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This year I have the honor of teaching Strategic Marketing at not just one, but TWO Credit Union Management Schools. CUNA Management School at the University of Wisconsin and Southeast Regional Credit Union Schools at the University of Georgia.


This picture says we try harder to be all things to all people. Blech!

In preparing for each class I like to get the student roster well in advance and take a look at their websites and social media efforts. Then, I like to weave in some of the best and worst examples in my teaching. A couple of years ago I had an attendee at a conference get a bit upset because I put their awful happy shiny people website on the screen. And this person wasn’t even in the marketing department. I told her that I was sorry she felt embarrassed by that but someone in her credit union put it on the WORLD WIDE WEB so it really is fair game.

I am still shocked at how many bad credit union websites are still out there. And with the average age of a credit union member holding steady at 47 it’s safe to say that the older members likely don’t care. But to attract the ever elusive Millennial? You better step up your game. They don’t know a world without smart phones and the internet. Facebook is how they get their news.  For a long time I didn’t think credit unions should be on Facebook. But as my friend Matt Davis explained to me – Facebook has become the “yellow pages” so you really should have a presence.  But here are my credit union social media pet peeves:

  1. Blatantly shlepping your “me too” products. Last week I saw a Facebook page that actually talked about “free checking” and had a picture of….wait for it…..a person writing a check. I had to check the calendar to see if it was 1995. Whenever I see a CU boasting about free checking today it’s like driving by a grocery store and seeing a banner that says “We have food.”
  2. My incredibly talented and creative friend Brent Dixon once said in a social media teaching session “If you talked to your friends the way your credit union talks in social media, they would punch you in the face.” Why must we use brochure jargon? Just talk to me. Twitter to me is like a cocktail party. Don’t be the jerk crashing it to sell your products.
  3. Shiny happy people. I looked at 45 credit union websites yesterday. Only THREE of them did not have shiny happy stock art people on them. This is shameful. Some of them even used the same stock art. This is a sure sign of zero differentiation. We are better than this people
  4. And finally, the “About Us” page. Tsk Tsk Tsk if I cannot read your history here. The majority of credit unions today have some kind of community charter or SEG based field of membership, and I get that. But what is wrong with continuing to give a nod to the pioneers of your credit union? Those disruptors to the banking industry in the 1930’s that dared to take their money out of the bank and give it to a co-worker who kept a ledger and most likely put the money in a cigar box or coffee can. That’s good stuff.

Okay – so what is a good example of credit union websites and social media done right? Well, I only have two  I’m afraid. So here we go……. drum roll please.

The first Annual Flying Pig for Excellence in Website Development goes to: ORNLFCU. Even though they dropped in a few “shiny happy people” their navigation is superb. Their history page is amazing, and the boldness of the large photos is sexy. I especially love the home page for the acknowledgement that most people just want to get to home banking – big and proud and in your face. Nicely done.

The first Annual Flying Pig for Social Media Excellence goes to……drum roll again please…….Community Choice Credit Union. I came upon this Facebook page and clicked on their newest ad and laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. I also happen to love kittens, I mean, who doesn’t?

This credit union’s brand is fun, and a bit campy and I love it.

If you would like to nominate your credit union’s website or social media efforts for the Second Annual Flying Pig Excellence awards, please do here. I just made that up and I think I might just really do it. Now, where can I get a Flying Pig Trophy?

I have said it over and over again – if you want your credit union’s brand to stand out and mean something you need to GET RID OF the shiny happy stock art people and find something unique, fun, beautiful, telling. But have you been listening to me? No.

Google “credit union” and “your state” and click on the top five websites. Go on. I’ll wait. I’ll bet 4 out of 5 of those sites were festooned with people you don’t recognize as being part of your community. Am I right? Check out this one.


The credit union that chose this picture is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to there are 555,417 residents of ABQ, and 3% are African American, 2% are Asian. I mean at least use stock art that is somewhat representative of your demographic. I HATE it when we trip over ourselves trying to be politically correct by using photos like this.

Well finally there is a real reason – a cautionary tale if you will – to stop using pictures of people you don’t know.

I give you the face of Obamacare: Adriana.


She said she was never paid for appearing on the troubled site. She’s a stock art model. She gets paid for having her picture taken and then folks like Getty Images re-sell it to marketers who are obsessed with shiny happy people. According to Fox News she has become one of the most despised women on earth and has been “bullied.” Poor Adriana!

They have removed her picture from the site. Please take down your shiny fake faces before more people get hurt.

One credit union trend I love is the “All Staff Training Day” Taking an obscure holiday like Columbus Day – remaining closed – and going off-site to a fun place for the entire staff to learn, laugh, bond, eat and receive logo SWAG.

I have had the honor to be the guest speaker at many of these events. I’ve seen CEOs dress up like bikers, HR Directors in a Pickle Costume tossing rubber pickles into the crowd, amazing and funny videos, but most of all I get to see tellers smile.

You see, I started my career as a teller. And I loved being a teller. I loved the validation that comes at the end of every day that is the balancing of the cash drawer.  Tangible evidence of your greatness. And a sense of completion that you rarely get once you move into management.

I also remember just how much control I had over the Credit Union’s reputation.  Which is to say I had the ultimate control. And I used my powers for good – always.

Most credit union’s travel budgets look like this:


So, I’m available for your next staff training day.  I’m holding Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day and MLK Day for whomever contacts me first.

Email me for more information

And if you don’t need me this year – tell your friends. Seriously, if you know someone that has access to the CUNA Training List Serv thingy – love to get a shout out.

I love a good spa. And I’m not gonna lie, Mark loves a good spa too. He’s my spa boy. So when we had the opportunity to go to the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Hotel and Spa last week-end – let’s just say – hell yes! (see picture below)

The Tamaya is situated on sacred land owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo and is managed by Hyatt. When I am smitten with a brand I have to infiltrate and learn. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with the head of food and beverage – Kristin on this trip. I wanted to find out how they were able to create such a peaceful, restful, zen-like atmosphere.

It’s simple, she said, we want it to feel like your home. Not a fancy hotel. The lobby is one giant living room. A big fireplace on either end with overstuffed couches and chairs and coffee tables and games and pillows. Not hotel furniture – real furniture. We ate breakfast at their buffet – instead of those big metal chafing dishes, the food was served in Le Creuset pans. Just like I have at home. The soap dish is a piece of flagstone – very artsy fartsy – like I have at home.

Then she shared the best part- where do THEY get their inspiration?

Ashley Furniture. Yup – she said periodically they will walk through their “home show room” and get staging ideas for their Hyatt home. It’s really the little details that make it special. Like the tchotchkes on the end table. Oh, and the pictures in my room were not bolted down!

After you read this go step outside and walk into your credit union lobby – how does it make you feel? Does it resemble a doctor’s office from the 80’s? I sometimes wonder if that’s where we got our inspiration. Sign in at the receptionist, sit on a hard chair under fluorescent lighting, read old magazines and wait for someone to call your name. Then you go back in the examination room and bare your soul (aka apply for a loan).


Now I want you to go to a spa…..and imagine the possibilities.

Have you seen the new JC Penney commercials? Or should I say have you “heard” the new JC Penney commercials? It’s basically 60 seconds of screaming. And it’s caused quite a stir in social media. Few love it – most hate it – lots are talking about it.

JC Penney is trying to rebrand. And of course what that really means is – they have a new logo. Your brand is your reputation. And JC Penney has a reputation for being a bland mall anchor store. Kind of like Sears, Mervyns and Dillards. It’s not easy changing a reputation. Consider this. If you had a bad reputation in high school – how easy was it for you to rebrand yourself? Impossible. The best thing about high school is it ended. So you could move to a new State where no one knew your past and rebrand yourself. Unfortunately – JC Penney’s reputation is national and well-known.

Have you noticed that when these new “outdoor” malls or Villages spring up only the cool kids get asked to play? Like Anthropologie, Apple, Williams Sonoma and Chicos? Not JC Penney. Their brand is not chic enough or expensive enough.

So let’s take a look at the new JC Penney logo.

Seems they recycled the failed rebranding of Gap.

Sadly no one is protesting the new JCP moniker like they did with Gap – just the screaming commercials.

The new JCP promise – that is implied with the logo and the moaning Myrtle in the commercial – is fair and square pricing. Yup. You heard it – they are going to compete on price. With that logic I’m hard pressed to figure out who their target audience and competition are.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has partnered with the retailer to serve as a spokesperson for the retailer’s new identity. Remember SEARS, “Where America Shops” and their partnership with Chery Tiegs?

Time will tell if JCP can become America’s favorite department store.

I’m not much of a fast food junkie – and I’ve never been a big fan of McDonald’s but I have to say – I totally respect their McRib strategy. No one really knows why this has not become a regular item. But Facebook pages have lobbied to “bring the McRib back” and this morning on the news – yes on the news – the co-anchors were discussing the merits of the McRib.

Marta Fearon, McDonald’s US Marketing director admits that bringing it back every so often adds to the excitement. In the past they would only sell the McRib in certain locations. This time it’s at all locations until November 14th. Building in a sense of urgency.

So what can we learn from the golden arches?

Oh, and at only 500 calories and 26 grams of fat, it’s slightly healthier than the Big Mac.

We missed the first three days of our vacation because of a cancelled flight. Finally arrived at our Villa in Tuscany late Tuesday afternoon. Yesterday we spent the entire day with Monika Iris – our guide to the Chianti region. Every single place she took us had one thing in common – they stay deliberately small so they can concentrate on the quality of their product.

A great example is the DOCG rating for Chianti wines. There are rules – much like the NCUA’s CAMEL rating only these make sense.

Rule #1 – Your grapes must be grown by you. You must have complete control of the product. No participation grapes.
Rule#2 – You must limit the quantity including the number of grapes per vine that are allowed to grow to maturity. You cut down several bunches before they are allowed to mature and they become fertilizer. Not every grape can join the bottle. There is no “lives, works, worships” grape rule.
Rule#3- You must pass a rigorous blind taste test – a valid survey of your product – the experience.

Everything I experienced yesterday validated the thought that quality versus quantity still matters. In one day I feel as if the cost of the trip was justified.

Today – Castellina for gellato…….

The not new New Beetle was unveiled in New York City last week.  Yes, you read that correctly. A new VW Beetle was revealed with the sole purpose of proving that it was NOTHING like a VW Beetle.  Klaus Bischoff, VW Design Chief,  was tired of the Beetle’s flower power image and the fact that 61 percent of New Beetle purchasers in 2010 were women. Blech!

Take that bud vase off that dash. No flowers for you.

You can only order the not new New Beetle in Black (and eventually red and white) No more fun colors for you!

Gone are the circular headlights that looked so much like eyes with droopy lids women would dare to put eyelashes on them. No more fun for you!

I owned a 1973 Super Beetle named Howard, a 1979 VW Beetle Convertible named Marge and a 1999 VW New Beetle named Toonces. I am…..was the Beetle’s target audience. Apparently no more.

This is perhaps the weirdest business strategy I’ve ever heard of. Clearly a loyal audience was established, so let’s destroy it.

The not new New Beetle isn’t a horrible looking car, but all the charm and quirkiness we loved has been engineered out of it.

The only feasible reason for this strategy in my opinion? To make the VW Classic Beetle and the New Beetle (the old one) more valuable.

Every now and again in my travels I’ll see someone carrying an old Samsonite suitcase. A nice olive green one with buckles. It seems so weird to see a person struggling with the weight of their bag while all those around him/her effortlessly pulling theirs thanks to the amazing invention: wheels on luggage.

But why did this take so long to invent? And why did so many people buy the luggage trolly and still not see that it would be easier to just put the damn wheels ON the luggage?

My mantra this year is from Mr. James Dyson: “Solve the obvious problem that others seem to ignore.”

In the financial world I think we have lots of old olive green suitcases that we’re still lugging around.

# 1- At the top of our list: our hours. I can’t believe we still get away with 9 to 5, Monday thru Friday. And even more amazing – those hours force our members to run their banking errand on their lunch hour AND we close teller windows so our employees can run THEIR errands. Have all teller windows open at lunch = wheels on luggage.

#2 – The switch kit. I don’t know of any bigger pain in the butt than moving your checking account. The switch kits I’ve seen merely illustrate how difficult this is going to be. But I guess it can keep me busy while I wait 7 to 10 days for my debit card and PIN. The human switch kit = wheels on luggage. Do the switching for me.

#3 – Making a deposit. The hardest thing to do with my credit union is to give them money. If I take it to a shared branch location I can count on a hold. If I put it in the ATM, same thing. If I mail it – well – I’m relying on the US Postal Service to deposit my money. Remote Check Scan & Deposit = wheels on luggage.

#4 – The phone. Don’t make me wade through a bunch of marketing messages and “press one for member service.” There’s not a single piece of evidence out there to support this level of ignore – no one asked for it, no one likes it. Answer the phone = wheels on luggage.

Solve the obvious problem that others seem to ignore and you will have your differentiator.

You’re welcome.

Observations on credit union trends.

The re-branding (let’s change our name and logo) trend

Somewhere along the way a speaker or consultant or, dare I say, and ad agency posing as both, convinced credit unions that their biggest obstacle to growth was their legacy. It’s too specific. People will still think that they have to be a Portland Teacher (for example) to join. Even though the evidence to the contrary was staring at them on their balance sheet.

And so the name changes began.

Altana, Aventa, Aspire….

Community, Community Driven, Champion Community….

Encompass, Encore, Extra….

Meridian, Meritrust, Milestone….

Wildfire, Red Canoe and wait for it…….Salal.

Here’s an interesting list if you want to read more.

This trend thankfully has slowed down. But only to be replaced by: Merger Mania!

Now I get that in this historic bottoming out of our economy mergers would increase. But if you are paying attention, there are many mergers in the works that don’t HAVE to happen.

Here’s my theory. When a trend begins, panic ensues. Those that are not considering changing their name or merging begin to think that maybe they should. After all – everyone else is doing it. We must be doing something wrong. We should change our name. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Let’s merge. That must be the right decision.

Before you know it, bad economy, poor heathcare, gulf oil spill, tornadoes, hurricanes, increased pat downs, cats and dogs living in sin.

(insert needle across the record album noise here)

(Now insert birds chirping and a harp playing softly)

What if we decided to take a deep breath. Assess our situation thoroughly. Focus on what we do well. What we’re known for. Can we sustain ourselves with a simpler model? Get back to basics?

Our members need us now more than ever. We have 100 years of history that has proven we can make money in a devastating economy.

Remember, we not only survived the Great Depression we thrived. The years following that historic event resulted in a credit union boom.

If you don’t have to merge – don’t. It’s a bloody distraction.

Oh, and “economies of scale” is math. It’s not a strategy.

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June 2023