U.N.I.T.Y. – Best practices for rebranding during mergers and acquisitions

In the world of credit unions, mergers and acquisitions aren’t rare. With dozens of merger applications already approved for this year and with more on the way, the NCUA certainly has its hands full. Some experts believe a slower economic climate will slow the rate of these mergers, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Whether you’re talking about credit unions or local banks, lower employment rates directly influence how and when executives choose to combine forces.

With fewer mergers in the news, there will be more of a focus on yours. Strong messaging and member buy-in is crucial to success. Although rare, it’s possible to have a vote for a merger fail, as seen in a canceled merger between NW Iowa Credit Union and Siouxland Federal Credit Union. From executives to employees to members, universal confidence in a deal makes transitions smoother and will increase engagement with the credit union after the merger.

A major merger or acquisition is a prime opportunity to examine your messaging or even rebrand. Choosing to rebrand is a serious decision that comes with a fair share of benefits. After all, a new logo or name change are some of the most immediate and effective ways to let members know there are exciting changes taking place.

To keep your ship on course, think about U.N.I.T.Y. (and, no, we’re not talking about Queen Latifa’s hit from the early ‘90s). For your merger’s marketing to shine make sure to Underscore benefits, know that Nuanced language matters, Involve core members, Take chances, and say Yes to help.

Underscore Benefits

When people hear about mergers or acquisitions, many tend to think that problems are on the horizon. In actuality, only 9% of mergers require the NCUA to get involved as a conservator or liquidator. Typically, mergers or acquisitions happen because it is beneficial to both parties involved, not because one is sinking with nowhere to swim.

Mitigate the “merger alarm” that can ring in members’ heads by underscoring the benefits this move will bring. If there are stats about expected higher returns on assets, better branch access, or lower loan rates, make sure people hear that loud and clear. Remember what’s most important about the link between members and their credit unions: the relationships. When you keep members in the loop and spell out as many specifics as possible during this period of change, you’re doing more than offering news. You’re showing respect. 

This proves particularly important for credit unions acquiring or merging with banks, since these new members may not have a lot of experience with what makes credit unions so unique. They’re used to being clients, not individuals with a vote on how their financial institution operates. Make sure employees and soon-to-be members know what it means to be a part of your team.

Nuanced Language Matters

More often than not, when people talk about mergers of credit unions or banks, they’re really talking about an acquisition. This nuanced difference in language matters. Make sure your key decision makers and representatives use terminology that emphasizes collaboration between both institutions. What sounds more inclusive: “a business absorbing a competitor,” or “two teams joining forces?” 

Members coming from different credit unions or banks chose that particular establishment for a reason. Finding out that a go-to branch will run under a different name can come as a shock. Credit unions started as a grassroots movement focused on inclusivity, so make sure that your marketing reflects these roots with genuine enthusiasm.

Involve Core Members

By design, mergers and acquisitions are new chapters in your brand’s story. With all of the possibilities and excitement surrounding this opportunity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overhauling every way you communicate with members. Although that works for some, make sure you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

If you’re rebranding, remember to involve your core members and their preferences. Ignoring your base and their needs in an effort to attract newcomers might leave your biggest cheerleaders with a bad taste in their mouths. For instance, if you want to start targeting young professionals, do so strategically. Make sure the messaging and branding involved doesn’t happen at the expense of older demographics that already know and trust your organization. Protect the relationships you already have so you don’t have to worry about taking them for granted after the merger.

Take Chances

It’s surprising to learn how many people view mergers and rebranding in a negative light. Some might blame the third season of The Office or the outrage surrounding the New Coke fiasco. But, don’t let those blunders fool you. Mergers are also an opportunity to take a chance, to discover something new about your brand.

A challenge for marketing in any sector centers around finding a way to make people stop and pay attention. When it comes to announcing a merger, that obstacle is out of the picture. People genuinely want to know about this news, which means it’s easier to experiment with new, bolder outreach. Want to create a video series? An engagement-driven social media campaign? A new website? Whatever the idea, a merger is a great catalyst for trying new ways to reach trusted members and untapped audiences alike.

Yes To Outside Help

If your team thinks this merger is a good opportunity for a rebrand, don’t start the journey blindfolded. A brand audit is the most insightful approach to examining how, or if, you should proceed with this type of overhaul.

Mergers and acquisitions are a whirlwind of paperwork, planning, emails, and phone calls. As someone on the inside of the storm, it’s easy to get lost in the stress and lose sight of how others might view this exciting opportunity for your institution. A brand audit helps everyone involved to take a step back and see opportunities for improvement from an outside perspective. This conscious effort to see a potential rebrand from all angles also sets the right tone for the merger as a whole. Should you honor the history of both institutions in your marketing? What’s going on with your competitors? Could your product names use a refresh? Finding answers to these questions is much easier with a research-based point of view.

Whatever you choose to do with your merger or acquisition marketing, make sure you do so in a way that honestly communicates with members using a thoughtful, genuine tone. From there, you won’t simply create member buy-in, you’ll form U.N.I.T.Y.

Ben Prager

Ben Prager

Prior to forming Prager Creative, Ben worked with design studios, branding firms and advertising agencies to push great strategy and design for all his projects. His experience with all aspects ... Web: www.pragercreative.com/creditunions Details