Marketing in an Uncertain Time

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By Mark Gibson

5 minutes

What to do now to set your credit union up for success when the world reopens

Just as credit union marketers got their plans and budgets approved and were getting their first campaigns launched, COVID-19 changed everything. Since that time, we have been scrambling to be safe at work, while developing communications about limited branch service, digital options and governmental programs.

Marketers thrive on reacting to changing circumstances and the current crisis is no different. Our well-laid plans might be out the window, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be thoughtful about what we can do now to lay the groundwork for successful growth at our institution once the country gets through the worst of the pandemic and life returns to a “new normal.”

There are several things we should be doing right now to lay the groundwork for success in the future.

What to Do Now

Connect with members. This is a scary time for everyone, including your members. Not only do they have to worry about getting sick, but about losing their jobs and paying their bills. Now is a great time for marketing and your associates to reach out to members, listening empathetically and offering helpful information and advice. People will remember who was there for them, with a comforting phone call or a helpful article, when things return to normal.

For example, not only is $2 billion Addition Financial, Lake Mary, Florida, providing excellent information and assistance, but it recently created On The + Side, which it bills as “your weekly dose of positive news and resources to keep you in good spirits during this time of uncertainty.”

Educate! Credit unions have always been good about teaching financial literacy. The pandemic creates new opportunities. Remember all those digital capabilities like mobile deposit and remote deposit capture that your institution invested in? Now, with branch access reduced, members really need to learn how to use these services. With the government launching a new assistance program weekly, your institution is in a trusted position to cut through the jargon and help members understand what these programs are and whether they qualify.

Evaluate your creative. Products, headlines and visuals that seemed perfect in February can be off-putting now. Our new environment doesn’t prohibit us from selling anything, but it does change the tone and manner we need to use. Some old messages simply won’t resonate right now, so they need to be changed to something that does. Think about an image of a crowd of people having fun in the era of social distancing. Remember not to just look at big visible things like TV or billboards. Automated email campaigns are an easy one to forget, as is branch merchandising. Try to do a quick audit of everything your members are seeing from you.

Setting Yourself up for Success

There are also some more strategic actions that credit union marketers should be squeezing in over the next few months when they can.

Keep Advertising. There is always a tendency to pull back on marketing when times get tough, especially now with people in their homes not going out and spending money. Don’t do it! After all, what are consumers doing in their homes? Watching TV, streaming video and using their digital devices!

Industry experts already predict that advertising will fall at least 11% from last year, and digital platforms like Google and Facebook may see a reduction of up to $44 billion in 2020.

Reduced advertising means that your message will have less competition on the airwaves and the screen. Keep your name out there with a reassuring brand-oriented message, with some helpful advice and product sprinkled in, and your members and communities will remember you when it’s time to start buying financial services again. That will probably be sooner than we think.

Be strategic. Is your credit union’s strategic plan still relevant? Has its business plan changed? What about its top priorities? If you don’t know, you need to find out! In times of rapid change, you need to check in frequently with senior management to make sure your marketing team is focused on the right projects. And be sure not to take your eye off the long-term goals. For instance, before the crisis, many credit unions were looking to grow loans and fee income. Continue to be thoughtful about what you and your team can do to make a difference with those goals, so you will be ready when the time comes.

Get ‘Digital.’ Many of us have implemented marketing automation, email, digital and social media. But how many of us are fully leveraging it? How many of us can confidently track which marketing activities are generating results? If you are lucky enough to have marketing automation or customer relationship management tools, now is an ideal time to learn the full capabilities and start using more of them. And if you don’t have them, don’t despair! You can still use member and prospect analytics to improve your campaign targeting. You can work with branch and contact center staff to be clear about who is working the leads that marketing is generating. You can get codes and measurement in place so that marketing gets credit for all the new accounts it generates. Finally, you can adopt a “test and learn” mentality in your department so that you are learning which offers, creative and media are driving results. (Don’t forget, the best tests can be as simple as changing out two headlines on your next email campaign or introducing two versions of the same video on social media.)

Marketing in the New Normal

None of us know how long this is going to last, or what the new normal is going to look like. What we do know is that people will emerge from lockdown with an urge to meet with friends and family, buy things and travel. They will need financial services to accomplish these activities. While it can feel overwhelming some days responding to a never-ending set of urgent demands, be sure to take time every week if not every day to sharpen your marketing saw so that you position your institution for success when everyone does re-emerge into the daylight.

Mark Gibson is senior consultant at CUES Supplier member Capital Performance Group, Washington, D.C., a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory, planning, analytic and project management services to the financial services industry. Find Capital Performance Group on LinkedIn.

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