Stake your claim in 2021: How to stand out from the crowd

Enough of this dilly-dallying - stop acting like every other bank and credit union!

Make this new year, THE year your credit union stakes a claim. Puts a flag in the ground. Marks your territory. Drops a pin. Only then will you be able to rise above being a commodity and start thriving as a trusted provider.

But how can your credit union make a dent in this crowded space? Get out of the rate race? Compete with the BofA’s and Regions of the world? Maybe your credit union can’t even process online account openings yet. 

Don’t let those block your growth mindset. Focus on what you DO have! Focus on what no other financial institution can replicate: your culture and your people. 

We all know each person is unique, so it stands to reason an organization made up of people would also be unique. The personality of an organization – the culture – stems from the people who make up that organization. 

It’s time to truly own that personality. Show it off to your members and potential members! 

And guess what, there’s never been a better time to double down on your personality. We’re all craving human connections and authenticity. Months of limited human interaction mean we definitely notice when an organization shows its humanity. 

Need another reason to embrace your humanity? A recent Accenture study suggests getting more personal and human is the best way to fight the commoditization of banking.

So how can your organization show its humanity and personality? Time to get out from the product promotion cycle and ACT instead.

A: Be Authentic 

The first step to stand out is to be authentic. Own who you are. Stop trying to be who you aren’t. Your credit union will never be BofA or Navy Fed – and that’s OK! There are plenty of people out there who don’t even WANT to bank with the larger institutions. Your job is to find the ones who want to bank with your people, your credit union. But first you have to be honest about who you are!

1 – Analyze your culture

Take a good hard look at your culture. Listen to your staff, to your members, to those in the community. What is like to work in the trenches at your credit union, to be a member? How is your credit union’s personality, your brand, perceived in the community? And this is a great opportunity to have someone come in to help frame these conversations. It’s tough to look at ourselves and be honest. Getting a fresh perspective from outside is definitely more productive.

2 – Align your brand to your culture

Once you have a handle on your culture and personality, shift your branding to reflect it. It doesn’t mean you need a new logo, but it likely means adjusting the visuals and voice to more closely reflect the human side of your credit union. 

Maybe your culture leans more to the hard-working middle class as your credit union was started by serving manufacturing employees. That branding would look and act very differently than a credit union which is made up of defense contractors.

A great example of this is On Tap Credit Union in Colorado which was founded by brewery employees. They’re now a community credit union but have fully embraced the brewery culture in their branding. It shows up in their branch designs, newsletter copy, community events, even how their front-line staff dresses.

3 – Attract your tribe

When your branding reflects who you truly are and the real personality is showing up, you will start attracting members who are a great fit for your culture and the way you do business. These new members are less likely to jump ship when they see a lower rate. They’ll feel seen by your staff. They’ll be tied in with your community spirit at a deeper level. But to get to this level of loyalty means taking that stand. Yes, it means you may not appeal to everyone. In fact, I challenge you to take such a stand that some people find your branding a little odd. The parts which make you odd to some people will endear you to others. And you want – you need – the people who find you endearing. You’ll be attracting your tribe.

C: Be Consistent

Consistent actions by your staff and consistent messaging in your marketing materials all help build awareness and trust. Consistency is critical, especially when you don’t have a large advertising budget. The more people see the same message, the more likely they’ll remember it. If your messaging changes every month, by the time they start to recognize it, there you go changing it again. Here are three steps to help you be more consistent.

1 – Clarify your message

So as you shift your branding, create a simple message which is easily repeatable. What is the ONE thing you want your members and potential members to remember about your credit union? I would hope it’s not “we have the lowest auto rates in town.”

2 – Communicate to your staff

Since your branding is now reflecting your culture, your staff will likely feel much more engaged with this new look and voice. Why? It’ll be something they believe in! It’ll be what they’re seeing day in and day out. Just keep the messaging simple and communicate it often to the staff. This will make it easier for them to live it and reflect it to the members. Branding style guides are a great tool for this – give the staff some sort of central resource for messaging.

3 – Coordinate your communications

Get the new visuals and voice in all of your communications. And look beyond the typical marketing and branch touchpoints. For instance, notification letters are often overlooked but can have a big impact. When your personality is evident even in communications which might typically be full of legalese, your members will be surprised and delighted.

T: Earn Trust

Being authentic and consistent are great tools in setting your organization apart while you earn the trust of your membership and the community. Your credit union can amp that up with these additional steps:

1 – Talk in their language

Using technical terms and fancy words was once seen as a sign of expertise and authority. Now though? People are put off by jargon. It’s a barrier to making a connection. Instead, use wording everyone already understands. Try letting go of “mortgages” and use “home loan” for starters. Banking is full of acronyms, special terms and regulatory language. The credit unions who talk in the language of their membership will make a big impression.

2 – Take their interests to heart

Being a trusted advisor means valuing the long-term relationship. You want the member to have the best options available to them. So if that means they’re better off getting a loan from a different financial institution, then you send them that way. Maybe your credit union’s business lending group isn’t offering a suitable loan for a member’s new side hustle. Send them to the bank down the street. Or maybe your member is wanting to buy vacation property but you don’t have a home loan for a second dwelling. By letting them know of other options outside your credit union, you’re showing them just how much you want them to succeed, not just be another check on a loan tally sheet.

3 – Transparency is key

Another way you can stand out from the other financial institutions? Be transparent. Show and tell more of what happens behind the scenes. Provide ways for people to learn more about the process. Sure, some people won’t bother with it, but the gesture of even offering the details will make a difference. Then those members who do want to know about how loans get approved, or how their deposits help the credit union’s ratings, have those details.

Did you notice a common theme to all of these steps? They don’t require huge buckets of money. These are steps you can take right now if you and your leadership are truly courageous and committed to standing out from all of the other banks and credit unions. You can do this yourself and make big strides. You can also find partners in helping you discover your authentic culture, aligning your brand with that culture, and creating consistency. But the most important step to take in claiming your stake? Deciding to do so.

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown fell in love with credit unions in 2005 when hired to start up an in-house advertising agency at one of the nation’s top 30 credit unions. With ... Web: Details