"We are no different than any other credit union trying to find a way to make long-standing credit union dogma make sense to the public and explain it in a way that is relevant and valuable," said SMCU Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Jill Vincente. "We wanted to make the idea of membership important, and the more we researched we realized that it drilled down to being a financial cooperative. Consumers understand cooperatives so to explain exactly what credit unions do in terms of membership and voice we molded our research into seven principles."
The seven principles are:
oInclusive-membership should be open to all;
oVoice-members should call the shots;
oBenefit-rates and fees should benefit members;
oIndependent-autonomy and independence sets SMCU apart;
oEducation-financial education should be free and available to all;
oCooperation-cooperation among cooperatives is vital; and
oCommunity-giving back to the community is an obligation.
From that framework, Vincente said, it became a matter of showcasing how the credit union lives the seven principles and speaks to the question of "what if."
"We talked about what if you banked at a cooperative and what if you banked principles rather than profits," said Vincente. "So last year in trying to come up with the biggest way we could set an example of the seven principles, we joked that we'd really stand out if we handed out money to people. Instead of just brushing it off as impossible, we said 'what if we did?' and started figuring out how it could be done."
The result was the Pay it Forward October event, where SMCU staffers asked people what if we gave you $10? What would you do for somebody else? Those who lined up at the downtown branch and shared their ideas on a YouTube video got the cash. The public would then vote for the best idea out of the top seven and SMCU donated $1,000 to the winner's cause. Vincente said just asking "what if" not only served the local community but also generated local and national radio and print exposure, as well as more than 200 spots on broadcast television across the country.
"It has been inspiring," said Vincente. "The $10 clearly meant different things to different people. We met a lot of people who talked about the urgency of feeding themselves and someone else. That simple message and its importance to our community is a key revelation that presented itself throughout the event. The response to our seven principles has been extremely positive with members and employees who are letting us know that they are so proud to be a part of our credit union."
In addition to the event the credit union spread the word via billboards and a microsite, 7principles.coop, which has been revamped to incorporate a link back to the smcu.org Web site (www.smcu.com) and provides an open comment section. The latest billboard campaign effort revolves around the idea of "fill in the bank" to go beyond education and awareness to encourage consumers to make the switch to a credit union.
"For us this is a constant process not a marketing campaign," said Vincente. "The seven principles are guiding what we do both internally and in the community, and it resonates in a big way with staff and members. For example, the ads themselves don't ask for consumers' why I left my bank stories, but the open comment section on the Web was created for that purpose. We got the outcome we hoped for, ideally drawing attention back to the seven principles concept."
"The next stage will be to garner content from our staff about how they experience SMCU living the seven principles' Our employees have so many stories about all kinds of things, and they've really embraced the movement. Giving them a voice helps internal buy-in and what is so wonderful is they believe in what they are doing and really care about what the credit union is saying," said Vincente. "I get staff coming into my office asking what can we do next."