Pick up any current best-selling marketing book, and you’ll find a section on product differentiation. Maybe the words will be changed up, but the implication is the same. Your company had better stand out or you stand to go out of business.
But how do you stand out in a highly commoditized business like banking? (And, yes, I use the term banking. Notwithstanding the events in Vermont, it’s value that should set your credit union apart, not function.
When I talk with credit union clients about their e-marketing strategy, I often ask what they believe is their UVP–unique value proposition. I like this term better than unique selling proposition because it focuses on what the member is getting instead of what the credit union is pushing. From my viewpoint, creating value is at the heart of differentiation.
To compete today, look beyond what your competition is doing. The fact is, most credit unions don’t have the resources or footprint to compete head on with larger institutions. Instead, I challenge credit unions to quit checking the me too box and start creating their own unique box. That’s differentiation.
So, here’s a two-part challenge. First, write out your own UVP. What value does your credit union offer that nobody else does? For example, why do consumers move to and stay with you? (Ground rules: You can’t use words like “service,” “people,” “rates” or “fees.”)
It’s clear that consumers today are more savvy and discriminating. They self-select their news. They read labels. And they know what financial services are available and that they have choices. If a new family moved to the community, why would they pick your credit union over a bank on the next block? Or the one in their old community that they can still use remotely? And for those members who call your credit union their primary financial institution, what’s keeping them there?
Now, for part two of the challenge, answer this question: What would a competitor say gives it value over you?
Frankly, it sometimes seems credit unions are working so hard to be like the banks that they forget how to distinguish themselves. It’s not enough to bring in new technology and services. Others can do that, too. Instead, look at your product offerings from a different perspective. Ask yourself, How can we apply new tools and services in a unique way to engage and keep members?
Here are a few ways to stand out, instead of standing down.
Virtual branch. Many credit unions still have significant traffic in their branches, with members who need a little hand-holding or like stopping by before or after work. But with every new app or device that hits the street, more and more people are moving toward wanting their banking on their own terms, often without relying on a branch location.
That means it’s time to think virtual. Instead of simply offering a few unconnected online services, create a focused, integrated plan to offer all types of services remotely. Look into making your website and e-banking programs compatible with mobile devices. And consolidate your email, text and voice messaging communication channels. By observing how members use online and portable devices, you can gain valuable market research and discover the best technologies for your members.
Mobile applications. And speaking of portability, today, better than 85% of all adult Americans own cell phones, almost half of which are smartphones. So it’s no surprise that mobile access and text messaging communication is front and center in people’s minds. A study by the Federal Reserve this past winter revealed that nearly a quarter of American adults say they’ve used mobile banking in the past year and another 11% will soon try it.
For most consumers, the most common mobile application is for checking recent transactions and viewing balances (90%). And while only 12% of cell users made a mobile payment in 2011, that’s only going to grow. Credit unions that add a few feature-rich, convenient mobile applications are taking a giant step in the right direction.
Storage and accessibility. It isn’t surprising that home and small business inventory systems have been springing up in recent times. Young adults starting to settle down and baby boomers moving into their 50s and 60s have heightened people’s awareness of the need to account for their possessions and vital documents. But beyond that, many consumers want a safe way to organize and store their financial and personal identity records. They want to know their private papers are accessible in an emergency or during a recovery effort.
In a demanding, on-the-go world, you can prove the time-honored value of member-ownership with a 2012 twist. Differentiate yourself by applying the right technology to offer services in new and convenient ways. Set your credit union apart, and members will see you as more than just a place to do their banking. To borrow a tagline from the past, they’ll see it as a place where they belong. n