SEATTLE — If you don't know the meaning of the word "verity," that may change soon, thanks to a campaign from Verity CU here that uses local bands and artists to boost brand awareness at the $454 million credit union.

According to Melina Young, director of marketing, last year the credit union's board directed the executive team to increase positive brand awareness in the credit union's market. According to Young, that was new ground for Verity.

"We've never really measured brand awareness before," said Young. "We knew ours was less than we wanted it to be, especially in the backyard of BECU it's kind of hard to compete out here. There are so many financial institutions in Seattle and BECU being so well-known and well-loved in the community. So looking at all of what we were needing to do and accomplish, we realized we wanted to switch from product marketing to brand-based marketing."

Verity worked with Spokane, Wash.-based marketing firm Boom to do a brand audit, focusing on different geographic locations the credit union served — or was planning to serve through branch expansion — and what was important to the people in those areas.

"They really cared about the communities where they were located — not just the greater Seattle area, but the neighborhoods where we have branches. So we're really micro-focusing there," said Young.

'A Very Long Process'

As a way to boost brand awareness, Verity and Boom sought out bands and artists from those neighborhoods to create what young called "Truth Art." For the bands, that meant creating a 30-second song about what truth — a synonym for "verity" — means to them, along with at least one use of the word "verity." The visual artists were called upon to "create something that is what 'truth' means to you," said Young. The visual pieces had to include the V from the CU's logo, along with its blue and orange color palate.

Daniel Thorpe, president of Boom, pointed out one factor that stuck out during the brand audit — the way people in the community identified themselves.

"Even as people may have done their day jobs as programmers or working in a healthcare field or as social workers, when you asked what they did, they said 'I'm an artist, I'm a comedian, I'm an actor,'" he said. "So there was an identification that comes with it, too."

That helped make it easy to craft a campaign for Verity to differentiate itself. No other institution "was taking a community stand in places that value their community almost to an extreme."

The bands were selected via "a very long process of watching a lot of YouTube videos," and Young said that staffers involved in the local music scene also made suggestions. All participating bands represent differing styles of music and are a diverse mix of ages, gender make-ups and racial backgrounds.

"My staff and I went through a lot of videos of bands and looked at a lot of websites of different [visual] artists to find some we thought would be able to create something for us," she explained. But there was also a fear factor in play since "this is not something that's commonly done and people don't think of financial institutions this way … and we were essentially handing our brand over with no information and hoping for the best."

Verity had a quality-control process in place, Young added, wherein each band and artist sent in an example of what they were working on in order for the credit union to approve it or let participants know if they weren't on the right track. "We had that piece in there where we could have said 'Whoah, that's way off target,' but we were really lucky in that everything that came back just looked really great."

CU At the Bar

Once the songs were written and the art was completed, Verity rented out the Sunset Tavern — whose owner, coincidentally, was a long-time member — and used some of the art as background while all four bands performed their songs. Each performance was filmed and can be seen on YouTube and on the credit union's website.

While none of the bands or artists were required to be members at the credit union some of them have opened up accounts since filming the commercials. All participants were compensated an average of $1,000. "It was enough to show that we appreciated their time and what they were putting into it, but knowing that it's mutually beneficial," said Young.

The campaign — known as "Truth and Community" — is being promoted via social media, TV and some radio ads, along with YouTube pre-roll video and word of mouth.

"The TV and YouTube prerolls are really focused on the ZIP codes we're looking at in the north Seattle area and specifically around our branching strategies there," said Young. "We did a movie theater buy, which we hadn't done before, and I know some of the bands were really excited to go to the movies and see themselves."

Other ideas still in the pipeline include concerts in the park near new branches, having bands perform at branch openings or raffling off free tickets to performances or art shows when opening new branches.

In order to track the campaign's impact on brand awareness, Verity plans to do follow-up surveys, as well as tracking engagements and interactions via social media, rather than just tracking likes or follows.

"We're also going to be looking at new membership numbers, and that is a place where we're hoping to see positive growth based on what we've done here," said Young. "We're definitely watching our lending numbers to make sure they're not dipping, since we've always focused on product and now we're making a transition to brand."

What You Believe In

Boom's Thorpe noted that the Verity campaign attempts to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls to marketing — trying to do too much at once. Rather than aiming marketing at a specific demographic and cramming in information about products, services, rates, membership and more, credit union messaging does best when it focuses on what he called "a belief structure" — communicating the values that the credit union and its members share.

The key to the Verity campaign, he said, was to keep it simple: brand awareness and an emphasis on the community.

"Marketers have a tendency to try to do too much with their messaging and, in the process, make it a garbled mess," he said. "The key to it is simplicity. Credit unions and markets are often faced with myriad challenges, and it's easy when faced with those challenges to try to stick everything into a spot. It leads to overthinking and a big mess."

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