The art of storytelling is not new but technology for identifying, engaging, and responding to audiences is always evolving. For this reason, the Dakota Credit Union Association’s 2021 New Ideas Conference married classic marketing approaches with novel tactics. Attracting marketers, CEOs, and other leaders, the annual conference offers innovation, nuance, and best practices. Takeaways from this year’s event, recapped here, can be applied to any industry.
Summary of Presentations
Whether your organization has a million-dollar marketing budget, a bare-bones marketing department, or no marketing department, there are tangible strategies you should employ to identify, target, and engage your audience. Lee Wojnar, VP of Marketing for O Bee Financial, illustrated numerous examples in his keynote presentation eMotion: Storytelling from Guerrilla Marketing to the Digital Divide. From a Money Maze Fundraiser to capitalizing on the 2008 financial meltdown, Lee sought and executed no- or low-cost solutions that involved partnering with other businesses, including other credit unions, and leaning into the organization’s history to promote O Bee.
I appreciated the simple and easy to implement marketing ideas, including the guerrilla marketing and the CU Awareness campaign. – Myles B., Operations Manager, MED5 Federal Credit Union
Now a community-chartered credit union, O Bee once was solely available to Olympia Beer employees and their families. When Lee arrived in 2006, O Bee’s $98 million in assets were declining. During the worst financial crisis in modern time and with a paltry marketing budget and waning member morale, Lee employed guerrilla marketing tactics to drive momentum. He leveraged businesses in O Bee’s footprint to execute events that would garner publicity and engagement and build trust. He positioned the credit union as a solution to the too-big-to-fail banks that had fallen out of favor. Most notably, even though the brewery had closed, Lee embraced the credit union’s roots by creating pub-style banking, keeping alive the Olympia Beer and related logos by using them on credit/debit cards, tchotchkes, signage, and ads. Today, O Bee Credit Union serves members in Washington and Texas with assets poised to top a half billion dollars.
“We all have stories to tell,” Lee said. “Our respective stories add to our uniqueness in business and in our personal lives. They are stories that define who we are, where we’ve been, and all the beauty we’ve witnessed throughout our journeys. Our experiences have had an enormous impact on our emotions and when we tell those stories effectively, we impact the emotions of others.” Under Lee’s tutelage, O Bee’s stories are told through video, events, displays, partners, and every imaginable touchpoint.
Lee demonstrated how stories affect marketing, walking conference attendees through simple steps necessary to make an impact on their organizations and their communities. Examples included partnering with local high schools whose cheerleading and dance squads formed flash mobs to surprise and greet members at the drive-thrus on a Membership Appreciation Day. Another example was digging into O Bee’s history to find celebrity connections to Olympia Beer and leveraging those relationships. Among them was Clint Eastwood, who was granted permission to use his image in an O Bee welcome card because of his affinity for the brand.
Guerrilla marketing is boundless. It relies on creativity, ingenuity, diligence, and sweat equity rather than big budgets, which is why organizations willing to invest time and energy typically achieve excellent results. Outcomes are as memorable as many expensive ad campaigns because of their emotional impact, which boosts morale within the organization, setting in motion a positive cycle. Lee’s examples affirmed this and simultaneously demonstrated the effect on community service and advocacy.
Tracking and analyzing marketing efforts is crucial. Lee uses analytics to better understand his members, their needs, and how to reach them. A comprehensive analytics program helps direct marketing efforts and eclipse future trends.
Data gathering can also drive processes. Eric Steinhoff demonstrated how AI can boost consumer engagement and create a better consumer experience by going beyond credit scores and implementing models that streamline credit decisions to reflect a broader scope of a bower’s capacity. Eric is Executive Vice President of Client Impact for Scienaptic, a company that integrates artificial intelligence with credit decisions. The process is non-static, meaning AI is always learning and updating. The purpose of implementing AI is to free up staff time by taking obvious decisions off the table. Rather than seeing AI as a job threat, credit unions adopt machine learning to expedite growth and create a positive member experience.
I am interested in utilizing AI in our loan decision making. – Dorothy A. Voorhees, CFO, Sentinel Federal Credit Union
AI is not going away, so capitalize on it! That was the essence of Larry Pruss’s introduction to crypto currency and blockchain computing. Larry is Senior Executive Vice President for Strategic Resource Management (SRM), an organization that helps financial institutions improve performance through benchmarks, data, and analytics. In a nutshell cryptocurrency is a decentralized digital asset used as a medium of exchange. Blockchain is a digital ledger that records such transactions. Crypto popularity is growing fast. As of early October, some 22% of Americans owned Bitcoin, the first and most popular cryptocurrency. Eighty percent of Bitcoin holders say they’d prefer to store the asset with their bank, and more than 70% would switch financial institutions to do so. Ignoring digital asset trends could leave your FI in the lurch.
Crypto drove home that credit unions need to move forward in engaging in that type of currency. – Amy Riter, Credit Analyst, Black Hills Federal Credit Union
Larry outlined six ways in which credit unions can offer crypto and blockchain services:
- Custodial services
- Crypto wallets
- Loyalty programs, which can be introduced with crypto-based debit and credit cards
- Lending against crypto assets
- Cryptography, converting sensitive data into a secure format to store on the blockchain
- Expedite settlement periods and provide P2P solutions
In just a dozen years, the crypto/blockchain community became a $2.2 trillion industry with no chain of command or CEO and independent of any government agency. Larry said government efforts to regulate the industry will only legitimize it. While it may not be easy to adopt and integrate blockchain, it may be necessary. Certainly, there’s a marketing advantage to doing so.
Large FIs around the globe, such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, UBS, and Citibank are investing in crypto and blockchain enterprises. Larry’s research found that BNY Mellon, Deutsche, Citi, U.S. Bank, BBVA, Standard Charter, and Vast Bank are just some of the banks that have announced launching crypto custody services and/or investigating crypto trading platforms for their clients.
Can smaller FIs and credit unions compete with these Goliaths? Yes, David, they can!
Christopher Lorence, Executive Director, CU Awareness, LLC, is on a mission to help credit unions differentiate, compete, and thrive. Outlining “The Why, The Now, The How, and The Wow,” Chris developed a campaign focused on attracting the next generation to the existing 120,000 credit union members in the U.S. Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union aims to increase consumer consideration for credit unions using an adaptive and responsive paid digital strategy that targets personas while providing CUs with tools and resources to amplify their own unique brands. Not surprising, meme ads are most popular among Millennials and GenZ.
SMS (short message service) is also effective in reaching prospects—not only GenZ, but also anyone with a smart phone, which accounts for 85% of adults in the US. According to Mark Miyamoto, Director of Sales for Eltropy, texting is a financial institution’s most engaging form of communication followed by email, phone, and in-person conversations. Mark’s presentation focused on reputation management, demonstrating how to monitor and direct it for positive outcomes. Numerous transactions are conducted over smart phones, creating instantaneous interactions. Mark recommends soliciting a response via text once a transaction is complete. Keep it brief, ask for a review, and provide a link. According to Mark, 95% of consumers respond to texts within three minutes, 90% of consumers gain value from SMS loyalty programs, and 75% of consumers prefer offers sent via text. Consumers are inclined to make buying decisions based on reviews and ratings.
Discussion ensued about responding to negative reviews or social media comments. While Mark emphasized a proactive approach, we also discussed ways to handle negative reviews and social media comments. One way is to delete negative comments, which I do not recommend. The cover-up is always worse than the crime. Deleting negative comments is reactive and not at all foolproof. Instead, respond to reasonable criticism empathetically with the intent to educate. Put on your PR hat and avoid being defensive, passive aggressive, or condescending. If your organization is not willing to admit it has something to learn from negative feedback or willing to do anything about it, then it might have a culture and leadership problem.
PR is alive and well! It’s all about making connections with our members. – Angela Mahin, Mortgage Loan Officer, Hometown Credit Union
Culture drives branding. The crux of my presentation dealt with leveraging PR from within your organization. As the line that once separated internal from external communication is vanishing, company culture directly affects the external image. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas makes its way around the internet in real time! Everyone who touches your organization is a brand ambassador, from employees and vendors to consumers and neighbors. Tell their stories. To acquire earned media or increase engagement with your owned media (website, social pages, newsletters, email marketing, blogs, etc.) put the spotlight on your ambassadors.
Identify influencers within your organization and empower them; let them point the spotlight on your brand. While this may seem risky, especially for FIs, the risks are mitigated when culture is assured. If your organization struggles to maintain a pleasant and cohesive culture, try implementing these steps:
- Take cultural fit into consideration during the hiring process.
- Advance leaders who are confident, congenial, and empathetic. They will set the cultural tone for the rest of the organization.
- Make concerted efforts to create an amiable culture through clear and consistent communication, recognition, and motivation.
- Encourage autonomy and accountability. Employees overperform when they feel trusted, respected, and appreciated.
Word of mouth remains the oldest and best form of advertising. Each of your brand ambassadors has a network. If they are satisfied with your organization, your “street cred” is solid. As I outlined in my August article, the ability to tell your organization’s story from the inside-out is the secret to seamless branding and marketing.
Although overwhelming, Crypto is something we all need to learn about. I also valued the guerrilla marketing presentation and the opportunity to work in groups on presenting a new idea. – Janna Bergstedt, Chief Marketing Officer, First Community Credit Union
Novel Twist to 2021 New Ideas Conference
A cocktail party culminating with a cooking demo added an element of entertainment to the conference. Aaron Richards, Executive Chef of Deadwood Mountain Grand’s Six String restaurant supplied the sizzle, literally, demonstrating his Chicken Piccata recipe. I provided color commentary, and each participant received a complimentary copy of my book, Gravy Wars: Italian Foods, Feuds & Attytudes, the development of which is a story unto itself. I described how the book came to fruition—from a bucket list endeavor to a guerrilla marketing venture with sponsors whose immigrant entrepreneur stories are peppered throughout. As a sub-theme, food was also incorporated into the workshop portion of the conference because food spawns countless stories and metaphors.
The workshop added a stickiness factor to the conference. Too often we emerge from conferences and professional development seminars jazzed about the content and eager to put it into practice only to become bogged down by the daily grind until our excitement wanes and the momentum is lost. The purpose of this workshop was to provide attendees with a model for sharing information with their respective organizations.
Attendees completed a self-assessment to determine their individual communication styles. From there, five teams were formed, each comprised of diverse styles. The teams were instructed to develop an idea for a new marketing strategy or technique based on just one takeaway from the conference, and then choose a representative to pitch their idea on the final day of the conference. As a caveat, food had to be incorporated into the idea, either metaphorically or literally. Teams were given discussion prompts and time between presentations to work on the assignment.
The results were phenomenal! Each team presented a unique idea based on takeaways from the presenters. A quick debrief following each presentation confirmed that executing most ideas was achievable. Expect Dakota credit unions to make headlines for record-breaking youth engagement through custom school credit cards and community gardening, community engagement through partnerships with local eateries, and for going mobile and taking transactions to the members.
I loved how you got us all involved in pitching our new idea. – Jessa McCarthy, Member Services Representative, Ft. Randall Federal Credit Union
Bringing it Home
Jeff Olson, Dakota Credit Union Association President and CEO, brought the conference full circle with his motivational remarks about intentionality and leadership. Jeff emphasized the importance of culture shaping, keeping the organization’s purpose at the forefront, scheduling time to think and strategize, being a better listener, building relationships, and owning/winning the day.
True leadership is a disposition, not a title. Building a legacy requires beginning with the end in mind—and that applies to entire organizations as well as individuals. How will the story of your legacy be told?