Let's get right to it: if you can't tell your credit union's story this year, you have no business telling it. And if you have no business telling it, you have no business.
That said, hear ye, hear ye, this is your Official Call For Entries for the 4th Annual Frankie Awards, which recognize credit unions that most effectively convey what a credit union is and is all about, and why it should matter to members and non-members alike.
In previous years, no doubt some in Credit Union Land have thought the value of telling that story to be as obsolete as Roy Bergengren's train ticket. If you still think that's the case as 2009 approaches, your train is derailed. Chances are you've heard something about a "financial crisis" going on around you; when I Google-searched the phrase I got 39,800,000 hits. And while I didn't have time to read all of it, all of that media and all of that reporting and all of that discussion about the "crisis" has, if nothing else, helped to exacerbate the situation, as if it needed any help.
The old truism is a new truism-one person's crisis is another's opportunity. Indeed, search "opportunity" on Credit Union Journal's website and you'll get more than 550 matches, and that's just the recent reporting. Those analysts and credit unions have been suggesting that newspapers and websites full of negative publicity about banks and bailouts are better for credit unions than a thousand advertisements in the same media. But none of that is true if you don't know how to creatively and effectively tell your story.
Which brings us to the Frankies. If you haven't told your story, your basic value proposition, in a while, now is a darned good time to start. And if you've been a storyteller for some time, congrats. Nothing cuts through the clutter faster than a consumer searching you out, and that's precisely the market we're in right now. This may come as the kind of shock to some in CUville, so let me preface this by urging you to sit down before reading further, but consumers and especially non-members don't spend the day curious about credit unions. Yet every rare once in a while comes a time when some of them do-this is one of those times.
The Frankie Winners
In the three previous years we've seen some innovative twists on ways to tell the CU story. Previous winners have included:
* Inaugural winner Suncoast Schools FCU in Tampa. 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."
* Maine Family FCU was recognized for a campaign titled "Every Step of the Way," in which 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.
* Denver Community Credit Union won for a wide variety of outreach efforts, each of which had as its soul "spreading the message about the credit union difference."
This year may offer more fodder for entry into the Frankies than any other. In recent weeks:
* Radio campaigns have been launched in several states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania.
* Wauna FCU in Oregon broke a newspaper ad headlined, "Our stock hasn't dropped a penny."
* Members Credit Union in North Carolina launched a website dubbed "Ask Jack" in which its CEO, Jack Braswell Jr., responds to member questions.
* Amplify FCU in Texas asked in a newspaper ad, "What Does It Take To Become An Owner of A Rock Solid Financial Institution?" It then answered, "About 7 Minutes."
There have been and are many, many more examples of credit unions and their associations aiming to bolster not just their image and solvency, but to take advantage of banks' current vulnerability.
The essence of what you are is your story, or in the vernacular du jour, your brand. It's not a logo or a color scheme or an ad tagline. It's what the member or the prospective member thinks of when they think of you. Do they think of anything? What has been their experience? What do you want that experience to be?
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. It's easy: just provide an example and a brief description, including marketing materials if available, and e-mail that to email@example.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 Credit Union Journal.