Canada’s credit unions are relying on community connection and financial literacy in their advertising and marketing campaigns as a way to attract and retain members in the ultra-competitive financial services market. Instead of ads promoting interest rates for loans and savings accounts, more credit unions are reframing their messaging to focus on financial health and building up the local community. Credit unions are also being less reserved and more emotional in how they communicate with members through videos and content across both traditional and social media, according to marketing industry experts.
“Today’s ads are more about how finances can improve your life,” says Jim Walker, research manager at Central 1 Credit Union and one of the judges at the Achievement in Marketing Excellence (AIME) awards, held this past May in Winnipeg. The AIMEs recognize the best and brightest achievements in credit union marketing, advertising and communications.
Walker says more credit unions are stressing the important role they play in their local markets not only providing loans, mortgages and savings accounts but as people who also live and work in the community and share the same financial opportunities and challenges. “It’s about saying, ‘we’re part of the neighbourhood too,’ ” says Walker, ‘and when the credit union grows we all grow.’ ” The overarching goal, he adds, is raising awareness. “Credit unions know they have to build awareness, above all. You can have the best product or rate, but if they don’t know about you or understand what you do, none of that will matter.”
Walker says the quality of the advertising and marketing in the credit union sector has improved in recent years, which he attributes to a greater focus and appreciation for the power of social media. “Social media has levelled the playing field somewhat.”
Honesty, trust, fairness
Selena McLachlan, director of marketing and communications at the member-owned carshare Modo Co-operative, says digital and social media are becoming critical for credit unions looking to reach members and potential members. McLachlan, who was also a judge at this year’s AIME awards, uses the example of Atlantic Central’s “Lost Wallet” campaign, which was a social experiment catering to the organization’s values of honesty, trust and fairness. The company stuffed 12 wallets with receipts, a credit union debit card, $100 cash and a contact number and “lost” them across the region to see if they would come back. Nine of the wallets were returned, and each one with all of the cash still inside. The campaign was then turned into a 90-second video that received national media coverage and millions of social media impressions.
McLachlan also liked an ad from Ontario- based Northern Credit Union (31,887 members, $1.5-billion in assets,) featuring an animated cow helping to promote its banking services for the agricultural sector. While there was a risk of it being too folksy, McLachlan believes the ad worked well by catering to the community it serves. “They did a really good job of understanding their target market,” she says. “They were very relatable. If you’re in the agriculture sector and saw those ads, you would see yourself and think, ‘Northern Credit Union gets me and the challenges my business faces.’ ” Given they compete directly with the big banks for customers, McLachlan says credit union advertising and marketing needs to strike the right balance between friendly and approachable, while also building confidence that the organizations can provide the same services and level of professionalism as their much larger competitors.
“The competition for lending and investment products is heavy,” she says. “If you’re only competing on rates, it’s
a losing proposition, because the banks have much deeper pockets to work with. That’s where the personal touch of the credit unions can shine.”
More credit unions are telling more emotive stories that tie them to their communities. This, says Paul McAfee, regional vice president business development at Newground, an architecture, design and delivery firm, “is an excellent approach.” In judging the AIME awards, McAfee says he was moved by many of the entries. “Some of the ads were very touching about the things credit unions do in their communities. It can be very intimate.”
McAfee points in particular to the #mylifehere campaign from southwestern Ontario’s Libro Credit Union (105,356 members, $3.9-billion in assets) which includes a series of videos, long and short, featuring a diverse group of people. The tagline is, “This is my life in southwestern Ontario and I’m doing just fine thanks.”
“The stories touched me, in the way they were presenting themselves,” says McAfee. “It makes people say, ‘that’s why I live here and why I should consider taking my business to that credit union.’ ” He adds that the storytelling approach is somewhat risky, given that there are limited ways to measure the impact compared to a mortgage-rate ad. “Sometimes it’s a slower win,” he says, with the payoff being long term through increased member engagement. Overall, McAfee believes credit unions are maturing in how they deliver their messaging. “Some are still finding their voice but for the most part, they’re stepping up.”
Stay creative, take risks
Moving forward, industry experts say credit unions, alongside other financial services companies, will need to continue to find new and innovative ways to attract the next generation of savers and borrowers. Credit unions in particular will need to come up with even more creative ways to build awareness and engagement through marketing and advertising. “You need to be impactful with limited dollars because we can’t outspend the banks,” says Walker. “You have to be very creative in the way you spend your money to get the biggest bang for the buck. You have to put it where it counts, discover where your members are and maybe take some risks and try new things. Be willing to experiment.” ◊