If Bryce Roth, marketing coordinator at Vacationland Federal Credit Union, has his way, credit unions will go from being the best kept secret to the go-to consumer resource.
“We don’t promote ourselves well enough. There’s been some progress in the last year, but there is still a lot we can leverage and we’re not. So many of us are happy with the status quo as far as marketing and how we relate to members by doing the same things over and over again,” said Roth.
“We’re not being flashy enough. Now is the time to say look we’re here and show consumers the value credit unions have to offer. There’s never been a better time.”
He added that he’d love to see a credit union revolution.
“The term movement implies an end, like getting from point A to B,” said Roth. “A revolution never stops but rather keeps evolving. We’ve got to always go further in better serving our members by providing many different communication channels and offering innovative products and services.”
According to Roth, while there is much talk and dialogue in the credit union community recognizing the need to reach out to the youth, with the exception of a few organizations, the shift to action has been very slow.
“Credit unions are already very active in the communities they serve, so why not use that to our advantage and involve the youth while giving back,” said Roth. “Get out there and play. Expose them to what credit unions are about. We’ve got to do more than just talk if we want to engage the next generation–that means making credit unions relevant. We know they want to be involved with a financial institution that cares about them and their community."
He added that when members feel more connected to the credit union, they feel more invested.
For example, his Sandusky, Ohio-based credit union has created a Change Agent Squad, consisting of a group of local high school and college students interested in giving back to their communities.
Touted as a way to give younger members a voice and a means to make a difference, the squad meets monthly for a mix of socializing and discussing and learning about financial issues relevant to their lives while brainstorming and planning events to help make their communities better places in which to live.
Whether it’s leveraging a longstanding high school football rivalry to benefit a local soup kitchen or treating kids in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program to the local festival of lights, the squad has helped locals think differently about the role the $145 million credit union plays in the community.
He also credits the cuBE or credit union big experience, a mobile billboard and multimedia machine on wheels that includes an Xbox 360, big screen television and onboard computer, as a way of building awareness not only of the credit union difference but also financial literacy and local charitable organizations.
“There are only five in the U.S. and it’s been a great tool to engage people who otherwise would not be interested in learning about us.”
A self-proclaimed social media geek, Roth said the same can be said for the two-way communication offered by social media.
“I am amazed that so many credit unions don’t have a business plan when it comes to how they’re using social media,” said Roth. “You’ve got to have a plan, know what you’re doing and why. People look at social media and say it’s free marketing, but it is a tool so if you just jump on Facebook or Twitter without any idea how to use it, you could end up losing a finger.
"Or in this case doing more damage than good. You wouldn’t just mess with a chainsaw without knowing how to use it, same concept applies to social media.”
He added that credit unions should remember to use their social media to be social and get involved in the conversations.
“It’s definitely quality over quantity as far as followers,” said Roth. “If I have half a million followers, but my credit union doesn’t even have a half million members or potential members, then those likes or followers aren’t doing any good. It’s all about the quality of the interactions. For us, it’s about trying to establish a relationship with members outside of the branch and providing financial advice.”
He also advised credit unions to reassess what they are doing in their communities to determine how they can take it to the next level.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money but thinking differently about how you can mobilize and engage your members,” said Roth. “Get outside of the branch to do something positive for your community.”
For example, Vacationland FCU had great success with the launch of its PINK credit card. For every new PINK card approved, the credit union donates $10 to a local breast cancer treatment and research foundation and matches up to 1% on all balance transfers of $5,000 or less to the PINK card.
“The PINK card is near and dear to my heart, as we’re doing something positive on so many levels. Not only is it a great rate of 3.99% for balance transfers so it helps members fight their credit card debt, but also helps in the fight against breast cancer in one card,” said Roth.
“It was really a team effort and with the staff knowing that this product was going to make a difference in the lives of people it was easier for everyone to get onboard and talk about it.”
In the little over a year since he joined the credit union, Roth has integrated a mix of social tools ranging from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Gen Y initiatives like the Change Agent Squad and microsite, changeagentsquad.com into the marketing plan. This year 60% of Vacationland FCU’s new members were 30 and under.
“Our use of social media to further our community involvement is working, and I don’t know a credit union out there who can say they don’t need a younger demographic,” said Roth.
“At our credit union, I do place a lot of emphasis on making the most of social media because it’s a golden opportunity for members to have a voice. It’s not something they experience with a bank, and we as an industry should be creating as many opportunities for members to voice their thoughts, opinions and praises, even criticisms more than just once a year at annual meetings.”
That desire to help credit unions take a more strategic approach to leveraging social media as another tool in their marketing arsenal prompted CEO Kevin Ralofsky and Roth to launch Chatter Yak!, a marketing CUSO with a social media focus.
“Kevin and I came up with the name Chatter Yak because both words mean talk and the CUSO is a way to talk about credit unions, and get credit unions to talk about themselves. We loved the idea of having an animal, an obscure one at that,” said Roth, who is the CUSO’s Chief Chatter Yak.
Launched in late June, the CUSO is in the process of beta testing with some eight credit unions and plans to offer everything from social media consulting and campaign management to marketing strategies and branding.
“In Ohio, the majority of credit unions are $50 million and under in assets, so that was always in the back of our mind. We want Chatter Yak! to be a way that even the little guy has a shot,” said Roth.