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Changing the Channel


What today, makes a great marketing campaign? For Manitoba’s Sunova Credit Union (47,000 members, $2 billion in assets), it’s something uncomplicated, something that embraces social media and something with a wagging tail.

A modern marketing campaign upholds the same objectives as those from years past: boost brand awareness while nurturing relations with existing and potential new members, says Vanessa Foster, director, creative strategy, for Sunova. But the advent of digital communications and social media has turned conventional advertising tactics upside down. The old standbys: newspapers, radio and television, just aren’t reaching the younger generations, says Foster.

That’s why 14-branch Sunova has focused on awareness initiatives using digital and social media. But the messaging for this medium, Foster says, needs to be presented in an unfussy and authentic way. One of the more recent campaigns, intended to build brand awareness as well as boost visibility, featured several highly regarded business members who provided testimonials as to why they bank with Sunova.

A corporate photographer took photos of Sunova staff with these members either at the site of business or in-studio; Sunova showcased the images in online advertising and social media postings. It promoted the Sunova brand and highlighted the close relations between the credit union and its members. It also encouraged people to connect, helping ensure Sunova is “top of mind when people need advice about our finances,”Foster says. “It was a win-win campaign.”

Although social media and online advertising have, just in the past few years, become the channels of preference, traditional platforms are still used — but highly strategically. As recently as just a few years ago, Sunova’s marketing was focused on the use of newspaper advertising. Newspapers are still used mainly just for marketing key products rather than branding — “a specific call to action” — and for reaching those members still embracing traditional media. “We sprinkle in traditional channels, like print and outdoor, but over time are doing less and less.” Digital and social media are also lower-cost initiatives that the credit union feels have more impact, rather than pricey television or radio, which is difficult to track the success of, Foster adds.

The word “authenticity” carries a powerful punch. And what is more authentic, genuine and faithful than humankind’s best friend, the dog? Or, in Sunova’s case, D.O.G., which stands for Director of Greetings. Since 2006, the credit union has had fulltime Saint Bernard dogs, imbuing branches with the friendliness that only a gregarious, four-legged hound can provide. There is currently two dogs; the elder being Lily, a credit union veteran since 2017, who visits various branches and attends events and sponsorship opportunities. Lily was recently joined by 10-month-old puppy Bill, who is still getting his paws wet when it comes to public events but showing the same ambassadorial qualities as his canine colleague.

The Saint Bernard dogs have been a boon for Sunova. “They are an incredibly valuable part of our brand,”Foster says. “Because of them, we have established some great partnerships with local charities and animal-focused organizations, such as Manitoba Underdogs Rescue, and connected with animal lovers across the province. The reaction of the public when either dog makes a public appearance is priceless and if we can put smiles on people’s faces, it’s worth every penny.”

D.O.G. and Sunova’s shift to social media and digital has remarkable synergy. One of the most successful public relations initiatives was when Bill the puppy was first introduced to the public via a short video; it was viewed more than 80,000 times on Twitter. “Our dog program continues to be a generator of positive PR for our organization,” says Foster, giving rise to the notion that both Sunova and the dogs should take a bow wow. ◊

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