Inside Marketing: Building an Effective Brand

September 2017: Vol 40 No 9
Eli Gerson
Differentiate your credit union by focusing on values, membership and custom communication.

Icons representing trust, identity, values and marketing connecting to the concept of brandCredit unions are in a unique position to leverage their value propositions as a means to grow their member base, brand equity and awareness, especially with younger target audiences. As national banks continue to find themselves on the receiving end of negative publicity, the general public is losing faith in the ability of big banks to “get the job done.” In addition, there is a continued trend toward relying on community-focused or local businesses.

But even with this advantage, garnering members requires much more than simply existing. An effective credit union brand must relate to the people within its community to effectively drive membership.

Values Versus Rates

The most effective brands are built on what makes the company/product/organization truly unique and relevant to its target audience. Frequently, struggling brands will put too much focus on their “features,” which competitors often share. For credit unions, it is vital to avoid differentiation based on financial products and rates—any bank can offer similar products along with the ability to undercut those rates. Competing credit unions will also offer those products along with the same mantra of putting the member before the shareholder.

To differentiate, we have to look past these commonalities. This means identifying the core values the credit union is built upon. Some examples:

  • We believe every member deserves the right to succeed.
  • We believe diversity is at the core of success.
  • We cultivate opportunity for our members and our staff.

A set of core values is the foundation to identifying a credit union’s key point of differentiation: a promise—a mantra that every employee follows and every member recognizes. Some examples:

  • All that matters is our members’ financial success.
  • Happy members, healthy community.
  • We are the community we support.

This promise becomes the rallying cry of the credit union and sets it apart from competitors. Members should feel it when they interact with an ATM, walk to the teller or read an email.

Members Versus Shareholders

Putting members before shareholders is the obvious marketing advantage a credit union has over big banks. Potential members who are part of a credit union’s field of membership will evaluate the CU on the costs and benefits of banking, but also on whether they truly believe the credit union’s promise. This is where obtaining audience insight is vitally important. Going beyond standard demographics, we need to understand our members and their community. What drives them, what challenges do they face, what financial pains do they share? Effective ways to gather this information include:

  • surveying existing members;
  • interviewing existing members one on one; and
  • engaging with a research agency to gather quantitative and qualitative data about the perceptions of your credit union, the community and competitive banking institutions.

It should go without saying that to ensure prospective members will relate to your marketing and brand, you must be relevant. Leveraging the data from these activities will provide the necessary criteria for developing effective marketing.

Custom Design Versus Stock

With the rise of internet resources and pre-made templates, there are many cookie-cutter solutions being promoted for brands to utilize for websites, brochures and other marketing materials.

While these products allow your marketing team to quickly generate new sales communications, by definition, they will look and sound like “stock.” In other words, the materials will look generic and off brand. No two communities are alike, nor are any two credit unions. As such, competing credit unions should not use the same approach or resources for developing and communicating their positioning.

Consider hiring professionals to ensure marketing communications will support the credit union’s promise. Brand and marketing agencies know how to leverage your brand and its positioning to direct effective communications with custom design and tactics.

Tying It All Together

While credit unions are poised to maintain a competitive advantage over big banks, it is still essential to position your CU in such a way that connects to the individuals you serve. This starts with understanding the target audience—and from there, communicating unique core value points, emphasizing a member-first mentality, and investing in custom marketing media to communicate these differentiators in a meaningful, relevant and impactful way.

Eli Gerson is the CEO of D+i Creative and has 19 years of brand strategy and design experience, including 16 years of interactive and digital design experience with a specialization in user interface and user experience.

D+i Creative is a brand and product creative agency located in Denver, Colo., that specializes in designing contagious experiences that create worth for brands and digital products. They develop brand strategy, brand identity, product design, user interfaces and user experiences. For more information, visit or call (303) 292-3455. Like us on Facebook and Instagram, and follow us on Twitter @dandicreativeco


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