The seven dirty words you can’t say

George Carlin’s monologue raised more than a few eyebrows when he first listed the seven dirty words you can never say on television in 1972. I won’t repeat them here, but I’m sure you’ve seen the YouTube video if you didn’t see it first-hand a few decades ago.

In the world of marketing, there seems to be an unwritten list of filthy words you can never say in a boardroom. While not quite as raunchy as the words Carlin listed, they raise hackles and get marketers shut down almost immediately. What’s first on the list? Risk. In fact, this word is so hated that it doesn’t even need to be said. Just the mere hint of risk in an idea is enough to abandon the campaign many times. The bad news? It’s killing hundreds of credit unions every year.

Risk taking is exceptionally important if you want you to grow, survive succeed. Why is it so important? The best three reasons are:

Be different, stand out. One of the most important goals for any marketing campaign is to show how you stand out from your competition, i.e. how to become more visible to potential members. Being indistinguishable from the next credit union over, you’ll never generate enough visibility or recognition to be effective in the long term. How does running this risk work? Why does it make your brand stand out? It automatically sets you apart from your competition—if for no other reason than the fact that so few other financial institutions take risk.

Break plateaus. When you take risks, the process allows you to break through your plateaus of marketing initiatives. When you recycle the same old marketing campaigns and strategies over and over, you’re going to see the same results over and over. If your results are negative growth or stagnant balance sheets, doing the same thing, even more intensely, won’t turn that around. Sure, it’s safe, but it will never allow your brand or team to live up to its full potential.

Encourage loyalty. Many brands fear taking risks because those risks might result in some negative feedback. But wait… this could actually be a good thing! First, you get feedback. When was the last time your campaign managed that? Second, you might end up alienating some portion of your audience with your risks, but the remaining group may be much more loyal to you as a result—and that can often be well worth the tradeoff. Stop trying to appeal to everyone. Know your niche. Spend your time and budget wooing them. If others come along, that’s icing on the cake.

Taking risks doesn’t mean nudity, profanity, or Howard Stern-style shock. It simply means trying something different. For example, Domino’s Pizza took a huge risk several years ago when it took a hard turn in its marketing message and its product. After completely upgrading its product line as well as using new ingredients and new recipes to appeal to a new crowd, Domino’s chose to make fun of its old products. Commercials even referred to its earlier crust as cardboard. That self-deprecating move was a bold one that really paid off for the brand.

Another great example is Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. Looking back, it seems like a brilliant no-brainer marketing move. However, at the time, it was a major leap for Dove to take. In 2006, Dove launched its Evolution video. They followed it up with a series of advertisements that explored the notion of real beauty by rejecting the physical standards of female models used by other skincare, clothing and fashion companies. The women featured reflected more realistic body types, differing ethnicities, ages, and demographics. It was revolutionary. It was also wildly successful. Today, this commitment to real beauty is an integral part of the Dove brand—and a powerful part of its messaging. But ten years ago, there was no way for Dove to predict whether this would be a huge success or fizzle out as a one-and-done piece of creativity.

So what about credit unions? Are there any examples of credit unions that successfully take risks in their marketing? Why, yes. Yes, there are. Several years ago, Carolina Collegiate Federal Credit Union was faced with a series of challenges which would have a major impact on its membership. Between closing its flagship branch and starting fresh with a new concept of a no teller line to a major upgrade in the mobile app and bill pay that would mean minor inconveniences to members, there was a good chance for mass chaos to reign in the marketing and PR departments.

Instead of sterile announcements via email or notices posted around the branches, Carolina Collegiate took a risk and embraced the challenges in a positive (and fun) campaign. By using a series of videos called “Banking In Your Boxers,” that translated into a microsite and print pieces in various mediums, Carolina Collegiate showcased the many benefits of the upgrades and highlighted what members could look forward to over the course of several months. The campaign was so wildly successful that branded boxers were requested (and produced) and were made available to members in the branches. An entire campaign built around branded credit union underwear yielded exactly one complaint out of over 16,000 members.

As President Jimmy Carter once said, “Go out on the limb, for that is where the fruit is.” If you’re looking for fruitful growth, head out that tree branch. Take the calculated risk and allow your brand to stand out, be seen, and appeal to your members.

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

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