Bernie Sanders on credit unions: Feeling the Bern with millennials

(NOTE: Much like my last article on Donald Trump for Credit Unions, this is not an endorsement, nor is it even a political discussion. I’m simply looking at candidates and campaigns from a marketing stand point and slicing out the lessons we can learn from.)

Millennials is the buzzword in every blog, article, and conference presentation in recent memory. “How can your credit union capture the attention of Millennials?” is the question on everyone’s mind. Despite the articles, blogs, presentations, and ideas, there aren’t too many credit unions that have been very successful with this challenge.

How about we take a look outside to one brand that HAS been successful at getting the attention and support of Millennials? Who would that be? That would be the campaign of Bernie Sanders.

According to a recent Reuters tracking poll, Sanders is leading Clinton 75 to 17 percent among voters under 30. Just months ago, at the beginning of 2016, the two candidates were tied among Millennials, each receiving 47 percent support from young voters. So how did Sanders, the oldest candidate in the race, grow to be so popular among the youngest voters?

In a recent Washington Post article, a couple in their late 20’s who together hold just over $100,000 in college debt articulated why they support Sanders: “I can’t foresee a future where we’re going to buy a house. It’ll be 10 to 15 years. By that time, we’ll be too old to have children. I don’t know how people afford to have children these days. We’re exactly the kind of people who should be looking at a middle-class lifestyle.”

Sanders’ message seems to resonate with this generation – the ones who grew up in the recession watching their parents struggle, and who are now nervous about their own futures. They are graduating from college with unthinkable debt. The uncertainties of finding a job as well as being able to afford comfortable housing are constant concerns. They have little faith in the government and other institutions they thought they could depend on (like banks). What part of Sanders’ message is grabbing the attention of young voters? “His idealism and authenticity – and his unvarnished take on their everyday realities,” said one young supporter.

Politics aside, there’s much your credit union can learn from the Sanders campaign.

  1. Don’t act your age: Many credit unions are about the same age as Sanders, yet are considered “old and crusty” by the same generation that Sanders appeals to. This is also the same generation so many credit unions claim to want to serve. So what? Hillary Clinton doesn’t preach radical change. Barack Obama did. Bernie Sanders does. Millennials like that. You don’t need to get snared up in politics, but it’s time that your credit union takes on some radical changes to meet Millennials (and every consumer) where they are, not where is convenient for your operations.
  2. Be authentic: Sanders comes from modest means, and can speak about radical change based on his own experience. Those who are struggling financially can relate to him because of his authenticity. Who does your marketing serve? Are you taking the time to understand those you want to reach? Do you create a message and a brand that truly relates to that group? Or are you keeping your message generic to try and serve anyone that walks through your door? In trying to please everyone, you cannot please anyone.
  3. You have an audience: Sanders message is purely economic, based on the financial struggles of Americans. Hmmm, sounds like a message that a few people reading this article could help with. Based on research and interviews with young voters, they care deeply about the economy and how is affecting them. Again, politics aside, but your credit union has the ability to appeal to Millennials based on a message of financial hope. Instead of pushing products, services, and rates in your marketing, find out what financial struggles consumers are facing and craft your message around the solution you can provide.

Done properly, not only could you appeal to the generation so viciously sought after by many brands, but you could create a passionate movement of people who believe you truly can help them and who will carry your message of financial hope to their friends. Considering that 9 out of 10 decisions about finances are made through personal recommendations of friends or family, that’s a not too shabby word of mouth marketing plan that requires very little budget.

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co. A marketing firm that started serving credit unions nearly a decade ago, offering a wide range of services including web design, branding, ... Web: Details