The COVID-19 crisis has forced the Credit Union National Association to change its plans for a nationwide consumer awareness campaign, but the problems plaguing the project could last well beyond the pandemic.
The Open Eyes campaign was announced in 2018 to raise $ 100 million over three years for a nationwide awareness campaign to increase consumer awareness of credit unions and dispel myths surrounding membership. But as the fundraising period enters its third year, the campaign has strayed from the original plan and faces major hurdles, including the fact that about a third of all states have yet to signed and might not.
“In general, we have great admiration for CUNA’s leadership in raising awareness of credit unions, especially how [CUNA CEO] Jim Nussle is a personal and tireless advocate for credit unions with all audiences, ”said Paul Mercer, CEO of the Ohio Credit Union League, which is not currently participating. “Open Your Eyes is one of many outreach strategies; although we are very attentive to its evolution, it is not at the top of our priorities for 2021. ”
The campaign’s problems come against a backdrop of slowing growth in credit union memberships, with the industry adding only about 3.6 million members in the year ending November 30, 2020 – the slowest annual growth rate since 2014, according to CUNA Mutual Group. Loan growth has also slowed and is expected to be subdued for most of this year.
All of this could make it harder for credit unions and industry groups to jump on the bandwagon.
While Open Your Eyes was envisioned as a national outreach effort, Chris Lorence, executive director of CU Awareness, LLC, a subsidiary of CUNA, said that shortly after its launch in early 2019, the strategy shifted from ‘Focusing on major cities across the country on a state-by-state basis and working in concert with the leagues of state credit unions.
“I was on stage at [CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference] in 2020 and said we would have 30 states by the end of the year, ”Lorence said. “The pandemic caused a pause in momentum because credit unions were concentrating elsewhere. “
As COVID-19 worsened last spring, Open Your Eyes was suspended for two months. Once relaunched, some messages were revamped to focus on how credit unions are helping their communities through the crisis and how they differ from other financial service providers. Open Your Eyes will be live in 25 states by the end of February, and organizers are currently raising funds to launch up to six more states by the end of the year.
Lorence did not provide details on the fundraising image, but the group fell short of their initial goal of $ 100 million and may never do.
“The goal that was set was $ 100 million for a three-year national campaign, so the $ 100 million was literally a foundation that would be great if we could make it happen,” said Lorence. “At this point, the campaign is a state-by-state campaign evolving into a network that will cover the entire United States. The $ 100 million is not, at this point, a goal that we are aiming for because we know that we need a lot more than that just to sustain for the many years it will take to change the way consumers look.
Still, a marketing expert said there were good reasons for CUNA’s shift to a state-by-state strategy.
“Credit unions are really strong in some parts of the country and they’re not as strong in others,” said Jeff Baker, president and creative director of Image 4, a branding and marketing company based. in New Hampshire who frequently works with credit unions. . “In the northeast, where the credit unions started, we only have a huge number of credit unions, and generally the manufacturing states have lots and lots of credit unions because they started life. like the place where workers put their money. But not all states have this. same level of coverage, he added, so going from state to state “can be a good way to put the money where it’s most effective.”
Individual states may simply not have the bandwidth to focus on an awareness campaign, Baker added, noting that not only are resources required to participate, but some observers may simply not see the value in it.
An industry insider who asked not to be named said some leagues had also shut down because they believed the money raised for the campaign could be better used to provide additional relief from COVID, ” which, if done well, in itself will be a good awareness raising tool.
This observer also suggested that Open Your Eyes could have been more effective if it had focused on consumer benefits and growth, rather than just awareness, and if the focus had been on specific measures. growth rate that could be used to measure its success.
The need for growth is part of what kept the CrossState Credit Union Association from signing. This league, which was formed last year following the merger of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and the New Jersey Credit Union League, ran their iBelong campaign in Keystone state for over a decade
“Our [Pennsylvania] The credit unions saw early on that we were changing our attitude and said, “That’s good, but we want to see the growth,” so we started measuring the growth early on, ”explained Mike Wishnow, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at CrossState. “When we started in 2007, we had about 3.2 million credit union members [in Pennsylvania] and he had been stuck at that number for almost two decades. Last year for the first time we passed 4 million and we are now around 4.2 million… we feel like we have had a lot of success with our iBelong program and there is capital mark in this program.
On top of that, iBelong’s switch from TV and radio advertising to digital only has helped lower costs for member credit unions without affecting benefits, Wishnow said. As a result, there is currently little appetite for shifting gears.
“There hasn’t really been a groundswell from our credit unions for a change, so what we’re doing is trying to mix so much message and language with what CUNA is doing so that it have a flow similar to this, ”said Wish Now. “Obviously their brand image is Open Your Eyes and we brand iBelong, but the concept is still the same. “
Lorence admitted that joining the campaign may just not be a priority for other states, either because of their own branding initiatives or setting their resources elsewhere. The return on investment associated with Open Your Eyes might also be harder to see for some, he said.
“Most marketers are very familiar with a direct response type of marketing approach: I emit X, I get Y,” Lorence said. “This campaign is very different in that we try to influence brand awareness, which takes a lot longer.”