Six Things Every Credit Union Should Be Doing to Turn Their Workspace into a Competitive Advantage: Article Three: A Strong Brand Starts at Home: Building Your Brand in the Workplace

by Michael Downs, Momentum, Inc.

Article One: Defining the Workspace

Article Two: It’s About Your People: Understanding Your Most Valuable Asset

The topic of branding is as popular as it has ever been and there is no shortage of theories, concepts, and opinions on how organizations should define, use and measure their brand in their marketing strategies.   As such, companies of all sizes and industry focus are paying much more attention to, and investing more capital on, their brand.  There is even marketing research which indicates that strong brands influence brain cells differently than weak brands, producing a more dramatic neurological reaction. It is no wonder, then, that businesses spend billions of dollars developing robust brands and marketing them to consumers.  Despite all of this attention, the workplace is still frequently overlooked as a critical element in creating and supporting the strength of a brand. This was validated by a recent survey conducted by CoreNet Global. The results of the survey show that 77% believe that brand is a critical driver for their business; yet only 54% said the workplace plays a critical role in supporting. Only 15% said their facilities reflect their brand “very well.”  However, experts agree that a brand is no longer something you can apply to the surface of an organization; it must be something that permeates the entire organization, inside and out. Quite simply, strong brands grow from within.

In the second article of our series, we described the changing dynamics of today’s workforce and how four generations of workers are impacting organizational culture and productivity, as well as workplace strategies.  In this article we evaluate the importance of building a brand from within the organization and how a Credit Union’s workspace strategies are an essential element for supporting the internal branding process.

As an interesting backdrop to our article, we have included the top 10 companies on the Forbes 2011 list of “Best Companies to Work For” (see Figure 1). While not completely surprising given the recent financial industry turmoil, it is worth noting the small number of financial institutions that made the list.

Rank Company Job Growth U.S. Employees
1 SAS 3% 5,629
2 Boston Consulting Group 2% 1,713
3 Wegmans Food Markets 6% 39,255
4 Google N.A. N.A.
5 NetApp 9% 5,455
6 37% 1,843
7 Camden Property Trust 0% 1,719
8 Nugget Market -2% 1,240
9 Recreational Equipment (REI) -1% 9,380
10 DreamWorks Animation SKG 10% 1,994


Upon scanning the full list, one will find that most of these companies have done a phenomenal job of internally branding themselves in ways that align the workplace with the values and beliefs they communicate every day to both their customers and employees.

Beyond competitive compensation, strong benefit packages, and free coffee, these companies have recognized that in order to deliver on the brand promise they make through marketing, they must also ensure that workers internalize brand values and represent the brand effectively.

Benefits of Building Your Brand From Within

Building strong brands and culture within an organization can generate numerous positive benefits, both short and long term.  One of the most significant benefits is employee job satisfaction (see Figure 2), while other benefits include:

  • Reduction in hiring costs. Improving an organization’s reputation in the community leads to a higher volume of unsolicited job applicants, higher offer–acceptance rates, and more employee referrals.
  • Increased productivity. It enhances worker productivity and organizational citizenship behavior. Workers who “believe in the brand” are “unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity,” which fits well with the modern shift toward flattened hierarchies and teamwork.
  • Enhanced service quality. Respect and appreciation of coworkers—and by extension, for the Credit Union itself—generate a willingness to work harder for the good of the (work) community as a whole. Enhanced service quality stemming from commitment to the brand, in turn, improves consumer loyalty and retention.
  • Increased workplace harmony.  Organizations that build strong brands internally foster a shared culture and values that promote workplace unity. The increasingly racial-, ethnic-, and gender-diverse workforce poses a challenge to workforce collaboration—a particular problem in service businesses such as a Credit Union, where teamwork is important, and a strong corporate brand offers a bridge across potential divides.
  • Reduction in turnover.  Improved morale translates into additional labor-cost savings as turnover rates drop and training costs plummet.

It is again important to emphasize the role that generational diversity plays in building a brand from within the organization.  Depending on his or her generation and experiences with the organization, employees will value certain attributes of the workplace and affiliate with the Credit Union’s brand in different ways.

The Basics of Internal Brand Building

The typical internal branding program consists of several key elements: communicating and explaining the brand to employees, educating employees of its value, linking every job in the organization to delivery of the brand promise, establishing performance standards to measure fulfillment of the brand promise, and aligning all people practices to support and reinforce the brand promise by selecting, training, rewarding, and punishing employees according to their level of on-brand behavior.

Both formal and informal methods play important roles in the process.  Formal methods include internal functions traditionally performed by human resources: recruiting and staffing (e.g., advertisement of the open position and information about the company presented to applicants, selection, and hiring), training and development (both for the immediate position and with an eye toward enhancing employees’ ability to be able to adapt to shifting job requirements in the future), adopting compensation systems that link promotions and wages or salaries to the level of consumer orientation displayed by the employees, and performance management processes (evaluation, promotion and discipline). Other formal methods are external: public relations designed to build brand image and advertising.
Informal methods include socialization into the brand by coworkers not acting in an official capacity, assimilation into organizational culture and norms, and the influence of organizational leadership and management (because employees are more likely to engage in on-brand behavior when they like and respect corporate leaders and want to assist them in reaching goals). Informal messages about the brand are also relayed through external customer-feedback systems, word of mouth, and the business press.

There are several themes that characterize all successful branding programs: selection for brand fit; organization of work in structures that emphasize social networks, consistency and authenticity of the brand message and a set of human resources practices that cumulatively yields an “employer brand” that draws workers to the organization.

1. Selection for Brand Fit

As we also discussed in the previous article, a Credit Union’s employees are clearly its most valuable asset.  Therefore, selecting employees who are receptive to the brand identity is critical to an effective branding program.  Employees are much more likely to adopt an organizational identity that matches their own self-image, both because it is easier for them to process information about the firm’s values and mission that are consistent with their own values, and because the firm’s brand offers opportunities for authentic self-expression.

2. Consistency and Authenticity

Consistency of the brand message is critical if workers are to understand and identify with the brand the Credit Union is promoting; only then will they be equipped to deliver on the promises that the organization makes to members, through its external marketing campaign. Thus, all methods of communication must convey a consistent branded theme; in particular, internal messages must be consistent with external messages. Brand development and “living” the brand must be part of every employee’s job description.  Wherever feasible, the brand themes should be reinforced at every “touch point”—through the Credit Union’s physical layout, architecture, décor, and culture, so that employees have every opportunity to “live” the brand.

3. The “Employer Brand”

In addition to “imprinting” employees with the Credit Union’s brand, internal branding is also geared toward creating and sustaining an “employer brand” designed to enhance recruiting, retention, and productivity. Southwest Airlines, Edward Jones, and Google are all renowned for their powerful employer brands. Just as product or service branding holds out the promise of what life can be like if the consumer purchases the brand, the employer brand holds out a promise of what life can be like if the employee buys into the brand, by coming to work at that business. Consistency between internal and external marketing messages is critical, as well, since prospective employees learn as consumers, what they can expect to experience on the inside of the firm as an employee. The ultimate goal is for the Credit Union brand to become the lens through which employees process all the information that they learn about the business, and as this will shape the choices they make as well.

Workplace Design and Brand

Having outlined some of the basic mechanics of internal branding, Credit Unions must also take into consideration the fundamental shifts underway in our culture, and the ways that people want to work.  We touched on these transformations in our first article and have also outlined them below.

Shift from individual workspaces to collaborative spaces.  Today’s worker wants to work in a “neighborhood” where they can share ideas and have informal dialogue, whether it’s face-to-face or via some form of technology. With more open, easily adaptable spaces, employees can spontane­ously gather to collaborate and learn from each other. By eliminating or reducing the height of walls and panels, organizations can create spaces that support unforeseen interactions and maximize creativity and teamwork through impromptu meetings and brain-storming sessions.

Increased use of technology.  Credit Unions need to be prepared to easily and quickly connect people who work in different locations. By using collaborative technology tools, organizations can better connect distant workers and in some cases members, and improve their affinity with the brand.

Mobile and flexible work patterns. The desire for a “clan” culture intersects with the pragmatic reality of shrinking real estate and newly emerging work strategies in which workers carry out their tasks from multiple locations — at the primary workplace, at client locations, from home or “third place” settings, etc. These workers face a unique set of challenges in communicating and collaborating with coworkers. The workspace plays an important role in fully supporting “brief shining moments” of interaction as workers exhibit “on work” versus “at work” strategies.


Given the ever growing importance of demonstrating a strong brand, many Credit Unions are unclear as to where they should start with supporting their internal brand building. While there are many different ways to approach designing workspaces that will support internal branding, the following are a few suggestions that Credit Unions should consider.

Brand purpose. Make sure the leadership team fully understands it. In order to define the brand, develop a set of questions that the Credit Union evaluates and answers.  Examples of the types of questions the Credit Union should ask itself are;

  • What are our primary short and long term business goals?
  • What is our brand promise to our members as well as our employees?
  • What actions are required in order to achieve the goals and deliver on the brand promise?
  • What behaviors do we need to foster to help inspire employees to live the brand?

Develop a visual map for communication. This is a process that requires the Credit Union to evaluate the ways in which it communicates both internally and externally.  The goal is to understand its communication and develop consistency across the organization.

  • As an executive team, what are the most important messages to our employees?
  • What actions do we want our employees to take when interacting with our members, as well as with each other?
  • Do our employees feel strongly about our brand and do they help shape the brand?

Determine physical space based on the brand purpose. After defining the brand and its purpose, design prototypes can be developed to reflect the desired methods of collaboration, work styles and communication needs. This process will determine the appropriate distribution of “closed” and “open” workspace.  Sections of the “workplace neighborhood” will start to emerge, allowing the designer to begin integrating the brand message that the Credit Union intends to deliver. This is something that Apple, Starbucks and Nordstrom’s understand…branding needs to take place outside of the retail environment as well, if a firm is to deliver a consistent product to its consumers.

It is important that organizations think several layers deep.  The use of corporate logos, images, and slogans is simply the starting point, as culture and brand behavior should be cultivated through all aspects of the workplace; including interior and exterior building finishes, furniture, employee density, traffic flow, and multiple work opportunities within the workplace.

Final Thoughts

In today’s volatile, highly competitive economic environment, the promotion of a Credit Union’s brand to its members and potential members through external marketing is only half the story.  As such, management theorists and business consultants recommend that organizations invest at least as much in internal marketing to employees, as they do in external campaigns directed at consumers.   As part of those efforts, the physical workspace must be an integral part of the process in developing a strong brand. 

Ultimately, a Credit Union’s employees are the ambassadors of the brand. Every employee touches the members in some way, directly or indirectly.  Whether it is a member service representative or someone from the IT department, each individual plays a key role in shaping the Credit Union’s reputation, and therefore its brand.  When a Credit Union is able to create a workplace environment where its employees feel emotionally invested in the brand and part of the “workplace neighborhood”, it is on a steady course toward building and sustaining a successful brand.



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This is the third article in the six part series Six Things Every Credit Union Should Be Doing to Turn Their Workspace into a Competitive Advantage by Michael Downs, MBA, CFS and Greg Barrett, CFS. Keep an eye out for part four next Monday: Evaluating Short and Long Term Occupancy Options for Your Credit Union.

Article One: Defining the Workspace

Article Two: It’s About Your People: Understanding Your Most Valuable Asset 

This series is co-authored by Michael Downs and Greg Barrett of Momentum, Inc.  Mr. Downs holds both a Bachelors and Masters of Business Administration, completed the ABA School of Bank Marketing at Southern Methodist University, and has more than twelve years of experience working with clients on strategic planning and marketing.  Mr. Barrett holds a Bachelors of Science in Finance and has worked with and for financial institutions for more than nineteen years.  Mr. Downs, Mr. Barrett and the Momentum team work with credit unions to facilitate strategic planning, evaluate facilities growth needs, and implement systems for ongoing measurement and benchmarking. Learn more at or connect at

Michael Downs

Michael Downs

Michael Downs is the Vice President of Client Solutions at Momentum, a strategic design-build partner that takes a people centric approach to helping credit unions across the nation thrive. Web: Details