Posts Tagged ‘Branding’

The business value of personal connection

May 23, 2014

Who are you striving to be?

10275516_705648832830172_5588543601566778944_oThanks to this photo of Roy Bergengren recently shared by credit union advocate Matthew Cropp of Vermont, I realize that we now have fewer credit unions in the U.S. than at any time prior to NINETEEN THIRTY-NINE. Think about that for a minute…. what does that mean? Now some would explain that away saying that overall membership in the U.S. is at an all time high. So let’s put those two equations together: more people, but fewer institutions. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing?

What would Ed Filene and Roy Bergengren think? That after the past 75 years of credit union advocacy, we now have fewer credit unions serving all of America? Are the products better than before? Is the service worse than before? Is the differentiation between credit unions and banks better or worse than 75 years ago? Do we still have a need for credit unions, or has the reason they were founded pretty much gone away? Is there more opportunity than ever before for smaller CUs to succeed? Or is it just too challenging, and every CU below $10m in assets should just get merged into a larger one until there are none in this size range anymore? Do you need to offer every financial product and service that your competitors do in order to succeed? Or does that pursuit just drain time and money resources away from your CU’s core mission?

What is the mission and purpose of your credit union? Who are you trying to be? Who are you serving? What is your connection like with the members you serve? Tight? Barely there?

One of the reasons I bring up this topic is that it seems to me that more and more credit unions are basically operating as tax-exempt banks; attempting to grow no matter what, and becoming more generic in appearance and attitude (and losing connection with the group that founded them). To operate this way may serve the needs of the institution (although it may actually not), but in any case seems a disservice to the membership, and perhaps just as importantly, a disservice to the CU movement as a whole. If a credit union is going to operate like a bank, it should just acknowledge that fact and change charters and switch to being regulated and insured the FDIC instead of NCUA. That tax-exempt thing is not really that a great a business advantage anyway.

But the other surprising thing about credit unions operating like banks (aside from failing to live up to its mission statement) is that in many cases, the trend is away from generic large institutions and stores, and TOWARDS unique, local, and independent organizations. So-called “big box” stores are on the decline; while one-of-a-kind shops find their niche. Many people avoid chain restaurants in favor of unique eateries.

But being different, in and of itself, is not a sustainable business model. To increase success in business, you need to provide something different for which there exists a customer base. One way to approach this differentiation is to employ technology to make it easier for your customers to do business with you, whether that be in facilitating the process of ordering products and services, the delivery of those products and services, or help in using those products and services. From our own point of view; we’ve found that every time we make our own technology easier to use, more streamlined, and more personalized, it pays dividends immediately.

How are you using technology to differentiate and personalize your credit union? Are you using technology to strengthen the connection between your employees and your members, or is it weakening that connection? Who are you serving, and how are you making their experience with you easier and better? If providing “better, more personal service” is the differentiation point of your credit union (as many state), is your technology living up to that promise? What are your thoughts?

Dropping the words Credit Union

August 29, 2012

Yesterday, Sarah Snell-Cooke, Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of CU Times wrote an editorial titled Sometimes the best thing a credit union can do is give up ‘Credit Union’. This was brought to my attention in an excellent discussion topic started on

Ms. Snell-Cooke’s editorial concludes with, “Get the consumers in the door first, and then explain to them about credit unions. The name on the door doesn’t matter – it’s what is on the inside that counts.”

Here’s the problem with this statement. As Snell-Cooke concedes, most of the general public have no idea what a credit union is. In addition to that, most staff working in a credit union don’t know what a credit union is. So CU staff are even LESS likely to educate people walking in as to what it is when the words are not even over the door.

Here is an imaginary conversation for credit unions who have dropped the words ‘credit union’ from their name:

Customer/member: “Hi I’d like to open a checking account. Do you have those here?”

Staff: “Why yes, certainly, I can open that for you. While we do the paperwork, can I tell you about what a credit union is?”

Customer/member: “Onion soup? I thought you guys were GTE Financial. Why would you tell me about onion soup?”

When the name is not over the door, mentioned nowhere, then starting a conversation about what it means to be a part of a credit union is as relevant to this new member as having a conversation about onion soup, which is what he thought he heard the staffer say.

Therefore I can not see the logical connection between dropping the words ‘credit union’ from an F.I.’s name as being a route to educating more people about what a credit union is.

You’ve just been punched in the face

October 7, 2009

There was one presentation at Finovate that I, in my role as Credit Union Marketing advocate, rated a 1 (lowest possible score). And that was the presentation given by BankVue/First ROI announcing their new, rebranded Kasasa program. I think I can summarize the thinking behind their new announcement:

We have created an amazing rewards checking product that is going gangbusters in sales. Community banks and credit unions everywhere are signing up for this, offering it to their members, and we’re raking in large profits from it. But the public doesn’t know it’s really our product. Banks and credit unions are all offering our reward checking, but they are each calling it something different. So rather than have our product fractured in the marketplace, let’s rebrand it with OUR name, because it’s really our product that people want, not the financial institution that is re-selling it. And they blow chunks at marketing anyway, we could really pump sales up if we unify the market for this and do a national marketing campaign with slick TV and web commercials. That’s what our clients want – instead of being limited by their own regional marketing budget, they’d become part of a national campaign. We’re helping the little guys of the F.I. world, and big banks need not apply.

I think that’s basically the reasoning. I may be overreacting to their presentation, but that’s the feeling I got as I listened. I think they are dead wrong. At least I hope they are. This is the largest slap in the face to the credit union marketing world I have ever witnessed. They are saying several things with this announcement to F.I.s everywhere. 1.) You suck at marketing. We can do it better than you. 2.) It’s not your crappy financial institution that your members/customers want to do business with, it’s our reward checking product that they really want. 3.) National marketing trumps regional marketing.

Starting with point number 3 – Everything the past 10-20 years has taught us is that the OPPOSITE is true – more personalized, customized, regionalized marketing trumps impersonal generic national advertising. It’s about connecting with people, not about spending money on slick creative and TV commercials ad buys. This is the opposite direction that the trends have been going for at least the past decade. And as for points 1 and 2, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you credit union marketers (and community bank marketers for that matter) going to take this lying down? Isn’t it the relationship with your institution that your member/customers want, and not just your reward checking?

So here’s what I really can’t fathom about this Kasasa concept: Why would they think that credit unions and community banks would want to appear to be drinking from the same pool, even if they are? How does it help to further *my* F.I.’s brand if I’m offering the same product as every other credit union or community bank in my area? As a credit union marketer, I want the OPPOSITE. I want MORE differentiation for my brand, not this staggering morass of sameness.

The hubris from BankVue/First ROI with this move/announcement is mind-boggling. I’ve already been contacted with a nice email by the CEO of BankVue. He has basically asked me to please not paint them in a negative light, and that while we may disagree in strategy, they have the best interest of smaller community banks and credit unions at heart. BankVue/FirstROI is certainly welcome to chime in on this discussion here.

I’m more interested in hearing from credit union professionals (and even any community banking professionals too). I posted this same message last Friday on, and if you are a credit union professional, you can check out the animated discussion which ensued here.

Announcing PlumWall

May 5, 2009

“It’s not about the CU story you tell your members — it’s all about the story your members tell themselves about doing business with your credit union.”
— Ron Shevlin, Aite Group, at BarCampBank NewEngland 4.5.08

There is something new on the EverythingCU home page, and in the navigation bars, called PlumWall.

“What the heck is a PlumWall, and what have you crazy EverythingCU people done now?” you may be asking yourself.

Here at EverythingCU, we’ve understood the power of testimonials for a long time. Heck, it’s the main reason we get out of bed every morning and continue to work to keep your community the amazingly neat and clean place that it continues to be.

Now we have harnessed the power of the web, World 2.0 and social media to allow CREDIT UNIONS and their MEMBERS to share the joy, power, and beauty that is the CREDIT UNION MOVEMENT with one another.

PlumWall enables you to easily upload your member stories and testimonials about your CU. We all know you have LOADS of them, especially loan officers who are literally changing people’s lives for the better. EVERY loan officer has at least three or four VERY special stories they keep on their office wall. Well, it’s time to bring them OUT IN THE PUBLIC for ALL TO SEE!

So check out PlumWall, and see if it’s a fit for YOUR CU’s web site.

Here’s a link to more info.

Here’s a sample of what it looks like, using EverythingCU as example

Here’s what your control panel will look like.

We know it’s not perfect out of the gate, and have room to improve it, but at least it’s a fresh start to make sharing member testimonials online really easy. Feel free to email me any questions, comments, or feedback, or call my cell phone any time at 413-535-0621! We’d love to set it up for you!

Got beer?

December 17, 2007

This morning, the twittersphere is a-buzz with a 62-page white paper from the CUNA Marketing & Biz Dev Council entitled: A National Brand for Credit Unions: A compendium of opinions about a national brand for the credit union industry. (side note: interesting that the authors chose to call it an industry, when many insiders call it a movement.) I’ve only skimmed the report and certain sections of it, but my opinion on this hasn’t changed.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about why I think a national CU Brand campaign is a bad idea. The movement/industry’s strength has always been its diversity. It’s never been about economies of scale. It’s about helping people in a meaningful way. CUs are definitely not charities. But their fundamental reason for being is to help regular people improve their financial lives. It’s a really exciting mission which it seems gets too often overlooked in extraneous activities. Banks DO NOT exist for this purpose. Credit unions DO exist for this purpose, and it’s amazing that we haven’t told our story better to more people who would LOVE to hear this message— IF it’s backed up in reality, and it’s not just fluffy words.

Over lunch at Elizur’s Tavern today with COO Matt Taggart, who has recently brewed some home-made beer, I had an insight– Beer is the same as Credit Unions. (Not really, but bear with me for the sake of analogy.) Is the beer industry calling for a national beer branding campaign? No. And where is the strength of the beer category? Where is the excitement and interest? Is it with the national conglomerates like Bud, Miller, and Coors? No. All of those mega-companies are watered-down pablum. They appeal to the lowest common denominator, and serious beer drinkers don’t even think about them. (Bud, Miller, and Coors represent the mega-banks in this analogy).

The REAL excitement and interest is in the microbrews. At the microbrews, people who are PASSIONATE about beer lovingly hand-craft small batches of beer, insuring quality is high. And the VARIETY of flavors is wonderful… stouts, porters, ales, wheats, and the list goes on and on. And they are LOCAL. It is this LOCAL DIVERSITY that makes beer, as a category, exciting and vibrant… have you visited a microbrewery lately? They are nearly always very interesting, with interesting people working at them. Try Magic Hat in Burlington, VT, or Utah Beers, makers of interesting flavors like Polygamy Porter. (That name is an inside joke in regards to mormonism… you won’t catch a mormon drinking that beer, but the other 50% of Utah LOVES it.)

Are microbreweries successful as businesses? You better believe it. It seems that there are a great many microbreweries that are continually growing, offering even more varieties and seasonal brews. They seem to be flourishing all over the country. And the original “microbrew”, Massachusetts’ own Sam Adams is now so large it’s not even a microbrewery anymore.

So raise a pint of your favorite local, handcrafted beer with me as I propose a toast– to the wonderful men and women, the professionals and volunteers all across the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world, who are tirelessly committed to making their credit unions great every day — professionals who are helping people of all shapes, sizes, stripes, backgrounds, and situations, improve their financial lives every day.

But that’s just what I think. I’d love to hear what you think.

Brand launch party in Spokane tonight

September 19, 2007

Dishman HillsEverything is coming together for United Health Services CU’s brand launch party this evening! It’s being held at Dishman Hills in Spokane, a park that I discovered online and checked out virtually using Google Earth before checking it out in person. We’ve got our brand manuals and goodie bags for all the staff…. should be fun!

Focus Groups in Allentown

August 16, 2007

Dorney ParkMatt and I were in Allentown, Pennsylvania last week to conduct some focus groups for Lehigh Valley Educators CU. The credit union’s boardroom has a fantastic view of Dorney Park and its many coasters.

Focus groups are always an eye-opening experience. We always learn something new about people and the attitudes and beliefs that people have about their finances, banks, and credit unions. My favorite response when I asked one of the groups to explain the difference between a bank and a credit union, was “A credit union has to do with something about something.” Overall, it was readily apparent that most people do not have a clear idea about the difference.