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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?

This is the time of year when you cannot avoid the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and are reminded what a credit union used to look like.

Times were so simple then. We had shares and we had loans. And then along came the share draft account. The Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act signed into law by President Carter in 1980 did not say we HAD to offer checking. It merely said we could.

What if you had never offered checking?

Seriously. Think about it.

  • According to the American Banker article published in December of 2011 the average checking account costs around $350 a year and fee income averages around $150 per account.
  • PFI (primary financial institution) indicator? Think again. In August of this year Cornerstone consulting reported the median products per household dropped by 28% to 2.52 per household. And one of those is checking.
  • Two words: call center. They didn’t exist until we offered the checking account. What percentage of incoming calls are tied to checking? Even though you’ve spent hundreds of thousands on devices to keep them from calling.
  • One word: Target. I feel bad that the second largest security breach in US history happened to a retailer I love, but it did. And it’s going to cost some credit unions tons of money to make sure their members’ checking accounts are secure.

Raddon has done the math on this for years. A single service household (checking)  is unprofitable. Period. It’s a black hole of expense if you don’t do something with the relationship. PFI doesn’t just happen. You have to be willing to lend to these new unknown entities. 

Bank of America, in the wake of the backlash over their proposed $5 a month debit card fee,  admitted to being “okay” with single service households moving to a credit union.

What if you dumped checking? Told all of your checking account holders that you were going to help them move to the credit union down the street. Maybe even offer them an incentive? Then show them your interest rates on savings? You could probably pay 50 bp or more. And your loan rates? You guessed it – you could beat everyone.  Think of the staff you could reduce. The regulation headaches you could eliminate. The fraud you would avoid.

It’s a wonderful life.

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.

I heard a great story last week. It was 1934, in Tacoma, Washington. The story begins in a stairwell at City Hall and involves a cigar box.

Wooden_Cigar_BoxIf you were to start a story with those details and be speaking to someone outside the credit union movement they would probably imagine all kinds of scenarios. But if you’re a credit union junkie, like me, you know where this story is going. It’s the formation of a credit union.

In 1934, my parents had not been born yet. There was no television, internet, microwave ovens, copy machines, email, cell phones, frozen pizza, iPads, bottled water, or air conditioning. There were plenty of banks however. And yet people felt compelled to take their paychecks out of a bank and put it into a cigar box in someone’s desk drawer. Why was that?

Common bond. They knew each other, they trusted each other.  It was a simpler time. Money went in the cigar box, and if someone needed to borrow money from the box, a group of their peers (credit committee) would decide if the purpose was provident and for productive purposes. A note was signed and the loan was made. The depositors received a reward (dividend) for trusting the system and have the satisfaction that they helped a co-worker. For decades these common bond credit unions had ZERO competition. We created credit union competitors when we adopted the community charter.

There would be no marketing department in the cigar box credit union for decades. The members were the marketers. The HR department was the ongoing new member drive. The decisions of the credit committee determined the success of the loan promotion. When it was time to formalize out of the cigar box the 1st branch was really the “break room.” Member/owners/co-workers would run the banking errand on their break at their credit union. Positive word-of-mouth was essential for survival.

Fast forward to today – common bond is all but a thing of the past. We have computers that make all the decisions for loan approval in a nano-second. We periodically have “Membership Bribes” to attract new people. We prefer members use the ATM, or online banking rather than come into a branch. There is no common bond. And don’t tell me that “lives, works, worships, in a 12 county area is a common bond.” Oh, and if you have your territory description on your website, please take it down. It’s embarrassing.

Unless your founding story has been tarnished beyond belief (Enron’s Credit Union comes to mind) I think it is our duty to tell it. To preserve it. It’s what makes us unique. It helps to remind us that we are merely the custodians of this history at this point in time.

And here’s your challenge – finding that common bond again. You need to target an audience in that vast territory that you have claimed. Otherwise you will become just another “me too” financial institution marketing with shiny happy people shlepping your 25 bp car loan advantage to people who could care less.

What is your story today? What is your vision for the future? Who will you serve? How will you make the competition irrelevant?


This is the message I sent to the staff of Del Norte Credit Union last Friday.
What you Do Matters

brandyou2012.004My first job was as a serving wench for ‘Enry Beazely’s Fish-n-Chips in Portland, Oregon. My first boss was – you guessed it – Mr. Beazely. 

On my first day he told me “Denise, we are put on this earth to serve. And when you are serving others, and that can mean pumping tartar sauce in a cup, you are doing work that MATTERS.” 

From that day forward I made a vow that I would always do work that mattered. And that’s why I love credit unions – we are here to serve our members, and if we’re not directly serving them we are serving someone that is. 

Know that what you do, every single day at Del Norte, matters.
It’s been my honor to serve you.

Denise Wymore

And so there you have it. Today I begin a new journey as Co-Founder of PrincipleSix.  The name comes from the sixth cooperative principle: Cooperation among Cooperatives. I truly believe we are better together. Our market share remains stagnant because we steal members from each other – not from the real enemy – big banks.

Oh, and I found out that members DO care that we are a cooperative. They might not use that word – but when you emphasize that you are local, not a bank, don’t charge ridiculous fees, have better service and give back to your community – it matters to them.

Will everyone in your marketplace care? No, of course not. But it’s a difference we need to honor.  I have first hand knowledge of the success that can come from sharing branches, sharing advertising costs, and innovating to solve problems.

I am drunk with power, I just bought a $400 suitcase and learned that I can project Keynote from my iPad. Life is good.

Hope to see you soon.

UPDATE: Lesson learned. Just because the URL is available it does not mean the name is available. There exists a wonderful group of grocery store co-ops that call themselves P6 but registered their name is PrincipleSix. We talked with them – nice folks – and in the spirit of cooperation we have decided to not use PrincipleSix.

I am proud to announce that I am Co-Founder of 6th Story. Telling your credit union’s story using the sixth cooperative principle. Good stuff to come.

Since I am primarily confined to a bed right now, I’ve been reading a wonderful book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer. I have unlocked the secret to creative thinking and can say with certainty that we do everything humanly possible to make sure we never have a creative spark in the office.

And here’s why. My top five reasons credit unions can’t innovate – in their current state.

#5 – THE PROBLEM: Our offices, board rooms, meeting rooms, lunch rooms are dumps. In my 32 years of working with credit unions  I was lucky enough to work for First Tech CU – where we got it – we needed creative spaces. Our board and meeting rooms were state-of-the art-not-in-the-basement-no fluorescent-light-magic. My marketing department had a play room with bean bag chairs and toys and fun things on the wall. We were allowed, no encouraged, to play.

But most credit unions I’ve worked for or visited have dismal, depressing, cramped, smelly meeting spaces. The most shocking revelation – no natural light. Why do we put our meeting spaces in the basement? The most precious real estate of all – and we hide it in the dungeon?

When it’s time for our weekly meeting the trolls descend to the cave. Now let’s innovate!

THE SOLUTION: Move someone out of a “C” suite and get rid of tables and chairs – bring in a futon and comfy chairs. Paint the walls a bright color. Do a mural of the credit union’s vision. Have some fun!

#4- THE PROBLEM: Agendas, or lack there of. Most meetings I’ve attended as an employee have no agenda. It’s just on the calendar – we need to meet. And so we go around the room seeking the lowest common denominator of a problem and try to solve it. We plan to plan and meet to meet. We “table” things or talk about them offline. The most productive part of any meeting is when it ends. Because then there’s the “meeting after the meeting” (usually in the hallway or bathroom) where the real problems get discussed, but no solutions, no action. Just bitching.

THE SOLUTION: For executive management, the ONLY agenda item for regularly scheduled meetings should be the vision of the credit union. Big and broad and beautiful. Your BHAG. What are we doing right now, tomorrow, this month to work towards our vision?

#3 -THE PROBLEM: An HR professional that views their job as protecting the credit union from an employee filing a lawsuit. We’ve all worked with them. Paranoid watch dogs that scrutinize every piece of clothing, personal item on a desk, internal email, etc. The employee is the enemy and not to be trusted. They dehumanize the staff and break them down to a cog in the machine – one that must obey. They empower with boundaries. They praise with complicated incentive plans. Nothing negative is communicated unless it is documented. Then annually they coordinate the Christmas party or company picnic and wonder why attendance is so low.

THE SOLUTION: Fire them. Get a person in there that truly values people. The whole person. Understanding that the more you truly empower people and make them feel valued the less likely you WILL have a lawsuit. Adolph Coors successfully kept his brewers from every forming a union by simply treating them like human beings. He gave his men time off to be with their wives after having a baby decades before it became law. He paid them well. Quite simply he understood that Coors was nothing without his crew.

#2 THE PROBLEM: Mistaking action for progress. Years ago I was working for a credit union in Eugene, Oregon. Home of the University of Oregon – Go Ducks! I was walking down the hallway to go to the bathroom and I noticed the VP Marketing was just sitting at her desk staring into space. She saw me out of the corner of her eye and snapped to attention. And keep in mind, I was a minion at this CU -not her boss or even her employee. Just a gal that had to pee. She apologized to me for not “working” and joked about her daydreaming. I’ll never forget that – you SHOULD be daydreaming or, creating, or thinking at work. Especially if you’re in a creative position.

I think too often we mistake activity for progress. I mean look at the things we measure. It’s all about volume, output, numbers, results.

THE SOLUTION: Naps. Quiet the mind. Shut down Outlook. According to the book, most innovative CEOs will admit they get their best ideas in the shower. It’s the only time of the day when they have no distractions. They cannot check their iPhone for messages. Can’t be online. Don’t see the piles on their desk. And really can’t be disturbed. Plus the warmth of the water, the clean scent of soap…..ahhhh…..

I was in a brainstorm session with some potential partners last month. We were hitting a creative wall. I excused myself to go to the bathroom (I drink a ton of water). While in there I had an “Aha!” moment. I came back and shared. A few minutes later another person excused themselves – she came back with another piece of the puzzle. Now we saw the pattern and demanded the rest all take bathroom breaks one at a time. It didn’t always work but it clearly showed a pattern. Our minds were free to explore the solution if we were alone and could not be distracted or disturbed.

#1 – THE PROBLEM: No clear vision. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? I love that saying. But think about it. The most innovative companies have a clear vision – a target audience – they know their enemy (their true competitors) and through innovation have made them irrelevant. Apple. Starbucks. Target. Southwest Airlines. Just to name a few.

A clear sign you have no vision. At your last strategic planning session when the facilitator asked you to list the threats to your organization and you said “Banks, increased regulation, and the economy.” You have no idea what business you are in. No clear vision. No target. No point of differentiation.

THE SOLUTION: Hire someone outside of the credit union industry to facilitate your next planning session. Someone who knows a TON about innovative business models but knows nothing about financial institutions. Someone who cannot read your financial statement. You look at that thing every single day – you know it inside and out – why would you spend precious and expensive time rehashing your numbers? What is your purpose?

As the late great father of management, Peter Drucker would say: The only purpose of business in society is to create and keep a customer. Not to make a profit.

Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but rather the test of their validity.

The first step to creativity is to understand why you exist in the first place. How will you create and keep a member?

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.

Now that I’m back in marketing as a full-time employee, there’s pressure on me to come up with a snappy tagline for the credit union. It’s a fact that there have been taglines so clever they have boosted sales, enhanced reputations, and found their way into popular culture.

According to that fount of knolwedge Wikipedia “A tagline is a variant of a branding slogan typically used in marketing materials and advertising. The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and promise of a brand.”

 So a tagline is a promise or a rallying cry of sorts.

You remember these gems:

Got Milk?

Just do it.

It’s the Real Thing.

Or how about these classics?

Delta: We’re ready when YOU are.

United Airlines: Fly the Friendly Skies….(insert sound of needle sliding across a record album). What? Wait a minute.

A  clever tagline cannot help a bad company? A clever tagline could actually piss people off and be used against you? Hell yes. And that’s why I eschew taglines for credit unions.

This year I had to admit I was pretty impressed with the new Best Buy ads. In fact, if I saw one zipping by as I was TiVoing past these intrusions, I’d stop and back up.

It showed a mom shopping at Best Buy and being so impressed with their seleciton and prices – the clerk made the remark “Santa Claus better watch out.”

Cut to Christmas Eve, Santa’s come down the chimney with his paltry little presents and the smug mom nodding at the Best Buy bounty under the tree would say “Game on Santa.” That’s right – cuz Best Buy is better than you old fat man in your red sweatty suit.

Best Buy ruined Christmas and what little reputation they had left when they advertised free shipping on Black Friday and later said “Oops, we can’t fill most of those orders because the response was so overwhelming, so you’re screwed. Merry Christmas.” 

Game Over Best Buy.

Time to review your credit union’s promise. Here are just a few I found:

“Invested in Your Financial Health”
“We’re here for you!” (found at least six examples with one Google search)
“Everything we do, we do for you.” 

Are you fulfilling the promise? Or could it be used as a weapon?

I will end with my personal favorite credit union tagline. And yes, they paid an agency to come up with this.

Wait for it.

“Serves you right.”


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.

Are you paying attention to what is happening? I blogged some time ago about the distraction that was Dodd Frank.

I’m not bragging or anything but I think I was pretty spot on. Credit unions are still enjoying their exemption from the interchange amendment (as promised) and instead of worrying about potential loss of income we should’ve been preparing for the opportunity of the decade – new members that are going to finally move their money from the big-bad-TARP-taking-too-big-to-fail banks.  As I predicted, banks WILL find a way to make up for that lost income. B of A’s decisioin to begin charging for the debit card was the salt rubbed in the wound of their reputation… over.

Let’s face it – checking account promotions haven’t worked for years. Bill pay did its job. It is sticky. Most people feel stuck in their current relationship. The only time a person is willing to move their checking account is if they are so pissed off at their current financial institution.

Thank you Bank of America for pissing off your customers. Again.

But here’s the rub.

1. Most credit unions don’t need deposits right now. They need loans.

2. Most credit unions new member process is cumbersome. Frontline folks are either not trained or not given permission to qualify new members for credit. Fix that.

3. Switch kits suck. There, I said it. Everyone says they have one but no one has a decent one – that I’ve seen. It doesn’t help me “switch” it just illustrates, in brochure fashion, what a nightmare this is going to be. How about a human switch kit? Be the concierge for the checking and help them move these over.

4. Most credit unions don’t instant issue debit cards. At the center of this opportunity is the beloved debit card. B of A wants to charge their customers $5 a month to use it and if they switch to a credit union it’ll take them two weeks to get a new one. Fix that!

5.  Most credit unions are open from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. And that wonderful woman Kristen Christian has declared Bank Transfer Day as a Saturday. Open your branches!

This is just the beginning of the marketer’s dream. You see, we have time. About two months and 10 days to be exact. To improve our onboarding experience. The earthquake hit when B of A made the announcement. The tsunami will hit on January 1st of next year when they actually begin charging the fee.

My husband Mark has always said that B of A’s tagline should be: “We Bank on Inertia.” And until now, it’s worked in their favor.

 But I predict that our time has finally come. We are TARP free, self-funded, financial cooperatives with a volunteer board. Somehow that has meaning again.

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June 2023