How To Develop A Plan To Go After Elusive Single-Relationship Member

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When credit unions gain new members through indirect channels, the challenge is to introduce them to the credit union and grow the relationship beyond that initial product or service, and the key, according to one expert, is a carefully designed lending marketing plan.

Debrah Dippen-Watterson, AVP-brand strategy and communications at CUNA Mutual Group, offered what she called a marketing "silver bullet" for growing relationships using four key components.

"First, we need to understand that your membership needs to be segmented into identifiable categories," she said. "Then, be mindful that each requires a different value proposition from you-addressing what's important to that segment. Use multiple channels to reach them. Vary your tactics. Measure what happens and repeat what works."

Dippen-Watterson listed four "core cornerstones" on which a total marketing plan needs to focus:

Market growth-extend the reach into your market and increase penetration;

Member acquisition-identify high potential targets (youth, mature, ethnic, small business, etc.) and connect solutions to needs;

Member retention-cross-sell; manage relationships with relationship pricing and recognition programs; event-driven marketing such as car sales, auto and home recapture programs;

Staff development-educate all staff on your mission and how they fit in; use sales rewards and recognition; cross-train; communicate latest marketing strategies and goals.

"Tell your story," she said. "There is a lot you can do to make your identity known and what you can do for people. I've talked to credit unions that have de-emphasized the words 'credit union,' actually printed it in smaller type, so people don't think their financial services are limited. You have work to do, but it can be done."

Building brand strategy, especially with the single-relationship member, is important because "you have to differentiate yourself from all the other financial services providers," Dippen-Watterson said. "There is great confusion in the marketplace-your branding will help members know what you stand for and why you can deliver better than anybody else. And, make sure your marketing tagline delivers a specific message that fits your mission and shows why the member should work with you instead of somebody else. Avoid the simplistic, like 'going places together.' Make sure your members 'get it.' Tell what's in it for them."

Dippen-Watterson suggested credit unions apply that strategy to a group of members who are too often neglected. "Credit unions tell me that building the indirect lending relationship is their No. 1 challenge," she related. "The first way to bring them in is to send them a survey, asking simple questions such as how did they rate the service at their car dealer, are they satisfied with their loan interest rate and term, if they feel they're getting a good deal on insurance."

Other questions to ask: Do they have other loans/do the interest rates match yours? Do they have a credit card and if so, how does its interest rate compare to yours? What other big purchases do they plan in coming months? Do they have GAP protection; etc?

"Find out all about them, and mail them your appropriate product materials," Dippen-Watterson said. "Put somebody in charge of doing this. The results from this effort are deep relationships that last."

With different kinds of loans appealing to different segments of members, "dig into your member profiles and see who could use what kind of loan, then go after them nonstop," she advised. "Use trigger events such as loan maturities, new jobs, marriages, divorces, new children, new mortgages to market companion loans they'll need now that life has changed for them. When people are going through change, the opportunities for lending events are huge."

To learn these things, just have your staff ask members one simple question: "do you perceive any major purchases in the next six months?"

Forrester Research Inc. recently published results of a survey showing that financial services firms that provide strong customer advocacy rank highest in total satisfaction and loyalty, and CUs ranked higher than the major nationally known banks, financial planning and securities firms, and major insurance companies, but that doesn't mean there isn't work to be done, Dippen-Watterson noted.

"Credit unions are doing a great job relating to and helping address member needs, but we need to reach out more and tell our story. That explains why we're great at mortgages, but only have three percent of the market."

The key is employee development. "Get staff engaged and excited about what they're doing to help members," she said. "A concept we promote is a trimester staff engagement, that is, creating ways that your staff learn about your lending products, how they help each of the member segments and how you get the most out of that lending experience through cross-selling."

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