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  • Writer's pictureFred Kelly

21 Ways Credit Unions Can Connect with Members

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

One of the biggest challenges credit unions face is how to better connect with their membership so that they can deepen the relationship and attract more members.

I'm going to suggest two interrelated answers to that question:

  1. Optimize your sales processes you can attract, convert and retain more customers

  2. Find new sources of customers so you face less competition in attracting customers. This course addresses this second route to driving sales growth

In this in-depth article, we will focus on the second, finding new channels to recruit potential members. The good news is that there are many channels to consider. 21 in all. That, of course, is too many to invest in successfully even for larger credit unions. So I have split this into two articles:

  1. A tour of the 21 channels

  2. The best way to sift through these channels and figure out which ones are best for your credit union

Sales Channel Concentration Risk

As a credit union you will have several channles, but the chances are that you are only really active in one or two. In fact, it is often the case that credit unions are reliant on a single channel for 80% of their customers.

This normally happens for two reasons:

  • Familiarity - What tends to happen is that we gravitate towards channels we know are popular (like Facebook) or we have a bias towards. Facebook has made the platform really easy to use and has built in powerful psychological triggers such as 'Likes'. The combination of ease of use and an illusory feeling that we are making progress has attracted US$70 billion in annual advertising revenue for Facebook

  • Lack of awareness - If there's one thing we all have in common it's that we are time poor. It's hard work running a credit union. That means that often we haven't had the opportunity to explore other less known sales channels. In fact, it's this very same lack of awareness that offers you the opportunity to attract more customers at a lower cost in other channels

The challenge for credit unions is that the main stream channels have become increasingly competitive. This makes advertising more expensive, makes it harder to stand out and increases your customer acquisition costs. As a result, we either have to accept lower profitability or try and charge more for products or services.

Sales Channels as a Source of Competitive Advantage

As a business we are always looking for ways to create a competitive advantage. When we think of competitive advantage we often think of our product or service, and yes those are strong sources of competitive advantage.

What businesses tend to overlook, in terms of sources of competitive advantage, is their ability to find, attract, convert and retain customers. Because, many businesses don't give this much thought, it represents a source of real advantage for you.

Sales Channels as a Way to Reduce Risk

There's another reason why it's a good idea to look at new ways to find customers. Diversification. Being overly reliant on one channel is risky. If that channel becomes prohibitively expensive or stops working for some reason, that could have serious implications. That's why it's a sensible strategy to have several customer acquisition channels operating simultaneously.

PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel and early investor in Facebook put it this way:

“Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. Poor distribution — not product — is the number one cause of failure.”

Ok, so let's take a look at each of the 21 channels in turn, and then we will turn our attention to how to figure out which is best suited for your organization's needs.

The 21 Channels

I know 21 sales channels is a lot. Don't freak out! Some will be applicable to you and some won't. Some are in depth and have a steep learning curve and some are easy to digest. Bear in mind that there is some overlap between channels.

After we have reviewed each channel, you will see how to filter, sort, test and prioritize your channels so that you end up with a number you can sensibly manage (likely just 3 or 4 channels).

Here's the list of the 21 channels:

  • Content Marketing

  • Prospecting

  • Targeting blogs

  • Trade association or professional bodies

  • Speaking Engagements

  • Public relations (PR)

  • Partnerships

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

  • Offline Events

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

  • Social & Display Ads

  • Unconventional PR

  • Trade Shows

  • Offline Ads

  • Email Marketing

  • Referrals

  • Community Building

  • Affiliate Programs

  • Viral Marketing

  • Existing Platforms

  • Engineering as Marketing


Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted audience. For some reason, credit unions have yet to embrace this powerful channel.

By providing potential members with useful content to educate them on your products from their perspective you can increase conversions, improve brand awareness and drive sales.

When credit unions engage in content marketing, the main focus should be the needs of the member

Information can be presented in a variety of formats, including:

  • News

  • Video

  • White papers

  • e-books

  • Infographics

  • Email newsletters

  • Case studies

  • Podcasts

  • How-to guides

  • Question and answer articles

  • Photos

  • Blogs

One use case example, would be mortgages. Because, most of us buy a house once or twice in our lifetime, we are not familiar with the process. Given that a lot of money is involved, this can be a stressful process. Explaining the process and supporting members through the process adds a lot of value.


Content marketing takes time and effort before you start to see results. So is there a shortcut?

One way to reach a bigger audience to sponsor blogs (especially personal blogs) your prospective members read. In essence this is a form of influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing can be simply stated as having someone tell your story for you. What makes for the best campaign is the one that ties both the network and influencer type that best fits your product.

There are three main types of influencers one can attempt to attract, whose use depends upon one’s goals and budget:

  • Aspirational - Aspirational influence, again, is the most “known” of the types as it is what we most recognize as marketing. As a definition, this is the type of influence applied toward someone who is aspiring to be like another person

  • Authoritative - Authority is earned in this group. Authoritative influencers are topical experts, whose opinion you trust because you know them to be experts in that realm

  • Peer - The most powerful influence applied is from those whom we believe to be our equals. While we may want what our heroes want and trust what authorities tell us works, we absolutely need to have what our friends and neighbors have

Topics to discuss with any blogger you’re considering sponsoring include the following:

  • What topics the blog covers: Know what kinds of content the blog you’re sponsoring typically has and what kind of language it uses. Because readers associate your brand with the blog, you need to be comfortable with the way the blogger expresses him- or herself, as well as what subjects the blogger may raise

  • How you want the blog to acknowledge your sponsorship: Be sure to establish how the blogger will place your brand on the page, and when and where he or she will mention your business and link to your organization's website

Some places uncover the smaller blogs that cover your product niche include:

  • Search Engines - simply search for things like “top blogs for x”

  • YouTube - videos are often associated with influencers who have blogs

  • Twitter - Using Twitter search is another easy way to find blogs in a niche

  • Social Mention Tools - helps you determine the sites that have the most frequent mentions for your keywords. Some examples include SproutSocial, Hootsuite, Sprinkler and Mention


Prospecting is the process of initiating and developing new business by searching for potential customers.

This is the bread and butter of customer acquisition. This is particularly true of relationships with businesses with a higher product value or a more complex product.

Done well, prospecting is also highly effective. This is because business is all about relationships. Genuine relationships are powerful revenue drivers

However, getting it right can be challenging and high maintenance. This puts some people off. It shouldn't because it's a fantastic investment.

Unfortunately, prospecting is one of the main areas where sales teams fail. They don’t do enough of it, and when they do it, they don’t do so in a focused, targeted, specific, or effective manner. The reasons for this include a lack of imagination about how to prospect, and a lack of strategy about how to execute the prospecting effort to best support success in later stages of the sales process.

Prospecting successfully is also about doing the research. Today that is easier than ever. Company websites, social media, key employees' LinkedIn in profiles and activity. The more you know about your target customer, the more you can talk about what they are interested in.

Once they answer, you must use this information to make their future experience and interactions more personalized and meaningful.

That means recording the information in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool and then making sure to circle back to it later in the relationship.


Publicity can also be defined as the art of gaining public visibility or awareness for a product or your credit union via the media.

As a smaller financial institution, you may not think you’re in the business of (or in need of) public relations, but you are. Public relations is useful part of the revenue toolbox of every credit union, big or small. The difference is that small, budget-conscious credit unions don’t have the luxury of hiring a high-priced PR firm, so you have to take a more DIY approach to mastering your public relations.

Publicity is a highly cost-effective strategy that can:

  • Build awareness about your brand, products or services, expertise and people

  • Drive potential members to your website or branch

  • Drive event attendance or participation in a promotion or campaign

  • Educate the market about problems your organization can solve (like the mortgage process for example)

  • Create an ongoing dialogue with your target audience

If you have a fascinating story with broad appeal, media outlets now want to hear from you because you will drive visits and make them more money. When pitching to any media outlet, it’s your job to also create an angle that makes your story compelling. If you can craft a narrative and present it well, you greatly increase your chances of getting a story written.

The first step is to identify your business goals and corresponding publicity goals. For instance, if your goal is create brand recall in the marketplace, then publicity via member success stories would be the appropriate tactic to implement. Or if ranking higher in search engines and thereby getting more traffic is the goal, then content marketing, guest articles, press releases and social media publicity campaigns will enable the result.

Not identifying your primary, secondary and tertiary business goals is the number one reason most businesses do not benefit from leveraging publicity. The wrong kind of publicity strategy for a wrong goal is unlikely to work.

At the foundation of all publicity is the concept of the story

The surest way to get a reporter/blogger/editor to write about you and your organization is to get their attention. And the way you do that is with good, old-fashioned storytelling. You won’t get coverage for just being a credit union.

Churning out articles on the cheap on topics that are remotely related to our product or service or aimed at just keyword stuffing in order to gain search rankings or releasing press releases about your products or services rarely ever work. Any kind of publicity should be led by carefully thought out and creative story elements.

Focus on what is unique about the business, whether that’s the product or service you offer, the culture of your organization, the problem you solve, the way you hire, how you give back. Topics like that offer an enterprising reporter the opportunity to report on something truly new or of human interest. You can see why this holds so much potential to credit unions.

When brainstorming for story ideas, ask yourself these questions to validate a potential story:

  • How unique is this story idea?

  • Can it connect emotionally with the audience?

  • Does the story present your credit union in the best light possible?

  • Does the story reflect your brand message?

  • Would this work well on social media or your website?

  • Can we turn the idea into a series?


These days there are lots of ways for smaller credit unions to manage their own PR. For starters, social media has made it easier for small businesses to get the attention of editors and reporters. And most journalists are happier making contact directly with a potential source, rather than having to go through an agency or publicist first.

  • Focus on the right smaller sites. Press stories often “filter up,” meaning major news outlets are often looking to major blogs for story ideas, which in turn are looking at smaller blogs and forums

  • Build real relationships with the specific reporters covering your target market. Read what they write, comment, offer them industry expertise, and follow them on Twitter

  • Contact reporters only when you can package your milestones into a compelling emotional story. When you do make a pitch, keep it short


Use services like HARO (Help a Reporter) and PRWeb. HARO is a free service that allows journalists and bloggers to connect with you as an expert. Once you sign up as a source, HARO sends queries from journalists—looking for sources for stories—throughout the day. If any of the queries match your expertise, you can respond directly to the journalist and, possibly, be interviewed for the story.


Nearly every company attempts traditional publicity, but few companies focus on stunts and other unconventional ways to get buzz. I know your compliance team may raise some eyebrows when you pitch this to them, but this doesn't have to be crazy.

There are good reasons for seeking “alternative” or unconventional means of generating positive PR:

  • First, you’ll often gain access to a complementary audience segment, which is especially valuable if you’re already pursuing conventional routes

  • Second, you’ll gain a competitive advantage, since your competitors will be less likely to pursue such opportunities

  • Finally, you’ll learn to start looking for PR opportunities everywhere you go — which can be tremendously advantageous in the long term

There are two different types of unconventional PR

  • You’re probably familiar with the first type: the publicity stunt. A publicity stunt is anything that is engineered to get media coverage

  • The second type of unconventional PR is customer appreciation: smaller, more scalable actions (like holding contests or sending handwritten notes to customers) that both increase goodwill and generate press coverage

Small gestures like these turn your members into evangelists, which leads to an increase in organic growth. They also add to your unique image and story, both key elements in building a strong brand.

Further ideas for unconventional PR can be found in this article PR Campaigns, The Good, The Bad and The Viral.


Search engine marketing (SEM) is the practice of marketing a business using paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages (or SERPs).

Advertisers bid on keywords that users of services such as Google and Bing might enter when looking for certain products or services, which gives the advertiser the opportunity for their ads to appear alongside results for those search queries.

These ads, often known by the term pay-per-click ads, come in a variety of formats.

Search engine marketing’s greatest strength is that it offers advertisers the opportunity to put their ads in front of motivated customers who are ready to buy at the precise moment they’re ready to make a purchase.

It’s estimated that in 2020, 36 cents of every digital advertising dollar is be spent on Google Ads.

SEM comes with a health warning. If not managed properly, SEM can also be a way to quickly waste money. Google Ads is one of the most challenging platforms when it comes to monitoring your success. You can quickly spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and see little to no return on investment.

To learn more, I recommend this online course Ultimate Google Ads Training 2020: Profit with Pay Per Click by Isaac Rudansky. I took it myself and it is very thorough.


Social display advertising is a method of attracting the audience of a social media platform to take a specific action.

These are often made up of text-based, image or video advertisements that encourage the user to click-through to a landing page and take action (e.g. make a purchase).

You are probaly aware of the most common platforms:

  • Facebook and Instagram (Facebook owns both)

  • LinkedIn (B2B)

  • Pinterest

  • Twitter


Facebook has evolved into a powerhouse that has infiltrated almost every single device on the planet. It is likely that at least 80% of your membership have Facebook accounts. They might not be super active, but they at least have accounts, so they can log in to see what friends and family, business acquaintances, business competition, employees, potential employees, or anybody else they might know or want to know, are up to.

All of Facebook’s ad campaigns run through the Facebook Ads Manager tool.

FacebookAds are more user-friendly than GoogleAds, but again my advice is to invest some time learning about how to best use the platform before spending your organization's marketing budget. When you do decide to spend on ads, start small so you can learn what works and what doesn't work for you without breaking the bank.

The Complete Guide to Getting Started with Facebook Ads by Buffer is a good place to start.


LinkedIn is the premier B2B platform. If you are going to advertise on LinkedIn, your credit union needs to have a LinkedIn company page to publish content. Once you have that all set up, you can dive into the specifics of LinkedIn Ads.

The platform isn't yet as user-friendly as Facebook, so I recommend you research it upfront to avoid wasted ad spend.

The Complete LinkedIn Advertising Cheatsheet by Wordstream is a good place to start or alternatively How to get started with LinkedIn Ads by Sproutsocial.


Advertising on Twitter enables you to promote individual tweets or entire campaigns dedicated to specific objectives. We can choose between eight different objectives -- including app installs, video views, and website conversions -- and set audience targeting criteria for each ad campaign they create.

Twitter Ads Campaigns: A Simple Setup Guide by Hubspot is a good place to start.


Offline advertising is your traditional media such as outdoor advertising, print media (for example newspapers, magazines, flyers and brochures), television advertisements and radio ads. While offline advertising is typically more difficult to target particular demographics, it still has a place alone or in conjunction with online advertising.

It is hard to predict what will work, so it is often useful to run several small offline ad tests in parallel. Each offline ad medium is testable locally. Then you can scale up if warranted.

  • Signs - If you have a branch physical signs are obviously a great way to catch attention especially if you make it fun or thoughtful

  • Free Swag - Free promotional items are a good way to reach members

  • Newspaper Advertisements - Newspapers are the traditional print media, and newspaper advertisements have been around for hundreds of years. Yes the industry has undegone radical change with the emergence of the internet, but there are still local papers worth looking into

  • Flyers and Postcards - Remember the days when flyers on bulletin boards were the best way to get your information out? Although it’s much less significant, flyers still have a place in the world today.

  • Events and Trade Shows - A great way to grow your membership is to promote it at physical events. Whether you’re going to a local community event or a national trade show, having a physical presence is undoubtedly a good way to get your business in front of potential customers

  • Radio Advertisements - While video is the leader in story media, radio is not dead. Radio advertisements have consistently proven to be one of the most effective advertising techniques. Indeed, about 77% of adults tune into radio, and the average listener spends almost two hours daily listening to AM/FM radio (typically during their commute). Radio is also useful for credit units who may have target audiences in areas with low rates of Internet penetration. In such places, such as rural areas, radio tends to be extremely popular


You probably already know that SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization.’ It’s the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid (also known as ‘organic’) search engine results.

Despite the acronym, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines themselves. It’s about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re using, and the type of content they wish to consume.

Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to connect to the people who are searching online for the solutions you offer.

If knowing your audience’s intent is one side of the SEO coin, delivering it in a way search engine crawlers can find and understand is the other

The world of search engine optimization is complex and ever-changing, but you can easily understand the basics, and even a small amount of SEO knowledge can make a big difference.

SEO is really worthwhile but it takes time and you need to do your keyword research to make sure you are targeting words that aren't overly competitive.

To learn more I recommend reading:

The free SEO guide from Moz and 3 Months to No.1: The 2020 "No-Nonsense" SEO Playbook for Getting Your Website Found on Google (Kindle book) by Will Coombe.


Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that uses electronic mail as a means of communicating commercial or fundraising messages to an audience.

There are many reasons you should consider email marketing, but here are 2:

  • You own your list - On any social media platform, your account (along with all your fans and posts) could be suspended or deleted at any time, for any reason, without notice. However, you own your email list. No one can take those leads away from you

  • Email just converts better - People who buy products marketed through email spend 138% more than those who do not receive email offers. The average order value of an email is at least three times higher than that of social media

Perhaps the most important element is customer segmentation to make sure your content and timing is appropriate to your customer. A good starting point is Email Marketing: The Definitive Guide [Article by Backlinko]


Viral marketing or viral advertising is a business strategy that uses existing social networks to promote a product. Its name refers to how consumers spread information about a product with other people.

Generating viral content isn't easy and isn't useful unless it generates relevant traffic. A good place to start is Viral Marketing: The Definitive Guide [Article by Backlinko] and Contagious: Why Things Catch On [book by Jonah Berger]


Trade show and event marketing is a great way to get people together with common interests to achieve a goal. B2B and B2C marketers use trade shows and events to generate leads, nurture prospects, build brand awareness, expand distribution, conduct training, or enhance relationships with existing customers:

  • Trade shows: You can exhibit during the exhibition, sponsor roundtable discussions or speeches, advertise in show materials and/or host your own reception at the event hotel or a restaurant in town.

  • Seminars or conferences: Sponsor an industry conference or create a seminar and market it to your prospects.

  • Networking meetings: Participate in and/or sponsor industry or local meetings; you can also create a one-time or ongoing breakfast or lunch meeting series for your prospects to attend.

  • Webinars: Webinars are online seminars with slides and audio; you can use them to generate leads and communicate with large groups at a lower cost than a live meeting

Schedule meetings ahead of time. Identify your top targets and find a way to engage them individually at the show. Investigate the efficacy of shows before committing. Trade shows are still highly valuable if you target the right ones and plan ahead.


Partnerships are like sales with one key distinction : it is primarily focused on exchanging value through partnerships, whereas sales primarily focuses on exchanging dollars for a product.

With sales, you’re selling directly to a customer. With business development, you’re partnering to reach customers in a way that benefits both parties.

There are 5 types of partnerships

  • Standard partnerships - Two companies work together to make one or both of their products better by leveraging the unique capabilities of the other

  • Joint ventures - Two companies work together to create an entirely new product offering

  • Distribution deals - One party provides a product or service to the other in return for access to potential customers

  • Supply partnerships - Secure key inputs, which are essential for certain products

  • Licensing - Leveraging a brand or technology


In a sense there is some overlap with other channels here but it's worth separating to esnue we give it proper consideration. The key steps are to:

  • Collect details of the professional bodies that are relevant to your members

  • Go to their websites and look at the events they are holding and topics being discussed

  • Consider how your insights and ideas are relevant and add value to current topics

  • Further develop the ideas being discussed or provide a different perspective

  • Contact the organization and offer to write an article for their website. Explain how and why your information would be beneficial to members and how sharing them would add value

Here are some other ideas to reach your potential customers and position your expertise:

  • Provide a free webinar for members – a good way to get engagement and feedback on your insights

  • Provide content for their newsletter. This would need to have a call to action at the end of the article that enables you to get their contact details, such as to sign up for a webinar, an event, or report

  • Offer a reduced cost trial of an element of your product or service


It’s relatively easy to get started in this channel. Start by giving free talks to small groups of potential members or partners.

Speaking at small events can improve your speaking ability, and spread your story or message.

You have to get the attention of event organizers to land speaking engagements. Event organizers need to fill time at their events. If you have a good idea for a talk and see an event that aligns with an area of your expertise, simply pitch your talk to the event organizers.

If your ideas are solid, they will want you. This process becomes even easier as you become a recognized expert.


An affiliate program is an agreement in which a business pays another business or influencer (the affiliate) a commission for sending traffic and/or sales their way.

This can be achieved through web content, social media, or a product integration. The affiliate gets a unique link from which clicks can be tracked -- typically using cookies.

Obviously vendor and conduct risk need to be considered when selling financial products through third parties.


This might seem a little esoteric for a credit union, but organization's engineering skills (or those of your Fintech partners) can help build your membership by building tools and resources that reach more people. These tools generate leads and expand your customer base.

  • Create a stand - alone , low - friction site to engage potential customers. Make sure it naturally leads to your main offering.

  • The case for spending engineering resources on marketing becomes much stronger when you think about these marketing tools as long - term assets that bring in new leads indefinitely after only a small amount of up - front investment.

  • Look internally for site and tool ideas. Perhaps you have already started creating something for yourself that could also be used by potential customers?


Existing platforms are web sites, apps, or networks with huge numbers of users — sometimes in the hundreds of millions — that you can potentially leverage to build your membership. Figure out where your potential customers are hanging out online.

  • They could be on major platforms or on niche platforms. Then embark on a strategy to target these existing platforms

  • Create a feature specifically to fill a gap for that platform’s users. Large companies have been built on the back of each major social platform by filling gaps with features that the platform was not providing itself

  • Focus on new and untapped platforms. Or try new aspects of major platforms because there is less competition there


Community building involves investing in the connections among your customers, fostering those relationships and helping them bring more people into your credit union’s circle.

Community is at the very heart of the credit union philosophy

For further reading on community building, you might want to look at :

The Indispensable Community: Why Some Brand Communities Thrive When Others Perish [Kindle book] by Richard Millington

People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams [Kindle book] by Jono Bacon


Sponsoring or running offline events — from small meetups to large conferences — can be a primary way to generate leads.

  • Meetup is a great tool for finding groups relevant to your business

  • Eventbrite is a social platform used for hosting and registering for events and is one of the most popular Meetup alternatives

  • Bylde is another social platform used for hosting and registering for events. They have built it on mobile-first so you can actually do pretty much everything on your handset instead of going online


A good referral saves your time and takes you straight to a pre-warmed up conversation with your prospect. Building a team of referrers that regularly send you leads is well established in some sectors.

For example, law firms get referrals from banks and financial advisors, enjoying a steady stream of leads from them.

If you don’t currently have a referral network think of three groups that could potentially refer potential members to you. Select one of those groups to focus on to start with so they get to know you and vice versa. This way trust is established and they can refer you with confidence and knowledge of your business.

A quality referral is when your referrer ‘sells’ you into the person or company you want to meet. To do that you will need to help your referrer by giving them some key reasons why the target should meet with you. Think how you can help your referrer make the intro.

How Do We Figure Out Which Channel Will Generate the Best Return?

With 21 sales channels to choose from, we can quickly become overwhelmed. We need a way to sort through the opportunity and settle on 3 or 4 channels that are likely to generate a flow.

The Bullseye Framework is useful and simple way of achieving this. The bullseye framework was manufactured by Gabriel Weinberg, Justin Mares, in their book, Traction.

Let me give you a bit of background about the story of one of the authors, Gabriel Weinberg, and how they came up with this framework. Gabriel Weinberg is the founder of DuckDuckGo (DDG), a search engine that offers private navigation on the web. Over the years, DDG has evolved into a set of tools which provide privacy for users around the web. DuckDuckGo itself has used a bullseye framework which prioritized on several marketing channels when growing.

In the article, we will see how it works...

Other Articles from OpFin

How to Choose the Best Sales Channels For Your Credit Union

How Credit Unions Can Innovate Like Start Ups Without Writing a Single Line of Code

3 Ways Credit Unions Can Flourish in the Age of FinTech Disruption

This is what Separates Success and Failure in every Credit Union

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