A Trivia Question, And A Not-So-Trivial Observation

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Some notes to kick off your summer...

Here's a piece of trivia for you: what was the first sporting event ever shown on ESPN? The answer's at the end of this column.

How entertaining is your credit union's website? True, some members' account histories may offer enough humor to get their own Comedy Central Special, but in general most CUs don't think of entertainment first when it comes to their online offerings.

And yet consumers expect to be entertained, even if it's subconsciously. That point was made recently in remarks before credit unions by Alexis Maybank, co-founder of the upscale shopping site Gilt.com.

"You have to rethink the ways you are showcasing your service," observed Maybank. "They are much more in an entertainment frame of mind. We are incorporating video. Downtime is often when commuting or at home. What can we bring forward that most meets their mindset in that downtime period?"

One interesting tidbit offered by Maybank has to do with the challenge of selecting certain home furnishings or paint swatches. How an item appears in store or online is often different when brought home. Maybank noted that many shoppers are using iPads and other tablets to zoom in on carpets, for instance, and then laying the device on the floor.

Like every other retailer, including credit unions, Gilt.com has experimented with strategies for getting more out of social media. "Social media is critical for keeping the conversation going and creating the brand. Sixty-five percent of new visitors have come from social media, and we reward people who have a friend who comes to our site," Maybank said.

Gilt.com's three strategies:

* It looks to take its "products and services and make them highly, highly moveable to a Facebook or Twitter conversation. We look at every page and ask is there a link here that encourages people to do that easily."

* It monitors social media in "real time. We have a group of about 15 who are watching constantly the conversations people are having about Gilt Group. What are their questions, that we can answer. What are the negative comments-you have to respond and be open to responding to the negative comments as the positive ones. We use software that allows us to look at all of that."

* Finally, it looks to "give people a lot to share and we look to surprise and delight."

Gilt.com has done some things no credit unions could do, much less even finance. It once sought to sell an entire Virgin America plane. As part of the deal the buyer could fly the plane wherever they wanted and name the plane afterward. Your credit union may not be able to do that, but you have plenty of cool things you could consider: how about auctioning off the right to name the ATM or drive-through after someone for a month, with the proceeds going to charity?

What about allowing a local company to redecorate the lobby in exchange for the publicity? In all cases, the free press alone and resulting awareness would be well worth it. After all, it doesn't really matter whether anyone bought the Virgin America plane; what matters is all the attention it got.

"You need to recognize that content is really driven through imagery," observed Maybank. "Its no longer about convenience and reliability. It's about making it fun and keeping it new."

He could have just mailed it in. But he didn't.

A few weeks ago Credit Union Journal profiled ESPN legend Chris Berman's comments before CO-OP's THINK Conference. Not sure how many people gave it much thought, but like a screen set away from the ball or a sacrifice bunt, Berman deserves credit for something that went largely unnoticed: he put in some extra effort.

For sports fans especially, Berman could have just spouted some canned remarks, thrown in some funny anecdotes, tossed out a few of his catchphrase "Back, Back Backs" and "He...Could...Go...All...The...Ways," and his credit union audience would have lapped it up, even if had made no effort to differentiate between a credit union and the Longshoreman's Union.

But Berman had done some homework. He knew a bit about credit unions, knew who else was speaking at the conference besides himself, and even knew that Tony Hawk had spoken at the same event one year earlier.

And before I answer the question posed at the beginning of this column, Berman shared another piece of trivia: How a fledgling ESPN won the rights to broadcast the mighty NFL? Believe it or not, said Berman, it was due to its broadcast of the America's Cup sailboat races off the western coast of Australia in 1987. Sailing was not exactly a staple of network sports coverage, but in those days ESPN was filling its schedule with whatever it could afford. And if that means a rich guy's pastime from the other side of the world, well...

Then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle happened to be among those who watched the wee-hours broadcasts, said Berman, and impressed with the quality gave ESPN a crack at Sunday Night Football.

And what about that first-ever broadcast? It was a men's professional slow pitch softball game between the Kentucky Bourbons and the Milwaukee Schlitz.

"Sponsored by Budweiser," added Berman.


Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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