Earlier this month, with one week of vacation time and one Jeep filled to the brim with books, musical instruments, and all the various possessions we’ve managed to collect in our three decades on Earth, my wife and I set off on a cross-country trip from Washington, DC, to our new home in the Valley of the Sun — Phoenix, AZ.
In addition to experiencing some of the prettiest scenery (and scariest drivers) our country has to offer, I saw the branches of many of the cooperatives I’d heard about, studied, and interacted with at conferences or during phone interviews but had never actually seen in their element. (Unfortunately, the itinerary did not permit enough time to go in and tour these branches.)
Seeing these branches reminded me of how valuable a community-oriented business can be. If you ever feel like the world has become a conglomerated array of big brands, you’re not alone, and that effect is significantly magnified within a one-mile radius of any interstate. We passed hundreds of Walmarts, Outback Steakhouses, Shell Stations, Days Inns, and all the other major chains a weary road warrior apparently needs. And because of the proliferation across the country, we knew exactly what we were going to get from each and every one of them before we even stepped through the door.
Consumers also know exactly what they’re going to get from the big banks and for-profit institutions. More often than not, they’re hardly thrilled with the prospect. And no matter where they go, that brand will always be the same.
When a new member moves to your area, you might be at a disadvantage in terms of brand awareness, but you’ll also have the advantage of a clean slate. Nimble, progressive credit unions shouldn’t feel tempted to try a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they should embrace the freedom to focus on what they do best, in specific communities or for specific groups who need them most.
Every credit union wants to grow, expand, and thrive, but as you do so, think carefully about the reasons behind such activity. Be careful to not lose whatever it is that makes you distinct and sets your brand apart from the masses.
Our upcoming edition of Technolgy@CU profiles many models for branches and contact centers and offers lessons gleaned from credit unions that know there’s more than one road to success. Look for this issue along with the 2Q 2013 edition of Credit Union Strategy & Performance (CUSP), arriving on desks this fall.