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CU Awareness Initiative Getting Closer To Coming To Market

Wed, Jun 28, 2017

A new awareness initiative that has been in the works for a year and which is seeking to address a lack of awareness and even misconceptions in the market is getting closer to being piloted.

Three people involved in the Creating Awareness Advisory Group that is overseeing the Credit Union Awareness Initiative, which seeks to do something about the ongoing gap in consumer knowledge of credit unions by creating a national brand awareness platform, offered an update on where that effort stands to attendees at CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference here.

The big update: by early 2018, a pilot should be in the market.

The objective of the effort, which was put in motion by CUNA CEO Jim Nussle after he joined the trade group and said he discovered few people seemed to know what his trade group represented, is to “get credit unions in the consideration set, so people thinking about changing a financial institution think credit unions,” said Teresa Freeborn, the CEO of Xceed Financial Credit Union in El Segundo, Calif., who is chairing the Creating Awareness Advisory Group.

As reported here, the Advisory Group began a year ago and since that time has defined its mission and conducted extensive research among credit unions, associations and credit union members.

“At our very first meeting we confirmed our mission: to lead the development of an ongoing, sustainable environment that creates ongoing top of mind awareness of credit unions as the best choice in financial services,” said Freeborn. “For decades, we have held on to the same, slim 6% to 7% marketshare.  In a fintech world with daily new entrants, credit unions have to work so much harder to separate themselves from the pack to prove we are America’s best option in financial services.  The bad news is we have failed as a category to find a way to raise awareness of that product. With this new path, journey we have embarked on, we believe we can change that by leveraging this comprehensive research we have conducted, we believe we can leverage that framework and finally move the needle on top-of-mind awareness.”

Brand Platform

In seeking to develop the brand platform for the credit union category, Freeborn said the research found the language credit unions use to describe themselves is extremely inconsistent. For instance, the definition of credit unions on Wikipedia is accurate, but also extremely complicated and not memorable.

As she and other members of the Advisory Group have done from day one, Freeborn said she wanted to make clear: “The brand platform is not a marketing campaign. We’re not proposing to replace any credit union marketing or advertising campaigns, or for individual state league efforts. All of that is extremely important. This is a level way above that. This brand platform is a national definition on which marketing work can all be based.”

The Advisory Group continues to conduct research, but Freeborn said what it has discovered to date is “eye-opening and incredibly constructive. It is an opportunity to reveal that a lot of conventional wisdom has to be addressed.”

Sharing details of the research with ACUC was Graeme Trayner, vice president of the brands and communications practice at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which has been conducting the research, said the two goals of that research have been to identify gaps in CU awareness and understanding consumer preferences in financial services.

“The goal is to create most compelling CU definition possible,” said Trayner.

Research included roundtables with CU leaders, focus groups with members and non-members, and baseline surveys with general public.

“What is incredibly encouraging is we do have some fantastic positives that we can leverage as an industry,” shared Trayner. “First, we are seen as offering good or better rates. What was really fascinating in the polling was that even bank PFI customers score credit unions better than their own banks when it comes to rates. Second, credit unions very strongly associated with auto loans. But the one pushback I would flag here is this is too narrow; people don’t fully understand the full suite of products you can offer. Third, credit unions are seen as warm and friendly. And fourth, there is an assumption that credit unions are on the side of the consumer.”

Fifth Strength

A fifth strength CUs can leverage, said Trayner, is trust. “Being trusted is an incredible strength and a great starting point for us as a movement.”

But in uncovering that good news Trayner said the research also uncovered four myths related to CUs:

  • A belief “I can’t join.”
  • Credit unions are for those in need and people struggling with money.
  • Accessing my money may be hard (this includes big worry about ATMs).
  • Credit unions are too small. The irony is people want small and cozy, but also like the idea of a big monolithic institution with scale to protect them,” said Trayner.

To “change that story,” Trayner said credit unions can do three things:

  • Emphasize Benefit. “In all the research we did, the thing that always tested the best was the simple fact that the credit union business model means that all the earnings are returned in the form of better rates or lower fees to members, and that the credit union is accountable to members, not big shareholders. People don’t like that at banks that they feel like sales targets and anonymous data points. So, I think we have a lot we can do here to get that across in a simple, compelling and imaginative way.”
  • Emphasize Ease: “The second thing we can do is make this look easy and that this is not a closed, secret society. We also need to show the ease of managing money.”
  • Emphasize protection.  “The FDIC is a known brand. People asked if that applies to credit unions. NCUA does not have the same awareness. We need to show we are vigilant on fraud. We need to show we are a long-time ally.”

What are the next steps? Freeborn said next up is to refine concepts, do validation testing, finalize brand platform, and conduct a pilot program in early 2018 by testing the messaging.

Freeborn told that the “first question out of the gate” that the Advisory Group heard was when the brand platform and messaging would be in the market, and it’s a “huge relief” to now have a date and to be able to deliver something. 
One question that is still being discussed within the Advisory Group and CUNA is a critical one, which is how the brand platform, messaging and additional research will be funded on an ongoing basis once it’s in the market