When participants in the Reading Hospital Road Run reach the start line at 9:30 on a Sunday morning in mid-October, they know the race they are about to run is neither a sprint nor a marathon. The one-mile, 5K, or 10K run/walk takes participants on a winding, tree-lined trail down the residential streets of West Reading, PA. The serious runners can finish in as little as 30 minutes; the walkers clock closer to 90. But everyone has the same goal: finish.
For executives at Diamond Credit Union ($399M, Pottstown, PA), the event’s lead sponsor, the race represents a process toward improved brand awareness, not a single achievement.
Small Size, Big Focus
Diamond has 45,000 members and nearly $400 million in assets. As the eighteenth largest credit union in Pennsylvania by asset size, it is not a small credit union, but it must be creative when using its resources. It is selective in its sponsorship commitments and looks for opportunities that will both boost brand awareness and establish its presence as a community leader.
The decision to sponsor the Reading Hospital Road Run was difficult, but once the credit union realized the move would support a key business partner as well as improve brand awareness, “it became an easy decision to dedicate funds to an event like this,” says Todd Rothenberger, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Diamond.
“Are there other opportunities that we don’t hit on because of our resources?” asks Rothenberger rhetorically. “Sure. But we have to be able to focus our efforts to be successful.”
Five years ago, before the Reading Hospital sponsorship, Diamond commissioned a market study using quantitative and qualitative research to determine its market awareness. The study is currently incomplete, but the credit union acknowledges the difficulty in gauging changes to awareness after a single event.
“That singular event won’t do it,” Rothenberger says. “It’s the cumulative efforts that bring about the brand awareness you are trying to achieve.”
Like coal to a diamond, the branding process takes time. As such, the Road Run is only a small — albeit seemingly successful — part of Diamond’s overall strategy. According to Callahan & Associates’ Peer-to-Peer analytics, Diamond’s membership grew by more than 12% from September 2010 — the last data cycle before the first sponsored race — to June 2013. Share draft accounts, an indication that members have made the credit union their primary financial institution, have increased more than 26% during the same span. Dollars flowing into these share drafts have increased 32.7%.
A Partnership Built to Last
The race is run in October on a scenic route through the suburbs. This year marks the fourth year of the new annual Road Run, revived in 2010 after a short hiatus. The event is slowly re-entrenching itself in the community calendar. Every year brings more participants, and more participants indicate greater awareness. The slapping of sneakers on sidewalk has become music to Diamond’s ears.
Founded in 1947 as Spicer Pottstown Federal Credit Union, the credit union served employees of Spicer Manufacturing Company in Pottstown. After a 1996 merger, the renamed Diamond added the employees of the The Reading Hospital system, the largest employer in Berks County and the namesake of the annual Road Run, to its field of membership. In 2006, Diamond’s charter expanded to include anyone who lives, works, worships, regularly conducts business, or attends school in Berks County and the Tri-County Region. With this growth, Diamond placed itself into a more competitive market. In the Greater Reading area, 12 different credit unions operate branches, a crowded market for financial service providers looking to attract new members. And as a relative newcomer to the area, Diamond Credit Union lagged behind others in brand awareness.
Diamond’s choice to partner with The Reading Hospital was a logical first step toward brand awareness. Recognition comes before leadership.
The relationship between Diamond and The Reading Hospital began as a way for the credit union to grow its membership base, but the relationship has progressed over the years. Today, Diamond operates a branch inside the hospital, and the two have come together on several business partnerships, such as the building of new ATMs.
During the Road Run’s initial planning stages, Reading Hospital approached Diamond to gauge its interest in taking the lead, “tower,” sponsorship. Diamond, conscious of the potential awareness and leadership benefits, seized the opportunity. The sponsorship is perfect for Diamond because the event helps the credit union get out into the community, Rothenberger says. Family members and friends come out to support the broad spectrum of participants that take part in the race, and a live band contributes to the electric atmosphere.
Diamond sends a team of management staff and volunteers to network and improve community awareness of the Diamond brand. They set up a table and have casual conversations with both members and non-members about anything from checking accounts to the weather.
When the last participant crosses the finish line, the race is over for another year. For Diamond, the race continues without any indication of the remaining distance. But the ultimate goal — improved brand awareness — is in sight.