Thursday, March 26, 2015

Credit Union Marketing.... SOS !!!

Spent several mornings recently trying to offend the mauve and magenta crowd – apparently with some success! 

While most of us believe in what we do, few professionals (create and then) accept their own press with as much full-gulp believability as do credit union marketeers. 
A colorful group!
The glitz and glitter group is "sold" on itself; and well it should be. One look at the achievement levels of CU marketing work – all segments, all formats, all media – clearly convinces one, that in style and technique, credit union marketing now plays Avis to no one. 

And what’s best, the marketing people are fun, brash and sophisticated – many with egos normally found only among CEOs!

The CU Glitterati!
What got this crowd uptight was the comment that “Credit union marketing adds no appreciable value to the movement.” Uptight became upset when it was asserted that “Any credit union product can be marketed when pushed with a sufficient lack of scruple.” And, of course, it was persona non-grata when it was pointed out that despite the extremely high quality of their work, “There really is little point in doing well that which shouldn’t be done at all.” 

Sounds like Oscar Wilde, doesn’t it! Well, let me explain....

Problem child?
First, I recognize that I have a problem (know you’re surprised!). Mama didn’t rear me to believe that a credit union should spend its existing members’ money simply to attract new members for the purpose of growth.  Economics tried to teach me that loans should not be pushed in a recession. Common sense and the mortgage broker debacle convinced me never “to sell” credit to any borrower. 

Credit union philosophy, I thought, dealt with “encouraging thrift and consumer understanding”, not with a low traffic in salesmanship. Maybe it’s just antiquated ethics which causes revulsion when credit unions try to expand the list of member “wants” not needs, especially when job security is increasingly tentative and bankruptcy is rampant. 

I never understood the non-profit, cooperative model as an effort to mirror our for-profit friends in “promising much and delivering as little as possible.” Haven’t we noticed that "fabricated demand and an attention to overstatement" have already created a market scarcity of credibility in the for-profit sector?

Yes, I’ve heard that a good marketeer can sell anything. But does everything have a price?  Even the Credit Union Movement? Credit union marketing looks just as good as everyone else’s because it looks just like everyone else’s!  Aren’t credit unions different and unique? Or is that just a marketing ploy?

If we are exceptional, is there any reason we shouldn’t start featuring values over value? Doesn’t our purpose have panache?

If there truly is nothing exceptional “to sell” about the Credit Union Movement, then perhaps it’s OK for our marketeers to continue to “repackage the Big Lie” – reselling old promises of an artificial bargain or that one last chance to get a little something for nothing.

Are we still credit union consumer advocates? 

Or would we prefer to be known for the old bait and switch...?


Anonymous said...

True LEADERS in the credit union industry (yesterday blog where you thought there was plenty)understand that there should be no marketing expense. In the original credit union chart of accounts the expense item was for education expense.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I often enjoy this blog and its mix of "grits" and Kafka and Wilde.

I certainly appreciate your point of view on many, if not all the issues, that you address.

With that said I want to hardily endorse this particular blog.
When you say that “There really is little point in doing well that which shouldn’t be done at all.” I have to agree.

I also do not "believe that a credit union should spend its existing members’ money simply to attract new members for the purpose of growth."

Growth is essential, but growth for the sake of ego and recognition can have terrible consequences.

I really do not want to find a forty pound mosquitoes flying around my backyard, but then again they may actually exist during the summers in Minnesota or Georgia.

You state that "Economics tried to teach" you "that loans should not be pushed in a recession."

Perhaps a better lesson should have been that there is an ethical question in trying to push loans to those that really cannot afford those loans and that immediate gratification will never bring long tern success or happiness.

Common sense has always been in short supply and often falls victim to the dreams of joining the $100,000,000 or billion dollar boys club.

You continue and comment that "I never understood the non-profit, cooperative model as an effort to mirror our for-profit friends in “promising much and delivering as little as possible.”
Well I have never understood why this is acceptable in any segment of business or in life in general.

You ask the question ..."But does everything have a price?

Apparently it does and unfortunately too many people, including some credit union CEOs and their Boards are quite willing to pay the price even when the costs are borne by their members.
The best to you this fine morning and keep up the good fight.

Anonymous said...

The credit union philosophy aside,credit unions are financial service businesses in a highly competitive industry and regardless of the fact that they are member owned, if they want to survive and continue to be viable, the focus unfortunately becomes, not the member but the bottom line.

CEO's across this country strive for one thing. A better year than last. They know that if they show their boards growth in income the board will look favorably on that. And many, many CEO.s have end of year bonus clauses in their contract tied directly to income.

So yes their will spend in order to make. And the trades, CUSO's, consulting firms and so called gurus will advise them that they must market, advertise and be out there if they expect to survive.

Credit unions do great things but they compete in a real world that requires them to do what others do

It is survival of the fittest and those who believe it is not will either not be around to discuss it further in the future or will have accepted the fact that their credit union will remain the size that it is and serve the members that it has. And as Jerry Seinfeld would say, "Not that there is anything wrong with that."

Anonymous said...

Oscar Madison maybe but not Wilde.

Anonymous said...

Marketing is like wetting your pants - it gives you a warm feeling, but nobody else really cares.

Thank you Jim for making me feel less apologetic when I tell people this $250MM CU does not have a marketing dept. Value to the existing members is our priority.

Anonymous said...

True Story:
When WesCorp was under NCUA control and on life support, it blindly maintained its marketing dept., led by Kevin Lytle. One particular telling post speaks volumes on the mindset of marketers. Lytle advised “Provide high-quality, good-looking printed materials. The materials may not provide much education, because few people will take the time to read them, but prepare them anyway."

Anonymous said...

Walk into any bank or credit union and take your pick from all the sharp, eye catching brochures that are offered for free.

Order free to be delivered to your door the annual reports of corporations. Multicolored, filled with charts and pictures, guaranteed to impress.

Walk into a Barnes & Noble, Walgreens, CVS, Target, Wal-Mart or any chain grocery store and view the eye catching, row upon row of magazines offered for sale. Pictures, colors, designs all offered to make you want.

Marketing and advertising in every way.Some do it low key, other with a Super Bowl splash. Either way, it is here to stay.

Anonymous said...

The pictures of the animals that appear in your blog, do you take them yourself when you are in the field?

Jim Blaine said...

You mean the pink alpaca picture ?!?

Rich said...

Jim, as I read your recent post ( I was insulted and then saddened. Insulted by your total lack of appreciation for the true value marketing professionals can bring to a credit union but saddened that such an esteemed leader in our industry has become so bigoted and un-knowledgeable about the purpose and value of marketing and has fallen so far behind the current place marketing holds in our industry. You should be a better person than one that uses outdated strategies and tactics and unsupported opinions to cast dispersion on many hardworking and value driven professionals; some likely working hard in your own credit union. But you did remind me that, you Jim are like most of us, you don’t know what you don’t know. As a result, you have completely ignored one of the primary tenants of leadership, to seek understanding before establishing an opinion.

Let me counter-point your comments more completely:
1. Referring to Marketing as the “mauve and magenta crowd” and “the glitz and glitter group”. Today Marketing professionals are data driven but also are investing time and energy to understand the credit union’s business model and how their marketing efforts can impact the key ratios. Marketing is no longer just about color palettes but about helping the credit union live their purpose and attain their strategic goals.
2. “There really is little point in doing well that which shouldn’t be done at all.” This statement makes one erroneous assumption that every member already knows what your credit union can do to improve their financial life and that potential members in your field of membership intuitively know how you can improve their financial lives. I submit that there are a lot of members at State Employees Credit Union that have loans and deposits at rates and terms less favorable than those offered by your credit union. How are these members and potential members to know there is a better option without marketing educating them?
3. “Credit union philosophy, I thought, dealt with ‘encouraging thrift and consumer understanding’, not with a low traffic in salesmanship.” The current trend in Marketing has moved away from the push marketing of the past. Now, marketing is designed to be pull marketing also referred to as Content Marketing. We know our members are going to borrow money to get a car or buy a home or get a credit card. One of he key roles of marketing today is to help the member make a better decision with rich content on to be more savvy with these life event decisions. I would strongly encourage you to learn about content marketing and pull marketing as a consumer friendly and value driven way to market a credit union’s products and services.

One last point, Marketing did not cause the mortgage melt down. The mortgage meltdown as caused by a lack of corporate ethics and a lack of consumer savvy. How many of State Employees Credit Union’s member fell victims to bad mortgages because they didn’t have the financial savvy to know better? No credit union was immune. Therefore a key effort of Marketing today should be to provide financial wellness content that, in an interesting, timely and engaging manner, helps members and others in your field of membership become more financially savvy and avoid these financial institutions without the same values we enjoy in credit unions to bring these consumers awareness there is a better choice.

Jim Blaine said...

I will try to be a better person...

For those who might want to explore the topic on a more rational basis, I would refer you to a great little economics book "The Theory of the Leisure Class" written by Thorstein Veblen in 1899. For those who might like to understand the reason for a difference of opinion on marketing, this is your best short read ever and it's actually both fun and wise... and you'll have both sides of the debate. Knowing your adversary (audience, customer) after all is half the battle in any effort at education/persuasion.....

Veblen created the phrase "conspicuous consumption", by the way, which will probably stand the test of time for "impressions" far better than most of today's CU marketing/"branding", don't you think?

Lastly, never met a great marketeer who didn't have a sense of humor... so don't take yourself (or this blog!!) too seriously...

Life is short; drink Dom Perignon, sparkling gold label,"ought-ought" vintage, black bottle Chateau reserve; organically graped and tenderly mashed by celibate monks with clean hearts and feet -all natural, uncallused!

Rich said...

okay, you got me but it was nice to vent and talk about some of the mis-perceptions around marketing. Thanks for the venue...

Jim Blaine said...

Rich, actually I'm trying to provoke you and your "ilk" to a greater, more difficult challenge... to explain, market, educate, convince members/public that CUs really are something different!

We're losing the "war".... we really are... all of us. As you point out, so many members are still "going astray" much to their financial detriment. I'm tired of losing, aren't you?

Why should we have to defend ourselves against the banks given their recent actions and attitude toward accountability to the American citizenry?

Why aren't we being carried through the streets on the shoulders of consumers as the white knights, the answer to their financial despair?

If CU marketeers believe that progress is being made despite the economic evidence which surrounds each of us in our communities, then let's fight.

If you think taking up the fight for the CU consumer has become a fight for economic survival, then you have a friend and ally for life.

So, where do CU marketeers stand? More of the SOS...? Or ready to roll up your sleeves, unbox your brains and take on the most difficult of marketing challenges...



So, tell me about I "get it" ....(and can be a better person!)

If you were Steve Jobs and had "invented" the I-pod/pad how would you "sell" it to a public who had never heard of an I-anything... and did not yet know how desperately we each needed one?!?

Time for CU marketeers to quit mushing and get to work.... WE NEED YOUR CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE!

CU marketeers could make all the difference, but its very risky to be different isn't it? Your choice, but the continued SOS is DOA.for CUs.

Your choice ....

Anonymous said...

Does State Employees CU think they just grew by osmosis?

Your comment, " a credit union should spend its existing members’ money simply to attract new members for the purpose of growth." says alot about how you really feel about your members. If we shouldn't attract more members, then should we let them fall victim to the fees of banks, pawn shops or check into cash facilities? Why would you not want to help people save their hard earned money by charging lower fees, lower loan rates and offer better investments. But I guess you just want people to be taken advantage of by those other groups.

Marketers are the reason the credit union principals and philosophies have been presented to the public and they are the force behind making sure we make a difference in our communities and our service areas. Plus it's puffed up CEOs like that who give the credit union movement a bad name. If you don't think credit unions shouldn't help people, then maybe you should just convert your institution to a bank.

By the way SECU - - just putting your money under Member Education on the call report doesn't fool anyone - - - talk about "Smoke and Mirrors"!!

Jim Blaine said...

My, my.... a hissy!

If CU marketing is so wonderful then why are payday lenders growing faster in your market than your CU?

Why is the CU marketing message being ignored... or worse not believed?

Jim Blaine said...

Have considered the question and yes I believe it was osmosis. No one doubts that osmosis works...

Rich said...

I owe you a mea culpa. The satire of your SOS post was lost on me, my bad. At the end of the day, we are more on the same page than we are on different pages. Thank you for your effort to clarify your “tongue-in-cheek” post. It would have been easier for you to just ignore the comments and let the controversy fall below the fold. I should have known better. As my first credit union boss, Bill Sterner, past CEO of U of C FCU once told me when I got upset at some public comments you made many years ago, “Jim is a very smart and passionate guy with a very satirical sense of humor. Put his comments through that lens.” You proved that once again.

You are spot on with your clarification that marketers need to be held to a higher mission, which is, how do you communicate differentiation and unique value. I do see light at the end of the marketing tunnel though. As more and more marketers are migrating away from the traditional “push, push, push” marketing to more content and story-telling marketing there are indicators our unique story can be told. With “push, push, push” marketing, we do indeed look just like a bank. But when we begin to tell the stories about how members lives have been improved and to give them honest information on how to make more savvy decision around events like buying a car or a home or getting a credit card or saving money; then we can show how we are different. This type of content marketing is truly where the mission, value and purpose of credit unions can be communicated and ultimately valued by consumers. In the absence of these stories, we do indeed look just like a bank. I understand how difficult this mission of moving to content marketing is. All too often the internal stakeholders inside the credit unions need to exercise patience and not always demand the push, push, push marketing tactics. Case studies are being created as we have this dialogue that is proving that this value-based marketing does yield in product adoptions and balance growth.

Hopefully those credit unions CEOs that missed your satire will also use this dialogue to work with their marketing professionals to help them develop the skills and expertise to tell our story with integrity not with just by pushing, pushing, pushing product…

Thanks again for opening Pandora’s box for this important dialogue. In the future I will remember Bill Sterner’s advice and trust you motives and look for the satire.

Jim Blaine said...

The world - including CUs - need more Bill Sterners....

Rich said...

I agree Jim! He is missed ...

Jim Blaine said...

If as a marketeer you're still - I think the phrase was - "puffed up", might not want to take a look at Lisa Freeman's op-ed in CUJ on 4/6/2015.

It sums up with:

"Credit unions usually are the better deal for consumers. Their not-for-profit, democratic structures still bring a valuable difference to the table. The credit union difference is alive and well."
" Then again, most credit union members still don't know much about any of that. And, this cooperative movement still hasn't found a way to create a true national brand to capitalize on that difference."

Now don't go get bent; not saying she's right...all I know is what I read in the newspaper....

Anonymous said...

Dear Jim,

I hate marketing. When I was hired as the VP of Marketing at First Tech many moons ago I immediately changed the department to Cult-ivation. I wanted to build a cult-like devotion to the credit union (much like Apple). I got a bunch of crap about it. But I stuck to my guns.

I began my career in 1980. My credit union did not have a marketing department. Members did all the marketing for us. Word-of-mouth is, was and always will be the most effective and most trusted form of marketing. To create positive word of mouth is to focus on the current members. In Joseph Jaffe’s book Flip the Funnel he echoes your concern that companies spend too much money trying to lure in a complete stranger rather than focusing on the moments of truth that build positive reputation. Our product is service and financial education (not loans and deposits - boring) and it is manufactured WITH the member present. You never get a second chance at a first impression. Focus on the experience and choreographing wows and you can eliminate most of your “marketing” budget.

Jim Blaine said...

Well, Miz Denise guess that makes two of us!

If I were a "data driven" marketeer, might start proclaiming that OUR MARKET SHARE HAS JUST DOUBLED....!!!!!!!!!!

Much like cult-ivation! ... did you ever consider dropping education for "indoctrination"?

(Put on your helmet, you may draw some "live fire" in response to your "ancient" wisdom... some marketeers have gotten pithy about the challenge.)

Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

This would make sense if marketing was focused solely on member and asset growth, but its a little more than that.

One of marketing's primary roles is to build awareness of product and services to assist members who might need to use them. This includes helpful products such as mobile deposit, transaction alerts, credit seminars, etc... Without marketing, operations would be left with products and services that many members would simply not be aware of. I fail to see a logical rationale in developing fantastic products and services (at the members expense) that you don't tell them about. Word of mouth can only go so far and in those instance only a portion of the members benefit from the information from being in "the loop." I can't think of anything more unbalanced and unfair. If you are going to the expense of building or supporting a product or service on the member's dime, why on earth wouldn't you want to tell them about it?

What an unfortunate waste.

Wall-e said...

Hi Jim,

I accept the challenge to deliver a story that resonates for all as to 'why' credit unions are the better financial choice. I will post a link to my marketing creation here for you see when it is ready.

Thank you, kind sir, for challenging us all to do meaningful work.

Martin Reed said...

Hi Jim,

I'm back with my promised story of the 'why' of credit unions. I figure if we are gonna take the banks on, might as well do it with poetry. Please visit and let me know how we faired with your challenge. I would appreciate your thoughts. Maybe the 'Some Choice Matter' could be the basis of a much sought 'national platform'?

Martin Reed
Unofficial Credit Union Poet Laureate :-)