Getting Buzz For The Brand Not An Overnight Process

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Is it possible for credit unions to have a "brand" that creates a buzz? Yes, but the process is neither fast nor easy.

That was the message from Roy MacKinnon, vice president of marketing for First Entertainment Credit Union, Hollywood, Calif., who told attendees at CUES' Nexus conference here only they can create a brand for their credit union, because they are the ones who know their members.

Several years ago, before MacKinnon started working at First Entertainment, he said the credit union's "brand" was nothing more than its name. "We had no consistency, we did little or no direct mail, we had no branch retailing and we had no true theme," he recalled.

First Entertainment's board eventually chose to create brand awareness, hiring an ad agency that would create a campaign with billboards. MacKinnon said First Entertainment wanted to create uniqueness, so it chose not to put any mention of products or services on the billboard.

Instead, it featured a man's face next to the words: "I am not old school. I am not new school. I am my own school." Underneath was the slogan: "We get it," followed by the name of the CU and the phrase "An Alternative Way to Bank."

On Jan. 1, 2004, First Entertainment began using collateral materials to coordinate with its advertising and branding efforts, including custom checks, brochures, the quarterly newsletter, the annual report and new member kits.

The brochures gave First Entertainment an opportunity to create a buzz, MacKinnon explained, because they featured lots of color and some "snappy" writing. MacKinnon and his staff created brochures for numerous products and services, ranging from debit cards to checking to loans. "The cleanness of the messaging helped us introduce our brand," he said.

The newsletter soon took on a completely new look, he continued. The previous incarnation was called "Newsbreak," and used a three-column format MacKinnon blamed on his high school newspaper background. The redesigned newsletter-dubbed "The Show" - features a real First Entertainment member on the cover, and mixes news about the CU's products and services with profiles most other credit unions will not be able to duplicate, he acknowledged.

"We had one newsletter with a Quincy Jones interview," he said. "We have a really cool field of membership."

First Entertainment advertises in such publications as "Variety," "Hollywood Reporter," "Editors Guild Magazine" and "Writer's Guild Magazine," which serve its entertainment industry FOM. While other CUs cannot follow this script letter for letter, he said they should latch onto the idea.

Know Your Niche

"If your credit union serves an industry or a single sponsor, consider advertising in niche publications," MacKinnon counseled the audience. "Speak to your members in the publications they are reading."

Once the branding effort gained momentum, it began appearing in other places, he continued.

First Entertainment's website got an upgrade, branch retailing began in earnest, and postcards and t-shirts were created.

It has also stepped up its promotions. Last year, First Entertainment bought a Mini Cooper and held a member referral contest to give it away. For each member who brought in a new member, both people received an entry. "We saw a 23.1% increase in new members in 90 days," said MacKinnon. "Once those people were in the doors, they brought in $2 million in deposits and $1.4 million in loans."

After analyzing the average weighted yield of all loans generated, the CU determined the total campaign costs-including $18,000 for the Mini Cooper and the cost of funds from deposits - were covered in the first year of interest income from the new loans, he said.

A recent loan promotion that did not work as smoothly was the "Pimp your auto loan" advertising campaign. MacKinnon said the ads-which traded on the name and popularity of "Pimp My Ride," the No. 1 show on MTV-offended some members [see Frank Diekmann's column in the April 3 Credit Union Journal]. Still, the campaign is on target, and MacKinnon said the idea-though controversial-is not wrong.

"I will continue to seek out hip, innovative ways to communicate with younger members," he declared. With many credit unions facing aging memberships: "We have to start communicating with those Generation Xers and Ys."

"We are still not done," MacKinnon said of First Entertainment's branding efforts. To CUs considering doing the same, he advised: "It will take your time and your money. My marketing budget went from $500,000 to $1 million overnight. Building a brand won't happen overnight, you will have to test it, and you might have to start over."

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