When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed every facet of life within a few days, marketing messages also needed to change on the fly.
Navigant Credit Union, Smithfield, R.I., flipped its advertising focus “almost overnight,” says Tim Draper, senior vice president, marketing.
The $2.3 billion asset credit union’s annual marketing plan included a blend of product and service advertising built around brand messaging, he says.
“We had come off of a record year, so we were ready to continue along, barreling ahead with what had been successful,” Draper says.
Those plans changed abruptly once Navigant started shifting employees toward remote working arrangements and reconfiguring branch operations with COVID-19 restrictions in the middle of March.
“We literally pulled our advertising overnight and said, ‘Let’s wait a week or two, and see how things play out,’” Draper says.
Navigant rebooted its advertising schedule and switched its messaging to a single word: Resilience.
“That’s it,” Draper says, describing billboard and print advertisements with that term in blue letters with a white background. “We’ve been around 105 years and we’ll always be here to represent our members’ interest. At the same time, we understand the challenges they’re facing.”
Navigant has also dedicated itself to philanthropic causes, supporting a COVID-10 Response Fund established by the Rhode Island Foundation and United Way of Rhode Island. “That wasn’t a big shift for us; we’ve always supported the community,” Draper says.
The credit union cooperative structure and people-helping-people philosophy have never been more relevant than they are now, says Craig Boivin, vice president marketing, $518 million asset UMassFive College Federal Credit Union, Hadley, Mass.
“We're not putting money in the pockets of a shareholder somewhere else and generating profit for them,” Boivin says. “Our stakeholders are our members. As a group we’ve embodied our mission throughout the last six weeks, which is very powerful from a brand standpoint.”
The credit union pivoted from a product-based marketing strategy to one based on branding. “We’ve been around for 50 years. We want our members to know we’re here to help and that they can count on us,” says Boivin.
Boivin points to national retailers who have shifted their messaging from whimsical or sales-focused to comforting, “We’re in this together” scenarios.
“We haven’t had to change that message,” he says. “We’ve been doing that all along.”
Northern Colorado Credit Union, Greeley, Colo., planned on running a spring home equity line of credit (HELOC) campaign, and briefly considered pulling it when the pandemic hit, says Amy Driver, marketing manager at the $63 million asset credit union.
But it proceeded with the campaign and changed the messaging around it.
“It offers more flexibility,” Driver says of the HELOC loan. “Someone might be furloughed and waiting to get unemployment. This offers an option for three or four weeks. Every member’s situation is different.”
The credit union’s message to members during the pandemic is that its available to help its members navigate their finances.
“We’re not just offering cookie cutter solutions,” Driver says. “We encourage our members to contact us and we’ll help them figure out what the best options are for them.”
Northern Colorado has also reached out to members. When it closed lobby service, Driver created a report of all members over the age of 60 who were not enlisted in online banking.
During their downtime, member service representatives and other staffers called those members to “check in” and provide information on their service options.
“We’re a small credit union, so maybe it’s a little easier for us to do that from a volume standpoint,” Driver says. “But our members appreciated it. They were happy to hear from us. People need others to reach out to them right now.”