Integrated Branding

November 2015: Vol 38 No 11
by Bryn C. Conway

The devil is in the details.

working on brandYogi Berra once said “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” This sentiment works well to explain the tenets of integrated branding. If you don’t manage your brand, the marketplace will manage it for you. When it comes to integrated branding, the devil is most certainly in the details. 

Having an integrated brand means that your members know when they are engaging with you, whether they are walking into a branch, calling you on the phone, using a mobile app or interacting with you at a community event. You have an integrated brand if your members can instantly identify who you are and why they should do business with you. Each interaction with your brand needs to “feel” the same every time a member comes in contact with you. A brand goes far beyond just a logo and tagline; it’s all the details that help you provide a consistent member experience that increases member engagement and helps your organization grow.

It’s likely that you have heard of the Four Ps of Marketing – product, price, place and promotion. The Four Ps has been viewed, for many years, as the tried and true path to successful marketing. However, now that there are so many outlets, channels and ways that your members and community can interact with you, it’s necessary to undertake a more detailed yet broader approach that takes a deeper dive than the Four Ps. You need to examine how you define, develop, deliver and defend your brand to ensure you are providing a consistent member experience in each and every interaction. I call this approach the Four Ds of Integrated Branding.

DEFINE Your Community: Understand the why

At the heart of every well-developed and loved brand is the answer to the question of why a business does what it does: its core purpose. In his Ted Talk, the “The Golden Circle,” Simon Sinek imparts that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Before you integrate your brand, you must discover who your community is and then understand why your community chooses to do business with you. Your community can be based in a shared area of geography, a common industry, a belief or philosophy, or a combination of these and more. Perhaps the community you serve looks different than it did when your CU was first chartered. You no longer have the one major sponsor company or, through merger and charter expansion, your CU has open fields of membership in many locations. If that’s the case, it’s even more important that you define your community. Your community is not who you can serve, but rather who you want to serve. 

The community you want to serve is at the heart of an integrated brand. Your community needs to be broad enough to be inclusive, yet narrow enough to be relevant. You need to be able to define your community in one sentence “We serve the members of the­—fill in the blank  _______ (education, tech, local or faith-based)—community.” Members and potential members need to feel a pull to your community and they must be able to quickly say to themselves, “I am a member of that community. It makes sense that I do business with your credit union.”

Once you have your community defined, you need to understand why your community would choose to do business with you. If you don’t know the answer, ask your members. Survey them and ask the question: What is the most important reason you do business with us? Give them possible responses of “why” such as because we believe in serving the local community or we believe in serving educators or we practice the principles of your faith.

Also, be sure to ask about price and convenience with this question. However, know that members who do business with you because you have good prices and convenient locations are also the members who are least likely to be loyal or engaged and who think of you as a commodity.

People surround themselves with those who share their beliefs. With that in mind, define your community, learn the common set of beliefs and develop your brand around the ideals that are most important to the community you want to serve. Define why members choose you. Give them an emotive reason to want to belong. “The why” is also a key differentiator for you in your marketplace and is the basis of your brand promise.

DEVELOP Your Brand: Establish standards based on your brand promise

Once you have defined who you are going to serve and established why members should choose you, you need to develop your brand. The four aspects of a well-developed and integrated brand are the brand promise, the brand personality, the brand image and the brand vernacular.

Brand Promise: is your key messaging, your statements of belief, and includes your core purpose, values, mission and vision. You may need to better define these or you may need to redefine them based on the community you have decided to serve. Keep in mind these elements should explain “the why” and should express what makes you different and relevant. Once you establish these, ensure that all elements of your brand serve to reinforce the elements of your brand promise.

Brand Personality: is an expression of your credit union’s traits, such as image, style, tone and language. Are you outgoing or reserved? Fun-loving or serious? Traditional or contemporary? Do you take calculated risks or are you risk adverse? Make sure when you are establishing your personality that volunteers, employees and members are on board with the answer to these questions and can relate to the personality you put forth. If you have dissension, you will not be able to develop and integrate your brand.

Brand Image: gives members the visual cues when they interact with you that reinforce your brand promise and personality during each interaction. How is your connection to your members and your community best visually represented? By people or icons? Stock photography or images of your community? Photography or illustrations? Once the choices are made for imagery, stick to them. Inconsistency is confusing and lessens your community’s ability to easily recognize and interact with your brand.

Brand Vernacular: is the voice of your credit union. How do you talk to your community? What language and which common words and phrases do members of your community use? How do you greet members? How do your employees close a conversation? What are your key words and phrases? Do you help, serve or assist? What is the standard for your name, ABC CU, ABC Credit Union, or All Bases Covered Credit Union? Consistency is again the key. Adopt conventions for voice and tone, establish standards for service phrases and ensure your name is always spoken and written in the same manner.

DELIVER on Your Promise: Service delivery must be congruent with your brand

How you serve your members and the kind of experience you create for them must be consistent in each channel and at every interaction. The importance of service delivery to an integrated brand cannot be overstated. This means committing to a business plan where all strategies align with your brand and undertaking business practices that demonstrate it.

The experience you create in your branches, your call center, your online banking, and your mobile app must consistently complement all other aspects of your brand. Define what you want this experience to be, understand each and every detail of service delivery that will lead to a consistent and favorable member impression and then measure it.

Here are some examples of integrated branding standards to implement and measure in service delivery:

  • Branches: Consistent use of standard greetings, closings and service phrases, retail merchandising, messaging, wait times and member satisfaction.
  • Call center: Consistent use of standard greetings, closings and service phrases, on-hold music, wait times and member satisfaction.
  • Online: Consistent application of imagery, messaging, ease of use and reliability.
  • Community events: Participate in events that are relevant to the community you want to serve. If you serve the education community, sponsor school supply drives. If you are a CU that serves the military, that choice will look different. Make relevant connections in your community and then measure the quality of your service delivery.

As you establish standards for the member experience, do not forget the employee experience. Your employees will deliver the experience that you deliver to them. As a leader in your organization, set the example of how to live your brand. When you interact with your employees use the standard greetings and closing you expect them to use with your members. Make and frame your business decisions around your brand promise: core purpose, values, mission and vision.

If you cannot explain “the why” to your employees, then don’t employ the tactic you are considering. If “the why” is incongruent with your brand, it is a distraction from your long-term strategy. At every turn, take the opportunity to strengthen what it means to serve your community and reinforce why members should want to do business with you. Your employees are the demonstration of your brand promise. Make sure they experience that in every interaction with you and your credit union.

DEFEND Your Brand: Even small deviations from standards cause confusion

In Jim Collins’ book Built to Last he writes, “Preserve the core, stimulate progress.” The concept is that great companies develop by adhering to their core purpose. Obedience to this principle is pivotal to defending your brand.

As you are defining your community, developing your brand and delivering on your brand promise, you should be establishing brand standards and conventions. To keep these elements from disintegrating, you must document the standards. Even the smallest deviations cause confusion to your community and dilute the reason why members should choose you. Don’t apologize for defending your brand. Adhering to standards and providing a consistent member experience increases member engagement, loyalty and, ultimately, will help you grow.

Although your brand may evolve over time, your core purpose should not. Brand changes need to be discussed, agreed upon, standardized and adopted slowly. Remember, growth is a purposeful evolution, not a revolution. If you are ready to introduce something new, make sure it reinforces your brand promise and that everyone from your board to your members can explain “the why.” 

Achieving a truly integrated brand takes discipline and commitment. Employ the Four Ds of integrated branding, then watch your member engagement, community affinity and credit union grow.

Bryn C. Conway, CUDE, principal of BC Consulting, LLC, is based in the Washington D.C., area, is a lover of all things “credit union” and has helped many organizations define, develop, deliver and defend their brands.