The big buzz words this year are "member engagement" and "engagement banking." But do they denote a new concept or a case of what old being new again?
"I think it’s a good question," said Brady Walen, director of marketing at MarketInsights. "We’re seeing a few people trying to champion the concept of engagement banking, so it’s interesting to see how some are framing it up and some are introducing it as a new concept where I think it has always been there."
According to Walen, in its simplest most basic form, it boils down to a credit union interacting with a member in a way that member wants to be interacted with.
"I can’t speak to the bank 2.0 crowd’s definition of engagement banking, but brand engagement as it applies to banking is creating something–an organization that is worth caring about where employees and members are anything but apathetic," said Creative Brand Communications CEO Jeff Stephens. "They are sincerely into what’s going on at the credit union it’s not just a paycheck or a place to stash their cash or get a loan but something that matters to them."
Simply put, the experts agree that when discussing real engagement, it has to be delivered by everyone at the credit union not just the marketing department.
Part of the challenge with the idea of engagement banking is that different segments of the population want to be engaged at different levels, and it’s hard for a credit union to be effective in engagement if they take a one size fits all approach. According to Stephens and Walen, what it requires is a rethinking and redefining of credit unions’ target market.
"I believe there has to be a shift in mentality and you have to believe in quality over quantity when it comes to the member relationship," said Stephens. "It can be too big a leap for some because you can’t be everything to everybody and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with the idea of being polarizing."
Walen added that credit unions need to have an understanding of who the membership is and who they would like to have as a member because engagement banking can’t work if the answer is everybody.
"To effectively engage the member, you have to narrow the pool, the more specific you can be the better," said Walen. "Historically credit unions put a message out there and whoever responds to it fine–it’s a numbers game and with engagement banking you can’t do that because it is not a one-sided conversation. In addition to defining who you want as members you have to think critically about who you do not want as members beyond just saying those members that just carry the $5 balance in checking."
Once credit unions have a handle on the segment of population they’re serving they can then dig into their preferences in how they like to be engaged and want to interact with the credit union.
What further compounds grasping the engagement concept is that there is no one thing to point to such as word-of-mouth marketing or brand awareness.
"Just because people know or heard your credit union’s name doesn’t necessarily mean they care about the brand or credit union in general," said Stephens. "It is also important to understand that it is polarizing to have an engaging brand. It’s not something that is universally loved by everyone. It is either right or wrong for a lot of people; there’s no sitting on the fence. The example we talk about is like Apple. You’re either a fan or not. No one said ‘eh.’"
When it comes to examples of engagement in the credit union world it gets a little trickier as there is no one shining example. The closest a credit union comes to delivering the whole package is Vancity in Vancouver, British Columbia. The credit union has built a community based on its culture of environmental and social sustainability, where members can build their wealth while maintaining their values. On its website, www.vancity.com, Vancity has successfully positioned its business as "a bit of the chicken-and-the egg. Do our members choose us because our vision matches theirs? Or do they choose us because our vision is actually shaped by theirs?"
The experts also point to the platforms developed by Currency Marketing Young & Free and VerityMom, which has demonstrated a level of honest engagement that targets a specific demographic of the market.
"It speaks volumes that we can’t readily come up with more examples," said Walen. "The community bank world and credit union world are kind of converging and there is no distinction between them in consumers’ minds so it’s important to pay attention to how consumers want to interact with you and allow them to make a choice based on the relationship they have with you."
Stephens added that there is a difference in communicating value and having a consumer feel valued.
"You can communicate value all you want but the objective of engagement banking is to make them feel valued, which can’t happen if you listen," said Walen. "And I don’t mean via comment cards or when they call to complain. It can’t just be window dressing or pointing to something you’ve always done."