Community Charters Warned of Big Hikes in Marketing Expense
SEATTLE -- Credit unions prepping to launch community charters ought to be ready for sticker shock, a doubling of marketing budgets, a breakout session at the Marketing Association of Credit Unions was told here.
The days of "simply changing the signs in the branches and issuing statement stuffers announcing a community charter" are long gone, said Jane Ronnfeldt, vice president of marketing at Numerica Credit Union, Spokane, adding "if you have $50 in the ad budget, you will now need $100."
A big reason for the added expense, she explained, is the soaring costs of media ads and the sheer number of potential new members that need to be reached via a community charter, said Ronnfeldt who spoke on the "Seven Deadly Mistakes of Community Charter Marketing" at MAC's annual conference May 23-25 at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel.
She was joined in the presentation by Randy Schultz, vice president of marketing at Weber Marketing Group, Seattle, with both speakers arguing that senior management has a hard time grasping at the notion that marketing budgets need to move "beyond the 10%-20% range."
In her remarks, Ronnfeldt also urged marketers to resist draining the marketing budget by funding the many sincere requests of local groups asking for donations to benefit charitable or community events.
"Try to get in on the big events where the credit union name can be put up on banners and paraded before the public" since that is where the CU can get the most mileage for its marketing dollar, she said.
Ronnfeldt said she did not mean to be cynical about the needy requests, but there is only so much a CU can do to help out the small cause so marketers need to learn "how to say no." Sometimes posting rules and sign-up sheets on the Web site for sponsorships discourages excessive requests.
"I don't like our credit union to be the 42nd sponsor of the local run," said Ronnfeldt noting that that kind of exposure is costly and winds up burying the CU message. There are always exceptions when a particular member contingent or SEG group is involved, but for the most part marketing departments need to exercise discipline in turning away requests.
As one way to bring valued CU exposure, one Wisconsin marketer in the audience suggested, "why not start sponsoring your own local run or race and then put your name on it."
The Numerica executive also reminded the MAC audience that CUs planning on making a community splash need to make sure their branches are designed with bright inviting colors and reflect the culture of the community.
She showed slides of one branch in a college town which had hanging on the walls "iPods, toboggans and climbing poles" giving the branch a youth oriented look attractive to that segment.
But in more established, residential branches, different icons are needed to draw in new business, she said.
Ronnfeldt admitted that sometimes she is horrified to visit a "trashy, unkempt branch" with excessive clutter. "A clean, organized and tidy" setting sends a strong message to potential members, she said.
Sometimes that means "I have to get the employees to remove the beanie babies on the desks," considering those treasured stuffed animals present a less than sophisticated image.
She also finds herself eliminating the "pamphlet rack with old items" replacing it with more attractive furniture or bright-colored kiosks or desks.
Ronnfeldt said adoption of new names is a long-term process and that she does not get upset when veteran members "still call us Spokane Railway Credit Union." Those members identify themselves that way and CUs should not be discouraged if the new name does not take hold right away.
In the breakout, Ronnfeldt and Schultz both urged caution in "protecting the brand", but admitted they disagree on whether members "should wear the logo" on baseball caps and other wear.
"I don't want to see our baseball cap or T-shirt on some drunk guy falling out of a bar and being arrested by the police on TV," said Ronnfeldt. Schultz maintained there are risks to "wearing the brand as ambassadors", but having the extra exposure bolsters the CU image.
One audience member, Chris Gardner, division manager of marketing at Wright-Patt Credit Union in Fairborn, Ohio, said his CU is trying to control the problem by sifting through the apparel requests from members and "having their purchases made directly through us."