Be the Purple Credit Union

How many times have we heard a friend or associate say they simply want to stay under the radar?

I suppose it’s because they are keen on the status quo. Such a scenario would give them constant control over things and help keep problems and challenges to a minimum. After all, it minimizes all the tensions and headaches that come with growth and change. There’s certainly not a lot of risk-taking in this kind of organization because obviously, taking a chance or seeing your initiative result in failure would be one of the last things you would want to do. Anyone deemed responsible for rocking the boat in this way would probably be forced to walk the plank!

But where does such behavior get you? What can you actually achieve if the boat only remains moored to the dock? And, if you should venture out, does anyone even notice? Can it be because your credit union is the type that’s more apt to cut a ripple in the water rather than create a wake that will influence everything in sight?

Now, don’t excuse yourself too quickly by thinking your credit union can never stir up a wake the size of an ocean liner. Think that way and you’ll always find yourself in second or last place. The proof your credit union can be more comes with your ability to lead, to inspire, to dream, and to dare to go beyond the ordinary and mundane.

Ask yourself, why do credit unions have to look like banks? Must tellers stand at a counter behind bullet-proof glass? Why can’t a branch experience include an assortment of coffee and teas, the way El Paso’s GECU is demonstrating? Why can’t video be more often tapped as a channel to inform, educate and even entertain members, as Mid Atlantic Corporate is doing? Must financial education be the only topic a credit union can ever address? How can a credit union dare to be different?

I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a geographic region known back in the day for its coal mines and countless small towns, each inscribed with its own set of diverse church steeples and quaint neighborhood bars and grilles. Each town seamlessly blended into one another, strewn across a rolling landscape of peaceful monotony, yet to a well-trained eye, each town was distinctly different from its neighbor. Each presented its own treasure chest of ethnic song, melodic languages and culinary delights.

Yes, Northeastern Pennsylvania was remarkable, full of potential back then—and it still is. But what good does it do for that region—economically—if no one knows what kind of gem it actually is; if it’s not properly packaged, communicated, advertised and promoted; if it does not distinguish itself from other regions of the country; if it’s not experienced as a purple cow?

Purple credit unions

Marketing guru, Seth Godin, can be credited with adding a sixth P to the five traditional Ps of marketing (Product, Price, Place, Promotion, and People), by his ingenious insights on what it means to be a Purple cow. The concept is this—no matter how well its advertising might be, a product is unlikely to sell unless it is in itself, unique and somehow remarkable, like a purple cow.

In the February 2003 issue of Fast Company Magazine, he writes,

“Playing it safe. Following the rules. They seem like the best ways to avoid failure. Alas, that pattern is awfully dangerous.

The current marketing “rules” will ultimately lead to failure. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.

In Marketing Outrageously (Bard Press, 2001), author Jon Spoelstra points out the catch-22 logic of the Purple Cow.

If times are tough, your peers and your boss may very well point out that you can’t afford to be remarkable. There’s not enough room to innovate: We have to conserve, to play it safe. We don’t have the money to make a mistake.

In good times, however, those very same people will tell you to relax, take it easy. There’s not enough need to innovate: We can afford to be conservative, to play it safe.

So it seems that we face two choices: Either be invisible, uncriticized, anonymous, and safe or take a chance at true greatness, uniqueness, and the Purple Cow.”

Obviously, we all know what happens when we do play it safe. Now, I’m not referring to “safe” as in safety and soundness. I mean “safe” as in not willing to explore the possibilities; not having an open mind to new collaborative partnerships; not willing to acknowledge our own complacency or our own compulsion to always do things the same old way.

This time around, ask yourself, “Why not?”

Strategic planning will be here before we know it, and once again we’ll all be herded like cows into the conference room to lay out a vision and plan for 2014. Will the exercise be an exact replica of what occurred last year? Does it have to be?

Perhaps, the time has come to create a wake that will cause everyone to stop and look. This year, invite everyone to read Godin’s Purple Cow as a prerequisite to the start of your strategic planning meetings. Stir up their imaginations. Inspire them to think differently, to reach higher, to excel, to be truly remarkable.

Be the purple cow for your purple credit union. Explore the possibilities and don’t be afraid to ask, “Why not?”

Walt Laskos

Walt Laskos

Walt Laskos, C.U.D.E., M. Div., is editor-in-chief of CUNA’s monthly flagship publication, Credit Union Magazine. He is a DE (Development Educator) with a background spanning more ... Web: Details