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Inside Marketing: Credit Union Real-Time Marketing Machine?

February 2011 – Vol: 34 No. 2
by Mike Lawson

Why CUs need to get over the ‘too busy’ excuse and dive into social media, now

February 17, 2011

Credit Union Management’s Web-only “Inside Marketing” column runs the third Thursday of every month.

I am reading David Meerman Scott’s Real-Time Marketing & PR book right now. It’s a must-read for any marketer who wants to keep pace with today’s 24/7, “always on” media cycle. The book is filled with real-world examples of slow, bureaucratic companies falling behind and fast, agile organizations that act before the window of opportunity vanishes, revise plans as the market changes, measure results now – not next quarter – and execute based on what’s happening at the moment. It’s a book that should be gift-wrapped for every credit union executive to light a fire under this industry, which for the most part seems to be content with its status quo lot in life.

Here’s a quick, sobering excerpt just from the inside flap (the rest of the book delivers!)…

“Gone are the days when you could plan out your marketing and public relations programs well in    advance and release them on your timetable. It’s a real-time world now, and if you’re not engaged, then you’re on your way to marketplace irrelevance.

‘Real time’ means news breaks over minutes, not days. It means ideas percolate, then suddenly and unpredictably go viral to a global audience. It’s when companies develop (or refine) products or services instantly, based on feedback from customers or events in the marketplace. And it’s when businesses see an opportunity and are the first to act on it.

Caught up in old, time-consuming processes, too many companies leave themselves fatally exposed by flying blind through this new media environment.”

We are emerging from arguably the worst economic crises since World War II and credit unions are generally – with a few exceptions – still conducting the same marketing practices they performed a decade ago. Banks were on the brink of being kicked to the curb by their customers a couple years ago only to regain much of their lost trust in the last six months. This was a prime opportunity for credit unions to grab some major market share. What happened?

Credit unions gained little traction with the public – if any – because there was no major effort to provide the masses with a collective credit union benefit message. The NCUA did, however, recently employ finance guru Suze Orman to be its spokesperson. A great move to gain a celebrity endorsement, but the jury is still out on how effective it has been. Unfortunately, a vast majority of Americans are still in the dark when it comes to knowing the benefits of credit unions.

A bright spot: Credit unions as a whole set lending records during the recent economic dip as one of the financial service industry’s few resources that remained solid enough to provide loans, which was definitely encouraging. But did our industry take advantage of this positive message: creating stories to place in top news outlets, generating a groundswell of content on social media channels to spark and foster conversation, venturing out to local communities to start grassroots movements with this information? Nope. Has it yet? Nope.

Have credit unions missed the boat on this opportunity? To gain major market share in a short time, probably. To gradually build memberships, probably not. I’ll tell you why.

There are many brilliant minds in this humble industry who are slowly percolating to the top and will make a huge difference in the near future. There are individuals who get it when it comes to marketing on the-fly. They also know how to market to that all-important Gen Y audience credit unions desperately need in order to bring down the average member age of 47 or 48.

These folks know how to leverage social media channels to generate innovative ways to market credit unions to all walks of life. Folks at CU*Swag, Crash the GAC, CU ChatUp, CU Water Cooler, etc. are making a difference because they are, as in Scott’s book, fast and agile. There are literally dozens of others who are right there with these organizations (even research and analyst firms such as Filene, Aite, etc.) that have a deep passion for this industry and are giving it their all to evangelize to every generation about the benefits of credit unions.

What motivated me to write this “touchy” column is a particular quote in Scott’s book about Wells Fargo being the first major bank to have a blog along with a dedicated social media team starting way, way back in 2006. Here’s the quote…

“We want to be where our customers are,” says Ed Terpening, VP and manager of social media at Wells Fargo. “A good example of this is our Twitter handle, @Ask_WellsFargo. We are able to find opportunities to offer help to customers that need it and thank customers for their business by listening to the Twittersphere for mentions of Wells Fargo. Tools like Twitter provide us real-time insight into consumer sentiment and news related to our business.”

My first observation is that this quote from Wells Fargo sounds a lot like a credit union – just replace “customers” with “members.” My second observation is why isn’t a credit union being quoted? A missed opportunity for sure. My third observation, and I’m positive many of you saw it, too, is the fact that Wells Fargo is big enough to easily have a VP and manager of social media – along with an entire team of tweeters. OK, fair enough. Most credit unions – all right, 98.9 percent -- don’t have the resources to have a VP/manager of social media let alone a whole social media team. I get it.

But why not tap into your young staff? Most of them are well versed in social media practices – especially anything mobile. Just place them under the guidance of your marketing manager, give them your credit union’s social media guidelines/rules, and set them free.

“That’s crazy,” some may say. Well, it’s time to get the rest of your staff involved. Make them feel engaged and proud – taking ownership of their credit union. That’s potent marketing starting from within. Aside from your members, who better to evangelize than your faithful staff.

Let me leave you with a thought, which I hear often, from the book Content Rules about companies not embarking on a now vital marketing arm – social media:

“We are just too busy.”
Imagine if we replaced the term social media with talking. “We are just too busy to talk to people about what we do.”

That puts it in perspective. Time to break the mold of our status quo promo practices and kick-start the collective credit union marketing machine into real time for real results.

What is your credit union doing to take advantage of today’s real-time marketing opportunities?

Mike Lawson, principal of the PR/marketing firm DML Communications, has two decades of journalism, public relations and marketing experience. His unique and robust knowledge allows him to meet the varied needs of editors, end-users and clients. Lawson's expertise enables him to enhance his clients' market exposure through media relations, social media tools, advertising efforts, target marketing strategies and more. He also speaks on PR, marketing and media issues to audiences nationwide. For more info, visit www.dmlcommunications.com.

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