Note: This piece first appeared in the Credit Union Association of New York’s quarterly magazine Connection.
As Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once said, “A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”
Branding continues to be a hot-button topic in marketing circles. It’s still a vitally important element for the credit union industry to consider as it moves forward. However, in order for branding to succeed, we have to understand what branding is and does. We must also commit to serving our credit unions as brand advocates.
What is Branding?
That’s really the $64,000 question. You’re going to get a lot of different answers from a lot of credible sources. Entrepreneur says branding is: “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” Business Dictionary says branding is: “The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme.”
Wendy Meola, Director of Marketing with Community Resource Federal Credit Union in Latham, New York says “Branding is essential to credit unions. Credit union marketers need to figure out what their niche is in the
market place so they can effectively market themselves and attract new members for future growth. If they do not, they are surely wasting marketing dollars by advertising blindly.”
Branding is a strategic process. It is not a one-time deal, or even a three or six-month campaign. Branding is an ongoing and never-perfected evolutionary process for your credit union. It is also not simply slapping a new logo or tagline on your brochures and website.
Ultimately, branding is who you are. Who you are as credit union leaders. Who you are as credit union employees. Who you are as credit union members.
Strong brands also pass the “Three Cs of Branding” litmus test. The Three Cs are:
- Clarity: Are you clear about what you are and are not?
- Consistency: Are you always what you say you are?
- Constancy: Are you always visible?
Becoming a Brand Advocate
Now that we know a little more about what branding is, we can look at ways to become a brand advocate for your credit union.
In order for any brand initiative to work, all credit union staff, from the board of directors to front-line tellers, must wholly buy into it.Just as any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, your credit union’s
brand is only as strong as its least enthusiastic employee.
To do this, you must invest every employee in the brand’s success.This includes fully immersing them in the branding plan and conducting regular brand training. The brand needs a vision, mission and message, which must be
Elizabeth Park, Marketing Director with GPO Federal Credit Union in New Hartford, New York says “I think
that being a brand advocate starts with the credit union adopting a brand. Know who you are and where your credit union excels compared to the competition.What makes you different and what makes you better? Then talk it up!”
You must also remember that your credit union cannot be all things to all people. You must focus your brand on what you do best or a particular audience you wish to serve. You must refine your focus and limit it to three or
four manageable groups. For example, will you serve the local African-American community? College students? All families within a certain radius around each branch? Pick a constituency and excel at serving them.
Your brand should also be consistent. Anytime an employee, member and potential member sees your credit union, it should look the same. This includes all printed materials (stationery, business cards, brochures, lobby
posters) and your website and social media platforms. Non-member materials should also have the same look but clearly convey membership eligibility. Your branches should also exhibit this same look and retail consistency.
Meola adds “It is crucial that marketing is part of the senior management team to ensure that the brand is being upheld in all facets of the organization including training, operational procedures, locations, fees, new
products and services, etc. These issues come up every week and the marketing person needs to make sure that these changes are in line with the brand.”
Being a credit union brand advocate also means maintaining brisk brand momentum. Don’t let the excitement and message fade from the minds of your staff, members or the community. Remember that great brands take steady
guidance, a long-term viewpoint and uncompromising values. Reinforce the brand with staff every day.
What You Can Do
with This Information
Now that you have some practical information about branding and the importance of being a credit union brand advocate, consider the following simple steps you can take to help make it happen.
- Develop a credit union brand plan
- Answer the question, “What makes our credit union different?” without using the words “people,” “service” or “community.”
- Answer the question, “Who are we trying to reach?”
- Answer the question, “Does our credit union pass the Three Cs test?”
Branding isn’t just the marketing word of the day. Its relevance and importance will only continue to grow. As credit unions grapple with an increasingly competitive marketplace, many will find that energetic and
enthusiastic branding is their best option to remain a relevant and dynamic financial institution. As Park notes, “If credit unions continue to live by the ‘people helping people’ philosophy, and if credit union staff continue to be brand advocates, the future will always remain bright for the credit union industry.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Brett King, author of Bank 2.0 and Bank 3.0 and founder/chairman of Movenbank. We covered a wide range of topics, part of which we explored in the post Banking & Branching Changing Forever.
Below are King’s insights into a myriad of relevant subjects for financial institutions.
(1)What is premise of Bank 2.0 vs. Bank 3.0?
Bank 2.0 is about consumer behavior changing (our interface has to change). Bank 3.0 merged into a book about how the distribution layer of banking is fundamentally changing. The subtitle is “banking is no longer a place you go; it’s a thing you do.”
(2)What are three things financial institutions must do to stay relevant?
First, they must enable the community digitally. Secondly, they must maintain close dialogue with consumers (social media is great for this). Third, they must collaborate and cooperate (we are not on an island anymore).
(3)How are pre-paid debit cards going to change payment systems?
Ron Shevlin coined a phrase called the “de-banked.” Prepaid cards will get combined with mobile wallets, which will optimize their utility. The industry is built on signature and that is going to have to change quickly. Signature has no value in the new eco-system.
(4)How can financial institutions form relationships with members through their digital strategy?
There are two ways. One, they can enable customers to talk with them (social media is a great way). Second, they
can understand what those customers need when they need it. In other words, don’t just send messages down the pipe. Digital is all about when they need it.
(5)Why is a digital strategy so important?
In the next three years digital interaction to in person interaction will increase to a ratio of 250 to 1. If
you are relying on face to face you are in trouble. This shift in behavior means they are less sticky.
(6)What is the concept behind Movenbank?
The objective was to design a bank for this next generation of customers coming into market. In other words, how would a bank work if we built it from scratch today? Mobile is at the center; it is a payment device and a primary connection for the brand. We are trying to reinvent the way we connect with customers.
(7)What is the main point you want credit unions and banks to walk away with from your presentations and books?
We need to build journeys for consumers so that when they need help we are there (and that help is not just in the branch).
Investing in employees is one of the most effective ways for a financial institution to grow—especially your sales staff. The way they connect with consumers directly correlates to the way those customers or members perceive your financial institution. Your sales people are your brand ambassadors. Are they receiving the right training to fill that role?
The role of the sales personnel at financial institutions has changed dramatically over the past few years. A job that once focused on selling features, benefits, products and services has evolved into one of member engagement—one which requires them to tap into a customer’s emotions. It’s called emotional intelligence and helps sales people become genuine and authentic with their interactions. It helps them understand what makes people
tick and understand the emotions behind buying decisions. Emotional intelligence focuses more on the conversation and more on the customer than on the sale itself. That one skill may be the biggest differentiators between a sales team and an elite sales team. The elite sales team goes beyond the basics and has a vested interest in its customers or members.
What makes a sales team elite? Think about teams outside the sales realm—Super Bowl winners, fighter pilots, navy seals. Although very different in scope, all of these people have certain characteristics in common. Their jobs require a certain skill level or intelligence as a prerequisite. They are highly competitive. Once they make the team, they must continue raising the bar or get replaced. Their job requires acute attention to detail
because the stakes are so high. Do any of these characteristics describe your top performers? Those are the people you need on your elite sales team. They possess the natural skill, the attention to detail and the motivation to represent your brand. They understand there’s a bigger picture than them.
Of course, truly successful organizations don’t just identify elite sales people. They give these people specialized training to help them grow and maintain their elite status. This training is not for everyone. In fact, you might not call it training at all. You might call it continuing sales education, because it goes much deeper than a typical training course.
Elite sales training focuses on making emotional connections. It educates your sales force on the wants, needs and characteristics of different generations. It teaches differentiation and helps them understand how to best represent your brand to current members, potential customers and people in the community. Elite sales training is on-going. Most sales experts recommend monthly training. Financial institutions with a small staff or limited resources can push that out to quarterly. Just make sure it gets done regularly. You wouldn’t expect a team to win the Super Bowl without practice, and you can’t expect your elite sales team to get better without
For a more in-depth look at elite sales teams and training, read the December issue of my monthly e-zine. It includes an entire section on elite sales training techniques for your sales team.
Random acts of kindness. Depending on your perspective it’s a movement, a foundation, a week, a great idea or something we should practice on a regular basis. But is it also a
One credit union in Texas thought so. Complex Community FCU celebrated its 54th anniversary in 2012. As part of its celebration, it conducted 54 “intentional acts of kindness.” Staff from eight branches volunteered to perform these acts, including dropping off food at police and fire stations, picking up the lunch or coffee tab for random people, delivering stuffed animals to children in local hospitals and playing cards at nursing homes.
“This was truly a great experience for the credit union and our staff,” said Lisa Wyman, vice president of marketing and HR with Complex Community FCU. “It provided our staff members the opportunity to get out and see what a difference we’re making in the community. It was very empowering
If your credit union chooses to use random acts of kindness as a marketing strategy, it’s important to be real and consistent. Random acts of kindness can be a powerful guerilla marketing tactic, but only if conducted authentically. Consumers are savvy and they’ll detect if you have an ulterior motive.
If your credit union is considering “random acts of kindness” as part of your overall marketing strategy, here are some tips to consider:
- Be genuine—Credit unions are about “people helping people,” so random acts of kindness is
actually a natural fit for credit unions.
- Be real—Credit unions should perform random acts of kindness because they have a true desire
to give back. The last thing you want is to be perceived as being self-serving.
- Be consistent—Random acts of kindness should not be performed only once and then checked off the “to do” list. It needs to be consistent; whether it’s quarterly or annually is for the credit union to decide.
- Be Meaningful and Purposeful—If you’re worried about the return on investment (ROI), you probably shouldn’t engage in random acts of kindness as this activity is very difficult to quantify.
So are random acts of kindness a marketing strategy? As Gary Vaynerchuk, autohr of Crush It says, "the best marketing practice is to care."
Note: Portions of this post first appeared in the Texas Credit Union League’s Lone
The days of relying on billboards, quarterly print newsletters and statement inserts as the primary ways to reach and market to consumers are long gone. The conversion to the Digital Age is well underway and your current
and potential members and customers are a part of that. Learning new ways to reach them electronically makes the difference between your financial institution gracefully evolving into this new age or staring at the oncoming
meteor like a dinosaur.
Five ways to help reach consumers electronically include:
- Emails. Every day hundreds of millions of emails are sent and received. Your members and
customers are the recipients of a wide variety of emails: messages from friends and family, coupons, sales flyers and unwanted spam. Be a valued part of their email inbox by providing valuable news and information about what’s going on at their credit union (from their perspective and not yours). Send value or send nothing.
- Web banners. When people visit your financial institution website, give them something new to view. Web banners are an easy way to do this. They can rotate randomly (for example, a car loan promo banner, then a CD rate teaser, then a member appreciation message) so that members see something new and eye-catching when they look at your website. You can also use web banners for ongoing promotions and events.
- Home banking target messages. Many of your members and customers are skipping your home page and going directly to online banking. Messages inside home banking allow you to target the individual consumer, based on your financial institution data in home banking. Rather than an unknown website visitor, once they log-on to home banking, you now know who they are and how the credit union or bank might better serve them. For example, if the system notes the member has a large amount in savings, but nothing in CDs, the home banking message might suggest opening a CD to enjoy higher rates on return. If they don’t have a car loan with you, the message might offer a great low rate on new and used car loans. The sky is the limit when it comes to message customization at this level.
- Digital newsletter. Let’s face it: consumers tend to toss print newsletters in the trash like junk mail. It’s one more thing to go through in their already crowded mailboxes. Try to reach them electronically instead with a digital newsletter. You can send it via email, with links from stories back to your credit union or bank website, making it interactive and informative.
- E-surveys. Keeping a finger on the pulse of your membership is vital. A great way to help
do this is using digital surveys. Sent via email to targeted groups, you can use them to poll their feelings on a variety of important topics. Most consumers find e-surveys easier than printed ones and are more likely to participate helping to improve your data pool and relevancy.
There you have it; five easy ideas your financial institution can use to reach consumers electronically. It’s the
Digital Age and your members are squarely in the middle of it. As the old adage goes, “fish where the fish are.” In our times, this definitely means getting your feet wet in the electronic waters.