Agency News

The stage is set for credit unions, but the marketing playbook has changed

Feb 2023 — Robin Tyler Rooney

Here we are… 2023. What was once deemed “uncertain times” has become the “new normal”—a generous term considering there’s even more uncertainty around employment, inflation and a likely recession. Certainly less than an ideal environment for credit unions trying to grow membership and steal share from big banks.


In January 2019, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) launched their “Open Your Eyes” awareness campaign in 25 states with the goal of addressing common misperceptions among younger generations about credit union eligibility and benefits. Initial awareness and consideration results were promising, but unfortunately the campaign failed to convert on member growth as a whole.

The marketing playbook has changed on new member acquisition. Gone are the days of promoting low rates as the gateway to an influx of new members and share of their wallets. Consumer confidence is under siege due to collective concern over the pandemic, labor, supply chain, housing market and rising interest rates. Gen Z and Millennials still represent the biggest opportunity for unlocking growth, but many of the life milestones that drive bank switching are now being delayed. According to national housing data from the National Association of Realtors, the average age for first-time home purchase climbed to an all-time high of 36  in 2022. The average age for marriage has also climbed steadily over the past decade and is now 29 for women and 31 for men based on U.S. Census data.

Helping current members and prospects understand how they’re supporting the greater good simply by choosing a credit union builds deeper brand connection through shared values, ultimately driving long-term loyalty.

But there’s hope. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to meet the needs, goals and mindsets of today’s younger financial consumers. However, common barriers still exist. Many prospective members aren’t sure a credit union can offer the full range of products and caliber of technology they’re used to from big banks. While studies indicate current members understand and appreciate that credit unions offer more personal service and greater social impact and commitment to their local communities, the general public is still largely unaware of these benefits.

So how can credit unions overcome these challenges to retain and grow membership? A few key marketing focuses can make all the difference:



Invest in branding to build credibility

Modern branding and visual identity can play a huge role in overcoming the perception that credit unions aren’t as sophisticated as big banks. Carving out a unique and ownable brand name, logo, tagline and other foundational brand elements like colors, fonts, graphics, photo/video styles and key messages helps a credit union stand out from other financial institutions in the minds of its prospective members. Using these elements across all communication channels conveys credibility and ensures consistent experience at every touchpoint to increase awareness and familiarity. Strong branding is especially important when trying to capture attention and build emotional connection with younger adults.


Leverage mission to connect and differentiate

When it comes to differentiating from traditional banks, nothing is more powerful in setting credit unions apart—or appealing to younger generations—than their member-owned, not-for-profit, socially responsible nature. A recent report by BAI revealed that over 50% of Gen Z and Millennial respondents said they would change financial services organizations for a higher commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) or environmental, societal and governance (ESG). Weaving member focus, community commitment and supported causes through marketing efforts helps reinforce and grow current member relationships and attract new ones. Helping current members and prospects understand how they’re supporting the greater good simply by choosing a credit union builds deeper brand connection through shared values, ultimately driving long-term loyalty.



Stretch budgets through strategic targeting for greatest marketing impact

Even the largest credit unions in the nation don’t have marketing budgets to compete with the big banks. Smart data analysis can help prioritize efforts around branches with the most room for growth and/or highest concentration of Gen Z and Millennial prospects. For example, Haberman’s recent campaign for Affinity Plus Credit Union concentrated paid media efforts in six markets needing extra member acquisition support. A combination of high-reach, broad messaging tactics like out-of-home and broadcast and heavy ups in key markets targeting specific life stages or need states provides the greatest chance for building brand awareness and consideration and being top of mind when consumers are ready to switch.

In challenging financial times, credit unions offer many benefits beyond just banking. By using strong branding and purpose to connect with prospects on a deeper level and strategically targeting communications to reach them, credit unions can build long-term relationships with young adults to overcome big bank biases.

Director of Account Management

Robin leads account management at Haberman, bringing a combination of heart, business acumen and passion for fostering meaningful client-agency relationships to our team. In addition to providing best-in-class client service, Robin helps define brand and marketing strategies and ensures strategic insights are woven through every element of our campaigns.

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