If you are a traditional company in America, you produce a product, get some beta customers and then write a press release to announce the product or service to the world. You create the narrative in your press release to fit reality. However logical this seems, it might be the wrong way to do it. You may want to write the press release first and THEN create your product or service to fit your press release. If that sounds ridiculous, read on as that is exactly how Amazon does, and it is probably what your bank should do it as well.

The Catalyst Matters

If you consider how most banks create a product, they have an idea, and maybe even some customer feedback, they design the product and test it. Maybe it is a new checking account, digital banking solution, loan platform, or treasury management offering. Whatever it is, the bank either creates the product or finds a vendor to fill a need. The project team then waits to see if the customer accepts the product.

The alternative way of thinking is to start with the customer and work backward. Instead of creating a product and finding customers, you do the opposite. Amazon uses the press release as a vessel to force employees to think like a customer. The press release ensures that the banker thinks like a customer and not as a banker or a vendor. All too often, bankers hear about a product, hear the pitch from the vendor and then absorb that narrative into their reality. The result is a bank-centric, not a customer-centric product.

If you doubt this, consider the thousands of banks that have tried to come up with a person-to-person (P2P) payment solution only to find out that what they created is not what the customer wants. Venmo, on the other hand, started with the customer first and created an easy-to-use platform that has done more transactions than any bank-implemented product.

Where you start the project process, that is the catalyst for the project, matters. The press release makes sure that the banker is and remains in the customer’s shoes. Your project manager or sponsor starts the press release with a hypothetical customer quote that describes the benefit of the product or service, and then you build from there.

Creating The Press Release

There are two critical parts to this exercise: 1) The product team needs to be crystal clear on who the target customers are down to their words they choose to discuss the product, and 2) What they want the customer to say. If you can get that down on paper, then all else follows. The trick is to keep iterating the press release until the path to what has to be done is clear. As they say at Amazon, it is so much quicker and less expensive to iterate on the press release than on the product itself.

After starting with the customer quote, then move to the headline of the release, where you name your product and target customer. Move on to the opening paragraph that should provide a brief three to four sentences on the product and the benefits from the customer’s perspective. Note that this is not the place to list attributes. Attributes will flow from this section and make it into your product’s full brochure and/or webpage, but a press release isn’t the place to list attributes anyway. Keep things brief and simple.

The next paragraph should cover the problem the product will solve and how it will efficiently solve it.

Paragraph three should focus on whatever else you want to say about the product, but this is best filled by tying the overall brand to the product and then to the customer in an emotional, as well as a quantitative way. If you can answer the question – why now – it will help bring a sense of purpose and urgency to the project.

Finally, clean up the customer quote and close with a call-to-action highlighting the next steps you want the customer to take and how easy it is to get started. Note that this final section helps lay the groundwork to now develop a marketing plan. This brings the marketing team involved early and starts them thinking about how best to position the product.

The above structure should be clearly written with each paragraph no more than four sentences each. The effort should not be a list of requirements, contain acronyms or jargon, and total a single page.

Attached to the press release should be a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section that answers the most anticipated questions that will arise from senior management or team members that are not suitable for the press release. This would include anticipated problems, risks, key performance indicators (financial, operating, risk, and customer engagement), guiding principals, and highlighting critical milestones. This is an excellent place to include how this new product initiative leverages existing efforts and why this is important for the future.

Putting This Into Action

Before Amazon’s managers create a business case and before developers write a single line of code, they write a draft press release using the outline above. For some initiatives, this might be all that you need to start the beta phase of the project. This “backward induction” approach forces the team to have difficult discussions early and prioritize what essential attributes to reach the desired customer outcome.

If your first reaction is that just writing a press release would never fly with our bank or regulators, you might be right, but also that could be a sign that you are not innovative enough. Spending resources on a business case often takes too long and ends up being very different from the actual product. By doing the press release first, it is a good middle ground to when a project can be moved into beta testing, actual data and customer feedback collected and a more informed business case can be created.

This is the very approach we advocate even when working with vendors and third-party partners. Define what the beta test will be, write the press release together, set goals of the program and have the contract provide a way out should customer feedback or certain metrics are not hit. If it achieves the desired outcome expressed in the release, then move to full-scale production and a permanent relationship. Some of the most innovative banks build this methodology into their request for proposals or vendor selection and weed out those vendors that are not willing to share some of the risks for their product’s performance.

Writing a press release for the future is a thought-provoking exercise that will help hone your bank’s innovation efforts. The future press release can help you define clear goals, visionary ambitions, set objectives, and move teammates to transformation.

If the press release is hard to write, then most likely, the product shouldn’t be started until the vision is simplified and compelling. If the benefits don’t sound interesting and exciting to the customer, then perhaps they are not, and the product shouldn’t be built or purchased. The future press release should start with an attention-grabbing customer quote that discusses how the product is better than all other alternatives or created such a large benefit that every target customer should consider the product. If you can achieve the customer outcome as outlined in the future press release, chances are, success will follow.

Published: 05/10/21 Author: Chris Nichols