25 & Counting

25 & Counting

The CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council hits a major milestone.

February 23, 2018

Twenty-five years ago, credit union marketing was decidedly paper-based and “spray and pray”—no data analytics, limited targeting, and pre-internet.

Digital marketing didn’t exist, and the member newsletter was king. Plus, marketers had yet to gain the respect their peers in other disciplines experienced. “It was like marketing was all arts and crafts,” says Mary Olson, a former league communicator and retired vice president of marketing at $5.6 billion asset Delta Community Credit Union in Atlanta.

The formation of the CUNA Marketing Council in 1993 helped change all of this. The council provided a place for marketing and business development professionals to hone their skills, network, and improve their standing within their credit unions. It led the way for the six additional professional development councils that have emerged since then.

Olson and four others who had a major impact on the formation and long-term success of the now CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council explain how the organization came about, how credit union marketing and business development have changed, and what they see for the future of their craft:

  • Trish Shermot, government relations and engagement officer for $4 billion asset Visions Federal Credit Union, Endicott, N.Y.
  • Cindy Morgan, senior marketing executive for $1.2 billion asset New England Federal Credit Union, Williston, Vt.
  • Juli Anne Callis Lawrence, chief strategic officer for Raoust & Partners and a former credit union marketer and CEO.
  • George Towle, consultant and former vice president of member relations for CUNA.

Credit Union Magazine: How did the council come about?

Olson: The Financial Marketing Association had a big conference in April 1993. Then in May, I believe they said, ‘We’re disbanding this particular group and we’re not going to have a marketing group at all.’ We were all taken aback by that.

Towle: Basically, the marketers were looking for a new home for professional development.

That’s when CUNA stepped in. Our main focus was getting a conference together for the following year, and coming up with the Diamond Awards. We had to come up with everything from scratch.

From day one, it was always going to be about marketers, for marketers, and of marketers. This was their organization and their agenda, and they were going to drive it.

Credit Union Magazine: What challenges has the council faced along the way?

Shermot: The issues facing the council were the same issues facing our members. The impact of regulatory issues, membership growth, compliance, and, most recently, corporate stabilization and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continue to stretch and challenge the industry.

As credit unions and a council, we need to continue to collaborate. With so many new nonfinancial entrants to the market, continually thinking outside the box is imperative for our industry to thrive and grow.

Towle: One challenge the group faced was making marketing a strategic function in the credit union. They needed to be part of the executive management team, which at the time was the CEO, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and chief lending officer.

We said, “We’ve got to raise the bar as far as what marketing can do.” It’s not just getting the newsletter out.

Credit Union Magazine: It seems like that has happened.

Shermot: Everybody is in marketing now. It’s the heart and soul of every organization. You’re either marketing to your members, to the community, or to each other.

Once we were able to measure our success, we were part of the discussion for loan rates, and we were definitely part of the toolbox for the C-suite.

NEXT: Favorite council memories

Credit Union Magazine: What are some of your favorite council memories?

Lawrence: The first meeting, when we all met and formulated the concept for all the councils. I’ve been involved in the Lending Council, Technology Council, and others from day one. I’ve judged contests and chaired the Marketing Council at one point. Grassroots networking and collaboration is so critical.

Shermot: All of it, from making new friends to navigating the learning curve to participating as a judge for the Diamond Awards to sharing information and ideas as a speaker.

One of my best memories is when Bob Lawhead from Raddon Financial Group and I did a preconference, day-long workshop on Marketing Customer Information Files. Our feedback was amazing, and people referred to us as Batman and Robin. I was extremely lucky to be part of a forward-thinking credit union that embraced target marketing and has been running an MCIF for more than 20 years.

I’ve been a judge several times for the Diamond Awards, and I used to say to myself, “These people are so much more talented than me.”

I learned to appreciate all of the talent out there and how we’ve elevated ourselves over the years.

Olson: I got to be a judge as well, and it’s incredible. Another highlight for me was watching people win the Hall of Fame, Marketing Professional of the Year, and Business Development Professional of the Year Awards because it’s always a secret.

It’s neat to see how surprised and grateful they are for the recognition.

Morgan: Meeting some great people and forming friendships that I’ll have for a lifetime. They come see me in Vermont to this day. It’s great to have that kind of camaraderie.

Also, being on the executive committee and collaborating and creating the direction for the council was pretty exciting. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Towle: What stands out to me is seeing the elevation of marketing as a strategic function within the organization, and seeing former marketers become CEOs of credit unions.

Credit Union Magazine: How has credit union marketing changed over the years?

Olson: There was no worldwide web, no email, and nothing digital. Everything was paper-based, and everything was kind of a shotgun approach.

We didn’t know how to target groups. It was like, “Throw it out there and see if it sticks.”

Shermot: I think we called that “spray and pray.” For us, the member newsletter was the top priority. That was the conduit to communicate with members. It was hands-on.

In the past you would see titles like “marketing and business development manager,” when one person or perhaps a small team carried out the efforts of both roles.

Now, marketing has become so much more digitally engaged, specialized, and integrated with e-commerce, while business development, when done properly, uses our marketing tools to “sell” the credit union story to everyone we come in contact with.

Olson: Delta didn’t have to do marketing because everybody was a member, and we only had a few products. Everybody knew what the rates were for loans and share accounts. It was very different.

Morgan: You also had to wear many hats because at that time it was just myself and one other person in marketing.

You had to run at such a fast pace because the technology wasn’t there that makes your job so much easier today, like email and the website.

Lawrence: There are so many more tools at our disposal now—wonderful things, like analytics. I love the current environment because you can take data and make it actionable.

Marketing is far more strategic now than it used to be. At the time, marketing with many credit unions was extremely basic. They had some of the art, but little of the science.

Credit Union Magazine: What do you see for the future of credit union marketing and business development?

Olson: I think it keeps getting more scientific, more technology-driven, and more targeted.

Shermot: I have to agree. It’s all about demographics, psychographics, and data-driven marketing.

The biggest challenge is getting the next generation of credit union leaders as excited about the credit union industry as we all have been. We need to continue to make our industry attractive to these forward-thinking individuals.

Morgan: I think the future is bright because we’re constantly reinventing ourselves, understanding what’s relevant and what’s trending, and continuing to move forward.

We’re constantly looking for new ways to do things, include people, and provide those educational and networking opportunities to understand what’s next.

Lawrence: We need to embrace the role of emerging technologies. Communications methodologies have shifted in amazing, wonderful ways.

We need to continue using scientific methods to execute technologies and communication strategy. The sky’s the limit.

As far as threats go, Amazon is emerging as the one entity that might totally displace traditional banking providers. We’re wasting energy being anti-bank. Community banks are struggling as hard to survive as credit unions are.

I believe in business development as a relationship-building mechanism within the organization. You need to look at the institution’s journey and ask, “Where can we be relevant?” and “How can we stay relevant?”

Credit Union Magazine: What career advice do you have for today’s marketers?

Morgan: Never stop learning. Keep your eyes open and find what inspires you.

Olson: Concentrate on the business side of marketing—the numbers side—as much as you do the creative side.

Shermot: Find a mentor, fuel your passion, and learn something new every day. Everyone has a gift, and when you surround yourself with an open mind to learn from others, everyone wins.

Be a catalyst for change and a voice for making lives better.

Towle: Never be satisfied. You need to constantly raise the bar because your competition is raising the bar every day.

Lawrence: Do the right things for the right reasons strategically, and you will grow your credit union.

Also, identify your weaknesses. I was good in technology and statistics, but I needed some organizational development skills so I got my master’s degree in that.

If you want to move past wherever you are, develop the skill set you need to be more well-rounded.