Wanting to create relationships and future opportunity in the 18-to-24-year-old demographic group while increasing debit penetration and usage, a group of credit union executives kicked off a brainstorming session with the phrase, "Well, I think they would like..."
At Altura Credit Union, quickly recognizing just how far removed its leadership team was from the target demographic, executives decided it was time for a different but obvious approach-mining their internal resources for insight.
"When we began researching this segment, we called it Gen Y, and we focused on their life events to review depositing and borrowing needs. In the process of reviewing the product, collateral and promotional ideas, it hit us that we would not create a successful product or marketing campaign on our own," said Altura Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Binkley. "Our front line staff has a heavy concentration of employees within the demographic so we wanted to put together a team and gather their feedback and opinions on the suggested product, collateral, campaign components and promotional products."
Eight members were selected based on recommendations by their managers. Working either in branches or the member service center, they were tapped because of their strong work ethic, commitment to service and outgoing personalities. For its first order of business, the team, tired of the over-used Gen Y term, preferred to be known as Gen Now, which was inspired by the Black Eyed Peas song. Binkley said it was only the beginning of what became a great learning experience.
"What was so interesting and rewarding was that they immediately began correcting our assumptions in Gen Now's depositing and borrowing needs as well as our assumptions on their life events," said Binkley. "That was the start of them educating us on the real product differentiators, opportunities, branding themes and even internal product training."
The Riverside, Calif.-based credit union had already created and unveiled a soft launch for an iChecking product, as a free checking account that includes online banking, bill pay and e-alerts, and a Visa credit card with a $200 limit with proof of college enrollment or employment. Gen Now was tasked with enhancing the product components, differentiators, branding themes, promotional products and internal promotion for the formal campaign launch. The team, under Binkley's leadership met weekly prior to the campaign rollout then monthly afterward.
Some of the Gen Now friendly features include a signature bright green debit card featuring an emoticon smiley face that allows a customizable second line beneath the members name and transfer access for parents who also have Altura accounts.
"They really became our go-to guys for reaching out to Gen Now," said Binkley. "We learned we had to make the account theirs not their parents. So, the plastic and all the advertising had a dramatically different look and feel than our normal branding. Also, that customizable second line on the card-one of our employees talked card services into posting 'Mr. Wonderful' underneath his name and all of his friends wanted to know how they could get their own customized card, too."
Working with the marketing department to promote the product, the team gave a thumbs up to the iChecking slogan: "Now that's worth smi:)ing about."
They also suggested that account opening promotional items have a higher price point, leading to a choice between bright green travel coffee mugs with the white smiley face or bright green ear pods with a white smiley face on the volume control. Less expensive giveaways selected for events included bright green wristbands, lanyards and ping pong balls all with the smiley face prominently displayed.
To get staffers excited about promoting iChecking, the group developed two internal contests. "What does your second line say about you?" designed to help employees play up the customizable second line feature on the debit card, encouraged staffers to post their pictures holding their iChecking cards and in 25 words or less explain what it said about them on the Altura intranet. All staff voted and the top three participated in a money grab event at an all-staff meeting for $300.
A "Paid to Play" contest rewarded individual top performers with a day off and four tickets to Disneyland, and the top-performing branch or call center team had lunch served to them by executive management.
"In every case in which a member requested 'the account with the second line,' it was referred to them by a friend or family member-so we wanted our employees to promote this differentiator," said Binkley. "When we launched the internal promotion for the product and communication, every Gen Now team member wanted to be involved in presenting to their peers. It was great to see the message communicated by them with their enthusiasm and energy and to see the excitement of their fellow employees."
The team also developed a plan that included promoting iChecking at four local college campuses during lunch times and at the start of the semester. The plan also included six weeks of activities at the area's largest shopping mall, which featured three Altura ATMs wrapped in the iChecking message and a large banner that hung over the food court. Employees also staffed an Altura iChecking booth on Fridays and Saturdays where they gave away iChecking branded items.
At the end of their six-week campaign, the iChecking account balances increased from $176,420 to $432,251. In addition, after the initial campaign, iChecking debit card transactions went from 244 to 19,700 for purchases totaling more than $500,000. The number of Visa cards and balances for the Gen Y age group nearly tripled.
"In the last six months, the iChecking accounts have grown by 2,979 accounts. The member reaction has been positive, even members without the iChecking account have wanted the 'smiley face plastic,'" said Binkley. "We've also had higher debit usage than traditional free checking usage patterns."
To keep the momentum going, the $860 million credit union teamed up with a local radio station for a Taylor Swift giveaway. Participants texted a number to win free tickets to her concert and a chance to meet her. In addition, members who sign up on the microsite, www.jumpthenfall.com, through March 31, are entered in a sweepstakes to win concert tickets with every swipe of their debit card. To promote the campaign, Altura used life-size cut outs of Taylor Swift in the branches and staffers used the prop on-site at local campuses.
Binkley said plans are also underway to launch a campaign in the fall in time for back-to-school and the credit union is on the list for the first release of the iPad. She added that the Gen Now participation is ongoing.
"We are currently looking for them to meet for input on the 18-to-24-year-old view on referring products and services and how we can positively impact auto loans with Gen Now referrals. Also in promoting the iChecking product, a need for financial literacy has been noted among college students so we will be looking for opportunities to communicate with our youth members beginning in the fourth quarter of 2010," said Binkley.
She added that the experience has been extremely positive and would advise other credit unions to look within to form their own Gen Now teams. Some key takeaways include not taking the honest feedback personally, give the team credit and recognition as often as possible and make it easy for them to contribute. She said it also helped having a senior leader direct the team because it helped build relationship and gave members exposure, which made being on the team an honor.
"The biggest organizational learning opportunity was to create teams with employees to encourage feedback, involvement, and engagement. I loved the experience and the chance to see the input and growth of our young employees. They offer their opinions from a frontline perspective, and I am continually impressed with their ideas," said Binkley. "Another positive benefit has been their increased engagement and understanding of their contributions to Altura's goals."