Credit unions: It’s time to break the rules…

The old adage goes: you need to learn the rules before you can break them. Many wise and famous souls have been attributed with saying some derivative of that phrase, from Pablo Picasso to the Dalai Lama. My favorite version comes from the former, who has been quoted as saying, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

When it comes to the marketing efforts of credit unions, it’s my assessment that you spent a good long time learning and performing the rules of marketing as they have always been. You’ve learned the rules – and it is most certainly time to break them.

With the irrefutable changes that the rise of the internet, online shopping, digital communications and social media has affected on our society over the last quarter century, it’s safe to say we have fully transitioned and are living in the world of the new consumer — empowered, engaged and entrepreneurial.

Couple that with the fact that you, credit unions, are cooperatives – meaning you don’t have shareholders. Your members—these individuals from your communities—are your only owners, and that structure makes you unlike any other financial institution, traditional or disruptive. People have never been more interested in what that could mean for them, what value that idea could bring to their communities. If ever a time to break the mold with the way you market your credit union, it was 5 or 10 years ago. If you’ve started already, great. If not, then your time to break the rules should start tight now.

Here are 5 ‘tried and true’ marketing rules to try breaking in 2016.

  • Drive brand awareness – Sure, maximizing brand awareness is a smart marketing strategy, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what is expected from brands by consumers today. Break it: Try focusing on the “post-action” phase of social media—what your customers do and say about you online after each experience they have with you. Each engagement is an opportunity for someone to share their story with others. Embrace the conversations being had about you and let your audience share their experiences and tell their stories to drive more awareness and desired call-to-action behaviors that traditional marketing focuses on. REI’s recent #OptOutside campaign is a perfect example of this effort in practice.Don’t forget to include your employees in the story. They are likely your most engaged group of members at your credit union and deserve to be respected as such. Don’t stifle their ability to engage about their work on social media. If the thought of this makes you sick in the gut, a quick polishing up of your social media policy should settle the nerves.
  • Keep a close eye on the competition and outperform them — Differentiation is a buzzword both for marketing professionals and the credit union industry. Why, then, do credit unions all too often try to emulate and imitate their big bank competition? The constant comparison of banks vs. credit unions is exhausting. And to be honest, I’m not sure the average consumer cares about the difference – unless you give them a reason to care. Break it: Instead of jumping into the same technology, providing the same services, being in the same locations, serving the same people, having the same reassuring look and messaging as all other financial institutions out there, why not drastically stand out as what credit unions uniquely are? Instead of trying to beat the disruptors and the banks at their own game, beat them with your game. Sure, you’ve got great rates, great customer service, convenient technology, but that’s just the minimum price of entry in this industry today. Those things go without saying. Say what no other FI can say. Market the thing you do different than everyone else, not better or as good as.
  • Know what your customers want and deliver what they ask for – If you always made decisions based on customer needs, requests, survey results…would you ever have known to build a website before it was asked for? Or provide online banking, or remote deposit as a service for your members? What about security measures that ensure your members’ money and private information always remain safe—do you wait for owners to ask for that before knowing to do it? At some point, you are the financial expert, and your expertise should anticipate and direct what your members will need. Steve Jobs famously described this in response to inventing the iPod, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Break it: It’s not sustainable to avoid offering the option for members to communicate with you through social media. With 65% of the adult U.S. population using social media sites, it’s likely that is representative of your member base too. And even if not, the yet-to-be members will certainly expect it of you, and whatever’s next after that too. Get on social media now and start talking to people. You’ll be surprised how much your members will see that as an added value, even if they don’t ask for it now.
  • Marketing should support sales – I often hear from marketing teams in credit unions that are continually hungry for data to show their leaders how their social media, brand ambassador and other ‘soft’ marketing tactics are adding to the bottom line. The truth is people are seeking trusted relationships with the brands that perform a significant function in their lives. I go back to my same hair stylist every time because I trust her and I believe she ‘gets me.’ And that’s just my hair, not my entire life’s savings. A relationship and building of trust simply can’t be mapped out on sales report. And it isn’t something that moves forward neatly quarter by quarter. Break it: This is the copy from a full page ad from my local food co-op in our local paper:“It’s important to us when you make a difference by choosing Willy Street Co-op. When our over 32,000 Owners give back to our community, we create positive change that reaches far beyond it. As a cooperative, we think holistically instead of individualistically. You help provide social, economic, environmental and educational support to many people in our community each time you shop with us. Thank you for making our Co-op one of the leading food cooperatives in the country. Thank you for being part of a community of people who care, create change and give so much…”

    Put out marketing that engenders a sense of community, togetherness, trust and bonding. And don’t worry about measuring it all. How do you measure the return on investment of a thank you note? How do you measure the ROI of doing the right thing?
  • Control your message – A colleague of mine often begins his presentations by taking out his smartphone, holding it up and saying, “what am I going to ask you to do with these?” And every time, the audience begrudgingly mumbles “turn them off…” like they’ve had the fire of life beaten out of them a million times by that request already. To that, he will enthusiastically shout, “turn them on! I want you to take pictures, tweet, quote, share slides, snapchat, text your friends about what we’re talking about today.” It’s the only way the message gets beyond the walls of the room.The exact same is true of your credit union’s messages. If you’re banning your employees from talking about your credit union on social media, engaging with your brand messages on social media or communicating with members/potential members in their social networks in general during work hours, you’re drastically and dangerously limiting the scope of your messaging to only what your brand can control. Plus, 92% of consumers say they trust recommendations from their networks. Break it: Despite the best efforts, no one can control social media today – the conversation about your brand is already happening and you can chose to be part of it or not. The best you can do is be prepared. As leaders, be prepared to talk to your members on social media and be prepared to have your staff do so too.

2016 is upon us, and if you’re ready to take your credit union marketing to the level of a skilled artist, these are the rules you can and should break to stand out as something entirely new, different and better for your community.

Holly Fearing

Holly Fearing

Holly lives and breathes social media; if you can’t find her IRL, try reaching out on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram, and you’ll likely get her right away. ... Web: Details

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