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How data insights led to an advertising campaign that humanized an institution

In a commoditized industry, like banking, it’s tempting to compete on price (low interest rates, low fees, cash bonuses, etc.). On the other hand, commoditization can summon a marketer to take a chance and create campaigns that emotionally connect with consumers and drive demand. The first path is relatively easy with little upside. The second path can be risky and complicated, but the payoff can be huge.

STCU's campaign had one audacious goal: Build a stronger human connection with STCU members and the wider community.

In early 2020, STCU, a Washington-based credit union serving more than 200,000 consumers and businesses, took the risky and complicated path. It’s paying off. When the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council recently announced its Diamond Award competition winners for excellence in marketing and business development, STCU took home the Best Use of Humor Award and the Cut Award for Most Edgy marketing. The awards celebrated STCU’s “Dear member" campaign that first launched in 2020.

In an environment where most banks and credit union advertising features the same list of table-stakes benefits and snooze-worthy imagery, STCU turned the tables. The credit union created a campaign that wasn’t about rates, fees, promotional offers, or the typical benefits other institutions advertise. STCU’s campaign had one audacious goal: Build a stronger human connection with STCU members and the wider community.

How do you create a human connection between a financial institution and the communities that it serves? Using humor in advertising can be a winning strategy if you get it right, but it can be a total disaster if you get it wrong. How did STCU find the winning approach?

To create its “Dear member” campaign, the STCU took inspiration from a surprising source: Data.

STCU analyzed anonymous member data and used it to fuel a series of humorous and heartwarming stories. Launching a campaign during a pandemic also gave the credit union a unique opportunity to express gratitude in an authentic and personal way.

One of the measures of a winning campaign concept is its extensibility. That is, how easy it is to build off of the original work and create a nearly endless set of new executions that support the original concept. By hinging its campaign on member data stories, STCU found an approach that lends itself to new executions based on an ever-growing treasure trove of anonymized data.

The credit union also got a lot of other things right:

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The focus: Members are the heroes. Too many banks and credit unions focus on promoting pricing and a familiar list of commoditized features. By turning the tables and focusing on its members, STCU proves that they are committed to the people they serve.

The tone: Humor makes it relatable. By taking an unexpected approach to humor, STCU created memorable ads that stand out in the sea of sameness.

The data: Numbers make it specific and credible. Instead of attaching its brand to the standard credit union messaging about helping the community, STCU is harnessing anonymized data to build connections through specificity.

The design: Simplicity makes it readable. Too often, poor advertising design gets in the way of the message. With its signature purple color and bold type, STCU ensured that its advertising is easy to read - even when you’re speeding by it on the highway.

In a time where the top six banks are winning the lion’s share of consumers, it’s more critical than ever for regional and community financial institutions to differentiate their brands. While it’s tempting and a lot less risky to follow the pack, it is the fast lane to mediocrity. Take a cue from STCU and search for ways to build an authentic, human connection with your customers or members and the wider community.

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