As another year comes to a close, credit union marketers across the country are busy working on their 2014 marketing plans. Credit Union Times asked experienced marketers who serve dozens of small, midsize and large cooperatives from across the nation to give their insights about what they expect to be the top marketing trends among credit unions in the New Year.
Responsive Web Design
It’s commonly called responsive web design, but James Robert Lay, CEO of Pasadena-Texas-based CU Grow, has a more accurate term for it: responsive user experience.
As consumer usage of smartphones and tablets continues to soar, most of them expect to access accounts on the devices. While the layout and design of credit unions’ websites may be easy enough to use from a desktop, he said, they may be difficult to view and navigate on smartphone and tablet screens, frustrating members’ experience and leaving a bad first impression on prospective members.
The solution is responsive web design, which improves the website’s view on the smaller screens of mobile devices.
Lay believes responsive web design will become a growing trend in 2014 that can help credit unions strengthen member loyalty and provide content marketing opportunities to attract new members.
“After consumers see a credit union’s ad on TV or hears its spot on the radio, they’ll probably go to the website on their mobile phone or tablet,” Lay said. “When they get there and there is no way for consumers to take action, that potentially kills prospective members from converting to a credit union.”
Research shows the online experience is important for a good chunk of consumers. For example, about 40% of consumers said they didn’t switch to a credit union because they were satisfied with the online services their banks provided, according to a 2012 Javelin Strategy and Research report.
But a good online experience still doesn’t trump branch convenience, at least not yet anyway.
About 42% of consumers said they didn’t switch to credit unions because their bank branches are conveniently located, showed the Javelin report.
The $397 million Educational Community Credit Union of Kalamazoo, Mich., reported that after launching a responsive website designed by the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based technology firm Banno, site visits were soon spread more evenly between desktop, smartphone and tablet users. ECCU’s previous site was more than a decade old, and lacked the ability to leverage analytics or add elements such as video or social media feeds. Social media connections on the new website increased member traffic and engagement by 60% on Facebook alone, according to a release.
“Our new responsive design site and its associated capabilities have provided the evidence we suspected, that our members were hungry for mobile options,” Judi Burton, research and development analyst said. “As a result, ECCU is confident in our direction of making strategic plans to further substantiate our mobile presence.”
ECCU said it has experienced particular success with its promotions page, as well as seen growth in the use of informational pages such as contact us, locations and search. The credit union attributed the traffic to improved access on mobile platforms.
“As consumers rely on mobile devices to browse banking products or check finances on the go, financial institutions cannot fall victim to poor mobile site performance,” said Banno CEO Wade Arnold. “The speed of mobile access and browsing directly impacts how users perceive the success of that interaction. ECCU understands that responsive design helps prevent abandonment by giving members and prospects a reliably consistent experience across every channel, every time; a trust that will be critical as the credit union moves forward with new mobile offerings.”
Marketing Non-Interest Revenue
While generating new loans is critical to every credit union, Nicolette Lemmon, president of Lemmon Tree Marketing Group in Tempe, Ariz., said she sees more credit unions looking to grow non-interest income in the New Year.
This is occurring because service charges on deposits have decreased substantially from levels reported just two years ago, according to the Floyd Report, a financial services consultant in Baytown, Texas. What’s more, ongoing regulatory pressures on two products that produced the most non-interest income—debt card interchange and overdraft fees—have been greatly restricted, the report said.
Nonetheless, Lemmon said, credit union marketers can play a key role in helping frontline employees pitch non-interest income through variety of insurance products coupled with auto loans, for example, or stand-alone products such as pet insurance.
“I’m working with one of my credit union clients to offer pet insurance to their members,” said Lemmon. “What a warm and fuzzy, right? But why not?”
After all, Americans spent $50.8 billion on their pets in 2011. More than a quarter of those expenses—$14.1 billion—came in the form of vet bills, according to a report in USA Today. That’s up about a third since 2007, when vet fees totaled $10.1 billion, according to the newspaper.
Lemmon believes these products and others can build the credit union’s brand value by protecting and growing members’ financial freedom and wellness.
“As a marketer within the credit union, it is important to encourage a cross-selling environment and to make sure the products are easily packaged for the frontline employees to offer members,” Lemmon said. “The key is for marketing people to work really well with the branch staff and the call center staff who are working with members because that is the moment when you can provide brand value by offering them products that can protect them.”
Lemmon suggests marketers leverage content from third-party providers to educate members about how products or services can benefit them.
Samantha Strickland remembers what Don Draper, the lead fictional character of the popular cable television series Mad Men, said about what advertising is: the idea of what we are doing makes us feel good about our decisions.
“I think anytime we can build an emotional connection with our members and let them feel good about making the choice to be a member of a credit union, you are hitting a home run,” said Strickland, CEO of The Pod Advertising in Tallahassee, Fla.
That’s why she said she believes branded entertainment will emerge as a marketing trend in 2014. Branded entertainment is telling the story of the credit union and how it differs from conventional banking.
Strickland’s marketing firm produced an online video for the $95 million Community South Credit Union in Chipley, Fla., which was nominated for an Emmy award by the Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“Rather than doing the traditional commercial for loan sales, we instead produced a commercial that creates an emotional connection that we want to have with our membership to build credibility, trust and loyalty,” explained Strickland.
The video, which features a grandfather fishing with his grandson who later becomes a father and takes his daughter fishing, illustrates Community South CU’s core brand of “good natured banking,” that supports family, tradition and the good natured personality of the community.
“There is always going to be some competitor who is going to beat your rate. There is always going to be some competitor who is going to have more cutting-edge technology,” Strickland said. “But if you can build that emotional connection, which is really important to Generation Y and younger, you are much more likely to build that relationship with them, because the other stuff is all about the me-too marketing.”
Rediscovering Social Media
When credit unions began to jump on social media sites about five years ago, they generated a lot of excitement that this new medium could be leveraged to potentially become a marketing breakthrough. Everyone was on social media sites, especially the Big 3—Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—and everyone seemed to love them.
But a study by the Financial Brand found last year that one in five credit unions had abandoned their Twitter accounts.
Jan Simon, exeJan Simon, executive creative director and president of Simon + Associates Advertising in Los Angeles, found that some credit unions also had abandoned their Facebook and YouTube sites as well.
“Many credit unions rushed to social media, but the strategy on how to leverage the medium was never thought out,” Simon said. “Everybody has a huge interest in adding online/digital components and social media to their existing marketing campaign goals. The biggest hurdles we are seeing are the lack of understanding, which leads, therefore, to a lack of planning and the lack of budgeting to effectively venture into that space.”
Nevertheless, Simon said credit unions want to revive their social media efforts next year because that is where the Millennials hang out.
According to a recent Pew Research study, about 16% of U.S. adults use Twitter for news, and close to half, 45%, of Twitter news consumers are 18-29 years old. On Facebook, 35% of news consumers are 18 to 29 years old.
“Just as credit unions do a lot of work to determine where to put a print ad based on demographics, circulations and costs, they have to take a similar approach in the digital field,” Simon explained. “You have to keep tweaking it and figuring it out and give it the same sort of professional evaluation and strategic concepting as credit unions do with pre-approved direct mail pieces.”
Chris Quereau, president/CEO of Vibrant Creative in Oneonta, N.Y., believes credit unions may start investing in social media ads next year because Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have made major changes to their advertising platforms to help businesses target consumers at a much lower cost than traditional media. He also said credit unions will be able to assess their ROI more quickly than conventional advertising.
“I believe the online (advertising) tools are going to be a real game changer,” Quereau said. “Though people in general are trying to figure it out right now, the early adopters could reap the benefits.”
Print is Not Dead
Simon said she expects to see a resurgence of newspaper and magazine advertising as well as billboard and bus wrap marketing next year.
Even though most credit unions drastically reduced their print advertising budgets during the recession and the subsequent slow economic recovery, Simon is seeing more cooperatives looking to get back into print because they have more marketing dollars and it’s a medium that still works.
What’s more, publishers also offer deals to post print ads on the publication’s website, which gives credit unions—not yet comfortable with online advertising—some exposure to digital marketing and how it can work for their cooperative, said Simon.
The billboard or outdoor marketing advertising spend is expected to reach $7.2 billion in 2014, up from $7 billion spent this year, according to eMarketer, a marketing data firm in New York. However, newspaper advertising is expected to decline to $17.1 billion in 2014 from $17.8 billion in 2013, while magazine advertising is anticipated to stay steady at $15.1 billion next year, according to eMarketer.