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Big Question - How Do We Talk to Gen Z as an Industry?

One thing I hear almost every week from credit unions is the effort to try and appeal to the younger generation. You know - the ones who may not know what a credit union is or if they can join. The ones who want things done yesterday without human interaction! We need to figure this one out. Currently, Gen Z consumers represent $360 billion in buying power. By 2034, at a population of about 78 million, they will be the largest generation of US consumer spenders ever. As credit unions look toward the near future, it’s clear that if we want to stay relevant, we’ll need to very seriously consider the audience we’re marketing to and how they might differ from past generations.

Perhaps it sounds simple, but before we think about all the ways credit unions can advertise and do outreach, we first must ask ourselves, “How do we get Gen Z to listen to us?”

How is our movement going to reach them?

In the last two years of the Michigan Credit Union League’s Gen Z-focused "Try a Credit Union" cooperative campaign, we've come to recognize the importance of the digital space. Gen Z consumers are the first true digital natives. They grew up on the internet and because of that, they won’t compromise on convenience. As you can imagine, they conduct the primary share of their shopping, socializing, gaming, job applications and major financial decisions online or with their phone.

So, it’s clear that credit unions should focus marketing efforts on digital landscapes. But it’s not enough to just meet them where they are. Brands need to be honest, trustworthy and bring a bit of humor. However, you have to be careful. When a well-established brand suddenly adopts a "Gen Z meme style" in its social media posts without proper context or justification, it's often perceived as an attempt at shock value or, worse yet, insincere.

Of course, credit unions also need to consider the online platforms that Gen Z consumers are using. That doesn’t mean throwing all the relevant platforms in a one-size-fits-all box. It means actually understanding each platform individually. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an Instagram post that looks like it belongs on LinkedIn, clearly because an organization is using that one-size-fits-all approach.

This generation is very marketing savvy and can see inauthenticity a mile away. You can’t pander to them or be inauthentic. Each message has to be tailored to its respective platform, because it doesn’t take much effort for users to scroll right past your post.

How we shaped our campaign

When designing the “Try a Credit Union” Campaign, we decided it was important to collaborate with a Gen Z spokesperson. We thought teaming with a member of the generation would lend us a credibility that would be hard to manufacture on our own.

Focusing on video content and digital media buys, we meticulously tailored our messaging to meet Gen Z's expectations for each social platform. While not as edgy as certain Gen Z humor, our campaign proved to effectively engage our audience through witty and sarcastic humor.

Through slang-heavy commercials, like our “Drip Check” or “Nice Flex” spots, we had almost 100 million impressions and more than 20 million video plays across platforms. Honestly, in helping build this campaign, I did not know what either expression meant!

Beyond messaging

As I mentioned, convenience is key for Gen Z consumers. And that goes beyond the simple fact of having the digital world in the palm of their hand. Convenience is also about experience. Credit unions need to create a digital experience for Gen Z users that provides reliably seamless interactions.

Any friction during processes like money transfers, loan applications or credit card transactions could have high-stakes results, sometimes to the point of seeking alternatives that promise more convenience.

In a study we held of Gen Z consumers, 82% of respondents said they would switch financial institutions if the alternative offered them superior digital experiences. Lower rates and fees are great, but without a personalized, frictionless and accessible digital experience, it’s going to be hard to reach this population.

We also found that trust was very important to Gen Z and Millennial consumers. It’s one of their top priorities when shopping around for a financial partner. Thankfully, they already think of credit unions in favorable terms — as trustworthy, community-focused and interested in people’s financial well-being.

However, we found that there’s a remaining barrier: Gen Z consumers only have a high-level understanding of how we operate or what it means for members that we’re a cooperative movement. For instance, when we presented our study subjects with facts about Michigan credit unions, respondents found some basic attributes surprising, particularly our movement’s high number of branch locations and ATMs. Also, they found our financial guidance offerings to be the most appealing attribute they were not previously familiar with.

The good news is that Gen Z has a great desire to be more financially savvy than any generation in recent history … and they crave financial education. They want to better understand how to manage their money and save for big goals. Even though they rank the lowest in financial literacy of all generations, they want that financial guidance that we already offer.

The credit union model — how we operate on a daily basis — is already perfectly tailored to Gen Z consumers. Now, using authentic and well-considered messaging, we need to get the word out that we’re here for them.


By Patty Corkery

Originally published on CUInsight.com

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