Turn Your Members Into Salespeople

By thinking differently about the marketing process, credit unions can realize a greater return on their marketing dollars.


In the early 1950s, Tupperware abandoned traditional marketing strategies in favor of "Tupperware Parties." They were probably unaware of the success the sales model would bring them during the next 50 years. What began as a way to reach the market allowed Tupperware to become a part of something much larger: the culture. 

The recession has presented credit unions with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to spread their message. Unfortunately, it is becoming much more difficult to effectively allocate marketing funds to do so. That said, thinking differently about the marketing process can help credit unions realize a greater return on their marketing dollars and utilize their "social movement" past to realize an "economic movement" future.

The (Mass) Marketing Model

To conceptualize the traditional (mass) marketing model, Seth Godin, best-selling author and marketing guru, employs the diagram of a funnel. At the top of the funnel are people that are exposed to your message or your audience. As you move through the marketing funnel, those that hear your message interact with it to varying degrees. Some become disenchanted, or simply can’t join, and exit the funnel. Those remaining emerge as loyal credit union members.

But there is a problem with this model. It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to get your audience into the funnel, let alone to act on their feelings. Here’s why (the credit for some of the basis for these ideas belongs to Godin):

  1. Mass marketing is by definition bland. It requires the marketer to craft a message that is generally acceptable to a large audience, which ignores the differences that set people apart. This in turn makes the message unremarkable to each specific individual and thus unnoticeable and not worthy of sharing with others.
  2. To combat this bland message, marketers must make up for it in flashy production spending or by purchasing mass quantities of expensive marketing space (think Super Bowl commercial, Times Square billboards, etc.)
  3. We’ve seen it all – it costs more money to evoke the “wow” factor from consumers nowadays. For example, it is estimated that by the time a member of Gen-Y reaches the age of 21 they will have consumed 23 million media messages. So, along with greater competition for attention…
  4. People don’t trust companies (advertisers) anymore. The old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is" has been pushed to the extreme so much, the general public is now unwilling to believe the pitches they actually do listen to.

So what do credit unions do?

Flipping the Funnel and the Member Maven-Driven Movement

Godin suggests a more effective strategy in the future will be to actually flip the marketing funnel:

 "I want to suggest that you turn your strangers into friends, Turn your friends into customers (members), And then, do the most important thing: Turn your customers (members) into salespeople."

Here, Godin refers to the concept of a maven, an idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. A maven is someone that is an expert (or considers themselves to be an expert) in a given field and loves to share their knowledge with others.

Technology has made it easier and more common for people to become mavens. Anyone can e-mail a huge group of people, set up a blog, submit a product review, or post on a message board. What results is the age of the "prosumer." Consumers are empowered to not only have access to more information but also the ability to report on their own consumption. People are much more likely to seek out the opinions of peers when making consumption decisions.

I’ll bet you have mavens in your membership base that love to tell others about the benefits of credit union membership, but not everyone is a natural maven. The question then is how do you develop mavens?

Credit unions have a unique advantage  – you know your audience better than any large bank ever will. This knowledge of the local culture should allow you to exploit opportunities that encourage your members to become mavens. However, as Tupperware exhibited, identifying the culture of your target audience is only half of the battle. The trickier part is appealing to them in a way that will empower (see also: encourage, support, persuade, force) them to begin to tell others about the credit union.

That is what will dictate your success.

How are you working to make the member experience so unforgettable and beneficial that members are proud to promote your coopeative to everyone they know?




July 11, 2011


  • If you talk to your friends or any one you meeting and tell them about the Credit Union in a positive way and show enthusiasim that pretty much will work.

    Attitude is Everything!!!
    Rose Stasi