National Brand Should Be A Natural For Cooperatives

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I loved Frank Diekmann's column in the July 13th issue. I have believed for a long time that credit unions should first lift the value of the credit union space and then communicate and differentiate their individual brands. To win members from banks, we need to tell the larger credit union story. Though attempts have been made, we've never quite gotten it right because we've never found a way execute well on a national scale.

The reason this is so critical is many, many consumers truly don't understand what credit unions are all about. More specifically, they are not quite sure why credit unions might, indeed, be a more attractive option than a bank. It seems that we market in a competitive fight to gain the same piece of credit union consumer marketshare, rather than coming together to go after the population that banks with a bank. Although our industry is feeling the heavy burden of the economic downturn, negative growth, consolidation, regulation and legislative issues, there is a hot opportunity to cooperate as a movement and take advantage of the distrust and distaste of banks.

The credit union brand in its most organic, natural state, is trustworthy, selfless, sincere, honorable, democratic, honest, hardworking and downright American. It is in the fabric of our character to share, work together and deliver what's good for our members, not our shareholders. These values are what the financial consumer is hungry for right now. Wouldn't it be the ultimate coup d'état if we could cooperate on a national scale and actually get it done? Come to think of it, that's what credit unions are all about-cooperation! A nationwide, "Obama-like" grassroots, "of the people, by the people, for the people" awareness campaign coupled with a more traditional media effort, would make a big difference-if it's done well.

We would need to be careful to simplify our message around the value of credit unions overall, differentiating credit unions from banks and helping consumers emotionally connect with the reasons why they should pick the good guys. Because that's who we are. The Milk Advisory Board has disciplined itself to stick with one campaign and a single message and stay with it. We would need to have the will-power as a movement to do the same.

Though the time to strike is now, the questions you raised remain. How do we get the message right, get the funding together and mobilize quickly without bogging ourselves down in bureaucracy, individual agendas and marketing by committee? How do we elevate our collective marketing effort without it being slick and bank-like, but instead communicate our value in a fresh, authentic and enthusiastic way? It may be "Pollyanna" of me, but if we could come together nationally, find a way to make it work and deliver the very compelling facts about credit unions, we could make a big impact on our industry and gain the membership numbers we've never believed were attainable.

Please continue your good work on this subject. I would like nothing more than to see credit unions and all those prospective credit union members out there searching for an alternative to their crummy banks, actually come out ahead in this recession. With the right strategy, sometimes the good guys actually do finish first.

Samantha Smyth, Paxson, VP-Marketing

CO-OP Financial Services, Ontario, Calif.


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