As I've spoken with industry folks about the feasibility of a national credit union campaign, the response is often the same: "It can't be done. It hasn't been done. It should not be done."
I'll be the first one to say it would be difficult, complex and a monumental feat, but not impossible. Most important, it needs to be pursued, and now is the perfect time.
There are no problems ... only opportunities
When I started graduate school in early 2006, I had a professor who started our very first class with a profound perspective. He told us, there are no problems in the business world. The hurdles and obstacles we face are really just opportunities to find ways to overcome those obstacles. So, to simply toss aside a national credit union campaign as unattainable is giving up on an opportunity.
Building on BTD
Bank Transfer Day on Nov. 5, 2011 was the grassroots awakening that made us all realize that consumers were ready for a change. Before that, we could've thrown $80 million at a national effort and the results would have been mooted by the fact that consumers weren't ready. But as discontent for banks grew and consumers searched for options, credit unions emerged with their white hats to save the day ... for those who were paying attention.
Now that credit unions offer most of the same products and services as banks and as consumers struggle to search for solutions, now is the time to help credit unions soar. CUNA has once again ventured into making a national brand for the industry with "United for Good." The timing is great and we should applaud our colleagues in Madison for making it happen. After all, credit unions today are far different than they were even 10 years ago. Most of the pieces of the puzzle are here and the timing is right for "United for Good." But there is still something missing.
Fuel to make it fly
Combining the brand with the awareness continues to be the missing component. Building a national brand is not the issue. Making that brand heard and visible is the missing piece. It's one thing to build a rocket, but it needs fuel to make it fly.
For years it's been said we need to attract more Gen Y members. In fact, it's been said for so long that we've started calling them Millennials because the generation has now gotten older and we need to include more people in it. Born on the cusp of the generation, by just 46 days, I find myself among the Millennials and have a slightly different perspective than the 47-year-old who is the average credit union member.
When the idea of a national credit union campaign was raised at this year's CO-OP THINK 13, Chip Filson adamantly responded that a national campaign was not needed, that it would be expensive. His plan? Individual credit unions need to attract new customers by preaching the benefits of membership. I can steadfastly affirm that the whole idea of membership doesn't resonate with Gen Y.
Ask anyone in my generation why they shop at Costco. It's because they have good prices ... and $1.50 hot dogs. They won't tell you they shop there because they value the idea of being a member. All they know is their $35 is due at the end of March, so add it to the total so I can come back and save. With Bank Transfer Day, we told people to switch to a credit union. With Don’t Tax, we're telling people to stick by us. However, what we're not telling people is what a credit union really is.
A national campaign would be expensive
Yes, it would be very expensive. Bill Cheney, president of CUNA, has estimated that such an effort would carry a price tag around $80 million. However, the opportunity cost would be greater if such an opportunity is not seized now. Discontent for banks combined with a lack of knowledge about credit unions means we have a golden opportunity now and there may not be a better time in the future.
A national campaign would be complicated
This is the No. 1 objection I hear from everyone I talk to about a national campaign. But there's a method to the madness. With more than 7,000 credit unions, we can all do our fair share to contribute. How do we make it fair? Three ways:
- Exclude credit unions with low capital (<6%)
- Base contribution on asset size
- Weight the contribution based on media's Designated Market Area (DMA)
By taking these three elements into calculating a fair formula, it makes the process of paying for a national campaign fair no matter what your asset size or where you're located. The cost of media, whether it's TV or radio, is based on population and the effectiveness of media in that market. The bigger the audience, the bigger the price tag. Which means the contribution cost of a credit union in North Dakota should rightfully be lower than a credit union in Los Angeles. The audience and cost are bigger in LA, so you really do get what you pay for.
Let's work cooperatively
There is a lot to consider moving forward, but we need to do just that ... move forward. CUNA has done a fantastic job of building a brand in United for Good, and the infrastructure in asmarterchoice.org. We've built national brands before and we've launched national campaigns. Unfortunately, they can't work independent of each other. Both need to be done at the same time.
Vince Lombardi, the famously successful coach of the Green Bay Packers, said it best. "We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible." If we are going to be a cooperative movement then let's work cooperatively to keep the movement going.