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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – There may not be any new credit unions being chartered, but it seems everyday credit unions are reinventing themselves through name changes. “The number one reason we hear from our clients wanting name changes is that their name has become too exclusive and they are spending more marketing dollars explaining eligibility rather than their services,” said James Clark Design Images President/Creative Director James Clark. “Others thought that just getting a community charter would suddenly bring people to their doors and it just doesn’t work that way.” Reducing confusion in the marketplace is what prompted Rivermark Community CU-formerly Safeway Northwest CU-to change its name a little over a year ago. Tapping an outside agency for help, the credit union says it’s taken time and a great education effort but it has been worth it. “It was more than a name change, we changed our brand and revamped all our branches to reflect our new brand identity,” said Rivermark CCU Marketing Manger Terry Taylor. “The competition here is fierce with banking giants like Bank of America and Washington Mutual and now more credit unions are going community-Portland Teachers will make that move in January. So in addition to advertising in every medium possible we partner with as many community events as possible. We love it when we hear from people that `You’re everywhere’.” Taylor says the name has a local resonance since the rivers here tie the communities the credit union serves together. “With the research and focus groups we ultimately selected a name that would appeal to our target demographic which was loosely defined as a 35-year old woman with kids driving an SUV,” said Taylor. “Ultimately you want an identity that will last another 50 years because it is a costly process.” As a growing number of credit unions opt to change their names, experts say the process and research behind it ultimately determines success. “A name change is not the right strategy for everyone,” said Weber Marketing Group President Mark Weber. “A lot of organizations are in a position where they are asking the right question-`Will a new name help us overcome confusion in the marketplace and brand perception? Will it get us to the door to get new members coming in?’ and our experience is that the answer is no- a new name alone is not enough.” Weber says there must not only be an evaluation and understanding of the equity in the name but also of the brand equity. From there a comparison must be made between the name equity and brand equity. “Do you know what the number one credit union response is to what differentiates it from the competition -service. `Our services makes us unique’, but that is not true, you need to dig deeper. What kind of service? How do members define your credit union .so as you get into the research process of name equity and brand equity it starts to drive the decision of whether the current name and brand fit today,” said Weber. “Brand is the greater asset because it defines things like what is distinct about the credit union and how people perceive you.” Clark adds that once it is determined that a name change is necessary it can open up new opportunities for credit unions to share their stories with more focus and reinvent or further develop their brand. “When all the homework is done, you’ll see a real synergy with the new name and brand and a credit union has a chance to be reborn as a place where people say `that is where I want to have my money’,” said Clark. Sometimes credit unions don’t have a choice but to change their name. For example a Deere & Company request late last year that credit unions not directly affiliated with, nor a subsidiary of its company change their names forced such credit unions as John Deere Community CU and Deere Community CU to quickly shift gears. In terms of brand equity Weber says the CU connection with one of the most well known brand and trade names in America was huge. With the help of Weber Marketing Group, JDCCU became Veridian CU, which celebrates the credit union’s future and its heritage. The new name comes from the words verdant meaning green and growing and “veritas” or truth. The green ties to the credit union’s original sponsor and embedded in the name are the letters “ia”, which symbolize the credit union’s pride in being an Iowa credit union serving the financial need of generations of Iowa families. “The name change process and branding has a strategic foundation and once that decision to change the name is made you don’t want to have to spend that money all over again five years later because you didn’t pick a good name-that also becomes a reputation risk,” said Weber. “A short sighted name change like just using community or a geographic tag doesn’t help your credit union stand out. Iowa has 12-14 CUs with Iowa in their name, about 17 CUs in Texas have Houston, and let’s not talk about the number in the state that use Texas. So if you rename based on a city, county or state inevitably to the consumer they all start to look alike.” “A name change can be an emotionally charged issue-everyone wants the `super wow name’ but you do need a reality check and be sure it is aligned with your brand and links back to your naming criteria objectives,” adds Clark. “If you are picking a name just because it sounds `cool’ with no research behind it then you might as well roll some dice.” Weber says there is another potential danger in not doing proper research-trademarking. According to Weber, there are 45 classes of trademarks and in Class 36, which is for all insurance and financial services there are over 100,000 names and some 1,100 new names are filed monthly. In the greater trademark arena some 1.2 million names are trademarked including those that applied for and/or received trademarks. “Too many think that because they filed with the state and NCUA and use the name they have a trademark and it can be the greatest, most costly painful mistake a credit union can make,” said Weber. “If someone else does have trademark protection they have the right and ability to defend against it -and ignorance is not allowed as an excuse. If you lose the case then you have to completely stop using the name and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to come back and rebuild your credit union’s image.” Experts agree that equally important in the name change process is the inclusion of the board. “At the end of the day the board of directors have to vote on a name change and the majority of boards consist of members who were from that founding field of membership so there is an emotional attachment,” said Clark. “So it is vital that the board not drive it but are involved at every stage so there is a constant communication of a clear strategic vision. They are the final gate and if they don’t agree then the name change is dead.” Also forced into making a change, Deere CCU saw this as an opportunity to reinforce its values and ties by getting everyone involved in the naming process. “We decided that developing a name internally was the best way to use our members’ funds wisely,” said Terry Maloy. “We also wanted the members, employees and board members to feel like they had a say in this decision.” For over three months names were submitted, then whittled down to 75-100 names. From there research on names already used or trademarked helped get the list down to a select few. “What kept coming up over and over again was that we’re all about putting our members first and since community was such an integral part of our previous name from a marketing standpoint the new name Community 1st Credit Union accurately reflects this value of placing an emphasis on members and local businesses within the communities we serve,” said Maloy. “What’s great is that by doing it this way we have total buy in from the board and staff and we’re waiting for the member vote of approval in October.” A mix of an outside marketing agency and in-house input helped FAA Technical Center Federal CU become Jersey Shore FCU. The new name, which took about a year to develop, is designed not only to refresh the credit union’s brand but also better reflect the over 200 area businesses and organizations it currently serves. “Many people may not be aware of this but the new name has a history with us,” said Jersey Shore FCU Marketing Supervisor Erna Laielli. “In 1994 the Jersey Shore FCU merged with us so this name change has been an easy transition for most of the members. In fact, our board treasurer John DiNofrio was the founder of the former Jersey Shore FCU.” For Altura CU, formerly known as Riverside County CU, a name change has helped breathe new life into the credit union. “What we’re finding is that it has been more than just a name change but a whole new corporate identity,” said Altura CU Senior Vice President Marketing and Corporate Communication Ricki McManuis. “I encourage any marketer of a credit union organization that has determined a change is in order that you be open to looking at the big picture beyond just a name-you won’t regret it. There aren’t many opportunities to reinvent yourself and for us this change has been a great fit.” While there was high brand awareness of the old name, McManuis said with an expansion of its field of membership beyond Riverside County RCCU would have limited its growth. Working with Denver-based branding firm Monigle Associates for guidance the credit union discovered through research and focus groups that Altura- a Spanish word meaning great heights-was not only inspirational but also a nod to California’s cultural roots. “The risks of giving up Riverside County CU were totally outweighed by the opportunity to go into Orange County or San Diego fresh,” said McManuis. “They don’t know us there so it is a tremendous opportunity to build our name and another unexpected benefit was that since we were so well known in Riverside with the name change it caused a new buzz with our members. So whenever we’re out in the community here people come up to us and say, `You’re the credit union that changed its name what does it mean again?’ and it starts a new dialogue.” McManius says the change has not only excited members and consumers but also reinvigorated the staff. The greatest challenge going forward continues to be brand management to ensure everything from marketing, logo placement and colors to correspondence all deliver the same consistent image and message. Marketing surveys have also been developed to track member and non-member awareness. “From a marketing standpoint if we are trying to build this image of who we are then we need to own the colors and designs so five, 10, 20 years from now when people see any one of our colors they’ll know without even seeing our name that it is Altura and the brand promise that comes with that name,” said McManius. [email protected]

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