The WOM Factor

Successfully harness YOUR word of mouth power.


Marketing today is a different animal than it was 10 — or even two — years ago. New media channels put the consumer in the driver’s seat and amplify both the positive and the negative messages about your brand. So how can you ensure your most engaged members have something good to talk about and keep WOM (word of mouth) working in your favor?

Some credit unions, such as Travis Credit Union ($1.6B, Vacaville, CA) and SECU of North Carolina ($21B, Raleigh, NC), have created a volunteer corps of members to help them reach further into their communities.

Travis’ “Volunteer at Large” program requires a year-long commitment and includes monthly training classes that cover every aspect of the financial institution, from strategic planning to technology and risk management. Several graduates have moved on to official Board roles and more are interested in future service. The credit union gives its volunteers clear expectations about community service and credit union promotion. But the most important thing all participants gain from the experience is a better understanding of the credit union’s value to its members, which they can share many times over through their in-person or online social networks. Learn more about Travis’ WOM on CUtv (event #565).

SECU has harnessed its WOM (which it refers to as “WOMP” or word of mouth potential) through a multi-channel approach that includes public relations and a healthy dose of member involvement. SECU’s local branch advisory boards consist of member liaisons that work with the credit union and their community. At 3,000 strong, these liaisons help the credit union spread news quickly. The credit union forwards press releases to not only media contacts but also all advisory board members. These positive stories, which are then disseminated by the community liaisons, help SECU reach deeper into the community than what newspapers or other formal publications provide. Learn more about the SECU’s WOMP — and its overall public relations strategy — in this complimentary CUtv short.

Other credit unions take a different approach to capture positive attention. Northwest Community Credit Union ($645.9M, Eugene, OR), for example, creates a stir at local events by serving blended refreshments via bicycle-powered blenders. The bicycles also produce electricity when hooked up to generators, which is a great “green” tie-in to the environmentally conscious Northwest.

Bicycle blenders and volunteer corps are great, but if you rely more on traditional channels, don’t despair as these, too, can heavily influence member behavior and transform casual users into brand advocates.

Word of mouth and referrals is a powerful source of new membership. Family members and friends are typically the ones that tell new members it’s time to switch from their bank to a better kind of financial institution. At SEG events, co-workers have been known to literally bring people by the arm to the credit union table and say, “You need to join the credit union.”

Member experience matters, and positive experiences are increasingly beginning online. According to Forrester, 63% of online adults in the Unites States who researched a financial product did so online. Research is only the first step in a series of stages, so managing the member experience online is vital. Research is confirming that online members can be your best advocates — creating significant value for the credit union through word of mouth promotion.

No matter where your focus is, you must engage your members and encourage them to do what they have always done — share the credit union story with their friends.