A common thread among this year’s CUNA Diamond Award Winners has been their ability to dig deep to identify and address challenges unique to their organizations.
According to Stephen Black, vice president of marketing and community affairs at Seattle-based BECU since 2005 and 2006 there has been a strong commitment to build awareness, consideration and preference for the credit union. He said the $10 billion credit union has had a lot of success in doing so and doubled its market share in that time among those who consider BECU their primary institution.
“What’s unique is our focus on the member and member participation,” Black said. “We’ve invested in our brand and done a lot of research, which is what’s helped us hit on all the right notes and stay true to our brand.”
Black said BECU conducts brand tracking studies twice a year to see what impact the credit union has been able to make, if the message has been understood and to identify where connections are not being made.
“We’re constantly refining our brand and I think that kind of analytical focus combined with creativity and strategy has help make our success lasting because we keep testing and finding ways to optimize our brand position,” Black explained.
Having such a seasoned team with experience across a variety of disciplines has been a boon in creatively building deeper relationships with members, he added.
“We want to be in tune with meeting member market needs around areas of growth and investing in research so we are doing the right thing in a way that is meaningful for our members,” Black said.
For example, BECU got locals lining up for its University of Washington gold debit card with a simple video with a few people singing the University of Washington’s fight song, "Bow Down to Washington." It probably helped that it was only on YouTube and its featured singers were famous UW alumni, including Boston Celtics star Nate Robinson, two-time Super Bowl champion Damon Huard and jazz musician Kenny G.
The viral campaign was a collaboration between BECU, University of Washington Athletics and Alumni Association, Colehour+Cohen, which produced and directed the video, and DNA, a public relations and advertising agency.
“It was more of a member insider message and we knew social media was the right way to go,” Black said. “Ultimately, it was successful because we had a partnership with Huskies athletics department and the debit card expanded our existing relationship and brought in the alumni association as well. They helped make the video go viral because it was not just something for our members but to people who had an affinity to UW and shared it with their friends.”
Over in San Antonio, where nearly 50% of adults belong to a credit union, the challenge for Generations Federal Credit Union has been about finding and carving out its niche in a city heavily populated with credit unions.
“Our area is unique in the sense that it’s less about explaining what a credit union is and more about what makes our particular credit union unique,” said Ashley Harris, director of public relations at the $397 million credit union. “We can’t compete on advertising so our strategy has been to really get out there in the community and spread the word about our name with one-on-one interactions that build and reinforce our reputation.”
Harris said GFCU’s philosophy is, instead of going six miles wide, to go six miles deep through word of mouth, online reviews.
“So what’s happening is that our reputation is what’s driving people in,” she noted.
That shift in focus of taking its marketing efforts to mirror those of Fortune 500 organizations a little over a year ago, pushed GFCU to post online ratings and reviews on its website through Bazaarvoice, a social software and data analytics company.
“We’ve been encouraging our members to go on our site and share their thoughts-unfiltered,” Harris said. “It’s been awesome for us and we use their reviews in collateral materials. The usual concern with inviting members to review and rate your services is that you’re providing an outlet for people who just have a bone to pick with your organization, yet that has not at all been our experience. The old way of doing things wasn’t working for us so we had to take it to the next level to remain competitive and distinguish ourselves.”
Harris said initially, some 1,000 randomly selected members across all ages were invited to post reviews as a way to show members what the rating and review options were about.
“Our average rating with the 1,000 was 4.3 out of five, and when we opened it up to the entire membership it went up to 4.5 out of five. It’s our members out there talking about us,” Harris said. “For us, it’s been a game changer as far as being a way to show locals that we are actively listening and want to find out what their interests are, identify what their needs are, rather than just inundating them with sales messages.”
The one-to-one, out in the community strategy has been particularly successful with its “No Suckers Here” financial youth education efforts. According to Harris, since adding a new financial education advocate and student brand manager to its Student Life team, the credit union has reached well over 3,000 students in 2011. In just the first four months of 2012, more than 5,000 have been impacted. She credits not only the team’s tireless, creative energetic efforts to making the educational classes relatable and fun but also partnerships with the local high school and community college districts and Alamo Colleges.
“The students love it so and with a partnership, any student getting financial aid through Alamo Colleges has to come to[the credit union] to take an online financial education basics course, which helps students understand everything from how to get a loan to everything else they need to know like paying it back,” Harris said.
In April, the team has taught some 28 classes.
“It’s very exciting because in doing this we’ve lowered our average membership age by a year and a half to 46.5,” Harris pointed out.
It goes back to the strategic goal of helping students address their real problems like credit card debt, she said, adding San Antonio has the highest rate of credit card debt in the nation.
“When you think about how many messages students receive every day about spending money without regard to their financial future and idolizing the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West lifestyle, our financial education classes have to be authentic and really engaging and we have to offer products and services tailored to their wants and needs.” Harris said.
Not only does GFCU have a separate, edgier, brand for its student members across all channels, they also have their own unique debit cards and a checking account for those age 16 and older that doesn’t require an adult co-signer.
“Our student brand manager pushed for this when we discovered that many students living in underserved areas didn’t open accounts because invariably their parents or guardians would withdraw and wipe out their hard earned savings,” said Harris. “We never would have known that if we weren’t there in the schools [and] in the community talking and listening to them.”