Are You Tattoo Worthy?

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With many credit unions expanding, merging and otherwise growing larger, one expert cautions a "bigger" credit union is not necessarily "better."

Denise Wymore, a marketing consultant who has worked in credit unions for 20 years, told attendees at CUES' Nexus conference that the original CU model was brilliant. Those single-sponsor credit unions targeted (and still target) an audience, not a territory, she observed, adding that today it's far too common for a credit union marketer to attack a territory by looking at a map.

"We try to target zip codes and generate more members from each area," Wymore said. "With a common bond, there was no marketing. The credit union was simply an employee benefit. HR automatically enrolled every new employee in the CU, because that's where the paycheck was going."

"Now that's marketing," she added.

According to Wymore, "cult" is not a bad word, and CUs should be more like a cult. She defined the term as a group or movement exhibiting a great devotion to an idea, person or thing. She noted that a cult's ideology is distinctive and has a well-defined and committed community.

The most important element, she emphasized, is that the members of a cult often become volunteer advocates to the point of placing the company's logo on their bodies in permanent ink.

"In today's world, we have Spam filters, nearly everyone is on the National Do Not Call List, and people have digital video recorders," said Wymore. "All of these things are designed to avoid marketing. And yet, the No. 1 tattoo request is Harley-Davidson-a brand!"

So how can a CU become "tattoo-worthy"? Wymore outlined five steps: target an audience not a territory, listen to the target, know the competitors for your target, make the competitors irrelevant and be loyal to your target.

"The real key to becoming tattoo-worthy is to make your competitors irrelevant," she explained. "Harley-Davidson has no competitors. If you ask a Harley person who the competition is, they say 'no one.' You either are a Harley rider or you are not. No one will test drive a Honda and a Harley on the same day."

In order to capture this level of loyalty from their members, CUs have to "think like a cult," Wymore continued. She cited some of the best-loved brands today: Coca-Cola, iPod, Starbucks and In-N-Out Burger. In each case, the brand has a clear mantra, and people either are in the cult or they are not.

"I know people are sick of Starbucks, but they are consistent in their branding," she said. "Their goal is providing and protecting the 'third place.' This concept came from Italy: the first place is the home, the second is the job or workplace, and the third place is the caf? where you 'hang.'"

Wymore recently had her first experience with In-N-Out -a burger shop that started in Southern California and slowly is franchising its way across the country-and came away extremely impressed.

The first element she noticed about the In-N-Out Burger experience is its bare-bones menu: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, shakes and drinks.

"That's all. They are not trying to be all things to all people," she assessed. "You won't find a taco there. McDonalds changes their menu weekly, but In-N-Out has been doing the same thing for 50 years, and they do it well."

Wymore recalled that when she ordered her food at the In-N-Out, she was asked if she would be eating in the car. She wasn't sure why the customer service representative wanted to know, but she said "yes." When she picked up her food, she discovered her burger was in a cardboard tray, with the wrapping paper peeled back just right so she could get to the sandwich. Next, she was given a lap mat, to keep her clothes from getting spotted while she ate.

"This lap mat was nothing more than a marketing piece-it had all of their locations on it," Wymore said. "But, it made getting a burger an experience. And the one simple step of asking if I was eating in the car and fixing the paper for me was brilliant. How many times have you fumbled with the paper on a burger while trying to drive? It makes you feel like they care about your safety."

Frosting on the Pig

When Wymore was a teller, she hated learning of her CU's latest marketing effort not from the marketing department but from a member who had arrived at her window with a postcard the credit union had mailed. A marketing campaign without follow-through-including training frontline staff - is akin to "frosting on the pig," she said.

"A brand is about telling a story," Wymore said. "Credit unions have a history and a story. They should continue to tell that story and preserve their history. If a credit union has a good common bond, bigger is not better."

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