The majority of people didn't know, but what I thought was most interesting was that there were people who had heard of a credit union before but couldn't explain what it is and people who claimed to know what a credit union is but still had trouble explaining it.
Gaining new members is an important focus for credit unions, but there are going to be some people who will never understand what a credit union is and will never join one. That's why I think you should focus on the members you already have first because they are one of your most important assets when it comes to gaining new members.
If a current member doesn't know exactly what you are, what you do and can't name a unique service you provide, then it's highly unlikely they're going to recommend you to someone else.
A recent Aite survey, "Engaging Gen Y: Cultivating a New Generation of Banking Customers," found that one in five Gen Yers surveyed use social networks to solicit opinions of peers when they're researching financial products. The survey also said that 35% of Gen Yers said that they often recommended their bank to family and friends, and those that do recommend their bank are more likely to grow the relationship with their bank.
With tight marketing budgets, word of mouth is extremely important, but you have to provide your current members with something to talk about. You need to offer something truly unique.
During an interview for an article I was working on a couple of months ago, a credit union employee mentioned that the credit union has a glow in the dark credit card it offers to Gen Y members. The idea behind it is that the card can be easily spotted at beer parties or bars so college students don't lose it.
I'm not running to get my glow in the dark credit card, but if my friend pulled out a glow in the dark card at the bar, I'd ask where she got it, and I would look at it and see the credit union name. It's unique and it's a conversation starter.
Information from the Aite report also showed that debit card usage has exceeded credit card usage for the first time in the past year, mainly because of debit card usage among Gen Y. The survey showed that four out of 10 respondents use a debit card more than 15 times a month.
The younger members of Gen Y are growing up using debit cards and will continue to use debit cards in their adult life. Every bank offers a debit card and most offer reward programs to go with it.
I tried to find teen debit card programs that offered rewards geared toward teens. What if your credit union offered a debit card with reward options for high school seniors to earn points toward items they need for college? Or a debit card that allowed them to earn points for coupons or items from local businesses? What if you gave the young members the option of not paying the overdraft fee by attending a financial literacy seminar when they overdraw their account?
If you got Gen Yers that were already members to participate, I guarantee word would travel fast that they got a free TV for college by using their credit union debit card or that they get free sandwiches from the local deli by using their card. If you take care of members, they'll take care of you. You just have to give them something to brag about.