May 13 '20

Marketing gets the volume turned up in times of crisis

Holly Fearing
Holly Fearing
Senior Director, Marketing + Communications
Filene Research Institute

How your organization communicates with its audience is crucial in times of crisis. While there’s no risk-free path with your marketing efforts, there are strategies and tactics that you can use to support your marketing function and its overall goal.

Holly Fearing
Holly Fearing
Senior Director, Marketing + Communications
Filene Research Institute

For better or for worse, there’s a lot of pressure on your marketing function right now. How your organization—your brand—communicates with its audience is crucial in times of crisis. There are many famous “what not to do” examples of tone-deaf brand behavior. But going silent when members need your support the most, is far worse. And laying low until the dust settles, and only doing the safest, barest minimum, helps no one.

The nature of credit unions’ work means there’s no sitting this one out, but fortunately for credit union members, credit unions have stepped up to the challenge. But while there’s no risk-free path with your marketing efforts now, there are some smart strategies and tactics that your organization can take to support your marketing function and its overall goal. Your impact stands to grow bigger, reach further and change more people’s lives for the better if you do.

The following insights, statistics and actionable strategies are drawn from Filene’s more than 500 research reports, curated to help marketing professionals, and those that support marketing functions, serve the purpose of helping people while sustaining the credit union business model.

Get your marketing engine running

Credit unions need to grow their assets to have the strength and flexibility to support members in good times AND in bad. “Factors Contributing to Credit Union Asset Growth, 1979-2016,” reports on the key factors that have most reliably impacted asset growth within credit unions across all asset sizes over the past 40 years.

Holding true through decades of NCUA data, including the last recession in 2007, this report brings into view the main drivers that positively correlate with higher rates of credit union asset growth. One of the report’s most significant factors? Increasing marketing expenses. 

The data show that increasing marketing expenses by just 0.1% of assets increases asset growth by 0.79% on average. That’s an 8 to 1 return on your marketing investments. What’s more, the report shows that marketing’s impact does not weaken during post-crisis periods, unlike the two other most significant factors associated with growth.

Do your market research

It makes sense that when the economic landscape changes, members’ needs change too. Members who previously may not have needed short term, small-dollar loans now might. How confidently do you understand your members’ needs right now, and when did you last do market research to validate your best guess? Now might be a good time to reassess.

Start learning how to tackle this effort by reviewing a case study from Kern Schools Federal Credit Union and how they used market research in 2012 to pull back from the edge of financial disaster to become a sound enterprise with more satisfied members. (You can hear directly from one of the study’s authors, Megan Brown, lead decision scientist at Starbucks, as she keynotes Filene’s next virtual research event on June 16-17.) You’ll also learn how in 2018, they drove growth by using market research to align product offerings and operational processes with its prime member base’s current needs. The credit union also used market research and analytics to set itself up for continued future success in the face of future unknown changes.

Take Action: Use “Filene’s Guide to Market Research” to conduct your own (virtual) focus groups and phone surveys, and learn how to collect and analyze metadata from social media and online sources to better understand public perceptions of your brand.

Now is the time to conduct your research. Understanding behaviors during these times turns anomalies into patterns you can be better prepared to act upon. Track the trends now so you’ll be in front of the next one, not following it!

Tune up your website; be present digitally

Have the events of 2020 caused you to forget we’re in an election year? The 2019 study, “Who Do Credit Unions Belong To?” sought to understand how credit unions are perceived in times of social and political polarization. It found that most people in the U.S. have a positive perception of credit unions, but this may also signal a weak identity which can weaken loyalty and member relationships.

This research found that 83% of credit union websites were indistinguishable from any other financial institutions’ websites, including banks, and lacked visual cues representative of their membership. Those credit unions whose websites did differentiate with a mission statement and custom images performed better in asset growth, ROA, member satisfaction and quantity/quality product performance measures.

Take Action: If you only read one report mentioned here, make it this one. The author lays out three strategic paths credit unions should consider, and one is especially relevant now: Be a catalyst for shared values. Credit unions can be a unifier to bridge social, economic and political divides ahead. Start with a review of your website homepage. Does it accurately represent your credit union?

Align what you do with who you serve

Dennis Campbell of Harvard Business School recently presented at Filene’s first ever virtual research event on member experience, centered primarily around his 3-part research series conducted exclusively for credit unions. Part 1 and Part 2 explore how your credit union can better align your member experience in an age of self-service.

Dennis offers two primary approaches for enhancing member experience and strengthening your credit union’s value proposition: member compatibility (think Southwest) and operational transparency (think Dominos). Both companies have survived challenging situations and came out ahead (and likely will again). Start by looking at who your credit union serves (see Market Research section above for help with this) and assessing your brand and member experience.

Take Action: If, during this pandemic, you’re feeling like you can’t do it all, that’s because you can’t. And it’s not smart business to try to. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, realize many of your members have very targeted needs right now. Credit unions would do best to optimize service offerings to a targeted member base. Some areas of your credit union need to underperform for other areas to shine – it may feel unnatural, but it is the best way to meet these targeted needs of your members.

Listen to your members – credit unions that focus on member experience data have better satisfaction scores and higher asset growth. Watch for Dennis’s final report on member experience, Part 3, to arrive summer 2020.

Redraw your member journey maps

Emotional stress and drain can’t be overlooked. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing an economic, public health, and emotional crisis all at once.

Credit unions have an opportunity to connect with members in reflexive ways that establish relationships that last a lifetime and beyond with generations to follow when they support people through life changing events.

Filene Fellow Hope Schau explains the idea of reflexive opportunities through the story of her credit union’s response to the loss of her father. In “Leveraging Reflexive Opportunities,” we see how these types of reflexive moments can connect members’ identities and life journeys with their credit union. The opportunity is there, but the old maps of member journeys in how they navigate to and through your credit union need to be redrawn.

Take Action: Together with “The Needs Adaptive Member Journey” marketers are reminded not to focus on traditional linear purchase journeys, but rather journeys mapped to members’ needs and their goals. Review this report’s 12 needs-based journey frameworks that capture typical commercial experiences and use them to reset your business strategy.

Build trust with your online banking tools

Fintech-based personal finance management apps used to be convenient. Now they are essential.

In “The Lessons of Fintech Apps,” Filene Fellow Bill Maurer gives credit unions guidance on 9 design principles common within the most well-liked digital tools. Unsurprisingly, apps that instilled trust for the user with the brand ranked highest, and so designing for building trust tops the list.

Good design leads to user trust now more than ever before. Finance apps that are difficult to navigate or lack functionality reflect poorly on your organization’s trustworthiness.

Take Action: Online banking tools aren’t just for Gen Z and Millennial members anymore. The study showed online banking tools formed greater relationships with brick and mortar shops by establishing trust and engagement in the app. Right now, that online connection is our strongest lifeline to members. Design it right.

There’s a famous proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” We can only deal with what we chose to do now, but what we chose to do now will become the tree that grows over the next 20 years.

Thank you to the Center of Excellence sponsors that collectively have made these reports possible: Alliant Credit Union, American Airlines Credit Union, BCU, BECU, Christian Financial Credit Union, Coastal Credit Union, CO-OP Financial Services, CUNA Mutual, Fiserv, PSCU and SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union.