THE FOUNDATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE, WELL-FUNDED COLLABORATIVE CAMPAIGN

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Most of the credit union industry believes that there should be a well-funded, collaborative marketing campaign to inform consumers about the credit union difference and to encourage new membership. So why isn’t there one?

Recently, we surveyed over one hundred credit unions and conducted more than fifty phone calls to hear what they think about existing collaborative marketing campaigns. The following three problems were brought up in almost every survey response and conversation: the campaigns provided unquantifiable results, delivered a weak call to action for consumers, and lacked coordination with entities organizing similar initiatives.

Quantifiable Results

The overwhelmingly dominant complaint we heard from our credit union respondents was that most marketing campaigns lacked a means of quantifying their success, or lack thereof. Several credit unions noted that in the past, they had eagerly participated in collaborative marketing campaigns, but after a year or two, that eagerness faded. Some credit unions inevitably started questioning why they continued to fund campaigns that produced no identifiable benefit. While well-intended, these campaigns failed to produce data that could justify their high expense.

Credit unions that had never decided to participate in collaborative marketing campaigns generally cited two primary reasons, both of which ultimately stem from this issue of insufficient quantification of results. First, some firms did not want to contribute to a program that allowed other credit unions to “free-load” off of the campaign; and second, some sought a more 'guaranteed' return on their investment.

Based on the feedback we received, the most critical component of a sustainable, well-funded collaborative marketing campaign is the ability to quantify and share the acquisition cost for each new customer the campaign delivers. To be successful in the long term, a collaborative campaign must, at the very least, be able to evaluate its own results, and ideally be able to provide that data as it pertains to each individual credit union.

Strong Call to Action (While Maintaining Fairness)

Many respondents also pointed out that several of the websites that currently exist are not built with the consumer in mind. Simply put, the average consumer does not know enough about credit unions. A credit union’s name often discourages consumers from inquiring about membership because many consumers are not aware that a credit union’s membership is more than what is reflected in its name.

While current websites do present powerful and persuasive marketing content, once a consumer is sold on the idea of becoming a member, the process of finding the right credit union for them is nearly impossible. The consensus opinion from the credit unions surveyed is that websites that present consumers with a list of credit unions based solely on the consumer’s zip code are not effective. First, such websites are asking too much of consumers—with increasingly shorter attention spans—to figure out which credit unions they are eligible to join. Second, there is a perception that they favor community-chartered credit unions since the search exclusively relies on a consumer’s location. Consumers may not know they can join a certain credit union through their employer, and current websites let those potential members slip through.

A successful and sustainable collaborative marketing campaign needs to make finding and joining a credit union as easy as possible for consumers. Informing consumers about the different FOM rules for each credit union is not sufficient. The industry has not done enough to educate consumers about the ways they are eligible to join a credit union. A collaborative marketing campaign must navigate those rules for consumers and deliver immediate calls to action.

Coordinate Our Efforts

Of the 108 survey responses that we received, twelve respondents indicated that they would not support a collaborative marketing campaign at present. Of those twelve, the majority indicated that they withheld support because too many separate organizations were already trying to conduct their own campaigns. Those respondents feared that competition among different organizations was simply dividing the industry’s resources, ultimately reducing overall campaign effectiveness while also placing a burden on credit unions by requiring them to update their information on a number of different websites.

A sustainable, well-funded collaborative marketing campaign should unite rather than divide credit union resources. Although a successful campaign does not require competing organizations to work in conjunction with each other, it should help coordinate resources and promote collaboration between them so they can learn from each other’s successes and failures. Such a campaign can prevent competing organizations from wasting their clients’ resources by duplicating already-existing solutions and industry tools.

By working together, these organizations can improve the consumer experience, clarify the industry’s message, and evolve its marketing strategies. After all, the goal of every organization pursuing a collaborative marketing campaign is to drive credit union growth rather than to benefit their bottom line.

Act Quickly, Spend Small & Collaborate

While few people want to acknowledge it, credit unions will gradually lose relevancy and die out if the industry does not make an effort to grow and attract a greater market share, specifically within younger generations. We must spend with purpose and collaborate to develop a refined, successful strategy to quickly erase the writing on the wall that so many in our industry have ignored. It’s time to grab your bucket and soap and rewrite the story, to do that we must pursue a more collaborative marketing strategy.

To reach a lower acquisition cost, we need to work toward a sustainable and well-funded collaborative marketing campaign by refining content and strategy. As an industry, we not only have limited resources but also limited time. Blindly investing a substantial amount of money in current collaborative marketing campaigns would constitute an irresponsible gamble with credit union members’ money. Funds should be invested in specific ideas and campaigns so that each campaign strategy can be evaluated by its return on investment. For every dollar spent, the industry, if not each contributing credit union, should receive more than a dollar back. Investing smaller amounts into specific strategies will fuel a working laboratory where the successes and failures of each strategy can be evaluated, shared, and refined into a single, unified campaign.

Collaboration, not separation, will lead the industry to the discovery of a successful strategy for a sustainable, well-funded collaborative marketing campaign. Currently, organizations follow separate and isolated paths in their pursuit of this strategy that has eluded the industry for so long. We need to convince these organizations to collaborate in order to maximize the value of the industry’s resources. Specifically, these organizations need to quantify and benchmark their successes, share their best practices, and allow all to learn from each other's successes and failures. We can find the right marketing formula, but it requires that organizations within the industry work together towards this shared goal.

The industry can change its trajectory if it starts maximizing the potential of its resources. Finding the formula for a sustainable, well-funded collaborative marketing campaign will help ensure that credit unions survive—but finding that answer as fast and as cheaply as possible will help credit unions thrive.

April 20, 2015