Bashing Banks? Is this a Smart Strategy for Credit Unions?

I've noticed what appears to me to be a dangerous trend in credit union marketing recently. You may have heard it said that when an elephant is in trouble, even a frog will kick him. If big banks are the elephants, then some credit union ad agencies seem to be encouraging their clients to play the role of the frog. But is that a wise strategy? Does mud slinging resonate with today's consumers?

Even as early as elementary school my teachers and parents taught that tearing down other people in order to build yourself up was never a good long-term strategy to win friends. It may make you feel powerful or special, but in the eyes of others it was actually doing exactly the opposite.

Similarly, in the early years of my career, even techies like us had to spend a certain amount of time in sales training since we had to assist the sales people in proving the technical merits of our multi-million dollar software solutions. Etched permanently into my brain was the rule: never badmouth the competition or its products. 

Instead, the very seasoned salespeople (who also made large incomes from consistently earning new customers) taught us to always focus on our product's benefits and how we would help our customers to achieve their goals. Our customers saw value in what we offered and our interactions were always positive. We trusted our customers were smart enough to see shortcomings in our competition without us having to badmouth them. Our conversations never veered into negative territory.

As marketers, we also run the risk of offending our potential new members or customers by insulting their current choice in financial institution. Not everyone has had a bad experience with their bank, especially regional and community banks. Some people even enjoy their current relationship with their bank, be it a large or small bank. Some of the recent "advertising movements" agencies are even going so far as to suggest, albeit in parody, that people are fools for keeping their money in banks. Is telling somone that that she is a fool really going to win endear her to your brand? One of the least effective methods of winning someone (i.e., a new member) to your way of thinking is to insult her or her decisions.

Watch the videos below and then ask yourself that if the goal of advertising is to win new members (let's call them friends), then wouldn't this type of advertising seem to be working against itself?


The call to action above has resulted in a flurry of videos like this one below:



Management guru Tom Peters puts it this way:

I think that when one badmouths one's competitors or tries to limit their activities, the "word gets around." And one develops a reputation as prickly and egocentric—and, well, as a selfish jerk. (...) It is my goal—selfishly, actually—to be a highly regarded member of my professional community. Speaking crudely, I think that is an incredibly strong and sustainable competitive advantage. And, yes, I bloody well do want to win more than my fair share of business.

The American consumer is wise enough to figure out the differences between Financial Institution A and Financial Institution B when we clearly and professionally present the benefits of the services each offers. As marketing and social media consultants, we don't need to tell our clients to spend their money, time and talents tearing down the competition, ultimately building a glass house for themselves. Perhaps instead of bashing the competition (from either side), resources could be better spent continually improving services, building relationships with current members and winning new business through the fruits of those efforts.

 P.S. Jeff reminds us that it is not just customers who make decisions about whether to be a part of our organization.


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A blog by InetSolution about programming, security, design and marketing for banks, credit unions and e-commerce.

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