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Marketing Effectively When Uncertainty Becomes the Norm

Marketing in Uncertainty

As I started to write this story, my thoughts were focused on the many ways the uncertainties of Covid have impacted credit union marketing efforts over the past few years.

But I soon discovered great advice from a somewhat unlikely source: a pre-Covid article in Forbes. The pre-Covid era may seem “quaint” compared to the last few years, but we still had plenty to deal with back in 2019 — including a volatile stock market, data privacy concerns, #MeToo accusations, and global political unrest.

While uncertainty plagues every era, there is undoubtedly a collective sense of unease that now permeates our daily lives. In the continuing uncertainty of 2022, it’s important to adapt marketing efforts accordingly. Here’s how:

1. Be transparent around hard decisions—let members know the WHY

Need to close a branch? Decide to require proof of vaccination for branch visits? When you’re making hard and/or new decisions in response to external events, the more information you can give your members the better. Sharing the backstory can lessen frustration, anger, or anxiety and help members feel like you’re on the same team.

Here are some of the most common recommendations when it comes to communicating challenging news:

  • Be prepared for questions you’re likely to encounter—and able to offer a clear explanation without going down confusing and unnecessary rabbit holes.
  • Be first to break the bad news.
  • Be honest and calm.
  • Own the situation: Stick to the facts and don’t sugarcoat.
  • Be genuine, apologetic and empathetic—acknowledge the feelings and challenges your news might cause.

Embracing transparency doesn’t mean you have all the answers. In some cases, you might be communicating just to let members know you’re not sure yet how you’ll be responding— that’s important too! It’s far better than radio silence. The goal is to let members know you’re paying attention.

2. Acknowledge and address the issues that are keeping members up at night

Is your website pushing HELOCs when your community is reeling from a natural disaster? Are you promoting vacation loans just after a large local employer announced a layoff? It’s absolutely critical that every element of your marketing reflects what’s going on in members’ lives—otherwise you run the risk of seeming tone deaf and out of touch.

We first talked about this topic in a May 2020 post, during the early days of Covid. Many of the things we stressed then hold true, regardless of which issues are creating uncertainty for your members.

Throughout Covid, we saw credit unions show up for their members with payment deferrals, emergency loans, community support and refunds on fees. They supported local businesses, donated meals to essential workers and gave relief grants to nonprofits. Here’s a list of ways Wisconsin credit unions supported their members and communities.

We’ve also seen credit unions help their communities during natural disasters. In 2020, The Northwest Credit Union Foundation activated its disaster relief program to help credit unions and employees impacted by wildfires in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

A “people helping people” and “people before profits” message should be an integral part of your credit union’s brand. Members need to know you’re there for them in good times and bad. Focus on what matters most to your members, and keep your marketing positive, concise, and easy to understand. Make it easy to get in touch with your team, be solution-oriented, and prioritize quick response times.

3. Connect departments so it’s easier to pivot quickly

In uncertain times, agility matters. But to be an agile credit union, you need to eliminate unproductive departmental silos and understand how other team members can contribute to your marketing efforts.

The authors of this Harvard Business Review article recommend doing the following to minimize departmental silos:

  • Develop and deploy “cultural brokers.” Every organization has them: the employees who seem to know everyone, understand the skill sets those outside their department can bring to the party and know how to leverage employee skills for the good of the entire organization. Recognize who these people are and put them to use when you face a tough or unprecedented challenge so you can get perspectives, assistance, and buy-in from across the organization.
  • Encourage a sense of inquiry by modeling that behavior and training staff to ask good questions. Don’t assume employees in other departments share your experience and feelings: Connect and find out. And don’t be afraid to “look stupid.” You’re much more likely to go down the wrong path if you don’t clarify issues you don’t understand.
  • Create opportunities for staff to see the world through others’ eyes. New perspectives are invaluable. To encourage your team to consider others’ points of view, hire for curiosity and empathy and bring cross-functional teams together both for discussions and to work on projects.

At PixelSpoke, we’ve found Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly StrenghtsFinder) to be an effective way to understand and harness individual strengths. We keep (and frequently refer to) a shared Google doc that outlines each team member’s top 10 strengths, conduct periodic trainings with Gallup-certified coaches on how to put this information into practice, ask team members to present on their strengths during our daily huddles, and reference one other’s strengths when we’re recognizing a coworker for a job well done.

Given the ongoing presence of Covid, the increasing frequency of natural disasters, the increasing polarization of our democracy, and the volatile state of our economy, the only thing I feel certain about is that uncertainty is here to stay. Instead of waiting for things to “return to normal,” let’s adapt our marketing strategies to prioritize agility, transparency, and messaging that puts your people, not your products, first.

This article originally appeared on CUInsight.com.

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