Is it, you know, a little "tacky" to start marketing again?

So is it OK for credit unions to start marketing again?

Credit unions all over the country have been rising to the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis with all kinds of creative solutions for keeping members and staff healthy and coping with the economic fallout.

But as CU marketers look forward through the crisis and the recovery, they’re starting to wonder… when is it going to be OK to market products again? We’re not going to get back to “normal” for a long time, but credit unions will still need to make loans and open accounts to keep the lights on.

Is it, you know, a little “tacky” to start marketing again?

Obviously, everyone’s marketing and brand strategies for 2020 are in a million pieces. But you can and must build something from the rubble.

Marketing is a must-have

Time for a gut check: you and your CU’s leadership have to know and understand deep down that marketing is a critical part of the economic recovery for your credit union, your members, and your community.

Some credit union marketers are going to face intense cost-cutting pressure in coming months, but you will have to continue to make wise investments in order to both create and participate in the economic recovery.

So yes, you should re-start or continue product marketing, and the sooner the better.

But it’s also true that everything has changed. You have to adjust the mix of products, messages and media to match current conditions, and that process is urgent. This is all new for everyone, and there’s a lot to communicate.

Member priorities have changed

That’s pretty obvious, right? But you have to get your head around the changes in the emotional needs of your members, and figure out what they need and how to communicate that to them.

It’s also important to understand that some of this is new territory to a lot of members. So you have to be a lot clearer.

To give just one example, there’s a surge of interest in Home Equity loans right now, as people look for ways to consolidate bills and reduce their monthly spending. In normal times, most people in the market for a HELOC already know something about them.

But right now, there are also a lot more folks who could benefit from a HELOC or Home Equity Loan who aren’t familiar with the concept, or how the money can be used for things besides home improvement.

You’ll need to reach out to members in unfamiliar territory. Lots of people who have never missed a payment in their lives are feeling shame and outright terror at their next car or credit card payment. Ease and normalize these emotions and offer solutions.

When they get back to work, your 20-something members are going to be a lot more interested than they were before in building their emergency savings. Car loans are going to be more about sensible, reliable transportation than fun shiny sports cars for a long time to come.

Wear your humanity and compassion proudly

People are going to need to feel your credit union’s humanity, compassion, and understanding more than ever. And humanity is where credit unions can truly shine.

Make sure these emotions are part of every message. Make it practical and concrete, and use human language instead of corporatese. Instead of just saying something generic like “We Care”, say “We’re listening.”, “Let’s talk.”, “Well help you figure this out”, “Tell us how we can help”, “Hey, are you doing OK?”.

Ask specific questions. “Are you having trouble making your car payments?” “Do you need a hand making a budget?”.

And make it local. “If you work for LayOffCo, here’s how GroovyCU can help you get through the furlough.”

Open the lines of communication

Marketing stopped being one-way a long time ago. But you have to double down on that now. Every message should have multiple ways for members to contact a human.

For example, if it’s an email about car loans, don’t just dump members into your online loan app; take people to a page that outlines what they’ll need, answers common questions, and gives them a clear way to ask questions and get answers fast.

And don’t forget to watch for those moments of success and triumph. Ask your members how the credit union is helping them conquer problems, and collect and celebrate real life member stories.

Focus on digital quality

With the stay-at-home orders, websites and digital marketing jumped in importance overnight. But even after members are moving around again, digital product delivery and marketing channels are going to remain the absolute #1 top priority.

This is the time to focus on quality. Are your online banking and loan apps providing a quality member experience for all the recent newbies?

Is your website providing a quality experience on all devices? Can you update your website instantly from anywhere to get vital info to your members? If your credit union’s website is getting in the way of your communication, brand, and marketing, it’s a critical situation, not a “nice-to-have-later” sort of thing.

Snuggle up to ops and underwriting

Credit unions all over the country responded to the crisis quickly with creative and innovative solutions. And it’s vital to keep that going.

As you communicate with members, marketing will need to work closely with operations and underwriting to fine-tune services and processes, build the new services people need, and make sure your members know about them and can take advantage of them.

Details and processes matter to your members and your brand, and marketing has a leading role to play in getting rid of sludge and friction.

For example, one very important concept for a long while to come will be “flexibility”. How do you build flexible products and policies, and communicate these to your members? It’s going to take a team effort.

Everything is going to require adjustment

Messages, tactics, strategies, expectations, and, well, everything will evolve. We’re all feeling our way forward.

But the fundamentals of your brand, your mission, and your credit union’s emotional connection to your members haven’t changed. Stay flexible and stay true to those fundamentals, and your credit union and your members will come out the other side in the best shape possible.

Brian Wringer

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