With 21 different credit unions with more than 50 office locations and $4.7 billion in assets operating in New Hampshire, differentiation is vital to survival, not just amongst other credit unions, but within the larger financial services industry within which they operate. As the Financial Brand puts it:

“It’s a noisy and crowded financial services marketplace full of me-too competitors. If your brand isn’t well defined and clearly different, you’re not going to stand apart from the fray and get noticed.”

Credit unions, as financial cooperatives, have a responsibility to their membership to differentiate themselves and remain competitive. The New Hampshire credit unions that, I believe, are most effectively differentiating themselves are Service Credit Union, asset size, $1.5 billion, membership size, 129,991 and St. Mary’s Bank, asset size, $698 million, membership size, 77,177.

Eligibility to become a member of Service Credit Union is open to any individuals who live or work in the state of New Hampshire, with the exception of Coos County. More importantly, though, Service Credit Union is open to all military and civilian employees of the Department of Defense worldwide. Wisely, Service Credit Union, in addition to opening its membership to people living with the community within which it operates, has continued to target a specific demographic for membership, the military. By targeting this specific demographic, Service Credit Union can differentiate themselves, through their marketing efforts, by focusing on military matters.

This is most evident in their use of social media. Service maintains active Facebook, and Twitter accounts and a lesser used Youtube account. On Facebook and Twitter, the message is clear and direct. In addition to the requisite community involvement information that all credit unions post, Service send messages directly to their target demographic such as this post from Thursday, April 11th 2013:Picture 1

The message on Twitter is the same:
Picture 3

On Facebook, Service have an impressive 2,926 “likes”; on Twitter a solid, 949 followers. Their posts are viral because they are focused and directly relevant to their membership. It follows then that Service’s social media efforts support its strategic goals as they effectively differentiate the Service brand within it’s target demographic.

St. Mary’s Bank, like Service Credit Union, are an open credit union, offering membership to any individual residing in New Hampshire. But, unlike Service, they do not have an obvious target market. St. Mary’s Bank’s point of differentiation comes form their unique claim to being the nation’s first credit union. On their website they state that they are proud of their heritage and wish “to help members achieve their financial goals by providing best in market service and trusted financial advice”.

Their Youtube account is the clearest evidence of using social media to pursue their strategic goal of offering outstanding service while differentiating themselves as the nation’s first credit union. Their account has an impressive 6,582 views, owned mostly by the video “Bloopers: Invitation to Meredith Viera, Today Show Host”. That video is funny and succeeds at showing the brand’s personality while also celebrating the cause of its founding 100 years ago, its point of differentiation.

St Mary’s are not as effective at differentiating their brand as Service, but they have shown some successful efforts to do so. Their Facebook account is growing with an impressive 2,068 “likes”, most arriving this year. I believe that if they were to cross promote their Youtube account more they would be able to better differentiate themselves. There is a video entitled “Re-enactment of the founding of the nations first credit union”, that is overlong and not highly viewed, only 151 in four years. With a re-edit it could become a powerful viral document that clearly establishes their point of differentiation.

It is understandable that credit unions struggle to differentiate themselves. Most began their lives tethered to a parent company or organization. Since the trend began for credit unions to break free from parent companies and open membership to the outside community, most have been unable to stake out a new identity for themselves. Service Credit Union and St. Mary’s Bank are two good examples for all credit unions to follow.

About the author: Ian is an eCommerce Specialist for Triangle Credit Union. The views here are his own and not those of his employer. Ian believes in “co-operation among co-operatives”, and hopes that by writing about what is working for credit unions in NH others will benefit.