SANTA FE, N.M. – It’s been not quite a year and half since North Island Financial Credit Union converted federal to a state charter, but the $1.2 billion San Diego CU is now confident it has pulled off a well-crafted marketing program which is on target to bring in $26 million of new core deposits by yearend, a top executive of North Island told community CU leaders here. “We did increase our marketing budget 66% to $1.6 million,” conceded Geri Dillingham, executive vice president of retail delivery and corporate planning, but the expense and the image overhaul has so far proved beneficial particularly in a competitive community like San Diego. Addressing a breakout session at the annual conference of the National Association of Community Credit Unions on “The Art of Marketing to Your Community,” Dillinham detailed North Island’s diverse marketing effort over the last year ranging from placing 85 bus billboard ads to buying slides on 225 movie screens plus parade floats and radio trip giveaways. All of the effort, she said, handled “through a 2.5 member marketing staff” has been to enhance name recognition and bolster the image of North Island which still has military and civil service personnel at the North Island Naval Air Station as its core field of membership. “Our objective was to change the `DNA’ of the membership,” she said noting that the core membership “does have lower balances” but still “requires free checking, more branches, more ATMs and more technology.” In converting to a state charter, North Island had as its goal to expand the non-military membership and in the process introduce and expand business services, she said. To do all it wanted, North Island decided it needed to change its “host system provider” now OSI Corp. and also looked at a major name change. “Through our research we found out that `North Island’ is well-known in San Diego and we saw no need to change it,” she told the NACCU gathering. But a key goal throughout the marketing campaign has been to make clear to San Diego residents they can join NIFCU. The goal since then has been “to `demilitarize’ the name and convey the `open to all’ concept, she said. North Island has been careful, she said, to nurture its “brand” and its image throughout the market, and it has included buying Hawaiian style uniforms for its staff at a cost of $60,000. The CU even retains an “affinity store” where members can buy hats and mugs with proceeds going to community groups. The CU pushes the “island” theme in many of its ads and uses an “island” dcor in lobby branches. It plays on the “island” theme as an image tool emphasizing the branch or “island” as a financial oasis. Member needs are being taken care of easily “free of worry” and with “a little more fun.” Indeed, North Island readily admits it borrows ideas from some of the leading U.S. corporate names in marketing including Southwest Airlines’ use of the “casual, informal” look. North Island pitches itself as the “Southwest Airlines of credit unions,” said Dillingham emphasizing however, that like the airline industry, finance “is a serious business but we don’t have to take ourselves seriously.” The San Diego CU exec said branch personnel are encouraged to think creatively and sometimes that means letting them pursue off-beat ideas on their own. One branch put down hop scotch marks on the lobby floor which can then used by members who join in the fun by doing hop scotch jumps in the wait line. “I couldn’t figure what in the world those people were doing jumping up and down in the teller wait line,” Dillingham recalled. With a lean staff, Dillingham admits that she uses outsourcing extensively meaning she hires numerous ad agencies, PR firms, graphics and special events shops to do the job. “We find working with very small agencies works best,” she said noting the the CU insists all of the outsource firms work closely together. The result of all this effort, she said, has been a 14% increase in non-member growth for the year with checking account balances 10% ahead of the $99 million target. “We are on pace for $125 million in new core deposits,” she said. -

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