David Birky, vice president of member development at Interra Credit Union responds to the 2Q 2012 CUSP Theoretical Case Study: Old Brand. New Brand. One Brand? Two Brands?.
Tom, I think you have some great opportunities here. The time is right for a complete rebranding campaign, and the merger with West End Credit Union is the perfect opportunity to do it. The rebranding should include a name change, which should eliminate the confusion and the limitation of the present IWCU name.
Any rebranding effort has to be values-driven. Credit unions are distinct in the way we operate and put into practice the core values of our institutions. Start by identifying the shared values of Industrial Workers Credit Union and West End Credit Union. Find out what makes the credit unions similar to each other and stand out in their communities. Get the key members of both boards together and wrestle with this process. They will likely identify many common values, and it’s the commonalities that drive the rebranding effort.
Identify the institutions’ core values on your own, then, once you have the common values of both credit unions in mind, bring in a professional company skilled in rebranding. From my experience, a solid understanding of your core values and mission is critical to a successful rebranding effort. Once you have that, a professional firm offers at least two advantages. First, professionals think about branding all the time and have learned from prior successes and failures. Second, a professional team will help identify and flesh out what makes the new credit union different in its market. This seems especially important with respect to West End; it does not appear its leaders have focused on why now is a great time to be a credit union.
Our credit union — Interra Credit Union — went through our own name change six years ago. Although we were Farm Bureau Credit Union, we did not have the trademark on the name. We used a process similar to what I’ve outlined above, identifying our core values and then bringing out ideas that built on our heritage. We settled on Interra, the IN standing for “Indiana” and the TERRA for “land.” We felt this spoke to our heritage, which is important to the people whose trust and loyalty helped build Farm Bureau Credit Union. At the same time, the rebranding effort provided a fresh, progressive name that helped position the credit union for the future.
Find a consultant who understands the scope of the project and the values of your credit union; in other words, find a good fit.
We also came up with a tag line, and I suggest you do this in your own rebranding effort. Our tag line is “Times Change; Values Don’t.” In your case, you are building a new credit union that is going to be stronger than either individual one was before. Build on the strengths that have made each credit union successful but do it in a way that makes the rebranded credit union stronger, bigger, and better than either would have been alone.
Like you, we had some name and brand confusion. We are located across the street from Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance and there is also the Farm Bureau Co-Op Assoc in town. Although we hated giving up the brand equity in our name — we had 38% market penetration in the largest city in our market [Goshen in Elkhart County, IN] — we couldn’t pass up the chance to differentiate ourselves. We saw it as an opportunity to show how we were different, to stake out our own identity.
We did something else that was important in helping overcome objections to changing the Farm Bureau name. Someone suggested we identify 100 key decision makers and influence shapers in the community. Before we made a public announcement about the name change, we contacted those 100 people directly and told them the whole story behind why we were rebranding.
So, I suggest you identify 50 people who help shape local opinion in each of the credit unions’ markets. Tell them the whole story behind your rebranding process and rationale. We found as soon as people heard and understood the story behind the change, they dropped their reservations and accepted it. The positive result is that these people will have a sense of ownership and serve as ambassadors for your story and help make the case for you.
In addition, we made a video about the name change that we broadcast on our website and in our 10 branches. From the longer video, we made a television commercial. This proactive strategy helped people accept what we were doing and buy into it.
Be prepared to spend money. It’s not just what you will pay a professional rebranding consultant. It’s everything that has your name and logo on it: branches, website, brochures, letterhead, advertisements, etc. Don’t underestimate the commitment of time, money, and resources this endeavor will require. Despite the costs, the effort was well worth it in refining Interra’s brand and image.
Begin with the end in mind. Start working with the two boards to move them away from an operational model to a governance model. The new, single board should increasingly focus on strategic issues, leaving more of the operations to management. The merger and rebranding is the perfect time to do this.
Don’t worry much about the embezzlement story. Your goal should be telling a better story. Concentrate on telling the story of how your new credit union is going to increase value to members and be better for the community. Then the other story — the embezzlement story — will not detract from what your new credit union will be doing. Your story can trump the other one, so don’t worry about media exposure surrounding the embezzlement.
Here are some suggestions for finding a consulting team. Talk to others you know and trust who have gone through a rebranding effort. We sent requests for proposals to six firms, conducted conference call interviews for a first cut, and required in-person presentations from the two finalists. What is most important is finding a consultant who understands the scope of the project and the values of your credit union; in other words, find a good fit.
Rebranding is hard work, and it can be especially hard on the loyal veterans who are wedded to the old name and size. Be prepared to take a year or so from beginning to end. Interra’s rebranding process — finding a name and a logo grounded in our core values — was by far the best thing we have done in terms of spurring growth and name recognition within our community. Success is at the end of your story.