The 2 imperatives of brand leadership and why 2021 is the year to step up

This is a transformative moment for credit unions.

Members’ needs have evolved and changed greatly in the past 12 months (we just passed the grim anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in the US). At the same time, their options for financial services have increased. Thanks to the accelerated digital adoption prompted by the pandemic, consumers are now more open to considering non-traditional banking options, and the competition has only compounded in response.

And yet we know that, paradoxically, having more choices often leads to lower satisfaction – a truth that has been unfortunately impacting perceptions of credit unions even more than banks at a national level. At a time when decision fatigue is on hyperdrive, and even mundane activities carry heightened anxiety, what’s needed most is clarity.

This is why cultivating brand leadership is the only answer. It’s the only way to cut through the noise, and overcome how overwhelmed we have become. Because this is what a strong brand is able to do, by firing our neurons in all the different ways that we understand our world: with words, with visuals, with human interactions, through reputation, through repetition. This is true for your internal teams as well as your members.

Mark Weber, CEO of Strum, notes that “Financial leaders are in the business of managing risk. But when it comes to standing apart from the crowd to get consumers attention and interest to switch financial providers, it takes courage to achieve competitive brand distinction.”

Effective, indeed courageous, brand leaders – the ones who create that clarity – do two things really well:

#1 They know their members and prospects better than anybody else, and use that insight to respond directly to their needs with simple next steps. 

Growth strategies centered around lifestyle segmentation, data analytics that actually derives useful insights that are commonly understood across all levels and departments, and the last mile programs that make that information actionable – for the many credit unions who do not yet have this set of disciplines dialed in, the digital transformation for your organization should be a top priority.

#2 They create a catalyst of organizational inspiration and focus, so that the internal team is consistently and cohesively working toward achieving the first imperative, even during extreme circumstances like we have been experiencing. 

There has never been a more important time to have focus within an organization. This is the brand and culture alignment – best driven forward by an integrated branding initiative – that ignites organizations towards innovation and helps teams deliver a unique, consistent and inspiring brand experience. A brand that creates clarity. A brand that leads.

Our economy is still shaken. But as we are now in a new phase of vaccine rollouts with light at the end of the tunnel, this is the very moment to commit to brand leadership. Taking advantage of a downturn by investing in your organization’s future can lead to exponential growth as the cycle moves back into a growing economy. (I wrote more on this recently in, “What credit unions can learn from Amazon in a recession.”)

As Mark Weber puts it in The Battle for Brand Leadership, this “could spell the difference between inspiring employees, members and communities towards optimism and hope — or to battle for growth in the months ahead.”

Let’s do everything we can in the credit union world to bring that inspiration forward, for our teams, our members, and our greater communities.

Ben Stangland

Ben Stangland

Ben Stangland is a skilled senior data analyst and strategist who leads our Boston data analytics and business intelligence practice. Ben blends complex financial databases into customized decision-making tools and ... Details