Embracing Inclusive Marketing

colorful collage of diverse group of people
By Jen Lawrence

12 minutes

Steps and case studies to support your efforts

As credit unions look to better serve their communities, many are attempting to be more inclusive, reaching out to more diverse groups of potential members. 

With their people-first focus, credit unions are particularly well-positioned to connect with those who have felt excluded by financial institutions based on their diverse backgrounds, defined by the National Credit Union Administration as “race, skin color, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, religion, language, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, family structure, geographic differences, diversity of thought, life experiences and more.”

An inclusive marketing strategy is a proactive way for credit unions to reach out to members and potential members, letting them know that they are seen, understood and welcomed. 

According to the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing, “the collective purchasing power of multicultural and LGBTQ consumers today is equivalent to the third largest economy in the world.” 

According to Boston Consulting Group, any credit union not marketing to a diverse base is excluding a huge number of people who could benefit from its services. Marketing for inclusion can help a CU grow and prosper. Inclusiv, New York, assists almost 300 community development credit unions that focus on financial inclusion, helping the underserved gain financial independence. Inclusiv’s SVP/Members and Network Engagement Pablo DeFilippi observes, “Our research consistently demonstrates that financial inclusion and community development are not only sustainable activities, but in fact, they are drivers of growth and relevance. The paper we released shows that credit unions that focus on financial inclusion tend to be more profitable, lend more actively and grow faster than their mainstream peers. Mission and margin can and should go hand on hand.”

Pablo DeFilippi
SVP/Members and Network Engagement
Credit unions that focus on financial inclusion tend to be more profitable, lend more actively and grow faster than their mainstream peers. Mission and margin can and should go hand on hand.

Laying the Foundation

For inclusive marketing efforts to succeed, some key things need to be in place:

Inclusive teams. CUES member Kevin Martin, SVP/organizational performance & strategic planning at $16.7 billion SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Santa Ana, California, believes that inclusion first comes from within. “I would suggest credit unions start their journey of inclusion internally with their teams. Member engagement starts with team member engagement. If members see inclusive marketing materials but do not see that same inclusion in the team members that are serving them, it may come across as disingenuous and negatively impact their engagement. With that said, ensuring your marketing materials reflect the members you serve lets your membership—and potential members—know that you are an institution focused on serving them, a name they can trust. That fact is reinforced when they engage the credit union and see themselves reflected in the staff.” 

Authenticity. Marketing for inclusion should not be a one-time campaign or a trend. Martin emphasizes, “It is important to understand that inclusion is not a ‘marketing play.’ We must walk the walk and create inclusive cultures. This is the only way to sustainably attract new members.” The best way to make sure inclusive marketing efforts are effective is to ask employees who reflect the included groups for direction. As Martin says, “they are a great resource to ask how to best serve your members. They will make sure that the messaging is impactful and authentic.” And if you don’t have team members who reflect your membership, Martin would “encourage you to ask yourself why.”

Trust. More research from Inclusiv shows that unbanked and underbanked potential members view financial institutions with suspicion. Any marketing that is pushy or feels inauthentic may drive these potential members away. 

Investment. Like all marketing efforts, marketing for inclusion requires an investment of time and money. To be successful, the efforts must be part of a broader business strategy.

For credit unions that are serious about creating an inclusive marketing strategy, the payoffs can be significant. Members who see themselves reflected in their credit union’s marketing materials are more likely to be engaged and loyal. By helping traditionally underserved people gain access to the tools for financial success, credit unions can fulfill a social mandate, in addition to a business one. In other words, DeFilippi says, “Credit unions can do well by doing good.”

We spoke with four credit unions that have found success with their inclusive marketing initiatives. Each has taken a unique approach to marketing to suit the communities they hope to support. 

SAFE Credit Union’s Diversity-Focused Marketing Campaign

$3 billion SAFE Credit Union, based in the Sacramento, California area, launched a marketing campaign focusing on diversity and individuality. “Because SAFE serves 13 counties in and surrounding the Greater Sacramento area, we wanted to reflect the incredible diversity in the region and among our membership,” says Erica Dias, VP/marketing & communications. 

“Sacramento is regularly cited as one of the most diverse cities in the nation, and the essence of the SAFE Credit YOUnion campaign is to honor all the ‘yous’ who make up our membership and local communities.”

SAFE CU worked with an agency to come up with a series of print ads and videos, reflecting the diverse ages, ethnicities, genders and personalities of its members and potential members. 

“SAFE Credit Union wanted fresh energy around our brand and worked with Sacramento-area advertising agency un/common to create it,” says Dias. “We charged the agency to create a campaign that captured the authentic experience of SAFE members and showcased how SAFE stands out from the competition. The campaign was created out of the agency’s experience visiting branches and observing the interactions between members and SAFE employees. The agency’s overwhelming sentiment was that at SAFE, we put YOU, our members, first. That was the genesis of the central campaign message.”

So far, feedback has been positive. Dias says the campaign “connects with people directly and honors what makes each individual, and their financial journey, unique. They see themselves in the campaign and, by extension, can see themselves as being valued members of SAFE.” 

SAFE CU is currently in the process of measuring the campaign’s success. Dias says, “Early results show that, compared to years with different creative, our digital performance has increased 200%-plus for those electing to open an account online, and our in-branch new member sign-up events have experienced record highs. 

“Additionally, early quantitative testing shows that, beyond awareness, top-of-mind consideration for SAFE has risen 30%-plus since the campaign launched,” she says. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard from many in the community that they like the campaign and relate to it unlike any other financial institution ads they’ve experienced. 

“We’ve seen our social media audience grow as people respond positively to the ads and video as well as share their positive relationships with SAFE in the comments. Some people have commented on SAFE’s social media that they thought they recognized their own friends and family in the images. We’ve had at least one job applicant tell us she chose to apply to SAFE solely because of the branding campaign, telling our employee services team that she wanted to work for an organization that displayed such a philosophy.” 

Dias says SAFE CU plans to continue its efforts in this direction.

“It’s long been SAFE’s practice to feature diversity in its marketing, but the power of the messaging and visuals in this campaign certainly brings the importance of that to the forefront. We are sure to keep on bringing the many faces that reflect the people we serve into our marketing. Ongoing campaigns have featured images of actual SAFE employees and just recently, first responders and essential workers as we continue to celebrate and honor those who make up the SAFE community.”

Asked about the benefits of continuing to do marketing for inclusion during the pandemic, Jenny Santos, SAFE CU’s VP/employee services, says, “Marketing is one part of a robust organization-wide commitment to celebrate diversity, practice inclusion and honor our differences when coming together united in service to our membership. Now and in the future, this is an integral part of our brand promise, a foundational aspect of the credit union difference.”

Vancity Credit Union’s Marketing to Remote Communities 

$28.2 billion Vancity Credit Union, Vancouver, British Columbia, is the largest community credit union in Canada. As over a third of the Indigenous population in British Columbia resides in Vancity’s service area, the CU has made a commitment to partner with people in Indigenous communities to build their financial assets and resilience.

Vancity’s marketing initiatives with Indigenous communities are informed by, and done in partnership with, members of the Indigenous communities they seek to serve, and Indigenous not-for-profit and First Nation government organizations. 

Vancity VP/Marketing Kelly McNeill-Sproxton says, “To understand local perspectives and needs, we rely heavily on those relationships to guide our approach. Our goal when it comes to marketing has always been to explore potential opportunities in a respectful and inclusive way.” 

As an example, when the people of the remote community of Cormorant Island needed access to financial services, Vancity responded by providing a branch. As McNeill-Sproxton says, “Vancity’s branch on Cormorant Island—which is staffed by local Namgis First Nation members—provided us a unique opportunity to work in a community that would otherwise face significant barriers in accessing many of the services that financial institutions provide. For example, in addition to the regular branch services we offer our members on Cormorant Island, we have introduced remote video conferencing into the business model; this provides members convenient, direct access to product specialists working from other Vancity locations.”

Communicating with remote communities is a unique challenge. “We’ve found other opportunities to leverage digital technologies that can help us maintain and strengthen our relationships with Indigenous communities,” says McNeill-Sproxton. “Some are as simple as the Facebook group we created for Cormorant Island. We had typically stayed away from creating pages or groups for individual branches. But the nuances of running a branch in this coastal community required us to provide specific updates on branch closures, hours of operations and other matters. 

“After discussions with members of the community, we created our special Facebook group. We’ve seen how this sort of contact and dialogue helps us to understand and respond to member needs. Ultimately, it reflects our approach to meeting people where they are and to being intentional about how we communicate with specific communities. Our posts are regularly shared on individual and Indigenous community Facebook pages.”In terms of future inclusive marketing efforts, McNeill-Sproxton says, “We continue our work to attract and recruit more Indigenous employees to Vancity, something we believe is important in our ongoing efforts to ensure a diverse workforce that best reflects and represents the members we serve. These efforts are also part of our commitment to working with Indigenous communities in an informed, respectful and purposeful way.”

Tammy Doles-Roberts
Olympia Credit Union
The (LGBTQ+-friendly) door stickers definitely helped, but our biggest impact was just getting involved and being a partner with some of the local organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ people.

Olympia Credit Union’s Outreach to Local LGBTQ+ Community

$40 million Olympia Credit Union, in Olympia, Washington, was looking to differentiate itself. It landed on a mission to serve all people, particularly those who felt discriminated against elsewhere, and came up with the tag line, “embracing the human difference.”

“Our mission statement came from the heart, and it is the common thread that pulls our board and staff together,” says CEO Tammy Doles-Roberts. “We didn’t see it as a marketing advantage.”

This mission spoke to people in Olympia’s LGBTQ+ community, many of whom had faced discrimination. As Olympia CU identified ways to be more inclusive, it realized it could market more effectively to the members of the LGBTQ+ community who were already members. It did LGBTQ+ sensitivity training in the branch and then put up a door sticker indicating it was a LGBTQ+-friendly organization. It also established gender-neutral restrooms.

“When our staff received LGBTQ+ sensitivity training several years ago, we learned the importance of pronouns and how many different possibilities there were,” Doles-Roberts says. “We chose to have new account-opening staff ask for pronouns a new member would use so we could make a note on our core system that all staff could see whenever dealing with that member.

“As time went on, when our front line would help existing members, they were also able to ask what pronouns were used and add the comment to the existing accounts. I think some members now know they can have us add this information.

“Recently, we updated our employment policy and replaced all ‘she/he’ references to ‘they/them’ to be more gender-neutral,” she adds. “We are still a work in progress. We had another LGBTQ+ sensitivity training in 2020.”

Olympia CU has finessed its marketing campaign to emphasize inclusivity. “We changed up our marketing graphics with subtle LGBTQ+ flavors, such as rainbows, or two same-sex people indicating a couple,” says Doles-Roberts. “We created postcards with these graphics, and when attending LGBTQ+ events or providing donations, we included these postcards.” The credit union also relied on word of mouth within LGBTQ+ community to help spread the word. 

Olympia CU staff got involved with such local LGBTQ+ organizations as the Capital City Pride (staff ran a popular pride bingo event for this group), Pizza Klatch, PFLAG Olympia, and PCAF as a way to support members. This turned out to be an important marketing initiative even though it was not designed as such. 

Doles-Roberts explains, “The door stickers definitely helped, but our biggest impact was just getting involved and being a partner with some of the local organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ people.” 

These initiatives unfolded organically, says Dole-Roberts. “Our marketing to non-members just came from our presence at those events and letting them know who we were. We don’t chase people down with hard sales approaches. We just get involved and show them that we are here to provide safe financial services to them.”

So far, feedback has been positive. On its most recent member survey, when asked how happy they were with the credit union on a scale of one to 10, members gave Olympia CU a 9.1. Doles-Roberts believes this is due in large part to the organization’s demonstration that it truly cares about all of its members.  cues icon 

Jen Lawrence, MBA, is a former investment banker, recruiter and corporate trainer who now writes about leadership and strategy. She is the author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team.

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