Credit Union Messaging: Solving the Puzzle for Effective Communication
Posted by Beth Austin
Crafting effective messaging is not unlike completing a puzzle. There are a number of pieces that need to be assembled and it takes time and effort to find the right match, but with the right focus and understanding, it all fits together perfectly. Ultimately, the cornerstone to developing positive and persuasive communication is for the speaker (credit union) to present the information in a way that the listener (member or potential member) understands and wants or expects to hear it. Although this seems obvious, it’s a step that many communicators fail to execute, and then they are left wondering why their messaging was not effective.
Know Your Audience
Most organizations do a reasonable job of knowing the demographics and often even the psychographics of their target audience, but gaining an understanding of the audience’s wants and needs is also critical. Too many times, organizations will develop products or programs in response to perceived, not actual, member needs. The only way to know what members – or potential members - need is to learn from reliable resources (i.e., secondary research) or to ask them directly (i.e., primary research), and the best practices will use a combination of both. When you make assumptions, it can be counterproductive and costly, and you may learn that you don’t know your audience as well as you think you do. My favorite example of this is outside the credit union world, but has applicability. A large bagel shop in New England did extensive customer research to learn what factors bagel consumers found important and got surprising results. Care to guess what the single most important thing customers want from their bagel vendor? Not selection, not low prices, not convenient location, nor even quality bagels. They want their cream cheese on the side. While that response doesn’t provide much fodder for an overall brand strategy, it’s refreshing to know that sometimes very simple things can make a big difference.
Think Like They Think
Armed with the knowledge of what your audience wants, the next step becomes determining how best to communicate with them. For those of you living and breathing these topics every day, it’s easy to forget that the average consumer doesn’t think about mortgage underwriting or the yield on the 5-year certificates as you do. Many of them may not even really know what a credit union is. When it’s prudent, providing education to the audience is important, but it is equally if not more important, to deliver messages in a way they are already likely to think about them. A good example of this is to think of financial products in terms of life stage and then “bundle” products and services accordingly. Many credit unions have demonstrated success with these efforts.
Success in this area is fueled by knowing the audience:
· What are the demographic and psychographic features of my target audience?
· What are the major life events typically experienced by people in this target group?
· Which of my credit union’s existing products would they want or need during this life stage?
And by thinking how they think:
· What other needs might members of this target group have for which we could create or adapt a product to meet them?
· How do members with similar demographics utilize existing products?
· How can I talk about these products in a way that will resonate with them?
Be Where They Are
Finding the best way to deliver the message is the last piece of the puzzle. This is a step that many credit unions are quite good at, particularly with regard to traditional media channels. Even in today’s fragmented market, a good media buyer (or knowledgeable in-house personnel) will be able to provide reasonable guidance on what media your target audience is likely to use. But it is important not to stop there. As I’ve mentioned previously it is especially important for credit unions to utilize non-traditional channels and out-of-the-box thinking to communicate their messages. Identify employees of a similar demographic to the target audience, train them on the messaging, and dispatch them to relevant community events to engage with members and potential members. What better way to receive the message than from someone who already thinks like they think? The personal interaction is also critical element to ensuring that your message is heard and understood.
If you know your audience, think like they think, and be where they are, you will be able to see the whole picture clearly and begin communicating effectively.