There’s been an ongoing debate for decades about the future of the credit union branch office. In the 1990s, some in the industry were positive online banking would replace brick and mortar. That hasn’t happened, and while electronic banking has become more main stream, there are no indications that branch offices will be going away completely.
Branch offices have always been considered the most effective weapon in a financial institution’s arsenal for creating and building relationships with members, as well as cross-selling products and services. They are the one place where people can interact face-to-face with their financial institutions while conducting business. In the end, that customer experience is what differentiates a financial institution.
How does branch office design play into that? The new trend in branch office design is to create spaces that barely look like financial institutions. More and more credit unions and banks are incorporating lounge areas, coffee bars and internet cafes—spaces where people are comfortable and more interested in hanging out, instead of completing a transaction and leaving. Some have even modeled their branches after an Apple Store—a place full of electronic gadgets where members can play while hopefully learning more about their financial institution.
The question is, are these new spaces accomplishing what they set out to do? More importantly, do these financial institutions know what they want to accomplish with these new, creative spaces?
To truly create a unique experience, financial institutions will have to consider important factors that haven’t always been part of the branch design, like demographics. Usually demographics are used to determine the best location for a branch. Today, financial institutions are using them to determine what goes inside the branch. This goes beyond the play areas and free coffee that many already offer. It’s also about knowing more than the ages of the members a branch serves. It’s about understanding their generations and what makes them tick. Which ones are spenders? Which ones are soccer moms? Which ones are the least financially savvy? Instead of crafting a cookie cutter branch to place on any street corner, know who the branch is serving and design that branch accordingly.
Something else to keep in mind is technology integration. This can be tough, because it’s hard to know how much is too much. The key is to align technology integration to the goal of the branch, based on the demographics it serves.
Finally, don’t forget space and personality. Above all, credit unions must train their staff to represent the brand and effectively communicate the benefits of products and services. That plays into the design of the branch because it is the number one element that can make or break a member’s relationship with a credit union. Space is important, because members need to feel comfortable talking about personal situations in a space where their business cannot be heard by others.
Read a more in-depth look at branch design in the February issue of my e-zine. The article includes a link to a branch model created by Steelcase following a study of branch offices around the world.
Member referral campaigns, also sometimes referred to as membership drives, are about as “old hat” as it gets in credit union marketing. For most credit unions, it’s an annual or semi-annual effort that brings great intentions but little in the way of new and innovative thought to the table. Geezeo, is looking to change this with its new CU Tell-a-Friend online member referral engine.
The typical member referral program is management-intensive and not overly member-friendly. Credit unions generally have printed referral cards or forms available in branches. Members must pick them up, fill them out and submit them for the specified referral bonus (usually in the $25 range). A credit union then relies on the referred potential member to actually sign up, then complete data input on the new member into its computer system. There are plenty of pitfalls and black holes in this cumbersome process.
This is where CU Tell-a-Friend comes into play. “We are destroying the box on traditional member referral programs,” says James Robert Lay, president of PTP New Media, which partnered with Geezeo on the CU Tell-a-Friend platform. “Instead of thinking about member referrals as a once-a-year campaign, we want credit unions to view them as part of daily operations.”
Using CU Tell-a-Friend, members can refer people using a series of simple online data submission screens. A growing number of credit unions are now using this member growth tool, including 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union, Keesler Federal Credit Union and Comstar Federal Credit Union.
Jim Craig, vice president of marketing at 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union, says the idea behind the referral engine is to realize an increased volume of new incoming members at a lower overall acquisition cost than traditional methods often involve.
“We also look at how CU Tell-a-Friend compares to traditional referral methods,” added Lay. “Geezeo has found that in referral programs with a small financial incentive (the average is around $25), credit unions can see a 20% leap in referral activity. In addition, they found that by asking for referrals online or through email, referrals increased 12% when compared to traditional methods like statement inserts, newspaper ads and direct mail.”
CU Tell-a-Friend further enhances online sharing capability by providing seamless Facebook and Twitter integration so members can share the good news about credit union membership with their circle of social media friends and family. An experience measurement tool, known as CU Follow-Up, allows for additional growth through member feedback while cross-selling products and services.
Member acquisition and retention are traditional challenges faced by many credit unions. The CU Tell-a-Friend online member referral engine offers an interesting online twist and shot in the arm to this venerable growth platform.
We often label businesses. Apple and Google are technology companies. McDonald’s and Wendy’s are fast food chains. Wal-Mart and Target are retailers. So what business is your credit union in? Hopefully you didn’t answer “banking,” “credit union,” or “finance.” Boring, boring, boring. And not really all that accurate.
Thinking your credit union is in the finance or banking industry is short-sighted and limits you. Here are a couple of examples to consider. Chick-Fil-A does not consider itself in the fast food industry. Rather, they see themselves (and try to position their brand) around service. Another example comes from Starbucks. One of their front line employees—not their CEO—famously said, “We’re not in the coffee business serving people. We’re in the people business serving coffee.” In the book Grow, John Hendricks, founder of The Discovery Channel, said, “When we launched in June 1985, I told everyone, ‘Let’s not say we’re in the cable business.’ I didn’t want us to limit ourselves.”
So what about your credit union? What business is your credit union in?
Here are some possibilities:
(1) People—First and foremost, credit unions should be about people. Go ahead and trot out the phrase “People Helping People.” The phrase may be outworn and outdated, but the principle is still true: credit unions are (or should be) about people. If you put people first, the profits will come. Applying the Starbucks quote, “credit unions are not in the financial services business serving people; we’re in the people business serving financial products and services.”
(2) Service—Many financial institutions are trying to compete on service. And that’s the problem: it leads to little differentiation. However, from an employee mindset and brand positioning perspective, credit unions should be in the service industry. That means fast, friendly and engaging service.
(3) Money—One long-time credit union board member once told me, “if you want money, we have it; if you have money, we want it.” We handle people’s money; that’s what credit unions do. But it’s more than just money: money is just a means to an end for most folks. The money helps people send their kids to college, buy them their first home, retire to their dream spot, or accomplish some other lifelong goal. But credit unions are the ones who can help with the money side of the dream.
So what other business do you think credit unions are in?
I’ve recently had the opportunity to conduct marketing audits for a few clients. One thing quickly becomes apparent in most audits: many credit unions struggle with maintaining a consistent brand. You can have a brand vision, know your targets and train your staff—and still not have a consistent brand.
Two of the three “Cs” to a strong brand are clarity and constancy. But it’s that third “C”—consistency—that can cause credit union brands to struggle.
Here are four ways to maintain a consistent brand:
- Coach your staff—Branding often fails at the staff level. Your staff must live your brand every day. You can’t say, “We’re the friendliest credit union in town” and then have your receptionist or tellers not have a welcoming attitude to members. Coaching does not refer to quarterly or yearly reviews. Good coaching takes place every single day. How often are your managers coaching your employees about your brand standards?
- Incorporate branding elements into mystery shops—Once you coach your staff you have to monitor them. Conducting mystery shops is a great way to receive feedback on how they are doing. Mystery shops shouldn’t just offer feedback on your staff; a good mystery shop program will also examine your credit union’s brand. For more information on mystery shops, check out the post, “Mystery Shops Give Valuable Feedback.” Are your mystery shops giving you insight on your brand?
- Examine every area of your credit union through the brand lens—With branding, everything matters. From the boardroom to the break room, everything matters when it comes to branding. Some overlooked areas could include bathrooms, employee desks/offices (note: remove the clutter!), branch signage and dress code. Does everything at your credit union match your brand?
- Conduct a marketing audit—One of the most comprehensive ways to ensure your brand is consistent is to perform a marketing audit. You don’t have to pay a consultant for the review; you can simply have a marketing professional at another credit union examine your credit union while you return the favor. For more information, check out the post, “How a Marketing Audit Improves Your Credit Union.” When was the last time you conducted a marketing audit?
Ultimately, building brand consistency takes time and accountability. As your credit union takes the above four steps you will also continue to increase your brand’s consistency.
Is your credit union using interactive marketing tools to reach its members? According to a recent Forrester Report, you should. The Forrester Report (“U.S. Interactive Marketing Forecast, 2011 to 2016”) strongly points to steady growth in the importance and use of interactive marketing. By interactive marketing, the report refers to:
- Search marketing
- Display advertising
- Mobile marketing
- Email marketing
- Social media
The numbers cited by Forrester include $77 billion (the same amount marketers currently spend on television ads) devoted to interactive advertising by 2016. The report also goes on to say that the above-mentioned marketing tactics will grow to encompass a full 35% of all marketing budgets in the same five-year projection.
A 2011 Mashable report agrees. A full 70% of marketers surveyed planned to increase their social media budget by 10% or more. An increased focus (and spend) was indicated in a 2011 Small Business Trends survey, posting 60% of marketers putting more into email advertising and 37% raising mobile marketing and internet search budgets. Finally, the 2012 Bank & Credit Union Marketing Survey chimes in with stats referencing financial institution marketers placing increased emphasis on “e-strategies” in 2012.
The numbers are impressive and beg the question: what is your credit union doing in these areas?
That interactive marketing is here to stay and will only continue to grow in importance is undeniable. Credit unions large and small, metro and rural, must begin exploring (if they haven’t already) these new and innovative ways of reaching members and potential members. A flat and unappealing website (basically a web-based version of your brochure line with only home banking and bill payment) won’t cut it.
Credit union marketers must also consider the budget implications of the Forrester Report. What percentage of your overall marketing budget is going to traditional (print, direct mail, billboards, etc.) and how much is going to interactive? We all know intuitively that interactive is the way to go, but sometimes it is hard to let go of the traditional (especially when it comes to transferring some of those marketing dollars). You either have to make some serious adjustments or add to your current marketing budget if you want to do interactive correctly.
To reach members and potential members in the Digital Age, credit union marketers must swim (not wade) with the tide of interactive marketing.