Why “how” matters much more than “what”

Credit unions have a lot of things to communicate; to members, prospects, employees, the board and the community. It can be easy to get caught up in WHAT you are trying to say and forget about the HOW.

As it turns out, how we say things is even more important to what we are actually saying.

In behavioral economics, we call this concept framing.


If you were in a grocery store shopping for ground beef, which would you prefer to buy? Here are the label options:

  • Contains 20% FAT
  • 80% fat free

Turns out, most people prefer the one listed 80% fat free to something labeled as containing 20% fat. Even though they are saying exactly the same thing!

And this happens in more than just grocery stores. Doctors who are presented with new procedures are more likely to adopt (and recommend to patients) when they are told there is an 85% success rate versus a 15% mortality/failure rate. Similarly, patients select which procedures to move forward with in the same way.

Think about it, if your doctor came to you and said, “I do this procedure all the time – I’ve done 150 in the past month. It is important you know, there is a 2% chance you will not make it through.” Are you a little freaked out?

Do you feel better when being told, “I do this procedure all the time – I’ve done 150 in the past month with a 98% success rate.”

Same outcome, but the frame makes all the difference.


So, how can you use this in your credit union, to help your members find and select products and services that will benefit them?

The most common recommendation I make to clients is to consider what is easiest for the brain to process quickly. The subconscious brain makes 99% of decisions, and it does these in very rapid succession. If you aren’t easy…you’re tabled (often for a “later” that never comes).

Stop Leading With Rates

Credit unions love to talk about rate and use this as a point of differentiation among competitors. I am here to tell you that in most cases, this is not the correct strategy.

I know it’s hard to change. I know you look around and see others doing this so it is hard to do something else (that is our herding brain showing). But please trust me when I tell you now that rate does not compute easily into a value statement for most people.

When it comes to auto loans, payment often matters more than rate, term, or anything else. Think about what the member is actually seeing and dealing with on a day to day basis: is it rate? No. Many members will probably forget what their exact rate is, so competing on this point makes them think, “Hmmm…I remember I got a good rate, but I can’t remember if it was more or less than that. I’ll need to look into that soon.”

And as quickly as the thought came…it is gone.

Instead, leading with payment is something they likely remember. Consider someone looking to pay down debt – they are probably very aware of all their payments and trying to find ways to pinch, scrimp, and save where they can. You could reframe the message to say something like:

  • Want an extra $100 in your pocket each month?
  • What would you do with an extra $100?
  • Want to save 20% on your car payment each month?

Of course, consider due diligence, compliance, and the specific circumstances when choosing an approach. And, the best thing, is to test a few options! See how the reframes change the actions to determine what works best for your membership.


Last year, I worked with a credit union to reframe their messaging when they were launching a new checking account. Instead of using the all-too-common

“Earn 1.26% APY on balances up to $25,000”

(Which means nothing to a quickly processing subconscious brain other than – whoa…that’s a calculation I don’t want to do in my head.)

I recommended they reframe and say, “Did your checking account pay you $315 last year?”

This is a very easy question to answer quickly. And for most people, it is likely “No.” Which causes curiosity and gets the subconscious to flag the conscious (more logical) brain to learn more. Their result?

A 60% increase in month over month checking account openings.

Sound like something you would like to see at your credit union? Then it’s time to reframe.

To learn more about FRAMING and get your free worksheet to help you implement the strategies at your credit union, listen to episode 16 of The Brainy Business podcast.

And, consider attending this free webinar from Ser Tech where I will be going into detail on this and other behavioral economics concepts and how to implement them at your credit union.

Melina Palmer

Melina Palmer

Why do people say one thing and do another? What really drives behavior? How does the brain actually work – and how can we best communicate with it? What does that ... Web: www.thebrainybusiness.com Details