One of the toughest measurements for organizations of any size to determine is the return on investment from their branding efforts. Part of the problem is the number of variables involved in a branding strategy. But, CFOs and CEOs don’t want to hear it can’t be done. They want justification that the money and time you are spending on branding pays dividends.
Intangibles are one of the biggest obstacles to calculating branding ROI. Branding isn’t a marketing campaign where you have a specific goal like the number of accounts opened or loans closed to weigh against what you spent.
Branding is everything your organization does and represents in the minds of both members and non-members. It’s the feelings people get when they hear your name or experience your service, the ease of doing business with your credit union, the way your branches look, the way your employees live your brand, etc. How do you measure that?
Increased awareness is a phrase often used to justify the money spent on branding. After all, a member or potential member must be aware of your credit union and its products and services before deciding to purchase your brand. That makes awareness important, but is it enough? Again, your CEO and CFO would probably say no. It can indentify weaknesses in one or more aspects of your branding strategy, but you are cutting your credit union short if you stop there.
Other metrics you can use are member surveys and net promoter score, which both measure the member experience, but the ultimate branding ROI metric is growth. If your credit union is not growing, your brand most likely is not strong enough, or you are not branding your credit union correctly. If you don’t have a strong brand, you won’t have a strong credit union.
The ROI of branding should be tied to your credit union’s overall growth goals, like new members, new checking accounts, new loan growth and the like. If your brand is not strong, you should not expect to meet those goals.
Read the August issue of my monthly e-zine for a more in-depth look at the ROI of branding.
It’s a metric no credit union can afford to ignore.
Every human being has their own DNA. It’s what makes them unique. No one person’s DNA is exactly the same as another. We each have a unique genetic structure.
What about your credit union? What is your credit union’s DNA? One of the struggles many credit unions face is they don’t know their own DNA. They can’t differentiate themselves from the other 100 financial institutions in their market.
But may make no mistake about it: your credit union does have a DNA. The trick is finding it. Of course, once you find it you may not like it. If that’ the case then you may have to change it.
Examples of a credit union’s DNA could include the following:
- Cost cutting
- Financially sound
- Technology driven
- High energy staff
- Unengaged staff
- Marketing oriented
Finding your credit union’s DNA means asking the right (and sometimes tough) questions. As you ask these questions, however, honesty is a must. Here is a list of ways to dive deeper into your credit union’s DNA:
(1) What are we like—What personality traits would you give our credit union (see the list above for some ideas)?
(2) What do we REALLY care about at our credit union—is it truly people or are we more interested in making our net income goal at all cost?
(3) What is the staff’s perception of management—is management in its ivory tower and aloof or is management closely aligned with the front line staff?
(4) What is your credit union’s history—who have we historically served well (blue collar, white collar, teachers, etc.)?
(5) How are we giving back to our members—do we offer patronage dividends, better rates, etc. or are we sitting on our capital?
(6) What do we invest in at our credit union—is it marketing, technology, employees, members, service or the financials?
(7) What is your credit union’s value proposition—how are you trying to connect with your members and build an affinity with them?
While you’re stuck with your own DNA, your credit union is not. It may take time, but you can change it. Ultimately, your credit union’s DNA is up to you.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal posed this question. According to the article, The Apple brand tops the list at $183 billion. Other brands mentioned include McDonald’s at $95 billion, Nike at $16 billion, Disney at $29 billion and Toyota at $21 billion.
We’ve discussed the importance of credit union branding extensively in previous blog entries. Investing in your brand is critical to success in the hyper-competitive financial services market of the 21st century. But what, exactly, is your credit union’s brand worth?
As Ray Davis, author of Leading for Growth say, “If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know that your brand is just about the most valuable marketing asset you’ve got.”
Odds are, you won’t invest in the kinds of complex equations, research and computations to come up with a hardcore number like the companies above. Nor are we suggesting you should. You should measure your credit union’s brand in other ways; ways much simpler to observe and report.
- How happy are your members with your credit union? You can answer this question quantitatively, in formal member surveys or focus groups. Keep in mind that you should Forget Member Satisfaction and focus more on the net promoter score. You can also answer it qualitatively, with informal chats in the lobby. Tap into the opinions of your members and see how their feeling can add to or subtract from the value of your credit union’s brand.
- Analyze who you are as an organization, remembering that a credit union cannot be all things to all people. Are you best at serving the underserved? Do you exceed in a particular geographic region? Is a particular employer your credit union’s new member and new business lifeline? Identify that niche, learn to work it and see if it can positively impact your overall credit union brand.
- How well are you cross-selling products and services? Is this an important part of your credit union’s culture? Do you impress on all staff members the value, to the credit union and to the members, of proactively suggesting additional products and services? Doing this can help improve not only your bottom line, but also ingratiate your credit union with members as the one-stop shopping source for all their financial product and service needs.
It is difficult to tag an actual dollar-and-cent value to your credit union’s brand. But as Fred Smith, the CEO for Federal Express say, “One of the things we recognized about 10 or 12 years ago was that probably of all the assets on our balance sheet, none was more important than the brand, even though it wasn’t capitalized at all.”
Branch managers are a lot of things. Coach. Operations expert. Teller. Boss. Member service representative. Loan officer. Janitor. Maybe one thing we should add to this exhaustive list is entrepreneur.
More and more these days credit unions and banks are asking their branch managers to be involved in business development. After all, is business development a department or an activity? The reality is you must have a coordinated effort and strategy when it comes to your branches and your business development. And one way to implement that strategy is to turn your branch managers into branch enterpeneurs.
While that approach is a good thing it is not without its challenges. Why? Because most branch managers are hired for their operations skills and not necessarily for the business development background. Transitioning your branch managers to entrepreneurs is no easy task. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind when it comes to using branch managers more as an entrepreneur:
- Entrepreneurs are knowledgeable—If you’re going to move the branch manager into an entrepreneur role, then you are going to have to train those managers in business development skills. In fact, they must have advanced sales training. You can’t just throw them out there and expect the sales to come; you must give them sales knowledge through training.
- Entrepreneurs know their business’ numbers—Do your branch managers see their branches as individual businesses? You should ßtask them with making their business (branch) profitable. If you’re not already, you should use a branch accounting approach where you know exactly how profitable or unprofitable each of your locations are. Branch managers should know how many loans, checking accounts and new members they need to bring in every month to make their branch a success.
- Entrepreneurs focus outside and not inside—If your branch managers are serious about growing their branch numbers then they will get out of the office to make that happen. Whether it is chamber activities, HOA meetings, serving the community, etc. they will be more out than in. Good business owners are the face of their business; and your branch managers are the face of your credit union/branch.
As Constance Anderson said recently in a MemberShoppers piece, “Credit unions leaders must work with their natural business development force of branch personnel….it’s the missing link in credit union growth.”
The branch must go beyond the branch—and that means shifting the branch manager to a branch entrepreneur.
Note: This article first appeared in Lone Star Perspectives, a publication of the Texas Credit Union League
“While most associations and professional societies are not in immediate danger, they will struggle if they cling to conventional approaches and structures. They will survive but they won’t grow. They will function but without vitality. They will have members but their market share will decrease. They will exist but their influence will decline.”
– The Race for Relevance
If the one true constant in life is change, it follows that a quest for relevance would matter a great deal to any individual, group, business or association. This is the pivotal point of an interesting recent book, Race for Relevance. In it, authors Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers suggest a series of challenges to relevance and practical ideas to help stem the tide of its archenemy, irrelevance. This is particularly true of credit unions today. We must remain relevant.
In this article we will address five key credit union relevance questions:
- Why do credit unions struggle with relevancy?
- What are the signs that your credit union may be in danger of becoming irrelevant?
- How can credit unions remain relevant in today’s marketplace?
- How important is embracing technology in remaining relevant?
- What are some practical tactics credit unions can implement today to ensure they remain relevant?
Why does the idea of a race for relevance matter for your credit union? As the book asserts, no association (or credit union) is free from the peril of stagnation and extinction. The pursuit of relevance is perhaps the only way to counter these fears in a tumultuous world.
Why do credit unions struggle with relevancy?
In the last few years, our world has been set on its collective head. Politics, war, terrorism, social and economic upheaval have all pushed the fast-forward button, it seems. Given that, consider these introductory remarks from Race for Relevance:
“But one thing hasn’t changed much: the way associations operate. They govern the same way. They deliver the same services. They communicate the same way.”
Substitute the word associations and replace it with credit unions. Sound familiar? Now, read on as the authors offer counterpoint to this description:
“Yet most have experienced tremendous shifts in their markets, their members, and their ability to keep pace in a rapidly changing world.”
What credit union has not experienced similar shifts and changes? Fields of membership evolve. Member demographics sway wildly. Legislation rains down. Yet it seems as if, for the most part, the more the world changes, the more credit unions clap hands over ears and deny it. Ignoring it won’t help.
The question becomes, then, in the face of obvious change, why do credit unions struggle with relevancy?
“I would have to assume it might be the old ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ attitude,” says Traci Archer, Marketing Manager with Shell Federal Credit Union in Deer Park (54,000 members, $518 million). “Yes, how you’ve done it has been working. On the other hand, let’s look at how efficient you are and how well you are able to spread the word about your credit union. Credit unions that aren’t fighting to remain relevant are not doing themselves justice.”
Gregg Bynum, President/CEO with The Education Credit Union in Amarillo (18,600 members, $171 million) sees it as a crisis of identity. “The organizations that struggle appear to have problems knowing who they are,” he says. “A credit union cannot be all things to all people. Any organization must decide who they are.”
Adding a slightly more direct approach, Dale Hansard, President/CEO with Caprock Federal Credit Union in Lamesa (3,700 members, $25 million), says “Credit unions are obstinate to change at times and then when we do change we just poorly reintroduce existing products and services.” To this he adds “We also lose the opportunity to remain relevant when we watch each other roll out a product, usually after the big banks have already done so, and then we copy each other without adding anything unique to it for our membership. To remain relevant, we have to provide products and services in a way that is unique to our members.”
What are the signs that your credit union may be in danger of becoming irrelevant?
Given that credit unions can be disinclined to accept change, let alone advocate for and relish it, what are a few of the signs to look for when it comes to irrelevancy?
For Devora Mitchell, President/CEO at WesTex Community Credit Union in Kermit (6,900 members, $47 million), it all comes down to member service. “You’re in danger of losing relevance if you find decisions are being made based on policy instead of the member,” she says. “When you feel it’s more important to be recognized for running a ‘safe and sound’ shop than actively serving your members as their primary financial institution, you’re in the irrelevancy red-zone.”
Hansard echoes this call back to member service and communications, saying “Another sign is when members stop talking to your employees about their problems and issues. Relevance is a major component of any relationship. If they aren’t seeing and talking to you on a regular basis, could it be because they’ve quietly taken their business elsewhere? They are doing this because, to them, your credit union has ceased to be relevant.”
A quick look at the financials can also serve as a barometer of credit union relevance, as Bynum reminds us. “Look for membership decline, decreased loan demand, high staff turnover and poor employee morale,” he adds. “A relevant credit union grows market share, grows revenue streams, grows better staff, not the other way around.”
How can credit unions remain relevant in today’s marketplace?
Once we recognize that some credit unions struggle to remain relevant in today’s marketplace and how to spot signs of impending irrelevancy, we can now turn our attention to actively retaining relevance.
For Bynum, it’s all about planning. “I fully believe any organization should deploy a strategy using annual strategic planning as one of the foundations for success,” he says. “You should also constantly ask your members what they like and don’t like. Do this online, in person at your branches, random monthly mail surveys and a major in-depth opinion survey at least once every five years.”
Archer backs up the importance of planning and adds willingness to change to the mix. “We develop a year-long marketing calendar and theme but have to be willing to make changes as needed to produce results,” she says. “As needed we tweak the offers made to members or incentives to staff.”
Acknowledging the diversity amongst credit unions and their members, Hansard says “We must be certain that we provide direct benefits to our members in meaningful ways. Some credit unions may use indirect relationships for auto loans. Others may employ mobile apps and other technology to stay in touch. Still others may strive to provide bilingual staff to serve members. It boils down to one strategy: find out what your members need the most from you and provide it.”
Relevancy also has everything to do with awareness, as Mitchell points out. “You are only relevant as long as your credit union is top-of-mind in your community,” she says. “You must always be in the public eye, in an active and trustworthy manner.”
How important is embracing technology in remaining relevant?
If any one word comes up most often in discussions of relevancy, it is technology. Credit unions cannot afford to be dinosaurs in a digital world. Grabbing technology by the horns and riding for all it’s worth is a critical component to staying relevant in the 21st century.
Archer embraces this tenet, sharing “Technology drives new products and services and changes the way we process everything from front office to back office. Technology saves time, is better for the environment and is more cost-effective for spreading the word about your credit union.”
Race for Relevance offers similar thoughts on the dangers of technology aversion, stating:
“Most associations are tradition driven, slow and risk averse. The model is tied to face-to-face interaction … although this is changing, most associations still rely heavily on print for publications, communications and information delivery.”
“The one thing that equalizes the playing field for credit unions with larger financial providers is technology,” adds Bynum. Leveraging technology while maintaining personal service enables a credit union to keep its current members and attract new ones.”
For Mitchell, this aspect of relevance is tied directly to member convenience. “Our members have to be able to reach us at their convenience, not ours,” she says. “They want access, information and decisions when they need them.”
Technology, however, doesn’t come without pitfalls and cautions. “Introducing technology can bring success in product delivery but not necessarily in member relevance,” says Hansard. “We have experienced diminished success in rolling out certain technologies before members were ready to adopt them in sufficient numbers. Technology must be embraced, but it must also be relevant to the needs of your members at the time you provide it.”
What are some practical tactics credit unions can implement today to ensure they remain relevant?
Talk of remaining relevant is great. Actions taken to ensure it are better. When driving your credit union’s race for relevance, consider the following practical tactics.
- Listen to your members, staff, board and community (membership surveys, online, focus groups, etc.)
- Learn from others’ successes and mistakes
- Research hot new trends and how they might work to benefit your members
- Use employee involvement teams to help identify efficiencies and inefficiencies in work processes that can be adapted to reduce time, expenses and errors
- Offer proactive employee training
- Stay in touch with all demographic segments of your membership
- Be active in your communities
- Every time a member communicates with your credit union, in any way (in person, email, social media comment, etc.) do everything you can to make them feel both heard and important
- Try community advisory committees in each area your credit union serves to get the pulse of the membership and solicit input and feedback
- Use a team approach when managing your credit union and have a succession plan in place
- Conducts regular strategic planning sessions
Race for Relevance offers an extensive list of critical questions to ask any organization facing relevancy crisis. These questions may be difficult to ask and even harder to honestly answer, but doing so can go a long way towards helping your credit union determine its current position. These questions include:
- What would segmentation of the member market reveal if you compared 1960 to 2010?
- Are you allocating resources to focus on opportunities to add value?
- What is the condition of your technology infrastructure? Has it been maintained and upgraded properly?
Credit unions will face a growing series of challenges in the coming years. How they address the struggle for relevancy in an increasingly tight and competitive marketplace will play a large role in future growth, vitality and influence. While tackling these challenges requires courage, determination and a degree of risk, the payoff for credit unions and their members is well worth it. Credit unions must resolve today that tomorrow they will do more than merely survive; they will thrive.