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There is no time like the present for the credit union industry to introduce itself to the country through a strong, consistent branding campaign. Sure there are a lot of credit unions that stamp the “America’s Credit Unions, Where People are Worth More Than Money” brand on their Web sites and marketing materials, but let’s face it, that branding effort has been limited. With banking attacks at full-tilt and with new pressures to document service to modest means Americans, credit unions should consider the money needed for a true national branding campaign to be money well spent. It will cost millions of dollars each year to develop the credit union brand. I don’t wish to debate the slogan or logo of the current credit union brand. I think they are fine, but that does not constitute branding. Nothing is “branded” until a majority of the target audience recognizes it. That’s certainly not the case today. There are some issues the industry needs to work out. First, what does it want to tell Americans? In lobbying efforts, it’s often pointed out that credit unions are nonprofit cooperatives that are run by volunteer boards of directors. Should that be the message credit unions try to get across? I don’t think so – that’s too much information. Consumers don’t need, or probably want, to know all that. They want the best deal they can get for financial services. Expensive national branding campaign ads shouldn’t hammer away at the nonprofit or volunteer board angles. They should hammer away at credit unions paying better rates than banks, offering more products and services than they traditionally have, and membership being open to more Americans than ever before. It almost begs for a “have you checked out your local credit union lately, you may be surprised at what you find,” approach, but I’ll let the marketing gurus figure that out. Many credit unions look and act much differently than they did just 10 years ago or even five years ago. Shouldn’t the branding campaign play on that? Play on the fact that credit unions aren’t just for share accounts any more or that credit unions don’t just serve single sponsors. I think so. Damn the bankers and their rhetoric on credit unions getting more bank-like every day. Who can argue? With loosened field of membership restrictions and credit unions becoming more prolific mortgage and small business lenders, they definitely offer more bank-like products than they ever have. The difference is they don’t offer them in bank-like fashion, and the numbers prove it. Credit unions charge fewer and less fees and pay better rates than their banking counterparts. Credit unions aren’t out to satisfy shareholders, but to serve all of their members. That’s the credit union difference. Let’s look at the money issue. One point of contention in any debate about the need for a stronger credit union branding campaign is determining who will benefit the most. To simplify, maybe too much, the larger credit unions will clearly get more out of it than smaller credit unions. They have more to offer new members. They pay better rates, have more branches, more products and services, etc., than smaller credit unions. It’s OK if the bigger credit unions benefit because that’s where the industry is headed. We’re losing nearly 300 credit unions a year, mostly small credit unions. The average asset size of credit unions is going up and will continue to do so. I am not anti-small credit union – far from it. But most small credit unions are happy being niche players, and that likely won’t change with a strong branding campaign. So when it comes down to paying for the campaign, the larger credit unions should bear the biggest brunt of the cost. If you get the top 100 credit unions to contribute $20,000 annually, the next 250 to contribute $10,000, the next 500 to contribute $5,000, you’re talking real money. These are top-of-the-head figures and not based on any goal or formula, but surely, like a league dues system, it can be worked out that those who benefit the most pay the most, yet the majority of the industry pays something. Another option could be credit unions contribute a dollar per member each year to the campaign. Wouldn’t that be over $80 million? What’s happening today is large credit unions are trying to build their brands up in their markets on their own, but many are finding it is too costly. One CEO of a $600 million, CU who is doing just this, told me he’d gladly contribute funds to a national campaign because in the long run it will reduce his local advertising costs. In this era of tight margins, no credit union wants to take on new costs, but isn’t letting America know what credit unions are all about worth it? And won’t the new members credit unions attract from it pay for the costs of the campaign many times over? I think so, and I hope credit unions leaders start debating this issue in 2006. Dairy farmer cooperatives already proved the value of banding together for a national campaign with their successful Got Milk ads. What’s the credit union equivalent to Got Milk? -Comments? E-mail [email protected] There is no time like the present for the credit union industry to introduce itself to the country through a strong, consistent branding campaign. Sure there are a lot of credit unions that stamp the “America’s Credit Unions, Where People are Worth More Than Money” brand on their Web sites and marketing materials, but let’s face it, that branding effort has been limited. With banking attacks at full-tilt and with new pressures to document service to modest means Americans, credit unions should consider the money needed for a true national branding campaign to be money well spent. It will cost millions of dollars each year to develop the credit union brand. I don’t wish to debate the slogan or logo of the current credit union brand. I think they are fine, but that does not constitute branding. Nothing is “branded” until a majority of the target audience recognizes it. That’s certainly not the case today. There are some issues the industry needs to work out. First, what does it want to tell Americans? In lobbying efforts, it’s often pointed out that credit unions are nonprofit cooperatives that are run by volunteer boards of directors. Should that be the message credit unions try to get across? I don’t think so – that’s too much information. Consumers don’t need, or probably want, to know all that. They want the best deal they can get for financial services. Expensive national branding campaign ads shouldn’t hammer away at the nonprofit or volunteer board angles. They should hammer away at credit unions paying better rates than banks, offering more products and services than they traditionally have, and membership being open to more Americans than ever before. It almost begs for a “have you checked out your local credit union lately, you may be surprised at what you find,” approach, but I’ll let the marketing gurus figure that out. Many credit unions look and act much differently than they did just 10 years ago or even five years ago. Shouldn’t the branding campaign play on that? Play on the fact that credit unions aren’t just for share accounts any more or that credit unions don’t just serve single sponsors. I think so. Damn the bankers and their rhetoric on credit unions getting more bank-like every day. Who can argue? With loosened field of membership restrictions and credit unions becoming more prolific mortgage and small business lenders, they definitely offer more bank-like products than they ever have. The difference is they don’t offer them in bank-like fashion, and the numbers prove it. Credit unions charge fewer and less fees and pay better rates than their banking counterparts. Credit unions aren’t out to satisfy shareholders, but to serve all of their members. That’s the credit union difference. Let’s look at the money issue. One point of contention in any debate about the need for a stronger credit union branding campaign is determining who will benefit the most. To simplify, maybe too much, the larger credit unions will clearly get more out of it than smaller credit unions. They have more to offer new members. They pay better rates, have more branches, more products and services, etc., than smaller credit unions. It’s OK if the bigger credit unions benefit because that’s where the industry is headed. We’re losing nearly 300 credit unions a year, mostly small credit unions. The average asset size of credit unions is going up and will continue to do so. I am not anti-small credit union – far from it. But most small credit unions are happy being niche players, and that likely won’t change with a strong branding campaign. So when it comes down to paying for the campaign, the larger credit unions should bear the biggest brunt of the cost. If you get the top 100 credit unions to contribute $20,000 annually, the next 250 to contribute $10,000, the next 500 to contribute $5,000, you’re talking real money. These are top-of-the-head figures and not based on any goal or formula, but surely, like a league dues system, it can be worked out that those who benefit the most pay the most, yet the majority of the industry pays something. Another option could be credit unions contribute a dollar per member each year to the campaign. Wouldn’t that be over $80 million? What’s happening today is large credit unions are trying to build their brands up in their markets on their own, but many are finding it is too costly. One CEO of a $600 million, CU who is doing just this, told me he’d gladly contribute funds to a national campaign because in the long run it will reduce his local advertising costs. In this era of tight margins, no credit union wants to take on new costs, but isn’t letting America know what credit unions are all about worth it? And won’t the new members credit unions attract from it pay for the costs of the campaign many times over? I think so, and I hope credit unions leaders start debating this issue in 2006. Dairy farmer cooperatives already proved the value of banding together for a national campaign with their successful Got Milk ads. What’s the credit union equivalent to Got Milk? -Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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