Scary big idea 2: Take a chance on a game changer

In October, I started a blog category called scary big ideas and proposed the concept of affinity positioning for credit unions. It was well received and sparked great dialogue within the comments. It also inspired a lead article in the December 3rd issue of The CEO Report.

Reporter Aaron Steinberg interviewed me and did a great job expanding on the concepts that I proposed in my blog post. Aaron examined the regulatory issues surrounding the concept and looked at various examples of actual credit unions marketing themselves based on affinity. You'll need a subscription to read it.

I was amazed at how throwing an idea out there took on a life of its own. That has lead me to another scary big idea that I have been thinking a lot about lately:

Why not take a large percentage of your annual marketing budget and invest it in a radical, game-changing initiative that no other competing financial institution is doing?

Challenging the status quo

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I believe credit unions are severely undifferentiated. The general public (and a number of your staff) have a limited understanding of what makes a credit union different from a bank and they have no understanding of what makes your credit union different from the credit union down the street.

To perpetuate this sea of sameness, financial institutions promote the same products, the same services and the same competitive rates during the same times of the year.

The typical credit union marketing plan looks like this: retirement promotion in Q1, lending promotion in Q2, quiet in the summer and finish up with a deposit promotion in Q4. Throw in some direct mail here and there and the plan is good to go. Oh, don't forget to give away a few iPods while you're at it.

Best practices leads to mediocrity

I also believe that there is a best-practices mentality that has infected the credit union world. Unless a concept is proven with white papers and formal case studies in multiple trade publications or spoken about over and over again on the conference circuit, very few credit union leaders are willing to be the first to try anything untested.

So what's the next game changer?

With every financial institution looking and behaving almost identically, it doesn't take much to change the game. The first step is to really understand your marketplace. Study what your competitors are doing and look for unmet opportunities. Here are some categories to consider:

  1. Social media. Definitely a hot topic. Everywhere you turn it's Facebook this, MySpace that, blogging, social networks, Twitter, user-generated content and on and on. The thing is, there is still plenty of time to get involved. By and large, credit unions have been very timid and slow in putting their social media strategy together. You can still enter the social web now and be seen as a pioneer in your marketplace. Think beyond just online conversation. How can your credit union create a unique product or service that can be marketed through the social web or how can your credit union impact societal change through the social web?
  2. Alternative lending. Look at the headlines that the six US credit unions that have partnered with Zopa are garnering. This new peer-to-peer media darling is just one example of a new lending concept that has caught the public's interest. What else is out there that you can attach your credit union to?
  3. Mobile banking. Most credit unions are watching this trend pass by. Hiding behind studies that tell you that no one is interested in mobile banking is one way to go, but why not get out ahead of the curve and have your banking system ready for the mobile explosion?
  4. Generational marketing. "How do we attract Generation Y?" is the question of the day. One way not to attract them is to ignore them and keep going with your status quo promotions. Change the game in your marketplace by doing something unique. How are you investing in your credit union's future members?
  5. Online personal financial management services (PFM). Another hot topic. Is your credit union's banking system leveragingWesabe and Mint and the other emerging PFMs? I keep waiting for a credit union to stand up and promote these services. I think there is a great opportunity for a member acquisition campaign around this concept. 
  6. Your brand. When was the last time you updated your brand strategy? What's that? You don't have one? This may be the year to steal from your promotional budget and consider investing in your brand. You could actually take the time to understand your marketplace and position your credit union as an attractive alternative.

These are just a few idea starters. Check out the Filene Institute or simply follow the Net Banker blog and you will see what game changers are on the horizon. Your game changer just needs to be more original and interesting than another 4.0% 18-month cashable term deposit promotion!

It doesn't take much to change the game. All it takes is actually doing something different and interesting.

Tim