Sometimes the best member to talk up your credit union is one you create.
With a field of membership of churches and Christian-based organizations in the Richmond, Va. area, including missionaries, Entrust Federal Credit Union found itself looking for a way to better communicate and connect with its members.
During summer 2009, wanting to tap into the power of social media, the $70 million credit union’s Marketing Director Alison Fallecker created the persona of Entrust Gary.
“Entrust Gary has been a creative way for us to be out in Facebook, continue to promote what our credit union stands for without the blatant use of the word Christian while being a great way for our members to stay connected with us and still take advantage of the resources available to them,”said Greta Kidd, vice president, marketing/member development at Entrust FCU.
Fallecker added that with Entrust Gary as the face of its social media efforts, he not only embodies member needs but has been leveraged online and offline.
“The best form of advertising is word of mouth, and recommendations from a friend mean more than anything you hear from a company,” said Fallecker. “So we thought why not create a member who talks about how easy it is to work with our credit union. He’s like an evangelist for us because he shares how we help to make banking not be such a chore.”
In designing Gary, she simply created a complete background and history based on the average Entrust FCU member. So Gary is in his early 40s, Christian, has a wife named Barb, a son Ethan and a dog named Dottie.
“He has this whole life, including hobbies, and a lot of people don’t even realize he’s not a real person,” said Fallecker. “We even had a request from a member to give Gary a single brother. We named him Terry, and she even told me how she wanted him to look. And she was tagged in a photo as the person dating Gary’s brother. We have a life-size cutout of Gary, and he gets requests all the time to attend several local events and functions. During one luncheon the sponsor even went so far as to set him a place at the table complete with cardboard plates, silverware and food cutouts. The members absolutely love him.”
Since introducing Gary in a newsletter in 2009, he has been the embodiment of the many ways members can connect with the credit union, from using his cell phone for mobile banking to tweeting while on the beach about how he’s depositing checks online while on vacation.
“He’s going through his daily life and just talking about the many easy ways to bank with Entrust FCU,” said Kidd. “Our strategy from the beginning has been that the social media aspect would support and fit into our existing marketing and awareness campaigns. It’s snowballed into something more than we even imagined. We’ve found that Gary simply talking about, say, our vehicle loans, would get members to come into the branch or post on Facebook ‘Tell me more,’ That’s how strongly our members feel about Gary.”
Gary is not only popular but resonating with members, as in the first year the credit union experienced a 5% increase in outstanding mortgage loan balances, vehicle loan balance increases of 5%, a 12% increase in online deposit users and a 2% increase in mobile banking users. He also has about 174 followers on Twitter and about 261 friends on Facebook.
Thanks to the two-person marketing/business development department, Gary chats about three times a week, representing a time commitment of roughly 30 minutes a day. Fallecker draws inspiration for what Gary will share from water cooler conversations or even the weather.
“The updates are really important so you’ve got to invest the time,” said Fallecker. “What’s key is that it’s never a salesy pitch–Gary’s conversations are always more educational, sharing financial resources and encouraging members to be good stewards with their money and good money managers like him and his family.”
As for what’s ahead, Kidd said Gary has built such a great name for himself and awareness of what Entrust Federal CU has to offer that maybe in the distant future other members of the family may begin to speak as well. For now, with very limited resources just focusing on Gary is enough.