GAC Coverage: NC Gears Up for Hill Visits

Day two of the GAC agenda is winding down in Washington, DC. While talk still centers on the NCUA Corporate Stabilization Plan and the financial crisis, the official reason for our trip lies just ahead – taking our message to NC’s elected leaders in Washington, DC.

This trip will not only represent a change in location (from the Convention Center to the Legislative Office buildings), but a very important and palpable shift in topic for the group. Despite the gravity of the moment with the Corporate Stabilization Plan and its implications for credit unions, plus the current TARP discussions, the credit union group must focus instead on the legislative agenda with our elected leaders.

As we approach what promises to be a full day of meetings with members of Congress, it’s a good news-bad news situation for credit unions when it comes to that legislative agenda and the health of the credit union system …

The good news is – the house isn’t on fire.

The bad news is – the house isn’t on fire.

As parts of the banking system creep closer to nationalization and the economy falls off a cliff, Congress has a bevy of urgent issues to tackle — fires to put out, if you will. So for credit unions, which are in much better shape than banks, the challenge essentially lies in getting traction on issues of importance in the current Washington climate.

Dan Schline, NCCUL’s SVP of Association Services, discusses the strategy to deal with this reality and the messages credit union representatives from NC will share with members of Congress tomorrow.

One of the messages we’ll be underscoring tomorrow relates to lifting the credit union business lending cap. As you know, the League has been using the video medium in its overall communications strategy for about a year now. And beginning with this GAC, we have videotaped accounts of credit union members who have gotten business loans from a NC credit union. These video messages will be delivered to each member of the NC Congressional Delegation tomorrow as part of our Real People series.

These member messages communicate the strength of the credit union argument on business lending – credit unions have the money and willingness to lend in this environment, and lifting the cap is a way to get needed capital into the hands of people who are creating jobs in the economy. And lifting the cap won’t cost the taxpayers a dime!

One such video is below, and you will find the complete set of business loan testimonials for Congress on the League’s Real People Channel on Vimeo.

We’ll record more testimonials for Congress in the future to show the great work NC credit unions are doing — in the words of their members.   

The Annual Premier Federal Credit Union Hot Dog Sale: A Tasty Example of People Helping People

For the last few summers, the staff at Premier Federal Credit Union has set aside a day to put together a Hot Dog Sale outside their Greensboro headquarters on Yanceyville Street. This event is not only fun, but also quite the bargain – you can get two yummy made-to-order hot dogs, chips, homemade dessert and a drink for five bucks.    

So I grabbed the video camera Friday and zipped over to this year’s sale. Despite my resolve this year to make healthier food choices, my mom always told me when you go visit someone, Southern etiquette dictates that you have at least a little of everything on the table.

Three hot dogs (made all-the-way), a bag of chips, drink and two chocolate cookies later … Mission Accomplished, Mom! 🙂

Seriously though, the staff at Premier works hard to get donated food from area businesses, make homemade desserts and set up to serve on the day of the Hot Dog Sale.

It’s all for charity – this year the Victory Junction Gang Camp gets the proceeds. In the years they’ve been doing this, thousands of dollars have been raised for charities near and dear to the staff’s hearts. Good going folks – thanks for yet another wonderful (and yummy!) example of people helping people in action!

Charting the ROI on Good Vibes (and Ugly Cars) … The I Love My Hoopty Campaign

1972nova081802.jpg

For those credit unions that have chosen not to participate in Social Media, it seems that there’s a very natural and understandable tension at work: in a world where marketing campaigns are measured in terms of loans made and assets grown (ROI), how can you concretely measure the value of a blog?   

In pondering this question, I called up Marketing Diva Deb McLean of Carolina Postal Credit Union. CPCU of course originated the “I Love My Hoopty” campaign last year.

Deb describes the Hoopty campaign as, “An untraditional marketing campaign with a Social Media component.” It’s untraditional in that it spotlighted a product that most marketers would not conceive of focusing on (unsecured loans made so that postal employees can purchase beat up used cars for their rural letter-carrying routes).

And while the I Love My Hoopty blog has gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere as well as the CU trade press, the truth is a lot of traditional marketing collateral (posters, mailers, bumper stickers, etc.) keyed the measurable success of the Hoopty campaign. Deb noted that unsecured loans and installment lines of credit increased a robust 325% during the Hoopty campaign last Fall – the ROI was even greater if you factor in cross-selling of other products. 

It could be argued that the blog had little tangible impact on the bottom-line ROI, but that would be selling the Social Media aspect short. In a traditional marketing campaign, something like Hoopty could have come and gone pretty quickly.

But the blog keeps the conversation going. It serves as a 24/7 reminder of a funny campaign that is relevant to the CPCU membership. The credit union has gotten so much positive feedback from members, they’ve begun to incorporate Hoopty into their membership pitch to postal employees. They’re also mulling ways to bring the Hoopty contest back later this year.

The blog also helped the credit union gain a lot of attention outside the membership. Deb attributes much of the CU Trade press attention to the blog. The I Love My Hoopty site also got noticed by a Miami rapper, and got CPCU interviewed by an intrepid reporter from the UK who stumbled across the blog.

So what does this all mean? Deb made three points that may be of use to credit unions contemplating a dip in the Social Media pool …

  1. Whatever you come up with has to be relevant to the lives of your members. “Face it, most people go on the Internet to look at funny videos and dirty pictures*,” Deb noted. “If you do a blog about your “free” checking account, or blog on the acute differences between secured & unsecured loans, no one is going to care … or comment.”  (*Ummm, OK Deb.)  🙂  
  2. Avoid “clusterhugging**.” We credit union types tend to be cooperative, supportive types — so it’s sometimes hard to get direct feedback from peers that you can really use in the development of effective campaigns.  In other words, you & your CU Peers are aware of your campaign – but what about your target-market?” **Note: “cluster-hugging” has been copy-righted by Diva Deb – no lifting/ripping/or borrowing without credit (or cash)!
  3. Make sure the campaign does what it’s supposed to do.  “If it’s about opening new checking accounts – did that happen?  If it’s about adding new members – did that happen?”  Don’t get so “caught up in your own performance” (as Deb relates that Paula Abdul said in a rare lucid moment) and forget your intent was to reach your target-market and impact the bottom-line.

 Of course, Hoopty won’t work everywhere and for just any credit union. But if you’re wondering how to leap into the Social Media waters, consider the key lesson of I Love My Hoopty: CPCU combined ugly cars with financial services, and struck a chord with its membership in the process.     

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?

Putting out an Amber Alert for the CU Skeptic

Last month, Trey Reeme blogged about the mysterious CU Skeptic, who recently started a blog. Our shadowy CU Skeptic put on a cloak of anonymity and announced to the world that he was not “drinking the CU kool-aid.”

“Cool,” I thought at the time – this fellow could stir the pot a bit and perhaps help us to see a different perspective.

Well, here we are a month later and the CU Skeptic has (so far) made like Judge Crater and vanished. Poof! Gone! The early posts (three of them to be exact) were pretty good – one discussion alone garnered 33 comments. (Sheesh do I have a TOTAL of 33 comments?!)  But ever since October 18th, International Credit Union Day, our Skeptic has gone quiet. Nothing in three weeks. Three posts and out. Are you kidding me?

For a skeptic, our Skeptic doesn’t seem very skeptical.

Perhaps there’s a kick-butt skeptics convention this time of the year … or maybe our 20-something skeptic met a young and lovely and the un-sexy land of credit unions can’t compete … or maybe he found something more fun to be skeptical about – Free Online Tetris, for instance.

Whatever the reason, I hope the skeptic will pick the ball up again and start challenging the CU kool aid drinkers out there (including me).  

We Pause to Give Thanks for This Server Meltdown …

There seems to be a lot of pessimism in credit union circles these days. Member growth seems to be a lot less than we’d like, and surveys show that people who don’t know about us really don’t know about us.

Meanwhile, new competitive threats seem to emerge weekly in the tech-happy world we live in. Companies and concepts such as ING and microlending seem to be like the Prius to our credit union Yugo.

But anyone who saw Liz Pulliam Weston’s column titled “Ditch Your Bank for a Credit Union” in MSN Money this week had to feel a little better. Weston wrote a simply GLOWING article about the positives of credit unions, written to those in her large audience who might just be a little sick and tired of their fee-happy, money-grubbing bank.

And apparently, more than a few folks were receptive to the message. Weston included a link to the California Credit Union League’s national CU Matchup web site in her column.

In the wake of the column’s release online, the ensuing rush to CU Matchup crashed the site’s server!

This episode tells us a few things …

  • Credit unions need to continue telling their story to reporters. Advertising is nice, but how much would you have to pay to get the reaction a column like Weston’s sparked?
  • A lot of people simply hate their bank, and many banks have spent millions in advertising to address it and build a more customer friendly-image. But as the late Molly Ivins once said, “You can put lipstick on a pig and call her Monique … but she’s still a pig.”
  • If you’re emulating banks with your branding and messaging, see point # 2.
  • Weston’s column includes an important piece of shorthand that connects with people. Weston wrote: “Banks hate — hate — credit unions.” To many consumers, the resulting logic goes … “I hate my bank, and my bank hates credit unions … h-m-m-m-m credit unions must be pretty good.” When you talk about your credit union, whether it’s with a reporter or in the quarterly newsletter – always, always … always contrast yourselves with banks.

So let’s cheer up, keep doing great things and start talking about those great things more!

I leave you with this lovely commercial produced by WaMu. Funny stuff, but it’d be funnier if it weren’t so true. 🙂

Reporter to Address Northwest Chapter

Greetings from a sloppy Greensboro! After about a half inch of snow this morning, there’s a little freezing rain outside this afternoon. We’ve seen better days around these parts!

Anyway, I wanted anyone out there in “credit union land” who is interested to know that Richard Craver, who is a business reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, will be the guest speaker at the Northwest Chapter of the NC Credit Union League meeting on Monday, February 12th. Craver is a veteran reporter who covers the financial services industry for the Journal, one of the largest dailies in the state.

Craver is going to give tips to the chapter about how to get better PR and media coverage. The meeting starts at 5:30 pm at the Quality Inn in Winston-Salem. All CU types are welcome – registration information is available on the NC CU League web site at http://www.ncleague.org/www/EventDesc.asp?eventid=324

Kudos to the NW Chapter for scheduling this meeting! If you can’t be there, I’ll provide a summary on this blog after the fact.

Stay warm!
Jeff