The Seven Deadly Sins of Credit Union Marketing

By Mark Arnold

Many of you may already be familiar with the “Seven Deadly Sins,” an extra-Biblical listing of vices that evolved in ancient times. It was further made famous by Dante’s masterwork The Divine Comedy in the Middle Ages. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt did a terrific (and uber-creepy) job depicting the Seven Deadly Sins in action in the 1995 horror film Seven.

Specifically, the Seven Deadly Sins are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

While it’s easy enough to snag examples of these vices in everyday human behavior (for me, a bag of good teriyaki beef jerky and gluttony go well together), could we also apply the idea of such a list to the world of credit unions marketing?

I think the answer is a resounding “yes” and offer the Seven Deadly Sins of Credit Union Marketing. These are in no particular order of importance or severity.

  1. Trying to target/attract/please everyone.  Still trying the shotgun approach in a marketing world that’s evolved to favor pinpoint lasers? How’s that working for you? When’s the last time you heard a fellow credit union marketer shout “Finally! Our one-time 10,000 postcard mailing to totally random addresses brought huge returns?” Exactly. Not gonna happen. Your credit union, no matter how large or small, sophisticated or mom-and-pop, simply cannot be all things to all people. It’s like trying to keep all your kids happy simultaneously. What you can (and must) do, however, is focus upon that in which you truly excel. Do you really have rapid loan decisions? Can you actually live up to “friendly service, every day, every time?” If so, terrific. You may have found your niche. Work on keeping it strong. If not, take a long, hard look at your credit union and ask the tough question, “What exactly are we good at?” and proceed from that point.
  2. Ignoring social media.  It’s not going away. Close your eyes. Bury your head in the sand. Hope the monster in the closet just goes away. All futile. Social media, for better and worse, is here to stay. And believe me, properly leveraged, there are plenty of ways to make it work for your credit union. Get involved, have a presence, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest or your website blog. Engage members in this unique and intimate way. This is a set of encyclopedias (or wikipedias) by itself, but suffice it to say that your members are on social media, in a big and growing way. Your credit union must be there, too.
  3. Spending too much on fancy collateral.  Oh, those beautiful, glossy, full-color, heavy-weight brochures, pamphlets, flyers, statement stuffers and annual reports. While some printed material certainly has and will likely always have a place, do you have to trade your last good milk cow for the magic beans it takes to grow them? Why not just put $5,000 in cash under secured glass in your lobby so members can watch the dust settle on it? There are so many other ways and means to reach out to your members now (see #2 above) spending boatloads of your marketing money on fancy print seems folly.
  4. Avoiding marketing analysis.  Taking a long look in the mirror is a painful yet entirely necessary process if we are to grow as financial institutions. “Because we’ve always done it that way” is an instant sledgehammer to that glass. I don’t care, you shouldn’t care and your members really don’t care if “that’s the way we’ve always done it” when it comes to improving products and services. Carbon paper, typewriters and Tandy 1000s used to work great, too. Want to go back to that? I didn’t think so. Marketing audits (whether done internally or with the help of an outside strategic partner) can cut to the core of what works well for your credit union and what doesn’t. Prepare to be stung. Get a few sacred cows ready to be tipped. An honest marketing audit can sometimes feel like pulling the band-aid off a tender scab, but is necessary to get air, light and healing to whatever marketing boo-boo ails your credit union.
  5. Bleeding the budget.  When is the last time you sat back, smiled and said “I’m so happy with my marketing budget! I think I’ll call the CEO and ask her to take some back and put it into landscaping the drive-through lanes?” Probably a week ago last never. While we must learn to be reasonable when preparing marketing budgets and taking them to the throne room for approval, we should also act as their greatest champion and guardian. When times get tight (like they have been since about 2008), the first things to get trimmed back are the break room coffee and marketing budgets. Put on your shiniest marketing manager armor and ride fearlessly into the dragon’s fire to protect what’s yours! We cannot achieve the improvement to products, service and member satisfaction we all crave without the necessary funds to make it happen. Meekness doesn’t pay here. Be firm, be polite and be the leading advocate for your marketing budget.
  6. Spending too much time with upset members instead of happy ones.  This will raise eyebrows, but let me explain. Of course, you should spend time with upset members. Get to the root of what’s troubling them and do everything in your power as a credit union to make them happy and satisfied. After all, it is easier (and cheaper) to keep an existing member than it is to go out and recruit new ones. But what about your happy members? What about those that would willingly and enthusiastically speak about their great experiences with your credit union. I believe these members are just as important as any other and you should treat them as such. Leaving them in the background, only to see their enthusiasm for your brand fade, is a tragically missed opportunity. When you have a happy member, capitalize on him or her. If possible, make them a part of your marketing efforts as a testimonial. In your quest to make things right with those that are upset, don’t neglect the feelings (and possibilities) of excited members.
  7. Not involving everyone on your staff in marketing.  This really could have been #1, if this list was done to scale. Everyone, everyone, everyone at your credit union is part of the marketing staff. CEO? He’s a marketer. Teller? She’s a marketer. Collections, lending, back office and IT? All marketers. You can put out the greatest marketing campaign in the history of credit unions only to see it fall flat and fail if your staff doesn’t buy into it. If it’s a refi campaign that relies heavily on teller interaction with members to succeed, and your tellers aren’t in on the deal, you can forget about it. Similarly, if it’s a new member recruitment push and your CEO only gives it lukewarm support, your road to success is that much steeper. Get everyone involved in your marketing efforts. Share the purpose, goals and results of what you’re doing. If your marketing department is one person in one office that acts like it’s the solitary confinement cell from The Shawshank Redemption, you’re in trouble.

There you have it, the Seven Deadly Sins of Credit Union Marketing. While there are others (and you’ve probably already thought of a few you’d like to add) these are a decent start. Learn from them, grow from them and apply their lessons wisely. And if they try to cut your marketing budget, suggest moving from the new PCs to Apple 2s, instead.

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details

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