On Branding: Part Of Good Branding Means Being A Good Neighbor

Boiled peanuts, sweet tea, NASCAR, and pickup trucks-you know you're in the South. On a crisp October day I took a three-hour drive from Atlanta through the rolling hills of western Alabama to Limestone Springs Golf Club to attend America's First FCU's Annual Charity Golf Tournament.

This wasn't my first trip to Alabama. In 1998 I enjoyed golfing the Robert Trent Jones Trail as a guest of the The College of William & Mary's Sports Marketing Department along with 14 business leaders from Williamsburg, Va., when I was VP of marketing/business development for 1st Advantage FCU. Then in 2005 I witnessed one of the greatest sports spectacles on earth, the Talladega 500, as a guest of NASCAR Marketing via AFFCU's sponsorship of NASCAR at Talladega. This was my first NASCAR experience and it makes an NFL game look so elementary compared to the size and spectacle of NASCAR! Even if you're not a NASCAR fan, making the pilgrimage to Talladega along with 250,000-plus rabid fans is a lifetime WOW!

In 2005 I also spent a lot of time in Alabama working with America's First FCU. AFFCU is the third largest credit union in the state of Alabama with $721 million in assets, 18 branches and 103,000 members. I consulted on their rebranding when they became a community credit union.

Since their service area covers the whole central part of the state I got to see a lot of countryside and meet a lot of people, and I discovered Alabama is much like my native western Pennsylvania-but Southern style! I really like Alabama-growing up in western Pennsylvania I spent a great deal of my time, hunting, fishing and driving a pick-up truck, so I felt right at home.

Coming back a year later gave me a chance to check in on how America's First FCU's new brand positioning is working. Back in the spring of 2005 one of the first strategies we discussed was how to make the credit union a vital part of the communities they serve. I shared an important lesson I've learned while working with small and large credit unions in urban and rural markets all over the country. A successful community CU must be tied directly to its community or communities. In AFFCU's case their communities added up to a third of Alabama. What to do?

KidOne.org is unique to Alabama. It was founded by a firefighter/EMT after he lost a child whose parents had no way to get him to a doctor. By the time they called an ambulance it was too late. A little research revealed that in Alabama 83,000 children are in families that do not own a vehicle. In rural areas this makes it very difficult to get children to a doctor. AFFCU embraced this very worthy cause to directly help people throughout Alabama.

AFFCU now sponsors an annual golf tournament that raises enough money to buy a vehicle for the organization.

The new 11-passenger van has AFFCU's logo on the hood, which helps let people know about the credit union's support of this important effort.

So that morning in late October 144 golfers showed up, including the state's No. 1 sports talk radio show host, Jay Barker, who played quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide's 1992 NCAA national championship team, and Al Del Greco, an NFL record holder as a kicker for the Miami Dolphins who played his college ball at Auburn. When talking Alabama sports you can't mention Alabama without mentioning Auburn too! They broadcasted their morning drive-time sports talk show from the golf course, giving AFFCU the best kind of publicity-having much-loved and trusted public figures say good things about you and then playing in your golf tournament with AFFCU's CEO David Adcock and CFO Bill Conner.

Also attending the event were the president of the Birmingham Automotive Dealers Association-Brett McBreyer, the marketing director for Talladega Super Speedway/NASCAR-George Dennis, the GM of the ABC affiliate in Birmingham station 33/40, Mike Murphy and on and on.

This is a story of a major win-win. America's First FCU is able to make a very significant contribution to its extended community while increasing the depth of its name awareness in a very positive way, while the people who need help most get it from KidOne.org. Support of KidOne.org builds brand equity by demonstrating that AFFCU is a caring institution and a good neighbor; in short, the things credit unions pride themselves on possessing. This is branding done very well! It's also business development at its best, building personal relationships with your community leaders, and this is branding done even better!

For the best barbecue and sweet tea in Alabama I recommend Dreamland barbecue in Birmingham-this place is as good as it gets! As for fried pies, well, to do it right you have to drive the country roads on your own and sample a few here and there. It's a lot like being a good neighbor as a credit union-you have to get a lay of the land and get out there and rub elbows with the locals.

Paul Lucas can be reached at paul<at>pauljlucas.com.