Diekmann: What Americans Should Be Hearing, But (Sadly) Aren't

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What website should Americans be visiting right now? 100MillionMembers.org. What message should they be hearing? "If you're not one of the 100 Million, here's what you're missing." What hashtag should be trending? #100MillionStrong.

So which of those are being visited, heard or tweeted? None of them, because credit unions have dropped a rare gift that fell right into the CU community's collective lap.

I have believed for some time that a major branding/awareness opportunity has gone sorely untapped as America's CUs approach their 100-millionth member, and with forecasts projecting that major milestone will be achieved later this summer, it's even more apparent just how big that miss has been.

It may be decades, if ever, that CUs get another made-to-order gift like Kristen Christian's Bank Transfer Day, and while that grassroots momentum would be hard to duplicate, follow-up promotion around the "100-million" theme has been a natural heir-apparent screaming to be leveraged.

The first six months of this year have been a steady diet of conference speakers and op-ed writers extolling the value of "collaboration" and the need to tell the "credit union story." The two CU trade groups should have led the charge here, but in their (unfortunate but not surprising) absence, some credit unions and/or even their marketing agencies should have collaborated over some strong story telling with an awareness campaign around the 100-million members message, including a countdown clock.

It would have had strong media appeal, which means that like BTD it would garner priceless free press. And as a bigger bonus it would have been a reminder to Congress of the widespread strength of CUs, and a great introduction to non-members that America's financial co-ops aren't some fringe cause.

And one more thing. No doubt when CUs hit the 100 million threshold, in a too-little, too-late maneuver the trades will trot out some press releases. But look for any value from that to be neutralized by a banking industry machine that will argue to Congress and media that 100-million members isn't something to be celebrated, it's just a sign the tax exemption needs to be revoked. CUs should have owned this first.

Need more reasons of just how forceful this campaign could have been? I'll give you a 100 million.

• Were the Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma CU leagues still around, each would have hosted their 80th annual meetings this year. Instead, in San Antonio recently, all three came together for the first annual meeting of the Cornerstone CU League... At the Cornerstone meeting, league CEO Dick Ensweiler made a pitch to continue the traditional three-tiered system of CUs, leagues and CUNA, which is currently being reviewed by a CUNA committee... I overheard a guy at the CCUL meeting remark that it was his 39th annual meeting, a claim made while he was sitting on a lobby couch, not in a session. I hope that's not a 39-year-old tradition... I heard another speaker brag he had once done a one-hour presentation that included 600 slides. Yes, one slide every 10 seconds. Have to assume this was a breakout session for "Extreme ADHD CUs," as sponsored by Red Bull.

• The recent CO-OP THINK conference featured yet another great line-up of outside-the-industry speakers sharing their experiences and perspectives. And the very first speaker came out of the gate talking about branding (trivia time: "brand" first appears in English as "brond" in Beowulf). But it was hard not to think back to the very first THINK meeting and credit unions' role in one of the most famous brands in the world.

At that first meeting in Palm Springs, Steve Wozniak, the lesser-known but every bit as important cofounder of Apple, shared that he had noticed the game "Pong" while in a bowling alley and had destroyed his TV attempting to build the game himself. As a result, he had to get a loan from his credit union for another.

"Without that TV Apple never would have happened," said Wozniak.

• WTF? Admit it, you thought the words of that abbreviation, and it's testament to how standards in professional behavior have evolved. About 20 years ago I was at a CU meeting when a speaker used the "F" word. It wasn't as if no one had ever heard it before, it's just that you didn't hear it from conference speakers where a certain decorum was expected. At that time people looked at one another asking, "Did he just say...?

Fast forward to today. Talk about cultural shifts; F bombs are dropping like toothpicks at an expo hall reception. Robert Herjavec of ABC's Shark Tank recently tossed in a few during remarks before NACUSO. And at CO-OP's THINK conference, Gary Vaynerchuk ran though at least half of George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words." The owner of WineLibrary.com offered this advice, "Pinot grigio. Stop drinking that s**t." And this: "People aren't looking at billboards. They're not even looking at the f*#@*&g road anymore."

The reaction? Folks laughed. So imagine CU conferences 20 years from now.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at frank.diekmann@sourcemedia.com.

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