What does Malcolm X have to do with credit unions turning more millennials into members?
Well, nothing, at least on a personal level. But consider a line the influential activist issued during a 1963 speech that some of you children of the ’80s might more easily recognize as the opening salvo of the radio hit “Cult of Personality” by the band Living Colour;
“And during the few moments that we have left … we want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.”
Notably, that speech — recognized by scholars as one of the best of the 20th century — was titled, “Message to the Grass Roots.”
For millennials, from a marketing perspective, that easily understandable, grass-roots language is social media. Nearly three-quarters of young adults ages 18 through 35 use social media daily. Meanwhile, they’re tuning out traditional advertising. According to a detailed survey by Elite Daily, a popular Gen Y online news platform, just 1% of millennials said a compelling ad would make them trust a brand more.
Meanwhile, in the 21st century, “the few minutes we have left” to communicate our message translates to “the few seconds we have left.” The explosion of content distributed through traditional and new media channels has increased exponentially in the past decade, making it ever more important to sink a quick hook into your target audience.
And while most scientists have dismissed or downplayed the stereotype that millennials’ attention spans are less robust than those of their elders, there’s no disputing that this cacophony of messaging sows the seeds for being “distracted from distraction by distraction,” as T.S. Eliot once put it.
So how can credit unions break through all that noise to attract the attention — and business — of millennials, whose values seem to align perfectly with credit union principles?
The first step is better understanding the audience. In recent years, all sorts of market research firms, academicians, and consumer-facing businesses have conducted surveys seeking to divine the touchpoints that’ll resonate with what has been a largely elusive demographic.
Now that the improved economy has increased millennials’ buying power, employment status and financial outlook, a better but still inconclusive picture has come into focus. The Elite Daily study affirmed many of the characteristics that have evidenced themselves to date. Besides their skepticism of traditional brand advertising, consider that millennials:
** Review social media before making a purchase. One-third of millennials say they rely mostly on blogs — especially those written by trusted peers — while less than 3% lean primarily on traditional media such as TV, magazines, and books.
** Want to engage brands on social networks. The key word here is engage, which is a whole different animal than simply maintaining a presence. About 62% of millennials say they’d be more likely to become a loyal customer if a brand engages with them on social networks.
** Want to help develop products. Companies would be well-served to solicit specific input or perhaps even crowdsource broader concepts; 42% of millennials express interest in helping create the items they purchase..
** Are brand loyal. Six in 10 said they’re often or always loyal to their favorite brands.
** Expect brands to be socially conscious. Three-quarters of millennials say it’s either fairly or very important that brands they support give back to society instead of just making a profit. Some contend young adults don’t necessarily follow through on this pledge, but clearly the concept is on their radar, which is more than can be said of some generations.
Keep those traits in mind, regardless of which social media channel you employ to communicate your message. Facebook remains the dominant platform among young adults, but Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat all have dedicated followings that enjoy their various attributes. Use as many avenues as possible to reach your audience, without spreading yourself thin.
Consider these common themes on which to grow your millennial membership through social media, on whichever platforms you choose to support:
** Create brand advocates and ambassadors. Young adults want to hear from their friends why they should join a credit union. Build passion within your existing millennial members and provide incentives for them to share that passion on social media channels. Some credit unions even hire millennials as advocates, which allows them to put an actual face on their operation and build momentum without appearing corporate.
** Sell an experience. Competitive rates and terms will be enough to lure some nonmembers. But to attract the right kind of members — and retain them — you must build a narrative that explains the purchases and lifestyle your services afford them. Millennials don’t want stuff — they want experiences. Engineer your rewards programs and other benefits accordingly.
** Market the value of membership. Some credit unions have stripped “credit union” from their names in rebranding efforts in recent years in an attempt to erase confusion about the term. That’s caused a lot of consternation in industry circles and seems counterintuitive when you consider how closely credit union principles align with those of millennials. Regardless, the one thing you shouldn’t scrap is the concept of membership — and the benefits of that membership. Superior service and financial education stand at the forefront of those benefits.
** Customize and personalize. This sounds basic, because credit unions pride themselves on treating members as more than a number. But you need to embody this philosophy in everything you do. That means communicating with the member to determine his or her favorite channel to receive info, employing data analytics to improve targeted marketing efforts and create a more customized user experience at ATMs, for instance. And of course expressing all these advantages via social media.
** Make it social. This applies both in the sense of conducting business in a socially conscious manner, and providing networking and professional growth opportunities. Both of these activities are tailor-made for social communication and sharing.
** Appeal to creativity. Partly due to their technological savvy, and in part due to necessity spawned by a stumbling economy, millennials are wired for individualism and entrepreneurism. Use crowdsourcing to allow them a chance to develop products, and communicate the opportunities your microloans will provide.
Two other closing thoughts: Grassroots doesn’t mean amateur. Quite the contrary. This generation grew up with user-friendly photo and video editing tools. They expect professional effort. Work with designer on developing a style and feel consistent with your brand, strategic goals, and membership sensibilities.
Also, to truly make an impression with millennials, you need substance behind your style. That means creating products that suit their needs. Build a mobile ecosystem that includes person-to-person payments and digital wallet options, create credit-builder products, offer rewards credit cards with respectable credit limits, issue microloans, and sanction financial education services and activities.