To build an authentic brand, you need an authentic culture. It is quite straightforward. If your employees do not believe what your organization says it is about, your brand will be inconsistent. Most people work for a paycheck, and that is a perfectly valid reason for someone to choose a place of employment. But organizations perform better when employees believe in the work they are doing. No one is authentic when following someone they do not believe, and no one interacts authentically with members and stakeholders when they do not buy into what an organization says it is about. Most of us do a decent job of faking it at work when necessary because we want to pay the bills. This does not mean employees will be providing bad service if they do not believe in your business model; but it may not be the best service.
Engaged employees are more innovative and more interested. Attitudes translate in member facing interactions. Even the behind the scenes work can affect the member experience in a way that can negatively or positively impact a brand. A slow or inaccurate back office provides an inconsistent member experience. Your credit union may be able do just fine with a basic brand. But consumers come back to brands that resonate with them. Financial institutions offer commodities, so in an increasingly competitive environment, it makes sense to try to stand out. Social media has opened up a world of social responsibility. Community consciousness has become particularly important to the younger generations that will be the future of the industry. Members now care more about what goes on behind the scenes than they did in the past, because they have more access to that information. Authenticity means what you are trying to say about yourself in your marketing matches the decisions made in the board room and your employee experience.
A brand is the reputation of an organization. A brand is what people say, think, or feel about an organization. Sometimes we reduce the brand to the components that make up a visual identity. For example, we associate a brand with its logo and color scheme. But your brand is not simply aesthetics. Your brand is the intangible associations that your member’s mind conjures up when they hear your name or see your logo. Brand names are fascinating. Pause to think of the names of your favorite companies and try to dissociate the name from what you know about the product, logo, or service. You begin to realize the words without the associated meanings and brand implications are meaningless and strange. An organization’s name, logo, color schemes, and marketing collateral are empty until they are filled with concepts, consistency and reputation. We like our favorite companies because we have come to expect a certain level of quality and consistency from their product or service. The visuals just become the identifier. Marketing is a tactic; it uses words and images to communicate the message of what the organization represents. Marketing supports, but does not create your brand.
A brand that resonates with members is the one that is consistent with your credit union’s internal vision and values. In order for members to believe in your brand, your vision and values need to be lived out in organizational decisions. The heart and soul of your credit union’s decisions, internal interactions and operations are your brand. Projects that don’t align with the reason you exist should be dumped, no matter what other financial institutions in your market or elsewhere are doing to stay competitive. Programs cannot make up for values that are not lived out in leadership. And whatever else you communicate externally will be inconsistent. If your decisions are built around something other than your mission and values, those decisions are really your brand. If your strategic plan is aimless, that is your brand. If you tolerate internal inequities, that is your brand. If you prioritize enforcing policy over problem solving for members, that is your brand. Consistent messaging starts from the inside and works its way outward. Inconsistent messaging is bland, not believable. And if your brand is not resonating, that may be why.