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CU Perceptions: To "Bank" or Not to "Bank" in CU Marketing

This is the second article in a series called CU Perceptions that examines how Missouri credit unions are perceived by nonmembers and members. 

Does Using the Word "Bank" Help or Hinder Your Credit Union Brand?  

Among consumers who are not credit union members, by far the largest reason given for not using a credit union is a lack of familiarity with how they operate and services provided. Case in point: when 18- to 30-year-olds were asked what they thought about credit unions during our Bank On More focus groups, one man said "...I think you have to be referred." Another chimed in, saying "...I'm pretty sure you have to be invited to join."

It's no surprise that the word "credit union" doesn't resonate with nonmembers like the word "banking" does. After all, no one conducts financial transactions by "credit union-ing." We inherently are presented with an uphill battle, because the word "credit union" is not a familiar one for most nonmembers. Continual education is needed to break down the barriers that are naturally part of our industry. The good news is that once we relate to nonmembers and explain that we offer banking services in a not-for-profit setting, we become much more appealing.

You can attract nonmembers in many ways, but one of the most efficient is to integrate the verb "banking" or "bank" into your marketing because it clearly explains what credit unions offer and how they operate, which clears up the number one reason why people don't already belong. If you integrate the verb "bank" into your tagline, it dispels the ambiguity around the word "credit union." But once you get nonmembers in the door, it's important to educate them on the benefits of credit unions versus for-profit institutions. The credit union difference is our story—it's our core competency, but sometimes, you need to speak nonmembers' language to get them through the door. 

There are several credit unions in Missouri who use versions of 'bank' or 'banking' in their marketing.  

"Using a form of 'bank' [in our marketing] has been an intuitive decision for Assemblies of God Credit Union because that's the terminology our members use," says Stephanie Jenkins, integrated marketing manager. "We believe strongly in meeting our members and potential members where they are and then educating them on the benefits of doing business with us. At AGCU it doesn't matter what they call us. The services we offer and how we deliver those services are what matter."

1st Financial Federal Credit Union (Wentzville) adopted the tagline "The Better Way to Bank" after focus groups and surveys proved nonmembers weren't familiar with the term "credit union." 

"Most consumers have no idea what a credit union is or what it does," says Michelle Rosner, 1st Financial's chief lending officer. "Words such as: union, join, share account, and member muddy the waters and maker it difficult for people to identify with us."  

Here's how our focus group participants (18- to 30-year-olds) interpret the slogan Bank On More:

Jefferson City Kansas City

A better alternative to banks

Bank on life, not just money

Get more from your banking

Have more bang for your buck

Getting more for your money's worth

More money in your account

Use a credit union to get more things

You can get more out of life by banking at a credit union

Bank at a place that gives you more

Better service

Committed to you at every stage of life

Get better loan rates

Help with everything

More access to credit

More savings

Springfield St. Louis

Put money to work for me

Banking, but better

Have more money

Higher quality of life

More services offered

More trust in a credit union than bank

You can count on more

You'll get more from a credit union 

Bigger goals and dreams

Better loans

Expect more

Get more from your money

More money in your pocket

More options

Not just about money

They offer more than a bank

Across all markets, consumers are understanding the intended meaning that you CAN get more from a credit union than a bank. Since Bank On More exists to inform nonmembers of credit unions, it makes sense to use "bank" as a verb. If we only have 30 seconds to communicate a message, we want to be sure we're using words that our audience understands.   

"The decision to use the word 'bank' in our statewide consumer awareness campaign was carefully made by a group of credit union marketers and CEOs who were part of our initial awareness committee in 2011," says Liz Adams, SVP Member Relations for the Missouri Credit Union Association. "They set us up for success by establishing a strong brand message that concisely tells consumers credit unions have more to offer." 

We hope you enjoyed this insight from Missouri residents, ages 18-30. Look out for another article in the series that exposes perceptions and awareness of credit unions in Missouri.