When it comes to the trends in marketing, the challenge this year has been doing more with less.
Rather than feeling paralyzed by tighter budgets that resulted in a renewed focus on ROI accountability for every campaign or promotional dollar spent, longtime industry marketing and branding consultant Paul Lucas said to view it as a chance to get back to basics.
"You build a solid brand by doing small things right every day," said Lucas. "In marketing you have to build a solid foundation, identify and manage all your branded touch points consistently. Next, increase your products and service penetration in every category every month even if it is in small increments. Over time, you'll have great growth."
He added that the biggest brand killer is when marketing brings in a prospective new member with a promotion and then the credit union fails to deliver on the operations or service side.
"You may have to spend six times what you initially spent in time and money to get that member to ever look at you again and even that might not work," said Lucas. "First, understand your membership, brand and credit union, make sure the basics are working well. Then make that big flashy idea work for your credit union."
Matt Davis, Filene Research Institute adviser specializing in innovative implementation, said, "Budgets have been cut and the result is there are not a lot of resources but what it has allowed us to do is get creative, more grassroots and hands on. It goes back to focusing on your credit union's strengths."
He added that the challenge has helped credit unions to develop solutions and really help members whether it's with financial literacy or creating a microsite for members who have been laid off to help in their job search efforts.
PTP New Media Grower of Relationships James Robert Lay added that it has been exciting to see credit unions going back to grassroots, tapping into their communities, being advocates and sharing members' real stories in authentic ways. In addition, rather than using stock photos, some credit unions are featuring their employees as a way to humanize the credit union while overcoming budget cuts.
"What we're seeing is that those who rely on doing the same thing they've always done for the last five years are failing miserably," said Davis. "I think it's important for credit unions to differentiate themselves by talking about what they do well rather than pointing out what others do badly."
He added that the Move Your Money campaign urging consumers to leave their big banks and head to a local community bank or credit union is a great one, but credit unions have to be careful their marketing is more than just not being a big bank.
"If you point your finger at them, at some point, they'll point back. And there are some credit unions that are doing similar things as big banks, so credit unions just have to be really careful about that," said Davis.
For EverythingCU.com Chief Experience Officer Morriss Partee, 2010 was the start of credit unions coming into their own as far as social media marketing.
"Most credit unions in 2010 have at least a Facebook account and many have Twitter as well. I think at least 500 credit unions are on Twitter and maybe over 1,000 on Facebook compared to about two years ago where only about 150 credit unions had accounts," said Partee. "It's a wonderful fit for credit unions. I know the lower cost is part of its appeal, but there is a time investment required. And I think credit unions are still barely scratching the surface of what can be done with social media."
Lay agreed and added that organizations that can successfully combine and harness the power of the traditional channel of broadcast with the nontraditional will be better placed for the next phase which will be social commerce.
"So you use the traditional media to build brand and instead of driving members to a corporate website, direct them to a branded microsite where members are invited to comment, post and join the conversation. Now that you have this dialogue going, you take it to the next level of social commerce," said Lay. "Those who are successful with social media listen first, learn about the community, then engage in real humanized conversations. The struggle most credit unions have is trying to take that traditional broadcast sales mentality online."
He said another common misperception is that traditional marketing is no longer necessary, which couldn't be further from the truth.
"An effective Twitter-Facebook presence is a big time investment in content and content is king," said Lay. "It has to be fresh, relevant and it has to look good especially if it's a video. It can't be a 10-minute diatribe with no story or purpose. Believe me, anything over two minutes is not worth being produced for the Web."
Davis, who declined to talk about social media beyond that some do it well and some don't, added, "If you want to compete, members need to be able to make decisions from anywhere they want and even apply for new accounts anywhere they are. I think we've lost sight of that, and many are scared to invest now but now is the time to do it. If a member who is sold on credit unions can't open an account from where they are, we've lost them."
He added that credit unions need to focus on making it easier for members to do business with them. It represents a shift in service differentiation because it's about how the credit union can make it easier for the members to serve themselves better.
"There's research that indicates in one to two year there will be more mobile devices than desktop devices so credit unions can't ignore that," said Partee. "My friend Ron Shelvin thinks that there is opportunity in the emerging trend of personal financial management. The wave of the future will be in enabling or creating truly meaningful, deeper connections beyond just the balance but helping members understand spending patterns and make smarter decisions with their money, which will translate to deeper relationships with the financial institution."
Lay has been equally excited about the opportunities presented by PFM as it brings the online banking experience to a new level that is not just transactional but represents a clear benefit for credit unions in terms of increasing member retention.
"It's a unique opportunity for credit unions to take the lead, and if they don't do it then other organizations like Mint will and you've just lost some control," said Lay.
Davis added there is a case for using PFM to help credit unions' financial education efforts.
"I'm huge on financial literacy and don't think there is any way for big banks to know their customers as well as credit unions know their members. And it's time for the industry to embrace its smallness rather than trying to look big," said Davis. "Part of that is financial education help that's hands on whether virtually with PFM tools or in person financial counseling."
Given that so many consumers are armed with smart phones that let others know where they are in terms of location, Partee added that another trend for marketers in 2011 may be in the emerging field of geolocation.
"I'm not positive yet what the best application will be for credit unions, but it certainly is an emerging consumer trend to keep an eye on," said Partee. "Being able to check in and let people know where you are is a very hot new sector, and I haven't seen credit unions use it, yet some local businesses have been adopting various campaigns around location. For example, a chain of burrito shops in the Boston area that is very smart and socially aware rewards customers who become 'mayor' of any one of its chain outlets with a mayor card that if they present on Mondays at any location will get a free burrito for them or even a friend."
As no discussion of 2010 marketing trends could be complete without the mention of Gen Y, Lay suggested credit unions finally stop talking about it and start doing something about it.
"Credit unions have to approach it with a marathon mentality, not the monthly, quarterly or even annual campaign mentality," said Lay. "You have to have a long-term plan in place to connect and know who they are so sit and talk internally and externally with them. The biggest reason for failure of Gen Y comes from assumptions about what they want."
He said the first step is to stop thinking of the age range of 18-34 as a demographic and start breaking it down to categories like Gen Y high, Gen Y university and Gen Y professional.
"It's not effective to go after all three. Identify the submarkets that are most applicable for your credit union and focus on that," said Lay. "Credit unions get so excited about it but skip the connect part and jump to create. You've got to have at least a three-year plan."
While on the topic of connecting with Gen Y, Lay said it starts with recognizing, fostering and developing the young talent within the credit union walls on staff.
"That's why Brent Dixon's Crash events are such a huge deal," said Lay. "It's been amazing to see future leaders be a part of conferences they might not ordinarily be able to attend and discuss not just their challenges but come up with ways to overcome them. I can't stress how important it is to attract, recruit and retain young professionals internally if you're looking to connect with Gen Y members. Credit unions are going to have to ask what is their culture and what is it about that culture that will appeal to 22- or 28-year-olds?"
In addition to embracing a Crash mentorship program, Davis also suggested marketing to those who guide Gen Y's financial decisions-their parents.
"I also think we are seriously missing the boat in marketing to Gen X, they too don't trust big banks," Davis said. "Credit unions talk about how important it is to have younger people involved on the board, and I hope they take it a step further than the young adult advisory panel and find a way to let them have a say even if it is a nonvoting role. With all the new rules about the board and accountability, it's going to be even harder to get people excited about volunteering to serve on the board."
Moving forward the experts agreed that collaboration will play a vital role in marketing strategy particularly in demonstrating the credit union difference. Some examples included Mississippi credit unions teaming up to offer Young & Free together to attract Gen Y when typically the program is made exclusive to a single credit union per state and Michigan credit unions participating in the prize-linked savings program Save to Win, where members who opened a special savings account were entered for a chance to win $100,000 grand prize and monthly prizes as well.
"Those types of collaboration was not happening five years ago, and as we talk about the credit union difference going forward there has to be more of that," said Davis.
"Credit unions have to look at how they can pool their resources to be more effective and spread a message," added Lay.