Why wait a year to recognize credit unions' virtual, viral and electronic efforts that are happening now?
That single question prompted the Marketing Association of Credit Unions to launch the MAC Marketing NOW awards.
"We noticed that this is one area where nobody was taking the time to recognize what is being done now, not last month or last year," said Paul Stull, MAC board director and Arizona State Credit Union's senior vice president of marketing. "It's an area that has been underrepresented and we wanted to honor the best work happening right now in the credit union world and judge it in real time-not on paper in triplicate."
With more credit unions creating and posting their work on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, microsites and developing smart phone apps, it only made sense that the same medium and speed be used in judging.
Categories ran the gamut from best social media personality, best use of a commercial app, or best credit union podcast or Internet radio show to best social media engagement campaign and everything in between. Open to credit unions, credit union leagues and trade associations and credit union agency and vendor partners, applicants simply had to submit their URL online at macnetwork.org to enter.
"The fact is that today because of budget limitations, many credit unions turn to online tools to promote their products and services and the quality of work being done-some of it has blown us away," said Stull of the over 100 entries submitted. "This type of competition is a fresh new concept, something that hasn't been done before and that immediacy fits with our organization."
It is also an area the organization is quite familiar with. In 2009, with credit unions facing slashed travel budgets, MAC canceled its live annual conference and turned to cyberspace to host a virtual conference for its members instead. The three-day event featured educational webinars that covered topics ranging from member retention and competitive strategies to best practices. In addition, Stull served as the virtual emcee of the online MAQUEE awards ceremony while the audience posted live tweets throughout. The conference was so well received that MAC subsequently added virtual learning labs to its member offerings.
"We had a great response to that virtual conference," said Stull. "With this competition, from all accounts we have heard that many people who entered felt a little alone out there, not being sure of what they are doing in the digital world but knowing that they are learning and experimenting as they go. Many said they were pleased that there was now a way to share with others and get a feeling for what was happening in this fast changing world of electronic communication."
A panel of judges looked at a range of criteria for each category, such as number of followers, creativity, number of comment posts as well as quality of writing and material presented for Facebook, Twitter or microsites. For smart phone apps the entry had to be useful. Also, there had to be a clear purpose and a marketing component to them rather than just as a means to link to the Internet banking site.
"We looked at it from a qualitative and quantitative perspective since it's the first time this has ever been done, and we discover and add to that as we go," said Stull.
Once the winners of each category were selected, the panel then narrowed the field down to the top three finalists and turned the voting over for one week to the public to determine the MAC Marketing NOW Superstar. Winners will be announced live on MAC's Twitter stream @macassociation throughout the week of Nov. 1.
The final three represent a diverse range of approaches. Denver Community Credit Union's blunt, direct, honest We Admit It videos are designed to appeal to Gen Y by giving real reasons to be a member. Launched on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, each individual spot has had over 2,000 views in less than a month.
Listerhill Credit Union's Young & Free search for a spokesperson led to creative video submissions that explain what young people want from their financial institutions. Developed by Currency Marketing the Young & Free platform is designed to engage and educate Gen Y.
At Erie General Electric FCU, it's Bubba Luvs That microsite featuring its No. 1"Supa-Fan" has helped create an increase of 33% over normal quarterly checking account sign ups , and 59% of the new sign ups are young adults. A longtime credit union member, BubbaLuv is a real local celebrity and sports enthusiast who was already doing things that young adults love when the credit union partnered with him.
"Considering this is the first effort of its kind, we've been very pleased with the response," said Stull. "As for next year, there will absolutely be a MAC NOW Award program again but as for what it will be...that is hard to tell. Our goal is to focus on what is happening right now and whatever path credit unions take, MAC will be there to recognize the best of what is taking place in real time. So NOW Awards will continue, but will be based on the future, not the past."