A CUSO is a different kind of critter, sometimes very different

CUSOs need marketing love, too

CUSOs (Credit Union Service Organizations) can be a fantastic way for credit unions and groups of credit unions to better serve members and nonmembers, generate income, collaborate with and serve other credit unions, and meet all sorts of needs. There’s an endless variety of CUSOs out there, and the number is growing, even as credit unions consolidate.

But while CUSOs have lots of things in common with credit unions, they also have some unique challenges that aren’t always obvious.

CUSOs need marketing love too, and here’s how credit union marketers can help make sure their CU’s CUSOs thrive alongside their credit unions.

Get Marketing a seat at the CUSO planning table

All too often, a bouncing baby CUSO is a complete surprise to Marketing, kicking off a scramble to build a brand, make a marketing plan, scrape together a website, and launch as quickly as possible.

But that makes no sense. Because a CUSO won’t get anywhere without customers.

So Marketing must be involved from the very start of a CUSO, from the first germ of an idea through funding and launch. If you want your CUSO to grow, Marketing needs to be an essential part of every business planning and budget discussion.

You’ll also need to discuss and resolve those difficult values, brand, and identity questions as early as possible: How separate is the CUSO? Do the underlying values match? How are they different? How does the CUSO and its values and services spring from the CU’s values? How different should the brand and identity be? Should the CUSO have its own website, or a page on the CU’s site?

Remember, CUSOs aren’t credit unions

Seems obvious, but it’s worth a mention. A CUSO is a different kind of critter, sometimes very different.

For one, compliance is always a different world. Even if you’ve reached the point where CU regulations are instinct, compliance in the CUSO’s field won’t be the same. It’s going to take time and good advice to get up to speed.

For another, websites are different. CU websites have their own SEO and Analytics peculiarities; what differences might you expect for the CUSO’s website?

And obviously, audiences will be very different. Many CUSOs are started to serve other credit unions. While you may know how to talk to your members, how are you going to get the attention of other CU professionals? What’s different about marketing to CEOs vs. CFOs, CTOs, or CMOs? If you don’t know many aside from your co-workers, this might be a great time to get some professional advice and assistance from an agency with broader experience.

You need to treat it as a separate entity, not just another product.

Some piggybacking makes sense, especially for member-facing CUSOs, but generally a CUSO needs to be able to carry its own weight and pay its own way, using its own budget. It needs to be treated as a separate entity, not just another credit union product.

I realize that this is a different way of thinking for CU marketers. We all love that “one big happy family” concept. But you have to treat resources with their proper value in order to make the best and most balanced decisions.

There can be a lot of marketing details to decide and set up here: separate websites and analytics, for example. You’ll probably need separate digital marketing accounts (CRM, email marketing, etc.). Who’s running the social media accounts, and what’s the strategy?

And if CU resources are used for the CUSO, that needs to be accounted for. How much is space on the website or in an email newsletter worth, and is the CU getting worthwhile value for that? It’s no different than the CUSO renting office space from the credit union.

Budget realistic amounts of time, attention, and money

Some CU marketers may be able to leverage their expertise to jump into CUSO marketing, but launching and growing a second (or third, or fourth) brand PLUS keeping up with your credit union’s marketing needs without budgeting more money or more time is a recipe for headaches and disaster.

Strategizing, planning, and executing a CUSO startup is a great time to get professional help. You’ll make the most of your time and energy by getting expert advice, a broader perspective, and help with execution.

Define your CUSO’s growth curve

One of the fundamentals of any business plan is “How will we define and track success?”

Credit union marketing is generally pretty well defined and somewhat predictable. You already have a pretty good idea of things like your member growth goals for the year, or what to expect during a loan promotion.

But you’ll need to adjust your approach for a CUSO. Things can be more volatile or just plain unpredictable. What level of growth and revenue is realistic, what’s needed for survival, what’s considered thriving? How will you handle a sudden spike in growth? A sudden drop? Is demand seasonal or cyclical?

CUSOs that provide expensive services to other credit unions can have very gradual growth curves; sometimes the sales cycle stretches for years. On the other hand, if the CUSO is providing consumer or member services, then you might expect fairly steady growth. Or, maybe your new CUSO is the first to market with an innovative new solution and a phenomenal price. How do you turn that initial flood into a steady stream of revenue?

Build the CUSO love

With a seat at the table, little savvy, an entrepreneurial spirit, and attention to the details, credit union marketers can leverage their talents to build successful CUSOs of all kinds.


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