If You Want Them To Get It, They Have To Live It

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The United Nations may have declared with much fanfare that 2012 was the International Year of the Cooperative, but U.S. CUs seem not to have gotten the memo until 2013.

In recent months there has been an effort to have consideration of the cooperative principles as one of the factors in nominating people to the NCUA board (a petition drive to that effect has drawn more than 6,000 signatures), and more recently one company and one state CU league have announced plans to explore health insurance exchanges as a natural extension of the credit union business model (see story, page 1).

Now, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based CUSO CU*Answers has gotten into the act with a new campaign it is making available to its member-owners that it calls "Live It!"

The Live It! Campaign has its roots in a 2011 challenge from CEO Randy Karnes that credit unions develop a new metric for credit union health that focused on the competitive advantage that credit unions have in their cooperative business design. In short, that they walk the cooperative talk.

The result, according to Melinda Haehnel, VP-marketing and PR, was the creation of "The Cooperative Score," which is focused around the seven cooperative principles.

"But in our experience credit union members don't really get that-if they even know what a cooperative is, they rarely associate that idea with credit unions," said Haehnel. "So the Live It! campaign was intended as a way to spread that word that A, credit unions are cooperatives and, B, that being a cooperative translates to meaningful benefits for members. The concept, Live It!, was specifically geared toward encouraging CUs to make the principles part of their everyday vocabulary and actions."

The Live It slogan is close to CU*Answers, according to Haehnel.

"As a CUSO, we have the same structure as credit unions, so we have the same competitive advantage, and the same responsibility to keep that advantage top of mind," Haehnel said. "What helps strengthen credit unions and their members, helps us. We also see cooperatives aligning naturally with today's business environment-the networked world makes it easier than ever before for communities to get together. And consumers want better solutions. Credit unions need to position themselves to make the most of this climate."

But it isn't members who present the biggest challenge when it comes to conveying the value of the seven cooperative principles or CUs as cooperatives, said Haehnel. Instead, the challenge is "overcoming the lack of understanding at the credit union staff level. Many CU employees don't have a good elevator speech that feels natural when they are talking to members about the credit union and its value to them. It's also a challenge translating big-picture concepts like the seven principles to real-life benefits that are meaningful to members. And what's meaningful in one community might not have the same punch in another, so the credit union has some work to do translating even more specifically for their own market."

But what about credit unions who hear about cooperatives and seven principles and respond by well, yawning seven times? "Sometimes you just have to tie it back to the reality of the industry today-credit unions need every advantage they can get, and here's one that's ripe for us to leverage," answerd Haehnel. "Members really do own the place. Not only should that govern what we do and how we do it, but it's also one of our greatest advantages over our competition."

The Live It! campaign has two components, including a a "grand opening kit" that is basically a marketing campaign in a box Materials can be found at http://marketing.cuanswers.com/7-principles/.


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

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