City CU's mortgage marketing directive were similar to most credit unions, Johns said.
"Just like every other credit union out there, we'd been offering mortgages for 27 years and our members still didn't know it," she said.
However, those members who had successfully found their way to City's mortgage department were vocal about one thing: the exceptional service provided by Loan Officer Linda Mitchell.
"She knows the industry inside and out, and even better, she is so nurturing and caring," Johns said. "We knew we had an invaluable asset in Linda, so we came up with the Home Zone brand and positioned Linda as the face of it."
Initially, Mitchell was reluctant to allow the credit union to use her name and image but agreed that a friendly, helpful face would encourage members, particularly those with questions or concerns, to give the credit union a try.
Now, two years into Home Zone, Johns said Mitchell is so comfortable with her branding, she alerts marketing when she receives a flurry of calls at the beginning of each new quarter, letting them know the newsletter has dropped.
More importantly, the strategy produced results. Johns said total mortgage dollars booked increased by approximately 150% the first year of Home Zone, and was up 300% this past year.
The credit union has added a second mortgage officer to the branding effort, Maria Salinas, whose bilingual speaking abilities have allowed the credit union to reach out to Dallas' large Hispanic market. Together, the two loan officers make numerous site visits and attend as many community relations events as possible in an effort to increase Home Zone's visibility.
"When we were trying to decide which direction to take, we looked at our asset size and what we had to work with, and designed a brand that truly reflects how we really live," Johns said of Home Zone's personal touch. "I think too often credit unions say they know what their brand is, but if they listened to member feedback, they'd be surprised."
Johns said her credit union follows five guiding principles, which it uses to ensure that every decision and effort remains consistent to its brand. The principles are more than just a framed document on the wall, Johns said, and she credited current credit union leadership with its success.
"The key is to be truly honest with yourself, to look at both the good and the bad, and solicit honest feedback from members," Johns said. "One of the things we kept hearing from our members was how great Linda was. We realized she was a great asset, someone who truly lives our brand."