Credit unions love their members, but do their members love them back?

The key, one expert said, may be to build upon the idea of community.

According to Sasha Strauss, founder of brand-strategy consultancy Innovation Protocol, people want to feel loved and understood.

“That is what community is,” he said, reminding that businesses have known for millennia that it is good thing if people love them.

“The best way to motivate a human is to give them something to love,” he said. “Business learned this from politics, and politics learned from non-profits, who figured out if you trigger an emotion in a human they will donate. All of these learned from faith. All the greatest influencers in history learned they need to give people something to live.”

Strauss delivered his remarks recently during the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ annual conference.

“We used to believe the brand. We believed in corporations, religions and institutions,” he assessed. “Today, everyone questions the brand. If a credit union says it has better service, the audience questions that statement.”

Sasha Strauss, founder of brand-strategy consultancy Innovation Protocol, speaking during the 2017 California & Nevada Credit Union Leagues' annual conference.
Sasha Strauss, founder of brand-strategy consultancy Innovation Protocol, speaking during the 2017 California & Nevada Credit Union Leagues' annual conference.

Humans have a primal need for safety, then water, then food. The next step, Strauss said, is something to believe in. “It has to be something that ignites our hearts – something that we can cherish and celebrate. Do not use a critique of your bank competitors as a crutch, because that is not something worth celebrating. Make people feel lucky they are part of a credit union.”

If credit unions do not step up and fill the void of wanting something to believe in, someone else will, he warned.

“Your systems are complex, your technology is confusing. Branding binds assets together so you can be trusted and people can recommend you to their families and friends,” he said. “People want to know about you and how you impact the community.”

But how can CUs actually accomplish that?

Strauss suggested starting a conversation with members by relating to a common topic: Do you want to buy a home? Do you want to send a kid to college? Once this dialogue is started, he said, CUs then need to have a belief system in place that expresses their brand. He offered the example of Apple, which expressed a concept: Think differently, because those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world often do.

“To become the company that fills the void, you cannot take the cheap route,” he advised. “You cannot say, ‘We are the best’ and expect people to believe you. All cell phone carriers claim to have the biggest network.”

Seven motivators

According to Strauss, consumers make their buying decisions based on seven motivating factors:

1) The first rule of the new normal is to assume nothing. Rather than guess at what consumers are interested in, or what your competitors are up to, use the tools available to find out. “Do not assume that legacy practices work in this era, or that someone who is younger than you is better at social media. Use Google alerts to monitor your competitors.”

2) Empathize. In the 1980s, there were limited numbers of television channels, most of which went off the air at midnight. Today, in the Palm Springs area, standard cable comes with 400 always-on channels, he said. “The best way to communicate with your core audience is to feel what it is like to be them. Support that feeling, and your audience will receive you.”

3) Your potential member needs an advocate; someone to believe in them. Strauss said people will respond if they know someone at the CU has worked with first-time homeowners before and loves to help first-time homeowners. “Word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising in the world, and that comes from being an advocate.”

4) Always communicate in the form of a relationship. Strauss said humans do not benefit from one-time interruptions, which is why most marketing efforts fall on deaf ears. But when the communicator acts in the form of a relationship, with multiple points of communication, the consumer starts to trust, he said.

5) Instead of giving a long list of rates on their websites, Strauss said CUs should curate for the audience to make it easy for people to buy. He suggested bundling products and services together in a way that makes them easier to understand. “Make it easy for the consumers to identify what is right for them. If people are offered too many choices they feel stupid.”

6) People do not like being sold to, but humans always give themselves permission to learn. “When I learn from you, you will create an indelible mark on my mind,” he said, advising credit unions to, “Teach, don’t sell.”

7) Consumers do not want to buy something from an organization that does not care about the world. Strauss said this needs to be proven with action, not money and words. “Use your core competency to save the world.”

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