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Red tack in a Las Vegas map
ACUC continues in Vegas
LAS VEGAS--Resilience was the theme on Tuesday at the Credit Union National Association’s America’s Credit Union Conference here. Attendees got an update on the Creating Awareness Initiative, including a number of positive attitudes consumers have toward credit unions and unfortunate myths that need to be dispelled. Attendees also learned how they can change their lives in just five seconds by making good decisions.
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How CUNA is creating awareness
The Creating Awareness Initiative, which was first presented to credit unions at the 2016 version of CUNA’s ACUC, has made some “pretty amazing progress” in the last year, according to Teresa Freeborn. Freeborn is president and CEO of $958 million Xceed Financial Federal Credit Union in El Segundo, Calif., as well as chair of the Creating Awareness Advisory Group. She said the goal of the initiative is to define the credit union category for consumers in a clear and compelling way.

“We want to create top-of-mind awareness for credit unions,” she told the crowd of more than 800 attendees. “For decades we have held on to that slim share of the industry, about 6 percent to 7 percent. Credit unions have to work so much harder to prove they are the best option. The people in this room know we have the best products, but we have failed at raising awareness. Every 3-year-old can tell you what a bank is, but they don’t know what a credit union is. We believe we can finally move the needle.”

When the Advisory Group began working in earnest about a year ago, the participants decided the best approach is to start where every marketer starts: by creating a brand platform. Freeborn said the research discovered the language credit unions use is confusing to consumers.

“The brand platform is not a marketing campaign,” Freeborn said, noting she fields that question every day. “It is who we are as an industry.”

One task of the Advisory Group is to settle on a single definition of “credit union,” which Freeborn said will be decided by research. “We need to identify a brand platform that will be compelling to consumers. We had to learn current consumer preferences, as well as gaps in knowledge about credit unions. The research was finished earlier this year. It was eye-opening and instructive.”
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Credit union mythbusters
Credit unions have “some fantastic positives we can leverage as an industry.”

That’s according to Graeme Trayner, managing director of Glover Park Group, a communications consulting firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., who offered CUs advice on how to help consumers overcome some of the myths surrounding credit unions.

While consumers believe credit unions often have better rates than their competitors, they often feel it’s too difficult to join a credit union.

“They think membership is a complex, cumbersome process,” Trayner said. “Also, there is a perception that membership is difficult to get out of, such as a gym membership.

And while credit unions are seen as warm, friendly and on the side of the consumer, many consumers also think they’re too small.

“Credit unions have an image of being local and trusted, which is good, but when it comes to money people want scale. They actually are reassured by having a big, monolithic bank behind them in a scary world,” he said.

On top of that far too many consumers are unaware of the full slate of products credit unions offer, and are concerned about lack of ATMs and branch locations.

“They worry credit unions are behind on technology,” he said.

According to Trayner, there are steps CUs can take to change that story. The first is clearly getting across the benefits of doing one’s banking at a credit union, he said. In every focus group or survey, the concept that scored the best is credit unions return profits to members via better rates. “People appreciate that credit unions are accountable to members, not to shareholders. They like the idea credit unions put people first.”

A second talking point is ease of use. Today, CUs fall into that “it’s too difficult” box with many consumers, Trayner explained. “We need to let people know joining a credit union is easy, that it is not a closed-off secret society, and that access to money is easy. When people were told about the ATM network, their eyes lit up.”

Protection is the third discussion area, as CUs need to “address the fears of a scary world,” he said. The FDIC is a known brand, so consumers understand their money in a bank is protected. However, NCUA does not have anywhere near the same awareness. “We need to show we have protection of deposits. Also show credit unions are a long-term ally, helping people throughout their lifetimes.

Many CUs hang their hats on how much they give back, but Trayner said, “Community is a crowded territory. Companies and brands of all sizes and types talk about their community work. Credit unions need to talk about their community work, but they also need to be careful so they don’t play into the myth they are only for poor people. They need to strike a chord with Americans’ aspirations. Show that joining a credit union is a savvy thing to do.”
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Reaching hearts and minds
David Martin, chairman of London-based brand consultancy BrandCap, told the ACUC audience a brand platform provides a way to reach the hearts and minds of consumers.

“A brand platform gives focus to business decisions,” he said. “It is a lens. It gives a clear sense of direction for an organization. Every great brand builds on a brand platform.”

Martin offered several examples: Apple humanizes technology. Starbucks is the third space between home and work. Walt Disney imagineering offers a sense of magic. Ritz Carlton: ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. GE: imagination at work. Walmart: Making life affordable.

“We are working together to build the brand platform that raises national awareness of credit unions,” Martin said. “This starts at the macro level with national air cover. We don’t want to impose anything, we want to help. Marketers want to build attention.”

“Your story is probably the best story that has never been told, and we are excited to work with you,” Martin said. “We are excited to be part of this.”

Xceed Financial CU’s Teresa Freeborn said when it is fully developed, the credit union brand platform will tell consumers “exactly who we are and what we do.”

“We will continue to perform research to get data to help guide our strategy,” she said. “The Advisory Group will continue to test brand concepts with consumers to finalize the brand platform. Based on the validation testing, the Advisory Group will finalize the brand platform. In early 2018 we will start pilot programs.”
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Five-second decisions
To change the perception of credit unions, with current members and in recruiting new members, credit union representatives have to make five-second decisions.

That was the message from Mel Robbins, a legal analyst for CNN. “You have an extraordinary opportunity ahead of you to make change,” she said.

No one wakes up in the morning and decides to screw up his or her life, Robbins said. “We all will be hit by change. Some will be good change, some will be terrifying change. When you point a finger of blame at others, there are always three fingers pointing back at you. That shows where the power is. You know what to do.”

What credit unions need right now is a “little bit of courage,” Robbins continued. She said courage is not reserved for life and death situations, it is the ability to do something that is difficult or scary.

“If you are in a situation where you know you have to do something, make a five-second decision. That way your mind can’t talk you out of what you need to do,” she said. “Selling is action. Acting in five seconds gets you out of thinking and into action. No matter how good or bad your life is, your inner wisdom is always with you. You have to have the clarity to listen to it.”

According to Robbins, the question is not: what do you need to change? The question is: will you change? Everyone in America knows the tagline: Just do it. She said the most important word in the tagline is “just,” because Nike is acknowledging it is hard for humans to change.

People operate on auto pilot 47 percent of the time, Robbins continued. Doing something new requires using the pre-frontal cortex.

“People do not want to change, which is why they do not want to take their money out of their bank and take it to a credit union. You have to interrupt auto pilot to overcome procrastination and self-doubt. The longer you think about something, the less likely it is you will do it. When we are kids there are many people pushing us: teachers, parents, scout leaders. When we are adults it is all up to us.”

Using the five-second rule is a starting ritual. Robbins said it can be used to curb the habit of procrastination. “People procrastinate due to stress. Commit to just starting. Commit to just working on something for five minutes. You are not going to get new members by thinking about it, you have to do it.”
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