Pennsylvania CU Association/CUs Doing the Right Thing
Get the word out about credit unions. Anyone who reads this column has heard me sing this tune time and time again, and time and time again I am amazed by the lack of a national effort. However, I am excited to see the strides states are taking to brand themselves such as in California, Colorado and Washington to name a few.
The latest state striving to increase consumer awareness, and that's exactly what good branding does, is Pennsylvania led by the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association. It has launched an 18-month, $2.25 million statewide campaign that focuses primarily on television, supported by radio and some Web advertising. Looking deeper at this program really provides an interesting look at how to do a branding campaign, and answers the question I always get on this topic: How can credit unions get a national branding campaign going?
In Pennsylvania it was driven by credit union CEOs--they demanded it. The association responded by finding a way to cooperatively get it done. That's just what would be necessary nationally. If there was a groundswell of support coming from credit union CEOs, national organizations would swing into action. Make no mistake, credit union CEOs run this industry, whether you're talking about CUNA and NAFCU or CUSOs. When they can come together to decide courses of action, those groups will act. That's exactly what happened with the Credit Union Membership Access Act. When CUNA and NAFCU weren't joining forces, the CEOs laid down the law and we all know the rest of the story.
PCUA decided to require all members to pay an assessment to fund the campaign. It wasn't optional. PCUA required 1% of assets as the fee, and for CUs below $20 million the assessment is 0.5%. Because it is a mandatory program, PCUA ruffled some feathers and lost 11 credit union members. That's a shame, but the end result was worth it. Why would CUs leave the league for trying to increase awareness when Pennsylvania has been one of the worst states in the last five years in membership growth? It's been a flat growth situation. Any branding that exposes more Pennsylvanians to credit unions is good for all the credit unions in the state. Those 11 will come back.
After the CEOs demanded it and PCUA committed to the program, they did another smart thing; they brought in the marketers, the creative minds that can get it done. The marketers gladly offered their time and talent to the worthy cause, serving on a 15-member steering committee.
PCUA then did its research, and it was an eye-opener. First, it found out who to target--females in the 25-49 age range, who control household financial decisions. The imagery in the spots is aimed at females. There is a family, birthday, wedding and other scenes designed to appeal to women. The media buy is designed to hit 80% of the target audience four times a month. The commercials will run on the morning news, home and garden cable channel, Oprah, Rachel Ray and other shows that will deliver the female demographic. It is getting the most of its money by book ending shows, taking the first 15 seconds of a show and the last 15 seconds.
Research also showed that membership doesn't mean much to consumers--ownership did not test well. The term membership tested bad because people thought it was a barrier, that they had to qualify. Nonprofit also didn't test well. What did test well was low rates and remote accessibility.
PCUA also found something disturbing--the No. 1 barrier to more Pennsylvanians joining credit unions was confusion over eligibility. This again is why I think branding is so important. It's scary, but so many people still confuse credit unions with labor unions, think credit unions are only for certain companies, and just don't realize there is a credit union that they can join.
A word and concept that did test well was "belong." People like the idea of belonging to an institution that is dedicated to them, so PCUA took that word and ran with it. The program is known as iBelong, and yes does play off the hip iPod. Visit www.ibelong.org to see how it is trying to convey to the millions of Pennsylvanians who aren't members that they too can "belong" to a credit union.
On to some other nuts and bolts. PCUA hired a big time media buyer that works with big companies like Target and others. This gave PCUA clout and lets them take advantage of economies of scale delivered by the media buyer. PCUA also hired a marketing firm as well as a Web firm to launch the site. PCUA is hopeful that credit unions will utilize iBelong in its own efforts and make it a co-branding effort. Credit unions can take the iBelong creative and brand it with their own logo and messaging.
The sustainability of the campaign is key. Eighteen months is a good run. Now let's sit back and watch the membership needle move. Right now there are approximately 3.3 million credit union members in the state. With 11 million residents, Pennsylvania credit unions have a world of opportunity in front of them as do many other states. Pennsylvania credit unions have decided to take action to add members and I think they're commitment will pay off. Other states can't afford not to get into the act.
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