SANDUSKY, Ohio (8/11/11)--Among the areas where small asset-sized credit unions find it difficult to compete with larger financial institutions is marketing and social media. A rebranding campaign inspired $145 million asset VacationLand FCU, Sandusky, Ohio, to form a credit union service organization (CUSO) and share its newly developed expertise in developing marketing plans and social media strategy with other credit unions. VacationLand FCU was founded in 1956 to serve the employees, families and retirees of a local General Motors plant. The credit union expanded to community charter in 2001. In 2007, new CEO Kevin Ralofsky initiated a rebranding campaign, which he describes as “tactical survival mechanism” to keep the credit union relevant. Ralofsky told News Now he feared that the credit union’s maturity would lead it to obsolescence if there wasn’t effort to reach out to the next generations. He envisioned the credit union as a bigger corporate citizen in Sandusky. Working with Mark Advertising, a local agency, VacationLand FCU designed a new logo and brand, and built a marketing strategy around reaching out to the next generations of credit union members, increasing involvement in the community, and continuing to serve its existing membership with superior service. Ralofsky also hired Bryce Roth as marketing coordinator to develop a more strategic marketing planning process and employ social media as part of VacationLand FCU’s new brand. Roth immersed himself in the local community, contacting schools and attending social and sporting events. To get around he used the credit union Big experience (CuBe), a multi-media vehicle outfitted to perform most financial transactions. With glass walls, gaming systems, LED and LED lights in the wheel wells, CuBe is designed to get attention. Roth re-enforced his appearances with what he calls the Holy Trinity of social media: YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. He touted his appearances, made videos of events and kept members engaged with questions and financial advice. “It was part guerilla marketing with appearances and word of mouth through social media to develop critical mass and get people engaged,” Roth said. The credit union also formed the Change Agent Squad (CAS), a group of high-school and college students who serve as the “pulse” of expectation for their age group. The intent of the CAS is to educate their peers and the community on the differences between credit unions and banks. Roth said the credit union surveyed a group of local students and asked them what they wanted in a financial institution. “They were very clear: They wanted a financial institution that put time and energy into the community,” Roth said. “We said, “That’s what credit unions are all about.’” The change squad’s first event--a canned food drive--raised 1,600 canned food items, enough to supply a local food bank for four months, Roth said. Since then the group has worked with the Humane Society and United Way on similar events. “Whenever we do an event, we use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,” Roth said. “The kids like to see themselves on video, but most important, they tell their friends: ‘These people actually listened to me.” Since January, VacationLand FCU has experienced a steady increase in membership among its targeted membership age group of 15 to 45 year olds. About 60% of net new membership is under the age of 31. Also, 86% is under 46. Ralofsky was so happy with the turnaround, he thought the strategy would work at other credit unions, he said. So VacationLand FCU started its own CUSO, Chatter Yak, to bring marketing planning and social media solutions to credit unions. “We thought, ‘Wow, we can duplicate this and share it with other credit unions,’” Ralofsky said. “It all started with our need for social media. A lot of big credit unions not only have marketing departments, they [also] have people whose jobs are dedicated to social media. That doesn’t have to be the case, and they can still be very effective in reaching their audience.” In addition to social media planning, Chatter Yak offers marketing campaigns “in a box,” billboards and digital and on-hold marketing. Chatter Yak starts each client with an in-depth survey that covers the credit union’s history through its current social media needs. The survey is followed up with a Webinar or face-to-face brainstorming session to discuss survey results and the credit union’s marketing vision. Chatter Yak then develops what Ralofsky calls a “30,000-foot-view” marketing tactical plan for the credit union. “The idea is to provide the CEO with a plan outlining marketing goals that are in line with the credit union’s strategic plan that he or she can take to the board,” Ralofsky said. If a credit union is interested in employing Chatter Yak’s social media strategy, the CUSO provides social media planning campaign management, including curriculum, a branded website for a Change Agent Squad, focus group surveys and event planning. “We’re sticking our necks out to provide real value early in the process,” Ralofsky said. “We think we’ve created products, services and strategies that allow the smallest credit unions to get in the game and look like experts at marketing. That’s the key.” Chatter Yak has signed on eight clients, Ralofsky said.