Marketing Put to the Test in Post-Recession World
With the economy creating new norms, marketing departments have had to adapt accordingly.
“We believe that with limited resources, going deeper rather than broader is a more effective marketing strategy,” said Michelle Hunter, senior vice president of marketing and development at the $552 million Credit Union of Southern California. “We are looking to increase our right touch points and messaging to better serve our members while gaining greater market share.”
Hunter said it’s about better leveraging the power of traditional media and digital media to garner the three Ps – participation, portability and personalization – all while ensuring an exceptional member experience.
The Brea, Calif.-based credit union’s focus will be on cross media campaigns to communicate more directly and effectively with each individual member in multiple ways.
With a community charter that serves 106 cities, CU SoCal has strategically selected targeted cities rather than use a build it and they will come approach, Hunter said. Working together as a team, marketing, operations and business development have significantly increased the credit union’s presence, participation and partnership in specific communities, she added.
Given that the unemployment rate in California remains high, a stricter regulatory environment is in place, and interest rates at historic lows, like many credit unions CUSC has expanded its services to help educate members in a bid to further reinforce its role as a trusted financial adviser.
“At the start of the recession, consumers turned to credit unions as a safe haven,” Hunter said. “Today, they are looking for more. They want a financial partner they can trust to provide information and guidance.”
Robin McKenzie, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Redwood Credit Union, agreed. In 2011, the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based credit union hosted an Amazing Savers contest to showcase ways the $1.9 billion RCU could help people improve their finances.
Five member teams competed to transform their finances for a chance at winning $10,000. Each team worked closely with a financial coach from RCU to learn more about everything from budgeting, financial planning and setting up an emergency fund, to credit report review and clean up. Not only did all five teams improve their credit scores and refinanced debt to improve their cash flow, but local consumers, as they followed the contestants’ journey through online blogs, were encouraged to use the same tools and resources offered by RCU to transform their own finances by changing the way they think about managing money.
A major area of focus is educating members about the value of moving their entire relationship to the credit union, not just checking and deposit accounts, but loans and credit cards, insurance and investments, said McKenzie of RCU’s marketing strategy.
“Like many California communities, our area was affected by many of the economic challenges of the past few years including unemployment and underemployment, property devaluation and decreased consumer confidence,” Hunter said. “We worked very closely with our members to help them right-side their finances so they could keep their homes and cars, and find financial wellness. Our messaging has focused on helping people to refinance and save, and to come to us for help in improving financial health.”
By helping members reset the way they think about money, it has helped many survive the challenges of the recession, Hunter noted.
One of the goals of its 2011 Amazing Savers Contest was to showcase the financial wellness tools and resources available and how using them can make a real difference in improving members’ financial outlook.
RCU has also played up its local ties by partnering with other community-based banks and credit unions. The Bank Local program encourages consumers and local businesses to bank locally and keep their dollars in the community. Local banks and credit unions have pooled their resources to holistically promote the benefits of banking local.
“I think it sends a very strong message to consumers to take advantage of the benefits of banking locally and keep money circulating within the local community,” McKenzie said.
The credit union was one of the first local businesses to become a member of Sonoma County GoLocal, a network of locally owned businesses, residents, nonprofit organizations and government agencies working together to build a thriving, local economy, which formed in 2009. For other credit unions looking to do this in their communities, McKenzie recommended checking to see if their community has a local Business Alliance for Local Living Economies or an American Independent Business Alliance and working with them to create a similar program.
Bucks First Federal Credit Union in Bristol, Pa., has found success navigating the recession with a renewed focus on refinancing auto loans.
“Auto loans have been a top priority for us for the past five years, however, we go about getting them in a different way,” said Hilary Reed, vice president of marketing at the $85 million credit union. “Since most consumers are in the dark when it comes to their ability to refinance their vehicle, it takes a lot of educating on our part, but it usually pays off big time.”
Every year from May to August, Bucks offers to reduce members’ current rate by 2% if they refinance their vehicle. The campaign continues to generate a lot of word of mouth buzz, Reed said. By offering the opportunity annually, members have come to expect it and ask for it each summer. During the off months, the credit union mails a bimonthly auto recapture letter with a 1% rate reduction offer to those members who bring their auto loan back to Bucks.
The auto recapture is a great program because it specifically targets those members who recently purchased a car. It also offers to lower their rate right away while their car purchase is still top-of-mind, Reed said.
“For the most part, the only thing the economic turmoil has changed for us is the extreme need for extra income. We focused on non-interest income in 2011 and were able to recoup some of the cost of the [National Credit Union Insurance Fund] stabilization that we have to put out each year,” Loan income is more important than ever because you can only go so far with non-interest income before your members will feel fee’d out.”