Technology, storytelling will take marketers far
Jon Reske, retired vice president of marketing at UMassFive College FCU, accepts the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council's 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Technology, storytelling will take marketers far

Thoughts on marketing from Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jon Reske.

July 29, 2020

While new marketing technology such as predictive analytics will take credit unions far, marketers must remember the power of storytelling and explaining who you are and what you stand for.

That approach served Jon Reske well during his 23 years as vice president of marketing at $540 million asset UMassFive College Federal Credit Union in Hadley, Mass.

Recently retired, Reske earned the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Credit Union Magazine: How’s retirement so far?

Reske: Since I've been retired there's been a pandemic, a stock-market crash, and racial unrest, and it's only been six months. So I'm interested to see what the next six months will be like.

I was doing volunteer tax preparation at a community action center in downtown Springfield in January and February before things started to get a little crazy in mid-March. Other than that, I bought a bike and I have a Fitbit, and I'm doing some home renovations.

Q: How does it feel earning the Lifetime Achievement Award?

A: First of all, I was surprised—and honored. It's nice to have your peers recognize what you've done. It’s great to have that recognition after 23 years at the credit union.

Q: What was your approach to marketing?

A: You need to have some level of differentiation. Why should people buy from you? You need to find something that differentiates you in some way.

As I mentioned when I was accepting the award, marketing is the only department that's allowed to fail. You should be expected to take some risks and try new things. You're on the leading edge of what's happening in the marketplace. Hopefully, organizations are confident enough to let marketing reach out a bit and be a change agent.

Q: How did you differentiate UMassFive?

A: One of the first things we did was to condense our official name, UMassFive College Federal Credit Union, to UMassFive—not even with the term “credit union.” And if you go into our market and say “UMassFive,” people know it’s a credit union.

We also embraced the cooperative model and being a cooperative through and through. We saw that model as a differentiator—having a volunteer board of directors and educating members. In the late '90s or early 2000s we instituted what has become a robust financial literacy program. That differentiated us because we’re all about the member. That's a mantra at the credit union.

Q: How did marketing evolve during your time at UMassFive?

A: I came from the packaged goods industry, where I was a brand manager at a wine and spirits company, Nabisco, and Hanes hosiery. I brought that brand management expertise to the credit union, and that’s how I sold myself at the job. I said the last thing you want is a marketing person from a financial institution. What you really want is someone from a brand management standpoint who knows nothing about financial institution marketing but understands brand and brand marketing.

NEXT: How credit union marketing will evolve in the future

Q: How will credit union marketing evolve going forward?

A: We now have predictive analytics, marketing automation, and reaching out to people on the web to build relationships. Marketing is going to be more data-driven, with data scientists or analysts on the marketing team.

I hope credit unions don't rely too much on the data and fail to understand that you still need to have a story. Storytelling is becoming bigger and bigger. You need to weave a story of who you are and what you stand for and why someone should be a member of your credit union. Marketers will need to fine-tune and hone that area moving forward.

There’s also a major shift to digital and mobile services, especially with young people. We can’t even comprehend what the 18-year-old kid today will be thinking about when it comes to financial services. They’ll learn it on their own. Being able to communicate with people while they’re doing those types of transactions will be critical moving forward.

Also, the call center and high touch will have a lot of value for credit unions because that’s who we are. Being able to pick up the phone and talk to somebody still has value. That could be a differentiator moving forward because only credit unions are willing to invest the money to do that.

Q: You’ve always placed a big emphasis on social responsibility. Why is that so important?

A: Every organization, every corporation, every business has some responsibility to society and being a good corporate citizen—and beyond that, being proactive in trying to push equality, social justice, and racial justice forward.

CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council

Credit unions are uniquely positioned to do that by virtue of who we are, our philosophy, and our culture. That’s part of why you’re here. We're all here to earn a living, but the more you have, the more responsibility you have in making sure other peoples’ situations are improved.

That’s what's so great about the credit union movement. We’re about serving the underserved and lifting everybody's boat. It's great to wake up knowing that you're probably going to make a positive difference in somebody's life because you helped them with a transaction or you gave them a loan or you helped them solve a financial problem. That's pretty cool.

Q: What advice would you offer new marketing professionals?

A: Keep trying and never give up. Learn how to connect the dots. You innovate by connecting certain dots, and then you have a solution that maybe you didn't think about before.

Also, listen to your members and staff. Challenge people but listen to what they say after you've challenged them. Some of our best ideas came from retail people who said, “How about this or that?"

Listening is critical, and so is having the confidence to keep trying new stuff. Don't be afraid to fail, but fail fast and learn from that.