Taking Flight – What Credit Unions Could Learn from the Airline Industry

Kristen Christian, Founder, Bank Transfer Dayby: Kristen Christian, Founder, Bank Transfer Day

Since the earliest days of civilization mankind has needed transportation, but it wasn’t until the invention of the airplane that we fulfilled our dreams of owning the skies. The airline industry quickly evolved and became a must for the long distance transportation needs of the public.  From 1955 to 1972 the number of airline passengers quadrupled.  By 1972 half of Americans had flown.  Four decades later, one cannot purchase a meal on an airplane without a debit or credit card.  Banking is not a luxury in this modern age; it is a necessity.

In a conversation with Cooperative Trust founder Brent Dixon, he expressed a concern I’d never considered: credit unions are limiting their potential when they only look within the credit union system for inspiration, opportunity, and partners.  “The only way to resonate with people – in marketing, in product design, in recruiting – is through cultural currency. We have to work harder to understand and design around the nuance of the cultures we serve. We can’t gain that kind of understanding unless we look outside of ourselves.”

An examination of one of the most effective marketing campaigns of the past century offers an invaluable opportunity to both expand individual tactics and advocate for the credit union movement as a whole.   The airline industry’s utilization of authentic marketing was arguably instrumental to the significant increase of new travelers.  A prime example can be found in a television advertisement American Airlines had aired in the late 1960s featuring a doe-eyed 22-year-old young lady from Texas named Sandy Norris.  She bashfully explains that her favorite part of her job is offering an extra bit of kindness to turn an unhappy passenger’s day around.  She describes her favorite in-flight meal with such delight, you’d think it must’ve come straight from her mother’s kitchen.  There was no denying how much she loves her job.  In less than a minute, I’d forgotten about the hassles of modern airline travel: increasingly long lines, full-body scans, gruff TSA agents, and overpriced meals.  I was ready to fly exclusively with American Airlines, at least if Sandy was my stewardess.

Ms. Norris’ sentiment is all too familiar to me; it resonates with every credit union member I’ve had the pleasure to meet in the months since the founding of Bank Transfer Day. The people helping people mission of financial cooperatives has quite literally brought me to tears at several speaking engagements, and with 1.5 million new credit union members gained in the last quarter of 2011, I know I’m not alone.  During the course of the Bank Transfer Day movement, countless supporters reached out to their family, friends and neighbors to share the benefits of banking with a not-for-profit credit union.

Months later, these new members are as passionate about their credit union experience as those who have been members for years or decades.  The difference being, these new members bring a fresh perspective.  Capturing that passion and perspective through social media interaction and creative content as part of existing marketing strategy will result in a truly authentic campaign.  Inspired by a recent open-ended question I posted to Bank Transfer Day’s Facebook page which engaged hundreds of users, I would like to pose the following challenge to credit unions: let your members sell your service by offering a platform to their reasons for being a credit union member.  It really is as simple as, “What’s your favorite part of being a credit union member?

Kristen Christian is a Los Angeles based entrepreneur and the founder of the Bank Transfer Day movement. With a perspective based in activism, she was raised with an understanding that cooperation and respect are crucial for communities to thrive. From serving their members to serving the communities they are a part of, credit unions follow a similar path. Social media offered the opportunity for a global platform, which resulted in more than 600,000 new credit union members nationwide in the month leading up to November 5th.  www.veggefatale.com

Kristen Christian

Kristen Christian

Kristen is a Los Angeles based entrepreneur and the founder of the Bank Transfer Day movement. With a perspective based in activism, she was raised with an understanding that cooperation ... Web: kristenchristian.com Details