In a world where businesses invest thousands of dollars to establish and maintain a strong brand, exploring new initiatives or products that complement but don’t necessarily parallel a hard-earned reputation can be daunting. The Internet age has fundamentally changed branding and marketing. Content marketing – creating or sharing content to engage a specific member demographic – plays an increasingly important role in delivery. Products such as custom magazines, webcasts, videos, and blogs help reach potential members who are flying under the radar of mainstream marketing campaigns.
Microsites are another resource that provides a new avenue to reach specific market segments. Financial institutions’ websites typically provide action-oriented services such as transactional opportunities and product and service research capabilities. Diverting visitors’ attention away from the website’s core function is an undesirable option; microsites, on the other hand, provide a means to offer a different message without muddying financial messaging or branding.
Banks Are Bad
Dump Your Bank is an initiative launched by Colorado United Credit Union ($71.3M, Denver, CO) to “educate our community, and more specifically, the consumer, on the difference between credit unions and banks.” Appealing to the community moral of credit unions, Colorado United utilizes the website to propel its grassroots marketing campaign with the message “people first, not profits.”
The website describes the goals of Dump Your Bank, compares credit unions with banks (of course credit unions win!), and shows visitors exactly how to dump the bank. There are few bells and whistles, but the site is clean and effective. It includes an online application for Colorado United Credit Union and a Switch Kit form, all a visitor needs to dump the bank.
Arizona has been hit especially hard by the tanking economy of the past two years. So Arizona State Credit Union ($1.3B, Phoenix, AZ) created Helping AZ, a platform for people in Arizona communities to reach out and help one another. The initiative began as a resource intended for the credit union’s two major SEGs, state employees and university employees, but it soon encompassed wider communities.
“When times get tough, people don’t know what to do,” says Paul Stull, senior vice president at Arizona State. “This is a good way to connect people that need information. It’s hard to reach out and help everybody, but we can unite people.”
The site offers a forum for visitors to read and respond to the latest news stories; share and learn about issues such as saving money, unemployment, and financial assistance; post jobs and network; and access a clearinghouse of user-posted resources. One thing the site does not have, however, is a strong connection to the Arizona State brand. The credit union is utilizing a “different kind of model,” one that determines success through the help it provides and the community it builds.
“The site harnesses social media and the Internet to do something in the credit union spirit,” Stull says. “We’re not in it to sell products and services; that wasn’t the point.”
Instead, ROI comes in the form of engaged members, members with a heightened awareness of the values that drive credit unions. Not that recognition is limited to the scope of membership. The credit union received a Hermes Creative Award for its efforts in building community relations. And in addition to its community focus, the website is quite literally based on a concept of community sharing. It uses open source technology, which enabled the credit union to launch the site quickly and cost effectively.
“It is hosted off site and is completely out of the credit union industry,” Stull says. “We were able to pull it together for less than $5,000 in under two weeks. That was the advantage: low cost, high speed, and the ability to create the kind of graphical content we wanted.”
Gen Y RoX
Like most credit unions today, Tinker Federal Credit Union ($2.1B, Oklahoma City, OK) is looking for a way to reach new Gen Y members. Working off the statistics that 45% of college students are in credit card debt and universities are losing more students to debt than to academic failure, Buck the Norm teaches visitors to be money savvy, set budgets, and build financial confidence. And of course it explains how credit union membership provides benefits beyond a cutesy credit card.
“There was a need to reach out to Gen Y,” says Will Fathree, manager of marketing programs at Tinker Federal. “So many kids are going into debt with student loans, credit cards, overconsumption, and overspending. We wanted to provide a platform to teach them how to avoid these things.”
Buck the Norm offers in-depth information on topics related to Gen Y fiscal responsibility, from finding scholarships and applying for student loans to building a resume and acing interviews. And of course, there are plenty of tactical resources such as how to budget and achieve debt freedom. In addition, the site sponsors competitions – such as the “What Did You Buy Today” video contest – with prizes that include scholarships, Mac books, and iPods.
Bucky, Buck the Norm’s thumb mascot, prominently appears through the website, but the credit union does not. It wanted to avoid establishing too close a link with the initiative, which includes the website, social media connections via facebook, twitter, and YouTube, grassroots involvement at community events, and traditional marketing with online ads and shopping mall banners. Tinker launched the initiative two years ago, and so far, it appears to be working. Despite the difficulties associated with engaging its target audience of 16 to 25 year olds, in 2009 Tinker grew its Gen Y membership 6.2%.