Lessons From Purple Cows, Sliced Bread & Paint Cans

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The key to credit union success? Be the purple cow.

That's according to CUNA Mutual Group's Debrah Watterson, who suggested that while it's one thing to see a bunch of cows in a field, it's something else again to see a purple cow in the field.

"You'd stop your car, wouldn't you? If you saw a purple cow, wouldn't you stop and call your friends and tell them about the purple cow you just saw," Watterson asked attendees of The Credit Union Journal's SEG & Business Development Conference. "You want to be the purple cow. You want to be remarkable."

To do that, she said, a credit union must avoid marketing myopia and get outside of the credit union box and look to other industries for innovative ideas.

The old saying "the greatest thing since sliced bread" only tells half of the story. When the bread slicer was first introduced, it went down in flames, until Wonder Bread came along and realized that instead of trying to sell the slicer, it could sell pre-sliced, packaged bread, Watterson related.

Similarly, bandages were tan in color until Curad came along and figured out that the people most commonly using bandages are children and decided to market more whimsical bandage designs to kids. The same goes for Dutch Boy paints. That firm recognized that the single most frustrating part of painting a room is dealing with those heavy, metal cans that don't offer an easy-to-grip or easy-to-pour design..

'Wrap A Proposition'

What did they do? They made it easier to carry, hold and pour from those cans," Watterson said. "Wrap a value proposition around your product. Starbucks wrapped an experience around a coffee bean. Let's face it, coffee is still coffee."

And to a certain extent, an auto loan is still an auto loan, and a mortgage is still a mortgage. Faced with the commoditization of financial services, credit unions must learn to create that value proposition that makes it the purple cow of financial services providers.

If you don't believe there's any urgency here, consider this: credit unions win only three out of every 10 of its members' auto loans, one of every 10 mortgage loans, three of 10 home equity loans and one of 10 student loans.

"You have to know your member, and you have to make your product relate to your members," Watterson advised. "All of you have a brand, it's whether you choose to nurture and manage that. Branding is your story. It's your promise to your marketplace."

Watterson noted that buzz words such as "world-class," "leading-edge." "superior quality" and "commitment to excellence" have lost their meaning. Even when these words are used truthfully, she suggested, no one believes it anymore. So saying that a credit union offers "world-class service" just isn't going to cut it, she noted.

"Ask yourself what is the one thing that you are better than everyone else at, what is the one thing you are known for and that you want to be known for," she observed. "You have to be able to answer that in 30 seconds or less."

If a brand tells the credit union's story, then a marketer has to perfect his storytelling. "Everyone from the CEO to the receptionist has to be able to tell your story in 30 seconds."

Getting into the nuts and bolts of marketing, Watterson suggested that e-mail marketing is a huge opportunity. The catch, of course, is getting those e-mail addresses. Watterson called for putting the CU's staff on a mission. "Hand out goodie bags with popcorn in them to people who give you their e-mail address," she counseled. "Then they go back to the office and pop that popcorn in the microwave, and everyone can smell it and comes over and asks 'where did you get that popcorn,' and that person says, 'well, I gave them my e-mail address, and they gave me this bag."

Instant Goodwill

To create instant goodwill and promote the credit union, sponsor community or corporate events. "The only thing harder to get than money is volunteers," Watterson said. "If your credit union gets it done for them, they will remember."

Watterson cited a recent BAI study that showed 75% of all cross-selling is done in the first 90 days that an account is opened. That means getting your entire message out as quickly as possible is vital. "One of my brothers built a water park. When I went to go see it, I took my first step inside, and before going a step further, I could immediately see that water park through a ceiling-to-floor window on one side, then there was a big-screen TV on another side, and a big fire place with nice, cushy chairs on another," Watterson related. "And he said to me, 'You can see everything I have to offer in that first step into the room. Credit unions have to be the same way. Why don't your members have your mortgages? Because they don't know you offer it. Water park your credit union."

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