Financial Services, Strategy

1B Users Strong, But How Do We Reach Them?

Why Doesn’t Anyone “Like” Us?

I work for a financial institution that boasts some 65,000 members. That’s a lot of people. Facebook has over one billion users worldwide, though, of course, most of them aren’t in my credit union’s service area. Still, I have the potential to reach about three million people in that service area, which covers Minnesota and Wisconsin. So how come we can’t even reach 700 likes on our Facebook page?

My Credit Union is on Facebook. Who Cares?

My peers in the industry struggle with the same thing: Despite diligently posting day after day, and posting what we believe is engaging content (really, it isn’t all a big sales pitch!), we can’t seem to inspire much interest. A new “like” or comment makes any CU marketing team downright giddy.

Recently, while monitoring a competing credit union’s Facebook page, I noticed they were running a costume contest, with a $50 Target gift card as the prize. I found a picture of my 1-year-old, Nate, from his first Halloween last year. I cropped it, wrote a quick caption (“I’m bananas about credit unions!”) and posted it.

Banana Boy

We were one of only two entries, and with two “likes,” we won. I was happy about the Target gift card, but I felt kind of bad for the credit union, competitor or not.

Potential Ways Financials Can Utilize Social Media … and Maybe Even Get Some Likes!

As we move forward with our social media strategy, there are a few ways I’d like to experiment with building our “likers” base on our page. After all, what’s the point in stressing about finding the right message if nobody’s around to see it?

Here are a few ways financial services providers might get a bigger bang out of their Facebook efforts.

1. Facebook: A quasi-call center.

With larger financials like US Bank and Wells Fargo utilizing their pages as a customer service tool, it seems it will only be a matter of time before my members start thinking of Facebook before the pick up the phone and dial our call center. This is both exciting and scary. Exciting because if we do customer service well, the world can see it; and scary because if we handle a member complaint poorly, well, the same thing can happen, and the complaining member can also quickly and effortlessly shout about their experience to hundreds, if not thousands, of followers. Make sure you’ve got your A-Team handling any sort of social media customer service, so that any shares reflect well on you.

2. Plain old listening. It’s valuable.

There some very interesting conversations occurring in social media spaces. Individual users ask things like, “Got a great Thanksgiving stuffing recipe?”, yes, but they also ask things like “Where did you get your car loan?” and the answers they receive can be revealing. In addition, rants and raves occur, unfiltered. It’s like a giant focus group! Businesses, including credit unions, would be well-served to just pause between well-intentioned but ineffective posts about International Credit Union Day, and instead, snoop around. Look on other financial institutions’ pages, and, if you’re on the other platform (and you should be), try Twitter hashtags like #money. It’s the adult, modern-day equivalent of listening to the popular girls gossip while you’re locked safely in your bathroom stall.

Then, find a way to use the information you discover. Maybe you can use it for something big, like to develop a new product that would fill a need consumers are discussing. Maybe it’s simply to make your social media posts more relevant to your audience. (Once you determine what people want to know more about,  financially speaking, you can post about that instead of your latest mascot appearance.)

Note: Listening in to relevant social media posts can also be done more systematically by setting up social media monitoring tools like CoTweet. (More on this in the future, because I’m looking to dig into it.)

3. A great way to do good.

The Financial Brand suggests that banks and credit unions can use the power of Facebook to build brand affinity through charitable giving campaigns.Chase recently gave away $5 million to charities via Facebook, a promotion which garnered 2,510,642 “likes” on the bank’s page. Of course, there are economies of scale at work here (few CUs could afford even a fifth of that amount), but smaller institutions could find organizations that local residents are passionate about, and build a following by offering to donate, say, $5 for every new “like” or comment. Incenting engagement and doing good? Why not?

Are Ads the Answer?

Maybe. Facebook advertising is simple, affordable, and best of all, hyper-targeted (Facebook, 2012).

Facebook’s “Marketplace Ads,” which appear on the far right of users’ main pages, can be finely targeted to our desired market segments. Using Facebook’s self-service ad creator, marketers can choose to have ads appear only to users whose profile elements match those of their target audience: geographic location, age, occupation and interests are a few.

In addition, Facebook ads, like all things Facebook, give marketers the opportunity to show off their popularity. “Likes” or “I am attending” can show up as part of the ad or event promotion itself, so when a user notices several friends have endorsed a product, even a previously uninteresting product or service suddenly becomes relevant. I know I am always curious when I see a couple of friends (or maybe especially, if a couple of rivals) have “liked” a particular brand, product or event.

Surprisingly, the medium is relatively inexpensive, and offers marketers the advantage of setting their own budget, both daily and for the life of the campaign. Through a bid system which compares an about-to-be-launched ad to similar existing ads, marketers set the price they are willing to pay per click (CPC) or per impression (CPM). Once the daily budget is met, ads simply stop appearing on any pages.

Post promotion is another new way businesses can generate attention. With Facebook’s new algorithms, users now most often see pages and people with which they have a history of interacting. This could mean more bad news for credit unions that don’t get a lot of traffic; they can fall off of news feeds entirely. To combat this, businesses can pay to promote their posts, inserting themselves onto news feeds of all of their followers, history of interest or not.

Facebook offers a reporting feature to track the efficacy of any given ad or campaign. Demographic metrics, such as the age, gender, and geographic location of the users who have clicked is readily viewable. Plus, reports can show if the ad has carried any social weight, like when an ad is viewed by someone through a Facebook friend.

One downside to advertising on the world’s most popular web site is creative limitation. Ad copy can only be 135 characters long, and ad dimensions cannot exceed 110 x 80 pixels. With short words and a small space, creative teams will need to find compelling messaging that makes less more.

With this evolving medium, I certainly don’t have all the answers; however, I plan to keep experimenting until I find a few.


Reflections on What Not to Do: The Case of Song Airlines

Song Airlines, Delta’s now-defunct “discount airline for women,” was an attempt to build a business around a brand concept that would answer to the perceived needs and desires of the female traveler. The airline was barely off the ground – pun heartily intended – when Delta executives announced they were discontinuing Song entirely, though the trademark lime green planes would still be flying.

What went wrong? It was likely a combination of factors. First and foremost, Delta was attempting to launch a new airline brand during some of the industry’s worst-ever market conditions. From 2001 to 2004, the airline industry posted over $32 billion in losses, with at least one major carrier, US Airways, forced into bankruptcy (Morrison, 2005). It’s difficult to imagine that the leadership of an established airline like Delta was unaware of their economic environment.

Second, and of equal importance, Delta simply did not do enough broad, deliberate research at the outset of brand development. The brand fell into the dangerous territory of being too creative (the art) driven, without backing up their ideas with some solid consumer insight (the science).

PBS’s Frontline episode, The Persuaders, brought the audience behind the scenes during Song’s brand development. The creative team behind the brand conjured up Song’s ideal customer – an affluent woman with children who was concerned about things like designer labels and the “right” shoes (Frontline, 2004).

But there were problems with this model consumer – she was based on an extremely narrow demographic profile, and one largely conjured up in the minds of the creative team. There was no evidence she really existed outside of Sex and the City, and certainly not in numbers significant enough to support an entirely new airline – or that she would choose a mode of getting to point A to point B based on things like a passionfruit martini. Airline seats are largely viewed as commodities (Morrison, 2005). During brand development, the brains and imaginations behind Song did not delve deeply enough into consumers’ minds to unearth this long-held belief, and/or they overestimated their ability to make a dramatic change in the airline industry paradigm – turning a commodity into an experience.

Tim Maples, Song’s director of marketing, communicated the new airline’s intent to add emotion to an as-yet emotionless choice. He singled out JetBlue, a value carrier who has been successful not only by airline standards, but by any standards, as airline that was starting to get things, in his mind, right.

“JetBlue is a very good airline, but they left the door wide open for an airline to be better. They didn’t do as much as perhaps could be done to build a brand around a greater emotional context. Song is working hard to do that with an optimistic, can-do, up-tempo, up-beat, attitude,” said Maples (Reverie, 2004).

Song’s creative minds, laser-light focused on spreading that “attitude,” blew ahead full-bore in creating an “image” brand of air travel. They asked the New York City Meatpacking District’s bartenders to come up with a Song signature cocktail. They also opened a store for six weeks in SoHo that gave consumers a chance to purchase Song’s better-quality airline food. It generated some interest – so much so, in fact, that a similar store was launched in Boston for a short period of time. Reservations were made.

“The thought was that while there are fashion, automotive and liquor brands that have a certain badge-value, there really wasn’t an airline that reflected who people are when they fly,” said Maples, reinforcing the Song team’s unsubstantiated idea that consumers were truly looking to “express themselves” via their choice of airline.

“The Song Book,” a brand identity handbook produced by ad agency Leo Burnett and branding firm Landor Associates, lays out just what Song aims to be to the company’s executives and external marketing firms. Song is “friendly, simple, and approachable,” more like comedian Janeane Garofalo than Martha Stewart (Kirsner, 2003). The Song Book includes a “brand-inspired” CD featuring tracks by The Strokes, the Buena Vista Social Club and Portishead.

All of the creativity and brandiness would have been well and good had the Delta creative team been launching, say, a new line of ready-to-wear fashions. Women may well be the decision-makers when it comes to air travel, but, unfortunately, their buying decisions when it comes to travel are made very differently than when they make a choice to buy a new pair of Manolo Blahniks.

Because air travel has always been simply a means to a very literal end, women aren’t looking for an experience – they are primarily looking for a good value and a reasonable level of comfort. This argument is perhaps best illustrated by an action recently taken by Japan’s All Nippon Airways: In response to requests from female flyers with sensitive noses, the airline will now designating one bathroom per plane as “women only (The Telegraph, 2010).”


The Sampling Strategy: Marketing We Actually Pay For

In 2010, Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, college friends from Harvard, launched a business called Birchbox. For $10 a month, subscribers would receive a box of sample-sized, high-end cosmetics and toiletries delivered via U.S. Mail. At the time, the concept was puzzling to some of their peers. Why would women pay to get a mystery box full of tiny beauty items they didn’t specifically ask for?

Pay they have, however. As of April 2012, the company has over 100,000 paid subscribers, and employs approximately 60 at its New York office (Taylor, 2012). According to Beauchamp, Birchbox’smtremendous growth over the past two years can be credited to that modern-day word-of-mouth, social media. “We like to say we’re at the intersection of where glossy meets grassroots,” said Beauchamp.

Why It Works: Sampling and Sales

Beauchamp calls the concept “discovery commerce” (Taylor, 2012). By sending people products they haven’t exactly asked for, and likely have not tried before, they are relying on the quality of the product, as well as the “fun factor,” to inspire subscribers to continue their subscription.

“The beauty industry is so huge, it can be overwhelming,” said Beauchamp (Taylor, 2012). “We’re cutting through the clutter, choosing the very best options from the thousands out there for you to try. We’re helping people find what they didn’t know they wanted.”

With the sampling concept, Birchbox is cutting through the clutter of beauty marketing itself, too. L’Oreal, which holds about 10 percent of the market, spends $2.1 billion on marketing a year, largely through traditional channels such as print and television (Taylor, 2012). Estee Lauder, second to L’Oreal with about 4 percent of the market, spends $80 million. But instead of spending millions to promote specific products or shopping on their Web site, Birchbox is actually getting women to pay to be marketed to, which speaks to the strength of both the product samples and the Birchbox experience. It’s brilliant! Brilliant!

Beauchamp, Barna and the Birchbox marketing team haven’t been content to simply hope a consumer loves a product sample enough to visit their Web site and purchase a $30 bottle of shampoo. Birchbox relies upon additional reminders and enticements to close the loop and, ultimately, close the sale.

Before the box is shipped, subscribers receive an e-mail letting them know “Your Birchbox is on its way!” along with previews of the products inside. Each box is customized to the recipient’s hair and skin type, as well as coloring, so paying subscribers aren’t getting a box full of products that won’t work for them.

When the box arrives, samples are often grouped thematically, for example, “Winter Pampering” or “Pool Party.” Detailed descriptions and instructions for each product are included in the box, which is attractively wrapped and tied with a pink ribbon. Samplers are directed to the Web site to find out more ways to use each product, read blogs, or watch related videos featuring celebrities or how-to demonstrations (Bosker, 2012).

Finally, e-mails are also sent a few days after the box’s arrival, offering special discounts on products inside, as well as again reminding subscribers about the entertaining and informative editorial and videos on

All of this is working. Half of Birchbox subscribers have converted into customers of its e-commerce site (Taylor, 2012). That’s 50,000 customers who are paying full-size prices after paying $10 per month just for the sample box.

Interestingly, Birchbox also offers more samples as incentives to buy. “Get two additional samples with any $25 purchase!” implores a sidebar ad on the Web site (, 2012). And the sample-buy, sample-buy cycle continues.

The Future of Discovery Marketing

The highly successful Birchbox concept of paying for mail-delivered samples has given rise to a number of copycats. Recently, popular fitness Web site launched a similar endeavor, titled the “Supplement Sampling Program.” For $135 per year, fitness enthusiasts can subscribe and receive a shoebox-sized package of protein powders, vitamins, nutrition bars and other training aids (, 2012). In addition, subscribers receive a discount at the store, further incentivizing larger purchases. They also receive free shipping and free magazines, as well as other special “subscribers-only” discounts, which add perceived value.

Nearly everyone looking for a little surprise in the mail is likely to find a subscription sampling service that suits their tastes. Beyond Muscle & Fitness, which is aimed at a more male, hardcore athlete demographic, other sample box companies include HealthySurprise (healthy snacks), Citrus Lane (baby and toddler products), Foodzie (artisan foods). Prices vary, but most run from $10 per month to about $25 (, 2012;, 2012;, 2012).

One company, LoveWithFood, puts a twist on their offering by appealing to the human desire to do a good deed. For $10 per month, subscribers can enjoy gourmet snack samples, such as chipotle-smoked almonds, and also know that they have helped feed a hungry American through a donation to Feed America/Share Our Strength (, 2012).

Beauchamp and Barna’s startup has spurred an entirely new business model for e-commerce companies, and it doesn’t appear they will be going away anytime soon. Americans are, if the success of these “discovery marketing” companies is any indicator, very happy to pay to be marketed to, as long as that marketing includes fun surprises in the mail.

Financial Services

SPIRE FCU 2012 TV: “Straight-Shootin’ Jerry”

SPIRE’s newest television spots are on the air! In them, SPIRE members share their enthusiasm for their chosen financial institution with our CEO, Dan Stoltz.

Jerry, a business owner, shares just how much he saved by switching to SPIRE – and mentions that the treatment he receives is pretty good, too. The spots also feature a new member of the SPIRE family — our 1952 Ford work truck, affectionately known as Archie.

Responsible for concept development, copy & edit direction.

Financial Services

SPIRE FCU 2012 TV: “Kim, Ranger & Precious”

In SPIRE’s newest television campaign, Minneapolis – St. Paul area SPIRE members share their enthusiasm for their chosen financial institution with our CEO, Dan Stoltz. Here, Kim, a young 20-something (flanked by her dogs Ranger and Precious), tell Dan how they’re treated every time they step into a branch. The spot also features a new member of the SPIRE family — our 1952 Ford work truck, affectionately known as Archie, named for our founder Edgar Archer.

Responsible for concept development, copy & edit direction.