Too many credit unions are content to simply be a credit union. Of course they are credit unions, but I'm referring to the marketing position of their brands. The advertising messages inform consumers that they are credit unions, something the consumer already knows, but neglect to say much more. From the consumer's point of view, your credit union status is not a brand. It is an industry category.
Many of the credit unions we speak with struggle to see themselves as more than a credit union, yet consumers crave differentiation. The fact that you are a credit union merely establishes that your organization is part of the credit union industry, in the same way McDonalds is part of the fast food industry. What consumers want to know most of all is what kind of credit union you are.
By now, consumers have a general understanding of the differences between a bank and a credit union. Of course there are many who don't understand, and there will always be a need to inform consumers about these distinctions. My primary concern is for the credit unions I see embracing their industry category as though it were their own brand. As a result, these credit unions' own uniqueness is lost and they become a commodity.
Imagine if this approach were used in other industries. What if Taco Bell marketed itself merely as a fast food restaurant selling the convenience of its drive-thru and the affordability of its menu? Consumers would have no information to discern the difference between Taco Bell and other fast food restaurants. The real uniqueness of Taco Bell's brand would be lost. However, by positioning itself as the alternative to burgers ("Think outside the bun"), it gives consumers a reason to choose Taco Bell over every other fast food restaurant. The same scenario is true for other industries. Old Navy must distinguish itself from other retailers. Motel 6 must carve out a unique position among hotels. And your credit union must build a brand that differentiates it within the credit union industry.
Many credit unions find this strategy difficult in a cooperative model. They feel conflicted, as though they are not supporting the team. Yes, in some ways credit unions should work together. Pooling resources and collaborating helps everyone. But when it comes to marketing, too much collaboration can lead to commoditization. Consumers have dozens of banks and credit unions to choose from, all within a few miles of their home. If your credit union doesn't speak up and communicate its competitive advantage, consumers will gravitate to another credit union that does.
We are in a cooperative industry that must survive in a competitive marketplace. You are not throwing your credit union colleagues under the bus by building your own credit union brand; you are simply giving consumers a clear picture of what makes your credit union unique from others. By building your brand, consumers will have an easier time choosing the credit union that can best meet their personal needs.
To build a distinct brand for your credit union, you must identify a point of differentiation. Here are a few possible areas for you to consider:
1. Product differentiators
When searching for areas of uniqueness within your credit union, it is important to separate products into two groups: custom and commodity. The fact that you offer a checking account is not unique. However, if you offer a high-yield checking account, that is more unique. If you dig a little deeper, you might find that your high-yield checking offers a feature or two that no one else in your market offers. Now you have something to work with. Many credit unions are experiencing success by developing new and unique variations of standard products that give them a competitive advantage in attracting new members. Technological advancements are also creating opportunities for delivering traditional products in new ways.
2. Service differentiators
Credit unions often talk about how friendly they are, promising better service than banks. While I believe this to be true, it isn't a differentiator for your credit union if all credit unions do it. Besides, consumers want you to be more specific. Identify services that you provide that are unique or that you deliver in a unique way. If all credit unions walk new members through the process of joining, maybe your credit union offers the added convenience of going to the new member's home or place of work. Whatever unique services you offer, provide a compelling reason for someone to join your credit union.
3. Organizational differentiators
If the products and services you offer are similar to other credit unions in your market, you may find differentiators by looking at organizational attributes such as history, SEG groups, location, or others. If you are the only credit union to serve school employees, than build your brand there. If you are the oldest credit union in town, build a brand of experience. Whatever the uniqueness, there is opportunity to highlight your credit union's strengths and giving prospective members a clear reason to join.
4. Integrating the message
Identifying the point of differentiation is the first step toward building a brand. Next you must launch the brand. For the message to be most effective, it must be consistent externally (advertising) as well as internally (customer service and sales). When preparing your marketing message, take care not to fall into the trap of selling the credit union industry over your own unique brand. Here's your chance to become a leader in the credit union industry as opposed to blending in.
Gazillion & One is the brand consultant to credit unions. We help cooperatives compete in today's financial services industry through brand differentiation. To learn more about our diagnostic approach to marketing and advertising, or to receive a free subscription to our monthly paper FOCUS, visit www.gazillion1.com. For more information, contact Brian McCormick at (888) 301- 2823, ext. 107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.