Ban or No Ban, It's Time to Tell Your Credit Union's Story
In a past work life, I served as a marketing writer for a credit union. On some days, I miss the creative rush I enjoyed after coming up with a new, clever – but not too cheesy – slogan for a flyer advertising a financial product.
Granted, it was a challenge to come up with something original for a campaign that repeated itself several times a year, especially when ideas for themes, which often correlated to the season or an upcoming holiday, began to run dry. (Another auto loan preapproval? Let's find another way to say “accelerate into savings.” Now we’re planning a share certificate promo in September? Perhaps it's acceptable to use “fall into savings” with a photo of falling leaves, even though our last promo featured the phrase “spring into savings” and a blooming tree).
Then there was the challenge of keeping creativity alive in a highly-regulated industry. All our marketing copy would filter through a compliance specialist for approval, who would often return pieces so marked up that I barely recognized my work. Disclosures often filled half the page. It was the ultimate buzzkill for a copywriter.
When the news came out that financial regulators in Canada banned the use of the words “bank,” “banking” and “banker” from credit union marketing materials, I really felt for those Canadian credit union writers. Coming up with the perfect combination of words is hard enough, let alone when the word that describes the very thing credit unions do is off limits.
That story, “Canada Bans the B-word for Credit Unions,” got more comments on CU Times’ Facebook page than any other story had in a long while, with readers calling the ban “totally ridiculous,” “absurd” and “an attack on freedom of speech.” One said, “Maybe then they should make it wrong to say ‘our ship sails at ...’ unless it really has sails. And you can no longer ‘ship by air’ unless your boat has wings. Thank the banks.”
I would have to agree. As a noun, “bank” is “an establishment for the custody, loan, exchange, or issue of money, for the extension of credit, and for facilitating the transmission of funds”; as a verb, it's “to manage a bank” or “to deposit money or have an account in a bank.” As one CU Times reader said, “Despite our unique cooperative structure, we OPERATE exactly as a conventional bank.”
This ban is a rude slap in the face to Canadian credit unions. But credit union marketers, both here in the U.S. and across the border up north, can take the news as a reminder to flex their creative muscles even more – and an opportunity to explain, in their marketing messages, what differentiates credit unions from banks.
One way to do that is to use the space you’ve been given for marketing content on that screen or printed flyer to tell your credit union's story. This was a key point about copywriting that stuck with me after I completed a course on brand writing through Mediabistro, a career resource site for journalists and other media professionals. One lesson focused on three questions to ask before you begin crafting a message: Who is the hero? Who is the villain? And, what is the passion? In our case, the credit union is the hero (duh), the villain might be financial hardships suffered by people in the credit union's community (not banks or fintech companies, as some might assume) and the passion could be helping the community overcome its financial hardship. It may be vague, but it gives you a good starting point for brainstorming a story line. When a member or prospective member sees your ad, they should have a clear idea of who you are, what you do and what you stand for.
Being a little quirky goes a long way too. Our Peter Strozniak recently interviewed Mazuma Credit Union's millennial CEO, Brandon Michaels, who touted the benefits of featuring a funny spokesperson, Mazuma Mike, in his credit union's marketing materials. So, try something bold that no credit union has done before. (But maybe not too bold – in 2012, U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union raised eyebrows with its ad for a loan to help fund breast implants, complete with a photo of a large-busted woman's cleavage. Might be best to stick to quirkiness that's appropriate for the whole family).
Another thing to note about marketing content is that it can only be as good as the people a credit union hires (or outsources to). Good writers don't come cheap – quality freelance copywriters charge upwards of $100 an hour – but they’re worth the investment. Think about it: They’re crafting the messages that your members and potential members will read and use to form their opinions about you, and the opinions they form in response to those messages will influence their decision of whether or not to do business with you. With today's steady flow of credit union merger news and growing competition from fintechs, getting out a story that sells should be on the top of every credit union's to-do list.
Editor's note: Canadian credit union marketers may not need to go into panic mode just yet. On July 24, SooToday.com in Ontario, Canada reported that the Canadian Credit Union Association met with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau regarding the ban of the b-words, and an official announcement of any changes to the ban that resulted from that meeting was expected within two weeks. Stay tuned.
Natasha Chilingerian is Managing Editor for the Credit Union Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.