Why Millennial Marketing Is Now Just "Why" Marketing.

It's 2019... Are you still wondering how to attract more millennial members? You shouldn't be—and that can be exciting news if you're one of the many credit unions struggling to find relevance through a generation-focused marketing strategy.

We all know that marketing isn't static: even beyond the dynamic nature of your products and services, the psychographics of your target membership are constantly evolving. But the rapid (and increasing) rate of technological change today has created an interesting flip-flop in inter-generational influence. A hundred years ago, younger generations (we're talking about those beyond adolescence here) were much more influenced by their parents and grandparents as the latter's values, trade skills, customs, and wealth were passed down. Due primarily to the digital revolution, that flow of influence has now swapped directions (even though it began decades ago). Older generations, who weren't raised with the Internet, mobile devices in their pockets, or the sky-high salaries and demand in many of today's career fields, have found it almost essential to their social (and financial) survival to reverse-inherit many of the progressive habits and mindsets of their offspring. Sounds positively academic, eh? Let's get specific...

In 2007, when I was posting to Facebook about a dozen times each day, the platform had just started growing beyond its original college audience. It was, quite literally and intentionally, a social network for youngsters. Fast forward several years, and I was getting connection requests from my aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents. But the transition wasn't just platform-focused; it was mindset-focused. Boomers and beyond were suddenly wanting the same level of constant-connectedness that they had spent the previous decade mocking Sidekick-toting teens about. These boomers were trading in their flip phones for smart phones, swapping their tower PCs for Macbooks, scooping up tablets, Facetiming the grandkids, flinging connection requests every which way for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and, occasionally, Snapchat. Heck, many were even creating their own Bitmojis [gasp!].

Where are we today?

"Millennials and baby boomers are, of course, at different life stages, but the results show that when it comes to the way they use financial services, they have striking similarities," says Steve Shaw, vice president of strategic marketing, Digital Banking, Fiserv. He's right. While the products and services you offer will vary based on the member's age, the habits you're serving are becoming universal:

  • 71% of boomers are banking online every week

  • Boomers' mobile usage is projected to grow exponentially over the next few years

  • Gen Xers are using mobile remote deposit capture even more than millennials—20% vs19%, respectively (boomers have grown to 11%)

And over a 30-day period outlined in Expectations & Experiences: Consumer Payments:

  • 64% of millennials used mobile banking to pay bills, but so did 45% of boomers

  • 53% of millennials transferred money with mobile banking, but so did 45% of boomers

  • 47% of millennials received alerts on their mobile devices, but so did 41% of boomers

While these statistics do demonstrate a difference across generations, that variance is no longer sufficiently significant to justify the complexity that many credit unions are still injecting into the Attract stage of their customer journey marketing strategies. To connect with any generation is now to connect with them all. Attracting millennial members is now simply attracting members. The idea that we need to have a unique value proposition for millennials is effectively obsolete.

What is the value proposition? No–Why is the value proposition.

I'm a psychic. I'm concentrating right now, in fact... I'm picturing your credit union's marketing assets... I'm seeing websites, emails... some paid media... ah, yes—they're coming into focus now...  I see products... promotions... and rates! Lots of rates... oh, my... soooo many rates!

How did I do? If the 14 random credit union websites I just pulled up are any indication, there's a 100% chance I nailed it. Virtually every credit union leads with product, in the form of indiscernible noise being plastered across our screens. But those products are your credit union's What. Your real potential in connecting with new visitors (and building loyalty with existing members, frankly) is hiding in your Why—and that message, conveniently, is generation-agnostic.


- Simon Sinek

You might be thinking that your credit union differentiates through other features, like innovative branch design and community programs, or on really nailing the digital experience, but those things are your How. And according to TED speaker and author Simon Sinek, it's not that the What and How aren't important, it's just that you need to communicate things in the right order: WhyHow, and then What. Zappos isn't successful because they sell shoes on the Internet. Tom's isn't successful because their shoes are better than Nike's. Southwest isn't the most profitable airline in the U.S. (consistently) because they have the most planes. And Tesla isn't going gangbusters because the high cost of their cars is equally offset by savings at the pump.

  • Zappos makes the mission of providing "Wow through service" more important than its profits

  • Tom's lets you improve someone else's life just by buying yourself a pair of shoes

  • Southwest provides free checked bags, free wi-fi, and a sense of humor that all demonstrate a commitment to a great experience

  • Teslas makes fantastic cars, but they're really selling the idea of saving the planet through a transition to sustainable energy

Credit unions are uniquely-positioned in the quest for Why because the characteristics that matter most to today's generations have always been hard-wired into the movement's DNA:

  • A focus away from profits and greed

  • A voice in the direction/future of the credit union

  • An authentic commitment to the community(ies)/SEGs they serve

  • A mission to improve members' lives through the development of responsible financial habits

This foundation alone provides a sea of valuable messaging for any credit union. We talk about the challenges credit unions have in competing with banks, but when it comes to the Why, banks have a much harder time competing against credit unions.

What each credit union still needs to do is to define their niche and become crystal clear about their unique story as it relates back to the credit union movement. Of course, this is the most challenging part of the shift, so it's no surprise that so few have made the trek. Because I always try to provide actionable advice, let me offer an illustration based on my experience.

I'm a relative newcomer to the F.I.R.E. community (If you're not already familiar with "Financial Independence / Retire Early", you can read up here.). It's a very progressive movement that I believe has staying power, resonates especially well with the younger generations (not because of mindset so much as the fact that it's difficult to retire early if you're already past traditional retirement age), and very much aligns with the credit union movement. For these reasons, I would align my credit union with the concepts and values of F.I.R.E. (Though I'd carefully question our promotion of the literal "F.I.R.E." acronym so as to address any risks associated with future negative press, the emergence of F.I.R.E. 2.0, potential trademark issues, etc. For the sake of this exercise, though, I'll keep things simple and just use "F.I.R.E."). Our Whymight be:


- F.I.R.E. Federal Credit Union

And every part of our How would demonstrate complete congruence with that Why. This is critical because how we do things will be the primary way that people will experience our Why.

  • Our culture, core values, mission, and vision would revolve around F.I.R.E.

  • Our products and their associated marketing would be architected around the value of F.I.R.E.

  • Our frontline staff would be hired based on their passion for our core values. They'd be trained and evaluated based on those core values. And they would demonstrate and support those core values in every interaction with members (and non-members)

  • We'd build a F.I.R.E. "pillar page" on our website and produce enough regular subtopic content to own that term in search

  • We'd host weekly F.I.R.E. "success group" meetings at branches and stream an online version

  • We'd have a daily, 5-minute "Spark Your F.I.R.E." lesson/tip video that we'd post on our Youtube channel, Facebook Live, Instagram Story, IG TV, our F.I.R.E. podcast (in audio-only format), and email (in text-format with a link to the video)

  • We'd speak at other F.I.R.E. events/podcasts and establish enough followers to attract guests like Mr. Money Mustache, Vicki Robin, Robert Kiyosaki, and Thomas Stanley

I realize that virtually every credit union provides financial literacy/responsibility resources, but the difference I'm describing above is focus. A real niche. Trying to be all things to all people is the surest path to struggle, but because this concept is so counterintuitive, the majority of organizations continue to avoid, at any cost, the chance of turning anyone off (SEG-heavy CUs could argue for having less flexibility in this regard). Smart marketers, though, have embraced the new law: A smaller audience of raving fans is far more valuable than a larger audience of passive members. And the only way to build raving fans is to be willing to be viewed as irrelevant by the majority. 

When Zappos was on the verge of bankruptcy and CEO Tony Hsieh sold his last piece of real estate to keep things afloat for a few more months, they bet the farm on customer service. Likewise, I would be willing to bet my credit union's farm on F.I.R.E. because I believe that any credit union that has such a pure niche and a reputation for having the most financially sound/free "banking customers" in the community will find endless sources for new members: referrals from other members, online inquiries, positive press, shared audiences with aligned influencers, etc. A credit union whose members live happier lives, work less, give more, retire earlier, and remain at peace during economic downturns will never have a problem attracting, activating, or retaining. A credit union like that could even have slightly higher rates if so desired. Because a credit union like that would consist of members who are excited to buy into the Why.

If your credit union is leading with its Why, tell us how in the comments below. If there's something holding you back, let us know that, too :)