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Membership Has Its Perks – Todd Rothenberger, Diamond Credit Union

March 21, 2018

Todd Rothenberger is SVP and CMO of Diamond Credit Union. Credit unions are interesting for a variety of reasons, but Todd and his team have been extremely effective at telling the Diamond story and conveying their difference to compel consumers to choose Diamond. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding, I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us. Normally the cadence here at Real-World Branding, is that we have an interview with a brand and business builder every other week, and in between we do what’s called One Big Idea, which is normally me spouting off on a topic, either in the news, or that hopefully has some practical value in terms of being a practitioner in these areas.

But, Finch Brands is moving. After a decade plus in our current offices in Old City Philadelphia we are moving; for those of you who know the area, more towards what is called Center City, which is the central business district. Where we are Old City now, is primarily known for its historical attractions, and some office too. But we’re moving into Center City, moving on up to 123 South Broad Street, which actually currently is I think a Wells Fargo branded building, there’s a big branch in the lobby. But it’s a building of note, because it was featured in the moving Trading Places; which A, is dating me, but B, holds up extremely well even today. So you will hear us and me saying “Looking good Louis,” in the coming weeks.

So in the light of the move and all that’s required to make that happen, we’re going to give you a bonus interview, and do two interviews in a row, and then I’ll be back next week with One Big Idea. But this interview today, and this brand and business builder is special and close to our hearts here at Finch. It’s Todd Rothenberger. Todd’s role at Diamond Credit Union is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Office.

Diamond is a community-based financial institution with an interesting history, as Todd will take you through, that I think is really found an effective mix today of sort of corporate level, or I guess institution level, brand communications, that are designed to both sort of educate and connect, as well as a strong community-based approach.

Credit unions are interesting for a variety of reasons. There’s a different glossary in terms of credit unions have members, not customers. Their structures are interesting, and in some cases foreign, and so one of the tasks that Todd and his team have to surmount here to be effective … and they’ve been extremely effective, is to A, explain to prospective members what a credit union is and what the benefits are, and then B, to compel them to choose Diamond as opposed to other options that they may have through work, or in the geography where they live.

So Todd will take you through all that, but really good guy, really effective marketing leader. Enjoy Todd Rothenberger.

Bill: We’re here at the Pottstown, PA headquarters of Diamond Credit Union, with Todd Rothenberger, who’s the Senior Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer here at Diamond. Thanks for having us.

Todd Rothenberger: It’s a pleasure, thanks Bill.

Bill: The pleasure is all ours, and we’re grateful for your time and insight, and let’s start as we normally do with a bit of a twirl through your own professional journey, and at what point you settled on a career direction, and kind of the choices you’ve made, and what’s led us to this point?

Todd: Well, I assume you want to pick up post-college, of graduating from-

Bill: I want to hear all about the parties and everything else.

Todd: …York College, go Spartans.

Bill: Yes.

Todd: Shout out to all those alum-

Bill: Nice.

Todd: Out there.

Came out of school and decided to take up marketing really, really by chance. Taking one of the tests in high school of what you should be in and marketing fell as number two, we won’t talk about what was number one, that’s a little odd.

So that’s why I chose marketing at that point, and coming out of York College I thought I wanted to go into sales more than a marketing career. And that’s what happened for me, I started at a place called Singer Equipment Company, which was regular throughout really the East coast. And I started out in the showroom and was enjoying it, and I said “I want to go out and explore being an outside sales person”.

Well I did that, they gave that to me, thankful for that because I learned a lot, and I learned I did not want to do that the rest of my life. I learnt it really quick, I say in the first couple weeks. Well in the advice “You don’t leave a job until you have a job”, I hung on there for a couple months, and then I found a position at a Savings and Loans in Bucks County as a marketing research analyst, and that’s what began my career in the financial industry of course.

And when I went in there it was a lot of … a lot of working in some research, but the best part of that position, I was in the early stages of target marketing-

Bill: Right.

Todd: And we thought it … We were the best being able to household rather than just by accounts, and to take … started to take a look at demographics and really targeting back when … Late 80s’ early 90s’. And that began my career of target marketing and understanding marketing a little bit more than I did from the book work that I did in college. As that transpired I spend about seven years there, Savings and Loans got purchased by a regional bank, and at that point I had to make a decision, either I was going to be traveling to another county, Lancaster County, or a position came available at a place called Diamond Federal Credit Union at the time, and I applied for the vice president of marketing, and that was over twenty-one years ago-

Bill: Wow.

Todd: That that began, so … and I landed at Diamond, obviously it has worked out pretty well-

Bill: Sure.

Todd: But the journey here at Diamond over twenty years has changed quite a bit too. When I came here it was specifically really focused only on marketing, and I think they did bring me on initially with that background of targeting, being able to have that background, but it’s expanded so much more than I ever could have imagined, from now overseeing the branch environment, to overseeing the financial advisory program that we have, to being able to get involved in the building process of new locations. It’s gone way beyond anything I could have imagined that I would be part of at a company.

Bill: Right, what a great story, and there’s so much to discuss in there, but I mean to your point about the marketing portfolio not just being now about the main generation or attraction or targeting, and more about the entirety of the journey is a significancy change that I think we’ve all experience in the marketer, we believe. It’s a progressive way of thinking. And it’s put into practice here at Diamond.

So at Diamond and it seems like much of your marketing career in the financial service, aside from S&N to Credit Union has been an alternative to the big sort of Wall Street Banks and … Take us a bit through Diamonds marketing approach, I mean what are the roles of educating people on what a credit union is and what their eligibility is. This is a company that’s always been very strong at community relations and … and then there’s obviously differentiation, why Diamond versus other options that people might be eligible for, so could you speak a little bit about the role of marketing within how Diamond operates?

Todd: We’re always proud of the structure of the credit union, and through some research it is important to try to get that out to the community, but when we have a new person walk into our location, we want to explain that difference, and that difference is really the structure of the credit union; that its own by members.

Bill: Right.

Todd: And that drives all our decisions, so rather than our main priority of shareholder value, it is what we can do for the membership. And that’s what drives every decision we make from the board level onto a teller, of … It’s the member first philosophy.

Bill: Right.

Todd: And I don’t know if that’s out to the community as much as I’m sure the credit union community will love to have it-

Bill: Sure, sure.

Todd: That consumers understand that I think it’s … Once you experience it, it is something that we know people want to help us spread that word; word of mouth is powerful for us.

So the credit union structure is important because it does drive the … how the business operates.

Bill: Right.

Todd: But it’s not always what people want to hear about, they want to hear so many times about other things; when am I going to pay? But we try our best to put that in front of somebody, especially when they’re sitting down with us.

Out to the community, we’ve done that … I think we’ve done that through community development in advance to show people that we are … This is the only area, the Montgomery area, the Berks County area and part of Chester, that’s all we can serve.

Bill: Yeah.

Todd: That’s it, that’s all the area we’re allowed to serve.

Bill: Yeah there’s a limited eligibility area.

Todd: Right. So if you live here, you work here, we’re your neighbor, we’re all contributing to the good of the community, and that I think we’ve done a pretty good job of getting that message out that that’s …. that’s what we work with. We are here to make this area better because we live here.

Bill: Right.

Todd: And anything … any … We’ll call it profit, yes, that gets generated and income comes back to the credit union to build it more, to provide better services to the membership.

So that’s generally some of the messaging, sometimes we need to do that on a one-on-one case, it’s not so much billboard messaging, but that’s message is very important for people to really grasp and understand, and then spread that to their friends and family.

Bill: Right, and one of the benefits obviously of the credit union structure … as a quantitative benefit has to do with interest rates and sort of product level preferences or advantages, and I … Just having gotten to know this a bit, there is a level of, to your point, brand and who are we? And why does that matter?, and that’s an emotional connection, but then it really does get paid off at the level of interest rates and other financial characteristics.

Todd: Well I mean, you see … I’ll turn a little bit to some of the timeline that Diamond’s been through of how we try to get ourselves out to the market that we do serve. Price of product of course is an easy thing to put out there-

Bill: Sure.

Todd: To the market. And years ago we knew that’s not what we wanted to put out there, and we did a lot of internal test and we … Through focus groups we realized it was not working. We weren’t capturing the essence of who we were. We tried some messaging, it just wasn’t connecting enough with the market. And that’s when we decided as a … at a strategic level, to say “Do we need more research? Do we need the right partnership to come in and really identify what we want to put out to the market”

Bill: Right, right.

Todd: And, of course, we know what that became.

Bill: Yeah. We’ll let’s talk about it for a minute because when Finch met Diamond, which was probably a four years … probably more than four at this point. To your point, there was a moment in the life of the institution, while very successful in community … sort of engaged and connected, deeply rooted within the communities that you serve, there was a desire on the part of leadership to think through how at a sort of brand level but … The institution could connect and then express itself in a way that would attract new members and everything else. And you’re right the research data indicated, I suppose at that time that there was some concern or confusion about what a credit union was, and who was eligible and where it serve, but obviously there is a need to differentiate Diamond from other options that people will have, and that lead to a … what is now a multi-year campaign that is entitled Younity Y-O-U-N-I-T-Y, could you take through a bit about what led up to that and then your experience of building and executing that campaign.

Todd: Well sure, I think part of what lead to it was, quite honestly, failure-

Bill: Right.

Todd: That we did have, and we knew … we knew getting back to what wasn’t working. Because we did our own focus groups before we met Finch and it just wasn’t resonating. We realized that brand or name awareness … Not so much brand awareness or name awareness was gaining a little bit of traction, but not nearly enough that we wanted to do.

So the process of trying to find out who we are, what we do every day and take that to a market created the concept of “That’s Younity”, and it’s really tying in the factors of our structure, which we talked about … of the credit union structure. How we communicate with members, our membership every day and they’re members, not costumers. They’re members of ours.

Bill: Yeah, interesting.

Todd: Yeah it is, it’s confusing sometimes for some people, they want to say costumer all the time, but it is membership, and then tie that all together of trying to get out a message that seemed to resonate from people, as so many other things in the market were happening too.

Bill: Yeah, right.

Todd: Meaning mergers of banks and dissatisfaction among them.

Bill: It’s probably the right moment for something like this.

Todd: It was the right moment, not just for Diamond, but for the market and the industry. And to get people to actually move the financial relationship they have. They don’t wake up thinking “Yeah, today is the day I’m going to do that” lots of times, they go through before they decide to do it. But we did set ourselves up so well in the past few years … three or four years, when those mergers did occur that our membership growth hit record levels.

In fact, we were at capacity some months of bringing on new members. And the research did show part of that was the gain in brand awareness that we had out in the market. And overall it was not … it was not price, it was not product, it was selling who we are, “Come to us, sit down, we’ll talk to you, we’ll figure out your needs”. And that’s what became Younity, and what … what was … There was three parts of bringing this to everyone; and the first part was having employees buy into it.

Bill: No question.

Todd: And I’d never been part of an experience where that was so easy, and the reason it was so easy is because they created it. They didn’t know they created the words “That’s Younity” but talking to twenty five thirty individuals at our credit union throughout the process; they created the phrasing, and they bought into it from day one when we introduced it at a staff meeting, and you were part of that.

Bill: Yeah I remember. It was a big day.

Todd: The reaction to it immediately and the next day was just “Yeah that is us, that’s who we are” so that was step one. The next step then we take it to our membership really, before the market and … Well we did some surveying and people were putting down “What does Younity mean to you?” We were asking them-

Bill: I remember.

Todd: And they were just “Okay that’s perfect, you’re nailing it”. And now the third part of that of course is out to the consumers that don’t know Diamond, and we’re making great strides there, brand awareness increased incredibly over the first two years, stabilized a little bit the past year. But tremendous strides there, so we believe it connected and with our growth, but also the market research, which showed the same.

Bill: Yeah no doubt. And a cut … there were choices, I recall downstream in the creative process too, beyond Younity as a concept, which you know speaks to the sort of alignment of agendas between the credit union and its memberships and, as you said the structure and you know, Younity is about this relentless focus on the member and about how everyone’s interests are aligned here within the communities that people call home, or place of work. But then creatively there were choices that were made to highlight members as well as team members in everything from big billboards and live motion spots down to direct mail, right?

Todd: Well that’s true, and let me just back up for just a second on when we were deciding to go with “That’s Younity”, one of my favorite stories of that is … because everyone likes choices as we do and when we were going through analyzing “That’s Younity”, my question to the team was “I want to see other things”

Bill: Yeah.

Todd: “I want to see other options”, and I do recall asking “I want other options”, but what came back to me was “No, this is it”.

Bill: Yeah.

Todd: This is it, and that was actually right, and I needed to hear that, and we moved on from there. So yes, we then took it … It was commercials, and we went out to our membership and got some tremendous testimonials from our membership to use within the campaign. In our particular market, we did use billboards heavily because we don’t have any direct radio … limited radio and limited TV, but billboards, it was a big awareness part of it, and still is although it is lessening as time goes on, through digital channels now, but direct mail.

And now Younity you see when you walk into our locations, on our poster screens, TV screens that we have, and it’s integrated within everything we do. We have Younity days when we want to celebrate something that we’ve achieved together, or a community award, we’ll have Younity days where we’ll have … everyone will wear their Younity t-shirt, and it’s just a pride factor now among our staff. That does exist throughout our organization. And that’s just gone on to be much more than we ever thought.

Bill: Yeah, well it comes through, and it’s palpable and that brings us to another unmistakable characteristic of Diamond, which is this culture and sense of purpose and that manifests itself at a branch level in terms of service, but also through the incredible philanthropic efforts of Diamond. Could you speak for a minute about, sort of Diamonds culture and … as well as marketing’s role in building and nurturing that.

Todd: Well marketing’s role in nurturing that I would have to say we are … When I say we it’s a team of three other individuals along with myself … but I’d have to throw in many others into that team, but generally we’ll just focus on the team of three marketers that I have, is to be the protector, the keeper and the promoter of the brand. So nothing annoys me more than to see somebody at our organization try to put together a poster that doesn’t know how to put together a poster for all the great events we do, community events and now the logo stretch.

So we put a lot of commitment and effort and resources into saying appoint people to create that look that’s constant and we need them to go out. So they take a serious role in making sure that things look consistent, the brand is well defined in every piece that goes out, so that’s their role.

Bill: Yeah.

Todd: That’s their role, they have to be the eyes making sure that each piece is fitting the specs that we’re looking for. As far as the culture goes, that’s a … that’s from the top down from our president, and has been ingrained much into our HR department, which has expanded tremendously through the past three or four years. We didn’t even have a training department, now it’s a training department of three people who explain to anybody new coming in of what Younity does mean, and how that is part of our culture, and a part of our overall brand.

So, marketing can’t take credit for some of that, it’s permeated throughout our whole organization of the culture of how we want to take care of a member when they come in, and what that means as far as being able to nurture that relationship that we have, because that’s really what we have with our membership, is the relationship that we want to build.

Bill: Right, totally. We’ve alluded to it at a couple of times, but I mean one of the things that we’ve come to really respect and appreciate, among many things about Diamond is its philanthropic approach. Could you speak a little bit about, first of all what Diamond does and educate our listeners, but then the role of philanthropy in … in our sense of purpose, as well as you know, not to say that it’s insincere, because it is, but our way of spreading our own message and raising our awareness.

Todd: Well, sure. Well it really began quite a while ago, and a lot of our efforts are centered around the Relay for Life American Cancer Society, and it started with really two of our teammates battling their own fight, and it’s just grown since then of people throughout our organization taking leadership roles in running events, anywhere from people on our front line to back office, to collection managers, to IT people, running events for the good of the cause and putting it out to the community. So even as we speak today, we’ll have for our membership hot dog days and baked goods and-

Bill: We timed this well, I happened to see it out there and it just so happens.

Todd: So we have those events that others run and have taken ownership of, and it permeates through our membership. Membership will just say “Here’s twenty bucks for the cause” when they come in here, because they know what we’ll do with that money, and then roll it to all the good that The American Cancer Society does as a … in our community. But that’s one area and through our effort we’re going to be approaching a total donation over a million dollars real soon.

But that’s changing for us too, over time I believe Diamond has to … We’re looking into creating a foundation, which would help our territory in the region that we serve, to spread that around a little bit more. More needs that happen in our community, although we do that today through various other things of … Bowl for Kids’ Sake, and other events. We think there’s so much more that we can do for our community and we want to continue to build off of that.

We didn’t expect where we’d be today ten years ago, so another ten we think we can just do much more for the community as a larger … and then we think that’s the responsibility that we have, again going back to “This is what we … this is where we serve, this is who we serve and we should be part of that community”.

Bill: Well it certainly comes through and as we give you back the rest of your day, we’re about to overstay our welcome. What a journey both in your own career as well as all that’s been accomplished at Diamond certainly since you know, before and then since we’ve known one another. Any words of wisdom from your own career and the choices you made, I mean you have young members of the team, I’m sure there’s many of our listeners who were inspired by sort of the path you’ve taken, but any reflections or sort of words to live by that others might be able to take away from all that you’ve accomplished?

Todd: Well just the question alone I’m taken back by because, again I’ve … I never thought I’d be in a position like I am in when I began my career, so I’m a little taken back by even the question. But I just feel you … you have to give people … Yeah you have to have people who care about what you do, and that’s what we have, but you have to do a little bit more for me, you have to put goals out in front of, as a leader, because everybody wants to reach.

Bill: Sure, sure.

Todd: And if you … if you can’t put that goal out to people, I think they’ll … they’ll feel that and they won’t give as much as they feel that they can give and even more. That what was done for me, it’s put in challenges and put in things in front of me I never even thought about. And that’s what I hope to do too, not just my immediate team but the rest of the team here at Diamond is put things out there that you could have never imagined.

Bill: Yeah right, right.

Todd: And if you do that, well you may not hit it, but if you don’t hit it, you’re going to get pretty close and that’s some pretty good stuff too. So as a leader, which I’ve become, which again is pretty amazing, you have to always keep putting … putting those reaches out for people.

Bill: Yeah, well interesting, to them I think they, by this maybe a year ago. I mean I started for a very short time my career in sales, as did you and it may be that in the process of learning that that wasn’t what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives professionally, that there was some residue of learning about goals and about self-motivation and about ways to lead if and when we would reach sort of that moment, and here we are, so.

Todd: Well I think the experiences and sometimes failures that we have in life are much more important than reaching the pinnacle sometimes.

Bill: Yeah.

Todd: I know just recently there has been a Super Bowl champ that-

Bill: Yeah we heard something about that.

Todd: Without those failures they probably wouldn’t have reached the pinnacle they did, and I think that can happen in business as well.

Bill: No doubt, we’re recording this the day after the parade and everybody’s still smiling here in the Philadelphia area, it’s true. So Todd thank you so much for your time and insights-

Todd: Thank you Bill.

Bill: It’s been a pleasure to get to know you and the team and … Appreciate you being on our podcast.

Todd: It’s my pleasure, thank you.

Bill: Many thanks to Todd, both for his support and friendship, and certainly for his time and insight today. There’re three ways, as always to help us here at Real-Word Branding if you are compelled by this content, and we hope that you are; the first is to subscribe in the store of your choice, make sure that you do not miss an episode, and again we strive to do this weekly, and we’ve been pretty much living up to that so far this calendar year and our plan is certainly to continue since this provides a lot of joy for us and then hopefully for you as well.

So that’s one way to support us, another way is to give us a rating, we love five starts if we deserve it, we do read this, we appreciate the comments and it does help make it easier for those who are seeking interesting podcast content to find us, based upon number of people who’ve rated our content and hopefully the … how high …. Sky high we’ve earned in terms of a rating, and then the third is, as always let’s keep this dialogue going on … Twitter is probably the best place, @BillGullan or @FinchBrands we love comments and questions and ideas for future guests, future topics.

Really enjoying the back and forth with our listeners and we thank you, without you this would just be sort of a fun diversion, but it’s become more than that and we’re really grateful for your time, hopefully each and every week and we strive to live up to making it worthwhile, so we’ll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.

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