first draft, now you have buy-in. Especially for a team of mortgage lenders, you begin to police and build yourself. If you have that one person that’s going to be that rough link in the chain and he creates service standards from the ground up, that person begins to understand that, “I either need to get involved with this and come along for the ride. Maybe I need to go work at McDonald’s and make fries because this isn’t going to work. I’m going to be pushed out not by the leader, the CEO, but all my coworkers who are bought into creating the service levels through standards.”

The service standard, one of the terms that’s used frequently is KPI or Key Performance Indicators. These are different. Key Performance Indicators are the technicality of the process and service standards are warm and fuzzy. There are soft skills and hard skills. I want to make sure we get that squared away. It’s not the same thing. My husband used to be a mechanic. They had customer service indexes all the time to the major, like Nissan, which he was with. He’s been in the mortgage business for many years, but they had these key service indicators and they were beneficial to help have the whole group act together. What are some of the techniques that you’ve recommended for honoring or praising or a ruse for someone who has met the performance, that customer standards? What are some of the things that you’ve suggested that people do for people who aren’t meeting it? If they’re not self-eliminating and it’s becoming an issue, what are some suggestions you might have on both ends of that spectrum?

I have a few and you spot on that KPIs or goals are different than service standards. I think of it as service standards and some other branding culture elements are what drives those numbers. What drives the success of those KPIs and goal achievement? In terms of the service standards, I suggest that it is a great mentoring tool. If leadership uses it as a tool, it would be powerful. On the positive end, you don’t have to arbitrarily look for ways to pat people on the back. If you see right then and there something positive, you can go right up to them and say, “We have a core value and a service standard that ties to empathy.” When you were sitting with that client that didn’t have quite the credit score but needed to get this loan for his or her home, you understood and you found a way to help that individual. That’s exactly what we do here. Congratulations on that.

There’s the all-staff meeting or a team meeting and say, “I saw Julie taking a whole of our respect service standards,” and sometimes it’s with coworkers. You ran into a major issue, but instead of getting upset about it, you went to your team member. You handled it yourself and that’s how we respect each other here. That’s how we do things with our service standards. You could call them out with that. Sometimes, I stress to my clients, “Have some fun with these things. You don’t want them to be one more policy sheet or what have you.” I’m thinking of one particular client that’s doing an awesome job in building their brand culture and strategy and went through the standard service exercise. The staff created a great draft. We honed it. It’s an awesome set of service standards. I said, “How are you going to celebrate these?” He’s like, “We’re going to print them out. We’re going to put them in the binder with the policy.” I said, “Please don’t do that. Please don’t call them the policy.” The idea we came up with is, “Have some fun with it. You’re only a six-person organization. It doesn’t need to be elaborate.”

Formula For Business Success: When you know your mission, vision, values, and service standards, then your business is set up to be able to create the right customer experience.

Go get some of those, “My name is,” stickers that fall off within ten minutes at networking events and write down the service standard or the corresponding core value. When they see somebody living the service standard, you’ll write down empathy or write down accountability and smack it on them. It’s a fun thing where it’s a credit union. When their members walk in, sometimes they see a teller with three of these damn stickers on them and one has fallen off, “What the heck is that?” It creates a conversation. It also creates accountability for service standards because the members see it. On the negative end, you’re always going to have one or a couple of people that don’t come along with the program. I stressed to leadership that makes your job easier too because a lot of times, you’re looking for a concrete example to write somebody up or to give them some mentoring and say, “You can’t do this anymore.”

When you have a service standard, if it’s something like punctuality, “We will be at our station fifteen minutes before our start time.” If two out of the five days during the workweek that didn’t happen, call them into your office and say, “This is our service standard. I didn’t create it. We all created it. When we don’t follow our service standards, it’s not about our customers. It’s about each other and everybody else having to pull up the slack. If it happens again, I’m going to write you up.” You don’t even have to get mad about it because there’s so much emotion in chastising an employee sometimes. We can still be friends. I’m telling you that if this happens again, this is our service standard. It’s written right here. You will be written up. It’s your choice. You could choose to follow the service standard and then we’ll never have this discussion again. You don’t even ask to get emotional or mad about it. It is what it is. It’s on paper and this is how we provide services both to each other and those that we serve.

I love that it’s on your team. Everything I do is football. It is like, “All of us showing up to work out. We know we studied the plays. We’re all at the game. We’re there for the customer who’s up in the fans. They are loving on us because they’re wearing our colors.” We get this one person who doesn’t come to practice and doesn’t look out how they eat. They don’t take care of themselves. They don’t know the plays and they’re messing up the whole thing and nobody wins. I think it’s cool because I talk about core values all the time. I love that I talk in aspects of personal core values. I love how it’s been transcended down to into the team as well. What are our team core values and what are the things that we want to accomplish ourselves? When we talk about the brand and the culture building, I definitely can see that. How does that relate to the business strategy or do we let this happen? “We’re all efficient. They see that we’re efficient. They think it’s cool and it automatically comes.” Is there a strategy behind us bringing that business in and attracting that business? What kind of strategies are there?

Nothing just happens. I’m sure you teach that as well. My whole thing is about alignment. With my clients, we may not get to strategy until the 6th, 7th or 8th meetings or maybe even a few months down to the Iine. I love core values, but I believe that the service standards take it to the next level and make it more specific. Sometimes, you may have a core value of respect and people are like, “How do you define that?” It may mean three different things to three different people. When we have that core, when we know what our mission, vision, values and service standards are. When we know that we can consistently create an experience for the customer or member or client, then when we’re doing the strategy and we’re talking about driving more of the right business to our business, we’re set up to be able to create that experience.

When you niche yourself, you're not limiting yourself. Click To Tweet

When we drive people there from a marketing and branding standpoint, we’re not driving them to crap. When we say that you’re going to experience X, you’re going to experience X or better. That’s what builds brands. From a strategy standpoint, we talked specifically about the niche. From a financial industry standpoint, I find that this can be a difficult conversation. Whether we’re offering mortgages or home equity loans or checking accounts or insurance or real estate, it’s all about the numbers. You think, if I talk to more people, we expose our brand to more individuals. By sharing your numbers, we’re going to get more business and that’s not the case. When you focus on a niche, when you focus in on, “We’ve created this experience. Who can we serve better than anybody else or at least as good as anybody else?”

I work with a lot of police credit unions. They serve law enforcement better than any other institution from a strategy standpoint. When we’re developing goals in marketing and brand messaging, I stressed to them, “You have this great experience. The brand messaging needs to revolve around how you create an awesome experience for law enforcement families.” At the end of the day, they can go to Chase or Wells Fargo. They can go to the KeyBank or go to the community bank that can do all that. They may very well have the same products at Chase, but when you walk in the door or you pick up the phone or even go online with our police credit union, you’re going to feel that we know law enforcement families and what you’re going through better than anybody else. That’s what ties in that core values and the service standards and begins becoming that brand messaging that we use strategically to drive more of the right business to our business.

That’s important. A lot of people have conversations that they say the wrong thing to the wrong people. They say the wrong thing to the right people. We want to get everyone to the point where they’re saying the right thing to the right type of people and knowing emphatically what your core value is and how that you align with your whole business, your practice, in your life. It is a magnet rather than chasing people. It’s time-consuming to chase people. We’ve talked about the image of the business, the experience that employees have had to get the right people from the right business. We’ve talked about all of those things. What are you seeing is the most common mistake people or companies are making? What is the thread through all of them that you’re seeing that people need to have a clear understanding to get out of that habit?

The Formula for Business Success = B + C + S

I see two pretty frequently. Ironically, from a brand, culture and strategy standpoint, especially in the financial industry, I find that we’re pretty good at S. We’re good at setting goals, KPIs as you mentioned and trying to hit those. Usually, we’re missing the mark either in the B or the C. The C is from a cultural standpoint, we are not involving our team. We’re not creating an environment where their employees want to come to work or at the very least, don’t get sick on Sunday night because, “I’ve got to start my week on Monday and I’ve got to go in.” At least have it be, “I’m going into work and it’s not a bad thing. I enjoy my team members.”

From a cultural standpoint, especially since I work with a lot of small businesses, you’ve got to have everybody rolling. If you don’t have everybody rolling, if you got those one or two people that are sitting on, then you either need to get them involved. We got to go from communication to engagement to true involvement. That’s going to take our B + C + S formula to the next level because you’ve got everybody rolling in doing certain things that are going to help build that brand and that cultural experience.

The other thing that I see quite frequently and this one is a little bit easier for me to help them to correct if they’re open-minded to it. The culture thing, we could do a lot of things, but it takes a little bit more effort and focus. On the brand end, a lot of times, I find that we got people that want to work with each other. We don’t have backbiting. We don’t have any real negative crap going on. We’ve got a strategy, but from a brand messaging standpoint, we’re not putting our best foot forward. We’re not talking about how we can serve a specific group or solve a specific problem with a specific group better than anybody else. Fortunately, what I find is they have some of those brand elements already in place, but they’re not consistently messaging them. I could give a great example. There’s one organization that serves specifically the healthcare industry, doctors, nurses, other folks that work in hospitals and ERs. They have a great culture. They are very good at strategy and on their visual brand.

One of the things that I saw that they already had was a tagline that they didn’t use that much. The tag line is, “Taking care of our own.” I said, “There is the start of your brand niche.” I know a little bit about nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers. They think they’re important and most of the time they’re spot on. They do a tough job. That idea of taking care of our own suggests that we are here to take care of you specifically and we’re part of this. We’re taking care of our own, even though we may not be a healthcare worker, we serve you better than anybody else. Sometimes it’s that little piece that they don’t use quite enough that I say that’s a linchpin. Use that, lead with that please.

What you’re saying is that you’ve got a tagline that you’re using and I know a lot of loan officers have, “Your Lender for Life.” Realtors have, “Your Hometown Realtor.” Those are some of it and it’s vague. It doesn’t do anything to highlight what makes you different and it could be something. It’s easy to do if you take the time to sit down and figure out what is it that I want to help and who do I want to help? I love what you’re saying. It all resonates with me thoroughly and it resonates with my audience because they learn it from me all the time.

Maybe your culture and strategy are strong, but your brand isn't great. Click To Tweet

Let me speak to that because a lot of these realtors and mortgage lenders can feel like they’re out on an island. It’s unfortunate that they get branded materials from their office, but there are many choices out there for those services that you have to cut through the noise. “You’re a friendly realtor or you’re community mortgage lender.” It’s been overused where it’s either people hear it and it’s either apathetic. Sometimes it can even be negative. It’s like, “We’ve got one more community mortgage lender. I haven’t heard that before.” Finding that niche, not only as a mortgage lender being a true entrepreneur, especially if you’re not 100% commission.

For instance, using myself as an example. If I haven’t been a mortgage lender, if I was, I would probably cost some trade on teachers. The reason is that my father was a successful high school teacher for over 40 years and I could speak to that. I could say, “I know what it’s like to be passionate about your job and make a salary that’s unfortunately not as high as it should be.” I know how to make things work from a mortgage standpoint specifically for educators. I’m going to the teacher’s functions. I’m going to the teacher’s LinkedIn groups. That’s going to be my niche. What people need to understand and I’m sure you teach this as well, that when you niche yourself, you’re not limiting yourself. Somebody that maybe a firefighter may say, “I want that kind of service. I don’t care if you deal with teachers. I want to work with you.”

That’s the myth that a lot of people have is, “If I niche, I’m going to be digging myself a ditch.” That’s not the case. You get so much because people have so much clarity around, “That’s what you do.” You’re not like everybody else. You are better than everybody else in that one area. We’re here with Ken Bator, who is the author of The Formula for Business Success. I enjoyed talking with you because you’re right up my alley. I can’t wait for us to have a long relationship, but I knew that you have something, a gift that you’d like to give to our readers that can help them put this place right away. What is that?

If you go to my website,, right at the top of the homepage, you’ll see a button for a free eBook. It’s straightforward about sixteen pages, with some big pictures and some big tips. I found that sometimes it’s been a great tool for me. Sometimes you’ve probably come across somebody who isn’t quite ready to work with you. They want to get a little bit of a taste. In this particular free eBook, which is titled When Your Formula Doesn’t Add Up, it goes through different scenarios, similar to how we did. Maybe your culture and strategy are strong, but your brand isn’t great. Here are three things that you might want to consider doing. Maybe you have a great brand and you do have a good culture, but you can’t do strategy to save your life. Here are three tips that you can implement. It’s a great tool, especially for your readers in the financial industry.

I think it is for anybody who has to generate their own business and serve people. It’s wonderful. I want to say thank you on behalf of everybody for that gift. I love when we can give people more and more information to be able to make decisions. I can’t wait to read the book. This was fun and enlightening. You give us a little twist and I learned every single time that I do an episode. I want to thank you for the nugget you gave me, which is taking that from my personal life into my professional life. While I believe I did that somewhat in my practice, it wasn’t intentional. It happened and thank God it did. I can imagine how much more successful I would have been had it been intentional. I know that my readers are going to learn from you. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate it.

It is my pleasure. I had a blast talking to you.

Everybody, thank you again. Please give us a five-star rating and please take a few minutes to write a review so that we can continue to grow. I love all of the feedback that I get through LinkedIn, Facebook and Instant Messaging. I love hearing that you’re enjoying this. I thank you again for supporting me every single week. We will catch you next time on the show.

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About Ken Bator
Ken is the founder of Bator Training & Consulting, Inc. He has more than 15 years of experience in helping organizations create environments where employees actually want to come to work and customers want to keep coming back! As a facilitator for training and strategic planning sessions and an expert in brand concept, culture building, and management, Ken has helped hundreds of organizations since 2001.
In addition to his career of working with managers and entrepreneurs, he has also served as an executive of three different institutions throughout the United States and has assisted many small to medium-sized businesses to reach new levels of effectiveness.
Ken is also the author of The Formula for Business Success = B + C+ S, The Pocket Guide to Strategic Planning: The 90-Day Quick Fix for the Business Owner or Manager and the Strategic Planning Workbook and Guide for Financial Institutions.
His articles have appeared in many trade publications including The Credit Union Journal, Lifestyle Enterpreneur, CU Business Magazine and ABA Bank Marketing.
Born and raised in Chicago, he earned a Bachelor in Science in Finance and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from DePaul University as well as a Certificate in Integrated Marketing from the university as well as a Certificate in Integrated Marketing from University of Chicago.

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