Sure, there are challenges, but overall, this may be a great time to be a credit union marketer.
“What occurred in the last three years created the ripest opportunity credit unions have ever seen,” said Mark Weber, president/CEO of marketing/brand strategy firm Weber Marketing Group in Seattle. During the the financial collapse the Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, and many of the largest banks were "shooting themselves in the foot over fee-based policies," said Weber. "Just all we knew and believed in was falling all around us.”
The question is, in the fallout, will this be the credit unions' time to show they are the good guys, Weber wondered.
“Which organizations and leagues will capitalize on the lack of trust and sentiment change, step into that trusted resources role to bring focus, resources and energy to position the credit union industry?” Weber asked. “There are a number of credit unions doing it really well and I’m thrilled about that. It’s not about size but pouring your energy on your brand and executing it.”
In terms of the competition, he views it in terms of who the credit unions steal market share from and who outcompetes them.
“The first answer is easy, as there are three big banks with targets around them,” Weber said. “Those out-competing you because of brand relevance are attractive and distinctive – those organizations, like Ally Bank or ING, grow at phenomenal rates.”
Weber said credit unions also have to be cautious in the mobile wallet arena so that they don’t get pulled apart from their relationship with consumers.
Sue Woodard, CEO of Credit Union Toolbox, an automated marketing solutions provider based in Holmdel, N.J., has been equally optimistic and added that it’s time to bust the myth that technology is expensive.
“What credit union marketers need to realize is that there are tools out there that could almost take the place of an employee – and they cost so much less,” Woodard said. “Investing in the right tools and yes, you need to research what those tools are, can be a cost savings, not wasteful spending.”
She said she would like to see marketers step out of the box a little more and ask how can they keep communications with members interesting. Woodard pointed to quick response codes as an example of a missed opportunity.
“QR codes cost nothing. How many credit unions know that? How many credit unions are using them,” said Woodard. “Any print ad, or if you’re sending out postcards, or even a newsletter that’s targeting potential members, why not offer more info on a Web page, as well as an easy way to access that page, by easily creating a QR code, and including it on all print communications?”
As far as social media and the ongoing debates on its effectiveness, Woodard said it should be used to interact with members but it’s not enough to just have a social media account. It has to be done right.
“As Avinash Kaushick put it, social media is like teens and sex – everyone wants to do it, but no one really knows how; and, how to do it right is changing. We’re still at the beginning of social media use for business, and at this point, we’re all learning from each other.”
Woodard suggested looking at what other credit unions are doing, as well as what other businesses are doing, as information is new and constantly changing information. To stay on top of it, credit union marketers need to look at what’s working for other businesses that actively make social media a part of their strategy, Woodard offered.
Weber agreed that having a social media strategy is a must, not an option.
“In that strategy is what are you going to do and not going to do – the resources, time, desire, the willingness to accept lack of tangible business results and not say 'wait and see,'” said Weber. “I’m a proponent of strategy and how you’re going to do and do it well. You want active users, not just a number of ‘likes;’ playing the numbers game is dangerous.
Weber said credit unions should determine how they will be a great content provider. While social media is still in its infancy for the industry that doesn’t mean a strategy shouldn’t exist for it, he advised.
At San Antonio-based Generations Federal Credit Union, social media is used to reach its middle market via Facebook.
“We see it as a way for people to know the social side of our organization and use it to promote what we do in the community, share local happenings, events or deals,” said Ashley Harris, director of corporate communications at the $396 million Generations.
“It’s a way to show the softer side of our credit union and we can use that to drive interest by tying it into our overall marketing efforts, not just using Facebook as a sales outlet.”
It’s not about going after the next shiny new toy, Harris said, but rather, credit unions should take a measured approach, determine and develop their strategy on this and integrate it so it ties back into overall efforts.
“We can’t ignore it any longer. For us, it’s a way to reach the media, our student audience, and we’re looking into how to make social media a credit union-wide thing rather than just one person or department’s responsibility,”