Some credit unions are turning to community members for marketing help as they continue to focus on the cooperative principles of both member control and concern for the community.
Community members can offer a friendly face to represent credit unions, making non-members want to join friends and family who are happy with their financial services. By using community members in print, radio, and television advertisements, a credit union can bolster membership in fun ways on a diminishing marketing budget, like Tropical Financial Credit Union ($562M, Pembroke Pines, FL) and Nutmeg State Federal Credit Union ($338M, Rocky Hill, CT) did.
Tropical Financial is using community members in its advertising instead of pulling stock photos or hiring professionals. The Southeast Florida credit union is searching for five community members to tell others about how Tropical Financial helped them or could help them reach their financial goals for its Fame for Five campaign. The program will give $5,000 to five Floridians to represent the credit union through photo shoots, video shoots, and radio spots for a year. The contest is open to both credit union members and non-members.
“Relatable storytelling can make a huge difference in brand identity as well brand credibility,” says Amy McGraw, vice president of marketing for Tropical Financial. “We are a credit union made up of real people with real life-changing stories. Sharing those stories is the best form of advertising we can do to differentiate our brand from any other in the marketplace.”
McGraw came up with the idea more than a decade ago after taking her daughter to an open audition for Tommy Hilfiger. She bought her daughter a Tommy Hilfiger outfit to give her an edge, but when she arrived at the audition she saw 2,000 little girls all wearing the brand.
“It was branding at its best,” McGraw says. The basic idea behind Fame for Five is to “get the credit union brand out in the public eye in a unique and fun way, and find real southeast Floridians to be our spokespeople.”
Tropical Financial’s marketing budget has consistently been slightly more than $1 million, but in 2010 the budget was halved. This year Tropical Financial has a marketing budget of about $600,000.
“It’s a lot tougher, but I look at it as an opportunity to let creativity shine,” McGraw says. The Fame for Five campaign is the most expensive campaign the credit union is working on, but McGraw says, “It's also utilizing the selected individuals in advertising promotions over the next year so it has a lasting impact beyond just the search phase of the competition.”
Tropical Financial’s first audition was held on April 14 with 24 rappers, singers, and other talented locals attending. It is looking for people who can verbalize the advantages of a credit union in creative ways, whether through song or dance or other talents, in 60 seconds. McGraw believes the program will pick up momentum once people see it and spread the word.
While Tropical Financial is testing out the use of local celebrities, Nutmeg State in Connecticut is launching its second round of casting calls.
In December 2011, Nutmeg hosted a casting call for TV commercials, asking community members to explain what the credit union has done for them. Nutmeg selected 20 people and is currently using approximately half of them in commercials. CEO John Holt says the credit union has the option of using the other people not currently in commercials to quickly diversify its advertisements, because the super fans are part of a one year campaign.
Since the onset of the campaign, Nutmeg State has encountered healthy increases in membership. The credit union’s membership jumped from 26,233 members in 2010 to 28,478 members in 2011. The credit union’s net growth of membership is roughly 200 to 300 people per month. This puts Nutmeg State on track to have double-digit percent increases in membership this year.
And while its membership numbers are increasing, Nutmeg State has cut its annual marketing expenses from $579,808 to $515,852 over the same time period.
Because the TV commercial marketing has worked so well, Nutmeg is moving on to casting calls for its print advertisements.
“Our members are important to us,” Holt says. “It gives them a sense of community by making them feel like a part of something we’re doing.” Using members in advertising can make the credit union more credible as well. Other consumers’ opinions are the most trusted form of advertising for other consumers, Hope Schau, a marketing professor at the University of Arizona, says. “If you can make people feel like they’re part of a community, the trust is going to go way up,” Schau said during the Filene Research Institute Credit Union Digital Branding Colloquium.
Many of the members in the TV commercials are celebrities now, Holt says. They’re recognized at the grocery store and one member was even written about in a community newspaper from a nearby town, which adds to the amount of publicity the credit union receives. Holt believes the super fans campaign can account for a portion of the credit union’s membership referrals and growth.