Don’t Just Advertise, Tell Stories

Whether they come from credit union leaders or members, stories are what differentiate great brands.


Storytelling is as old as humanity itself, so why do some cooperative institutions let this valuable communication medium go largely untapped? Sure, members know what you do. But do they really know who you are and what you value?

Good public communication is something that the for-profit world, with a few notable exceptions, is just starting to grasp.

“The 20th century can be seen as a giant experiment by the human race to find out what could be accomplished if organizations treated people as things and communicated to them in abstractions, numbers and analysis, rather than through people-friendly communications such as stories,” writes Steve Denning, author of The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, in a Forbes article.

It’s about getting members to tell their story, not trying to tell one for them. 

“Employees became human resources to be mined, rather than people to be minded,” Denning says. “Customers became demand, or consumers or eyeballs, to be manipulated, rather than living, feeling human beings to be delighted.”

In the modern age, this mentality not only falls short of creating great experiences, it can also become a liability. Credit unions certainly know better, but the quandary lies in how to convincingly show it.

Every other business relies on the same marketing, advertising, and PR initiatives that credit unions do in order to communicate with their consumer base. In order to feel genuine, credit unions must also create stories that reach outside of official channels and focus on the thoughts and actions of real people.

The CEO or other public-facing executives are fantastic sources of stories. Becoming a company storyteller requires walking a fine line between positivity, honesty, and self-restraint, traits not every leader is capable of. But those with the gift can build a better brand image in consumer’s minds than a dozen ad campaigns.

The second source of stories is even more powerful and plentiful - your own membership. Cooperative sites like provide a collective location for stories and build statewide or even national awareness. But to reach the targeted consumer groups in your own markets, consider building your own branded channels.

Be proactive in soliciting these experiences, but also be aware that it’s about getting members to tell their story, not trying to tell one for them. People can tell in an instant whether they’re being pitched groomed consumer stories like you might see in a political ad, or organic conversations that reveal something about the nature of the organization and its membership.


Oct. 2, 2012



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