In my previous life as a communication consultant to politicians, I saw firsthand how difficult it can be to maintain a sense of who you are as a person while also campaigning – which is really turning yourself into a brand – and to do it in a way that can inspire others to action.
Successful politicians leverage their personal experiences and unique personalities, while simultaneously appealing to a sufficiently broad set of constituents to get elected. I’m sure we can all envision politicians across the political spectrum who excel at this, as well as others who struggle to the detriment of their campaigns.
Corporate brands can draw lessons from what works on the campaign trail about presenting an authentic and cohesive point of view that both stands out and appeals broadly enough to succeed.
Credit unions have the challenge of being service brands in a highly regulated category – in other words, highly commoditized offerings. For a credit union offering to be massively different from its competitors is very difficult without running afoul of regulators. This is why differentiating with branding is so incredibly important for credit unions, because it’s one of the only legal ways to be meaningfully different.
We’ve all heard the political trope that people vote for politicians who they can picture themselves having a beer with, someone who they simply have a gut feeling is on their side and would be a good hang. This “beer rule” often overshadows voters’ knowledge or interest in specific policies, positions, or other tangible offerings that the politician is running on. In other words, the differentiation that ultimately matters is brand.
Our Creative Director at Strum, Josh Streufert, puts it this way: “When all things are equal, make them like you more.” And also, brands that are more effective “are just easier to like.” Josh recently did a great video interview with CUInsight Publisher & CEO Lauren Culp, where he goes into this more, as well as other topics around credit union branding.
Therefore, branding is more than diligently applying a set of design rules, and having matching logo wear, and talking about the current promotion with the approved language. It’s about: What does it mean to work here? What does it mean to bank here? What do we mean to the communities we serve? Like every good politician must, credit union leaders need to dig deep and find that institutional “personal” story, and they need to get all their employees excited and viewing themselves as brand ambassadors.
Successful brands, like successful politicians, find the balance in staying true to themselves and also listening and growing with their constituents. And of course, every constituency is going to want to grab a beer with a different kind of politician, so truly knowing your target audience is key in this equation. This is how high functioning brands – political or financial – form deeper connections with the people they serve.
So are you building a brand that your members would have a beer with? If not, maybe it’s time to think about how your brand can be…just easier to like.