Ask anyone these days what their heritage means to them and you’ll likely hear a tale that recounts their roots as an American; how their family came to this land as immigrants and through hard work and perseverance were able to eventually savor the sweetness of success.
Ask others and they might point to their profession; being a doctor, a fireman, a Marine, or a coal miner in a family boasting a long lineage of doctors, firemen, Marines and miners.
Whether it’s tied to a birthright or a profession that’s embraced from generation to generation, the pride and knowledge we all attribute to our heritage not only defines who we are, it also engenders a spirit of pride and loyalty that is definitive and unshakable.
Imagine how the same might then apply to credit union volunteers, employees and members. We already see how loyalty can be expressed, where all family members boast of belonging to the same credit union or where an employee is the daughter or son of a credit union director or CEO. But what if we can multiply and expand that loyalty a thousand fold?
When I think about credit unions and the people who make them tick, I find myself wondering what it would be like if we could ignite a spirit of pride, knowledge and passion for our credit union heritage among everyone who in some way, shape or form is associated with a credit union. What would that mean for the brand identity of credit unions and more so, the success of our business goals and strategies?
As credit unions finalize their strategic business plans for 2013, they may want to include a strategy designed to build recognition of their heritage, which I believe will ultimately increase the morale of their staff, their volunteers and yes, even their members as well. Building morale — it’s well worth the effort, isn’t it? So to help you get started, here’s my 3-Step Plan on fueling a passion for a credit union’s heritage.
Step One: Tell Your Story
How would you expect others to know the values and principles defining your cooperative business model without ever communicating what you do for members and others in the community and why it is that you do it?
Telling your story is not boasting. It’s part of the sales process, a critical tool for building relationships and achieving your business goals.
Now, the kind of story-telling I’m referring to is much more than communicating news about your products and services, branch hours and their locations. I’m referring to stories of service, education and generosity in helping others succeed. Such stories not only contribute to a sense of pride among members and staff alike (after all, that’s their credit union doing all these wonderful things!), these stories also generate an aura of social responsibility, community engagement and success around your public image. It distinguishes your good reputation from others in the marketplace.
I’ve found that folks like to associate themselves with winners, with those who do “good” by making a difference in the world. Hearing your stories will add to your charisma and also serve as a magnet. It will attract others to you and inspire them to join you in making a difference as well.
Step Two: Tap All Channels to Deliver Your Story
From my earliest days in communications and public relations, I was told time and time again that if you want folks to hear your message you have to tell them, tell them again and again. Only then can you ensure that your message will be heard.
However, being repetitive is not enough. It’s essential that you also tap all media channels to distribute your message. Not everyone reads the newspaper and not everyone is on Facebook. Some get their news only through television; others, radio. As the communicator, the responsibility falls on you to connect with your audience, where they’re at and when they’re receptive to receiving your communication. That means you elevate your chances for connecting with your audience by tapping all delivery channels, from print to video.
Elevate the role of public relations in your business model
Too often, credit unions invest so much time and resources in marketing and marketing communications (advertisements and fliers promoting products and services), that they forget to talk about all the other activities that take place in support of their members and the community. These kinds of communications, typically reserved to the public relations function, are intended to foster and distinguish your credit union’s good reputation from among all your competitors.
Think about it. Your reputation and brand is influenced by much more than your products and services. So why then is your reputation and brand governed exclusively by those whose purpose is sales — your products, your services and the delivery of those commodities?
If your reputation and image in the community is important to the success of your business, then public relations should not be relegated to a subservient role in marketing. It should have a role of its own, as a full-time function in support of the sales process.
Consider it this way; people are more likely to buy from an organization or a person they know. The role of public relations is to seed relationships, help folks come to know you so that they eventually become customers. I see it this way: PR sets the table and creates the ambiance where marketing then dishes up the courses.
Step Three: Share Your Story with the News Media
Celebrate your heritage not only in word but in deed as well. We all express our pride in our ancestral heritage and the profession defining our career by frequently telling others about our background and what we do. However, it’s at those times when we gather for a family reunion, or do what we do professionally — fight a fire, perform a surgery or be deployed as a Marine — that we fully experience and revel in our heritage.
The same is true for credit unions. We celebrate our heritage every time we help a member succeed financially. We celebrate it when we gather together as a movement for the GAC, NAFCU’s annual conference or our local league conventions. While all of these occurrences are newsworthy to us, they fall short in meeting the criteria necessary for making the evening television news or the morning paper.
Now you might ask, what is the value in achieving such news coverage? It helps tell our story in ways we can’t — communicating it from a third-person perspective.
Providing a newsletter to members and staff or buying advertisements are media that communicate our own words, our story, as we want it conveyed. The value in having others comment on our story or provide their own perspective further elevates its value because the words are no longer ours. They now come from an objective third-party source. That’s the inherent value in member testimonials. They carry much more weight and credence because they come from the heart of someone who’s not on the payroll.
The same applies to the news media, and, this is why having staff and members see coverage of your credit union in the news fuels an excitement about their organization and its heritage. However, to be successful in sharing your story with the news media, certain criteria come into play that will influence your level of success in attracting news coverage.
Audience Demographics — the more you can structure your story or event to appeal to the broadest audience possible, the better chance you have at attracting news coverage.
Human Emotion — you’ve heard it said, “If it bleeds, it leads.” TV news and most media are captivated by stories that come with some display of human emotions.
Different and Unusual — design your event in ways to makes it stand out from all others competing for the same news attention.
Breaking News, Calendar or Seasonal Events — does your event relate to, let’s say, Valentine’s Day, summer vacation or the series of recent earthquakes in the Southland? Timing is everything, particularly if your event or message relates to current news, a holiday or time of year. Get the picture?
Building awareness of your heritage requires a fulltime effort, dedicated to consistent and continuous communications across all media channels, especially the news media. Investing in that effort promises to produce far-reaching dividends not only for your balance sheet but for your staff, volunteers and members alike. It’s an investment in building morale, helping others experience the credit union spirit in ways that motivate and inspire loyalty.