On Branding: The Secret Weapon

There's a lot of talk about branding in credit union circles these days. That's because there's a lot of pressure on growth in the financial services industry. The end of the mortgage boom has everyone from banks to mortgage companies scrambling for dollars. And they're throwing around cash, cruises, award points and more in an effort to grab new accounts. Credit unions are fighting for growth in assets and membership in what might be the most competitive marketplace in decades.

With the push on growth it's not surprising that management teams and boards are beginning to appreciate the importance of brand identity in breaking through the clutter. They understand that building an effective (translate that into profitable) brand takes time, money and commitment. But a lot people don't know the secret weapon that can keep you on course long after the brand launch party is over: a Brand Champion.

Why do I Need A Brand Champion?

A Brand Champion must be a key manager who has a strong rapport with the staff and the clout to make things happen. The Brand Champion's role is to insure that the brand identity is protected each time the credit union touches a member or a prospective member. From phone calls to e-mails, showrooms to websites, the brand must be presented in a consistent, impactful way. A true brand is not all things to all people. It is crafted and cared for and customized for its market niche. And it is altered only with a great deal of thought and analysis.

That means no more clip art flyers printed on neon paper strewn across town in a "sales" blitz. No more print ads created by the local newspaper because it's "free." No more template-driven creative that screams, "Put your company name here."

A Brand Champion doesn't have to be a marketing professional. It's a watchdog position. When the service level dips because of turnover, or a policy change threatens to disrupt member service; if a branch has worn, stained carpet and a damaged front door, the Brand Champion needs to step in and fix it.

The Brand Champion represents the members and potential members out there who trust you to deliver on your brand promises. It's not just about marketing-it's about service delivery and making sure the credit union lives up to it's commitment to the business or community it is chartered to serve.

It's tough to be the brand police, but that's part of the job. It can mean telling a fellow employee that the do-it-yourself flier or letter that person is so proud of does not meet the brand standards. It can require pushing senior management to replace worn fixtures, fund a call center for off hours, or make other investments to keep the brand image fresh and current in the marketplace.

A Brand Champion is a big-picture thinker who understands how all the small details impact the success or failure of the brand. The true Brand Champion is 75% cheerleader and 25% bulldog. Launching a brand is easy. Maintaining brand standards to build a strong brand is hard. And that's what makes the difference between an OK credit union that might get by for a few more years before being forced to merge, and a credit union that owns its niche in the marketplace.

Paul J. Lucas is a national marketing and branding consultant. For more information log on to www.PaulJLucas.com or email paul<at>pauljlucas.com. (c) 2007 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com