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Ask the Experts: Marketing

By: Holly Benedetto09.30.21
Blog Ask the Experts Marketing

In this series, we take a look at the inner workings of the Credit Union and meet some of the champions who help our members in every facet of their financial lives. This month, we met up with expert Mike Dinneen, who oversees American Heritage’s Marketing Department and leads member communication in digital and print media.


Mike Dinneen
Senior Vice President of Marketing
Has been with American Heritage 4 years

Mike oversees advertising, content, social media, public relations and graphic design teams for American Heritage and its CUSO partners. He is a member of CUNA’s Marketing & Business Development Council and serves on its Awards Committee. Previously, Mike held progressive marketing and product management roles at Sun National Bank, Harleysville National Bank, Sallie Mae and Citizens Bank. He earned an MBA in Marketing from DeSales University, a BSJ in Public Relations from West Virginia University, and an Executive Certificate in Digital Marketing & Strategy from Cornell University. The American Heritage Marketing team has won multiple CUNA Diamond Awards, CrossStates Credit Union Association M.I.C. Awards and Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association Benny Awards for excellence in membership communication and has been recognized by the Financial Brand’s Power 100 as one of the top 50 credit unions worldwide using social media. Mike believes that “Marketing is the science of understanding people, and the art of communicating to them.” 


Why does a credit union need a marketing department?

At their core, credit unions are about people helping people. A key facet of good marketing is providing the right solution to a member’s needs, in the right place, through the right channel, at the right time. Marketing helps us understand consumer behavior – “What do people need?” “What do they think?” “How can we get it to them?” “How can we help them?”. To that end, an effective credit union marketing department is one of the major liaisons between the institution and the members.

As segments of members transition from physical touchpoints like branches, to digital and self-serve channels such as websites, social media or apps, marketing is becoming the first, or in some cases, the only point of contact in a member’s initial journey. Therefore, it’s important that we properly represent the value proposition, helpfulness and ease of use of American Heritage to both our members and the greater community.


How does financial marketing differ from other forms of marketing?

Financial marketing is often more similar to other forms of marketing than one might think. In the end, all marketing is educating consumers on how they can solve a need. In financial services, you’re solving a need tied to milestones in life, such as buying a house, car, getting out of debt, or retirement. Financial marketing marries the solution to the life need. It’s a big responsibility, and more so at a credit union than any other financial institution. Credit union marketers have to provide solutions in a way that is transparent and truly in the best interest of the member, not the institution.


What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in marketing?

Continuously changing trends including technology, generational habits, and economic factors are our biggest challenges. In other words, the things we can’t control. These factors influence how we react or what we provide as a reaction.

A previous challenge we have since overcome is modernizing processes and finding ways to measure success, before terms and tools for this were common.

The needs of each phase of life differ from year to year or decade to decade. As time passes, what is important to people changes, so marketers need to understand it and react to it. Don’t lose your sense of purpose or mission, but meet people’s needs in a different way.

“The world is our focus group.”


How has marketing changed since you first entered the industry? Where do you see it going in the next 5 years?

The media channels have changed from newspaper ads and Yellow Pages to modern alternatives. How people shop and what fulfillment channels they use evolve all the time. In contrast, their needs have not changed much. The need to belong to a community, to share a common bond, buy a home or a vehicle, or save for a major milestone, hasn’t really changed.

For those who never go to a branch, reading content online still helps them understand our mission and feel the connection.

In the next five years, “the internet of things” may become the standard – think wearable or voice-controlled technology. Additionally, artificial intelligence and machine learning can actually help us provide a more personalized member experience, when applied properly and in an ethical format. The future is likely more mobile-based, less web-based, and more behavior-driven with consumers demanding seamless solutions at a moment’s notice. We also anticipate that Fintech companies may initially compete with banks and credit unions, but yet also create an opportunity to partner and align with credit unions to further enhance the member experience. As more data becomes available in real-time, marketing has skewed from more of an art to a science, but it is important that we maintain that balance or “art and science” and the aura of why credit unions matter.

There are certain things that we know are coming, but there are other things coming that are still unknown for which we need to be prepared, continuously study, and ideas we always need to test. I believe that chance favors the prepared minds.

I firmly believe and am excited that the messaging of the present and future is becoming more empathetic towards, and more inclusive of, diverse member needs and perspectives. Also, the emerging adult generations will also have different life experiences, different debt needs and different habits than previous generations and marketers need to be trying to understand that every day.


What types of marketing are often overlooked?

Digital marketing, whether search and display, social media, retargeting, email, or using event tools, is often overlooked. In a movement driven by people, their unique needs, and their common bonds, digital and social media give us some of the best ways to reach members at a very personalized level.

Digital marketing is advantageous for the credit union movement because its measurable and scalable. In fact, we have multiple generations of membership who do not see digital media as an alternative, but rather the norm.

Mobile apps in general will become more of a focus for pushing all types of content, reminders and updates as opposed to simply a tool for performing transactions.


What is the formula for a strong marketing team?

I taught marketing and business courses for 15 years at a local college, and I’ve been in financial services marketing and public relations a long time. I have learned that it’s important to remain intellectually curious, well-read, empathetic to your audience, and always willing to rethink your reasoning. I have been fortunate that I am surrounded by smart and patient people on our marketing team, and appreciate their ideas, input and deliberations every day. 

The members of your audience tell you all the time what they need. They may not tell you directly what they need, but they will give you clues to how they shop, buy, and search. In turn, if you can anticipate their needs and offer them the right solution at a fair price, they will typically appreciate it. If the world is indeed your focus group, you need to pay attention to the world all the time. This is true for credit unions, corporations or small businesses.

Good marketers must also respect differences of opinion because no one opinion, or no one consumer, is the same. The more people you have on a team, the more opinions you can put in one room to discover the best perception of your brand and your services. This helps in understanding how to deal with failures and how to build upon successes.

We strive to build teams that reflect, or at least understand and empathize with your audience. It’s good to know what is important in the communities you serve and understand how they are different, but also how they are the same. 


Can you explain the structure of American Heritage’s Marketing Department?

As we said, the entire team is focused on getting the right solutions in the right place with the right message at the right time. To accomplish this, we’ve created a group that can facilitate that: analysts who can understand member needs, writers and designers who can create content that fits the needs and diversity of our membership, and a group of specialists who understand all the channels that our members use to digest information (like email, website, direct mail, branch merchandising, newsletters). These team members also have the skills to relate to the community and the media, so the greater community understands what we’re about and what we have to offer.

Most importantly, our team truly believes in the mission of the credit union, and they live it every day. American Heritage, its mission and its brand is so genuine, and a major reason for that is because our services are delivered by a team of associates throughout the region who also believe in our mission. While these things sound like a requirement at any job, when brands don’t have these attributes in their marketing team or greater employee base, it always shows.


How can consumers educate themselves about what the Credit Union is marketing?

We’ve created a lot of unique messaging deployed over various channels depending on member preferences, such as our award-winning newsletter that members tell us is one of their favorite ways of receiving information. We also use targeted email messaging, robust education tools with our blog, social media and video library. Much of our content highlights our community involvement and financial education.

Our department believes, as a credit union marketing department, we should educate first and sell second. These educational channels are fulfilling that mission. We sow seeds early to inform over time and cultivate our relationship with the membership. We’re really proud that Financial Brand has ranked our social media following and subscriber base as one of the best among credit unions nationally, as this speaks to how engaged our members and associates are with American Heritage.


How does marketing collaborate with other departments?

For a marketing and communication effort to succeed, it needs the support of, and trust in, all the other departments at the credit union, with the understanding that we are all here to serve the greater good of the membership.

Information Systems provides logistical support for our website, email, and digital campaigns. Lending, Branch Operations, and Business Services teams ultimately fulfill many of the members’ product needs that they may first see in an advertisement, and they directly play a major role in completing a member’s financial milestones. Our Human Resources and Training Departments help instill the brand promise in our associates from the beginning of their tenure.

The Accounting and Risk departments ensure that our messaging is compliant and that our products are fairly priced to meet the needs of our members.

We work hand-in-hand with our Business Development team because their efforts in the community and our Workplace Partners are among the most impactful stories we get to tell in our marketing efforts. Our community initiatives are a major reason that members choose American Heritage in the first place.

In partnership with Facilities, our branches are merchandised in a way that provides a world-class experience for our members.

We have a very supportive CEO, who champions best-in-class communications and member experience, as well as a management team and Board of Directors who are committed to the success of the membership and provide Marketing with the tools we need to help the members achieve that success.


How does the Marketing Department support the growth of the Credit Union?

At its core, a major facet of our job is to create brand awareness, attract and welcome new members, and grow the relationships with the existing members we have. Marketing is proud to pay an important role in that. American Heritage has grown faster than almost every other credit union or bank in the region, and a major reason is because we have such a wonderful story to tell about how we help families and businesses in this community.


How has the Marketing Department adapted to the pandemic?

Before the pandemic started, we had been working towards digitizing our marketing operations, workflows, quality control, compliance and filing. Because we had a head start on this, it was easy for us to operate seamlessly whether we were in person or remote.

When the pandemic came, we were able to, within a day, move our marketing operation virtually. With the pandemic came a major change in consumer behavior and societal shifts as well. Some brands had to pivot with the times. However, American Heritage had always been a brand that was transparent and understanding of the needs of the communities it serves. So for us, it was an opportunity for American Heritage to shine even brighter. 

When our member-facing associates couldn’t interact with members directly, it became even more incumbent on Marketing to deliver the right message and the right solutions with the right tone. Some duties that Marketing covered included explaining how to use new remote resources like PAT, our Personal Automated Teller, or VANA, our video advisor service, or even our Mobile Teller app that some members had not previously tried. American Heritage’s history of preparedness and planning had us well-positioned for an otherwise very unexpected pandemic situation, and as a result, our membership satisfaction scores increased during this period.

When the Small Business Association put out the Payroll Protection loans, we reacted quickly to create a campaign and assist local small businesses and issued more of those loans than any other credit union in the area.

In many of the communities we serve, social justice issues hit home for our membership and employee base. Marketing helped our credit union deliver an empathetic message and demonstrate that American Heritage has a legacy of understanding concerning issues that our community wrestled with.

Although marketers must adapt to the unknowns in the world and navigate through them, these situations gave us an opportunity, as American Heritage Credit Union, to be ourselves.



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