As part of its overall business development strategy, University of Illinois ECU stages "Trick or Treating with the Stars," an October afternoon meet-and-greet with the Fighting Illini women's basketball team that attracts potential members from the CU's target audience.
At its best, business development doesn’t simply translate to sales, hustling, or, vaguely, “partnerships.”
Rather, in the words of Forbes contributor Scott Pollack, business development is best described as “the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.”
Differentiate your CU with a unified approach by attending this gathering of branch managers and business development professionals. Hear from speakers such as Susan Toalson, Denny Graham, and Josh Allison, and discover innovative ideas to fuel growth and streamline efficiencies.
When: Aug. 17-20, 2015.
Information and registration: Visit training.cuna.org/fuse.
The University of Illinois Employees Credit Union in Champaign lives and breathes this philosophy, says Susan Toalson, chief marketing officer for the $288 million asset institution.
The exercise boils down to two elements, Toalson told attendees of the 2014 CUNA FUSE Branch Operations and Business Development School in San Diego:
“To prioritize your efforts, you must first understand your corporate strategic goals,” Toalson says.
Toalson and her team examined three strategic goals University of Illinois Employees crafted to help the credit union realize the full potential of the community charter it had obtained years earlier:
Then, they set about achieving those goals through a three-pronged strategy rooted in better promoting the credit union’s brand and values through people and events.
Step 1: Establish yourself as a topical expert through relationships with local media outlets
“The key is to think about, ‘How can I be a value add to the story?’” Toalson says. “I might share anecdotal information about the credit union, but you have to focus on the story.”
Toalson first drew the attention of a local radio station when promoting financial literacy by helping community members research and improve their credit scores. When news of the Target data breach broke, the station called her and asked for tips on how consumers can better protect their personal data.
Several outlets localized the story by incorporating that information into their coverage, enhancing the credit union’s reputation as a financial expert. And when University of Illinois Employees offered a home-buying seminar the following month, some attendees said they decided to come after hearing the tips on fraud protection.
Step 2: Create partnerships with key influencers
“Who are the rock stars in your community?” Toalson asks. “Foster relationships with them.”
As is the case in many college towns, athletes fill that role in Champaign-Urbana. Although NCAA rules prohibit current University of Illinois players from capitalizing on their prestige with sponsorship deals, past stars such as Stephen Bardo remain cult heroes.
A member of the high-flying Fighting Illini men’s basketball team that reached the 1989 NCAA Final Four, Bardo has stayed in the spotlight thanks to a career in broadcasting. He became a raving fan of the credit union when he learned that University of Illinois Employees offers financial literacy instruction to current Illini athletes.
“As a result, he’s one of our top endorsers,” Toalson says.
The credit union also leveraged a relationship with the director of the university’s research park to provide workshops for local research park businesses, including Yahoo! employees, on managing their credit.
The company had struggled to find a financial institution that could assist their new hires from India. The credit union applied the lessons it had learned working with international students at the university to develop a specific Yahoo! onboarding process.
Step 3: Determine your target market, and seek relevant opportunities to reach that audience through sponsorships and events.
Creating a healthy mix of activities that increase brand awareness and those that yield actionable business leads “is a combination of art and science,” Toalson says.
Allow staff input on causes near and dear to their hearts, she advises. They have their finger on the pulse of the community, and giving them ownership encourages engagement.
“There are causes I’ll support because staff are passionate about them,” says Toalson, citing as an example the Eastern Illinois Food Bank.
But also ask yourself two questions: What are the “can’t miss” events in your community? And what “can’t miss” events can you create?
And don’t forget the follow-up question: How can you blend those activities, your target audience, and media sponsors to create specific or subjective results?
University of Illinois Employees hooked into the spirit at a Fighting Illini football game by setting up a photo booth and pitching the branded Visa card to fans waiting in line. The credit union deepened its relationship with the university’s alumni association by sharing those names and contact information.
Another football-related marketing ploy underscores the value of relevance. The credit union handed out 25,000 branded paper fans at a sweltering September game, and attendees used them so heavily Toalson recalls Big Ten Network television commentators calling the maneuver a “genius” move.
“The credit union was there, taking care of the community,” Toalson says.
Seeing an opportunity to better connect the Illini women’s basketball team with the community, University of Illinois Employees developed “Trick or Treating with the Stars,” held on a Sunday afternoon before Halloween.
“It’s a win-win,” Toalson says. “The students love having that access with the community; it improves their visibility. And these kids get the opportunity to hang with athletes, who are our community’s rock stars.
“And who brings it all together? University of Illinois Employees Credit Union.”
The last element of sponsoring events—delivering feedback to the home office— mustn’t be overlooked, according to Toalson. Business development staff and other employees should share their contacts and “word on the street” insights with marketing.
“Be the eyes and ears of your organization,” she says.