by: Bo McDonald, Your Marketing Co
If you’re not familiar with this tale from Dr. Seuss, here’s some background:
The Sneetches are group of yellow creatures. Some have a green star on their bellies. At the beginning of the story, Sneetches with stars discriminate against and shun those without stars. A “fix-it-up chappie” named Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes into town. He tells the Sneetches without stars that for three-dollars he can put stars on their bellies with his Star-On machine. The treatment is instantly popular, but this upsets the original star-bellied Sneetches, as they are in danger of losing their special status. McBean then unveils his Star-Off machine, which costs a mere ten-dollars. The Sneetches who originally had stars happily pay the money to have them removed in order to remain special. However, McBean does not share the prejudices of the Sneetches. He allows the recently starred Sneetches through the machine as well. This in-and-out of the machines continue, with the Sneetches running from one machine to the next.
In the end, “neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one… or that one was this one or which one was what one… or what one was who.”
Replace “Sneetches” with financial institutions and the “fix-it-up chappie” with seductive ad folks and you have the current state of marketing for banks and credit unions. Credit unions like to tout how we help people and the communities we serve, right? So does Bank of America (so they say.) Some “fix-it-up-chappie” came up with this description of Bank of America for their website: “Working to help people and communities make opportunity possible.” A similar “fix-it-up-chappie” adman hawks this on the Wells Fargo website: “Standing together with our customers and communities.”
On the flipside, some credit unions now try to sound more like a bank. You’ve read the headlines and commentary from many industry professionals about the change of GTE Federal Credit Union to GTE Financial. I see it NOT as an attempt to become a bank and hoodoo their members. Rather, it is an opportunity to easily overcome the lack of knowledge of what a credit union is. Regardless, the waters are muddied on both sides when it comes to the identities of banks and credit unions.
Much like the Sneetches, financial institutions run from one side to the other with the help of the abundant “fix-it-up” chappies. Conglomerate banks want to sound local, local credit unions want to sound bigger. All of this in an attempt to try to be something they’re not. “If we say what the consumer wants to hear, we’ll see the success we’ve dreamed of.” Most credit unions that operate under the same philosophies that made them successful decades ago have a great story to tell and a great advantage. You don’t need a slick ad campaign to hype your participation in the community and how you look out for your members.
Geno Church, one of the authors of Brains on Fire, once said: “As marketers our job is to put out ideas that are worth talking about.” Unless your credit union experiences a significant change (charter, merger, etc.) focus on doing great things for your members and community.
In a recent Credit Union Times article, Editor Sarah Cooke nailed it when she responded to a recent data dump from The Financial Brand. “The only way to change them (a declining number of credit unions) is to increase the relevancy at the lagging smaller credit unions (and a couple of the larger ones, too) that members apparently feel are irrelevant. Simple denial that many smaller credit unions are unable to serve their members needs isn’t going to fix the problem” Cooke said.
Is your credit union relevant to its members? Chances are slim if you’ve been forced to send your marketing message through the “fix-it-up-chappies” Star-Bellied machine for an overhaul in a last ditch effort to turn things around.