Since the financial crisis broke four years ago, the expectation of senior management leaders for high-impact marketing has never been higher. It has led a number of credit unions to re-examine their traditional marketing, brand image, name, products and even campaigns that worked for years but are no longer driving desperately needed results.

With the NCUA’s forced recapitalization, the crunch of loan losses and reserves, many leaders have tapped cost cutting measures and are now turning to marketing to drive earnings, new sources of fee income and overall member growth. The pressure is rising for marketing results.

In the last 18 months, I have never heard from so many credit union CEO’s sharing their challenge to grow new members, stimulate loan volume (amidst low demand), expand online and mobile channels and grow new revenue streams like small business banking.

Stimulating Member Growth and Standing Apart

The CEO often starts with their search for a brand or name diagnostic process, the need for research and branding strategies that can differentiate on relevant issues – to drive new member growth:

  • “Why aren’t we growing new young members with all the great news around credit unions and public sentiments around Bank Transfer Day?”
  • “Why is our awareness so low and our brand and name not resonating in the market?”
  • “Can I rally my staff around a fresh, new brand transformation to raise the bar on service above ‘friendly’ and deepen relationships?”

The conversations often delve into requests for more fact-based, data-driven market analysis and market segmentation – not just among members, but of the population and product demand surrounding branches:

  • “How do we evaluate our market share of demographic and geographic areas?”
  • “What targets should we be marketing to that resonate with our philosophy?”
  • “Do we have the right products today to attract those segments?”
  • “Are our branches located in the right markets to reach and attract new targets?”
  • “Do we have the right branch model to take us into the future and drive results?”

The common thread among those CEO calls is often the need for a deeper strategic marketing dive into the keys to future younger member growth, competitive brand positioning and well planned channel distribution required to accelerate growth, increase performance and raise earnings. And both credit union marketing departments and national marketing agencies like Weber Marketing Group are being asked to bring a higher level of expertise, skills and tools to the table that are strategic, long-range and holistic across the organization to drive results.

Marketing in the New Economy is About Results and Brand Impact

OK, breathe deep marketers…it’s getting tougher being a marketer with all the demands for results and expertise in these challenging times. And some marketers are responding dramatically. We have seen a number of marketing leaders making tough fundamental changes to their team structure, hiring new positions like ecommerce Manager and Business Development Manager. This is an exciting time to raise your existing teams’ skill sets, re-shuffle marketing strategies and priorities and understand where your marketing budget can increase results. It’s also just as important to educate credit union executives about important brand investments and results like:

  • Building brand awareness that raises confusing market perceptions of “credit union,” towards a more positive alternative provider of banking services, that’s also “cool” and relevant (think ing direct).
  • Creating an internal brand culture that lives and breathes the brand in new, passionate and well trained actions and behaviors.
  • Making investments in emerging “mobile wallet” technologies like remote deposit, SMS text, ‘tap and pay’ systems and SEO-enabled (search engine optimization) website enhancements needed to attract Gen Y and Gen X consumers.
  • Finding fresh new ways to design innovative new branch models that leverage new technologies and set your CU service and brand image apart, while generating an increased and profitable share of wallet.
  • Ensuring your brand demonstrates direct positive impacts you are making in your communities, without being too “quiet” or hidden about your work.

Be Cautious of Marketing Trends that Don’t Drive Meaningful Results

Some marketing “must have” solutions, that many executives have been hearing the past few years have not instilled confidence, as they can eat up precious resources and have yet to deliver sustained, impactful results:

  • You must have an impactful Gen Y program (results have been limited, with some great exceptions at a handful of credit unions like Educational Employees in CA)
  • You ‘must’ have a brilliant and impactful Facebook, Twitter and blog presence (a February, 2012 study in thefinancialbrand notes that 1/5 of CU’s have deactivated their Twitter accounts. Even some billion dollar CU’s have fewer than 500 “likes” and are unsure what to do with them)

That’s not to put a damper on innovation and emerging trends (social media will have an emerging role in future marketing and branding), it’s to be discerning on focusing your marketing strategy, time and limited resources for programs and tactics that achieve corporate goals.

The new economy keeps raising the bar for the caliber of strategic marketing for some heady issues ranging from technology trends, channel migration, market segmentation and product development, to profit marketing and corporate social responsibility. Leaders want to see innovation and creativity, but they are demanding a solid strategic plan backed with solid results in loan, new member, brand management and fee income growth.

While the credit union industry can thank BofA, Citi and Wells for their fee-based stumbles in driving a wave of new consumers into the arms of credit unions – not every credit union capitalized equally. Did your credit union capture a large wave of new members in the 4th quarter of 2011? Do you have the strong, appealing brand image, convenient branches, products and technologies that can sustain growth in the future?

This is credit union marketing’s greatest moment to make a strategic difference. Seize it.