Although the term "branding" has become a hot topic among senior management at many credit unions in recent years, nailing down a concrete working definition of the process is challenging. Today, with many credit unions considering or undergoing a "re-branding" initiative, it becomes even more difficult to determine what activities should be a part of that process. A simple answer is; when it comes to branding and re-branding, it's not "one size fits all."
I recently had an opportunity to speak with five industry consultants who have been working with credit unions to identify or redefine brands and develop equity in them. In each conversation I asked, "What are you emphasizing with the credit union management you currently work with?"
The Re-branding Misnomer
Jeff Stephens, CEO and Founder of Creative Brand Communications, stressed that re-branding today is almost a misnomer. "It implies that you can be one thing on Monday and on Tuesday you are something else. It is not let's make up something new and cool and stick it on ourselves. True brand evolution is about finding new and effective ways to embody what you already are. Everything that you need...you already have." One way Creative Brand Communications suggest credit unions live out this message is through the use of multi-sensory marketing.
A Foot in the Future
Paul J. Lucas, a former Vice President at 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union turned consultant, believes "80 to 90 percent of credit unions are operating on an outdated model and an outdated concept." With today's tough market pressures and the significant shift in how consumers relate to financial institutions, credit unions should be looking at successful companies inside and outside the financial services sector for branding inspiration. According to Lucas, "Credit unions have a foot in the past and a foot in the present. They need to have a foot in the present and a foot in the future" when it comes to branding.
Service Your Brand
For Michele Featherstone at Credit Union Brand Point, "A lot of credit unions were seeing their logo and their name as enough to create a brand." She instead asks credit unions to focus on the five biggest factors they are ranked on, "service, convenience, price, technology, and community." Successful re-branding should involve service training because your service is really what helps to differentiate you. But training isn't in itself enough, "annual brand audits and perception awareness surveys help the credit union assess how well the brand is being carried out across multiple touch points."
It's All About Relationships
At iDiz Incorporated, Kent Dicken had this to add, "the biggest thing we run into is people's opinion of what branding is. For some it is a new logo, or a new name, and that is as far as it goes." Their emphasis with credit unions is that "Branding is really the relationship with the member. And the member really controls the brand. Instead of asking what your corporate brand is, the question should be what is your corporate self? The best brands define themselves and don't try to be all things to all people. A good brand will position a credit union differently than others."
Measure What You Have
And Mark Weber, of Weber Marketing Group, believes that "measurement of the equity in a name, versus the equity in a brand" is an important step before any credit union "contemplates the strategic implications of the re-branding process." It's important for the initiative to focus on a 25 year time horizon. According to Weber, "A lot of credit unions are asking how much should they go back to the message that they are a non-profit credit union and profit goes back to the members. Is this message an ownable, differentiated difference to tell their credit union story?"