(Note: This is not an endorsement of Donald Trump, nor is it a discussion on politics. It’s merely the first in a series of observations on marketing lessons credit unions can learn from the presidential candidates we’ve seen and heard from over the last few months.)
Last year as Donald Trump was hinting at running for president, he wasn’t labeled as a serious contender. “It’ll only last a few months,” media pundits guessed. “The more he talks, the more people will dislike him,” others predicted. The facts are that it’s been more than a few months, and the more he talks, the higher he ranks in many polls.
Whether you love Trump, or would rather build a “yuge” wall around Pennsylvania Ave to keep him out of the White House, there are some great lessons you can learn in marketing for your credit union.
- Apologize—or not: Trump is like no other candidate we’ve seen run for office in recent years. He has no public sense of regret or shame. He says what he thinks at the moment. He calls it as he sees it and moves on, all the while ignoring his critics. He seems incapable of admitting mistakes or being wrong. If a member has a truly awful experience with your credit union, should you apologize? If a member is offended by something your credit union posts on social media, should you apologize? Should you ignore your critics or try to learn from them? It’s often difficult to know when and where to draw the line. If you apologize too often, it means you’re probably catering too much to members who really don’t understand the value of your credit union. On the flipside, if you don’t apologize when an apology is needed, you have the chance of damaging your brand. You have to toe the line between maintaining your brand reputation and doing the right thing. In short, don’t spend all of your time and energy on trying to make “bad” members happy, it will never happen.
- Trust your gut: Trump doesn’t follow the advice of focus groups like other candidates do. While other candidates test their message, trying to find the right mixture of words and issues to appeal to the right demographic segment of voters, Trump stays his course. While focus groups have some benefit, often candidates end up sounding like they are pandering to them. The real human connection of the candidate gets lost in trying to appeal to too many people. Many credit unions do the same, especially when it comes to the ever-elusive Millennial. Too many credit unions are lost trying to appeal to every demographic who has a dollar, or needs one. Trump seems to be resonating with conservative Republican voters because he’s so unrehearsed and unpolished — he’s not afraid to go without a teleprompter and speak whatever comes to mind. Every day on the campaign seems like he’s just really talking about whatever is most urgently on his mind at that moment. The same goes with your credit union. It’s good to do some homework to find out whether a new product or service is needed, but it’s even more important to trust that you have a good idea. If you trust your gut, know that others will feel the same. Get to know your “perfect member” and know what he/she needs from a trusted financial partner. If you try to make your message appealing to everyone, you’ll ultimately end up appealing to no one.
- Know your audience: Donald Trump doesn’t care one bit if you love him or hate him. He is engaging a very select crowd of voters—those who believe in his message and who want to support him. There’s something about Trump’s tough-talking “I don’t care what the experts think” attitude that appeals to voters. Many of the Republican primary voters are both frustrated and passionate about seizing the opportunity to “take back the White House.” Trump is giving a voice to those feelings. In the same way, your brand doesn’t have to appeal to everyone. As noted in point two above, know your perfect member and speak to their concerns in a relevant way. Forget the industry lingo that plagues many credit union marketing pieces.
- Understand your brand and your value proposition: Whether you agree with him or not, Donald Trump knows who he is and what his brand means. The Trump who we see on the campaign trail is well known to his fellow New Yorkers. The world has watched him for many years as he become famous as a New York real estate mogul, author, and, most recently, the TV reality-show host of “The Apprentice.” Trump hasn’t changed. Today, however, instead of talking real estate, he’s talking politics. He’s always been bold and and always had a sharp tongue. His take-no-prisoners attitude is legendary. The lesson? Your credit union needs to stand for something. Perhaps not as black and white as Trump, but it needs something your members can hold on to. Even many who oppose his candidacy and find themselves gritting their teeth every time he speaks, admire the consistency of his brand message. What you see is what you get. What does your credit union stand for? How can you position your message consistently? How can you send the message of service with a non-apologetic plan?
- Be audacious: Trump has no shortage of outrageous sound bites from the campaign trail. From inflammatory remarks about immigrants to accusing John McCain of not being a “war hero,” every new outrageous statement or media whirlwind seems to only boost his polling numbers. How can the very thing that has ended many campaigns, be such a positive for Trump? His core supporters respect him for speaking his truth, even when he’s not saying it in a polite way. Most political candidates are so polished and focus-grouped that it’s almost impossible for their true feelings and emotions to come out. Every day, Trump is in your face, with un-Normal Rockwell-like depictions of life as he sees it. He’s not afraid of what anyone thinks about him. The lesson for your credit union can be the same. Too many brands try to be inoffensive and become beige and bland in a failed attempt to be mainstream and appeal to everyone. It’s better to be memorable, even if you lose some members who don’t understand, as long as you keep appealing to the niche market of customers who love you the most. I think you would be surprised how little flack you’ll get. Example? Several years ago we launched a “Banking In Your Boxers” campaign for Carolina Collegiate Federal Credit Union. Braced for some unhappy members who wouldn’t understand the why behind the campaign, there were only two complaints were lodged. Neither were heritage members, nor were they members who were doing much business with the credit union. In fact, it went over so well that members were asking for branded boxers!
It doesn’t matter if you are in the #Trump or the #NeverTrump camp. While the subject of the his candidacy is a political lightning rod, and not fit for dinner discussion with the in-laws (usually), there are some valuable lessons your credit union can learn from the Donald on how to learn your target audience, and appeal to them in a way that no one else can. What are you waiting for? Do something.