Marcus Sheridan

Solving Consumers' Problems Wins Their Wallets

To succeed in the 'honest economy,' CUs must become a go-to source of information.

April 19, 2014

Marcus Sheridan

The digital revolution has transformed how consumers make purchasing decisions, and Marcus Sheridan says credit unions—like many other industries—have failed to adapt.

With the wealth of research resources and peer reviews available online, consumers are 70% of the way to their decision by the time they first interact with you as motivated buyers, according to statistics the marketing guru culled from Google.

What they’ve sought in those Internet searches is an entity they can trust, said Sheridan, an indefatigable content marketing guru whose presentation Thursday closed out the National Association of Credit Union Service Organizations' annual conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla..

In what Sheridan dubs our “honest economy,” organizations succeed by establishing themselves as the go-to source for answers to consumers’ broad-based concerns and providing clear and detailed information about their own products.

“Can you become that ultimate trust agent in your industry?” he asked.

Sheridan believes credit unions have a long way to go in that regard.

His basis for that blunt assessment: In multiple online searches for common consumer queries about credit unions—whether framed positively or skeptically—the first page of results populated with links to information from banks, government associations, and crowdsourced sites such as Yahoo! Answers, but lacked any credit union representation.

To address that shortcoming, Sheridan issued a challenge credit unions must ask themselves: “When prospects visit our website, do we help solve their problems better than anyone else in the world?”

That approach served Sheridan well in his own right. When the recession struck, his inground pool sales and installation business nearly went out of business overnight. Rather than close up shop, he and his partners devised a new strategy designed to assuage consumers’ fears about a luxury purchase in trying times: They ask. You answer.

“Those four words changed my life,” said Sheridan, who considers answering consumers' questions "a moral obligation."

By becoming a trusted source of information, River Pools and Spas became the most-visited pools website in the world, Sheridan said.

The “Big Five” areas organizations should address include:

1. Cost. Customers expect up-front pricing options, and they become frustrated when that’s not available and will search elsewhere.

Yes, every case is different, Sheridan acknowledged, but starting your answer with “it depends” and establishing ballpark figures is acceptable. Your competitors will find out what you charge—but don’t fool yourself into thinking they don’t know that already, he said.

2. Problems. If you shy away from answering the difficult questions, someone else will step in to answer it for you.

When consumers post questions about credit unions’ strengths and weaknesses, do you really want to hand over the mic to banks or others with vested interests to provide the answer?

3. Comparison. Why should a consumer choose a credit union over a bank? You know the many reasons and need to share them early and often.

4. Reviews/awards. Once upon a time, people formed their opinions about restaurants, for example, by asking friends for recommendations, searching the Yellow Pages, or (gulp!) actually going to the place sight-unseen to try the food. Now they take to heart observations by strangers, sometimes delivered anonymously.

Be aware of perceptions and publicize your successes.

5. What’s best for me? Help consumers figure out which products best fit their individual circumstances.

CarMax, the nation’s largest used vehicle dealer, is a prime model of a company that revolutionized its industry by tackling head-on issues of mistrust and misinformation, Sheridan says. By offering highly customizable search options, no-haggle pricing, and a five-day return policy on vehicles that undergo a rigorous review, CarMax eliminated the stigma of buying used vehicles.

“You are special. What you do is unique,” Sheridan said of credit unions. “But in terms of principles of success, your industry is no different.”