CU Marketers Take a Multichannel Approach

Three award-winning CUs use new and traditional tools to get the word out.

February 1, 2013

Your credit union could have innovative products and state-of-the-art delivery channels, but if it doesn’t get the word out, it could become your community’s best-kept secret.

Your marketing efforts should tell current and potential members about the products and services that make it extraordinary. The three credit unions profiled here—all CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Diamond Award winners—use a combination of technology, social media, traditional media, and face-to-face contact to tell their stories.

Maps Credit Union won a “Best Practices” award for its Buy Local program. Listerhill Credit Union won a “Complete Campaign” award for its loan attraction promotion. And Generations Federal Credit Union was voted “Most Edgy” for its youth initiative. Here are some of their strategies and tactics.

Reach all niches

The mission statement for Maps Credit Union, Salem, Ore., is “Every member benefits.” That statement guides its marketing and business development philosophy.

“We’re community-chartered, and it’s our responsibility to reach all niches with our products and services,” says Jill Nowacki, vice president of development.

Every time a member uses a Maps debit card, for instance, a penny goes to the Maps Community Foundation to benefit financial literacy. “It connects our outreach efforts and our credit union mission,” Nowacki says.

In 2011, the $447 million asset credit union launched its Buy Local campaign. “We’re particularly proud of it because we’re helping make local businesses more sustainable,” Nowacki explains.

“In 2010, a new tax on businesses made it harder for them to stay profitable, and many were closing,” she continues. “To help these businesses be successful, we started a program where members get discounts at local businesses when they use their Maps debit cards. This generates business for the merchants and increases our debit card usage.”

The credit union also offers local businesses joint marketing opportunities on its website, and reimburses the businesses when members redeem coupons. “We’re not just advertising, we’re investing in businesses and helping our local economy,” says Amanda Brenneman, business development officer.

The number of businesses participating in the Buy Local program increased 10% in 2011, with 95% renewing in 2012. Website traffic on the credit union’s Buy Local page increased, and Maps infused about $2,500 into the local business community.

Nowacki and Brenneman credit much of their team’s success to community connections and knowing their members and potential members. “Managers and staff at all levels are involved in local organizations,” Nowacki says. “If they serve on the boards of nonprofits, for example, they come back and tell us about the community’s needs. It sparks innovation of new products and services.”

Brenneman says the spirit of collaboration among credit union staff—and members—is a primary asset. “Every idea counts,” she says. “We take each one seriously and talk about it. We accept advice and we work together.”

The economy remains the biggest challenge. “Programs that might have been successful before the recession might not be today,” Nowacki says. “Members are looking for different types of loans than they were before the recession. We’re adjusting to the new normal. We can’t expect it to look like any other time in history.”

This year, Maps is focusing its attention on those new loan types, such as consumer loans for green or sustainable remodeling projects. “We want to offer products that help consumers,” says Brenneman. “And we want to help businesses close more deals.”

Nowacki advises her fellow marketing/business development professionals to know their audience and what’s happening in their communities. “So much will become apparent when you get out in your community, volunteer, get to know other business professionals, and discover your community’s unmet needs.”

As local organizations, Nowacki says credit unions are in a unique position
to help. “We’re well-positioned to learn from our community and to discover what products and services we need to offer.”

NEXT: Creativity through organization

Creativity through organization

It’s easy to overlook little things, says Kristen Mashburn, marketing director at Listerhill Credit Union, Muscle Shoals, Ala. “But true creativity comes through organization, and that involves agendas, clear objectives, clean files, current calendars, good project management, and the ability to capitalize on every medium,” she says.

“To harness our credit union’s creativity, we have to be organized and mind the details,” she adds. “It sets us apart from other businesses, not just other credit unions.”

That strategy appears to be working. The community credit union’s “Just Move It” effort won a 2012 Diamond Award for “Complete Campaign.”

The promotion  offered members incentives of up to $200 for moving loans to the credit union. Promotional media included billboards, coffee-cup sleeves, online ads, and direct mail.

“It went really well,” says Mashburn. “We netted more than $90 million in new loans. “We ran a similar campaign in 2012 with a similar incentive structure and netted more than $104 million in loans. By tweaking the media and message, we were even more successful.”

The $600 million asset credit union frequently evaluates, enhances, and reruns campaigns. “We’re really creative and want to be doing new things,” Mashburn says. “But we’ve found you don’t always need the novelty factor, and it’s very cost-effective to reuse something that works.”

Sometimes, however, you do need novelty. Listerhill recently launched SET Magazine, which publishes the works of younger people within its community.

“It’s a really interesting way to engage them and help them learn about personal finance,” says Mashburn. “It’s local and free, and we’re the only advertiser. It covers things like music and art. We thought it filled a gap and we’re getting a good response.”

The credit union is planning a major branding project for its branches in conjunction with a third party. “We want you to feel like you’re walking into our brand when you walk into one of our branches,” Mashburn explains.

Community outreach is central to Listerhill’s marketing/business development efforts. “We just merged with a credit union in Tennessee and, as a state-chartered credit union, we had to enlarge our field of membership,” says Mashburn.

“We plan to reintroduce a campaign we ran a few years ago where we donate $50 to a school of members’ choice when they open accounts,” she continues. “The last time we ran it we raised more than $250,000 in seven months for local schools. “It will position us as a true partner in our new communities. We don’t like to just give money to communities, but to be really invested and involved in them.”

The credit union uses local people in its ads and always strives to make sure its advertising dollars go back into the communities it serves. “A few years ago we had a ‘Cash for Your Cause’ campaign where people made videos vying for money to go to a local thrift shop, food pantry, or other organization,” Mashburn says. “Social media was a huge part of it and we advertised it at a really low cost, so most of the money went to the organizations receiving the grants.”

While Mashburn is an advocate of social media, she realizes that “feet on the street” and face-to-face conversations are essential. “We’ve had a lot of success with event-based marketing,” she says. “We helped a young man propose to his girlfriend through a staged prize drawing at one of our downtown festivals. And for Christmas we paid a photographer to take pictures of Santa with children, and the pictures have our logo on them.”

Mashburn says the key to success is having the right people on your team. “We have a dedicated, passionate team made up of people with different strengths, and we all come together as a strong team.”

Also, keep people informed, she advises. “Marketing is only as effective as the people putting it together. Communicate openly so your staff has all the information they need to make good decisions.”

NEXT: Keep up with technology

Keep up with technology

Generations Federal Credit Union, San Antonio, takes an integrated approach to marketing and business development. In fact, Wendy Bryant-Beswick, vice president of marketing and business development at the $400 million asset credit union, uses the terms interchangeably.

“The two work in concert to achieve business results,” she says. “Constant communication is essential because the two come to the table with different philosophies, and you need teamwork. If we’re doing a marketing campaign at the branch level, using digital and traditional ads, we combine it with the business development team’s outbound efforts, like direct-calling and events.”

“Our marketing approach has a heavy lead-generation component, and we use a Salesforce product [cloud and mobile technology] to track leads,” she adds. “We integrate them with our member data and set up trigger campaigns based on the data.”

Bryant-Beswick keeps a spreadsheet listing ideas that can come to her at any moment. “Ideas come from anywhere at any time—while I’m painting, doing yoga, or reading about the newest trends within the industry,” she says.

Generations Federal already had an award-winning youth initiative before Bryant-Beswick came on board. In the coming year, however, she plans to expand the program by launching mobile marketing and getting deeper into social media.

“We’re very active in the social space, but we want to take it to the next level and tie it to business results,” she says. “We’ll make it less a marketing function and more of a credit union function.”

The credit union is also rebranding, with a new message, design, look, and feel. “We’re investing more in advertising—digital, traditional, and paid social media promotions—to build our brand and name recognition,” Bryant-Beswick explains. “We’re looking at advertising as a long-term investment that will make our name a household word.”

Social media is the credit union’s most powerful marketing tool, she notes. “It allows you to do something in a time period that you can’t with any other tool. It’s a powerful way to reach existing and new segments, and to use as a member feedback loop. We can generate messages in the social space and turbocharge them with paid promotions, such as Facebook or LinkedIn ads.”

In terms of traditional media, she plans to look beyond the local market and target national publications. “We’re trying to reach a more affluent target, and in 2014 we’ll add TV and radio promotions in addition to our organic efforts,” says Bryant-Beswick.

The biggest marketing challenge for credit unions, she believes, is keeping up with technology. “We need to be forward-thinking about how consumers are using financial institutions today,” she says. “Gen Y or millennial consumers don’t always need a branch office. They have other ways to get money, such as by using their Google Wallet.

“One of the challenges we face as credit unions is keeping up with those initiatives. Technology changes rapidly, so to continue to be competitive within the industry and within our own markets, we must always work to be ahead of the changing trends and to stay relevant within our audiences,” she continues.

That’s why Generations Federal offers a robust online banking program, Bryant-Beswick says. “And we’re looking at ways of reaching existing and new members with mobile technology, and thinking beyond 2013 about how we can be innovative and weave digital products into the mix.”