Every credit union is trying to figure out how to best break through all the negative static surrounding the banking industry and communicate their positive message to existing and potential members. Recently, you have probably heard or read an iteration of the idea: 'recessions are not a time to ratchet down marketing efforts, but instead an opportunity to step up your outreach.' This notion makes sense for the credit union industry in the current fluctuating environment. Compared to the rest of the financial services marketplace, credit unions have a fantastic story to tell. But how can this message be most effectively communicated when nearly everyone is facing budget tightening? Organizations need to make their efforts smarter and more efficient, and those that succeed will certainly reap the benefits today and in the months to come.
Many credit unions have responded to this situation with a wide variety of marketing and PR strategies that typically fall into one of three different categories:
1. Aggressively Seeking Market Share: We're Better than Our Competition
Many of these marketing and PR campaigns are product- or brand-focused, but more and more credit unions have been drawing direct parallels between themselves and bank competition. Not that anyone wants to exalt in the misery of others, but current banking industry turmoil has given credit unions a prime opportunity to gain market share and further differentiate this industry from banks, certainly an area where the general public needs more clarification. Some messages have even been deemed aggressive enough to draw fire from the regulatory agencies. No less than three credit unions have drawn the ire of the FDIC and been asked by the NCUA and state leagues to halt specific advertisements that emphasized their safety and soundness, but cast bank in an inaccurately vulnerable light.
I’m glad that credit unions out the gate with strong messages differentiating themselves from banks, but in view of recent events, how can you clearly accentuate the difference between your credit union and other financial institutions without receiving a gag order?
Basically, you cannot imply, either directly or indirectly, that banks are unsafe. This leaves your marketing team plenty of room to distinguish your institution, just get creative in your messaging! Credit unions across the country are responding to this challenge with approaches varying between coalition efforts, such as banding together to feature "Credit Union Difference" ad spots in local markets, to an enormous number of creative individual efforts, ranging from Super Bowl ads that humorously compare low credit union fees to those of area banks, to prominently displaying a branch banner asking consumers, "Did Your Bank Take a Bailout? We Didn't."
Whatever you do, remember that strong messaging has resonance in this economic climate. Credit union promotions should continue to hone in on what makes them truly unique. When will such an opportunity to define the unique attributes of the credit union movement ever come again?
2. Reassuring Members: A Message of Safety and Soundness
Public outreach efforts conveying safety and soundness have experienced a big push over the last several months. Most credit unions have included some form of this message on their websites or in newsletters. Many have taken it a step further and incorporated this message into ad campaigns. It is critical for your members to know that your credit union is stable in this environment, but the fact that every other type of financial institution is trying to convince consumers of the exact same point is jamming the communication circuits.
To differentiate yourself from the pack, you need to find more unique ways to make your case. Several credit unions are adapting a more interactive approach, such as prominently displaying a personal message from the CEO addressing member concerns on the front of their website, or hosting live webinars or member forums to act as a comfortable interchange for concerned members to ask questions and directly interact with credit union management. Such member-focused efforts go a long way in differentiating your institution from those that are getting hammered in news coverage.
Running interesting and innovative ads certainly can't hurt either. Callahan & Associates held a contest several weeks ago, inviting industry participants to propose new print ads for the NCUA, or individual credit unions to spotlight the value of membership. We received a wide range of responses from across the industry, and Jeffry Pilcher, publisher of The Financial Brand, took home the Critic's Choice Grand Prize Award for his entry - No jets. No fat cats. No Wall Street bull.
Jeffry has graciously created royalty-free versions of this ad in both black and white and color, for credit unions to use in their local media. Please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org for a high-resolution PDF version. If you would like to view all the submissions, including our reader favorite, click here.
3. Publicizing that You Are Willing to Help: We're Here for Our Members
These outreach efforts delve to the core of what this movement is all about…being there for members when they most need a helping hand. Publicizing the core values of credit unions has strong legs in this volatile environment. Many CUs are proactively telling members to come speak to them if they feel they are starting to have a problem meeting loan payments, so they can work together to find a solution. Across the country, we are seeing banks cut back financial support of high-profile local community and charitable events. Credit unions are finding opportunities to step in when the need is greatest and forge new relationships with these worthy causes.
Prominently profiling outreach efforts and member testimonials as personal examples is a great way to let your actions speak for the integrity of your credit union and should be at the core of your marketing and PR efforts in this environment.
Now is not the time to hold back; it's an historic opportunity to further define the positive attributes of your credit union in the eyes of your members. Make sure that you deliver a clear message: Our credit union is safe, acts in the best interest of our members, and we want your business!