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Nearly every credit union has invested in youth marketing. What has vexed the credit union industry is that the pace of 21st century marketplace has been faster than the decision-making process of our distinctly 20th century board members and our reactive culture. Gen Y, however, has had no trouble keeping up with the changes in technology and social media. Gen Y is a moving target and credit unions need to improve their aim. The end of the 20th century industrial economy has been hardest on traditional American industries. And no industry has suffered more than domestic automotive companies. However, one bright spot is one of the oldest brands: Ford. The secret to Ford’s relative success compared to its corporate cousins is what Ford has done to woo young buyers. Ford has been at the forefront of using social networks like Twitter to stay connected to its young audience. Ford has also been a mainstay on “American Idol,” the most successful television show of the decade. Ford linked itself to this 21st century culture of youth, music and social media early and is seeing the benefits. Young people are happy to drive to college in a Ford Fusion. Here is how to make sure they pay for the gas with your credit union’s debit card. Go where they are before they are gone and make some music. Boldly take your brand to local high schools and colleges. Consider hosting a concert for financial literacy. This consists of combining professional and student musicians to perform around a financial literacy narrative. Given the economy, the topic is timely and will impress the youngsters and their parents and teachers. You start with the goal of reaching Gen Y through music and succeed in hitting a multigenerational home run. More importantly, the event and the inclusion of student talent ensures that highlights of the event in tandem with your brand will pass at broadband, fiber optic and wireless speed across the social networks of MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Think about the Gen Yers in your own family. Would they rather see a rock concert or listen to someone lecture out of a three-ring binder? To this very day I belong to the financial institution that sponsored the “Who shot J.R. dance?” when I was in seventh grade. Music has always made a brand memorable. Gen Y will take your brand and the musical event you sponsor and send them both around the world at light speed. Imagine a concert for financial literacy at a high school with 1,000 students. How many full-page newspaper ads and radio spots would you have to run to get the same number of eyes and ears of so many young people? Woe to the credit union that thinks it can get the attention of this young wireless generation with just the 20th century standards of AM radio and the printed word. Credit unions willing to embrace music and social media to move beyond youth marketing and toward youth immersion will be poised to take full advantage of the new American marketplace. Many credit unions have branches in high schools and on college campuses. This is one of the best practices and facilitates the promotion and execution of a concert event. Students who run the school branches can be instrumental in creating buzz for any credit union-sponsored event and can act as financial literacy ambassadors for the rest of the student body. The credit union marketplace needs a serious infusion of youth in terms of membership and employees. As it applies to Gen Y, credit unions need to abandon some of their 20th century habits. Take the blocks off sites like Facebook, YouTube and Justin.tv for your marketing and creative departments. How can credit unions speak the language of Gen Y when they place a self-imposed barrier between the credit union and Gen Y’s chosen form of communication? Credit unions have to bridge the cultural and generational gap that often exists between their future borrowers and their board of directors. Social media is easy to learn and provides a cost-effective means of communication at the very time when margins have never been tighter. At your next board meeting, invite some of your 20-year-old tellers to set up Facebook pages for your 60-year-old board members who are willing to have one. This year has been a strange and difficult year. However, Gen Y is the key to our survival. Move beyond youth marketing and financial literacy in favor of youth immersion for your credit union brand. Credit unions must decide whether they want to be a part of the new financial marketplace or a victim of it. If you want to know which century your credit union is operating in, see if you can log on to YouTube.com after you read this. The answer to that question will let you know if you are rolling like a Ford Fusion or an Oldsmobile.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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