Invest in your credit union’s brand — It’s worth it

A brand is more than a logo, colors, or slogan — it’s the experience you deliver to members each and every day. A strong brand is essential when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

Yet investing precious resources into brand development makes many credit union leaders anxious. They wonder how to approach the brand process, how to define clear objectives and how to demonstrate the return on investment in their branding efforts to members and boards.

The time and effort it takes to completely overhaul a brand may seem overwhelming and risky, but if done correctly, it can be a rewarding experience for members, employees and credit union leadership. Here are a few tips for credit unions looking to strengthen their brands.

Face your weaknesses

One of the most difficult parts of rebranding is coming to terms with the fact that something needs to be fixed.

A few years ago, our team at Hawaii State Federal Credit Union (Hawaii State FCU) realized that we had an identity issue. We knew we offered great value to our members, but outside our circle of membership, people didn’t know who we were. Our brand identity wasn’t strong enough to stand out in a sea of local credit unions. We were easily mistaken for our competitors when it came to our logo, the colors we used, and even our name.

Oftentimes, organizations that look inward end up uncovering difficult truths. We decided to face ours head on and make the necessary changes to succeed.

Identify your key driver

When we decided to rebrand, our first goal was to create a brand strategy centered on a key driver — the one quality that defined us as an organization. This key driver would have to have the power to rally staff and members around a common cause.

Our team began by doing a 360-degree brand assessment, which involved interviewing staff, members, and the community. We focused on engaging and listening to our employees, one of our organization’s greatest assets. A common conviction that came up in focus groups, on surveys, and in conversations is that our employees truly believe in doing what is right for our members.

We also spoke with members, uncovering stories of how the credit union had supported them unfailingly throughout the years. It was clear that our competitive advantage lay in our relationships with members.

Thus, our motto was born: “Always right by you.”

“Always right by you” means that we are always going to be there for our members, through every stage of their lives. It means that we are committed to doing the right thing, treating our members and each other like family. Not only did we define our distinct key driver, we were able to create graphics and collateral that communicated it visually.

Live your new brand

Once our leadership team, board of directors, and employees were on board with the new brand and motto, we set out to make it a part of our members’ experience. We created key messages that articulated our brand values clearly and authentically, and used them as a roadmap for creating member-facing communications. Visually, our brand evolved from cool, corporate tones to bold, warm and friendly colors, which were carried through at our branches and in our marketing concepts.

Our employees were proud to live our new motto, making member service simpler and more effective. “Always right by you” became a guide that empowered our team to make consistent decisions every day. We wanted our employees to live the “always right by you” motto authentically, bringing it to life so our members could feel it, hear it, and experience it. These positive experiences are the gateway to member satisfaction, referrals, retention and loyalty.

The rebrand required a significant initial investment of staff time and capital, but we knew that we would be forgoing short-term gains for long-term success. Four years later, we still see the benefits of the process. Our new brand brought about a cultural shift, and from development to implementation, the entire process instilled pride in our service and our people. From 2013 to 2017, our membership grew 20 percent and employee engagement increased from 85 to 95. Our turnover rate decreased and was consistently lower than the state average.

Many credit unions don’t feel there is a need to build their brand or don’t believe it is an urgent issue. But when an organization is ready to come to terms with its weaknesses and embody its strengths, it can make all the difference.

Allison Maertens

Allison Maertens

Allison Maertens oversees all marketing functions at Hawaii State FCU, including advertising, public relations, financial education, online marketing, and member communications and events. Under her leadership, Hawaii State FCU launched ... Web: Details