Marketing is often confused with promotion, but really it's about much more than that. Marketing is about knowing and understanding your customer so well that your product or service fits them and ultimately sells itself. In short, marketing is about insight above all else. In the spirit of those insights, we present our Meet the Marketer series where we discuss the careers and tactics of marketers behind industry leading brands.
In this episode of The Marketing Remix, we sit down with Nathan Schmidt, EVP of Brand Strategy and Digital Channels at San Diego County Credit Union, also known as SDCCU. During Nathan's time at SDCCU, the company’s become a top credit union in the nation and deeply rooted itself within the local community as San Diego's largest locally owned financial institution. Nathan's career accolades include being named 2017 Marketing Professional of the Year by the CU and a Marketing and Business Development Council Credit Union Rockstar, as well as a UNA Brand Professional of the Year by SDX, 40 under 40 by SD Metro magazine, a Trailblazer 40 Below by the Credit Union Times and more.
Can you tell us a little bit about SDCCU?
SDCCU is one of the largest credit unions in the nation and the largest locally owned financial institution in San Diego. We are a not a for profit financial institution, so our board of directors are all volunteers. SDCCU offers low cost banking services to all the individuals that live in San Diego County, Riverside County, Orange County and beyond.
Can you talk a bit about the challenges you face?
San Diego is where we originally started in 1933 and we have since become one of the premier financial institutions in this region. However, we do have other service counties that we serve. One of the biggest challenges we have faced in expanding is just breaking free of the noise, particularly in the Los Angeles market. To do this, we have to be pretty tactical and strategic in our marketing messages.
What marketing channels are you currently playing in?
Being the size we are, we are currently represented in every channel to deliver our messaging through many touch points. One of the more unique opportunities we’ve had is stadium naming rights. Many people question tactics such as stadium naming rights and sponsorships, thinking that it's just putting your brand’s name on something, but it also helps to elevate brand awareness for people that may not necessarily know your brand.
SDCCU also puts on multiple events such as the annual SDCCU Holiday Bowl. One of the pillars of San Diego is tourism, and many people in the area are affected by the tourism industry, especially during the weeks before and after Christmas. So, the Holiday Bowl brings in the tourist, the football players, their families, friends, and college alumni to keep the San Diego area thriving.
It’s important to incorporate the human element of marketing into these events as well. As much as we want to measure efforts and ensure we're delivering those results, an emotional connection to the consumers and the region is a key differentiator for SDCCU.
How do you constantly evolve and compete with the new features and new customer expectations ensuring that your reliably able to deliver on the promises you make to these customers that are so emotionally connected to you?
That's kind of the beauty of a credit union. We’re not so big that we have 5,000 locations, so we're able to be in constant communication with our branches and consumers. We try to do what's right at every turn, while having the consumer at the forefront of our minds.
So how does that history play a role in defining the brand for the future?
Originally, the organization was chartered back in the 1930s, as San Diego County Employees Credit Union, and it's formed to provide the financial needs of the local county government employees. Although it fits nicely with the name today, it still is part of our values. Most credit unions also started in response to the Great Depression to help pull together sums of money. When someone in a community needed a loan and banks were not assisting, credit unions were helping to satisfy community needs. That spirit really still thrives today, and we want to continue to grow and explore new things.
When you choose to pursue a new idea, strategy, or tactic, what is involved in your decision making process?
I'm very aware of what’s happening in the region and always make sure to evaluate what's happening before making a large decision such as putting our name on a stadium. I look at everything behind the curtains to ensure that it is viable, to our advantage, and cost efficient.
What does your team composition look like?
We rely heavily on our partners and I think one of the main differences with SDCCU is that we don't have a media buyer. I'm very involved in decisions from where we put things to keyword searches, but we rely on our partners’ expertise to ensure that we are driving the right communication and getting the right returns.
How does privacy and security play a role in the things you choose to investment in?
Security and privacy regulation is the number one priority at SDCCU. With every decision we make, we make sure that we have training throughout the organization and we're very careful about file sharing and that type of stuff. We place an effort on keeping everything separated, locked down, and secure. So, with all of that in mind, we're still trying to evolve the brand and explore new channels and tactics.
How are you rethinking structures and ways of working within your marketing function to meet consumer expectations?
We're actually very nimble at SDCCU, so there isn’t a lot of bureaucracy when it comes to making decisions. We leverage our partners’ expertise by accepting advice, tweaking it, and putting on the regulatory requirements.
What keeps people inside your organization engaged, inspired, and eager to continue to grow?
I think one of the best things about our organization is the ability to try new tactics. We recently became the title sponsor of the Orange County marathon and that was a fun weekend filled with meeting our new friends in Orange County. I'm supporting the branches up there and continually building brand awareness.
Our employees are not just stuck at their desks doing the same old thing all the time. We definitely are a part of a community; over the last year alone, we've done over 400 community events. So, our employees are engaged and we hear it from the consumers, who love seeing their financial institution at local events and it’s a more meaningful and emotional way to connect with our consumers.
Can you talk about some of those challenges that you faced in your tenure and how you've been able to overcome some of those?
One of the biggest challenges is how fast everything is evolving. Just seven years ago when I started at SDCCU, we didn't have a lot of the things that we do today, such as someone running our social media. We’ve prioritized leveraging partnerships and education around all the evolution.
Are there any key points you think are important to share with the marketers looking to evolve in their career?
I would say don't be afraid to try, don't be afraid to speak up, and don't be afraid to go with your gut. The numbers can prove anything, but how does it feel? How do you feel about the decision that you're making? Is there somewhere you think that you need to be when it comes to the marketing space? I would urge marketers to trust themselves to do what’s best for their brand and their consumer.
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