How do you recover if the wheels have come off your brand

Part two of a two part series on articulating brand dysfunction; and tackling it head on

This is this second series of a two-part story about the immense challenge facing countless financial service executives: amidst a dynamically changing mobile and fin tech shift, coupled with a fickle and challenging millennial market, when do you know if your brand is helping or hurting your organization grow and thrive? [Part One: When do you know if the wheels have come off your Brand?] If the symptoms of a misfiring brand are clearly holding you back, how do you get to work tackling where and how your brand is not performing – so you can fix it? In what will be a dynamic geopolitical year of change and competitive challenges in the financial services industry, I think it’s a timely story.

Tackling your brand situation starts with a strategic articulation of your current brand equity – from the inside out.

Like all preventative health, uncovering the root of the problem in order to move to making needed improvements requires openness to an unbiased and expert assessment of the perceptions held of your brand equity and experiences vs. other competitors: both internally among stakeholders and externally among members.  You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.

That includes clearly articulating everything from your internally held perceptions of your brand and user experiences (across every channel), marketing messages, your Core Values and Mission clarity and relevance to staff, operational roadblocks, brand identity and your “real” service quality.  By “real,” I mean let’s not pretend that your “service quality truly sets you apart.”

Virtually every other credit union and community bank leader in the financial industry today believes their service sets them apart. Sadly, their members and clients didn’t get that message: many have varying opinions of what that “friendly service” is to them. In research, we find that service distinction can be defined and measured using a range of NPS, referral frequency, importance-performance attribute testing, and other loyalty measures that can identify how well you are really performing against their expectations.

Web, tablet and mobile banking apps, together with fintech disruptions like Venmo, have driven fast rising expectations that have re-defined the playing field of how consumers (and especially millenials) define “service,” based on their own user-defined preferences. Service today is rarely based on “friendly” branch teller transaction queue lines out of the 1980’s.

Don’t kid yourself either: an intelligent organizational branding process of any value (beyond new marketing designs) does not start or end with a surface-level review of what your “look and feel” identity, color palette and logo design is.

A meaningful brand process starts from the “inside-out:” first by building engagement and identifying your internal stakeholders varying perceptions, beliefs and opinions of your brand, culture, operations, consumer experiences, community engagement and distinctive brand and reputation in the market.

By engaging all your stakeholders right from the start, you send a clear message: your people’s opinions and ideas matter in managing services, branding and delivering exceptional experiences – and they almost always know more than senior leaders do about how the brand and experiences are working (and not working) on a day to day basis. They have the ears and firsthand experiences of thousands of your members/customers and prospects feedback on a daily basis. And your people deserve to have a stake in the ownership and engagement of helping define and make needed improvements across the enterprise to your brand. In fact, they crave that opportunity to improve the brand.

Gaining your team’s buy-in right from the start, often proves a game changer in leading any meaningful future “grass roots, change management,” or positive transformational changes to your culture, values and living out fresh new user brand experience improvements. Most failed (and costly) rebranding, logo changes, or renaming programs ignore this mission-critical process and steps, and end up with a “top-down” set of pretty new colors, a shiny logo and a fresh website from the marketing department. The opportunity for genuine organizational transformation and team engagement is 100% missed, and the results are rarely measurable for the investment.

Once internal perceptions are captured (and contrasted) on everything from delivery systems, culture, competition, technology and brand characteristics, they can be tested with brand research against external audiences and especially targeted growth prospects like small business owners, young professionals or early-stage Millenial targets. This critical step can help you define, identify and correct internal assumptions: while defining critical weaknesses, brand “gaps,” and specific needed improvements to your brand and user experiences – from your member or customers’ critical perspective. That’s a robust process our agency calls Brand Equity Articulation. It’s the first and perhaps most important step on the road map to transforming your brand to a new level of health and focus both internally among staff, and externally to consumers and target prospects you hope to grow and deepen relationships with in the future. It takes a willingness to expose and quantify the specific areas you are underperforming against consumer and staff expectations, and a willingness to tackle not only the symptoms, but underlying organizational “roadblocks” that are stopping your from future healthy growth, alignment and shared focus.

Brett Martinez, CEO of $3.7 billion Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, CA, (one of the highest performing credit unions in the US) shared this observation on his brand articulation process: “We weren’t looking to rebrand. We were looking for a way to articulate our brand that captured the real essence of who we were and what made us special.” The first full year following their brand articulation, all staff brand training and rollout, and user experience enhancements, Redwood achieved a 1.84% ROA, 20% loan growth, 7.5% net member growth and net income exceeding $55 million. Redwood’s leaders may be most proud though of their 92% employee engagement score: shared focus and purpose around their brand is profound.

The lack of a clearly articulated brand doesn’t always lead to stunted growth and performance, as evidenced by growing industry leaders like Redwood. But a well-articulated brand, driven by people who were engaged in rebuilding a bold new brand together, who now share a common vision, brand promise, consistent behaviors and storytelling, goes a long ways towards creating inspiration, a relevant culture, market growth and sustainable-shared success.

I say it may be time for you to consider driving into the highly competitive future knowing whether you have all four wheels on.

Click here for a copy of: 7 Keys to Selecting the Right Naming & Branding Partner.

Mark Weber

Mark Weber

Mark Weber is the CEO and Chairman of Strum, a 30-year nationwide leader in financial services, branding, business intelligence analytics and data-driven strategy. With offices in Seattle and Boston, Strum ... Web: www.strumagency.com Details

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