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Credit Unions Already Lost. So, How Do They Win?

Originally published in CUInsight.com

Raise your hand if your credit union is a leader in digital offerings. Keep that hand up if your members agree. Finally, hold it just a little longer (you didn’t expect this article to be a literal workout!) if your local community agrees.

Of course, I’m just writing on a page, so my presumption of response is just that, a guess. However, I can wager no one held their hand up the whole time. This may shock you, so grip your phone tightly, but credit unions…aren’t digital banking leaders. Then what group is?

Digital banks and fintechs. And, frankly, it’s not even close. To rub it in just a bit more, they also won the race for younger, tech-savvy generations.

According to Cornerstone Advisors research, “[m]ore Gen Zers and Millennials call a digital bank their primary checking account provider than those that consider a community bank or a credit union…combined.”

That data point bears repeating:

More people 40 and under use a digital bank for their primary checking than every credit union combined. 

Maybe credit unions just need to work on their marketing. Members love dealing with the best not-for-profit financial cooperatives around! Right? Wait, right? Oh no, not here too!

Turns out, member satisfaction with credit unions is down, and has been on that path for a while, especially with Millennials and Gen Zers. Interestingly, member satisfaction levels fell for credit unions at the same amount as digital banks grew their satisfaction levels (around 2%).

In other words, people who make up the bulk of the population (and more moving forward) prefer digital banks to credit unions. The biggest reasons? Lack of satisfaction with “online banking capabilities that are easy to use” and the credit union being “easy to deal with”.

What is a humble credit union to do?

Mission

Group of Young Men Together
They just want connection and simplicity.

Yes, mission.

Just not the way you may think. GAC and other gatherings bring together credit union lovers to celebrate driving their mission of financial education, inclusion, and empowerment. But, given the data, that’s either not what people want, or it’s not getting across.

Otherwise, credit unions would be the dominant banking option of choice, right? Which means there’s a disconnect.

I’d bet people do want these things. It’s why they use digital banks, which make managing savings, spending, budgeting, debt elimination, and investing easy. With a bit of education, apps guide users to take positive steps with their own money.

In other words, they help more people take greater control of their financial life. Financial empowerment, you could say.

How is that not the credit union mission?

Combined with community impact, it is the mission. Which means people want it, but don’t feel they’re getting it from credit unions. Or to do so, have to deal with disappointing digital services. Something’s gotta give.

Claim Your Measured Mission Identity

Table of People with Phones and Laptops
Working together through technology.

So what’s missing? Obviously, first, you need quality digital options. You won’t be able to build them yourself. Partner with great providers. Ensure everyone has APIs so it all talks seamlessly and makes members and staff lives easier. I’ve covered that before.

Tech in hand, that’s not all. You still need something else. Branding and connection. Let’s achieve that in two, highly simplified, steps:

  1. “Measure your mission.” My CU Geek posts called for this concept numerous times, but when Anne Legg spoke the phrase in a recent chat, I had to give her the credit.
  2. Claim your identity. A common concept for my loyal readers, but, once again, someone else explained it more clearly than my dozen posts did. Jackie Brown of JB Collaborates suggests you “discover your individual credit union’s true identity”.

And step 3? Well that’s spreading the word, through actions made obvious in the previous two exercises. If you did them right, and continue to tweak as you go, the outreach will stem from self-appointed brand ambassadors: Your members.

After all this effort, will your credit union attract back all those people already lost to digital banking platforms? Probably not. But you will stem the tide, while building existing relationships and engaging the community, inspiring others to join.

In other words, shore up your digital offerings. Once you’re directly competitive and comparable to digital banks in people’s minds, the community focus shines through. And that’s where you excel.

Credit unions won’t make every person a member, but they can make a positive difference in more lives. And after all, isn’t that the mission?

Privacy: A Guide for People (Part 1 – Things Your Credit Union Can Discuss)

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Updated 1/25/22 & 3/2/22 with details on the demise of FLoC and announcement of Topics API & fingerprinting

Privacy. Buzzword doesn’t even begin to describe it. You discuss it in your board meetings. It’s mentioned ad nauseam on news stories at every level.

It played a major role during the coronavirus pandemic. Conflicts between the right to privacy and informing fellow workers of infected persons raised a lot of ire.

Tracking exposed people using anonymous phone location data built maps where we could watch the virus spread. Was that a public health requirement or privacy violation? Or both?

And now, with Apple and Google having built an Exposure Notification API, everyone’s devices could help us know when you’re exposed. Are there privacy implications? You bet. That’s why they listened to get it right.

Too bad our national and local governments mostly passed up using the tech to help save lives…because of the privacy issues out there, this wasn’t the “hill to die on”. Only, hundreds of thousands did. Anyway…

We debate the details of privacy and what it means with respect to national security, crime, and business. In fact, privacy is a topic of discussion in nearly every area of life.

Private Sign on Chain

Yet why do we seem to have less of it than ever before?

This post will look at what privacy means for your credit union, your members, and how its perception evolves over time.

You’ve Been Logged

Of course, you’ve already been logged. “Let me count the ways…” Where do we even start?

For the more mundane, we’ve got cookies in your web browser. They help sites recognize you upon your return. This is what lets you “stay logged in” on Gmail or any other service.

We’ll get to the more interesting systems later.

Tracking for Good

Tracking isn’t inherently bad. You can’t personalize if you don’t have any knowledge on who is doing what. The key is to embrace your data to improve your experiences without getting creepy.

Cookies

From your standpoint, cookies are a fun tool. They can be used to remember members upon their return to your site. United Texas CU embraces this with their full-page assistant.

United Texas CU Homepage
Well, hello there.

You can take it even further by proactively offering assistance based on their previous visit actions. If a member visited your Checking page before, display your account options on the homepage.

The same can be done with Auto Loans, where you display your Car Buying Service and your “as low as” rate.

In a way, members feel recognized and appreciated. It’s not creepy and helps everyone. Think of it like the Recommended Items on your Amazon homepage.

There’s also 3rd party cookies, which follow you around the internet and are not in the same category at all. We look at those below.

Account Alerts

Did you know that in 2019, there was a 31% drop in average annual number of overdrafts per account? Unfortunately, it’s not because people suddenly had more money. Or that they could avoid overdrawing their accounts.

Bell

It’s been attributed, at least in part, to proactive account alerts: Push notifications from the banking app to warn on low balance. Does your app do that? Because others do it with a lot of style.

On one side, it will cost money to implement and reduce fee income. However, I believe the credit union mission demands it. There are a lot of other ways to grow revenues that don’t involve punishing those already least able to afford it.

From your member’s perspective, you are providing a helpful service that assists them in better managing their available funds. And saves money. Plus, it can be part of a financial literacy effort. If nothing else, it’s financial empowerment.

Account Insights

Some of the big banks have digital assistants in their apps to give additional insights. For example, Bank of America has Erica (Get it? Brilliant, right?).

You can ask Erica questions by text or voice, both using natural language. For example, you can say, “how much did I spend on groceries this month?” Or, “what are my recurring charges?”

Coins and Calculator on Budget

Helping members get a better view on their money (and take actions on it) will keep you from becoming a “dumb bank”.

Tracking You May Not Know About

With our smartphones comes an impressive array of sensors and software systems. Put together, they can learn an insane amount of information about you.

We’ll talk about them, but there’s also other personal information you’re giving up without even realizing. Some you can restrict. Most you can’t (though Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency will give you lots more control).

Location

Your phone has GPS. So it knows where it is in the world. That means your cell phone provider also knows. Granted, it needs to so it can choose which tower to use (for rough location, they’ve always known).

Blue Location Pin

With apps, you can choose to allow them to access that location information. It’s helpful to find ATMs, use maps, or any of millions of other functions.

Did you know you can restrict this access? Your phone lets you choose whether the app can access your location at all, while it’s open, or always (yes, even when it’s not active at all).

For example, Bank of America asks for Always location access to match your phone’s location with card purchases. If your card is in Sacramento and you’re in Boston, there might be a problem.

Many apps ask for your location to sell that data to advertisers. You didn’t think that amazing game was free free, right?

Find your phone’s location privacy settings (iPhone: Settings/Privacy/Location Services). Lock it down as much as you can while still allowing desired functionality.

I recommend turning off “Precise Location” on any apps that don’t need to know where you are to the foot. If you must leave location on for Facebook, this is the setting to use.

Beyond GPS

GPS is your primary location system on phones, but it’s not the only one. Bluetooth does more than connect to your headphones. It is a form of precise location as well.

This is done in two ways:

Bluetooth Icon
  • Detection of Bluetooth beacons installed in the environment around you
    • Example: In a clothing store, when their app is open, it may use these beacons to offer section-specific coupons.
  • Looking at every Bluetooth device around you and their signal strength or change over time
    • This is how Apple Maps determines traffic. Your iPhone listens for every other iPhone’s Bluetooth signal as you’re driving along. When it detects the GPS speed is slow and also many other iPhones, that’s a good indicator of traffic.

COVID-19 Exposure Notification API

Who knew when I wrote this that there would be a global use of Bluetooth tracking? Well, there is. Apple & Google partnered to build a COVID-19 Exposure Notification API. With it, phones use Bluetooth to look at nearby devices.

While preserving privacy, your phone will monitor other Bluetooth devices nearby, behaving similarly to the traffic tracking. It will look at signal strength to determine distance (instead of speed). This gets anonymized and sent to their servers.

Public health authorities and individual users will mark people who have tested positive. Then, the system will match that device’s identifier to all those who were in proximity. Each of them receive a notification they may have been exposed.

It’s already on your phone. Even though it’s really a bit late, there is still time to demand your national and state governments build apps to “light it up”. Without exaggeration, it will save lives.

Other Bluetooth Uses

To address the issue of apps (like Facebook) using this Bluetooth data to get location information on you, even when you had Location Access off, Apple made apps get permission to use Bluetooth.

It’s another section in Privacy on your iPhone. Check it. Turn off those which aren’t using devices or services (while leaving it on for apps like Tile, which use it in the background to help others find their stuff).

There’s a whole lot more we can discuss on the topic of location data from phones/watches:

  • The accelerometer knows how and where it’s being held/carried
  • The gyroscope can detect how it moves in an environment
  • In theory, this data can show limps, desired accessories (purses, pockets, etc.), activity levels, or other potential health characteristics

Yeah, it gets a little nuts. But it’s happening. My main advice here? Only install apps from companies you generally trust and keep access permissions as low as possible while preserving app functionality.

Data Scraping

There’s a reason the Privacy section of your iPhone has categories beyond Location. Apps can collect an enormous amount of data from users, some without their knowledge (hence why there’s so many privacy sections).

Data Knowledge Learning Road Sign

This can include contact lists (known good e-mails, addresses, and phone numbers), recordings from around you (yes, some apps really are listening!), photos or camera, and more. Each requires permission.

For your financial institution, you don’t have to worry about this from your app. However, it’s good to know what’s possible. In some way, you might wish to use certain functions to improve member experience.

Advertising

It’s unlikely your mobile app has ads, beyond internal banners for financial services. A lot of others do. While I get that a “free internet” needs ads to fund it, we can do better.

Rogue ads that get into rotation on services like Google’s Double-click or Adsense networks can cause issues. They may collect data and send it back to sites for distributing malware, phishing messages, and more.

Analytics

Even apps without ads might have some form of tracking. Under the guise of “analytics”, some apps collect a large amount of usage data. Why? To sell it, of course! That new Apple privacy feature? It’ll minimize the practice, or at least make you aware if it is happening.

Just make sure when you open an app, tap “Ask Not To Track”. Done! Moving forward, you can always look at an iPhone app’s Privacy Label in the App Store to see what data they use to track you. If you don’t see that message, you probably have all apps banned in Privacy Settings already.

So what might an app be learning from your use? In other words, what do they consider “analytics”? Here’s just a few items included in Apple’s Privacy Label (all are included in LinkedIn to track you):

  • Precise/Coarse Location
  • All contact information
  • Advertising data (if you’ve ever tapped an ad, commented, liked, or just looked at one for any length of time)
  • Product interaction (literally how you swipe, tap, linger, and otherwise behave in an app)
    • Also, what you’ve typed (or potentially written, then erased) inside the app
  • Contacts
  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • “Other data types” (so, assume everything not already mentioned)

For this and more, you can always check Apple’s App Privacy labels in their store. In addition, they allow you to disable tracking (which upset some big data scraper companies, until they figured out other ways to get info): App Tracking Transparency.

I use Lockdown on my iOS devices to block many of those servers straight up. Within Safari, I also run Firefox Focus as a privacy filter (perhaps overkill, but there’s no harm).

Additionally, on Firefox (when I want more protection), I use Privacy Badger, Decentraleyes (addresses tracking through CDNs), and uBlock Origin. That’s in addition to the built-in tracking prevention features set to Strict.

If you handle the IT for your credit union, learn how Privacy Badger supports enterprise deployment and configuration. This lets you protect all your connected systems through unified management and can help prevent malware entering your network.

3rd Party Cookies

Cookies
Still not these?

Cookies again? Yes. They’re not just for the website you’re visiting. 3rd party cookies, which I’ve been blocking for many years (it’s a simple browser setting), track you across the internet.

These are one of the tools advertisers use to show ads for that beach chair you looked at a week ago on every other site. And it’s going away.

Google recently announced they’re removing support for 3rd party cookies in Chrome by 2022. So no more ads? Not quite.

First, this only affects Chrome (~60% of desktop browsers in US). Firefox and Safari blocked 3rd party cookies by default for a while now. Second, it doesn’t affect their own ads. Why?

Because if you’re using the (Google) Chrome browser, they’ve already got all the tracking data they need. This change won’t hurt them one bit. In fact…

Chess Board
The Google strategy game continues…

In my opinion, Google is doing this to build their own business. They’re making it harder for other advertisers to gather data, while ensuring they’ll have the most personalized ads to display.

FLoC Out, Topics API In

In 2021, Google suggested a new system called FLoC. If you use Chrome, you may have been included in their trial without any knowledge. That’s only one of the issues this idea had.

Turns out, the blowback was too strong and FLoC was abandoned, now to be replaced with Topics API. This system will, in theory, make all those tracking cookies obsolete by building a human-readable list of the things Google knows about you.

In other words, you’ll be able to see your detected interests, preferences, and more. Google says it would be optional (not opt-in, as usual, but opt-out), but we’ll wait for the experts to have a peek inside.

Why would your credit union care about this change? Well, it affects your marketing strategy. If you’ve been using targeted ads across the web, it may require a rethink.

Of course, with our company’s Learning Library and laser-focus on providing honest, quality content, we lean towards the old-school SEO path. It’s not just us suggesting that strategy, either.

How to deal with this upcoming change? Connect with members. Produce great content. Share on social media. Use e-mail, text (SMS), and notifications, when appropriate. Don’t just say you’re unique. Be it.

Members who are surveyed consistently say they don’t like companies being fast and loose with their personal data (and insights). Not that it stops them from using any services, but wouldn’t it be nice to reassure your members by being that good data steward?

Fingerprinting

Magnifying Glass and Fingerprint
Is that Times New Roman I see installed?

Whatever the future looks like for cookies and other direct tracking tools, there’s a “hidden” strategy lingering in plain sight. It’s known as canvas fingerprinting, and it can identify you with extreme accuracy, often across browsers.

First identified in 2010, advertisers use it to track people who have other settings disabled. It doesn’t require a cookie or login. Instead, it uses settings of your browser and computer that are passed in headers.

Things like the fonts you have installed, the screen resolution, browser type, version, and window size, as well as the operating system and more come together to make a fingerprint of your browsing. Each piece adds to your uniqueness.

Some companies try to foil these systems by making all users look the same. Apple devices deliver a standardized list of fonts, for example. Firefox and Brave browsers block known servers and randomize the canvas fingerprint, respectively.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to avoid this kind of tracking. The best course of action here is to support strong privacy regulations so fewer companies can track people without their knowledge.

Changing Norms

Finding this balance between “invading” privacy (through any means) and providing a useful service is a challenge.

It’s also essential to your future. At the same time, norms regarding what information can be shared is changing.

People are now ok with some forms of data exchange (I give you my information for this service).

My intention in this post was to expose you to just some of the methods in use today for tracking. And give you something to think about regarding member privacy.

Part 2 Dives Deeper

We went far enough today. This topic can cover books and still just scratch the surface. It’s changing all the time, both on the tools at your disposal and the strategies taken to get more data.

The second part of this Privacy Guide is going to look at individual risks. We will review privacy settings on phones, discuss some recent hacks that will make you rethink posting “Public”, and preventative tools to lock down your online and real-world presence.

Why, as a credit union, would you care about these things? Great question. First, you’re a person, which means all this applies to you, too. Plus, as a credit union, you aim to protect members’ financial lives.

We will also look at ways your credit union can share information to enhance the member experience. You won’t be alone; it’s already a big deal.

Data is a huge part of every aspect of life. We must ensure it’s moved, secured, and treated with care.

Be sure to Subscribe to CU Geek so you don’t miss any posts! Also, follow me on Twitter, where I share all sorts of intriguing content. And geek out about Doctor Who. Team TARDIS for life!

Want Your Marketing to Connect? Ask the Women!

For decades, the question was, “how do we market to the younger generations?” In the 90s, it was Gen X. 2000s? New Gen Ys look like they will want everything different. In fact, they’re so different, we can’t even use the same naming scheme.

We’ll call them Millennials. Yes, that feels good. Because they’re unique. And lived through the dastardly Y2K. #ISurvivedY2K

Turns out, Millennials were different. We grew up amidst both massive growth and enormous economic failures. Basically, there’s a lot working against us. I definitely don’t have time to go through them all.

And that’s fine, because there’s a new generation.

Gen Z. Ooooh. Young and spunky, but jaded like no other. For some reason, with these guys, we’re fine resuming the old naming convention. Finish the alphabet strong, right?

What makes Gen Z stand out? I yeet that question. Forget Millennials “destroying industries”…this generation will finish them all.

Connecting with Generations

There’s truth to every one of these analyses. People of different generations do exhibit unique qualities. And what engages a Gen X may not interest a Gen Z. Not to mention you can’t use the same platforms, because they’re just not there.

Yet this is all missing a bigger point. It’s about the generations, sure, but it’s about something even more basic. It’s about clarity, transparency, openness, warmth. I’m talking marketing to men and marketing to women.

Women Make Money Decisions

Ever wonder why home improvement marketing targets those handy men (and some women), yet home buying targets couples? It’s not only because, “this is a big decision we should make together.” It’s because the latter gets it. They know the women overwhelmingly make the purchasing decisions.

Young Couple with Dog

It’s not just me saying it. Women make the vast majority of purchasing decisions, no matter who works (or if it’s a multiple income household). In every marketing aspect, the biggest differentiator is gender.

So if women make the decisions, no matter their age, why are we putting so much focus on the generational trends? Look, I’m guilty of it as well, though my advice tended to be, “connect where and how people are, in an honest and transparent way.”

Let’s look at a recent rebrand from a company you may recognize (Disclosure: My company works with them).

TrueCar: A “Radikal” Rebrand

TrueCar doesn’t sell cars. However, they are the top rated site for people to find and get a guaranteed price on a nearby car. So they’re a big part of the car-buying process.

And, frankly, car buying sucks. Unless you’re buying a Tesla, you have the whole dealer thing to navigate. I’ve bought Mazdas for many years, from the same dealer and salesperson, and still, I don’t like the system.

Let’s be honest. Have you, or someone you knew, ever said, “by golly, I’m just super stoked about my car dealer! They’re the real cat’s meow!” That’s how people talk, right? Sounds fine to me.

The team at TrueCar hadn’t heard those comments, either. Yet their business depends on people going through that process. How do you encourage more people to do something we all know is, at best, meh?

They focused on the buyer. The real buyer. Women.

What do they want? Like the generation question, they want the same thing: Openness, clarity, honesty, warmth, connection. Every design and process change TrueCar made aims to achieve those ends.

Woman on Laptop

In their surveys, the new design language out-tested every other brand in likability by women. They’re featured in the animations, because apparently TrueCar also has this strange perception that women…exist.

So do you design for women only and exclude everyone else? I mean, you could, and you’d probably be fine, as long as you avoid “For Her” Bic pens (Definitely check out the “reviews”). It’s not like they’re half the population or anything.

I’m a guy and I love the new design. The old one wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t anything special. It told what they did in a traditional “trust-building and calming” blue tone. True was bold and caps because it is about being true to all parties.

The new one keeps that messaging and makes it about you. Because buying a car is personal. And that the decision-process can be fun…especially if it’s easy to do.

Doesn’t that make you want to at least look for a new car?

Generational Marketing is So Last Generation

So we’re done with generational marketing? Yes. And no. Because generational understanding still gives you valuable insights. It’s just not the complete story.

For example, a Boomer is less likely to be on Snapchat. So if you’re trying to promote products that fit their needs, it’s a silly place to market. Use age-specific demographics and include in your social strategy.

On the other side, a piece of education or product that works for a range of ages should be tailored to women. Because that’s your common factor. 25 and 65-year old women both fit a demographic.

Woman at Dual-Screen Computer

And why tailor to women rather than men? Because, once again, women make the buying decisions. Convincing men a certain razor is better might make them buy it.

More likely, the marketing will inspire them to ask their wife to buy it (or she’ll notice and get it on her own). And we’re not even talking about same-sex or cohabitation living arrangements.

Marketing At Your Credit Union

How does this relate to your credit union’s marketing and outreach strategies? It means going back to your mission. Again.

Take a look at your About Us or Why We Exist page. What does it present?

Circle of Hands and Feet

Most likely, it teaches you about a destination that people trust and rely upon for:

  • Sound financial advice
  • Tools to help simplify a variety of life stages
  • Efforts to boost the economic well-being of members

That sure sounds like stuff you’d want to present to the financial decision-maker of a household. Which means, your message is already solid. The change needs to come in how you convey it.

Take a look at what TrueCar did. Then look at Airbnb. Even Bank of America. What do they all have in common? Authenticity. Personality. Experience.

You don’t have to do a full rebrand to reap the benefits of this focus. Of course, when you do that, make sure it resonates!

Your goal, as you’ve read from me for years, is what it’s always been: Aim to best fulfill your mission. And communicating that in a way others grasp is a win for everyone.

So, women, what do you want? Because that’s your best marketing question to ask now.

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