If in doubt, throw it out: Spoiled chicken, sour milk and your brand
I’ll admit it – I’ve been known to keep milk in the refrigerator too long. And, depending on the odor, I’ve been known to push the limits on that “best used by” date. Not so much with chicken, though. Once that bird smells the slightest bit off, it’s gone. Past rough encounters with slightly spoiled chicken taught me that lesson the hard way.
Part of that philosophy is just my stubbornness. The other part is probably human nature. After all, we paid for that milk and that chicken, we lugged it home from the grocery store and we put it in the refrigerator. In other words – we have an investment in it.
The same is applicable to credit union brands. Credit union marketers and their executive team members invest a great deal of time, energy and money into creating solid brands. Whether or not those brands survive and pass the test of time depends upon a variety of factors. Regardless, the last thing any of us wants to think is that our brand has spoiled or gone sour.
But they can.
Credit union brands face a legion of enemies, all anxious to see them falter and fail. These can include brand gaps, lack of brand training and the disillusionment of brand authenticity.
A brand gap is a fundamental disconnect between the credit union brand and a key participant. Brand gaps can include chasms between branding and strategy, branding and staff and branding and operations. It is therefore critical that marketing and executive leadership team members work hard to ensure the brand is bridged solidly between all relevant parties. For example, a proactive way to confront a strategic brand gap is to preface every strategic decision with the question “will this help or hurt our brand?” The gap between brand and staff is best addressed by a coordinated and continuous brand training program, for both newly onboarded employees and existing employees. Finally, a gap between brand and operations is solvable by open communication between departments. For example, if you developed a brand that revolved around the notion of your credit union offering terrific, personalized hometown service and member surveys came back in droves complaining about the lack of such service, you have a gap. Asking tough questions ahead of time can help solve this potential brand pitfall.
Lack of Brand Training
As mentioned above, training is a critical element in the overall brand process. Just like the military educates service members on the proper and safe handling and use of weapons, so most successful credit unions continually educate staff on the right way to live the brand. While your marketing team took the initiative in creating the brand and your executive team leads the brand, it is your employees who must live the brand every day, in front of every member. Successful brand training programs help solidify the critical link between brand and members. In fact, many forward-thinking credit unions have replaced the traditional sales and service training modules with advanced brand engagement training. Such training empowers employees to connect with members on a personal level and gives actionable tips and tactics for engaging consumers. Without continuous training, your brand could rapidly approach its “best used by date” without you even knowing it.
Disillusionment of Brand Authenticity
A genuine peril facing all brands is the gradual erosion of authenticity in the minds of consumers. Examples of this outside the financial services realm include J.C. Penny (just who is their target audience?), Quizno’s (everybody toasts their subs these days, and cheaper) and Volkswagen (embroiled in an emissions reporting scandal).
Make no mistake — your credit union brand is just as vulnerable. In order to remain relevant and viable in a hotly contested industry, credit unions must strive to create and nurture brands that strike an emotional chord with consumers, resonate as sympathetic with the plight of members and, most importantly, tells their stories. Nothing is more relatable to consumers than the authentic, nonfiction accounts highlighting ways your credit union has aided other consumers in their same boat.
Creating and growing a credit union brand is a heck of a lot more expensive and time-consuming than buying a gallon of milk or bag of chicken legs. However, staying on top of its freshness is just as important. Spoiled milk or chicken can give you food poisoning. A spoiled brand will poison the entire body of your credit union. Keep a close eye on brand gaps, brand training and brand authenticity to ensure that the next time you uncap it for a whiff, the rotten smell doesn’t knock you off your feet.