Does your credit union have various programs in place to help members with the various "steps" in their lives? Chances are you do. But does your CU also let those same members do your marketing for you by offering in-branch testimonials on how the credit union has helped them move from one step to the next? It's just as likely you do not.
Yet Maine Family FCU has done just that, which is why earlier this year it was presented with the 2007 Frankie Award during a special event at America's Credit Union Museum in Manchester, N.H.
For the heck of it, two years ago in this space I threw a challenge out there to the credit union community to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to communicating the benefits of credit unions-in short, I asked how credit unions tell their own story. Frankly(!), for a column and an idea written as something of a lark, I was overwhelmed by the number of credit unions that responded. The only thing more overwhelming? Worry about what all the others are doing-or not doing.
Actually, saying "put your money where your mouth is" in this case is something of a misnomer, as effective and creative communication is not a function of budget.
The Real 'Feat'
Take the example of Maine Family. In a campaign titled "Every Step of the Way," more than 250 members who met with one of the credit union's six financial services associates over a three-month period agreed to write their experiences on paper feet, sharing touching stories of what the credit union has meant to them. The real feat came when those feet were hung about its two branches.
In 2006, the Frankie Award went to Suncoast Schools FCU in Tampa, Fla., which demonstrated that even the biggest credit unions ($5.8 billion) recognize the value of core principals. Simplicity is one of the primary criteria in determining the Frankie Award winner, and Suncoast certainly showed how powerful simple can be. In an economically worded billboard it asked, "We return profits to you. Does your bank?" It headlined a newspaper ad, "Let's begin with the concept of being a member of a credit union versus a customer of a bank."
To read more about both of these award winners, or about some of the other runners-up, go to cujournal.com and simply type "Frankie" into the search box.
I am now calling for entries into the third annual Frankie Awards competition. As noted in previous years, the question is very simple: 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. As has also been noted here, there are few "industries" with a better story to tell than credit unions, and there are likely fewer that have done as spectacularly bad a job in telling that story as have CUs, as any number of consumer (and worse, member!) surveys have made all too clear.
The Frankies recognize credit unions that have effectively communicated to either members, consumers, 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. Keep these two other critical factors in mind: 1) It's easy to enter and 2) the entry fee has universal appeal-it's 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 as dusty as Ed Filene's fedora. "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."
Here's How To Enter
So, how do you tell your story and how do you use that message to help drive growth? Take a moment or two and enter the Frankies. Entering is easy: just provide an example and a brief description, including marketing materials if available, and e-mail that to fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com. There is no entry form of any kind, and brevity will not be held against you.
And heck, don't worry if you're not really that good at talking about the credit union difference or telling your story. You won't be around that long to not tell it anyway.
Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of the Credit Union Journal.