Inside Marketing: Don’t Forget Your Members Are Human!

October 2017: Vol 40 No 10
Darren O'Reilly
Technology is not a substitute for understanding.

robot holds two people in its handPicture this: You pull in for your morning coffee fix only to find the friendly barista has been replaced by a robot! Think Rosie from the Jetsons. The robot doesn’t care that you’re a loyal customer of five years, that you are lactose intolerant and that you take an extra shot for medicinal purposes, especially on Mondays! Nope. Rosie does two things and that’s it: makes coffee and takes money. 

Where is the morning smile, where is the morning chat and where is that little bit of human interaction that along with a kick of caffeine sets you up for the day? It’s not nice. Right? Yet more and more companies are evolving this way and no more so than the financial services industry. 

Due to advances in technology, marketing and businesses are becoming mere representations of data and revenue—the numbers. These numbers are important. However, the credit union industry has always recognized that our members are not numbers. And they certainly are not robots! Credit unions and their members should hold dearly their human relationship. In marketing, we have B2B and B2C; for credit union marketing, let’s coin a new term: H2H—human to human. 

A Gartner study predicted that this year will be the first time ever that marketers overtake their IT peers in technology spending as they embrace technology and automation in their business. This does raise some questions; for example, is technology resulting in marketers harvesting personal data too fast and rather loosely? (If you’re a fellow European credit union I have four letters for you: GDPR—and that’s certainly a topic for another day.) A related concern for credit unions is if we become laser-focused on the latest tech gadgets, will all these advances be good—both for the science and craft of marketing and for our members? 

This might seem like a naïve question for the techies among us; of course it’s a good thing. To that I say: Back up the truck, for a moment. Your focus should not be on the shiny new toy, but rather on members and how best to reach them. And if there’s a new technology that can help my credit union connect better with our members, I will probably explore it. But the priority is not deploying the latest gizmos—they’re just a vehicle to help put our members first. 

A recent Oracle EMEA poll found that 48 percent of surveyed brands have implemented automation technologies in sales, marketing and customer service, with another 40 percent planning to do so by 2020. It also revealed that over the next four years, 78 percent of brands expect to provide customer service through virtual reality and 80 percent will use chatbots. 

While all these advances are useful, no marketing solution will ever escape the judgment of member satisfaction and word of mouth. We cannot innovate away from the power of influence and social recommendations that encourage us to research and ponder before making a decision. Technology can only enhance rather than substitute our human understanding. 

Every day, I see my colleagues, friends, and perfect strangers glued to their phones, laptops and tablets. We are in a constant state of technological control. What did we used to do with the time that we now use to binge watch Netflix or mindlessly scroll through Facebook? We went out, had actual conversations, played sports and generally had a much more fulfilling social life based on human interaction. 

This fixation on technology and yearning for real interaction, both within the credit union industry and society at large, is why we need to reevaluate our marketing from a human perspective. Credit unions need to find ways to use these platforms to better connect with our members on a human level. There is no better industry positioned to do this. But we need to create marketing that sparks an emotional connection: We need to be personal, we need to start a conversation, we need be empathic (Rosie certainly can’t do this), we need to be humorous and we need to tell our story. 

As my mother always said, “Everything in moderation,” and with that in mind, I believe credit unions should be taking a balanced approach to marketing technology. Understanding data and analytics is not the same as understanding human emotion. View these technology solutions as the campfire around which we share our story and nurture our member relationships.

So by all means, embrace technology, but don’t forget your members are humans. Tell your story and serve your members, and let’s leave Rosie serving the Jetsons for just a little bit longer! 

Darren O'Reilly is business development manager at Member First Credit Union, Dublin, Ireland.

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