SECU Ads Do More Than Just Push Product, They Also Tout Difference

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LINTHICUM, Md.-Given consumers' mistrust of banks and often a lack of knowledge about credit unions, SECU here decided it's time to get straight to the point about the CU difference.

SECU's new branding campaign features ads that show a pile of cash in a convertible automobile, with the headline: "Less for the banks. More for you." A direct mail piece shows a fishing hook shaped like a dollar sign, with text adding: "If you think all banks see you this way..." The campaign's tagline encourages consumers to "take your banking in a different direction," and do business with SECU.

The ads don't speak to consumers well-informed about credit union advantages, explained CEO Rod Staatz. "They speak to the people frustrated with their banks but don't realize there is a choice. We are talking about why they should consider us, because they do have a choice. In today's economy, it's more important than ever for credit unions to stand out from the crowd so people know they have an alternative."

Staatz said the "different direction" tagline speaks to how consumers making the switch to the credit union will see their banking experiences take a turn for the better. "We know we will appeal to them more than their banks do today," Staatz said.

What may help consumers quickly come to that conclusion is SECU's "beat the rate" auto loan refi promotion that knocks 1% off their current rate they are receiving from another financial. Cars can't be older than 2004, and rates can go as low as 1.99%.

Advertising and promotion aside, what will make the CU difference understood and the branding campaign work, Staatz emphasized, are SECU's employees. "We came out with a new logo and colors, but made the decision not to launch the campaign until early August, after we fully trained our staff on the reasons why we are making the changes and how we will promote the credit union."

SECU wanted employees not only to understand why the switch was being made, but also make sure they were able to speak about the credit union difference. "We trained our 500 employees on why we are different than a bank-from the person in the mailroom to our front-line staff," Staatz said. "We want 500 ambassadors. So the logo, colors, and advertising are just something to spark a conversation. If you are going to do a good rebranding effort you have to have the entire company behind it, believing in it."

The effect banks are having on consumers also impacted SECU in a way the credit union did not predict. According to Marketing VP Peggy Young, some employees and consumers thought SECU's changes indicated the CU was being purchased by a bank. "Because of all the banks buying each other, we got those questions, and then had to explain what the changes were about. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, credit unions can often get lumped in with the issues facing banks."

Immediate consumer reaction to the rebranding has been very positive, said Staatz, noting it is too soon to gauge results. The CEO shared that the cost fort the effort was covered under the credit union's annual marketing budget, but would not share a figure. Staatz emphasized, though, the campaign is only the start. "This is a multi-year effort that's a backdrop for everything we do."

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