Credit unions across the country have used different kinds of celebrities for endorsement and promotion. Celebrity strategies have ranged from using bona fide national or regional celebrities to fabricating a real or making up a fake celebrity. Credit unions have even turned their own employees into celebrities of sorts to connect with target markets. CreditUnions.com profiled two such credit unions — AmeriChoice in Pennsylvania and Verity in Washington — in a June 2011 webinar; here’s what’s happened since then.
From Employee To Spokesperson To Employee
AmeriChoice Federal Credit Union ($165.1M, Mechanicsburg, PA) began using employee Toni Montgomery as the “face of the credit union” back in 2007. At the time, Montgomery was the credit union’s community relations manager and very active locally.
“Incorporating Toni into our ads was a natural progression of her role,” said Carol Fastrich, vice president of marketing for AmeriChoice, in June 2011. “She already served as the face of the credit union with local chambers and community organizations.”
The credit union strives to create a safe, friendly, and familiar atmosphere for its members. Using a real employee like Toni helped strengthen that brand in the community.
“The ads were so successful, I even had non-members come up to me and link AmeriChoice with Toni Montgomery,” Fastrich said.
Courtesy of AmeriChoice Federal Credit Union
A Gradual Change
Over the past several years, however, the credit union has transitioned away from the single spokesperson concept to a new, graphics-based look. Montgomery continues to do voice work for the credit union’s radio spots but has moved on from her spokesperson role.
“Even though we are no longer using Toni in our ads, people in the community are still familiar with her and connect her with AmeriChoice,” Fastrich says.
Today, the credit union uses pictures of real employees in its Ask the Expert ad campaigns, with recent ads focusing on AmeriChoice’s business lenders. When business lending staffers change, the credit union sends a message to members asking them to welcome the new employee and includes the employee’s picture. This helps prevent complications or confusing during staffing changes.
What The Numbers Say
Membership at AmeriChoice jumped to 16,379 in the third quarter of 2007; that’s up 40.98% from the year prior.
“People do business with people they like,” Fastrich says.
Although AmeriChoice has transitioned away from the single spokesperson, it has still managed to maintain a membership in the 15,000s, which is in line with its $100-$250 million asset-based peer group and two-fold the membership for state peers.
Shares at AmeriChoice have trended upward since 2007, reaching $150.2 million in the second quarter of 2013. That’s significantly higher than both asset-based peers’ $124.4 million and state peers’ $68.5 million. Also in June, the credit union posted a 12-month share growth of 22.92%, whereas asset-based and state peers reported 12-month share growths of 4.81% and 8.06%, respectively, over the same period.
The credit union’s educational and promotional expenses spiked at $630,429 at the end of 2007, but have since come down. Its second quarter 2012 educational and promotional expenses amounted to $422,140, still higher than the $166,262 of asset-based peers and the $81,992 of state peers.
Online Spokesperson Connects With Local Moms
In 2009, Verity Credit Union ($408.0M, Seattle, WA) took a page from the Young & Free playbook when it launched Verity Mom. It sponsored a contest to find an online spokesperson to help the credit union connect with local Moms.
Moms competed for a one-year, part-time position as the credit union’s spokesperson. Verity Mom was just one aspect of a wider promotional plan the credit union created with a local marketing firm, said then vice president of marketing, Shari Storm, in the June 2011 webinar.
Courtesy of Verity Credit Union
Rosemary, the first winner of the Verity Mom contest, served a two-year term and has since been succeeded by Danielle. The Verity Mom community is given ample notice of the transitions between “spokesmoms,” which has helped the process remain smooth. Verity will begin its search for the next Verity Mom after Labor Day and has been preparing followers for the transition.
“We are starting a search on September 5 for our next Verity Mom,” says Melina Young, Verity’s current director of marketing. “The new mom will be announced mid-November. Danielle has already started talking about passing the baton and what a great job it is to be Verity Mom.
New Mom, Continued Momentum
Verity Mom has a new face, but the program is continuing to grow. According to Young, as of January 2013, the Verity Mom had 418 Facebook likes, 493 Twitter followers, and 3,076 subscribers to the monthly e-update.
The credit union’s annual Cartwheel for a Cause, a video contest for the causes local moms believe in, pushed those numbers even higher and increased the reach of the program. As of August 15, the Verity Mom had 498 Facebook likes (up 19%), 526 Twitter followers (up 6.7%) and 5,406 e-update subscribers (up 76%). The contest also contributed to higher website visits with 54,134 total visitors (43,365 unique) between January 7 and March 15, 2013.
Beyond followers and subscribers, the credit union also monitors interactions.
“We want to make sure there is good conversation with other moms,” Young says. “The point isn’t to push our products on people, but to get moms in Seattle thinking of us as the best option for their family’s finances. So, the quality of interaction is important to us.”
Over time, the credit union has learned the importance of letting the new Verity Mom bring her own flair and style to the platform. It is also critical to have a spokesmom that is comfortable speaking with people.
“With our second Verity Mom, we have had her out to more events and have found that people like getting to know her in person,” Young says. “This is something we plan to continue.”
What The Numbers Say
Since the launch of Verity Mom in 2009, total shares at Verity increased to $327.0 million by the end of 2009, from $317.5 million at the end of 2008 and $264.0 million at the end of 2007.
Both shares and loans at Verity surpassed asset-based and state peer averages. The total share balance of $346.5 million at Verity was 1.5 percentages points higher than asset-based peers and 17.3 percentage points higher than state peers in the second quarter of 2013. Verity’s total loan portfolio was also notably higher than its asset-based and state peers, $286.9 million versus $229.3 million and $209.9 million, respectively.
Average member relationship, which measures how much the average member is taking advantage of the share and loan opportunities offered by the credit union, increased 4.05% over the past four years. Improvement in average member relationship suggests Verity has become more deeply involved in the financial lives of its members.
As of the second quarter 2013, educational and promotional expenses at Verity increased to $1.1 million from $694,348 one year ago. The rise in educational and promotional expenses is in part due to increased marketing efforts to bring members to become more engaged with the credit union through various cash-reward contests and social media engagement.