This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

During a recent discussion about branding with a credit union marketing audit client, a recurring theme surfaced. The client referred to specific marketing collateral (such as the logo, corporate colors, brochures, etc.) as the brand.

This is a not an uncommon misunderstanding. While specific marketing collateral like your logo, brochures and commercials are definitely a part of your brand, they are not the totality of your brand. When seeking a way to define this somewhat vague notion, the point I emphasized was:

Your brand is much more cultural than collateral.

Again, this misunderstanding about brand is not unique to this particular client. Many banks and credit unions, and their marketing leadership teams, default to defining brand as something collateral. In reality, your collateral (while important) is a relatively small part of your overall brand. The brand itself goes much deeper, straight to the cultural heart of your financial institution.

You can have absolutely amazing-looking collateral (and, during mystery shop experiences I find that many banks and credit unions do fantastic collateral). But none of that matters if your brand (again, a cultural thing as lived by your staff in front of your consumers and each other) falls short.

Think about it this way — your collateral materials are a brand promise you make to consumers. In them you can promise a number of things such as we are the fastest, we are the friendliest, we are the (insert brand proposition here). Those pieces are designed to elicit a response from existing or potential members/customers. Once those people actually make contact with your bank or credit union, however, does the cultural experience your staff provide match the collateral promise? Are you indeed the fastest/friendliest/whatever?

If so, terrific. You are living up to your brand promise. If not, your bank or credit union suffers from a brand gap between its collateral and is cultural. You must repair that gap before it does serious damage to your brand credibility. You cannot be one thing in your collateral and another in your culture.

Your bank or credit union brand is the most important asset it has (and probably isn’t even reflected on any accounting spreadsheet). To advance your brand in an authentic, meaningful and future-focused way, everyone at your bank or credit union must understand that the brand is far more cultural than collateral.