Humans want to find their niche. Over a lifetime, people choose partners, careers, locations, and brands that move them closer to the place that truly defines them. This constant evaluation of unlimited choices can be exhausting and I appreciate it when a company tells me clearly whether or not we are a good fit.
Last spring, Cheerios made headlines with a cereal commercial. The commercial was like many the company had previously run, with a child showing serious concern over an adult’s health. Only this commercial differed in what became a very big deal: The parents were in an interracial marriage. Negative comments on YouTube were so hate-filled, the site disabled commenting on this video.
Media coverage of the commercial’s backlash caught my eye because it referenced Cheerios’ recognition of many ways to build a family. I am an adoptive mother and- while we do not really look it- we are an interracial family. As with many individuals, when it feels like something speaks to me personally, it grabs my attention. Headlines about “non-traditional families” resonate. Cheerios told me I was the customer they want, and I have responded.
Our household’s biggest consumer of cereal- the child who put me in that aforementioned role of mother- does not have discerning tastes. For now, cereal is just cereal to him. The decision about what to buy lies with me and Cheerios has become our house cereal because I want to be associated with their brand. I appreciate they did not pull their commercial in a knee-jerk reaction. They determined their best business decision was to stay committed to who they are- a company that believes in family values and recognizes many types of family. To this point, I had not given much thought to Cheerios. Now, I see them as progressive, concerned, trustworthy, and meant for families like mine. I aspire to be the type of person Cheerios wants to attract, and I am not alone in my appreciation: Ratings on the YouTube video are 95% positive.
Lululemon, a Canadian yoga wear company with an international following, also makes a clear statement about who they serve. In this case, I am not their ideal customer. Their business model is built on serving women seeking yoga wear in sizes 2-12. This is not me. I am a runner. I buy workout clothes at stores where they understand the impact a shoe has on my IT band, my arch, and whether or not I pronate. Lululemon’s clarity of focus will save me from ever entering one of their stores and being exposed for the fraud I am: A woman who sometimes wears yoga pants to watch football, but never to strike a warrior pose.
Last week a former employee took allegations to the media that Lululemon’s practice is to discriminate against people who wear larger sizes. In response, the company has been unapologetic: While they acknowledge health comes in all shapes and sizes (and through different types of activity), they are committed to their business model and their specific niche. This enrages some people and even led to a change.org petition that did not move very far. While it may be too soon to gauge long-term impact of this controversy, I think it will end up being good for business. It sends a message to desired customers that they do belong; they are who Lululemon wants to serve.
While Cheerios and Lululemon made headlines for very different reasons, their responses are similar: It is clear to consumers who should and who should not choose their brands. They are not right for everyone, but are deeply committed to serving those who are a right fit.
Does your credit union make a similar commitment? Can you define your ideal member and put everything on the line to serve them?
As cooperatives, we have an obligation to bring in members who believe in our operating principles and values and who contribute positively to the co-op. In daily operations, this isn’t always easy. We worry when a member writes the board, offended by a cause we support. Members who detract from the cooperative are rarely “fired.” Even marketers who know the target audience is never “everybody” blanket the community with ads, sponsorships, and signs that say, “Anyone can join!”
In a time when people have more choices than ever, their desire for context and clarity is great. Individual credit unions are well-positioned to remove any doubt about who belongs. By unapologetically attracting the right members, building a sense of community around this group, and focusing on specifically serving a niche market, credit unions will carve out their perfect fit in a crowded market.