Nearly ten months after the Cornerstone Credit Union League commenced an awareness initiative to raise the profile of credit unions in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the league and its stakeholders are emboldened by the positive responses the project has generated.

Known as "Feel the Difference," the initiative was designed to increase public awareness of the many benefits of joining a credit union and to differentiate credit unions from other financial services providers.

The initiative was developed over more than two years by Cornerstone's Awareness and Outreach Committee, which is composed of credit union executives and marketers, as well as with GDC, a San Antonio-based marketing firm.

Jon Gorman, Cornerstone Credit Union League
Jon Gorman, SVP, Cornerstone Credit Union League

Jon Gorman, SVP of communications and outreach for the league, said Cornerstone took on the challenge of raising credit union awareness among consumers “at the request of our membership and because of the knowledge gap that continues to exist about credit unions among certain demographic growth opportunity segments.”

“We have learned through this initiative and through the research we executed to support it that the more a consumer understands credit unions, the more likely they are to consider one as their preferred financial institution,” he added.

The enterprise includes paid advertising which, in turn, was designed to drive traffic to the website, which can direct consumers to nearby CU branches or credit union websites.

Start-up costs and the first year of paid advertising costs were entirely absorbed by the league, meaning that its member credit unions have had to pay nothing to fund these efforts for the first full year.

"From March [2017] through August 31, Cornerstone's combined media buy resulted in 41.7 million advertising impressions – paid and added value," said Gorman.

An “advertising impression” represents the number of times a ‘Feel the Difference’ message, pre-roll video or display ad was delivered as a result of Cornerstone’s media buy, he explained.

Nearly 42 million impressions, said Gorman, "is a fairly significant number for the dollars we've spent. These impressions are largely targeted at consumers 18-34 and the underserved Hispanic population."

The 18-34 age group, Gorman explained, are facing “major life-stage decisions,” like buying a home or buying a car, while the Hispanic population of these states is largely un- or under-banked.

During the first three months of paid advertising, noted Gorman, only 7.74 percent of the web traffic represented returning visitors. However, during the most recent three months of paid advertising, 30.6 percent of the traffic represented returning visitors.

"The click-through rate to the consumer-facing website for the various paid media campaigns is well above [the] industry average, and we're pleased with these results so far,” Gorman added. “Somewhat surprisingly though, we're receiving traffic from states outside the Cornerstone footprint, with 8 percent of total traffic from outside Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas."

Along with the consumer-facing website, Cornerstone also created a "Feel the Difference" tool kit, which credit unions can use to review or download strategy documents, customizable messaging and creative assets to complement or supplement their own marketing materials and efforts.

‘Extremely eye-opening’

Oklahoma Employees Credit Union, a $493 million institution based in Oklahoma City, participated in this initiative. Jennifer Lown, the credit union’s chief marketing officer, said that the research that GDC conducted leading up to the initiative was “extremely eye-opening.”

Jennifer Lown, Oklahoma Employees  CU
Jennifer Lown, chief marketing officer, Oklahoma Employees CU

“Some of our long-held beliefs about the credit union difference wasn’t messaging that resonated with millennials,” she explained. “The messaging provided in the Cornerstone tool kit helped us target and provide clarity to potential millennial members about what matters to them when choosing their financial institution. We’re now talking to them about the credit union difference in a way that they understand and care about. “

San Angelo Federal Credit Union, a $24 million institution based in San Angelo, Texas, also participated in the awareness initiative. Laura Whisenhunt, its president and CEO, said her credit union got involved in the program after Gorman spoke at an event for the San Angelo Chapter of Credit Unions (which she leads) in San Angelo, highlighting how credit unions can distinguish themselves from other financial institutions.

“San Angelo is a small town in West Texas, with six credit unions and twelve local banks competing to serve nearly 100,000 people in our community,” she noted.

Ongoing analytics
Cornerstone will be continually reviewing the analytics related to, Gorman explained, including metrics like the search engine zip code results, demographics and psychographics of those visiting the website, as well as referral traffic, exit pages, time -on-site, percentage of returning visitors, and anecdotal evidence received from credit union professionals and chapter leaders.

“Over time, we’ll monitor membership growth at individual credit unions, which we track in our association-management system,” Gorman added.

Individual credit unions have their own criteria for sizing up and monitoring the initiative’s efficacy.

Laura Whisenhunt, San Angelo FCU
Laura Whisenhunt, CEO, San Angelo FCU

Lown said that on Google Analytics, Oklahoma Employees CU is seeing a 57.76 percent increase in pages-per-session and 161 percent increase in average session duration tied to inbound referrals from

“We’ve also seen an uptick in new visitors to our website,” she said. “We’ll continue to use the messaging created and tested by GDC. It’s wonderful to have unlimited access to such a valuable resource.”

Whisenhunt said her goal for this campaign is “to utilize the videos for social media marketing, educating my members (and potential new members) on the credit union difference.”

Gorman said that Cornerstone will continue to run the “Feel the Difference” initiative, while also looking at “creative solutions that will ensure greater awareness and more consistent messaging across the credit union system, including incorporating awareness messaging and creative solutions currently being developed by CUNA’s Creating Awareness Advisory Group to support the segment at a national level."