When Minneapolis residents think of SPIRE Federal Credit Union ($596. 7M, Falcon Heights, MN) it might be as a name on their debit card, as a home for their savings account or mortgage, as a source of philanthropy and community support, or as a brand they’ve seen advertised at their local grocery co-op or on TV.
“One of our greatest strengths today is our brand awareness,” says SPIRE CEO Dan Stoltz.
Second quarter performance data supports that assertion. In addition to posting 12-month membership growth of 2.47%, according to Callahan & Associates’ Peer-to-Peer analytics, SPIRE also reached its highest membership on record this year: 64,410.
The credit union has a closed charter and is eligible to serve more than 400 SEG groups throughout the state. With so many organizations that qualify for membership, SPIRE’s makeup and outreach more closely resembles that of a community-chartered credit union.
“Today, we’re focused on being a visible part of the community, whereas before that wasn’t really an emphasis,” says Casey Carlson, vice president of marketing and strategic planning.
SPIRE’s positive quarterly performance is a welcome change to the struggles it faced during the recession, which included losses in its business loan portfolio, and the departure of its longtime CEO. Its return to prominence has hinged upon dozens of factors, but here are six succinct examples of what the credit union did right.
Something To Aspire To
“One of the most significant changes for us from a brand perspective was our name change, from Twin City Co-ops to SPIRE,” Carlson says.
Prior to embarking on the two-year rebranding process, the credit union spent five years evaluating the strengths and limitations of its original moniker. For example, SPIRE discovered having the term “co-op” in its title was confusing to people, who sometimes mistook the credit union for one of the area’s many cooperative food markets. There were even a few times when people walked into the credit union looking for groceries, Carlson says. Additionally, market research revealed the “Twin City” label did not distinguish SPIRE from its financial competitors.
“We tested every element of that name to see if change was truly needed,” Carlson says. “Sometimes, if you are built around one specific SEG or brand, you’ll get members pushing back against a name change. But in our case, members were all for it.”
The eventual arrival at SPIRE Federal Credit Union as well as its new tagline “Banking At A Higher Level” provides a literal description of what this evolving institution is all about.
“Today, at least two-thirds of the people I talk to in this area know the brand,” says Niel Devasir, the credit union’s newly arrived vice president and chief information officer. “That hasn’t happened to me since I left Capital One in 2005, so I’m feeling good about my choice to be a part of SPIRE.”
Relax, We’ve Got This
Positive exposure never comes easy, and in a competitive market, it doesn’t come cheap either. To pump up its brand exposure, SPIRE has increased its educational and promotional spend by more than fourfold since midyear 2010, going from $162,472 at that time to $659,645 as of midyear 2013.
SPIRE can afford this extra investment partly because of its three-person in-house marketing team. With job descriptions you might find in a typical ad agency — such as a copywriter, special events coordinator, and video editor — the trio helps reduce SPIRE’s reliance on costly ad agencies and vendors, which allows the credit union to direct funds toward community events, member education, and philanthropic partnerships.
“We’re a small team, so we help one another with the planning and execution of the marketing strategy,” says Sama Sandy, digital marketing specialist.
Creativity and humor have also played a big role in the unit’s success. One prime example is the credit union’s Said No One Ever campaign. Ads begins with sentiments like “I love driving a car so rusty I need a weekly tetanus shot” or “I have absolutely no use for an extra $25” before delivering the punch line “said no one ever” and providing information on how SPIRE can remedy or improve the member’s situation.
Getting Online In Line
“I view our digital marketing as a bridge between IT and marketing,” Sandy says,” But there’s also an educational component to almost everything we do online.”
To build and maintain legitimacy on its website and in social media channels, the credit union provides a consistent mix of financial information and promotional material. Its redesigned website offers a seamless, secure experience for members, and the recent unveiling of a new mobile app has further expanded opportunities for the marketing team to reach individuals wherever they are. New site visits to spire-banking.com have increased by roughly 1,200 per month. The credit union credits the redesign as well as its social and mobile outreach for this increase. It has also found success with a sophisticated retargeting strategy and frequently follows up with surfers who have clicked on ads.
For SPIRE, being a fast follower and waiting until technology is fully established has not only saved money but also improved service levels.
“Those who rolled out remote deposit capture (RDC) systems early on had to have members mail in the check afterward,” Devasir says. “Because we waited for RDC to fully mature before introducing it, we don’t require that step.”
SPIRE’s new mobile solution also features an integrated option for PaylPal transactions, which the credit union hopes will boost fee income and ROI for this channel.
Traditional Channels With A Twist
“In addition to online and mobile, we cover all the traditional marketing channels,” Sandy says. “But we do it strategically and stay true to who we are.”
For example, the credit union has self-produced several commercials that run as often as four to five times a night in the Twin Cities market. One of the ads even won a 2013 CUNA Diamond award despite competing against submissions from much larger institutions.
“By featuring real people like a local college student and a business owner, we covered many different situations and financial concerns that people actually encounter in their own lives,” Sandy says. “The commercials really have a great hometown feel.”
A SPIRE Member And More
As part of its merchant services partnership with The Wedge and other grocery co-ops, the credit union offers a cobranded credit card and returns a portion of the interchange income to the grocer. And when it comes to cooperative members — both its own as well as its partners’ — the credit union is always looking for ways to say thank you. For example, SPIRE produces a coupon book tailored to the needs and interests of individual member groups and includes special discounts on SPIRE products and services.
“We work hard to find mutually beneficial relationships that help everyone,” Carlson says. “We want our members to feel they have a substantial value from their membership outside of the financial services they receive.”
For example, member businesses can post their information to the credit union’s online directory, and all SPIRE members get access to special offers from national companies such as roadside assistance, cell phone carriers, and satellite TV providers as well as discounts for things like sporting events or the local renaissance fair.
Are You Ready Sports Fans?
Far too often, consumers consider financial and banking decisions a mandatory and unenjoyable chore. By aligning with non-financial activities consumers do consider fun, SPIRE encourages members to think about financial matters in a host of additional scenarios.
For example, the credit union partners with several local and professional sports organizations, including the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball’s St. Paul Saints, and the 3M Golf Championship. And after gleaning best practices from a Texas credit union that has a relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, SPIRE also secured status as the official checking account of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
“When we deal with the public, we want to look big,” Carlson says. “And aligning with such a well-known brand allows us to do that.” In addition to being able to offer a co-branded Timberwolves debit card, the credit union has access to the Target Center arena for game time promotions. In one particularly well-received promotion, the credit union drops cash attached to SPIRE branded parachutes from the skywalk.
“We wanted a way to literally make money rain down from the ceiling,” Carlson says. “It creates a nice buzz while our signage is being displayed. The Timberwolves even have people calling them to ask when’s the next time SPIRE will be dropping money.”
Such promotions have attracted not only new members but also new employees.
“I was introduced to SPIRE through the Timberwolves,” says branch manager Miriam Wells. “I was at a game and somebody handed me a coozie that said SPIRE on it. I had no idea what that was, but I researched it because I was looking to refinance my mortgage.”
SPIRE and the Timberwolves frequently work together to hold a Season of Giving toy drive and other events for sick and underprivileged kids. And when it came time for the grand reopening of the credit union’s Maple Grove location, the attendance of point guard Alexey Shved helped draw a crowd of more than 300 people, despite frigid temperatures.
The credit union has capitalized on the popularity of athletic figures in other ways, too. For example, it has added inspirational keynote speakers — most recently, Jamaican bobsledder Devon Harris — to its annual meeting and member appreciation day festivities.
“We knew we could either continue to do those events the way we had before — keep attracting the same people and keep getting the same results — or we could go bigger,” Stoltz says.
These popular speakers, along with a $25 payout for attendance, have increased member turnout for the event from a few hundred to more than 2,000 last year.
“Our annual event is one of the best chances we have to showcase SPIRE to members,” Stoltz says. “We’re always looking for ways to dial that up.”