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Driving Brand Leadership


May 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 5
by Mark Weber

Enhancing culture, engineering experiences and growing members.

BlueShore Financial’s employee cultural brand book
BlueShore Financial’s employee cultural brand book

Let’s face it: The traditional financial services world we have known well for many years is in massive transformation. As consumers embrace new mobile technologies, wean gradually away from branch teller transactions, and consider new online competitors as they materialize, the financial industry is rushing headfirst into a fusion of online, digital, branch and social media channels that are reshaping how we retain members, compete and grow.

This new world of smartphones, tablets, Twitter and video tellers, raises the bar even higher for how we manage our brand reputation and position our CUs to stand apart in a highly commoditized—and now increasingly wired—financial industry.

BlueShore Financial CEO Chris Catliff in one of the trademarked Financial Spa branches
BlueShore Financial CEO Chris Catliff in one of the trademarked Financial Spa branches

So how do you find meaningful brand distinction and a compelling value proposition that’s unique and appealing? You start by looking inside first.

One key to helping your credit union step to the next level of competitive external brand differentiation and healthy member growth is to first ensure you are defining, evolving and clearly articulating a unified brand strategy internally across your entire enterprise. Armed with a distinct and compelling value proposition and relevant messaging aligned to all your staff, it can then be linked across every physical, digital and social touch point to ensure your brand is helping you stand apart externally, while unifying your culture.

Gallup researchers Jai Gill and David Helvadjian found, while analyzing financial brand distinction among consumers, that “44 percent of all banks and financial institutions are about the same”; and only 7 percent of consumers believed any one bank was better.

However, what the researchers found that set financial institutions apart surprised them. Put simply, they found that marketing and technology alone won’t drive meaningful distinction; it’s the member-facing employees who deliver the brand via consistent actions.

In our work building distinctive brand strategies among hundreds of credit unions across the U.S. and Canada, our agency has demonstrated repeatedly that a clear brand strategy—not a new “look and feel”—can become a catalyst of positive organizational change. It inspires a culture to deliver a unique, compelling and consistent brand promise and actions that create rich and consistent brand experiences for members and prospects.

More Than a Logo

Trailhead CU’s new logo identity
Trailhead CU’s new logo identity

Transformation does not come from words, a fresh new logo, a beautiful new website or look and feel alone. It comes from intentional focus on engaging employees in shaping the future brand: from developing cross-functional engagement teams, to implementing dynamic new brand training, consistent and simple brand messaging, and rich storytelling.

CUES member Chris Catliff, CEO of $3.2 billion/40,000-member BlueShore Financial in North Vancouver, British Columbia, who embarked on an enterprise-wide premium brand strategy years ago, shares this note: “Our choreographed five-star brand experience is backed by expert financial advice and personalized, proactive solutions, delivered across all channels consistently. That includes our financial spa branches, call center, online and mobile environments, which are all fully integrated.”

Catliff’s proudest achievement, though, sums it up: “Without our incredibly engaged employees, our premium brand experience and record growth could never have been achieved.” BlueShore Financial has been named one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures and achieved double-digit growth for 10 straight years.

Increased staff satisfaction, an intended byproduct of reshaping internal cultural brand focus, leads to higher engagement and retention, which directly hits your bottom line. National estimates from SHRM peg the cost of replacing employees at 50-400 percent of their annual salary (do the math for your CU!).

This search for culture and even relevant workplace meaning has never been more important than in managing, rewarding and retaining the new generation of Millennial workers, now approaching 30-35 percent of the workforce. A 2013 study by Bentley University Center for Women & Business, showed that 84 percent of Millenials say “making a difference in the world is more important than personal recognition.” Closing the gap from “engaged employees” to brand leading, passionate, values-driven staff can lead to “brand evangelists.”

Effective branding and staff alignment also pay off in higher member satisfaction, Net Promoter® Scores and organic growth. Highly engaged employees drive richer, more focused member brand experiences. They lead to increased member engagement, deeper profitable relationship building, renewed brand experiences and, ultimately, market share growth. According to Bain & Company research, on average an industry’s NPS leader outgrew its competitors by a factor greater than two times.

Excite Employees First

The entire board, management team and staff at $100 million/6,000-member Trailhead Credit Union, Portland, Ore., went through a six-month strategic, cultural and creative process, conducting workshops, employee surveys and focus groups to articulate the CU’s brand and culture.

“The leadership team wanted to build a brand that would excite employees first—a brand that would resonate as authentic and identifiable, representing something the entire staff could stand behind,” says Karen McGaughey, Weber Marketing Group’s VP/client services. “The new tagline, ‘Small Enough to Know Better,’ captures Trailhead’s highly personal philosophy and lines up with their young, distinctive Portland urbanite lifestyle.”

Trailhead CU tattoo station
Trailhead CU tattoo station

The new brand bucks conformity to capture a unique and unconventional Portland vibe. For example, the logo changes color to fit the environment in which it is used. Located in a city known for its microbrew culture, the CU has offered free beer tastings. And it hands out temporary tattoos, which members unabashedly share via Facebook and Twitter.

Since Trailhead CU’s brand launch in June 2013, the results speak for themselves. After more than seven years of no new member growth and slow loan and checking growth, the credit union has set growth records for new members (especially Millennial borrowers), loans, branch and Web traffic, and new checking every month since launching its new brand. This January alone, net monthly new memberships, compared to the year prior, increased 536 percent from 25 to 134; lending increased 344 percent from $385,000 to $1,328,000 and website traffic is up 28 percent.

According to Trailhead CU VP/Marketing Kim Faucher, employee engagement, morale and pride have never been higher. A new casual dress code was embraced to support the brand.

Employees and even board members are supporting local businesses and proudly display their “be who you are tattoos.” They have turned employees into raving brand advocates and some members are close behind.

Brand ad celebrates individuality in the fiercely independent Portland metro market
Brand ad celebrates individuality in the fiercely independent Portland metro market

Trailhead CU’s new brand strategy, design and standards are clear, unique and owned by every stakeholder who lives it out every day with total consistency. One Trailhead CU member tweeted, “L-O-V-E the rebranding. I’m sure you will increase your membership. Smart move and investment.” Results like that show how much louder actions speak in successful branding than words and pictures alone.

7 Questions to Ask

So how do you know if your CU’s brand is on target and effective, or overdue for a brand refresh or strategy update? Here are seven questions to ask how healthy your organizational brand program is today:

1. Are you regularly growing younger Millennial members and borrowers who are drawn to your brand?

2. Do all managers and employees understand what your brand is and how to live it out? Can they express your differentiating brand position (if you have one, do you?).

3. Is your name, brand or image confusing, or in need of a boost?

4. Do you have strong brand guidelines that unify your brand promise? Do you have consistent key messages, personality, tone of voice, style and imagery across all channels?

5. Is there a well-defined value proposition, or relevant core values that are communicated consistently in all communications, or do you often turn to rates and low fees to stand apart?

6. Are your digital, online, mobile and social media strategies all growing and aligned behind a unified and well-branded member experience?

7. Do your branch interiors, product information, member experiences, ATMs and digital media all express the best of your brand and online message platform?

Brand leaders challenge the status quo of their brand position constantly, instead of settling for thinking their static brand is doing fine.

They know delivering “good,” or “friendly” service is not a competitive differentiator; it is simply the “table stakes” level everyone must provide. Uniting your brand and your team toward a higher brand vision and market distinction can transform your culture.

As Tom’s Shoes CEO Blake Mycoskie says, “I realized the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes; they tell our story.”

Manage Experiences

The rapid shift to mobile and online virtual experiences requires careful management and evolution of your brand philosophy, but also of carefully linking your user experiences across all channels consistently.

To engineer transformational changes, you’ll need to align all brand experiences, design and content across channels: online (responsive Web, mobile and tablet integrated user experience, or UX design); in-person (new branch model prototyping); in print (unique branded content and digital—over traditional—collateral); social media (video and storytelling); and interactive media (search engine optimization, search engine marketing and digital campaigns). Weave them together into a seamless and unique user experience with a shared and distinctive brand personality, tone of voice and style, and then combine with personal “brand storytelling” to reshape perceptions.

Stellar brand experiences like the hospitality of the Four Seasons is delivered beautifully online and in person like a symphony of musicians aligned behind a melodic musical score. No detail is missed to ensure total satisfaction of guests to win their enduring advocacy and storytelling. That brand integration occurs just as tightly behind the scenes to ensure a personalized, unique and powerful focus on each guest’s individual needs and wants.

Amidst explosive technology shifts and the rise of new financial competitors, it’s time to think carefully about assessing the state of your brand perceptions and strategy both internally and externally.

Managing and evolving distinctive user experiences and improving your cultural brand focus and alignment can make the difference between who stays the course and whose brand thrives in this new digital world. Is it time to assess the state of your brand?

Mark Weber is CEO of CUES Supplier member Weber Marketing Group, one of North America’s leading strategic branding agencies with offices in Seattle, Atlanta and Vancouver, British Columbia. Weber Marketing is a 2006 CUES Supplier of the Year, a two-time Agency of the Year for MAC and winner of over 240 national marketing and brand awards.

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