The world of financial products and services has evolved rapidly in the last two decades. What worked for consumers in 1997 or 2007 just doesn’t measure up to what they expect in 2017. Bank and credit union marketing professionals must always strive to to learn, evolve and keep up with this dizzying change of pace.
However, with change often comes great opportunity. With that in mind, we quizzed Nick Cray, VP of Member Relations and Marketing at AmeriCU (Rome, NY; $1.5 billion assets; 122,000 members). Nick, a long-time veteran of marketing and consumer experience within banks and credit unions offers the following “big three” opportunities facing financial institution markers today:
1) Differentiating credit unions. We see it all the time in industry research- people just don’t know what a credit union is. Even on a micro level, I can’t say how often I hear So, you have to be, like, in the military to join?’ One large issue facing credit unions is simply explaining to potential members who we are and building awareness of the industry as a whole.
2) Standing out from the noise. Once members or potential members are aware that we’re here – so what? They have a plethora of options to choose from. How to make members see you instead of something in the background is critical.
3) Building relationships. In an age where consumers are comfortable with disjointed services (cobbling together Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon; instead of a single cable provider, for example), how do you even begin the conversation about relationships? Credit unions know that they are the best option for many consumers. Unfortunately, those consumers may already see the world in terms of multiple relationships, instead of a primary. Winning them over requires a lot more than good advertising.
Change is tough, especially when the professional world in which we work moves on from the day we earned our college degree or just entered the industry. This effects many bank and credit union marketers today. Staying abreast of these changes and identifying the “diamond in the rough” opportunities that exist for financial institution marketers is critical. As Cray notes, differentiation in a crowded marketplace, positioning consumers to choose you over the competition and building deeper and more meaningful consumer relationships are three such opportunities waiting to be tapped at many banks and credit unions.
We live in a hyper-saturated competitive environment when it comes to financial products and services. Just think about all the other banks, credit unions and non-traditional providers all looking to grab a slice of your consumers’ market and wallet share. One of the strongest ways financial institutions can compete is by establishing a truly unique consumer service experience.
A great example of this comes from Rio Grande Credit Union (Albuquerque, NM; $316 million assets; 30,000 members). Looking to create a truly differentiated and memorable member service experience, they first decided to invest in their overall employee experience. As it turns out, employee experience and member experience are directly related.
“What we’ve discovered is that our Employee Engagement survey (done in April) is predictive of our Annual Member Satisfaction survey (conducted in August),” shared Bill Daily, VP of Marketing and Member Experience. “We’ve made the local ‘Best Places to Work’ the past two years in a row. Our 2016 member satisfaction survey generated the highest score in the 15 years we’ve been tracking it.”
“Our credit union has also taken a number of other steps to help improve employee engagement and, therefore the overall member experience,” said Lily Currin, VP of Human Resources. These steps include:
- Sharing branch level data for employee engagement rankings and member satisfaction rankings with the individual branch teams. Identifying similar questions in both surveys to drive home the correlation.
- Sharing the aggregate level ranking data with branch managers. (Branches with more engaged employees have more satisfied members)
- Asking our branch managers to generate employee engagement plans and hold quarterly meetings with us (the VP Marketing and Member Experience and VP of Human Resources) to discuss progress.
- Setting aside a piece of the marketing budget for employee engagement.
- Celebrate our employees’ successes on our in-branch TVs and social media.
“I don’t know if it’s correlation or causation but it’s there,” added Daily “It’s real. And it’s the first lever I’d recommend pulling to move member satisfaction.”
At Rio Grande Credit Union, the biggest step towards improving the overall member service experience is to analyze and enhance the employee experience in the workplace. Although it may sound like an already-learned lesson, other financial institutions are well-advised to refocus on this tenant: satisfied employees that love where they work and buy into the brand are employees that deliver superior service experiences to consumers.
By Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
My family recently took a road trip spanning several thousand miles. With spotty cell coverage for much of the drive, I had a lot of time to look at billboards – how they are used, what they promote and what goal they are trying to achieve. If you work for the many financial institutions that struggle with whether or not to spend money on billboards, or with what message to advertise, these observations may help you clarify your decision.
The majority of billboard advertising fell into one of three categories. They were either promoting brand awareness, promoting a restaurant/entertainment venue at a specific exit or displaying a public service message (i.e. save water, go to church, don’t start forest fires, etc.). These are the only three objectives financial institutions should consider when incorporating billboards into their marketing plan. I saw a lot of billboards across 2,000 miles, and I don’t recall seeing one billboard promoting a specific product or rate. What differentiates your brand from others? That’s what you want on your billboard. A good example is this image of a McDonald’s billboard differentiating itself from expensive coffee places.
Less is more
The most effective billboards had very little copy. Sometimes it was as simple as “food” or “clean bathrooms” with a logo and an exit number. You have about eight seconds to grab someone’s attention with a billboard. Keep the message brief. A good rule of thumb is to use a business card as your guide. If it doesn’t fit on a business card without you having to squint, your message may be too long for a billboard. Six to eight words is your maximum. If you can’t do this, billboards are not for you. See examples here.
This is where many businesses struggle – especially credit unions with field of membership boundaries. Billboard owners will give you statistics on who drives the roads where their billboards are located, but much of it is subjective. How many drive that route every day? What is their gender and how much money do they make? Sometimes billboard demographics are a gamble. You also have to consider the type of road it is. I was traveling on interstate highways where exits were often few and far between. The billboards were targeting long distance drivers. A local highway where people most likely travel the same route every day might be a better choice for your financial institution.
Billboard advertising can be pricey and often involves a long-term commitment. If you are trying to capture the attention of an entire community, sometimes sponsoring festivals or other community events where your employees can speak one-on-one with potential customers and members is a more effective use of your marketing dollars. It comes down to your anticipated ROI based on how much money you plan to spend during a specific time frame and how many people you expect to reach.
Lafayette Schools Credit Union is a financial institution with big priorities. The credit union has experienced the value of training its employees, and it continues to invest significantly in growing its employees into leaders.
“I think about the mid managers who report directly to me, and I see growth” said Connie Roy, CEO of Lafayette Schools Credit Union. “They seem encouraged, and they’re learning to lean on other leaders in the credit union who have similar issues.”
That wasn’t always the culture at LSCU. Like most financial institutions, LSCU hired more people as the credit union grew. However, as the number of employees increased, the level of cohesiveness across the organization declined. So did the level of service.
No financial institution can afford to deliver unsatisfactory service – especially one heavily impacted by the bust of the oil and gas industry not that long ago. On The Mark Strategies helped LSCU management craft a customized member engagement program which defines specific service standards and staff expectations.
“We hire young people all the time and they don’t know what good service looks like,” said Roy. “With Mark’s help, we’ve come together as an organization and the expectations are crystal clear. This is who we are. This is who we serve. We broke it down, and they are getting it. They are really, getting it.”
That was the beginning of an entirely new way of doing business. LSCU learned to invest more in employee development, including regular leadership training.
“We’ve decided that we’re done with hiring,” said Roy. “It just wasn’t working. We’re 55 employees now. We have determined that we want to grow our own leaders. Leadership all trickles down and it’s working. Leadership skills have been enhanced and they’ve been made top of mind.”
The credit union chose a customized leadership training approach through On the Mark Strategies.
“I love the way we can customize our training,” said Roy. “It centers around our needs. It’s not just a cookie-cutter PowerPoint presentation. Bringing these mid managers together has been really beneficial. The way Mark presents it, they get it, and for him to bring it in house for us is a huge cost savings. I’m not having to send six or eight people out of town at a time.”
Roy is very pleased with the results of their investment. Managers are engaged with their staff, and they exemplify the behavior they expect of their employees. Member engagement is now a way of life at LSCU, and the credit union has the cohesiveness it was lacking.
“Our member engagement program has brought consistency at all locations which is what our goal has been all along,” said Roy.
As financial institutions look to better-implement their brand footprint in the communities they serve, increasing importance is placed on community involvement. This isn’t old-school community involvement where you could get away with having a table or booth at an event with a couple of passive employees handing out flyers. Community involvement that works well in 2017 is defined much more by proactive, deeper-level meaningful interaction between bank or credit union staff and the populations they serve.
A terrific example of this comes from Denver Community Credit Union (Denver, CO; $315 million assets; 25,000 members). In its quest for community involvement, Denver Community focuses on a number of key areas including financial education and a heightened awareness of the brand.
“Since Denver Community implemented a financial education program in 2005, it has reached tens of thousands of people with the message of financial empowerment,” said Helen Gibson, VP of Marketing and Education. “In 2016, 2,395 people attended classes at the credit union, listened to podcasts, or participated in financial coaching.”
Denver Community invests in financial education as a differentiator in its market and sees a definite return on investment. “In 2016, 85 membership leads, 89 loan leads, and 224 additional products and services were gained that are directly tied to the work of our community relations coordinator,” Gibson added. “It is believed that many more members and products are gained through the branding activities of the coordinator, but they can be difficult to track due to confidentiality of participants in partner organizations.” In fact, the Denver Community program won an award in 2014 for its community impact from the Mountain West CU Foundation. This video details the program in-depth and shows the impact on members and the greater community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBz9qb6sOE0
However, Denver Community does more than financial education in its community. It also continues to evolve its staff training to include financial education. “In February 2017, our community relations coordinator presented an abridged version of our Money Makeover class for our staff,” Gibson noted. “Measured results indicate that in the time period before the class, staff opened on average 6.4 accounts every ten days. After the training, this boosted to an average of 10.0 accounts every ten days.”
“In addition, the types of accounts opened after the training directly tied to the content of the class,” Gibson elaborated. “This type of personal behavior change impacts member service because our staff understand how to guide members to deepen their relationship with the credit union and advance members’ financial futures.”
Denver Community involvement with its populace also reaches beyond financial education. “In 2014, Denver Community began a program with a non-profit partner advertising on Facebook,” Gibson said. “Denver Community pays the non-profit to boost a post that is co-branded, and the non-profit uses a portion of the payment for unrestricted income. Facebook statistics show that the non-profit gains likes and engagement from the carefully crafted post.”
Key Takeaways: The community involvement lessons here from Denver Community Credit Union are many. For example, the ability to quantify your community involvement is critical. Gibson offers a number of quantifiable metrics (number of class attendees, accounts opened before and after training, etc.). Staff education is also critical. Finally, creating partnerships on social media with complementary non-profit entities is also a solid example from which other financial institutions can learn.
Denver Community continues to expand its community involvement programs that give the credit union an ability to demonstrate clarity of message, consistency, and constancy within its target markets at an affordable price. This type of involvement is also invaluable when it comes to strength of brand, market and wallet share.
Language and words matter. Especially when you are undertaking a branding or marketing project.
Too many times when doing branding efforts and marketing campaigns the term “target” or “target audience” is used. But the word target implies you are shooting at something or someone. And no one wants to get shot.
What do consumers really want from you? They want to be your partners. They want you to help them. They want to know you have their back.
Yes, target marketing matters. You certainly can’t be all things to all people and you must allocate your marketing dollars wisely by choosing certain segments with the right messages.
However, in our effort to focus we sometimes lose sight that people are people.
Think in terms of what type of people you help the most. Who benefits the most from your products or services? Whose unique needs are you best at meeting? That mindset changes the focus from a target to a person.
What words can you use besides “target?” As mentioned above, try partner (and if you are a credit union stop using the term select employee group: no one knows what that means). You can also try “ideal member or customer.” Perhaps “key group” is an option.
Any of the words above work. They imply your focus is on the consumer and not just what they can do for you. Branding and marketing is not about you—it’s about them. And the “them” don’t want to be your target.
Think about yourself. Would you rather be someone’s target or someone’s partner?