Face it: The credit union brand isn’t nearly as strong as its value and impact warrants.
Poll after poll reveals that a majority of Americans have a vague or nonexistent awareness of credit unions, even though objective analyses consistently demonstrate they offer consumers more favorable rates and fees, and better service. That lack of awareness applies to the general mission of not-for-profit, cooperative banking, and your financial institution specifically.
The numbers slide and perception fades further among younger adults, the highly coveted demographic now making a Great Recession-delayed entry into their prime borrowing years.
But the situation is ripe for change.
With loan volumes again forecast to increase by double-digits, and public sentiment still weighted against big banks, there’s never been a better time for credit unions to launch marketing initiatives that reinvigorate existing members and attract converts from a largely open-minded pool of nonmembers.
Through a variety of methods and mediums, you’ll want to send a message that credit unions are the best place for consumers to bank. The twin narratives that have proven popular, compelling and effective in this environment are humanize and localize. Credit unions are hardwired to act in ways that improve their members’ lives. Testimonials that explain this impact will resonate with a mass audience. So will a marketing campaign that closely affiliates your credit union with the passions and pride of your community or region.
Consider adopting these broad initiatives or seize on some of the specific ideas described within:
Content marketing. This isn’t an area where you just dip your toe — it’s a deep dive. But it can be your credit union’s most powerful brand awareness tool.
Content marketing refers to producing any variety of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and other media forms about topics geared to attract the attention of people likely to be interested in doing business with your credit union. Most often, this means offering helpful money management tips, and demonstrating the various ways your credit union can help people achieve their financial goals.
It’s got to be informative — but it’s also got to be entertaining. All the other normal rules apply: Bonus points for being heartwarming and/or funny, deductions for being sappy or cheesy. Quality trumps quantity, but keep your content pieces tight to preserve resources — and cater to today’s short attention spans.
Be sure your marketing plan ties the topics these pieces address to your credit union’s strategic goals, and factors in time to properly produce, post and disseminate this content through all of your communication channels and social media platforms.
Digital marketing. Traditional marketing tactics remain powerful, but the pool of digital marketing skeptics dwindles daily. The medium’s advantages have become apparent to companies that appreciate the power of shifting tactics quickly due to instantaneous feedback, targeting the consumers most likely to act on your message, and reach the increasingly affluent young adult audience that relies primarily on mobile and digital communication.
Facebook and Google have powerful platforms on which to build your digital marketing efforts. And don’t underestimate the power of grassroots efforts. Turning loose an in-house Instagram expert to capture the essence of your credit union’s work can create a healthy buzz.
Community involvement. One of credit unions’ chief advantages over other financial institutions is their deep roots in the areas they serve. Amplify the advantage by piggybacking on the “Buy Local” movement. Invest in causes and events that broadcast your commitment to the consumers who live, work, or worship within your field of membership.
On a large scale, consider the potential impact of creating a foundation that serves as the umbrella for all of your charitable work. Foundations further your brand internally and externally, providing a focal point for donations and potentially increasing the breadth of your ambitions while delivering a very clear, unified and positive message to consumers.
On a more approachable level, hosting one-off events can be a very effective strategy when they provide a tangible benefit to consumers while providing opportunities to pitch your products and services to a receptive audience. These events include “shred days,” where people can safely and securely dispose of financial documents, financial education seminars, and reality fairs, designed to educate younger consumers about the power of embracing a sound financial plan.
The possibilities for these one-off events are endless, so consider the best “fit” within your credit union’s mission. An optimal strategy allows for a diverse set of events that fits within a coherent marketing strategy.
Products. Marketing departments can’t unilaterally decide whether their credit union adopts Apple Pay or other emerging technologies. But they can and should weigh in about the potential advantages gained by such additions — specifically how the ability to market these products provides a market differentiator that, publicized properly, will attract new members.
Conversely, credit unions that drag their feet in offering services young consumers already consider essential — such as person-to-person (P2P) payments — will find themselves battling uphill against the perception they’re behind the times.