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The 4 Biggest Things Credit Unions are Missing in their Marketing Strategy

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Credit Unions

We’ve been around the marketing block, so to speak...50+ combined years working with some of the biggest brands in the world in global advertising agencies, and now five years working with fintech and financial service businesses to develop their marketing strategies, including many credit unions. We have pretty strong (and well-informed) opinions about what good looks like when it comes to marketing. We’re not saying we have all the answers, and we’re not saying that our answers are right for everyone, but we’ve seen enough to recognize a few patterns in what many credit unions are missing in their marketing strategy. The good news is that these gaps aren’t difficult to fill-in with the right approach and focus, and there’s a big opportunity to stand out in your market if you do.

Across all the work, research, and experience we’ve done and have, here are the four biggest things we think credit unions are missing in their marketing strategy and how they can go about adding them in. 

The focus of marketing isn’t on adding value to the customer. 

We’re business people first, marketing people second. We believe the role of marketing is to drive the growth of the business - it’s a means to an end. But that doesn’t mean that marketing should be focused on what the business wants from the customer. Marketing used to be a simple game - make an ad, buy a spot, and wait for the results. But the world of 2023 is a different, complicated, and challenging place, making it increasingly difficult to get people’s attention and stand out. So many marketers assume that if you make an ad and buy a placement, people will watch/listen/read it. But it’s not like it used to be. You need to EARN people’s attention, you can’t expect to HAVE it just because you show up. The banks that are winning in this landscape are the ones that are focused on creating “advertising” that adds value instead of trying to subtract it. I use air quotes around advertising because a lot of it doesn’t look like advertising in the traditional sense; It looks like Wealthfront’s blog, Autobook’s Resource Kits, or Q2’s Resource Library. If you want to stand out and move the needle with your advertising, you need to focus your marketing strategy and activity on how to add value to the customer you’re trying to reach. 

The point of difference isn’t clear. 

How often do you walk up and down a supermarket aisle, scroll through Amazon, or look around a trade show and think about just how similar everything looks? It’s so often a sea of sameness - the same colors, the same claims, the same slogans. Or at best, just slightly different versions of the same message. So why do you think your marketing shouldn’t face the same scrutiny? Why do you settle for selling the features and benefits of the product instead of what makes you different? The role of marketing isn’t just to communicate why people should consider your brand or buy your product, but why they should consider your brand or buy your product INSTEAD of a competitor. One of the most common, but also most fixable mistakes we see with marketing in the banking industry is to stop at marketing the product instead of pushing through to marketing the point of difference. In order to take this extra step that will really set you apart from the competition, you need to ask yourself a question - what makes your product and brand different? We always use the example of Airbnb and their “belong anywhere” marketing strategy. The “product” that Airbnb sells is a place to stay. But the thing that makes their product different is that you get to truly experience the place you’re visiting when you stay at an Airbnb. When you’re in a hotel room, you could be anywhere - you’re removed from the place you’re visiting. When you stay in someone’s house you’re brought into the local community and experience. You feel like you belong there, even if it’s just for a short period of time. 

Marketing is too idea-led and not data-driven enough.

Some businesses can (and do) spend their way to growth. If you drown the market with your ads and relentlessly bludgeon your audience with your message, your market share will grow (just look at Geico…and not for nothing, this is the approach that’s led to trouble and a massive down-round for Varo Bank). Unless you’re willing and prepared to outspend everyone else forever, you need to market smart, not just hard. And marketing “smart” means being both idea-led and data-driven. Coming up with great ideas and good content, but also collecting, analyzing, and applying the oceans of data that the market and customers will give you to get smarter, better, and faster with how you reach and influence them. Data is the new oil and all that...which of course is true, but much like oil, the raw resource of data isn’t valuable in itself. You can’t just plug data into your marketing team and automatically have better marketing. You need to refine it first. Most marketing teams in banks aren’t focused and/or invested enough in building the culture, technology, and ways of working to be analytically best-in-class. It’s not easy, especially in a regulated industry and within a business that likely isn’t a first adopter of new technology (and maybe moves a bit slowly to get approvals on new things…). Nevertheless, the ability to analyze your data and create a marriage between ideas and data in your organization is truly the great unlock for marketing in 2023.  To do this in practice, it’s essential to prioritize bringing in the tech, talent and thinking that evolve your analytical capabilities to market effectively and efficiently. This is a big part of what the challenger banks and apps are doing differently in order to drive mind and market share growth. 

Being static instead of dynamic. 

I was recently interviewed on  Jim Marous’s “Banking Transformed” podcast to discuss our Fintech Marketing Playbook. One of the topics which I spoke about at length, is the importance of speed within established, incumbent organizations. No, not speed at all costs. Not speed that adds risk. Not speed for the sake of speed. But speed for the sake of learning, growing, and evolving quickly. One of the biggest advantages that fintechs and start-ups have over incumbents is their ability to make decisions and execute new ideas quickly. They are able to be dynamic, not static, with how they show up in the world. And in a world that’s changing as much, as often, and as significantly as the world of 2023, being dynamic is a huge competitive advantage. So many banks have such a big opportunity to grow their brand, customers, and market share just asking themselves how they can move faster to learn more. The world around you is changing so much and so quickly, you need to adapt to it. One of the ways we see fintechs do this well is to build a testing framework for every marketing campaign they run: a hypothesis that you establish as part of the campaign that will help you better understand your audience and market. You deliver results, but you also deliver learnings that make your future marketing activity more effective. 

So there you have it. The four biggest mistakes credit unions are missing in their marketing strategy. Again, there are no silver bullets here and there is so much nuance to how (and even if) you adopt each of these learnings into your business, but based on all our experience we see a ton of opportunity for more, faster growth in the market for most businesses. 

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