By Ron Jooss
June 20, 2007
Robert Portrie's first experience with credit unions was quite positive. When he started
working at AT&T more than 30 years ago he joined Northern Massachusetts
Telephone Workers Credit Union. The reason was pretty simple. "They made it
extremely easy for me to be a member," Portrie told attendees at CUES Annual
Convention: Marketing & Technology for Credit Union Directors, being held this week
at the Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Recently, Portrie, an executive vice president at Digital Cement, Ponte Vedra Beach,
Fla., had a friend who told him about a local credit union she was interested in joining,.
But "the lady didn't know how the credit union worked." Though he was more than
happy to tell her about the reputation credit unions have for member service and good
rates, as well as cooperative ownership, Portrie believes credit unions—and a lot of
other industries—have become disconnected from their members in recent years as a
result of numerous factors. Globalization, deregulation, technology and category
innovation have touched every sector of the marketplace. Credit unions have not been
immune. Many have moved to community charters as a result of recent legislation.
While credit union charters may have changed,
marketing mindsets may have not, according to
Portrie. "I think when we deregulated, we missed that
loop to truly undersatnd and see how (customers)
work with the banking industry," he said.
Unlike when Portrie joined Northern Massachusetts
Telephone Workers CU, your neighbors may not
know how a credit union "works," despite the myriad
ways you have of touching them everyday.
Exacerbating the problem is that more competitors
are trying to reach more customers who have more
alternatives. Insurance companies sell "financial
solutions." Pitney Bowes issues credit cards. Has Wal-
Mart given up efforts to start up a bank? "What we're
seeing is a collapse of competition," Portrie said. "So
many people (competitors) are touching the same
thing. What we want to know is how does that affect
Despite all the changes, marketing strategies remain largely the same. TV, radio and print advertising account
for 80 percent of all marketing dollars spent, according to Portrie. Meanwhile, consumers report using new
media 45 percent of the time (in relation to TV, radio and print). Dollars spent on new media advertising are a
disproportionate 17 percent of marketing budgets.
"We know that what the customer wants is much different than what the old marketing campaign was," Portrie
Innovative marketers are moving from a product-based approach to one that is customer-centric. In this
model, market share is replaced by share of wallet. Instead of being campaign driven, these programs arerelationship driven. They are based on sustainable and on going dialog with members rather than productfocused dialog.
The most compelling example Portrie described came from, of all places, the packaged food industry.
As vice president at Kraft Foods,
Irene Rosenfeld concentrated on
moving Kraft's marketing from a
campaign framework to a lifecycle
framework. Kraft rolled out Food and
Family magazine, a glossy, wellpresented
magazine, after a mass
mailing steered customers to Kraft's
revamped Web site where they could
opt to subscribe to the magazine.
Basically, Kraft created a need for its
customers that they didn't know they
had. (Read more about this concept
in "See It, and Make It Happen,"
another article from CUES Annual
In addition, Kraft has turned its
customer relationship management
system into one of the most
sophisticated programs in the world, based on the touch points offered by Food and Family magazine and
kraftfoods.com. The company has 350 million direct consumer touches per year. Even better, the company's
response rate is 50 percent to 300 percent higher than industry averages.
Portrie said Kraft Foods spends $3 per customer in "acquiring" those member contacts. In return, it achieves
$73 in revenue.
As for Irene Rosenfeld? She is now president/CEO of the company.
Credit unions have established at least a solid base of contact points, both on the street and on the Web.
"The membership of the credit union is the gold of your life," Portrie said. "If you understand their needs, and
segment their needs, and truly serve those needs ... you can grow your credit union."