This Year's 'Frankie' Award Winner Lets Members Share Their 'Feets'

How do you tell your story? Seems simple enough. Here's what we are. Here's why we do what we do. Here's how we're different.

Those are the three legs of the marketing stool. But I would challenge any reader-and have-to tell me of an "industry" with a better story to tell than credit unions that has also been as spectacularly bad in telling that story as CUs, as any number of consumer (and worse, member!) surveys have made all too clear.

For that reason last year we unveiled the Frankie Awards to recognize credit unions that have effectively communicated to either members, consumers in general or both, what it is that they are. In short, to give a cooperative pat on the back to the best credit union story-tellers.

For this year's Frankie Awards we're happy to report we received even more entries than the inaugural effort, with submissions including brochures, websites, ad campaigns, community programs and just plain ideas for consideration. One would think, frankly (get it?), that even more credit unions would enter as A) Everyone should be doing this and B) the entry fee is free.

While we have had fun with the Frankie Awards and many of the entries were light-hearted, make no mistake-what's being recognized is important, fundamental stuff. Just as importantly, this idea of conveying what the credit union is all about and why that should matter to members and non-members alike is not some Old School relic. "Branding" is a contemporary buzzword for a reason, and more than one branding expert has been quoted in this publication as observing that what a good brand does is "tell a story."

That's why we're honoring Maine Family FCU in Lewiston as this year's grand prize winner of the Frankie Award. The credit union has hatched upon a way of not telling the credit union's story itself, but instead letting members tell that story for them.

Last year's grand prize winner in the Frankies, Suncoast Schools FCU in Tampa, Fla., demonstrated that even the biggest credit unions ($5.3 billion) recognize the value of core principals. (Visit www.cujournal.com, search on "Suncoast Schools Frankie" in the archive, and read about what Suncoast Schools did.) This year, the smaller Maine Family ($83-million) pioneered a creative way to do the same.

A campaign during the summer of 2006 gathered up more than 250 member service stories that are now being used in advertising and educational efforts.

Here's what MFFCU did with its 18,000 members to win the Frankie, as explained by VP-Marketing Debra Trautman: "With all puns aside, more than 250 of our members shared how the credit union helped them or their families with 'steps' in their lives. Members who met with one of the credit union's six financial services associates from June through August 2006 wrote down their experiences on paper feet, which decorated their main office in Lewiston and our branch in Auburn, Maine.

"Our campaign was titled 'Every Step of the Way.' We featured products in print advertising, in our newsletter, lobby and on our website that help members reach the next step in the life or to step up, such as fixed home equity or auto loans. We enjoy getting our members involved with our promotions. This promotion included a monthly drawing for members to pamper their feet by entering a contest-just by writing how the credit union helped them with a 'step' in their lives. Members won gift certificates to day spas and local shoe stores. We were overwhelmed how open members were to share their stories."

Among the stories that members shared, Trautman said, was one woman who told of how the credit union was her first step towards financial independence. After years of irresponsibility, she credited Maine Family giving her a chance and welcomed "being treated with the same kindness as people who have much more" than she. She wrote her comments after one of the financial services associates opened a savings account for her. Another member shared how the credit union was her last option to fix up her house, and the credit union worked with her on a personal loan. The member did all her business at Maine Family, by the way, even though she lived 30 minutes away and worked for a bank.

Other "feets" that members shared included stories of learning how to balance a checkbook, put lives back together, fulfill a dream by owning a motorcycle and more on how MFFCU helped put them back on their, well, feet.

Trautman said the credit union shared the feedback with staff in branding and service training. "The feedback justifies how important credit unions are to so many people," she said. The credit union also informed the state league if the "tax issue" came to Maine, the credit union could supply over 250 stories from members on how credit unions make the difference.

It was certainly enough of a difference to earn this year's Frankie Award. For more, see page 8.

Frank Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com.