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Fractured image. Increased fees. Tightened loan standards. Consolidation. Given all that’s happening in banking today, consumers are re-evaluating their banking relationships at an unprecedented rate. Although credit unions are not immune from the financial malaise, we are definitely better positioned than our for-profit counterparts to take advantage of this money in motion. From a marketing perspective, the banking news coverage of the last year or so has helped to break down several barriers that credit unions traditionally had to overcome. As credit unions, we must conjure at least four hurdles before we even reach the starting line of our bank competitor’s marketing efforts. We must first deal with the questions: What is a credit union? Why should I care? Can I bank there? or What is this membership thing? What is a share and share draft? Once a credit union has cleared these barriers, then it can begin to sell the credit union and its products. Rule No. 1 of marketing is to speak to costumers in their voice, with benefits that matter to them. That said, our not-for-profit difference message has largely been falling on deaf ears for years. To the consumer, not-for-profit hasn’t been a benefit, it’s seen as an organizational structure. Now, however, in the wake of corporate bail outs, TARP and elaborate corporate travel and bonuses, the word profit is a dirty word and bank is a four-letter word. For the first time, possibly since the beginning of the credit union movement, the prospective member is primed to care about a not-for-profit financial institution. Suddenly, not-for-profit can be a powerful phrase and quickly clear many of the hurdles discussed earlier. Not-for-profit is a great differentiator, but it is still simply an organizational structure. Communicate the credit union difference as a consumer benefit. Roll out the red carpet because the member is the owner. The bottom line is to get in touch with what your market needs. By making a few simple clicks on the Internet or a few calls to your city or county governments, you can quickly assess the local economic environment. Also, try calling a local college economics department for local data. Are jobs growing or shrinking today in each of your markets? What will they be doing in the next six to nine months? What businesses are doing what? Use this information to target your business development strategies. What are the overall local economic trends? Look at real estate, household income, employment and retail sales. How does all of the above information drive product need? Are there specific products that you can focus on in 2010? Do you need to create new products or services? For your existing customers, remember that it costs far less to increase penetration with them than to acquire new ones. There is still money in motion with your existing customers. Use this opportunity to acquire their other banking relationships. How are your current customers using your products and services? Look at services per household, checking penetration, loan penetration, available lines of credit, debit card usage and online banking usage. Identify your most profitable customers and target those who look just like them. Take a look at your competition. You can hire an outside shopper or simply take a day or two and shop the competition yourself. It’s important to understand what new competition has entered the area as well as who has left. Review your key competition’s product mix. How are they packaging their products? Do they have relationship pricing? Are they bundling products? Make a list of all of your competition’s advantages and disadvantages. Use this to differentiate yourself. By truly understanding and reporting your marketing ROI, you can brand yourself and your department as the greatest profit center in the credit union. Set measureable ROI goals for each promotion as well as overall annual goals. Track your ROI regularly-not just at the end-this will help you know if you need to deviate from the plan. Look at everything: fee income, product profitability, brand equity and more. Become your greatest spokesperson. Report everything, even the tactics that didn’t meet expectations and share what was learned. If your credit union has one dollar to spend, prove that the highest return on investment is through marketing. Your 2010 marketing plan will be one of the most important plans that your credit union has written in decades. It is the credit unions who allocate the appropriate resources and who use those resources the wisest that will capture a significant portion of the money in motion.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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