Using different words is part of being and becoming different. 

Dirty words

Over the past several years, more and more credit unions have eliminated certain “dirty words” from their marketing and identity. Words like “member”, “join” and even “credit union” are now taboo in a lot of places, and online account access is almost always called “home banking.” And when was the last time you heard “share draft”?

I understand this impulse — we’ve all talked to lots of people who have no idea what a credit union is, or think it has something to do with labor unions or credit counseling. And lots of people fret that perhaps “join” and “membership” imply a bit too much commitment, or convey a certain elitism or clubishness.

But frankly, I don’t buy it.

Eliminating credit union words is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Or maybe it’s like yelling at the dog for something the cat did — we’re blaming the wrong culprit. The words are fine — we’ve simply failed to define and own them.

The problem is that using banker language takes away an important, everyday point of difference. Different is good. It’s OK these days (it’s fantastic, actually) to be different from banks, and language is just one way to show that difference. It’s OK to be a little exclusive, a “well-kept secret.”

Differentiation is pure marketing gold.

It’s even better than gold, really — it’s pure plutonium; it causes reactions and releases energy. CUs should hang on to, create, and use every precious shred and scrap of differentiation they can, including language.

The words themselves are not an obstacle — just look at how many people easily remember what size is what at Starbuck’s, and how they each get that small thrill every morning at being “in the know”. Just like “tall” = “small, but fancy”, people will have no trouble knowing that “member” = “customer, but better” or “credit union” = “better than a bank.”

And it starts with language.

Using different words is part of being and becoming different.

Brian Wringer

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