You Will Believe an Industry Can Fly

Today’s blog comes courtesy of Jimmy Marks. Jimmy is the Creative Media Director at DigitalMailer, Inc. and a credit union member. He manages and contributes to several websites and blogs, including www.clickconnectcommunicate.com, www.cusoapbox.com, www.exigent911.com, and www.nothingtodowithcreditunions.com.

It was at the NACUSO regional meeting a few months ago that Ron Daly, my boss, described our work relationship as “Perry White and Jimmy Olsen”.  I think this is a pretty sharp analogy. He’s the veteran “newsman,” a person who has been working for and with credit unions for more than thirty years now and, more importantly, a guy who always knows what he wants. I’m the nerd running around in a sweater vest (and yes, I often wear a sweater vest), snapping pictures, managing our websites and blogs, creating content and trying to stay “cutting edge.”  So close is our resemblance to Superman’s Pal and Superman’s boss, I’ve actually started calling Ron “chief”. The jury’s out on whether he likes it or hates it.

If you’re as good at being a nerd as I am, you’re asking “Well, if you’re Superman’s pal and he’s Superman’s boss, who’s Superman?”

I decided after thinking about this for way too long (read: a few months) that our client base – the credit union industry – fit that roll pretty well. Every day, we hear stories about credit unions across the country reaching out to the underserved and underprivileged. We talk to credit unions about their initiatives, their charities, their pet projects, and their goals. Once in a while, a client of ours gets featured for their good work in a magazine or trade paper and we send around a “congratulations/”wouldja look at that” email here at DigitalMailer. Let’s face it – credit unions are pretty super.

But as any good nerd will tell you, Superman’s not always Superman. Sometimes, he’s Clark Kent. As first discussed by Jules Feiffer in the book The Great Comic Book Heroes (and later in the movie Kill Bill Vol 2 by Quentin Tarantino), Clark Kent is a critical part of who Superman is. Not only is Clark Kent the “alter ego,” he’s the human part of a man who isn’t human in any way. He’s also considered meek, clumsy, plain and unobtrusive. Everything Superman is and does is extraordinary, which is why everything Clark Kent is and does must be unremarkable. One can’t be the other.

Credit unions, this is Superman’s best pal, Jimmy Olsen, telling you to put on your cape.

Look! Up on the Web!

Let’s be clear – this isn’t my idea. I’m among a growing list of folks who want to see credit unions promote themselves, individually and nationally, and a larger percentage of the market. Guy Messick of Messick & Weber PC brought up credit unions’ market share at the aforementioned NACUSO 2010 Regional Meeting, saying that we should “get used to” that share if we didn’t start being bold and telling our story as an industry. His ideas were shared recently in this CU Times article regarding CU “myths” . There’s been a lot of struggle in the past few years, and that’s led to a lot of good press for us. We avoided much of the shame and struggle that fell on the big banks and we were praised for our fair lending and attractive credit card policies. You have Ondine Irving, the social media maven behind www.CreditCardConnection.org, to thank (in part) for credit unions’ sudden up-tick in publicity, thanks to her “partnership” with Suze Orman, who might be one remaining financial guru anyone trusts. www.MoveYourMoney.info has also drawn some attention to credit unions and small, community banks by insisting readers/followers take the pledge and move their money away from banks previously thought of as “too big to fail.”  Then why aren’t we picking up more members and turning that increase in exposure into profit?

I think our push is getting hamstrung by negativity towards banks.  We’re hung up on the mental image of a fat-cat banker in his sock garters and pasty bald whiteness doing terrible things with our money and laughing it off. Yes, people get mad at their bank. Will they switch? Probably not. They’ve been told that being with a big bank means more fees but greater convenience, which let’s face it, is hard to argue against.

Let’s go back to this Superman analogy for a second. Superman isn’t Metropolis’ favorite son because everyone hates Lex Luthor, the greedy bald billionaire. He’s their favorite because of what he does for everyday people.

“I was in trouble and the credit union helped me.”
“I trust my credit union, they’re always there for me.”
“My credit union is the one place I feel safe and sound.”

You’re going to get a million people in the CU marketing game that will tell you “service” isn’t a value add or a differentiator. That might be true, but I’m willing to wager the people who know the difference between a credit union and a bank would be willing to tell others about it in your radio spots, your TV ads, and in videos on your website. “Service” isn’t what sets us apart – it’s the sense of trust, humanity, and yes, community. Stop pouring money into buying royalty-free images and artsy-fartsy ad campaigns and start showing your real members and their real lives.

If you need a little thunder to start your brainstorm, here it is: Extreme Makeover: Personal Finances Edition. Talk about the before and after of a member’s financial life.  Better yet, let the member talk about it. See American Express’ “Smart Cookies” page for an example of people making their outlook better because of AmEx, then start talking to members about why they’re with you and not someone else – another credit union, a community bank, a big bank, or the inside of a mattress.  Whom did you, as “Super-CU”, untie from the tracks and whisk away to safety? We’re labeled as modest, but that doesn’t mean nobody can tell our story.

Smallville, KS

Jonathan and Martha Kent, a mid-western farming couple, raised Superman and did their best to teach their adopted son right from wrong. Imagine, for a moment, if Superman had landed anywhere else. Would he still have the same values? Would he find it hard to put on his cape every day if he hadn’t been raised on “truth, justice, and the American Way?” You can take the boy out of the small town, but never the small town out of the boy. I should know.

Credit unions were founded to promote thrift and to take full advantage of the spirit of cooperation – in communities, in companies, and in churches all over this country. We wouldn’t exist had it not been for a few enterprising souls who wanted to help their fellow man. Sound corny? Who cares, it’s the truth. And as the incredible Mr. Messick said at the aforementioned NACUSO meeting,  success in the next few years is going to mean drinking a little bit of your own Kool-Aid. There are scads of million-dollar-plus success stories that started with a small credit union with a very niche member base turning into the premier banking institution for their area. Remembering where you came from is just as important as keeping a sharp eye on where you’re going.

“Has anyone seen Mr. Kent?”

Chip Filson at CreditUnions.com said credit unions were at a “tipping point”. We’ve got a spotlight pointed on us that’s getting brighter and brighter, and the need to meet those expectations outlined for us by the media is getting stronger. Could we get more members and more assets out of this? Yes, of course we could. But we won’t get it by being meek and wasting resources.

Get the word out about your credit union today. Email members and let them know what you can do for them. Generate a conversation in the branch that could lead to a cross-sell. Turn your loyal members into your living testimonials. It’s easy to do – all you have to do is ask.

Quit waiting for the Huffington Post to do your job for you – start telling people “You qualify for membership. Why aren’t you a member? Get yourself on over here.” Move your money? That’s too short-sighted. Make it “Move your money to THIS credit union TODAY.” Don’t be afraid to flash a tail-feather or two…chances are, you’ve earned the right. I’m inclined to say that if you’re still going after even the past TWO years, you’re doing something right. What is that thing you’re doing right? Tell me about it. Seriously.

As someone who started out not knowing what a credit union was or why it mattered, I can tell you there’s something special about where I put my money. I lose my debit card, I get a new one that day. I need a better line of credit, I ask and I receive. Someone talks to me when I have a problem. It’s an experience that’s hard to find these days. But it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

So, let’s go, credit unions. There’s a lot of problems happening out there and they need a fix. Despite what the naysayers may tell you, you are just the institution for the job. 

The meteor’s headed right for Earth. Ditch the suit. Lose the glasses. Fly.

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2 thoughts on “You Will Believe an Industry Can Fly

  1. Pingback: CU Water Cooler » Blog Archive » CU Water Cooler 6/21

  2. Thanks, Jimmy for the mention – I am passionate about my work and happy that CreditCardConnection.org has been such a success-we’ve had over 250,000 hits since January- more than double the other CU Locators-
    Yet there still remains some hesitation for Credit Unions to sign up- and it is FREE for them to register- We have almost 1,000 including the LARGEST CU’s in the nation- would LOVE to have the remaining 2,800 card issuing Credit Union’s get their program listed- not sure what the hesitation is- but then again, I believe that is the point of your article- 😉

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