Challenge marketing for credit unions part 3: Your challenge, your product offer and your reward

Designing a challenge, a product offer and a reward that are sure to ignite a niche group and align with your credit union's goals and objectives

A great alternative to the three-month, throw-away promotion

Credit unions are notorious for running two- to three-month promotions. Retirement investments in the Winter, loans and mortgages in the Spring and deposits in the Fall. All with new creative and offers that are used once. Go to any industry awards show and you'll see what I mean. Rows and rows of great creative that hits the trash after one season.

A challenge marketing program has the potential to last for years. It can either be year-round or it can be an annual three- to four-month promotion. Because the creativity comes from participation, the story will constantly evolve and take your program in new directions. Isn't this a better idea than reinventing the wheel over and over again? I have been asked a number of times how many years can a Young & Free Program last. My flippant answer: if the reality TV shows like Survivor can do 18 seasons, I'm sure Young & Free can last for at least five annual spokesperson searches!

Start with your vision

The best place to start is by writing a brief vision for your challenge marketing program. This vision should detail your target market, your product offer—and as I said in part 2, don't be afraid to tie a product offer to your program—and the goals you are trying to achieve. Not only will this guide your team in the creation of your challenge program, it is also great information to include on an about page on your website. Unless you clearly state what you are doing, new site visitors may be left scratching their heads and quickly depart.

Take a look at the about pages on the three example sites that I mentioned in part 1.

Each of these about pages clearly states what each program is about, what they are trying to achieve and what they are selling (if anything).

Who are you challenging?

Have you ever heard of the 90-9-1 Principle? It's a simple principle that illustrates how users participate in social communities.

  • 90% of users are the "audience," or lurkers. These people tend to read or observe, but don’t actively contribute.
  • 9% of users are "editors," sometimes modifying content or adding to an existing thread (i.e. leaving comments on a blog or participating in a poll), but rarely create content from scratch.
  • 1% of users are "creators," driving large amounts of the social group’s activity. More often than not, these people are driving a vast percentage of the site’s new content, threads and activity.

For example, just 0.16% of all visitors to YouTube upload videos and 0.2% of visitors to Flickr upload photos. And, over 50% of all the Wikipedia edits are done by just 0.7% of the users or only 524 people (Source:

If your challenge concept requires a large quantity of creators, you will need a large number of people to draw from. Your credit union will either need to be very large with existing communication channels that you can promote your program through or your initiative will need a significant promotional budget to drive traffic and continued participation.

Both Change Everything and What Are You Saving For? encourage people to sign up for a site user account and actively participate in their communities on an ongoing basis. Both initiatives seem to be successful at achieving this goal.

It is not surprising that Change Everything is successful at engaging a large number of creators and editors. It draws from a 400,000-member credit union, significant ongoing brand advertising and a large metropolitan area with a passionate group of advocates for change. Not to mention Kate Dugas, a skilled and passionate community manager who's job it is to encourage both the 2,000 Vancity employees and the community at large to continue to participate in Change Everything.

It is somewhat surprising that What Are You Saving For? is as popular as it is with only 50,000 members to draw from and very little, if any, ongoing marketing support. I would suspect this is because of the tireless work of its creator, Matt Davis, and his small marketing and communications team actively growing the community through consistent communication and encouragement. I'm sure Matt will enlighten us with his recipe for success in the comments. Right Matt?

If your credit union is smaller or if you are targeting a small niche group, consider a challenge concept that requires a smaller group of creators to lead the charge.

Young & Free Alberta requires a small number of creators to apply and to compete for the Young & Free Spokesperson job. These people rally their supporters (the editors and the audience) to show support by posting blog comments. Other ways that Young & Free Alberta encourages participation is through polling, voting, submitting calendar events and adding to the Free Stuff Directory. These light-weight activities are appealing to the lurker-types. During the second-year search we received almost 600 blog comments in October alone!

Your challenge concept

Your challenge must drive a select group of people to action and, ideally, it should naturally grow from your credit union's focus and brand. It should also align with your credit union's goals and objectives.

The Change Everything website was spurred by the spirit behind Vancity's new campaign. Change Everything actually had its start as the slogan for Vancity's latest ad campaign. The key message: you can change everything if you change your bank. The ads reflect the credit union's environmental and community focus. "Vancity is guided by a commitment to corporate social responsibility, and to improve the quality of life in the communities where we live and work." This lead to the simple challenge that guides the site, "If you want to make changes—in your own life, in your neighbourhood or in your world—then Change Everything is the site for you. It's fun, it's free and it's a great way to work towards positive change for you and our community."

For Members Credit Union, this challenging question, "What are you saving for?" drives the program. Its goal is to help people set savings goals, develop a disciplined and systematic savings habit and build a corresponding community of like-minded people as a support network. "By laughing, crying and discussing how we each approach this topic together, we should find it much easier to save together. So what are you saving for?"

Young & Free Alberta is about three things—giving young people a voice, giving young people a head start and giving young people useful information. "We launched Young & Free because we felt strongly that young people were not being well served by large faceless financial institutions. Young people in Alberta didn't have a voice when it came to getting what they needed financially. So we launched a search for a spokesperson and gave that person a platform: the Young & Free Alberta website."

As you can see, these challenges are very different from one another, but all are enticing to a select group of people. For Change Everything, that group is not defined by age, but defined by a shared belief in change. For What Are You Saving For?, the common bond is the hope of achieving a small savings goal with the encouragement of others and encouraging others in return. For Young & Free Alberta, the group is defined by age and the belief in a financial institution that is finally listening and appreciating young people.

Whatever your challenge is, it needs to spark active participation by a select group of passionate people who get it.

Encourage participants to get some creative skin in the game

The Internet has enabled everybody to flex their inner Spielberg and Shakespeare. Your challenge should encourage people to get creative and display their hidden talents. Give the 1% creator segment a chance to connect with like-minded people, express their ideas publicly, gain Internet fame and glory or simply get their creative freak on! In return, your credit union will reap the rewards of increased attention, traffic and potential opportunities to engage with members and potential members and increase its sales opportunities.

Participants should be able to submit something that you can display on your website for the public to get involved with, such as a video, a photo or a blog post. User-generated video contests are very popular and can make for very entertaining content provided that the challenge is original and meaningful. The directions that you can point participants in are infinite and we'll get into some specific ideas later in this series.

Your product

I highly recommend tying a product offer to your challenge (and so will your CFO). However, it is not necessary.

The content on Change Everything does not mention Vancity's products or services. In fact, it rarely mentions Vancity! This was a conscious decision by William Azaroff, the site's mastermind. Vancity has the luxury of having extremely high top-of-mind brand awareness and a well-known purpose throughout the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. For site users, the dots are easily connected and Vancity, no doubt, gains business by way of the site. However, Change Everything's success is not measured by product sales. Its success is measured by reaching the community and building brand engagement through social change.

If you are going to offer a product with your challenge program, make it good. Make it relevant, different and desirable. Not every product that you come out with can be a big money maker for your credit union. Don't focus too much time on making it a hugely profitable product, it's more important that it's relevant to the audience.

Look at it as an investment in new members and a way to reward existing members. Use this opportunity to start long-term relationships that you can grow with active and on-going cross-selling of other, more profitable products and services.

What Are You Saving For? has a complementary savings account. It gives account holders all the tools they need to be able to meet their savings goal and includes a generous dividend rate, budgeting tools, a support network and the financial expertise of the credit union.

Young & Free Alberta has a free and unlimited-transaction chequing account for those aged 17 to 25. This is relevant and desirable because no other financial institution in Alberta offers a free account to this age group.

Your reward

You don't have to go big, but it sure helps! For Young & Free Alberta, the carrot to get involved in the annual challenge is huge. An amazing full-time job for a year with a great salary, a bag full of electronics to keep and a car to drive for a year definitely gets the attention of young people! It also gets the attention of the press. To date, Young & Free Alberta has received more than $400,000 in unpaid media coverage in its first 13 months.

For Change Everything, the reward is more subtle. It comes in the form of personal satisfaction. A public resolution to make a big change and then documenting the achievement of that change is liberating and empowering. Take EnviroWoman for example. She publicly documented her own challenge to live plastic free for an entire year. There are countless stories like this on Change Everything.

On top of this, Vancity runs ongoing challenge contests to reward it's community members. The Viva la Resolution and Change Something are two examples of interesting challenges with modest rewards that help to further engage community members.

What Are You Saving For? challenges and rewards site participation throughout the year. The two main challenge contests are the WAYSF Sweepstakes and the annual Biggest Saver Contest.

These are just some ideas of ways to continuously engage your program's creators, editors and audience. The options really are limitless. Hopefully this has inspired some original thinking on your part as you consider your own unique challenge marketing program.

Next up: using traditional and non-traditional marketing to jump start your program.


Challenge marketing for credit unions part 4: Jump start your program

Is your credit union looking to attract more Moms? You better watch what you say!