What good is a marketing budget that never changes?

It’s budget season once again. Time to dust off last year’s marketing budget, tweak the product promotions to match what lending wants to focus on this year, push the numbers as much as you think you can get away with, turn it in and hope that it doesn’t get trimmed too far back.

Sound about right?

Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If this is how you always approach your marketing budget, then how do you expect anything to change?

Budget season is the time to fund big ideas.

Budget season is the one time of the year that management decides how much to spend where. So if you have ideas on how to impact the bottom line, attract more members, and build for the future, they will likely want to hear those ideas.

Which means it’s your turn to tell them what you want to do.

Prioritize the most important big idea, since you and they probably can’t do everything at once. Point out what needs to change, explain why it would help your members (and the effectiveness of everyone working at the credit union), and help them understand what it can mean for your credit union’s future.

Here are a few examples of big ideas to consider:

Turn your website into your main branch.

The majority of your members go online more often than they go to a branch, and those numbers are only going to increase in the future.

A great website is the best of your credit union in action. It’s the public face of your brand, the backbone of your marketing, and a primary communication tool with both members and potential members.

So why is your website not given the same respect (and budget) as your branches? It’s the primary location for transactions and information, so why not treat it like your main branch?

Your website should certainly be much more than an online brochure. It should be easy for you to add information and update on a continual basis, so that every event, every product promotion, every “how do I…” financial education tip is instantly available to members. And if updating and adding to your website is difficult, expensive, or you have to wait for someone to do it for you, it’s past time to make a change.

Simply put, your website should be built to grow with you in the future, and supported by a budget that recognizes its importance.

Turn your brand into your purpose.

If your logo or name is outdated or geographically-limited, then budget season is a great time for management to prioritize a brand update. After all, everyone wants to build (or rebuild) a credit union brand to believe in.

Which means you want a brand that is more than a new logo and/or a new name. You need a brand that not only pays homage to your history, but also represents your purpose. Your reason for existing. It needs to tie into the core of that emotional, authentic, and unique connection you share with your members.

This is where credit unions have a huge built-in advantage. They are fundamentally purpose-driven, after all. But every CU can and must do a better job at defining, articulating, communicating, and living up to their unique purpose.

Plus, the benefits of rebranding and communicating a clear purpose aren’t just squishy feel-good stuff. They’re very real in both dollars and cents and in impact. Purpose-driven companies grow three times faster on average than their competitors, with higher staff and customer satisfaction.

Turn short-term promos into a forever reason to belong.

There’s no shortage of competition offering auto loans and mortgages, personal and home equity loans. Some of them will also promote services like home banking, bill pay and online apps, but it’s generally the most-profitable products that get featured. A few of them will even include a big ol’ rate number on those promotions, even though most people tend to ignore that.

And almost every one of those promotions will disappear in a few weeks.

So what if your promotions were timeless instead? If you became known as everyone’s Go-To lender for electric car loans, or for financing older vehicles that simply get people to their jobs? Would that be the differentiator you need in order to become everyone’s Go-To financial institution?

What if your market knew they could count on you for personal loans whenever they had some unexpected expenses? Could you build a reputation for helping people determine how much of a house they could afford? What if they could count on you to help them learn how to budget their money and save for their future?

Once you start thinking about your products and services as long-term solutions, you escape the rate discount trap and special offer deadlines. You stop playing the same games by the same rules as your competition, and you begin to build your brand as a trusted resource for all things financial.

It’s time to take ownership over your marketing budget.

Planning to do the same thing next year that you did this year is a sure way to keep treading water. You may not drown, but you won’t go very far, either.

While it might feel like management is only interested in keeping things running, they are also interested in getting the most bang for their buck. So speak up, stand out, and make your pitch. Show them how and why you can make a difference. And be sure to budget time and attention as well as money.

Don’t just wish for something better. Now is the time to work with management and turn your big ideas into reality.

Kent Dicken

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