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

Using traditional and non-traditional marketing to jump start your program

In Field of Dreams, an Iowa corn farmer hears voices and interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields. He does, the Chicago Black Sox come and everyone lives happily ever after.

Let's adjust the previous paragraph to better reflect a typical credit union's social media strategy.

In Credit Union Blog of Dreams, a credit union marketer hears voices (likely the voices of her CEO and board) and interprets them as a command to build a blog. She does, thousands of new credit union members come and everyone lives happily ever after.

Field of Dreams is a wonderful work of fiction that, unfortunately, doesn't translate well in the real world of marketing. There is a problem with the-advertising-is-dead-social-media-is-the-replacement marketing strategy that is being touted as of late. If you add another website to the billions of other websites on the Internet, you cannot expect anybody to magically find it. You need to tell your marketplace that it exists and that there is a good reason to visit and to keep visiting.

There has to be more to your plan than signing up for a Twitter account and attempting to follow thousands of people who are unlikely to reciprocate.

Start off with a big local bang

An integrated marketing strategy that includes social media is what you need to get your challenge marketing program off the ground.

Go back to the vision that I discussed in Part 3. Your challenge marketing program's vision should detail your target market, your product offer and your goals. Once you know these three things, you can begin to build an appropriate media and public relations plan to launch your program.

Build a master consideration list

Start with an unbiased consideration list of every available media option in your area. Add three columns: must have, consider and definitely not. Meet with everyone involved in your project, including your team and your agency (or agencies, if more than one is involved) and discuss the pros and cons of each line item.

You will need to share your budget in advance so everyone at the table is basing their input on not only target market appropriateness but also with an understanding of how deep your plan can really be. There is no point considering TV if you don't have significant dollars to invest and there is also no point in picking 20 items from the list if you can't do any one of them well. If your budget is limited, consider doing just three or four different items really well.

Here is a good start to your list, but by no means should you limit your considerations to these choices.

  • TV
  • Radio
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines
  • Outdoor
    • Billboards
    • Transit
    • Mobile advertising
    • Wall projections
  • Sponsorships
  • Cinema advertising
  • Personal invitations
  • Text messaging
  • Events
  • Online banner advertising
  • Social network advertising (Facebook, MySpace, MSN, others)
  • Google Adwords
  • Street team activations
  • Promotional items
  • Direct mail
  • In-branch point-of-purchase
    • Posters
    • Brochures
    • Plasma screens
    • Floor decals
    • Window decals
    • ATM screens
  • Statement stuffers
  • Statement advertising
  • Ads on your primary website and online banking site
  • E-mail
  • Newsletters
  • Press releases
    • Traditional
    • Social media releases
  • Appearances and interviews
  • Word of mouth
  • Social media activity
    • Facebook
    • MySpace
    • LinkedIn
    • Microsoft Live
    • Twitter
    • YouTube
    • Vimeo
    • Viddler
    • Ustream
    • Yelp
    • 12 Seconds
    • Commenting on other blogs
    • Asking for reciprocal blogroll listings

Building your plan

If you are launching a youth-centred program, your plan will likely be light on traditional media and heavier online and with guerilla tactics. That doesn't mean that you should automatically rule out newspapers and radio. In fact, university newspapers and college radio might be really popular and affordable in your area.

Traditional media outlets are very hungry for advertising dollars and are getting more aggressive—and creative—with their advertising packages. A great idea is to meet with representatives from competing media outlets and give them each an RFP that describes your program. They may be so excited about getting involved with your unique promotion that they come back with ideas that you hadn't considered yet.

Transversely, if you are targeting Baby Boomers with a program like Filene's Big Idea Challenge, you may need to invest heavier in traditional media and lighter in online and guerilla tactics. Again, that doesn't mean that you should automatically rule out a localized Google Adwords, Facebook or LinkedIn advertising buy or guerilla street team activations.

For Young & Free Alberta, we had the luxury of a decent media budget. In year one, approximately 60% of the budget was invested in online advertising on both Facebook and MSN (MSN is very popular in Canada), while the rest of the budget was split between radio, outdoor billboards, direct mail and in-branch POP. In year two we didn't do any billboards, but we added in exciting new tactics including our Y&F GoMobile Truck and wall illuminations.

What Are You Saving For? was launched on a very small budget. All of the creative was done in-house and there was no external media purchased. Matt and his team relied on point-of-purchase displays, word-of-mouth, press releases, statement advertising, press coverage and cross linking from other promotions like their Football Pick 'em videos and from their corporate website.

As I mentioned in Part 3, Change Everything was a just one component of Vancity's 2006 brand advertising campaign. With a reported annual seven-figure budget for brand advertising, Change Everything was able to piggy back on this investment and to gain mass-market momentum through TV, radio and print advertising plus significant press coverage. William and his team also pre-launched the site to a hand-picked group of about 500 social media and social change advocates.

Be clear on what you are advertising

If your program has a product tie-in, you will have at least two key messages that you are promoting at the launch of your challenge marketing program:

  1. Come enter and participate in our challenge
  2. We have a great new banking product

My advice is to centre your message around getting your creators involved (remember the 90-9-1 Principle). Your challenge program's success is hinged upon getting people interested in participating in your challenge. Your product offer should always be there in the background, but doesn't necessarily need to be the star of a Facebook ad.

Monitor and adjust your plan each year

Because your challenge marketing program is a multi-year endeavor, you have the luxury of experimenting and refining your plan over time. If you find that direct mail yields very little return in year one, either try a different message, a different format or drop it altogether in year two. Make sure to monitor and measure every piece of your integrated marketing plan and be honest with everyone involved about how each component is performing.

On-going promotion

I recommend that your initial media plan cover the first two to four months. After that, your program should be up and running and you can rely on a steady volume of interesting content to keep the community going. With Young & Free Alberta, we advertised for an eight-week period in the fall of 2007 to find our 2008 Spokesperson. Once Larissa Walkiw was in place, there was no supporting media for her nine-month term. Interestingly, web traffic, participation and new account openings continued to grow throughout the year.

Going back into the year-two search phase, Servus Credit Union (formerly Common Wealth) invested approximately the same budget again to find the 2009 Young & Free Alberta Spokesperson. This additional investment in media has resulted in a sustained 50% increase in day-to-day traffic on the site.

Your supporting media plan is as important as the challenge itself. Taking the time to plan is well worth it.

Next up: should you require a log-in to participate?


Happy 100 to the US credit union movement. Would a credit union by any other name smell as sweet?

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