Pen Air Federal Credit Union ($1.2B, Pensacola, FL) has a history of new brand identities. Formed in 1936 as the U.S. Naval Pensacola Air Station Federal Credit Union for Civil Service Employees, the credit union was nestled in the home of a major Navy airbase that happens to be the home of the Blue Angels. Fittingly, the image of a jet has been part of several variations of the logo over the years.
Fast-forward a half-century, and the credit union’s profile has changed dramatically. Today, it serves nearly 1,200 select employer groups outside of the military in the Pensacola area. Its 18 branches serve more than 96,000 members in Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama — and 80% of those members are non-military.
On June 22, 2015, Pen Air unveiled its new brand. A turquoise logo with a colorful circular emblem replaces the blue jets. However, the new brand goes beyond the logo, signage, website, mobile app, and special brand camp for all 350 employees that support it.
A side-by-side comparison of an old Pen Air FCU logo and the new logo unveiled in June 2015.
“There was not a consistent, clear positioning for Pen Air,” says Pam Hatt, director of marketing. “There was a lot of vagueness about who we are. This clarified a lot of things.”The launch of the new brand began more than 18 months earlier when the management team embarked on a program aimed at engaging management, employees, and members in Pen Air’s mission and values. The credit union wanted a set of brand behaviors and a consistent way of doing business — right down to the embroidered logos on their new corporate-wear uniforms.
Pen Air hired a branding consultant, Weber Marketing Group of Seattle, to facilitate a series of surveys, focus groups, and interviews with employees, members, and non-members in the community. The feedback highlighted several brand behaviors that resonated with almost everyone.
“When we went through our focus groups and surveys, there were certain words that kept bubbling up,” Hatt says. “It didn’t matter who you were talking to — members, employees, non-members — the word ‘respect’ kept coming up a lot. That is the foundation of our brand — respect.”
Other behaviors included generous community involvement and giving.
“We wanted to understand who we were and we wanted to know if our perception was our reality,” Hatt says. “We wanted to hear from members and the community and be as transparent as possible to come up with something that reflected the general consensus of who we are.”
On its website, the credit union boils down its brand promise to this: “We promise to value and respect the trust you’ve placed in us.”
CU QUICK FACTS
pen air federal Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.15
HQ: Pensacola, FL
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.04%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.64%
It’s not a bad promise in the face of the persistently low level of trust assigned to the financial services industry, which according to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer has declined since the Wall Street meltdown and bailout.
Edelman associates five key factors with trust:
Integrity (ethical business practices, transparency, crisis response)
Engagement (listens to customer needs, treats employees well, communicates state of the business)
Products and Services (high-quality, innovator of new products, services, or ideas)
Purpose (Works to improve the environment, address society’s needs, positively impact the local community)
Operations (highly regarded and widely admired leadership)
All of these factors impact employees’ brand engagement and ultimately how tellers, customer service reps, branch managers, and other front-line employees live the brand in front of members.
Leadership: Starting At The Top
To successfully engage employees, leaders must have the trust and respect of their staff. In fact, Fortune’s 2015 “Best Places to Work” cited trust and workplace respect as key factors for Millennials in making long-term career commitments. Consider the responses from employees at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union — Fortune’s No. 10 among medium to small financial institutions — 94% say they “have a lot of responsibility in the organization,” 87% say “managers trust them to carry out these responsibilities,” and 85% say they often or almost always “experience a free and transparent exchange of ideas and information.”
Employees don their new corporate-wear uniforms in Pen Air branch.
The work at Pen Air began with a leadership retreat. Working with the University of West Florida, the credit union helped managers firm up their roles as leaders in a culture-driven environment. Rather than just focusing on the business, the retreat covered management approaches such as how to invert the pyramid, how to handle mistakes, how to listen, and how to coach, guide, and teach. Senior leaders also focused on behaviors such as setting aside their egos, open-eyed appreciation of the truth, problem solving, communication skills, failing forward, and using complaints and criticism to Pen Air’s advantage.
“It’s unlike anything we’d ever done before,” Hatt says. “There was a lot of emphasis on bringing these techniques back to our teams.”
Under the new program, Pen Air encourages everyone to coach up, coach down, and coach sideways. Employees may apply for the management associate program after one year of service. In addition to the leadership program, the institution’s engagement department developed staff training and onboarding that focuses on employee strengths and supports promotion from within.
This type of approach can pay off dividends in terms of overall employee engagement, according to researchers James Harter and Amy Adkins, who used employee survey data from Gallup to determine 67% of employees are more engaged if they strongly agreed that their manager “focused on their strengths or positive characteristics were engaged.”
“If you’re trying to increase your employees’ engagement — typically defined as being involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace — focus on building employees’ strengths rather than fixating on their weaknesses,” the researchers advise. “A strengths-based culture is one in which employees learn their roles more quickly, produce more and significantly better work, stay with the company longer, and are more engaged.”
Employees: Off To Brand Camp
Unlike most brand makeovers, which institutions typically reveal to employees right before the public unveiling, Pen Air gave employees time to understand and internalize the brand. To do this, the company turned the Presidents' Day holiday into a full-day brand training and team-building event for all its 350 employees.
During brand camp, employees split into smaller focus groups that rotated through different activities and learning. In addition to getting to know more about one another, employees discussed Pen Air’s mission and values and how their jobs enhanced the lives of members.
Team-building activities included the Marshmallow Challenge, in which employees had a limited time to build the tallest tower using spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow as well an activity in which employees organized into groups and took turns building 50 bicycles.
“It was a great event,” Hatt says. “We got positive feedback from everyone.”
Employees at Pen Air FCU built bikes for local children during the credit union's Brand Camp.
Over the next four months, Pen Air formed three committees to proliferate the brand throughout the workplace:
Brand Ambassador Committee to represent various areas of the credit union.
Brand Behavior Committee to articulate the initiatives coming out of the brand.
Brand Story Committee to communicate what changes are happening with the brand rollout.
One of the major unveilings at the brand camp was the credit union’s online corporate-wear store and the new uniform requirement. However, Pen Air’s dress code isn’t a standard uniform. Employees can mix and match white, black, and gray tops, sweaters, vests, slacks, and more — as long as they’re from the company store. And the credit union offered employees a stipend to make their first purchases.
“There’s no question about what to wear,” Hatt says. “You’re easily identifiable inside the branch and outside in the community. It looks professional and it unifies everybody as a team. Not everyone embraced it at first, but it’s come together.”
In addition, the credit union gave all employees at brand camp a SWAG bag that included new a logo items such as a lunch bag, letter opener, paperclip holder, chip clips, and koozies.
But the biggest surprise of brand camp occurred at the end — and it highlighted Pen Air’s commitment to the community.
Community: Walking The Talk
After the teams spent the day assembling bicycles, they got to meet the recipients of the new bikes — a group of young smiling faces from the local Boys and Girls Clubs.
This surprise kicked off Pen Air’s community involvement program dubbed “communerosity.”
“It’s what would happen if the community and generosity got together,” Hatt explains.
The community is another key tenet of the credit union’s brand. Pen Air has long been one of the area’s largest contributors and sponsors of the military, but it also participates in other philanthropic activities with the general community.
Each year, employees nominate and vote on local, non-profit organizations to become recipients of the credit union’s philanthropic program. They raise funds through payroll deductions, Jeans for Generosity days, and other fundraisers. Jeans for Generosity — through which employees donate money to wear jeans on designated dates — has alone raised more than $92,000 since 2013.
Pen Air matches its employees’ funds and divides the money equally among the voted charities for the year. Past recipients include American Cancer Society, Covenant Hospice, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida, Children’s Home Society of Florida, and Pensacola Humane Society.
Pen Air also supports financial literacy. It has three student-run credit unions at area high schools and sponsors a financial boot camp each semester at the University of West Florida. It works with local colleges on scholarship programs and its college affinity cards gives back to the college or alumni association. Plus, it has programs with local pro baseball and hockey teams.
When we started this rebrand almost two years ago, every employee had the opportunity to have a say in this process, provide feedback, and contribute through workshops.
As part of the rebrand, each Pen Air branch now has brand promise and community walls. The credit union welcomes members to post information about Pen Air and the general community.
“We knew this already but we heard from our focus groups that we have a lot of equity in our community,” Hatt says.
The feedback on the new brand has been positive so far, according to the marketing executive, but with all of the summer activities related to a beach town like Pensacola, Pen Air will focus on promoting the brand externally in the fall with “some random acts of communerosity.”
But even for now, it appears the new brand and its supporting programs are indeed increasing employee engagement. The credit union’s internal service survey and net promoter score rose to a record high of 85.92 in 2014.
“When we started this rebrand almost two years ago, every employee had the opportunity to have a say in this process, provide feedback, and contribute through workshops,” Hatt says. “We’ve spent this time building trust and respect among one another and collaborating throughout the process.”