WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Repeating the same message over and over again can no longer be considered boring-just call it branding. “A brand promises members a consistent experience,” said CUNA Mutual Group Director of CU Marketing Services Debrah Dippen-Watterson. “When branding is done right, your brand is expressed at every point of contact and through every communication with employees and members. Great brands endure because both their presentation and service delivery supports their message.” In an increasingly competitive environment differentiation is one of the keys to credit union survival and branding is no longer just an option but a necessity. Dippen-Watterson cautions credit unions not to succumb to common misconceptions about branding such as it starts with a tagline, when a tagline is just a creative expression of a brand; it is a project that has a start and finish, when it has to be an ongoing process, or thinking that branding is something a CU needs to suddenly start. “Credit unions all have a brand, perhaps they think of it as having a reputation, but it is a brand: it comprises everything the CU name evokes in your market,” said Dippen-Watterson. “The question is, are CUs going to seize that brand, manage it, nurture it, and realize its extraordinary potential or are they going to allow it to seize them.” According to Dippen-Watterson, a successful brand identity must be more than a product, it has to also be an organization, a person/personality, and a symbol. Creating a successful brand involves the following: * Look over the lay of land and don’t rest on the baggage of the past. Ask how can we be different and then go deeper into the products and organization and define your CU’s personality. Figure out what you want your personality to feel like. * Articulate the experience. Link the functional with the emotional because that is where branding takes a part of their heart instead of their mind. So instead of promoting a home equity loan as the best rate, you tell members what kind of experience they’ll have when using your products or services. For example, a credit union can create a message to promote a home equity loan that says “Think about the look on your kids face when you tell them they are going to Disney world.” * Explain what the brand feels like. Make the brand self- expressive. * Position the brand. Once the brand identity core is established then choose how to best communicate that message to various target markets while demonstrating the CU advantage. * Consistently execute the message. Conduct a “stoplight” test. At every level of the credit union, from upper management to the call center representative, each person should be able to explain articulately and succinctly why someone should bank with your credit union. The answer should be the brand message. According to Dippen-Watterson, regardless of credit union size branding will maximize any investment. She finds outside consultation is always worthwhile to provide checkpoints and from there credit unions can carry the ball. In addition, she suggests that smaller credit unions enlist branding “torchbearers” from within the credit union even if it means half the credit union has to be involved. -mbourjolly@cutimes.com