Credit Unions: Purveyors of the American Dream
What nudges consumers’ buying decisions is what the product does for them and how they feel about it.
But a tagline and marketing are only a small part of a brand. Your brand is not how the institution defines it; it’s how the institution is defined by its members. I think that’s a clear problem as some formerly single-sponsor credit unions convert to community charters but hold on to their old moniker even when only a small percentage of their members are still from the sponsor organization. That 85% of your membership defines the institution.
Service is key to brand image. It’s not enough to be friendly. Tellers and member service representatives also have to have a basic knowledge of all of the products and services that the credit union offers. And they have to be able to direct members to the right place for more information whether it’s another department or online.
Someone telling me that their credit union provides friendly service won’t sell me on the institution. But if a friend tells me that the credit union was incredibly helpful and efficient, and while there the MSR recognized a need by helping refinance the car loan from the horrendous rate my friend had at another institution, that would help sell me on the credit union. This feedback said the institution respected my time and listened to my needs, even though I didn’t realize I had one. All the marketing in the world cannot equal the trust members and potential members have in their positive personal relationships.
Process is brand, Stan Slap, a branding expert, said at a recent industry conference. How cumbersome or efficient was the loan application process? You certainly wouldn’t want to be branded as inefficient by your members, because that is the image they’ll share with their friends and neighbors who are your potential members.
The online and mobile banking channels should be no different. They should be quick and efficient while also taking calculated cross-sell opportunities. A recent ForeSee Results survey for the first time in its eight-year history found that large banks leapfrogged over credit unions in customer online banking satisfaction.
On top of that, ForeSee Results President and CEO Larry Freed noted that more significant than credit unions being bested by the banks was the five-percentage-point jump big banks made relative to credit unions’ +2.
Delivery channels are part of your brand, and one that is growing significantly in importance. Members or potential members aren’t going to care if you are too small to have the resources to build a mobile banking platform. If that’s what they want–and more and more demand it–they won’t join your credit union or at least won't consider it as their primary financial institution.
Mobile banking is not a passing fad. It’s here to stay. And if credit unions and other financial institutions don’t take advantage of it, guess who is going to. Verizon Wireless. AT&T. T-Mobile. And they’ll “get more.” They already control the distribution chain and could very well dive into the future of financial services if others don’t. Credit unions would be wise to all work together to be able to offer mobile banking from every credit union.
To reiterate, what you do is your brand because it’s defined by members, not the institution. So drop the marketing and branding stating, “We’re a not-for profit, financial services cooperative.” That information is not crucial to brand image. It’s true and interesting to know. It might even sway some toward a credit union rather than a stock-held bank. But a financial cooperative is what credit unions are; consumers want to know what you can do for them.
Study some of the most well-recognized brands around. The Nike swoosh combined with the “Just do it” tagline. The tagline didn’t say, “We make really great athletic shoes.” That would be about them. No, the tagline said that Nike can help you do whatever the customer defines “it” as. The Geico “so easy a caveman could do it” doesn’t tell consumers that they provide good life insurance. It’s about making consumers’ lives easier.
These campaigns have been effective because they took their cue from the brand customers created for them. Get members in the door first, then explain the structure and motivations if you must.