How Some Small CUs Tackle the Big Task of Branding

FAIRFAX, Va.-While small credit unions face a wholly different set of challenges in delivering consistency across all delivery channels, the antidote to those issues is the same medicine - a strong brand image.

That's the advice of analysts and CU leaders who spoke with Credit Union Journal about what small CUs can do this year to continue to grow. "In a small credit union, staff is even more important, but also it is easier to do all the things [necessary] because a great leader can do this faster and better in a smaller credit union," said branding consultant Paul Lucas. "With a smaller member base there is even more of a need to focus on maximizing product and service penetration. Staff must be trained in depth...so they have the confidence and ability to cross sell."

Ray Lancaster, CEO of $73-million Pyramid Credit Union in Tucson, Ariz., said constant training is the key to building a strong sales platform with limited staff.

"Our goal for 2010 is to train our employees more than we ever have. We are using CUNA's Building Member Loyalty program to focus on where we are best. Being smaller means we cannot be all things to all people," Lancaster suggested. "[But] when every employee is a fan, we have more marketing employees than any credit union in the country. We try to take care of our employees and let them know they are valued and the most important part of our brand."

Keep It Simple & Straightforward

Pyramid CU's brand message is simple and straightforward as it tells members and potential members that it can "improve your financial life." That message is being deliver to as many channels as possible; the CU's marketing budget for this year was set at 35 basis points of assets. "We cannot be the best kept secret. We have worked at re-positioning our branches to heavy traffic and shopping areas...We need the visibility to help with name recognition," Lancaster said. "Our brand is something that we have to invest time, energy and money into strengthening. We don't want it to languish."

Many small credit unions know that they have a brand and are likely executing some part of it, according to Mark Weber, CEO of Weber Marketing Group in Seattle, but without a concrete brand strategy, "it is not being expressed to members or prospective members with the same kind of approach, so it gets done haphazardly."

Weber pressed small CUs to look closely at what makes them unique, what they can deliver to members that no one else can and to be very specific when looking for that brand instead of just turning to the most typical conclusion.

"If their answer is member service, they're not going to get there," said Weber.

Prairieland FCU overhauled its brand image two years ago, beginning with two to three hour staff sessions with sales training consultants every quarter. According to CEO Barb Michael, the $41-million credit union pulled ideas from those consultant sessions, webinars and trade articles to craft its brand as well as its sales culture, and further developed a compensation package with incentives.

"We started out developing the brand and the logo and it is on everything we do. It is on our stationary, it is on our billboards, it's on our radio ads and our websites," she said. We have really tried to come across with a consistent look and consistent message."

The credit union played on its base of operations in Normal, Ill., to create its tagline of: "not your normal bank."

That message is heard loud and clear not only through e-blasts, direct mailings and other channels but also through the CU's staff, which is updated every two weeks on its quarterly sales and branding campaign goals. Prairieland's success is in its numbers; Michael pointed to the "slow but steady growth" that the CU has achieved since it revamped its brand.

Warm & Fuzzy Isn't Enough

A member's warm and fuzzy feelings that his credit union cares and responds to his needs means nothing in the end so it is crucial that the brand have those real and measurable results. "Making people feel good doesn't mean people are going to bring their mortgage or you're landing their money market accounts," said Weber, who pushed for CUs to focus on the objectives set at the start of the process. "The branding can't end with member experience; you should be able to measure and see that the brand is driving organizational performance. Not everything has to have a financial metric, but everything should be quantified."