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Piedmont Aviation CU Honors Past, Embraces Future with New Name, Brand

Some 60 years ago, the Piedmont Triad region looked a lot different than it does today. Back then, the region was a manufacturing powerhouse, and Winston-Salem was one of the richest and most important cities in the Southeastern US — if not the entire country.

In 1948, Tom Davis founded Piedmont Airlines in Winston-Salem. According to the web site Jet Piedmont.com, the first flight of the airline was from Wilmington, NC to Cincinnati, with Davis the only paying passenger. Out of these modest beginnings, Piedmont grew to be an outstanding regional carrier and one of the strongest airline brands in US aviation history. People loved them because the airline was so committed to customer service.

Soon after the airline took flight, Piedmont Aviation Credit Union got off the ground. The credit union, which began in 1949 with a mere $1,000 in assets, is today a $216 million full-service financial institution serving communities located throughout various locations in NC. Like the airline that gave it life, the credit union also has a commitment to customer service — or in the familiar credit union parlance, people helping people.

Today, the credit union remains a vital part of Winston-Salem, and committed to the members it serves nationwide. But like so many other companies in the Triad region, Piedmont Airlines has long been consigned to the history books.

The airline merged with US Airways in 1989 and Winston-Salem lost its hometown air carrier in the process. It was a heartbreaking loss for this proud city – one of many economic blows it would take in the years to follow before new industries and a new economic direction emerged in the last few years.

Despite this loss, Piedmont Aviation Credit Union enjoyed steady growth in the years following the merger. But as Piedmont Airlines receded further into the history books and out of the minds of the general public, what was a proud & central part of the credit union’s legacy, expressed in its very name, started to become a hindrance to recruiting potential members to the cooperative.

So Piedmont Aviation changed its name on March 2nd to reflect the changes happening on the ground. The new name, Piedmont Advantage CU, is designed to both honor the men and women in the airline industry who helped make the credit union what it is today, while attracting new members who are not involved with the aviation industry.

As PACU President/CEO Judy Tharp put it on Tuesday in unveiling the new name and brand, “Piedmont was an airline that cared about people, and this credit union cares about people.”

When the past is filled with such an enduring legacy, it’s hard to embrace change. Kudos to the credit union then for gracefully honoring this wonderful 60-year aviation heritage, even as it boldly aims for higher altitudes in the years to come.


A Very Well Deserved Friday Funny

The headlines are pretty bleak these days and we’ve been pretty busy at the League fielding questions from a lot of folks. From what I hear, it’s the same at credit unions as members check in and ask a lot of questions about deposit insurance (it’s a lot of work to be sure, but what a great moment for credit unions to reassure & educate members about their safety and soundness!).

So let’s take a moment on Friday and enjoy one of the funniest ads I’ve ever seen a credit union produce. The “Fee Pig” ad from Charlotte Metro Credit Union brought me a few belly laughs — and these days, that’s a very good thing.

Enjoy your weekend folks, and keep on doing great things on behalf of your members!

Truliant FCU Ads Score Points by Pointing out Differences

True confession time from the FWIW (for what it’s worth) department – most of the bank and credit union television ads I’ve seen over the years stink. Replete with airbrushed models, canned music and formulaic jargon, the end message I get is: “We’re unique – just like everyone else.”

It was refreshing then to get a look at Truliant Federal Credit Union’s new flight of fun television ads, which are currently appearing in the Charlotte and Piedmont Triad markets. These ads use real members of the credit union with real stories about how Truliant is different.

Truliant’s Marketing/Communications Supervisor, Ryan Shell, noted that the members in the ads were pulled from success stories that the Truliant staff received. He said all of them were enthusiastic about volunteering their time to participate in the commercials.

The central message is also key here, because it relates the value of membership – but from the member’s perspective, not the credit union’s. We can get on the “member-owner-cooperative-not-for-profit-people-helping-people” soapbox every day of the week and twice on Sunday – but the truth of the matter is: it’s what credit union members understand on a personal level about those differences that matter.

In other words, it’s all just pretty rhetoric until someone discovers that these words actually mean something that is very relevant to their lives.   

On that topic of relevance – I can relate to the people I see in these ads. When I lived in Reno several years ago, I always laughed at the casino commercials that came on TV. Everybody looked like they were straight out of central casting: J-Lo and Ryan Phillippe knockoffs throwing the dice and pulling the slots. Then when you actually went to the casinos, you’d see a bunch of chain-smoking grandmas trying to score the big payoff.

While the folks in the Truliant spots don’t look like chain-smoking grandmas, they do look like people I see and interact with every day. That’s refreshing, and a wise choice.    

These TV spots are part of a broader campaign that includes print & billboard ads, as well as a micro-site called trudifferences.org. (Complete details are summarized in the press release here.)   

If I could make one suggestion, it would be that Truliant use this as a springboard to start a two-way conversation by hosting a blog tied to the campaign. I mean, they’re already asking people about their member experience on a regular basis. Why not throw it open to a wider (and less filtered) discussion?
At any rate, check out the ads and feel free to share your opinion.   

Community Involvement As Brand Building: A Conversation with SECU’s Jim Blaine

One of the things that has always impressed me about State Employees’ Credit Union is that from the standpoint of member service and culture, the credit union acts like a tiny shop. As most people know, SECU is instead one of the largest credit unions in the world, holding more than $15 billion in assets.

This culture of service and absolute dedication to the cooperative philosophy shines through in the credit union, from the membership at the grassroots all the way up the chain through its board and senior management.

Many of the ideas and much of the credit union passion that you might hear from the CEO of a small shop shine through in the few moments I got to spend with SECU CEO Jim Blaine. Jim graciously spent some time with me to reflect on the Herb Wegner Award the SECU Foundation received as the outstanding credit union organization.  

The SECU Foundation has only been around a few short years, but it has already left a tremendous footprint across all 100 counties in NC. The video interview focuses on the Foundation’s scholarship program, which has awarded scholarships to one student in every NC public high school for the past three years or so.

The Foundation has also embarked on some other outstanding projects that are making an impact in NC. Some of these projects are summarized in the video presentation below that we got to see at the Herb Wegner Awards in Washington, DC last week.

The leadership of the credit union views these activities as its advertising campaign. From my vantage point, I’d have to say that it’s clearly working. Every week when the newspaper clippings arrive in the mail, the activities of the credit union and its foundation get consistent mention in papers of all sizes.

The scholarship winners, which are generally pictured with a local SECU representative, get mentioned the most in papers across the State. At the same time, and I don’t have hard stats to back this up — I’d say clearly the newspapers and other media outlets have become much more likely to pick up press releases that come from the credit union over the past couple of years.  

As the notion of a national branding campaign continues to get kicked around, the SECU Foundation has put together an impressive narrative that suggests that collective philanthropy and community building will get the credit union movement a lot more mileage than a national advertising campaign.

What do you think?

Of Rorschach and “The Video”

I am here to confess my sins when it comes to the masterful CU Difference video that debuted last week courtesy of Larissa Walkiw, who is the Young & Free Alberta spokesperson. The video, which I first saw Thursday on the CU Brand Blog, is making big waves.

But an exchange on the CU Skeptic Blog yesterday has brought me in touch with a real problem with my personal reaction to this video, and my sense is that others might be falling into the same trap when viewing this terrific piece of work.

The problem? Essentially, “The Video” became a Rorschach test for what I think the movement lacks.

In looking at the video, I thought it had great potential as a CU viral campaign. In my fantasy, we’d take out the Common Wealth CU and Y&F references and throw this thing on out our web sites. And boy howdy, the young folks would literally melt down servers and bust down doors to join credit unions in response.

At long last, the average age of members would plummet, and the CU Nip Tuck we’ve all imagined would happen!

There’s just one little problem with my fantasy: this video is a specific marketing message that is intended for a specific audience … and that audience is living in a financial service system that is quite a bit different from the one here in the States. (Thanks to Tim McAlpine, I understand that now.)

Taking that thought just one step further – as a marketing message, there’s no way to know five days after rollout whether this video is effective. Unless I’ve missed something, it remains to be seen whether Common Wealth’s ultimate goal – to put fannies into the Young & Free Checking Account – will actually work out … and whether the video is helpful in achieving that goal.

So let’s take a step back here and take a couple of useful lessons from the video based on what we know:

First of all, Larissa is a very talented young woman, and a gifted communicator. But in our rush to praise her, let’s not deify her. There are other Larissas out there waiting to be discovered. All they need is an opportunity.

And that leads me to my second point: the true genius of the Young & Free Campaign lies in its risk. Think about it: Common Wealth literally handed the keys to their brand over to a 19 year old. How many credit unions CEOs, boards and marketers are willing to take that chance?

And perhaps that’s the real issue, and why so many seem to be Rohrschaching this thing. After all, it would be easy for Larissa & Common Wealth to edit their video to fit our perceived needs, but would doing so make our individual credit unions any more palatable to people 25 and under?

What Credit Unions Can Learn from the “Huckaboom” and “Obam-e-non”

Its always fun when political pundits and their “conventional wisdom” get a swift kick in the pants as they did last week in the Iowa Caucuses. Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee defied the odds by winning impressive victories in the first real test of the 2008 presidential election campaign.  

It remains to be seen if either candidate can translate this victory into the nomination in their respective party. But a clear theme emerged in both Obama and Huckabee’s victories, and this theme is instructive for credit unions.

There are many factors that account for their victories, but in my view both candidates struck a hopeful vision of a united America that clearly resonated with Iowa voters. This vision called upon the idea of America as one community, not segments of people to be divided into voting blocs.

It’s that central idea of a united, optimistic America working together to solve problems that clicked with people in Iowa. 

There’s a powerful lesson here for credit unions as well: your membership is a community of people that collectively represents a tremendous human resource. How much of our marketing and communications emphasis is based on how our members are different from one another? Have we looked for opportunities to bring all our members together as a community in an effort to be change agents in the lives of others?  

Some credit unions are tapping into the collective membership to bring about positive change in the communities they serve. Some of these have been chronicled in this space and there are no doubt many others.

Writing a check to support community agencies is good stuff, but some credit unions are missing a powerful opportunity to bring members together by stopping there. Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee reminded us all that people respond to the idea of community, of belonging.

My guess is that a visionary, authentic effort at communicating this same idea to members as part of a community building effort can resonate powerfully (and perhaps generate growth as a side benefit).

What do you think?

Charlotte Metro CU Rolls out Latest Muggsy Ad

Charlotte Metro Credit Union, which rolled out an advertising campaign featuring former NBA star (and CMCU member) Muggsy Bogues in 2007, recently rolled out a new ad in the series. The spot, which is airing on the Charlotte FOX, ABC and NBC affiliates, focuses on the CMCU web site, which got a complete makeover last year.

CMCU Director of Marketing Nathan Tothrow said that in the months since the television advertising debuted, the credit union has noted strong asset and core deposit growth. He added that web hits spiked 10% in December – the same time the newest ad hit the airwaves.

Nathan and I had the pleasure of working together on the attempt to bring credit union co-operative advertising to the Charlotte market in 2006. Even though that campaign did not see the light of day, it is great to see Nathan’s vision and dedication to the advertising medium pay off in terrific growth for CMCU.

The ad is linked below – enjoy!

Does “Green” Have A Place in Your Product Mix?

Recently, Denise Wymore blogged about Modern Marketing vs. Old Marketing and a spirited discussion ensued about the effectiveness of direct mail. That conversation prompted me to consider how it looks when a credit union wants its members to forgo paper statements, while the credit union peppers its members with direct mail!

My thought at the time was that these messages are in conflict with one another (from the member standpoint), and it bucked the “green” trend that is becoming more common in American households.

So is green the new color of success for credit unions? Old Hickory Credit Union in Tennessee thinks so. Old Hickory created a Green Checking Account a while back and has been the subject of past posts on other blogs. To Old Hickory’s bundle of services and benefits offered by the Green Checking Account (summarized in the link), I would consider adding the following features …

1. Deposit rate premiums and/or loan discounts (more on this below) – saving paper saves the credit union money. Why not pass these cost savings on to members?

2. Automatically opting members in to electronic newsletters — and opting them out of snail mail campaigns. Give members the ability to identify products or services they are interested in hearing more about in these electronic publications.

3. Design other products that reinforce the green concept. Perhaps a Green Auto Loan could have a rate premium relative to other products. I’ve seen green loan programs for mainly hybrid vehicles … but what about offering rate premiums on conventional automobiles if the new vehicle purchase increases fuel economy over the trade-in by 20%?

Other loan products could be designed that help members conserve energy and go to a more sustainable way of life (anything from replacement windows to landscaping).

These thoughts hinge on the belief that green is not a fad but is here to stay. What do you think? Is the move to promote a more environmentally friendly way of life a trend that some credit unions could capitalize on with a formal product line? If so, what products and services would you suggest credit unions offer? And finally, are other credit unions offering green incentives to members?

Social Media Spotlight … Young & Free Alberta Gets Ready to Announce Winner After Wildly Successful Campaign

(Note: this is an update to a previous post about a Social Media Campaign that is both eye-catching and innovative.)

The applications have been processed, video blogs recorded and the votes tallied in Common Wealth Credit Union’s Young & Free campaign! Young & Free, developed and rolled out a few months ago for Common Wealth by Currency Marketing, enjoyed wild success – much more I’m betting than even the credit union and Currency envisioned.

The campaign was created to call attention to Common Wealth’s free checking product for young adults under the age of 25. The concept is for applicants aged 18-25 to record videos sharing why the credit union should hire them on as a spokesperson for the credit union, as well as a blogger about the social scene in Northern Alberta. Blog readers then got to vote on who they thought should be the spokesperson.

All told, 11 people submitted video applications. From this pool, three finalists … Shane Lamotte, Larissa Walkiw and Paula Mickelson emerged. During the voting period last week, the finalists nabbed a ton of attention on local news and radio programs, and thousands of people visited the blog site to watch the videos and cast their votes.

I wonder how much money it would have cost Common Wealth to garner that kind of media and public attention in a more traditional advertising campaign?  

The winner will be announced Monday, December 10th on the Young & Free site. I suspect that Currency’s Tim McAlpine will have plenty to say about this campaign once it concludes (and he has the chance to catch his breath!). When we hear from Tim, we’ll pass along that information.

Kudos to Tim and Currency for the concept, and to Common Wealth CU for taking a very public chance on this Social Media Campaign. Anyone in credit union land giving serious thought to Social Media should spend a few hours scanning the Y&F site!      

A “Subprime” Phone Call

I got a call from a reporter at one of the Business Journals in NC this afternoon, asking about any uptick in mortgage refi’s at credit unions as a result of the subprime mortgage mess. He had already spoken with State Employees’ Credit Union and needed more information about other credit unions that were helping out, plus general information about loan delinquencies and other indicators that members might be having a hard time meeting their mortgage obligations.

The easy part of the call was referring him to NCUA and other agencies for the statistical gobbledygook. The hard part was only having one other credit union – Local Government Federal Credit Union – that I could point him to as a credit union that is helping its members deal with bad mortgages from other lenders.

It’s quite possible that I’ve missed others who want to spread the word. If so, please call me and I’d be happy to refer this reporter and future ones to you.

However if I’m not out of the loop on this, one of three things is most likely happening …

1 – Some other credit unions are helping out their members, they just aren’t talking about it openly (which is fine, but you’re missing one heck of a branding, marketing & loyalty-building opportunity for your credit union in the community);

2- Some other credit unions don’t offer mortgages (fair enough, but are there helpful resources you can bring to the table for your members who may be trapped in a bad mortgage loan? By sharing this, you can perhaps prevent a personal financial train wreck, which is another great opportunity to build member loyalty and trust);

3- Some credit unions aren’t doing anything and haven’t talked to their members about this (I know, its not a charity you’re running … but if you haven’t said anything at all about mortgages that could possibly blow up in your member’s faces, ruining their finances and hurting your bottom line in the process … what exactly are you running?).

A common complaint I heard from credit union people during the mortgage bubble the last couple of years was that members went running after the shady guys down the street because they were able to get them in a home more quickly and flexibly than the credit union.

Well now’s your chance … not to say we told you so … but how can we help?

(Edit on 11/28 to add: Carolina Postal Credit Union is currently working up a targeted mailing to members who may be trapped in risky subprime mortgages. While details are still being worked out, the credit union is going to do what it can to assist members at risk of ARM resets that could end in foreclosure. Good going, CPCU!)