Envision your credit union as an elite athlete

Published in CU Insight for Raoust+Partners on June 10, 2015.

By Karen Haywood Queen

Envision an elite athlete with toned muscles hidden under baggy clothes. Who knew he or she could run a mile in less than five minutes?

Raoust+Partners helped Members Cooperative Credit Union in Minnesota trade that baggy sweat suit for a new set of clothes that fit, flatter and show off that physique.

The credit union, founded in 1936 in Cloquet, was expanding into the much larger college town of Duluth and seeking to reach a younger population. Easy sale, or should have been. Members was leading the pack in offering new services such as mobile banking, mobile bill-paying and photo check deposits. Go to the local app store: Members is there.

But until 2013 Members’ one-size-fits-all advertising disguised its unique approach. The green and black logo was, in management’s words, “old,” “tired,” and “boring.”

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“I’d tell my friends ‘We have a mobile app,’” and they’d say ‘Really, I didn’t know,’” says Ryanne Battaglia, vice president of business development and part of the youthful demographic Members is working to reach. “Our brand, our image wasn’t reflective of the products and services we have.”

The tagline, Real Life, Real Benefits, could stand for any credit union, anywhere. Ads were predictable, generic, institutional and thus, usually invisible. One YouTube spot from 2009 touted the Members history in the community and the benefits of credit unions in general –- “lower fees than banks!” (Tell us something new). Change the name and that ad could work, or not work, for any credit union.

Other ads promised that people who took out a car loan could win free tickets to a Vikings game. But beyond that Vikings game, why Members? Ads didn’t answer that question.

Nor did ads connect Members with … its members and prospective members. Looking at those ads, prospective members could not see themselves or their friends.

There was no need for a new culture or even new products. All that was needed was to upgrade Members’ advertising to reflect the forward-thinking reality.

“We had no intention of changing our culture or our employees,” Battaglia says. “We felt our culture was a successful culture. We wanted our brand to be reflective of who we are.”

Raoust + Partners interviewed the credit union team and members to understand the credit union and community culture, Battaglia says.

Based on an understanding of the community, Raoust+Partners created branding that accurately reflected the strength in each member and showcased that the credit union could be a resource to meet individual financial needs, says Tammy Heikkinen, president and CEO.

The resulting branding, tagline and other advertising reflect that understanding. The colors, burnt orange, turquoise, red and gold, are energizing. The new tagline, The Strength of Me, plays on the first two letters of Members to emphasize that members are important.

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The Strength of Me also celebrates the region’s rugged individualistic culture where surfing on a freezing Lake Superior in a 20-knot wind is just what you do. Raoust+Partners’ new ads for Members show young people paddling in white water, carrying surfboards over snowy rocks, kite boarding and camping in the snow. These ads, which induce shivering in less hardy souls, wouldn’t work for a credit union in Raoust+Partners’ home base of Coastal Virginia. But for Members, the ads celebrate a culture where winter is a force to enjoy and conquer.

The new ads also build on the idea of individual strength made stronger by working with others. That would be with Members Cooperative Credit Union.

These days, people in the community recognize the name and they’ve seen the ads, Battaglia says. Membership is growing. As for working with others, applications for positions are much higher, she says.

“People recognize we offer a progressive culture and that we’re changing with the times,” Battaglia says.

Changing with the times, running well ahead of the pack and showing off those toned muscles thanks to Raoust+Partners.

Credit union social media done right with personality and purpose

For Raoust+Partners for CU Insight. Published April 3, 2015.

By Karen Haywood Queen

‘Credit Unions need to get on social media, especially YouTube, because that’s where the action is.’ Great advice as far as it goes. But without a purpose, social media presence doesn’t expand a brand.

Some argue that the Facebook ship has sailed—younger people certainly have moved on to other channels. If a credit union is on Facebook, the page should reflect the credit union’s unique personality not serve as a dump for generic copy that could be about any business.

Found on Facebook: “Keep your face towards the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.” Thank you Walt Whitman, but how does that promote a brand or attract new credit union members?

Raoust+Partners helps credit unions determine if their culture is a good fit for social media. If so, Raoust+Partners helps create content specifically for those channels aimed at getting results. Credit unions use social media channels effectively and smartly not by pushing product but by creating content that’s an extension of their brand story.

YouTube, which has replaced television for many younger people, can be an ideal medium for telling a credit union’s story. At least until the next big thing comes along.

Just being on YouTube isn’t enough. What works? Copy developed specifically for YouTube – not rebroadcasts of TV commercials. YouTube gives a credit union time to expand its message beyond a 10-, 15- or 30-second TV spot. Take advantage of it.

Keep in mind, though, that people tune in to YouTube to be entertained.

No one wants to watch a credit union’s annual meeting on YouTube. Correction: a spot check of three credit union annual meetings showed 14 views, 84 views and 177 views.

Not many people really want to watch Blizzard the Penguin visit a credit union either—102 views.

Sadly, not many people even want to hear how a credit union helped a college student with her overwhelming debt. In 10 months, 15 views.

If the message isn’t entertaining, they’ll tune out. They certainly won’t share it with their friends.

True to its name, Innovations Federal Credit Union in Panama City, Fla., a Raoust+Partners client, has mastered the art of telling its story on YouTube in a way that engages viewers and clearly communicates the credit union’s offbeat brand. The well-produced videos give viewers insight into Innovations’ culture.

Innovations’ videos are produced solely for YouTube—not TV commercials rebroadcast. CEO David Southall sketched out the credit union’s first YouTube video, Jingle Bells Lip Dub, on a napkin in 2009. He still has the napkin.

The video stars not actors, but rather employees who are clearly engaged and having fun. The mimosas may have helped.

“Around here, for local Christmas commercials all the employees get together, wave at the camera and say ‘Merry Christmas,’” Southall says. “It’s kind of boring and overdone. We decided we didn’t want to do that.”

Raoust+Partners helped take the concept from a napkin to a professional production.

“They have some creative minds at Raoust,” Southall says “They made it look professional—rather than something we did homemade. If something is interesting and eye-catching, you want to share it with your friends and family.”

So far, 17,383 people have enjoyed the catchy beat and fun vibe of that first video. That engagement, that culture can’t be faked. If that unique exuberance isn’t in a credit union’s DNA, best to avoid the attempt. For Innovations, it worked because the video showcased the credit union’s personality.

“That first video said to our community ‘Hey we’re different,’” says Southall, who appears in the videos. “We don’t want to be traditional in anything. Our lobby design is different. The way we hire employees is different. The way we train employees is different.”

The Financial Brand ranked Innovations 21 out of the top 100 credit unions on YouTube. More important, as Innovations continued to make more videos, friends and family of employees, credit union members and then others in the community asked to participate. You can’t put a price on that kind of engagement and awareness.

A flash mob to open a new branch generated more than 5,000 views. A video entitled Bad Bank Romance has captured 4,219 views.

YouTube isn’t the best place to constantly push products but those who know what they’re doing—read Innovations–can bend the rule. Innovations’ 30-second video about an Obstacle-Free Auto Loans collected 53,151 views.

The goal of these videos is to reach younger members and potential members. While the average age of credit union members nationwide is about 48, Innovations’ average age is 40 or 41.

“Those are the members we want to attract—the kind of members who like the social media piece,” Southall says. “Our older board members—they probably haven’t seen them. Maybe their children or grandchildren saw them.”

Saw them and decided Granddad’s credit union wasn’t so fuddy duddy after all.

The (off) beat goes on.

Branding is about DNA, not smiles and dogs

For Raoust+Partners and CU Insight Published March 18, 2015 By Karen Haywood Queen.

Dogs. Smiles. Fun. That’s the theme of too many credit union brands.

A brand is not a logo. A brand is not a color palette.  A brand is not a dog.

Yet, an online search for credit unions with dogs or credit unions with smiles yields plenty of promotions based on smiles and/or canine friends.

Don’t blame the credit unions. Blame the ad agencies that confuse a promotion for a brand, agencies that talk instead of listen. These agencies trot out the same dog and pony show and then tweak that show slightly for each credit union. But dogs and smiles won’t separate your credit union from the pack.

Raoust+Partners knows that each credit union has a unique DNA. That DNA has nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with each credit union’s history, culture, community, employees and members. To create an authentic brand, Raoust+Partners doesn’t field test a dozen ideas to see what sticks. What it does is plenty of research–the kind that traditional focus groups and boring surveys don’t reveal. What it does is listen… No dogs either—unless the credit union is in an area with a strong canine heritage.

Instead, Raoust+Partners uncovers the credit union’s unique DNA and then builds on the core values of the past to move to a successful future. At Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union in Lowell, Mass., that DNA included a long history of reaching out to immigrants and the unbanked.

In 2009 when Raoust+Partners began working with Jeanne D’Arc, the nearly 100-year-old credit union was losing both members and market share. The listening approach yielded key intelligence.

Members and even former members felt a strong loyalty. But they thought of the credit union as they might a beloved former kindergarten teacher — a teacher you reluctantly leave behind after mastering the basics.

“The depth of their passion for the credit union was refreshing,” president and CEO Mark Cochran says. “But they thought they should grow up and go somewhere else later. They didn’t understand that there was more.”

Cochran, who had started at the credit union in 2007, knew he didn’t want to approach branding as a popularity contest.

“We didn’t want the coolest thing or even ‘This is who we want to be,’” he says. “With Raoust+Partners, our approach was ‘What are we? Who are we?’ We didn’t want to project ourselves as anything different from who we are. We didn’t go about trying to invent something new. We wanted to use our members’ words and perceptions as a launching point for where we want to go in the future.”

As Cochran listened to members, former members and employees, he heard stories of how the credit union had made a difference and how strongly the community and the credit union were intertwined.

“So many of these stories had a common theme: ‘I was new to this country,’” Cochran says. “The credit union was the first place that I had an account. It was the first place I got a car loan.’ But they viewed us like a hometown savings and loan — offering only checking, savings and mortgages.”

Jeanne D’Arc was already offering the products members wanted—credit cards, small business loans, automated banking –members just didn’t know. But getting the word out about those products was a minor part of the Raoust+Partners strategy. Emphasizing connections was the major focus.

At Jeanne D’Arc employees are part of the community and many know the members personally or at least at the level of  ‘I know your cousin who dated my sister.’ That shared history, knowledge and understanding make up the edge the competition doesn’t have. With that in mind, most of the marketing and advertising Raoust+Partners developed was based not on products but on the connection. With an authentic brand, employees don’t have to put on fake smiles and read from a phony script—they live the brand.

To reflect that shared history and values, Raoust+Partners created “We share a common thread.”

The resulting brand is a big mirror that accurately reflects members, employees, the community and the credit union’s personality. When members or perspective members look in that mirror, they recognize something that makes them feel comfortable and at home. They feel the connection.

That connection can happen only with a brand that is true to the credit union. An authentic brand reflects a credit union so closely that it would fail anywhere else. Raoust+Partners knows what works in Lowell, Mass., won’t work in Panama City, Fla.  At Innovations Credit Union in Panama City the resulting brand position was “Spark Change” based on the young credit union’s modern, progressive outlook.

Meantime since 2009, Jeanne D’Arc’s assets have nearly doubled, from $600 million to $1.1 billion—all organic growth, no mergers. The average age of members has dropped from 46 to 41. Average age of new members is 34

“It was the natural outcome of doing things that are right for our members,” Cochran says. “It goes back to that common thread.”

And an uncommon approach.

Woof.