Teresa Freeborn
Teresa Freeborn, president/CEO of Xceed Financial CU, is chair of the CUNA Creating Awareness Advisory Group.

It's time to close the awareness gap

Focusing on four key messages drives consumers to CUs and improves member loyalty.

June 28, 2016

Attendees of the America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) received a first look Tuesday at the awareness initiative CUNA is developing.

Teresa Freeborn, president/CEO of Xceed Financial CU, El Segundo, Calif., and chair of the CUNA Creating Awareness Advisory Group, introduced the initiative, which will help align credit union messaging nationwide, complement and strengthen ongoing marketing and awareness efforts, and open new opportunities for credit unions to grow market share and advocacy power.

Rather than a top-down national advertising campaign, “this will help our leagues and our individual credit unions talk about the credit union difference in a very sustainable and a very long-term manner,” Freeborn said.

CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle also highlighted this work during his address to the conference on Monday.

The 16 years of research, more than 16,000 interviews, and 12 statewide polls that will shape messaging for the initiative revealed that when credit unions focus on four core messages, they'll increase member loyalty and drive consumers to the movement.

Those four messages are:

  1. Credit unions are different from banks;
  2. Credit unions are not-for-profit;
  3. Credit unions are member-owned; and
  4. Credit unions return their earnings to members through lower loan rates, fewer and lower fees, and higher savings rates.

While the research helped define gaps in awareness, CUNA’s advisory group—charged by the board to identify the most effective way for the movement to fill that gap—determined the time is right for credit unions to grow awareness.

“The opportunity is greater today than it has ever been to take advantage of this opportunity and close the awareness gap,” Freeborn added. “CUNA can lead us, and we’re grateful they stepped up here. But we all need to be involved and work together to make sure everyone knows the credit union difference. That’s how we win.”

In the coming months, CUNA will create an awareness toolkit, with guidance from its membership that leverages the research-proven messages that credit unions and leagues can leverage with their own communications and marketing efforts.

CUNA created a website, cuna.org/awareness, that includes the research, presentations, and videos shown during the presentation. It also has an email address, awareness@cuna.coop, through which credit unions can provide input or get involved.

CUNA Chief Strategic Communications Officer Douglas Kiker presented the facts about credit union awareness in addition to the data that illustrate the opportunity.

Kiker cited CUNA’s research, which found:

  • 82% of bank-only customers said they would be interested in moving at least one account to a credit union;
  • 68% of credit union members said they would do more business with their credit unions; and
  • 88% said they would pick credit unions over banks in a public policy fight.

This video from CUNA presents much of the research.

The initiative’s four key messages will strengthen credit union market share, share of wallet, and advocacy efforts. “National sentiment and empirical evidence show we should not wait,” Kiker said.

Patrick Dorton, founder/president of Rational 360, a strategic communications firm with which CUNA will partner to build out this initiative, presented the initiative’s phases and the types of materials and resources credit unions could find in the awareness toolkit.

Phase One will build engagement with existing credit union people—the 350,000 credit union staffers and volunteers, 6,000-plus credit unions, and thousands of system partners—to unify and align their messaging.

Phase Two will involve turning those ambassadors loose to raise awareness of the credit union difference using the proven messaging to increase share of wallet and market share.

“We know that you all are the experts in spreading awareness and telling your stories,” said Rational 360 Director Vanessa Descalzi on Tuesday. “You need to be connected and empowered to do so."

On Tuesday, the Cornerstone Credit Union League announced the August launch of its "Feel the Difference" campaign. CUNA and Cornerstone have committed to working collaboratively as both initiatives progress.