"What we have wanted to bring to credit unions are the perspectives of some people who are leaders in their fields and who might have something to teach us about how we can do what we do better," explained Stan Hollen, CEO of CO-OP Financial Services.
This year the CUSO brought leaders from the worlds of retail, like Target and Wal-Mart, politics and government (Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign), entertainment (Disney), e-commerce (Travelocity) and manufacturing (Proctor & Gamble, Nike and Porsche) to describe the lessons they learned and suggest ways to apply it to credit unions.
Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer for Proctor & Gamble, described the lessons he had learned in 25 years with that company, particularly as brand manager for Pampers disposable diapers, which had fallen into a deep sales trench when he took it over.
"What I hope to do is to make clear the difference between bad marketing and MAD (making a difference) marketing," Stengel said. "I think everyone in this room could call to a mind a dozen examples of bad marketing, but very few examples of MAD marketing, which is the sort of marketing that will speak to consumers today."
MAD marketing is infused with the organization's values, inspired by its customers, driven by the company's values, not just price, generates talk and perpetually reinvents itself.
To illustrate these attributes, Stengel led the credit union executives through an exercise to come up with a statement of core values, what they did and why they existed, suggesting that those values needed to be the focus of everything the organization offered or sold.
He also described how Proctor and Gamble had listened to its Pampers customers and crafted a marketing campaign to involve them in resolving a global challenge: curing tetanus around the world.
After listening to the mothers who were the primary Pampers customers, the company realized that mothers recognized different stages in their baby's lives and began marketing different Pampers for different ages. The company also realized that mothers cared not only for their own infants but those around the world as well and would participate in a program that would let them help correct the problem by buying something they already needed.
Proctor & Gamble teamed up with UNICEF, another trusted brand, to run the program through which the company funded one tetanus vaccine for a mother or newborn infant for every package of Pampers purchased around the world. The resulting campaign was so successful, it not only breathed life into what had been a fading brand, it also enabled UNICEF to make a real dent in infant and maternal tetanus.
MAD marketing moves the consumer from being merely a passive purchaser of a product or service to being a participant in something tied to their lives and to the brand, Stengel said.
Doug Lipp, former head of training for the Disney companies, described the different obstacles and opportunities he encountered as Disney worked toward building the world-class customer service that has made the brand famous. Often poignantly and with a lot of humor, Lipp did not just describe the company's triumphs but also its failures along the way.
Robyn Waters, trend marketer known for helping vault the Target retail store chain above its competition, outlined for credit union executives the different ways American consumers hold conflicting opinions at the same time.
She also suggested different approaches credit unions might use to bring that awareness of the paradoxes in American consumers into the products and services that they offer members.
"I am not a futurist," Waters told the executives. "I am not an expert on financial services or credit unions. What I can do is alert you to some of the ways American consumers are thinking and feeling and what that might mean to how you market what you do and offer."
Waters told the meeting that "trends are ways of doing things that make sense for a reason" and that they do not always demand complete consistency from American consumers-in fact they often did not.
She used products to illustrate her point about conflicting trends, such as the way so-called old-fashioned board games gained popularity, even among young people, just as enthusiasm grew for video games.
"The key is to know your consumer inside and out," she said, "what's important to them and why and not just what's next."
A consultant close to President Obama told attendees of CO-OP Financial Services' THINK 09 conference that keeping up a strong flow of internal communications was crucial to Obama's organizing success.
David Plouffe, former campaign manager President Barack Obama's campaign, described how important it had been for the campaign to keep informed and involved its grassroots volunteers, suggesting that a similar approach could be used for credit union staff.
"We did something really very different, unprecedented," he said. "We had upper level campaign leaders, including the candidate, communicate often and directly with the grassroots volunteers-not just with the donors, which is what had usually been done before."
This communication was substantive and detailed and had the impact of making the volunteers feel like a direct part of the campaign. "We clued in these thousands or tens of thousands of volunteers in the primary states about our strategy, our goals or objectives. We even let them have access to our voter file-which everyone said we were crazy to do."
The result, he told the credit union executives, were campaign workers who were among the most effective advocates for Obama's message going forward-much more effective than other traditional political approaches had ever been. A similar attitude, he suggested, could bring similar results in credit unions.