“We’re better than those guys across the street. They suck! We have the same services, but we’re better. I don’t understand why they’re growing and we’re not!”
What if I said, it’s not about that. You’re looking at this all wrong. Of course, this is the point you’re all ears until I drop the truth bomb.
Many credit union leaders think growth is all about just “being better” than the competition. Better is good, having a great rate and product is important, but beating your competition isn’t about that. It’s about being different and separating yourself from them.
Being different (and relevant) means understanding your ideal member. You need to understand what your ideal member struggles with, the dreams they have, and getting inside their minds. You need to build a brand they love and want to engage with and create a reason for choosing your credit union becomes so overwhelming that there is no other choice. That isn’t easy or everyone would be doing it.
Not nearly enough credit union leaders and credit union marketing experts think about differentiation. Here are 3 ways I have created differentiation for credit unions through the years:
- Stop trying to be your competitors. You offer the same products, you offer competitive rates, and your message and image selection for marketing collateral aren’t much different. If they are bigger than you, people have already chosen them, so why should someone choose something that looks the same. They won’t.
Take a chance! Take some risk. Build a brand that looks very different from your competitors. In fact, in a recent strategic planning session I facilitated, a board member kept bringing up a fellow credit union in the market with which they have some spirited competition. The CEO said, “I’m focused on our credit union, not theirs.” You should do the same.
- Challenge everything about your credit union marketing. This isn’t the old days. HR isn’t going to drag employees in to open an account and not everyone is sitting down by the TV at night to watch the latest episode of Andy Griffith or Friends. Spend more time outside of credit union land to see what other brands with similar ideal members are doing to create an experience that people are attracted to. If you’re unwilling to challenge the status quo, you can’t get a leg up on your competition.
- Create your own opportunity. Most of your products and services will be the same as your competitors. Where you can win is by practicing some creative destruction and creating opportunities instead of competing for opportunities. If you’ve done a good job creating an ideal member (not “just someone who needs a loan”), then you’re going to be able to pinpoint some very specific opportunities to serve that ideal member that those bigger guys can’t.
When I get on my soapbox on this topic in marketing meetings and strategic planning sessions, I share the words of Louise Herring: “We must remember what we started out to do and find the modern techniques available to do it.”
Those credit unions that have stayed true to serving a unique population that isn’t being served somewhere else and doing it in a relevant way in today’s society continue to outperform their peers. You may think my message is simple. Too simple. And I agree, but in a time when strategy and creativity have been sucked out of most credit unions, and in a time in our society when the easy pill to swallow seems to be the immediate answer to solve a problem, these time-tested techniques of differentiation are in short supply. Dare to be different, serve your ideal member well, and watch growth happen.