Marketing Rock Stars

Selling the CU Experience

Award-winning marketers share their secrets to success.

October 29, 2013

“Justify your existence” would be a fitting mantra for these marketing and business development rock stars, who sing the praises of strong analytics as way to prove their endeavors are worth the money budget crunchers sometimes begrudgingly allot to them.

The CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council named these Diamond Award-winning professionals as their top marketers for 2013:

Lesley Carrell, senior vice president of marketing for $750 million asset Fibre Federal Credit Union in Longview, Wash. (Hall of Fame);

Andy Reed, manager of business development for $5.5 billion asset American Airlines Federal Credit Union in Fort Worth, Texas, and secretary/treasurer for the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council (Business Development Professional of the Year); and

Lisa Nicholas, vice president of marketing for $627 million asset Amplify Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas (Marketing Professional of the Year).

These pros discuss their philosophy to marketing/business development, keys to success in this arena—and which rock stars they’d be if given the chance.

CU Mag: What’s your guiding marketing/business development philosophy?

Reed: “Leadership equals sales.” I heard this expression from a credit union CEO whose career began as a marketer [Teresa Freeborn, CEO of Xceed Financial Federal Credit Union, El Segundo, Calif.], and it quickly became my philosophy as well.

Credit unions can’t take the marketplace by storm if they don’t understand the contribution they make to people’s financial well-being. And the best way to make that happen is to become a member and experience the difference.

We have to sell people on the credit union experience. Hopefully, we do that consultatively, through our commitment to improve people’s financial well-being and not to drive numbers or metrics.

But here’s the real deal: Number crunchers can’t crunch numbers without numbers to crunch. If credit unions don’t embrace a sales culture, give our profession a seat at the strategic table, and get serious about growth, our industry is at high risk of extinction.

Business development is about ensuring survival. Training is the backbone of the organization, and business development is the future.

Nicholas: Marketing should be built on a strong foundation that results in a positive outcome for the member and is fiscally responsible for the organization. We’ve had a lot of success getting team members on board and genuinely believing in what credit unions do: helping people achieve financial success.

So we do a lot of internal training for staff, and also for members. I think that’s why they come back and refer us to their friends.

Also, marketers have to know where they’ve been so they know where to go. So I base a lot of our decisions on analytics.

Carrell: My philosophy has always been that marketing is as important as finance, operations, information technology, or any other discipline in helping credit unions succeed.

To be successful, a good marketer has to be proactive in leading efforts to update, launch, and improve products, procedures, systems—and we must always think strategically.

NEXT: Keys to marketing success

CU Mag: What are some keys to marketing/business development success?

Carrell: It’s important to think strategically and understand that great marketing is an incredible investment. But you must be able to prove that.

You must be able to lead and live the credit union’s brand. And you’ve got to be willing to institute and campaign for needed changes--whether it’s with the budget, the culture, or the product. Marketers need to take the lead on this.

Nicholas: The key to success, at least in my organization, is that I don't work in a vacuum. My team works with every department on promotions.

We need things from different areas, so working with everyone is critical to our success and to the organization's success. And, again, it’s important to analyze everything so we can prove what we do is successful and that it’s worth the money we spend.

Reed: It starts with the organization’s leadership realizing the value marketing and business development bring to the table and investing in both. Many leaders undervalue our professions because they don’t understand them. We have to become adept at using metrics, which is their language to prove our value.

Other keys to success include being a change agent, thinking strategically, being a visionary, having endless amounts of energy, being a great networker, and being able to build relationships quickly.

You also have to be good at motivating yourself and celebrating your own successes.

CU Mag: What’s one thing your colleagues might not know about you?

Nicholas: I was a professional sled dog driver.

Reed: That sounds made up, Lisa.

Nicholas: I know. But growing up, I had 40 to 80 dogs at any given time. People know the Iditarod, which is a distance race, but we were sprint racers, going for speed. We had teams of three, four, six, and eight dogs.

Reed: I’m kind of a cruise-aholic. I love to travel, and I’ve been to many incredible places. Cruises give me the chance to get off the grid, disconnect, be with my family, and recharge. Travel is relaxing, but it also fulfills my need for adventure.

Carrell: I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I’m retiring soon so I'm going to finally get the chance. It could be fiction or nonfiction; maybe both.

I’ve got a lot of ideas germinating, but I haven’t mapped anything out yet.

CU Mag: If you could be any rock star, who would it be?

Nicholas: Pink. I just love that she’s a rebel.

Reed: Elton John. Who doesn’t love Elton John, or at least his music? He also has a great way of promoting himself—he’s a marketing and business development genius if you think about it. So isn’t he a lot like our credit unions?

If Elton just had a great product but not the marketing and business development genius that goes with it—the outrageous clothes, crazy shoes, big glasses, goodwill toward charity, close bonds with people of influence—he’d just be another “American Idol” contestant. Anyone with a certain amount of talent can get on “Idol,” but the winners are great marketers and business developers, too.

Carrell: I’d be Bono from U2. He’s an amazingly creative guy—a great lyricist and singer. Plus, I really admire his activism concerning Africa. I like his philanthropy and his business acumen. I just think he totally rocks.