How to brand your credit union as a true partner

One of the key pieces to the success of any organization is obviously a strong brand.  For credit unions to achieve such a solid standing, they must find a way to position themselves as a “partner” – not just another financial institution.  Once the brand is defined, it is critical that every employee in the organization from the top down live the brand every day with everything they say, everything they do, and everything they don’t do and say.  Employees need to understand their behavior, body language, tone, professionalism, etc., and how they respond to members’ requests and complaints impact how a person feels about the credit union.  What people think and feel when they hear the credit union name affects your brand.

Branding is impacted by every facet of the credit union.  Below are the 7 P’s that impact your brand so it important that each of them align with your brand and branding message:

  1. Products
  2. Pricing
  3. People
  4. Programs
  5. Policies
  6. Processes
  7. Procedures

For example, if you tout your credit union as “people helping people,” then the 7 P’s need to be reflected in your brand.  One question to ask yourself is, “Do we have products to help the underserviced?  For example, a secured credit card to help youth establish their credit or to help someone who lost their job and had to file bankruptcy re-establish their credit score?

Branding your credit union as a partner and branding your business development program the right way is crucial.  Your brand reveals four things about you:

  1. Who you are:  your personality, your culture, etc.
  2. Why you exist:  Are you more than a credit union offering products and services like every other financial institution or are you a business partner, a community partner, a resource partner, ?
  3. What your partners and members expect to experience consistently at every touch point within the organization as well as with business development.
  4. Your promise to your SEGs/community businesses.

The best way to begin the branding process is to ask:  “Why would a company want to do business with ME or partner with ME (as the business development representative) and the credit union rather than any other financial institution?  (Remember, the business development representative is the face of the credit union outside the credit union.)  Answering this question honestly will also help you creatively define and/or redefine who you are and who you want to be.

Creativity, as defined by John C. Maxwell, renowned leadership author of How Successful People Think, is “intelligence having fun [outside the box].”  So get creative and have some fun creating a unique brand with a competitive advantage in the market so companies will want to do business with your credit union rather than any other financial institution.

As you create or continue to enhance your brand for the credit union and business development, there are more specific questions that need to be answered.  You want to answer these questions with the purpose of creating a COMPELLING differentiation – not the standard run-of-the-mill responses such as: “We are a not-for-profit cooperative.  We offer higher dividends and lower interest rates on consumer loans because we are member owned.”

Although these points are important and add great value, it does not make that initial 30-second impression compelling to consumers and C-Level executives who make decisions as to whom they will choose to be their “Partner.”

Remember, the more specific you are in your responses, the more likely you are to end up with specific outcomes/results.  Below are examples of questions to consider when building a strong brand:

  • Who are you?

    • Are you just a credit union or a Partner?
    • If you are a partner, how are you a partner?
    • If you are a partner, then do you offer a Partnership Program?
    • What do you contribute to companies as their partner other than financial education, products, and services?
    • What is your culture?
      • Are you “really” easy to do business with?  If not, what can you change to make it easy?
      • Do you make it convenient for your SEGs/Partners and their employees to do business with you?  If so, how?  If not, what can you do differently?
      • Are you flexible and quick to respond to barriers?
      • Are you accommodating?
      • Do you have a sense of urgency with regard to issues and concerns from SEGs/community business partners and their employees
      • What do you stand for?
        • Define what you stand for and then live by it. It’s called integrity and it is the core of your brand.
        • Key words to consider:  Strong partnerships; supportive; resource, etc.
        • What are your values?
          • Do you value relationships?  If so, how?
          • Do you value partnerships?  If so, how?
          • Do you value your SEGs/Partners and their employees.  If so, how?
          • What added value do you bring to your SEGs/community business partners?
            • What do you offer that no other financial institution offers to SEGs/Partners?  If you don’t have something unique to offer, create it!
            • Why would they want to Partner with YOU and your credit union versus another financial institution?
              • People do business with people they like, trust, and connect with personally or professionally
              • What value do YOU as the representative of the credit union offer?
              • How are you supported by the credit union to deliver on your promise?
              • What unique value do you bring to your SEGs/Partners that no one else offers?

Furthermore, when defining your brand, it is important to use the 3 C’s of branding to drive your message:  (1) clear, (2) concise, and (3) COMPELLING.  Below are key words to consider when building your brand. Be prepared, however, to clarify how YOU, Business Development, and the credit union deliver your brand according to each of these words:

  • Caring
  • Trustworthy
  • Strong Capital
  • Company Partner
  • Resource Partner
  • Community Partner
  • Educational Partner
  • Value Added Programs
  • Consumer Advocacy Partner
  • Global Branches and ATMS
  • Benefits and Solutions Partner
  • Benefits and Solutions for YOU and your employees!

Instead of marketing your credit union’s products and services, brand and market it as a business partner, community partner, employee advocate, consumer advocate, resource partner, educational partner, “Great Cause” partner, etc.  The more unique your credit union brand/program/partnership is, the greater the opportunity to build unique value that gives you a competitive edge in the market.  Brand and market your Business Development Program in a way that is compellingly unique and solidifies a partnership.  Then brand and market the program with impressive and compelling marketing pieces—not with product brochures and “Join the Credit Union” posters. Here are some marketing pieces to consider:

  • A dynamic company brochure outlining a partnership program and how the partnership benefits the company with key words that include: new, exclusive, preferred, partnership, advocate
  • An eye-catching employee flyer outlining the rewards and benefits as well as ease and convenience of opening accounts (not joining the credit union) with the credit union. Key words include:  open, FREE (as many times as possible), no money required, rewards, gift, etc.
  • Eye-catching “Dollar Coupons” reflecting incentives and rewards for “Preferred Partner” employees
  • A dynamic visual map of all your network ATM locations (CU24, Allpoints, etc.) and affiliated/shared branches (CUSC)
  • A compelling new hire packet with bold colors with the words on the front of the envelope reading; “Look inside for your rewards and FREE gift!
  • A “We Will Help You” switch kit with instructions. Key words include:  We will help you…It’s easy as one, two, three…In approximately two weeks you’ll have everything you need to do business with us…I am here for you!

It is important that everything you say, do, and provide the companies and employees breaks through barriers and leads to opportunities.  Key concepts to consider are:

  • Remove the word “join” from all marketing materials and website.  Use the phrase, “Open your account today…no money required!”
  • With your checking account, you get a savings account with $5. (Put the $5 or whatever your required dollar amount is for savings in the saving account for the new member. )
  • A visual map of network ATMs and shared branches to shatter the mindset that credit unions are local—a picture tells a thousand words and has a greater impact.
  • NO MONEY required to open your checking account—get your FREE checking with your FREE check card and your FREE first order of checks within 10 days!
  • FREE refinancing – most financial institutions charge a fee for auto refinancing
  • When marketing your auto loan rates (as low as), be sure to include “New/Used/Refinance” in the marketing piece.  Many people think, “What a great rate…I wish I was buying a new car!”

The adage, “It’s the little things that make the biggest difference,” is true especially when it is a culmination of a lot of little things.  Pay attention to ALL the little things and you will see BIG results.

Celeste Cook

Celeste Cook

Celeste Cook is founder and President/CEO of cuStrategies, LLC, which provides strategic planning services, consulting services, and training programs to the credit union industry. She is also a keynote ... Web: Details

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