Where's the beef?
Marketers presenting a new campaign today might think they're dealing with Clara Peller in the Wendy's television spots from the 1980s.
At one time they could pretty much wow a CEO with cutting-edge artwork and clever words. But it's 2010 and CEOs want to hear a thorough analysis of how a marketing effort is going to pay off. Facts and figures are increasingly important to justify a share of a tight credit union budget.
The California Credit Union League recently pulled together a panel of three CEOs to discuss what they expect from marketing: Eileen Rivera, SkyOne Federal Credit Union; Joseph Schroeder, Ventura County Credit Union; and Jeff York, Coast Hills Credit Union. They were selected because they all launched their credit union careers in marketing.
York emphasized how vital marketing is today.
"It always was important, but as credit unions have become more community-based, I think the brand and imaging is critical," he said. "You need to have a clear vision of what your brand is and use that to grow your relationship in the community."
"Do I look at it differently as a CEO than when I was directly in marketing? I have high expectations of marketing. Marketing does have a seat at the big table. They're part of strategic planning, and they certainly facilitate growth and relationships."
A typical credit union doesn't have the advertising budget of a major bank, he continued, so the credit union needs to know it's spending its money wisely. That means drilling down and using metrics and analytics available to marketers today. It also means personalized, customized marketing to directly target specific members.
"I look at marketing as an investment," York said. "The marketing person should indicate how much money or how much business is going to be generated and how much money it will take to do that."
Do today's analytics and metrics help do that?
"Absolutely," York said. "You can really drill down and say, 'This is the narrow market we're going to hit, and we should see higher returns than we get from standard mailings.'"
During the panel discussion, York emphasized marketing is a culture, not a department. To succeed marketing has to resonate throughout the organization.
Eileen Rivera noted that, despite tight budgets and staff cutbacks, SkyOne FCU has kept all seven of its marketing staff. To her, she noted, marketing is not an area she would cut.
Instead, there's been a drive to do as much or more as in the past for less money. For example, in the past the credit union might have sent two or three business development officers to an air traffic controllers' convention. Today that's cut back to one. Instead of having its own booth, SkyOne might share a booth with a sponsor.
A half-page ad might run in a publication formerly picked for a full-page ad. A project that used to be assigned to an outside agency will likely be handled in-house.
"Our team has put out just as much marketing effort. In fact, I'd say better marketing, for a lot less money," Rivera noted. "We're using e-mail channels. We just have to be smarter about how we're spending those marketing dollars. We require them to show results. They have to do an ROI and a break-even projection. How much business do we need to get from this ad to afford this ad?"
Rivera sees more of that kind of pressure on the marketing bottom line than in the past, when creativity and originality ruled. Today the question is, does the marketing effort contribute to the bottom line?
"I also think what's changed in a huge way is the technology," she added. "It's amazing, and it helps them do so much more. I don't even know how to use it. When I was doing marketing, it was writing copy and doing graphics. The printing process was completely different."
She recalled that people attending the panel discussion wanted to know what CEOs expect of their marketers. She responded she wanted to know her marketing people are conscientious about the money they're spending and that they hold themselves responsible. She indicated the panelists rose to their CEO positions because they are very results-oriented.
Jeff Schroeder said the marketing people he admires most have great analytical skills.
"They're very involved in return on investment," he said. "They're much more analytical than the marketing executive of 20 years ago. They still have to be creative, but in my opinion they're a different executive."
"Back in 1985 or 1986, I think I was at the first credit union that owned an MCIS. I practically had to force the guy to sell it to me. He only sold it to banks. But it has really changed our ability to measure what we do. Now you should expect your marketing executive to know about balance sheets and income statements."
In a way, Schroeder suggested, operating in the highly competitive and very expensive California market, where even large credit unions shudder at the cost of television or radio time, forces marketers to look at market segmentation strategies.
"In the old day, marketing strategy might call for sending direct mail to everyone in the same ZIP code," he recalled. "Then, when you started to look at other ways of slicing it, you realized John, Joe and Bubba lived in the same neighborhood. All three of their homes are worth the same. Joe just moved into his home, he and wife don't have any kids, and they're getting ready to start a family. Bubba has three kids. John has two kids, but they're already out of high school."
"All of them are neighbors, but from the viewpoint of selling them financial products, the approach would be completely different."
Then there's the change in media. Schroeder cited a Wall Street Journal article indicating that 22% of Americans have no landline, only a cell phone. One-third of adults sleep with their cell phones next to their beds. The length of cell phone calls has gone down because people are texting instead of talking. Most striking to Schroeder, the average teenager sends 3,339 text messages a month.
Schroeder invited his son Mark, who is 23 years old and a marketing graduate from San Diego State, to speak to the credit union board about how young people his age think. Mark pointed out he has 130 applications on his iPhone-all downloaded free-and sleeps with it next to his bed. Immediately after getting up he checks for messages.
"I'm not a banker like my dad, but I don't get paper receipts. Why don't you just text me my balance on a daily or weekly basis?" Mark said. "Why don't you text me when certain things happen to my account that would be of interest to me?"