The definition of differentiation: Doing something your competition will not copy

Credit union marketers are notorious for R & D (rip off and duplicate) as evidenced by the proliferation of “shiny happy people’ on their websites and me too products and pricing. Most credit unions will say their differentiation is their service, which, if you think about it – cannot be if everyone else is saying the same thing. Very seldom these days does a credit union brand stand out. Great brand names have been dropped for synthesized non-words that mean nothing. For the most part, we’ve become pretty generic.

But today I read an article that made my heart sing. The article is titled “O Bee Credit Union’s pub-themed branches might just be a sneaky genius.” I knew about O Bee Credit Union from having lived in the Pacific NW most of my life. I even had the pleasure of speaking at an All Staff Day several years ago. So I know they have a fun spirit and respect and honor their past. And their past is beer.

The Olympia Brewing Company was founded 122 years ago in Tumwater, Washington. Through a series of consolidations, it was acquired by Pabst Brewing Company and the Tumwater brewery was closed in 2003. Most credit unions would merge, change their name, run from their heritage in an effort to tell the world that now “Anyone in Washington can join.” O Bee changed their charter so that anyone in the state could join, but they did not change who they are, and where they came from. Instead, they cranked it up.

In 1955, Ted McGill, a worker in Bottle House “A” heard about credit unions and thought it was a good idea so he persuaded his co-workers to form The Olympia Brewing Company Employees and Family Credit Union. Ted was afraid he would have to write out that long name so he called it O Bee. In the early years, Ted WAS the credit union. He would walk around the brewery and accept deposits and put them in his shirt pocket. When he got home and his wife Vi would sit at the kitchen table and post the books and make the deposits. Their modest dining room served as the first branch of O Bee until 20 years later when they opened their first physical branch.

So back to the article I read, O Bee credit union opened a new branch that is basically a museum to their founders. The branch features local brewery beer taps and brass railings along the teller counter and windows. Wooden hop barrels, brick walls, hand-painted murals and historical images of a brewery, along with a chalkboard menu with “specials,” are design elements to give the feel of a tasting room.

This is part of a growing trend in banking to try and make branches look like something other than branches. Branches are being tricked up with living room furniture, fireplaces, coffee stations……but in the spirit of R & D soon that will be the norm and everyone continues to be the same. Not O Bee Credit Union. Only they can claim their history and they are smart to use this as a differentiator. No one will copy it!

Too many times I will go to a credit union website and not even see a tab for the history. And even more often I’ll see an “About US” tab only to read the boring “We are a not-for-profit financial institution serving people who live, work or worship in blah blah blah…..who cares?

It’s so important that we do not forget our history and tell the story and honor those hard working individuals that made the credit union possible. Today many credit unions “stories” talk about historical growth, a number of branches, added products and services. That’s not a story, that’s a financial statement. O Bee Credit Union made a big statement, that the work that Ted did still matters and Tumwater Washington would not be what it is today without the brewery.

Denise Wymore

Denise Wymore

Denise started her credit union career over 30 years ago as a Teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union in Portland, Oregon. She moved up and around the org. chart ... Web: Details