Credit unions in Belarus recently learned some marketing tips to build awareness among locals in the former Soviet satellite nation.

As a member of the Global Women’s Leadership Network, Cindy Schrader, marketing director for the $221 million Heritage Credit Union in Madison, Wis., recently traveled to Minsk, Belarus to share her marketing expertise.

A joint initiative by the World Council of Credit Unions and the Canadian Cooperative Association to bring women leaders from credit unions worldwide together to connect, learn and advise, the network sponsored Schrader’s visit in response to the growing demand for marketing knowledge in countries in transition.

According to Schrader, the small credit unions in Belarus have very limited resources and face a general lack of awareness about credit unions and their benefits.

“Credit unions are spreading their message through members, their business association and education,” Schrader said. “With many credit unions run by only one or two people, they do not have dedicated staff to help get the word out.”

The country’s credit unions must also pay an income tax that banks are not required to pay. The high cost of funds sometimes makes credit union loan rates higher than those of banks.

She added that despite the challenges, Belarusian credit unions are becoming an increasingly critical resource for consumers with whom banks will not do business, making them part of the country’s social fabric and increasing marketing’s importance.

“Marketing is a brand new idea to many people, and they are grasping the concept and understanding the difference” Schrader said. “Hopefully, I taught them to think differently and put themselves in the shoes of members they are trying to reach.”

In a meeting with representatives from the Republican Association of Consumer Cooperatives for Mutual Financial Assistance, Belarus’ credit union trade association and a World Council member, Schrader focused on target and life-stage marketing, helping credit unions understand the nature and needs of the members they serve.

By marketing to member needs rather than focusing on the financial products themselves, credit unions could more effectively extend their reach. Limited marketing resources make targeting specific members even more important to credit union success, she said.

“The credit unions need to work toward developing top-of-mind awareness by keeping the credit union name in front of both members and potential members,” Schrader said. “There as well as here, when a financial need arises, members need to think of the credit union first.”