Never tell Kristen Mashburn, director of marketing at Listerhill Credit Union, that marketing is little more than the latest ad campaign.
“As marketers, our purpose is to communicate to and on behalf of our members. We are their advocate,” said Mashburn who has been with the Muscle Shoals, Ala.-based credit union for four years. “We are not in the business of putting promotions together but solving problems. That may mean we do a promotion, but ultimately it’s to help solve a problem.”
Credit Union Times 2013 Trailblazer Marketer of the Year has never had any doubts about a career in marketing.
“I wanted to be in marketing since I was a Girl Scout. I loved selling and learned fast how to talk to target audiences. I’m also the oldest of 17 grandchildren, so you could say I’ve been built and raised to delegate and manage as well,” said Mashburn. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the opportunity Listerhill has given me. They took a risk in hiring me and the experience has been empowering, rewarding and humbling because the team here trusts in what we are doing.”
Acknowledging that often marketing departments can be marginalized, she said communication makes the all the difference.
“Communicate often. You can’t let yourself or your department be an island. You’ve got to know what’s going on in the organization, calculate results and share the team’s accomplishments,” said Mashburn. “For those who say marketing is not appreciated, for every project answer the question how does it matter? Constantly share what’s been gained for the organization as a whole so that the department is viewed as a valuable part of the team. It’s not about the ‘they make pretty things’ stereotype. Show that there are business-driven goals behind every project and find the metrics and measures to track.”
Given that solutions-based focus, Mashburn and her team rarely linger over any successes. Within 24 hours they have already moved on to the next challenge.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be happy and not be complacent,” said Mashburn. “We can be proud of what we’ve done, but we have to keep finding ways to improve and do more for our members.”
She added the same philosophy applies to growing the membership.
“It’s not enough to just maintain your membership. Everyday people move, change jobs or pass away. True innovation is not simply copying what other credit unions are doing. Using the tried and true because it worked for someone else may not work for you. Innovation gets thrown around a lot, its not unique to our industry. A few years ago, I was given advice that if you do it right, you’re going to make people uncomfortable. It’s stuck with me. It’s not about just stirring the pot, but stirring for a productive change. Be inspired by other industries, but real innovation happens when you work on how to solve a common problem and get to the heart of that. Think in more uniquely strategic terms and that solution, that’s where you get really creative.”
To her, change is viewed as a stepping stone to shape strategic planning and drive future initiatives. A believer in the philosophy of what gets measured gets done, Mashburn keeps tracking top of mind for the team. Using an online project management software, members of the marketing team are not only aware of their own project plans but also those tied to or impacting other departments or divisions.
“It’s a great way to keep up with those good ideas and they don’t go to waste,” said Mashburn. “It’s easy to brainstorm ideas and say let’s do that sometime but then sometime never comes. The biggest challenge is knowing which ideas to move forward with. So we work through each idea as a team drawing on our different experiences with a focus on getting the results we need not speed. Everyone is involved with the process and a lot of times we’ll go back to those ideas that we couldn’t use and find that they can solve another unrelated problem. It’s a ready pool of ideas.”
Despite the attention to detail Mashburn is no micromanager.
“I’m so involved I think I could get that kind of label,” said Mashburn.
“Honestly I believe we are only as strong as when coupled with everyone else’s strengths. So my role is to hold people responsible for their tasks and make sure all those different parts come together and work in harmony rather than in silos. There is a value in being able to draw on as many different perspectives across departments and specialties so interaction has to be encouraged.”
While proud of all Listerhill CU initiatives, a few that stand out include a recently awarded campus card program at the University of North Alabama, where some 7,000 new members can integrate their student IDs with their Listerhill accounts. In addition, in two years the credit union’s “The Hill” accounts for 15-29 year olds has jumped from 2,082 to 5,562. More importantly, the credit union’s brand recognition among locals has changed from being for old people to being fun, everywhere and a friend to the community.
A “So Can You” promotion resulted in over $104 million in loans. To breath new life into its popular youth initiative program, the credit union launched SET magazine in a bid to tie Listerhill’s digital and physical presence. The monthly magazine features lifestyle, finance, technology and community features created by local young people and The Hill serves as the only advertiser. The magazine can be found at branches, local universities, community colleges and establishments frequented by the younger crowd.
She added that by being the only advertiser in the magazine, it has helped brand The Hill account in a more targeted fashion, while eliminating the usual noise that Gen-Yers typically tune out.
“As a whole the industry needs to rethink how we are talking to young people. We’ve heard how important it is to talk but we should consider how do young people like to receive information, what does it look like, sound like and are we talking to them the way they want to be talked to or how it seems like they want to be talked to. There’s a big difference,” said Mashburn.
“I’ve seen a lot of credit unions adopt what seems appealing to young people but remember this generation is really striving to find genuine interactions and they can tell if you are trying too hard from a mile away. If you don’t have someone of that generation on staff then have focus groups or a team that meets on a regular basis to better understand that younger market.”
She’s optimistic about the future of credit unions particularly in an environment where there has been a general disdain for other financial institutions.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” said Mashburn. “It’s our time as credit unions to make a statement. There’s so much happening that we can take advantage of. For example, invovation within the payments industry and as it evolves how we can leverage it to solve consumers needs and provide more meaningful value to our membership.”