Credit unions offer memberships and rewards. But, they don’t call themselves loyalty programs and they often don’t behave exactly like loyalty programs.

What would be the benefit to that?

Mainly, awareness – a big problem for credit unions that we’ve covered at length. People are just more familiar with the concept of a loyalty program than they are with that of a credit union. Evidenced by the fact that the average US household is a member of 29 loyalty programs.

While that may indicate an over-saturation in the loyalty program market, there are things that credit unions could borrow from that model to increase awareness and increase engagement with products and services.

Language

Credit union marketing language is often focused on the emotional aspect of being a member. It puts ownership into the hands of members or it could speak to a job or location community. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something to the idea of repositioning “members get lower rates on loans” as “members rewards include lower rates on loans, free checking and more.” Instead of an aspect of a credit union, it’s a reward for membership.

Partnerships

Rewards/loyalty programs are more than just one point for every dollar spent and we wouldn’t recommend only implementing that aspect of the loyalty program model. As Forbes notes:

“The winners in loyalty will be those organizations that can think horizontally, meaning they see their loyalty endeavors not as mere programs, but instead as strategies that serve the broader brand promise.”

This element is perfect for credit unions because they are a lifestyle and a part of a community. Something that not enough credit unions utilize to their advantage are potential partnerships within their community that benefits members in some way. Whether that’s discounts, exclusive access to events or something else. For example, you probably have a credit that that earns you rewards. We’re willing to guess that what matters to you about those rewards is not how many points you have, but where you can use them. Which airline, which retailer, which restaurant, etc. These partnerships don’t have to be random, but rather can enhance your “brand promise” and tie into what your credit union is offering its members: a community experience.

Engagement

Credit cards rewards program endear regular usage by typically starting off with some initial spending offer (e.g. Spend $1000 in the first three months and earn 30,000 points). This doesn’t guarantee constant usage, but the strategy behind it is to set cardholders up with enough points to be close enough to something to keep spending, but far enough away that their spending benefits the cardholder.

In other words, they’re guaranteeing engagement. And they typically offer an interface allowing cardholders to easily track where they’re at in their goals. By reframing certain promos as rewards opportunities (e.g. signing up for certain services can guarantee you a seasonal rate on a personal loan) could encourage more engagement by making the promo feel like an engagement rather than a one-sided promotion. People want to feel like they’re being rewarded as they’re being rewarded rather than simply participating in a promotion that only benefits the credit union.

We shouldn’t view credit unions as loyalty programs in a gimmick-y way. Credit unions fit perfectly into that mold and it’s a language that people are more familiar with. With that in mind, spend time developing an approach to this idea and make sure that however you present yourself, people can see the rewards value in your membership.