Campaign From One CU Benefits All-And Wins A Frankie

Register now

There's an old saying about the game of golf: "It's simple, it just isn't easy."

The same can be said of a challenge The Credit Union Journal presented to readers in 2004: How do you simply describe the differences between a credit union and a bank? As it turns out, it's not so simple.

In fact, it's a question the credit union community as a whole has never answered very effectively and one that many credit unions individually have fumbled. Indeed, one need only review the findings of survey after survey indicating that most people don't understand what a credit union is-and those are just the employees. Members are even deeper in the fog, while elected representatives and many members of the media are lost in a thick pea soup of uncertainty.

That's why we launched the first-ever Frankie Awards, to recognize the credit unions and individuals who have taken on that challenge and succeeded in answering what makes a credit union unique. No doubt there are some within credit unions who consider the whole exercise a waste of time; they couldn't be more mistaken. Competing on commodity products and with a pricing advantage that isn't always distinct to the consumer leaves credit unions searching for that point of differentiation in the market. Yes, the service is generally better, but measuring one industry's service average against another overlooks the fact that within the category there are some exceptional service providers among certain banks. When the consumer then asks, "Why should I do business with you?" what is your answer?

That's the question we posed, and we received dozens and dozens of responses. I'm proud to bestow the first-ever Frankie Award to Suncoast Schools FCU in Tampa, Fla., which has taken to newspapers, billboards and even TV with a message of "credit unionism," not just its own credit union. Its billboards do what a billboard should do: convey an effective message to someone in several seconds (see page 10). Its newspaper ads do what newspaper ads can do better than any other medium when effectively leveraged: use long copy to explain a concept and instill a call to action, all in a clean, attractive layout.

Patti Hinton Barrow, vice president of marketing with Suncoast Schools, said the strategy of marketing the credit union concept over the credit union product has been in place since 2004, running every Spring and Fall. It currently includes eight different newspaper ads, all highlighting a difference between banks and credit unions. One explains how credit unions can pay higher rates. Another addresses ATM networks. "People think that if they join a credit union they will not have access to ATMs," Barrow explained. The ads, she said, focus on the "myths" that keep people from putting their money into a CU.

All of the ads reinforce a tagline Suncoast Schools uses in its advertising: "Where Smart People Keep Their Money." One TV spot, for instance, shows a young woman studying in a library. Superimposed text reads: "Junior in college. 3.0 GPA. Got a car loan at 4.35% from Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union. Now that's smart." (The tagline does double duty, given its primarily education-related FOM.)

Barrow noted Florida's bankers have been aggressive in attacking credit unions, and the ads are also a response to that. "We want to grow membership in our markets, and we want to be proactive about credit unions and banks and why credit unions offer more value," she explained. "We took the approach that spending money on a campaign like this is good for Suncoast, but also for all credit unions. If the not-for-profit status ever changes, it would change our service for the worse, and vastly change things for all credit unions."

In an era when many demand to see an immediate payback on advertising, Barrow credited SSFCU's CEO, Tom Dorety, and the board for making a long-term investment in the ads. She said Suncoast hasn't tracked the ads down to the product level, but a comparison of member sign-ups prior to the ads' debut and afterward showed a "direct correlation" to new members.

Long-copy newspaper ads can be brilliant-or brilliant failures-and this first Frankie Award winner has achieved the former. "We struggled with the copy because it is lengthy," acknowledged Barrow. "We know the shorter and more concise you can be in print ads, the better, but the credit union story is complicated. We've tried to tell that story with a peaceful voice. But we've also tried not to put too much information in any one ad, which is why there are eight. People say they look forward to seeing them."

And I look forward to seeing more of such thoughtful and effective advertising from credit unions-if the CU community wishes to continue to have something to look forward to itself. Congratulations to Suncoast Schools FCU, winner of the first-ever Frankie Award.

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
MORE FROM AMERICAN BANKER