Is marketing an essential function in credit unions during the COVID-19 crisis?

I’ve been around a long time and remember vividly this very question being asked in preparation for Y2K. The answer then was “No, it’s not essential if the world ends when the clock strikes midnight on 12/31/99.” At the time, I was VP of Marketing for First Tech Credit Union, so you can imagine how delighted I was when virtually NOTHING happened.

Now we’re in an unthinkable situation. A global pandemic that has literally shut down our economy over night. We did not have months to prepare as was the case with Y2K. There was no dress rehearsal, nothing in the business plan that said “In case of a global pandemic….” and so we are “punting” for the most part.

So what’s a marketer to do? There is an amazing opportunity here to literally question everything we do.

I’ve been watching four credit unions in the Portland, Oregon market. I used to work at two of them and had an account at another, so I know a bit about their culture, leadership, etc.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s NOT business as usual. Your website should reflect that, almost honor it in a way. If you’re still pushing the same products and services that all your competitors do, dig deep and figure out a way to stand out.

Tip #1: If you are involved in your community, put that front and center, not buried in the ABOUT US section. Most credit unions are great at getting involved in their community when there is NOT a crisis. Brag about that.

Tip #2: What is the overall “tone” of your website. Look at your stock art. Does it reflect your membership? Your community? Your values or mission? Or, did you just do what practically every other credit union on the planet did and grab the shiniest, happiest, prettiest people smiling at all the stages of their imaginary lives? Now is the time to tell YOUR story and embrace YOUR roots in the community.  Reread the copy, does it reflect the new way of doing business? Or merely “suggest” members try out our mobile options?

Tip #3: DO NOT take this opportunity to steal members from other financial institutions. One of the Portland CUs I’ve been monitoring is offering $200 to switch financial institutions. The fine print says they have to open a checking account, the kind where you have to make 12 debit card transactions per month, sign up for e-statements and access online banking at least once per month. In addition, you also have to qualify for a credit card and you have to have a job. The worst part about this campaign is the VIDEO on the page that shows a young man and woman on the beach embracing while he spins her around (in slow motion). Seriously? The landing page is a young beautiful black woman jumping up in the air while 100 dollar bills float around her. This is offensive.

Tip #4: DO NOT be dishonest. Let me explain. A credit union marketer called me and told me she wasn’t quite sure how to word a campaign she was asked to launch. It’s a refinance auto loan promotion. BUT, she admitted that the underwriting is not going to change and they are very conservative, so how does she say “Um, you aren’t going to qualify if you don’t have a job or have reduced income…”

Tip #5: Make yourself essential. Forget the rules. Offer to go through an accelerated teller training class and take shifts on the front line. Find the other pain points in the organization and offer to cross train and pitch in.

Tip #6: Marketers could take on a new role and be the center for daily communication with remote employees. Kind of like a daily newsletter and we know how to have fun, so please have some fun too.

It’s not about “marketing” it’s about being aware, getting creative, paying attention and being compassionate.

Denise Wymore

Denise Wymore

Denise started her credit union career over 30 years ago as a Teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union in Portland, Oregon. She moved up and around the org. chart ... Web: Details