When Consumer Behaviors Change, Credit Unions Must Listen

Marketing, advertising, and communication are more important than ever. Here’s how your financial institution can use tools to recalibrate and effectively reach members.

It’s 2020 and it feels like consumer behavior is doing a 180. Any plans your credit union made in 2019 are out the window.

In a crisis, it’s natural for spending and lifestyle habits to change. But right now is an interesting point in time because the changes have extended beyond a moment—weeks are turning into months—and a combination of factors are adding up into a holistic shift. From the coronavirus pandemic to social justice and socioeconomic concerns, much is on the minds of your credit union members.

As a result, the habits, hobbies, and values of your credit union members and consumers everywhere are changing. Think of your own recent lifestyle choices. Have you recently baked any bread? Did you become your dog’s personal groomer? Are you more interested than ever in a store’s cleanliness policy? Is “virtual” or “socially distanced” applied to the events you attend? Even in just a few months, new questions and habits have become more natural to you. You are not alone.

Although many consumers are staying positive, they are also making changes to accommodate new lifestyles and social norms. Additionally, some people have had to make changes, cutting back on spending as a result of market or job concerns. As circumstances change, wants and needs change. And, as people-first institutions, your credit union should be ready to respond.  

That’s why one of the most important questions your credit union should be asking right now is: How should we be marketing? To discover the answer, it’s time to research and consider credit union consumer behavior.

Hit the Stats to Understand Consumer Questions

Is marketing and advertising spending still on your credit union’s radar? If it is, you may be familiar with the saying, “When times are good you should advertise, when times are bad you MUST advertise.”

desktop with open laptop and paper for notes and charts

Actually, there are historic examples that argue for it. According to a Harvard Business Review analysis of more than 5,000 businesses over the last four business cycles, companies that properly prepared were able to benefit competitively during and after a downturn. What did the successful companies have in common? Two common points were a long-term view and a willingness to focus on growth, not just cost-cutting measures.

This is not the time to be silent. Not only does your credit union risk losing brand awareness, but it could also mean losing out on potential members and making current members feel ignored. So, if you know that you should be investing in marketing and advertising, that’s a step ahead. But do you know how? Times have changed, habits have changed. Your messaging needs to change. To understand consumer behavior, it’s time to dive into stats and research.

One way your credit union can gain insight into consumer behavior is through Google. With the right data, you can gain a big view of a snapshot in time. Google search terms reveal interests and trends, and search behavior has changed as a result of the coronavirus. In April, Google released a report on how data could guide brands during the coronavirus pandemic. They found people were interested in finding critical information and looking for new connections, and were focused on caring for themselves and their families. As a result, one of the tips Google shared with brands was to be useful and flexible: “Give people credible, detailed, and current information about your operations. Reinforce that you’re there to help.”

What does consumer behavior tell us? That this is the moment for credit union marketing to inform and educate—and offer a hand.

Credit Unions Can Listen to Members for Direction

What were we talking about in 2019? Disney Plus, Farmhouse Style, Avengers: Endgame, and the Women’s World Cup. How do we know? Google Trends tracks the most popular searches, people, recipes, news, and more. It’s one example of the ways you can tune into what’s on the minds of consumers.

Exploring the available data can also keep you looped into concerns and interests in real time, not only as a way to look back. What queries to folks have related to credit unions and financial institutions? Think about current events and certain actions people might take. Was there a spike in searches related to loans for small businesses or disaster relief? Why would patio heaters and chalkboards be some of the most popular consumer shopping searches this fall?

Social listening and research remain key for marketing and communications initiatives. This will help you better understand consumer behavior. Whether you do so by monitoring your credit union’s social media feeds to see what comments pop up or through a data dig, what matters is getting the big picture.

As you go into advertising and marketing plans for your credit union, ask yourself, “Are our communications hitting the mark for our members?” Traditional seasonal campaigns may miss the mark. If you consider current interests, needs, and pain points, you may find you are not having the same conversation.

Dos and Don’ts to Consider Before You Post

As always, credit unions are there for their members. This is the messaging across the board for businesses and communities right now. We are all there for each other. While this is a wonderful feeling to share, you also don’t want to take it too far. We are all processing current events differently and, while you can sympathize, you cannot always understand what others experience. Saying “We hear you and are here for you” is different from saying “You’ll be fine!”

Here are a few dos and don’ts when considering how your credit union marketing can respond to consumer behavior. Set the right tone and inform during uncommon times.

Do be upfront and clear in your communications. When people are stressed, they don’t want to feel confused as well. If you have a key announcement, stick to the facts and keep it quick so people can focus on what is important to them.

Do read the room before you publish. There may be opportunities for levity to bring people together, but consider some days are not meme-appropriate.

Don’t make this about you. Credit unions already know the power of their members. Everything you communicate on behalf of your credit union should continue to be about serving its people.

collection of loose international change

Don’t let your members get lost in the change. Quick payments, low rates, and mobile and digital solutions are part of the times. However, that means it is more important than ever for your members to understand their financial situation and online security. Topics that matter: payment plans, building up savings, and financial security (both online and in their account) .

Following these dos and don’ts will keep your credit union members informed and educated about their financial options and how you are there to help.

Consumer Behavior Could Change Again

Crisis has been called the great revealer. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, recently shared, “The opportunity is, ‘What will we be?’ Not, ‘How will we preserve what we had?’”

In the early days of 2020, your credit union may have been prepared for a brief pivot. Your credit union may have seen consumer behavior change and thought it would soon return to “normal.” Well, this has gone beyond a short-term event. The impact of the current moment will be long-lasting, even if you cannot fully comprehend the scope of the change right now. Even so, there are ways for you and your credit union to look ahead. Take note that consumer behavior has changed…and it will likely change again.

In times of uncertainty and stress, it can be easy to pivot into crisis mode. Everything is an emergency. That kind of space can really stifle creativity and forward-thinking. Whenever possible, make space to brainstorm. Create a group to draft up where you think you could be in the next three months, six months, and a year. Tracking analytics will help you plan for your credit union’s future. When you have even an outline of a plan in place, it can make change less scary and easier to navigate. What do you see happening at your credit union now? How will that change the concerns of your members three years from now?

Investing in effective marketing, communications, and planning strategies now means that, in the future, you and your members will be ready to thrive together. This is not the time to alienate members by ignoring their current needs or not effectively planning for their future needs. People remember who was there for them in a crisis. Stay true to your values and not reactive.

Don’t inhibit future possibilities with poor planning and negative reactions today. This is a time to come together. You could find you also grow together.

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