'SEG': Keep The (Valuable) Concept, Drop The (Confusing) Term, Is Advice

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LAS VEGAS-Select employee groups are not just select employee groups, they are a credit union's "preferred partners."

That was the message from Celeste Cook, CEO and founder of cu-Strategies, LLC, a Montgomery, Ala.-based consultancy. Cook emphasized the focus on partnership.

"If the SEG/partner supports a charity, the credit union needs to support it, too," she told attendees of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council's recent conference here. "That means help set up an event, bring food, bring drinks, whatever needs to be done."

A credit union's brand is a promise, and the CU needs to live it, Cook continued. She said representatives from marketing and business development need to get together to define the brand by asking a series of questions: Who are we? What is our culture? What do we stand for? What are our values? What value do we bring to our partners?

And, most importantly: Why would a company want to partner with us and our credit union versus another financial institution?

"In our personal lives we want people to be committed to us for life, so credit unions need to show their partners why they should be in a partnership for life," she said. "Show differentiation by creating the credit union difference."

Cook cited several specific actions CUs can take to "live" their brand, including being caring, trustworthy, an educational partner, and offering value-added programs, benefits and solutions to the companies they partner with.

Overcoming Misconceptions

Virtually every credit union conference features numerous examples of how great CUs are compared to banks, usually followed by the lament that the public remains unaware of these advantages. Cook said using the term "partner" instead of "SEG" would be a start to changing the situation.

"It is important to create marketing messages to overcome misconceptions and barriers," she declared. "SEG is fine as an internal term, but make sure companies know you think of them as a partner. In new member materials say, 'Open your account today' rather than 'Join our credit union today.'"

Another example is "local" versus "global." Cook said many CUs use the former to emphasize the fact they are not merely branches of huge corporations, but it has the unintended side effect of contributing to the misconception that joining a credit union means only having a limited number of branch/ATM options available.

"Tell members the credit union is local in the sense it offers personal service, but also tell them it is global and they can access their money anywhere they go. Explain the fact credit union members have access to 65,000-plus surcharge-free ATMs and thousands of branches through shared branching."

Cook said she has been in the CU industry for 20 years, but has found most people just do not know what credit unions are or what they do. To combat this, she urged everyone in every CU to take responsibility for business development. If someone asks a teller what his/her role is, the reply should be "business development," Cook said.

"There is no doubt in my mind we are a well-kept secret. Differentiation can be done by business development. That means driving the relationship from a totally different perspective. Having an 'active' SEG requires more than just a breakfast once a year."

Cook suggested "taking the CU to the SEG/partner" by creating direct deposit incentives and giving the partner company packets to give to new hires. These packets should have bright, eye-catching colors with a printed statement: "Look inside for your rewards and benefits."

"The reward could be as simple as a bag of M&Ms or a $5 bill," she suggested. "But make sure to tailor the programs to meet the needs of the partners."

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