Is Your Credit Union Marketing Falling Short of Its Goals?

We hear the same goals again and again:Credit Union Marketing Mistakes and Solutions

  • Reach a younger audience
  • Grow our membership
  • Get members to use more services
  • Take advantage of the opportunities extended to CUs by the banking industry

Unfortunately, there are many marketing missteps that are endemic to the industry. Here are a few of the most common:

Trying to go head-to-head with larger banks

Remember a quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, an analogy to picking your battles is extremely apt here. Large financial institutions have marketing and advertising budgets orders    of magnitude greater than even the largest credit unions. They blanket advertising in all mediums and have the buying power to sustain that spend long term. So why fight them       on their turf?

When you’re up against a larger competitor (and right now, you are!), success will require out-thinking, out-branding, and providing better service than your   competition – because you’re not going to outspend them.

If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it. –Sun Tzu

Example: Advertising

Ads are powerful, but expensive too. Often, credit unions end up advertising on low-cost, low-return mediums, like radio advertising or bus wraps. These deliver impressions, but  typically only receive a tiny response from people who see them. Even when they do work, they aren’t an effective way to reach the younger demographics you’re seeking.

Example: Mailers

I received one of these a while back from a local credit union, a one-sheet that was large, glossy and clearly printed on expensive stock—yet it was also completely impersonal, and loan rates were the entire focus. If I hadn’t looked more closely, I could have easily mistook it from something that came from Bank of America or Citibank. I understand the intent to raise its visibility in my household and for me to consider the institution next time I need a loan; however, the actual effect was a whole lot closer to me now viewing their credit union as an interchangeable commodity to be compared on rates, not an enviable position.

Example: Search Marketing and Online Advertising

Most credit unions don’t excel at this. Compare the mindset of someone searching online for banking services against one who sees your bus ad while driving to work. The success of those bus ads is measured in impressions, with the hope that traffic puts enough of the people who are thinking of changing banks near one of your ads. But even if you get their attention in the car, you can only hope they remember the ad when they get home. By comparison, people who initiate a web search are by simple definition looking at banking options right then. Basically, online marketing (and partnering with someone like The CU Solution) is a lower-cost option when considering average ROI – the metric you should be using above all others when comparing options.

Competing on rates and services

The strength of credit unions is not that they always have the lowest rates, and even if it were, larger banks could sacrifice their short-term margins to undercut any offer. Similarly, any new service a credit union develops can easily be replicated. Happily, consumers don’t make decisions strictly based on numbers – they use their heart and their head. This is especially true regarding money— where trust and emotion are huge components in deciding whom to entrust your money with.

This is where credit unions should be winning!

The strength of credit unions lies in their differences from a bank, not similarities. A credit union is an actual community, many even use that word in their name. It’s local. It has members, not customers; its decisions favor those members, not corporate profits.

It seems obvious when you consider these facts that credit unions should lead with who they are instead of their rates—branding 101. Defining the persona of your credit union, and its relationship to your community, is critical to connecting with potential members.

If you want to build a strong, local brand, the time to do so is now. Larger banks are recognizing the value of local. Regional banks are forging connections to individual communities that often feel more local than do the credit unions that are actually headquartered there. Even larger banks, like BofA and Wells Fargo are attempting to make their branches feel more like organic parts of the community—granted, they aren’t very successful at this…yet. But when or if they figure it our, look out below!

Don’t misunderstand, rates and various services are important, but they help only after existing or potential members have a reason to care about your institution.

They don’t value their website as a marketing tool

You knew I was going to get here—but The CU Solution designs and builds websites, and writes web content for credit unions so obviously we see their value. But before you dismiss this as sales technique, think about what your website does for your company, and your competition.

Think about the role your website plays in your marketing. Are you doing advertising? E-mail campaigns? Radio? Events? Mailers? Meeting face-to-face with businesses to offer company-wide services?

  • What is your goal for these campaigns? To bring in new members, obviously. Maybe increase your penetration of convenience services, too.
  • What constitutes a success within that campaign? Getting potential members to research your credit union and compare you to their current bank.
  • Where will most potential members go first? Of course, your website.

Therefore, your website plays a critical role in how successful your other marketing is. And what does the average consumer see when they arrive at your site?

Unfortunately, CUs are way behind most industries in how they approach their websites and digital marketing in general. Most CU sites are cookie-cutter affairs, with bland, generic content and confusing navigation. They typically don’t serve their members or potential ones; rather, most of them seem to focus on what the staff and board want from a website instead. (see the venn diagram below regarding college websites, an industry with similar issues)

Image courtesy of: xkcd


They don’t fully commit to marketing

A growing number of successful nonprofit organizations have begun marketing themselves more like businesses in recent years. That makes sense, since you need to have a great story shared with as many folks as possible—and marketing is the tool by which you do that.

Looking at nonprofits, they also operate differently from corporate businesses in critical ways. Nonprofits embrace marketing, but they certainly don’t have limited resources in many cases. Because of this, they value innovation and personalized messaging to cut through the clutter of other modern media.

As you can see below, the donations non-profit receive don’t necessarily align with which causes are most pressing. The same is holds true for credit unions; if you want to build a brand and increase membership, investing in innovative, comprehensive marketing materials for your credit union is the most direct path to take.


Image courtesy of: Vox

Unfortunately, this is the opposite approach of that taken by most CUs and their leadership, who view marketing as a dirty word. Even those that actually allocate budget & staff to marketing generally see new marketing communication approaches as risky and stick to what they’ve done in the past – often rather stale.

They choose mass-produced content over that which is unique

If a major strength of credit unions is their local feel and personal service, buying generic blogs or articles from a content farm should be out of the question. Not only that, you’re not just up against the large banks and lenders already noted…but other credit unions too. If your site has the exact same content as your CU competitor, why would I trust either of you with my money?

The benefits of unique credit union writing of web content have been covered thoroughly in many corners of the web, on our blog and across the rest of the Internet; however, here’s a quick refresher list of what unique content can do:

  • Improves user/member engagement
  • Improves search visibility and traffic
  • Allows for social media sharing
  • Demonstrates and reinforces your brand
  • Demonstrates competence and thought-leadership
  • Differentiates your brand from competitors

Yes, we know that writing unique content is tough. But there are ways to write pieces that speak to your community in personalized ways. Take a look at what has been done before, now ask yourself How can I turn this into something fresh and new, or give a unique take on it?

This is an area we assist credit unions with all the time. In fact, helping credit unions tighten up their marketing materials is a big part of the job: when an existing or potentially new member walks into your lobby, what do they see? A mish-mash, often random collection of sales materials created by everyone other than yourself? What does this say about your brand? In 2016 even the least sophisticated and savvy consumers among us can still spot canned marketing from a mile away. Don’t let this happen to you, and your brand. When you take a moment to step back and look at your promotion you’ll see, it really is the most important thing you can do to ensure the future success of your institution!

As always, I’m available whenever you might need my expertise, so reach out if you have any questions or want to look into comprehensive marketing materials for your credit union.

Jim Haynes | Owner, The CU Solution