“What if all the credit unions suddenly went away?” asked “Got Milk?” creator Jeff Manning. “How would that affect people? No one would get a home loan? There would be no credit cards? I doubt that. So, what would be missing in a world without credit unions? When you can answer that, you’ll have your value – the thing credit unions offer that no one else does.”

If this question is difficult, so is the task before us. Wednesday morning’s final THINK 11 session brought together “Got Milk?” creator Manning; banking trends expert Brett King, author of “Bank 2.0;” Nancy Hill, president and CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies; and Caroline Lane, Senior Vice President, Business Development and Marketing, CO-OP Financial Services. The objective: sussing out the story credit unions need to tell the world, then finding a way to sell it.

It was a morning of provocative ideas. King argued – not unconvincingly – that the entire future of banking is virtual. Google-literate consumers are knowledgeable, choice-driven and unsentimental. If you think technology is optional and unlikely to catch on, consider that in present-day Kenya mobile banking is already the mode of the day, and features we only dream about here (mobile-to-mobile money transfer, for example) are already commonplace there. For kids and college students, paper checks and visiting the branch are strange, exotic notions; mobile banking is as natural as picking up a new video game.

Message to credit unions: Deliver what consumers are already demanding or become obsolete.

Manning’s observations were less technology-centered but no less urgent. In order to win consumer attention – and, more important, action – credit unions must deliver their message over and over in various media and formats. “People need to hear a message 30, 40, even 50 times before they can process it and consider taking action,” said Manning.

Even more fundamentally, though, Manning wanted to know what that message might be. Belonging to a credit union doesn’t create the kind of immediate, desperate desire one feels for milk with cookies. So, how do credit unions create that desire?

When Hill and Lane joined the conversation, the topic expanded to the possibility of creating a national campaign to promote credit union awareness. Can 8,000 credit unions join together to find a unified, compelling message – as milk producers did with “Got Milk?” Lane admitted that bringing the movement together on this kind of initiative is a huge challenge, but she also said it was one worth considering.

“We aren’t an industry; we’re a movement,” said Lane. “We bring an extraordinary amount of passion to helping our members.” If fulfilling that mission means doing the hard work of adapting to new realities and figuring out how to tell the world just how plugged-in we are, then credit unions will rise to the challenge. Because, while we might imagine a world without credit unions, we wouldn’t want to live there.