Can credit unions effectively engage their members through emotional branding? According to Marc Gobe, author of Emotional Branding, successful organizations and brands are those that connect with consumers emotionally. I recently read the updated version of Gobe’s groundbreaking book, Emotional Branding. If your credit union is considering a branding or rebranding project, then some of the principles he discusses can help your credit union.
But what in the world is “emotional branding?” Gobe defines it as “…how a brand engages consumers on the level of the senses and emotions; how a brand comes to life for people and forges a deeper, lasting relationship.”
That’s an easy definition, but how does emotional branding translate to a credit union? Can you really get someone to feel something about a credit union? Here are some of the points the book makes that have application for credit unions:
- “Consumers are thinking more with their hearts or guts than with their heads when choosing products.” When you design a new brand or product, what do your members feel about it? Hopefully not bored. You must speak to the member’s heart, not just head. Find stories about how your credit union is making a difference in the lives of your members.
- “Change starts at home.” Don’t even attempt a branding project without considerable input from your staff. You also must make sure your staff “gets” your brand or it will fail. Your front line staff are the ones that will deliver that emotional connection. Emotional branding happens one member interaction at a time.
- “Women are ‘Shoppers-in-Chief.” Gobe spends an entire chapter talking about the important role women play in today’s economy. If your credit union brand does not connect with females, don’t expect much success when it comes to emotional branding. According to Gobe, what women want as consumers are respect, individuality, stress relief, connection and relationship. Is your credit union providing any of those?
- Sensorial experiences matter. For credit unions, this goes right to your branching strategy. How do your branches smell? How do they feel? Are you using a pod strategy or a traditional teller line? Do you have a kids' play area, cars displayed or video boards? All these experiences matter.
One of the best parts of the book was the “Ten Commandments of Emotional Branding.” He covers big issues like ”from consumers to people,” and “from service to relationship.” At times there are sections of the book that were a bit dry and hard to follow. But his main points are extremely applicable.
Credit union brands must engage members and non-members emotionally. That is easier said than done. One way to learn how to take your brand to that next level is to read Emotional Branding.
Credit unions spend thousands of dollars annually promoting their products and services, and they often neglect the most probable target—existing members. It’s nearly 10 times easier to expand relationships with current members than it is to recruit new members, yet current members are the most overlooked demographic for most credit unions. Here are some statistics to consider:
- Consumers, on average, have 10 different financial accounts spread across more than four different institutions.
- The average attrition rate for credit union members is 12 percent to 24 percent. For every 100 new members they bring in, they are losing up to a quarter of them. That’s average. Some are losing 90 or more existing members for every 100 new ones.
- About 80 percent of the members who leave credit unions are satisfied, according to John Zells, co-author of Outrunning the Competition: Relationship Management. They are not unhappy members.
“Products and services are not sustainable competitive advantages. Relationships are. Learn about your members. Use that knowledge to offer products and service solutions. You’ll build relationships—and loyalty—by selling personalized products and services that meet their needs,” writes Zells in his book.
Knowing members is how credit unions build relationships. That doesn’t just mean knowing who they are when they walk into the branch, although that helps. Knowing them means knowing their needs. Are they retired? Do they have kids? Do they own their home?
Capturing this information is a team effort. Credit unions should have the technology in place to collect key information about members every time they conduct a transaction, whether it’s coming into the branch or calling with a question. Find a way to document that Sally Member is having a baby in June or that Joe Member has a teenage daughter. Use that information to train employees on what products and services to offer these members when they contact the credit union again. That’s what keeps them coming back.
Read more on this topic in the July issue of my monthly e-zine.
You can also learn more by attending one of two webinars I’m presenting, in conjunction with several credit union leagues. One will be held July 26. The other will be held July 28. Click the respective dates to register.
Note: This month marks the five year anniversary of my father’s death. Below is a modified/updated version of a “Letter to the Editor” I submitted to Credit Union Times upon Dad’s passing. As you will see, my father and I are connected through credit unions. Credit unions are not just financial institutions: in some ways they can even connect a father and son.
As we begin a New Year in credit union land, it is often appropriate to also look back on the previous year. I will always associate 2006 as the year my father and credit union pioneer, John Arnold, passed away. While the pain and grief is still tender (even five years later), I am filled with pride for my dad and reflect that our careers are somehow linked together just as our lives always will be.
One of the fondest memories I have about my father is reading and discussing articles from the Credit Union Times. Whenever my wife and I would go by Mom and Dad’s (invariably to drop off the grandkids!), Dad would often be sitting in his chair reading the Credit Union Times. He would always get his copy before me because my office copy would arrive weeks late after being circulated to my co-workers.
There is a great line in the movie City Slickers where Daniel Stern’s character is fondly remembering his father. He says, “When my father and I couldn’t talk about anything else we could talk about baseball.” For me and my dad, our version of “baseball talk” was credit unions. If we couldn’t talk about anything else, we could always talk about credit unions. In many ways, my dad and I connected with each other through our credit union careers.
We often knew some of the same people. We’d catch up on credit union gossip: who was at particular credit unions and how they were doing. He’d tell old war stories about so and so and I’d keep him up-to-date on what issues credit unions were facing today. Of course, Dad always offered sage advice on my credit union career (whether I wanted it or not!).
People would often say, “Are you John Arnold’s son?” While some would feel it might get old being asked that, I learned to embrace it. I understood that was who I am. Yes, to a degree I’m a credit union legacy.
Dad’s home subscription to Credit Union Times came up for renewal recently. When Mom sadly handed me the renewal notice, I paused for a few minutes wondering what to do. It was a bitter thing to see, another reminder that I had lost my father; another reminder that I would not be able to talk credit unions with him.
However, instead of letting the tears form I chose to do the only thing I felt was appropriate. I went online and renewed the subscription, changing the name and address to my information. It is one minor way to continue my dad’s memory. And one of the first things I did when I formed On The Mark Strategies was subscribe to multiple credit union publications, including the Credit Union Times.
So I encourage all you credit union executives out there to share your professional reading with your children. Share the Credit Union Times. Pass down your credit union love and career to your children. Who knows, maybe one day you can connect with them through your own careers just like my dad and I did.
Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote for this month’s issue of LoneStar Perspectives. For the complete article (which include tips for overcoming those gaps) , please click here.
Branding can change a credit union. The key word is “can.” Many times a credit union embarks upon a new brand or recreates an existing brand. Perhaps the board, management team or marketing department decide key targets, develop a new look and even draft a catchy tagline. But then the brand falls flat. What happened? In many cases the credit union has fallen into “the brand chasm.”
The brand chasm is the tension between the operational nature of banking and the creative/strategic skills of branding. There can often be a gap between key areas of the credit union. This gap sometimes even turns into chasms. For example, there are possible brand chasms:
- Between branding and strategy
- Between branding and staff
- Between branding and operations
The brand chasm essentially becomes a leadership challenge for credit unions.
Chasm Between Branding and Strategy
Branding is a strategic process. The brand plan must tie directly to the strategic plan and the strategic plan must incorporate the brand plan. There is no one without the other.
As Marty Neumeir says in The Brand Gap, “The secret of a living brand is that it lives throughout the company, not just in the marketing department.”
Ultimately, no strategic decision in the credit union should be made without answering the question, “Will it help or hurt the brand?” Should you serve the underserved—does it help or hurt the brand? Should you market to Hispanics—does it help or hurt your brand? Should you open a branch in another county—does it help or hurt your brand? Those are examples of aligning strategic decisions with the brand.
Chasm Between Branding and Staff
While marketing may put the public face on the brand, it is the staff who must live the brand every day. Great credit union brands are built with a triangle approach: management, staff, and members. In an ideal word management leads the brand, staff lives the brand and members experience the brand.
In many cases, effective brands fail at the staff level because of that chasm between the brand and staff. Successful brands involve staff at every level. Credit unions doing branding must conduct brand training with their staff and develop brand standards for their staff.
One credit union that successfully built their brand is Generations Community FCU ($397 million, San Antonio, TX). When they changed their name from San Antonio City Employees FCU a few years ago they also went through a thorough re-branding project. Much of their efforts (and subsequent success) focused on staff.
“We wanted to ensure that we had strategic buy in fom everyone, from the corner office to the front-line staff; so before we even put pen to paper, we assembled an Internal Communications Team. The IC Team was comprised of a wide variety of individuals with varying tenure and skill sets,” said Chris Voigt, Generations FCU’s chief operations officer. “This team was a crucial component of our rebranding strategy, as they served as a two-way conduit of information for all our staff members.
Chasm Between Branding and Operations
Because branding is becoming more important than ever branding impacts all areas of the organization. It is quite normal for a gap to exist between marketing and operations. Operational thinkers tend to be analytical, logical, linear, numerical and literal. On the other hand creative thinkers tend to be intuitive, emotional, spatial, visual and conceptual. If a gap exists between the two in your credit union your brand will suffer.
What does your brand say about the account opening process, the hiring process, the loan approval process? Your brand is rubbish unless you bring it to life and animate every day in your branches. For example, your tagline can’t be “we make it easy,” if it takes your members over 24 hours to get their loan approved. If your brand says, “we’re the friendliest credit union in town,” and your operator is rude, then your brand is rude.
Consider Neches FCU ($322 million, Port Neches, TX). They see their brand collaborating across all areas.
“Our credit union marketing efforts are strongly tied with operations,” says Jason Duplant, vice president of marketing for Neches FCU. “Our President/CEO Jason Landry has a passion for marketing and how important those efforts are. As a result we are able to create a dynamic working environment where we can share ideas and receive genuine feedback and ultimate engagement to mold that into future communications and collaborations for the entire team and membership.”
The biggest threats to your brand come from within—many times in the form of a brand chasm. Your weakest link will destroy your brand. However, reinforcing the brand with employees every day and bringing to life and animating the brand will help you bridge those potential chasms.
Go to any credit union conference these days and somewhere on the agenda you’ll probably see a session on innovation. Innovation, innovation, innovation—it’s certainly a buzzword today. And leading the way with innovative products and services certainly gives you a competitive edge. But let’s be honest: that is a hard road for many credit unions to travel.
According to Jeff Rendel, CSP, president and founder of Rising Above Enterprises, perhaps a better strategic model credit unions should follow is imitation, not innovation. Rendel is an acclaimed speaker and helps financial institutions all over the world with his “Elite One Percent” concept. He is the lead facilitator for CUNA’s Marketing Management School Year Three, where he teaches about innovation.
“There is a greater proven value in imitation than innovation,” Rendel says. “In every strategic planning session, credit unions want innovation, but that opens up a can of worms. It is extremely hard to be cutting edge. Instead we should examine what is already going on in consumer retail America that we could imitate and do better.”
As examples, Rendel historically points to the charge card. He noted that the Diners Club was the first in market with the charge card. The imitators were American Express and MasterCard. He also uses the fast food industry as an example. Although White Castle Hamburgers were one of the first in the fast food market, McDonald’s was the imitator.
“In all those cases, the innovator did not receive the value,” he notes. “You actually become more innovative by making something your own. You actually build a better mouse trap.”
Another tip Rendel gives is to watch consumer expectation, even outside financial services. He suggests taking a notepad and keeping it in your car for a month. When you see something that impresses you in retail America, bring that idea back and ask the management team about it. For example, Chick-Fil-A has an ipad application: is that something your credit union needs?
“The consumer mindset is shifting,” Rendel says. “They are coming to expect certain technologies and applications in the retail environment. Credit unions are in retail America.”
Do you want more innovation at your credit union? Then perhaps you can look at other organizations to imitate by improving their idea or applying it to your credit union.