make sure you're not selling Sea Monkeys

Are You Selling Sea Monkeys?

Remember Sea Monkeys? When I was a kid, colorful ads in all the comic books promised you could send for cute, goldfish-sized magical aqua-pals that would hatch instantly, and then frolic entertainingly.

Of course, the reality was that you got a packet of brine shrimp eggs. Brine shrimp basically look like hideous little swimming roaches, and when they hatch, they’re nearly invisible without a microscope. The instructions said that with time and regular feedings of special Grow Food, my “Sea Monkeys” — er, brine shrimp — might have achieved a majestic 1/2 inch in length. But I was eight years old, and not all that interested in mindless, nearly invisible swimming bugs. Within a week, my beloved Sea Monkeys were just a glass of smelly sludge. Mom made me dump it in the toilet.

Fast-forward to today: you’ve got a brilliant campaign planned, a member mailing list fine-tuned to perfection, an irresistible offer, and the budget to make a huge splash. What can go wrong now?

Take a close look at the bottom of your ads and marketing pieces. See that cloud of gray stuff down there? You know, the fine print? That may mean you’re selling sea monkeys.

There are several things a credit union marketer can do to make sure you’re not selling Sea Monkeys:

Clean up the fine print – Legions of disappointed eight year olds have learned a hard lesson: “What the large type giveth, the fine print taketh away.” While fine print in unavoidable and will always be with us, try to keep it to a minimum. Keep in mind that with every word, every exception, and every requirement, your response rate plunges.

Clean up the offer – how many hoops do members have to jump through to get a free tote bag, a rate break, or $25? If they can’t respond with one quick phone call or a few clicks, they won’t bother. And neither should you.

Clean up your apps – every blank to fill in on your membership, loan, and credit card applications represents a certain percentage of members who won’t bother. Response rates rise dramatically when forms and applications are simple and well-designed.

Clean up the product – to an MBA, an interest-bearing checking account with a list of twelve requirements looks simple. To most people, it looks complicated and not worth the effort. Keep in mind that you and the other members of the CU management team are financial experts. Don’t design products only you can understand.

Accept small incentive risks – if you’re offering an incentive, don’t smother the offer in fine print requirements and impediments designed to ensure that no one “games” the system or gets a reward they don’t truly deserve. If you’re giving away a toaster with every new account, then hand the new member a toaster with a smile, right then and there. Attempts to entirely remove the risk of giving away an undeserved toaster or two will also entirely remove the chance that anyone at all will bother.

Read, research, and understand regulations for yourself – there’s a balance between compliance (regulatory or legal) risk and the risk of wasting time and money on marketing doomed by fine print. In order to work with your legal and compliance advisors, you must have a good working knowledge of the regulations and practices governing credit union advertising.

Brian Wringer

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